1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/History of Magic
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History of Magic
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History of Magic
The subject is too vast and our data are too slight to make a general sketch of magic possible. Our knowledge of Assyrian magic, for example, hardly extends beyond the rites of exorcism; the magic of Africa is most inadequately known, and only in recent years have we well-analysed repertories of magical rituals from any part of the world. For certain departments of ancient magic, however, like the Pythagorean philosophy, there is no lack of illustrative material; it depended on mystical speculations based on numbers or analogous principles. The importance of numbers is recognized in the magic of America and other areas, but the science of the Mediterranean area, combined with the art of writing, was needed to develop such mystical ideas to their full extent. Among the neo-Platonists there was a strong tendency to magical speculation, and they sought to impress into their service the demons with which they peopled the universe. Alexandria was the home of many systems of theurgic magic, and gnostic gems afford evidence of the nature of their symbols. In the middle ages the respectable branches of magic, such as astrology and alchemy, included much of the real science of the period; the rise of Christianity introduced a new element, for the Church regarded all the religions of the heathen as dealings with demons and therefore magical (see Witchcraft). In our own day the occult sciences still find devotees among the educated; certain elements have acquired a new interest, in so far as they are the subject matter of psychical research (q.v.) and spiritualism (q.v.). But it is only among what are regarded as the lower classes, and in England especially the rural population, that belief in its efficacy still prevails to any large extent.