Re: Magic among "primitive" societies

George Fifield (
28 Aug 1995 17:02:43 GMT (Xochi Zen) wrote:
> Looking for a book or books that detail magic in "primitive" societies.
>Again, I'm not talking about "supernatural" magic... but "mundane" magic -
>used I guess to put people at ease in lieu of modern medical treatment.
>Or for the purpose of social control via astonishment and fear.
> - Xochi

In Joseph Cambell's Primitive Mythology volume of The Masks Of God, in the
chapter on Shamanism he quotes two wonderful sources about the use illusion
among primitive peoples. The first (p. 246) is a long passage about a shaman
of the Yahgan in Tierra del Fuego who performs two acts of magic for the
son of local clergy. This must be read to be believed. It ends with the
cleanest finish I have ever heard of. The shaman first creates and then
dissapears about 8 feet of rawhide while totally nude and facing a hostle

The second passage is a discription by two anthropologists of the very
mystical initiation into shamanism of the medicine man of the Aranda
in Australia. Spirits come to him and remove all his internal organs
and he becomes insane and finally regains sanity and becomes a true shaman.
The passage (p. 255) ends with:

"Meanwhile, consorting with the local masters of his profession, he
learns the secrets of his craft, 'which consist,' as Spencer and Gillen
declare, 'principally in the ability to hide about his person and to
produce at will small quartz pebbles and bits of stick; and, of hardly
less importance than this sleight of hand, the power of looking
preternaturally solemn, as if he were the possessor of knowledge quite
hidden from ordinary man.'"

Eugene Burger and Robert Neale in their new book *Magic and Meaning*
discuss illusion and shamanism great deal. It is an excellant book.

George Fifield