Magic was practiced through the use of wands, “medicine” ritual, and incantations, and it was customary for the practitioner to work unclothed. Women outnumbered the men among primitive magicians. In magic, “medicine” means mystery, not treatment. The savage never doctored himself; he never used medicines except on the advice of the specialists in magic. And the voodoo doctors of the twentieth century are typical of the magicians of old.
There was both a public and a private phase to magic. That performed by the medicine man, shaman, or priest was supposed to be for the good of the whole tribe. Witches, sorcerers, and wizards dispensed private magic, personal and selfish magic which was employed as a coercive method of bringing evil on one’s enemies. The concept of dual spiritism, good and bad spirits, gave rise to the later beliefs in white and black magic. And as religion evolved, magic was the term applied to spirit operations outside one’s own cult, and it also referred to older ghost beliefs.
Word combinations, the ritual of chants and incantations, were highly magical. Some early incantations finally evolved into prayers. Presently, imitative magic was practiced; prayers were acted out; magical dances were nothing but dramatic prayers. Prayer gradually displaced magic as the associate of sacrifice.
Gesture, being older than speech, was the more holy and magical, and mimicry was believed to have strong magical power. The red men often staged a buffalo dance in which one of their number would play the part of a buffalo and, in being caught, would insure the success of the impending hunt. The sex festivities of May Day were simply imitative magic, a suggestive appeal to the sex passions of the plant world. The doll was first employed as a magic talisman by the barren wife.
Magic was the branch off the evolutionary religious tree which eventually bore the fruit of a scientific age. Belief in astrology led to the development of astronomy; belief in a philosopher’s stone led to the mastery of metals, while belief in magic numbers founded the science of mathematics.
But a world so filled with charms did much to destroy all personal ambition and initiative. The fruits of extra labor or of diligence were looked upon as magical. If a man had more grain in his field than his neighbor, he might be haled before the chief and charged with enticing this extra grain from the indolent neighbor’s field. Indeed, in the days of barbarism it was dangerous to know very much; there was always the chance of being executed as a black artist.
Gradually science is removing the gambling element from life. But if modern methods of education should fail, there would be an almost immediate reversion to the primitive beliefs in magic. These superstitions still linger in the minds of many so-called civilized people. Language contains many fossils which testify that the race has long been steeped in magical superstition, such words as spellbound, ill-starred, possessions, inspiration, spirit away, ingenuity, entrancing, thunderstruck, and astonished. And intelligent human beings still believe in good luck, the evil eye, and astrology.
Ancient magic was the cocoon of modern science, indispensable in its time but now no longer useful. And so the phantasms of ignorant superstition agitated the primitive minds of men until the concepts of science could be born. Today, Urantia is in the twilight zone of this intellectual evolution. One half the world is grasping eagerly for the light of truth and the facts of scientific discovery, while the other half languishes in the arms of ancient superstition and but thinly disguised magic.
[Presented by a Brilliant Evening Star of Nebadon.]