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Title: Magic, categorization and folk metaphysics. Towards cognitive theory of magic
Authors: Kajfosz, Jan
Keywords: magic; sympathetic magic; contagious magic; contagion; sympathy; cognitive anthropology; eternal return; pre-modernity; premodern culture; magic thinking; ethnoepistemology; anthropology of religion; Mircea Eliade; myth; folk metaphysics; prophecy; middle ages
Issue Date: 2008
Publisher: Institute of Ethnology, Czech Academy of Sciences
Citation: Český lid. Etnologický časopis, 2008, c. 4, s. 355-368
Abstract: It is the aim of this work to interpret magical thinking as a strong tendency towards categorization, towards simplification of an infinitely diverse reality and of its modifications, and its reduction to a limited number of static prototypes. In magical thinking similitude and contact (adjacency) are not only crucial principles of the human cognition; moreover they have their ontological dimensions: they direct the course of the world. Numerous examples of human conduct that are motivated by the laws of magic can be found not only in systems and their elements mentioned in canonical studies of magic (J.G. Frazer, M. Mauss etc.) or in Eliade's phenomenology of religion, but also in texts concerning European medieval and folk culture (A.J. Gurevich) or contemporary popular culture (astrology, prophecies etc.). Different phenomena of magical thinking like recurring time, imitations of extra-mundane models or of the past deeds can be described and explained by means of cognitivism. Various forms of popular metaphysics are also based on the tendency towards categorization. It is the tendency to eliminate everything particular and variable, and to inspell what is general and certain. Magical thinking does not acknowledge coincidence or probability, since everything is considered here necessary and can be instantly explained. A key to the definition of what is magic can be found in the elementary principles that drive human cognition. These principles can be summarized in the categories of difference and similitude on the one hand, and of contact (affinity) on the other. The cognitive meaning of these categories is rather apparent in the linguistic theory of Ferdinand de Saussure. According de Saussure, difference is essential to any linguistic system and it is inevitably interlinked with similitude.
ISSN: 0009-0794
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