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Magic 1, Requirement 3

Compare and contrast the culturally institutionalized position of the magician within at least two Indo-European cultures. (minimum 300 words)

Much is often made by the psuedo-historians of the Neo-Pagan movement about the "high esteem" the wielders of magic were held in in the ancient world. A close cultural study of magic, though, shows that in most Indo-European cultures, the magician was not only feared, but constantly pushed to the fringes of society.

In Greece, for instance, magic and magicians were seen as foreign imports from Persia. There is not even a native Greek word for the concept of "magic"; instead, the word is borrowed from the Persian early on, and is often used to refer to dark and foreign powers: some of our first uses of the word, from Heraclitus of Ephesus (500BC) especially, are not very flattering: "I speak to the magoi, the ecstatic men and women, the initiated who roam through the night. The mysteries humans perform are performed in an unholy way." (Heraclitus, fragment 14)

In Rome, the magician was seen in a very similar light. Not only was magic done on the fringes, it was explicitly outlawed in the Twelve Tables. The transference of crops from one field to another was specifically mentioned in the Twelve Tables as something that is illegal to do via magic. Perhaps the most tell-tale sign that magic was on the fringes, though, is a passage from Cicero's Laws, book II: "Let there by no sacrifices at night by women". This particular law indicates two fringes in society that were feared: women (who are, of course, marginalized) and nocturnal sacrifices (which, like silent prayer, show a fear of uncontrolled piety that is not regulated by the community). It seems a strange combination of things to prohibit, but when you consider that both women and the act of sacrifice without a community aspect exist at the periphery of society, you can begin to see that magic is seriously involved (Graf, 59)

In neither the Greek nor Roman society does the magician hold any real social standing outside of his or her peripheral role in society. In general, they are banned from as many activities of their craft as possible, and the legislation in Rome shows real fear. Our common view of the "village wise woman", then, simply doesn't seem to hold up in these societies, at least not as a magician.


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