The laws of magic are based on the principle that a bridge or conduit may be created between objects or actions which are similar to each other through the application of human will and intention. Fundamental rules is that ‘like may influence like’: A belief in magic may be said to be a belief that there is an invisible force, or forces, which govern nature and which obey a series of rules.

The laws of magic

Magic resembles science, in that the magician assumes he can make use of these forces in a set manner, irrespective of whether he intends to exert them for good or for evil. So, rather like the force of, say, electricity, magic will react constantly under given conditions.

Fundamental assumptions of magic that there may be more to the world than we can immediately perceive and that mankind may harness even what he cannot see form part of the bedrock of our civilisation today. Indeed, modern science owes an enormous debt to the efforts of the magical pioneers, who sought to find out more about the world around them, through what amounted to a series of experiments.

Principles upon which magic is said to operate have remained remarkably stable since prehistoric man first daubed the walls of his cave with depictions of the prey he wished to kill.

Most basic form, often known as sympathetic magic, looks for associations between things. One factor that emerges again and again is the idea that objects we see around us are linked by a kind of invisible network of connections, which may in turn have links to other unseen dimensions.

When such a connection is established or recognised, an immense power lies in the hands of practitioner: he may exert an influence on one object or action by means of another. These may be two things that can be made or seen to resemble one another: like outline of the prey on the wall of the cave which mimics the animals themselves.

What would happen if we began with the idea that these beliefs and practices must have worked in some sense; if we indicated that we can no longer accept the notion that those who hold to them are irrational?

It is important to approach so-called ‘primitive magic’ with fresh eyes in order to understand the phenomenon more clearly. “Science today may need to be more scientific; to examine what it has shied away from examining, to discover, as far as possible with scientific methods, what may or may not lie behind patterns of thought which on some level or other, are shared by almost everyone on the globe.”

From the most convoluted magical ritual, to the stream of magical thinking which survives in our own lives, all follow the same underlying current. That current has flowed unbroken from the days our stone-age ancestors first daubed their cave walls with the images of the animals they wished to catch.

Magic offers advantages and benefits on many levels. Without hazarding any opinion on the validity of its tenets, at its crudest magical thinking opens the mind to the possibility of factors beyond the everyday world. Importantly, it also introduces the idea that we may do something about that which we do not wholly understand, to break through barriers, to ‘find out.’ As such, it is a valuable precursor to science.

However, with all patterns of human thought, there is a point at which what began as a survival advantage may outlive its usefulness. If one is in the grip of constant superstition or fear of unseen ‘magical’ forces, or witchcraft or malignant spells, one will no longer be able to operate at an optimum level.

Today, most of us use thinking at some time or other even if we call it only the power of ‘positive thinking,’ ‘willpower’ and suchlike. Many superstitions, whatever their outward form, owe their durability and attractiveness to the fact that they tap into the current of thinking; touching wood, for example, implies that there are forces which may both influence and be influenced by actions on our part.

The emotional content of such magical residue makes it addictive and difficult to unseat. This thinking may influence our everyday lives much more than we are willing to recognize and admit. If we just as much as the overt practitioners could spot the mechanism at work, we could better judge how much of it is useful and productive and how much is not.

The laws of magic