Myths of Magic
Updated: Dec 17, 2020
Most of the fiction stories draw their roots from existing myths and legends of different cultures. My blog shall compare popular fiction stories to pre-existing myths. Let’s take an example of the widely popular literary series of “Harry Potter” a fantastic story of the wizard world.
“There is no such thing as magic!”
The iconic dialogue of Mr. Vernon Dursley may sound rational to most of us but one can irrefutably never argue on the idea that all of us at one point in time must have been intrigued by one or another tale of wizards, fairy godmothers, magical crones, and creatures. “Magic” has the power to enthrall all of us irrespective of our age.
Did magic exist in primitive society?
Recently, I chanced upon reading ‘The Golden Bough’ written by Sir James George Frazer, a Scottish Anthropologist. Frazer has described meticulously the initiation and evolution of the ‘principles of magic’ which were staunchly believed and practiced by the savage (tribal folk).
The first principle is called the ‘law of similarity’ which means like produces like. One can injure or destroy a person by injuring or destroying an image or statue of him.
There is also the principle of ‘contagious magic’ that states that there still persists a connection between a man and the severed portion of the body- like teeth, nails, hair, etc. However, both these principles could turn out to be erroneous as their appropriate function is based on assumption.
Even today, in some parts of the world, these principles of magic are used by shamanic tribes to treat the sick. Often, certain cults use it for the ill of society.
Can you control the weather using magic?
The concept of magic was deeply rooted in the tribal society so much that they began to appoint ‘public magicians’-- usually, kings or chieftains of the village or town-- who use their magical powers to control the weather with their powers and look after the prosperity of the kingdom.
According to Frazer, the Finnish wizards used to sell wind to storm-stayed mariners. The wind was enclosed in three knots; if the sailors undid the first knot, a moderate wind sprang up; if you undo the second knot, it blew half a gale; if you undo the third knot then you get a hurricane.
The idea of “Horcrux”
Dark magic was used by the sorcerer, Lord Voldemort, who tore apart his soul into seven parts and transferred it into seven objects called ‘Horcrux’.
Until recently, I stumbled upon a Hindu folktale of ‘Punchkin’ that revolves around a certain wizard named Punchkin who turned people into stone statues. The wizard was invincible; his life was trapped in a parrot. To kill Punchkin one would have to first kill the parrot.
Similarly, there is ‘Bidasari’ the Malayan folktale which revolves around a princess called Bidasari whose soul was transferred into a golden fish. Whatever happened to the goldfish, so would happen to Bidasari.
Watch the entire story of "Bidasari"
These plots are very similar to the ‘Horcrux’ idea. Taking this theory forward, James Frazer then proposes that, ‘the man inside the man, is the soul.’ Frazer says that “THE SOUL is commonly supposed to escape by the natural openings of the body, especially the mouth and nostrils.”
In antiquity, the savage believed that the soul can be transferred to a person or equally well be transferred to an animal or a thing. Frazer calls it the ‘External Soul’. In most instances, a witch or a wizard would choose to transfer their souls into ferocious animals- a black serpent, a crocodile, a hippopotamus, a wild boar, or a vulture. The practitioner is blessed with an armor of immortality.
This concept of ‘external soul’ is a mere extension of the ‘contagious principle of magic’. A certain bond may exist between a man and an animal so that the welfare of the one depends on the welfare of the other, and when the animal dies the man dies also.
Most warriors in the olden times used to put their souls into objects or animals to prevent them from being vulnerable on the battlefields and preserve their lives.
How exactly did the savage extract their souls? What were the particulars of the ritual to transfer the soul? Was there any kind of vow or rules that the practitioner must adhere to during the ritual or maintain it for a certain period after the ritual or continue the vow for eternity?
I’ll leave you to ponder over these questions. Food for thought!!