Apr 22, 2016

Posted by in Folklore, Magick, Occult Studies, Paganism, Paranormal, Spells, Sympathetic Magic, Terry Pratchett's Discworld, Witchcraft | 0 Comments

Sympathetic Magic

English: 'Clootie' Well, Munlochy, Black Isle....

English: ‘Clootie’ Well, Munlochy, Black Isle. The rag well at Munlochy is one of two in the district, the other being at Culloden. More common in Ireland, these wells are still resorted to as ‘sympathetic magic’ destinations whereby an afflicted person leaves strips of clothing in hopes that their ailments will be cured by substitution. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Most of us have encountered the concept of sticking pins into a doll that represents a hated or feared individual. Photos of bosses have provided motivating targets for quite a few archery ranges in my neck of the woods. For most people, this sort of thing is just a particularly satisfying way to let off steam, or to express feelings in a way that doesn’t actually harm the annoying individual (after all, some people just aren’t worth going to jail over). However, there are those who perform acts such as this with the specific intent to do harm, using the principles of sympathetic magic (though “sympathetic” is definitely not what they’re feeling).

The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines sympathetic magic as “magic based on the assumption that a person or thing can be supernaturally affected through its name or an object representing it.” According to Wikipedia, sympathetic magic is “… a type of magic based on imitation or correspondence.” In The Golden Bough, Sir James George Frazer breaks it into two subcategories – “… first, that like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed. The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity, the latter the Law of Contact or Contagion.”

A good example of the Law of Similarity would be a rain dance that seeks to produce the real thing by imitating it. Everyone in my family has an uncanny ability to attract rain whenever we wash our cars, but since that is never our intent, I probably shouldn’t claim it as an example – unless there’s a Law of Perverse Similarity or something. On the other hand, we’re always concentrating very hard on it not raining when we wash our cars, so we may be invoking the Law of Similarity in the same way one is not supposed to think of pink elephants with purple hair. The Law of Contact has a significant role in The Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett, when the villain seeks to control the beliefs of children by using the teeth in the Tooth Fairy’s castle against them. A vivid illustration of both of these laws can be seen in the film, “The Witches of Eastwick”, when the three witches mix the hair of the devil they unwittingly conjured into some melted wax, forming a human-like figure. This figure is then subjected to everything from spells with feathers and cherries to – you guessed it – pins.

To be continued…


  1. Sympathetic Magic — Spell Hub. Bringing the occult to life. | Hollow Musings - […] via Sympathetic Magic — Spell Hub. Bringing the occult to life. […]

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