I’ve been reading Magic in the Ancient World by Fritz Graf. While I’m not even halfway through, I’m learning a lot about magic in the Mediterranean world. The concept changed throughout history, but there was always this concept of the “other” – the enemy or the outsiders – practicing malevolent magic. Unless I am way off base, it seems that beneficial magic (like healing) was hardly considered magic at all because, for some time, magic was considered a practice apart from the official religion – and healing was endorsed (this became complicated when healing magic was differentiated from medical science). People who attempted to control the will of the Gods were argued to be atheists by some because they questioned the power of the Gods. It’s interesting how concepts change throughout time.
I’m not sure what to assume about the Celts in their many tribes. We know the Druids and the common folk practiced magic of varying degrees, and yet there is still the concept of the horrible witch – the other apart from the Druid. She (or he, I suppose) practiced wicked spells and was feared (but usually bested in the end). Was this a carryover from Christian fear, another way to view deities of death and decay, or did the Celts categorize magic as good and bad; endorsed and prohibited?
Some people have this idea that the witch of ancient times was really once a respected wise woman or man. That is true for some periods, but not all. And the witches in the stories are not healers – they are quite the opposite! Many in our communities today would also ostracize and perhaps even persecute someone who practiced magic for immoral reasons such as stealing another’s property. Thankfully, it seems most Pagans do not aim for such roles. A normal person detests the wicked witches in the lore – lore that may be propaganda against the innocent practitioners of folk magic from an older, once endorsed religion.
When we look back at magic and how it has been perceived through the years, it is complicated and depends on the time and the place. It also depends on who you talk to. Magical history is not so cut and dry as some would have us believe.
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