- This can be defined as the use of symbolic actions, words, or objects to produce results in the real world, either mechanically through their intrinsic nature (e.g. displaying *horseshoes, *touching wood for luck), or by the personal willpower of the user, or because he or she has authority over supernatural beings. But formulas which rely on help from God, saints, or angels (e.g. many healing *charms) should not be classified as magic but as folk Christianity. This distinction, theoretically clear, becomes blurred in practice, where magical actions are often accompanied by religious words such as 'in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost'. The boundary between magic and science is also blurred, because an apparently non-rational procedure may simply reflect mistaken ideas about the natural properties of some object, so that the person performing it never thinks of it as 'magic'. Indeed, scientific fact and symbolic appropriateness sometimes coincide - *dandelions really are diuretic, but not because their flowers are yellow like urine.Magic assumes there are non-material connections between material objects; *Frazer usefully divided it into 'sympathetic' or 'imitative' magic, where the action performed or object used resembles the result desired ('like causes like'), and 'contagious' magic, where something once in contact with a person provides a link through which he or she can be helped or harmed. It can also be divided into 'low' and 'high' magic, according to the degree of sophistication in the procedures involved. The most elaborate and intellectual system, also called 'ritual' or 'ceremonial' magic, flourished in late medieval and Renaissance times, and was revived by occultists at the close of the 19th century. Its aim was to summon and control angels or demons, by incantations and *pentacles; the practitioner needed special robes, perfumes, and other equipment. It was far too expensive and time-consuming ever to be part of folk practice, but some of the simpler aspects could be adapted for popular use (see *astrology, *pentacles).The difference between 'black' and 'white' magic depends on morality, not techniques: is the magic being used for a good purpose or a harmful one? This of course depends on the point of view of the observer; aggressive *counterspells against witches are meant to inflict pain, but since the witch is seen as evil, the counterspell is 'white' magic.See also *cunning men, *charms, material, charms, verbal, counterspells, *divinations, *image magic, and *witchcraft.The best descriptions of English popular magic are in Thomas, 1971, especially pp. 177-252, and Davies, 1999. Studies of witchcraft also contain relevant material, e.g. Thomas, 1971: 435-69, and Sharpe, 1996. Almost all regional collections contain examples of charms, the best of which are conveniently brought together in Opie and Tatem, 1989. For the early phase of 'ritual' or 'high' magic, see Richard Kiekhefer, Magic in the Middle Ages (1989) and Forbidden Rites (1997).
A Dictionary of English folklore. Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud. 2014.