Marcel Mauss: The practical idea of magic in “pantheism of mana”

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The article assembles theoretic models that define magic as an original social phenomenon fundamentally different from religion. Referring to the definitions of C. Lévi-Strauss, G. Gurvitch and V.I. Garadga the author focuses on the conception of magic proposed by Marcel Mauss. He defined magic as a practical idea in which knowledge and experience coincide, therefore, magic cannot exist as something abstract or theoretical, as an ordinary turnover of representations and experience but rather as their alloy. A representation becomes magical only at the rite, which in its turn can be considered magical only if the principle of mana was intended. According to Mauss, mana is a nominal universal measure of the intensity of connections between natural elements including people. For an adept of magic, the magic reasoning does not suppose discovering some meanings - rather an active interpretation of the idea of potential contact or contrast between all elements. In other words, mana does not possess any real content; this magic institution does not impose meanings, but allows to express and support them in the mutually conditioned oppositions in a differentiation system. Thus, we can identify a magical worldview based on mana as a plastic cognitive formation, in which we can trace a special interlacing of ‘cosmic freedom’ and ‘traditional unfreedom’ for a magician. Magic as knowledge does not substantialize in either society nor nature despite its direct appeal to the physical characteristics of objects and playing up the role orders. Magic is a fine example of a purely social formation for nothing else but inner social machinery explains it; the casuistry of magic cannot be objectified without special collective representations.

About the authors

Yu V Yatsutsenko

Peoples’ Friendship University of Russia

Author for correspondence.

Sociology Chair


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Copyright (c) 2015 Yu V Yatsutsenko

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