Magic is a category into which have been placed various beliefs and practices considered separate from both religion and science.

Religion is a social-cultural system of designated behaviors and practices, morals, worldviews, texts, sanctified places, prophecies, ethics, or organizations, that relates humanity to supernatural, transcendental, or spiritual elements.

Science is a systematic enterprise that builds and organizes knowledge in the form of testable explanations and predictions about the universe.

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Emerging within Western culture, the term has historically often had pejorative connotations, with things labelled magical perceived as being socially unacceptable, primitive, or foreign.

Western culture, sometimes equated with Western civilization, Occidental culture, the Western world, Western society, and European civilization, is a term used very broadly to refer to a heritage of social norms, ethical values, traditional customs, belief systems, political systems and specific artifacts and technologies that have some origin or association with Europe.

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The concept has been adopted by scholars in the humanities and social sciences, who have proposed various different—and often mutually exclusive—definitions of the term.

Social science is a major category of academic disciplines, concerned with society and the relationships among individuals within a society.

Humanities are academic disciplines that study human culture.


Many contemporary scholars regard the concept to be so problematic that they reject it altogether.


The term magic derives from the Old Persian magu, a word that applied to a form of religious functionary about which little is known.

The Old Persian language is one of the two directly attested Old Iranian languages.


During the late sixth and early fifth centuries BCE, this term was adopted into Ancient Greek, where it was used with negative connotations to apply to rites that were regarded as fraudulent, unconventional, and dangerous.

Ancient Greek includes the forms of Greek used in ancient Greece and the ancient world from around the 9th century BC to the 6th century AD.


This meaning of the term was then adopted by Latin in the first century BCE.

Latin is a classical language belonging to the Italic branch of the Indo-European languages.


Via Latin, the concept was incorporated into Christian theology during the first century CE, where magic was associated with demons and thus defined against religion.

A demon is a supernatural being, typically associated with evil, prevalent historically in religion, occultism, literature, fiction, mythology, and folklore; as well as in media such as comics, video games, movies and television series.


This concept was pervasive throughout the Middle Ages, when Christian authors categorised a diverse range of practices—such as enchantment, witchcraft, incantations, divination, necromancy, and astrology—under the label magic.

Necromancy is a practice of magic involving communication with the dead – either by summoning their spirits as apparitions or raising them bodily – for the purpose of divination, imparting the means to foretell future events, discover hidden knowledge, to bring someone back from the dead, or to use the dead as a weapon.

Astrology is the study of the movements and relative positions of celestial objects as a means for divining information about human affairs and terrestrial events.

Witchcraft broadly means the practice of, and belief in, magical skills and abilities that are able to be exercised by individuals and certain social groups.


In early modern Europe, Protestants often claimed that Roman Catholicism was magic rather than religion, and as Christian Europeans began colonising other parts of the world in the sixteenth century they labelled the non-Christian beliefs they encountered magical.

Early modern Europe is the period of European history between the end of the Middle Ages and the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, roughly the late 15th century to the late 18th century.

The Catholic Church, also known as the Roman Catholic Church, is the largest Christian church, with approximately 1.3 billion baptised Catholics worldwide as of 2017.

In a religious context, sin is the act of violating God's will by transgressing his commandments.


In that same period, Italian humanists reinterpreted the term in a positive sense to create the idea of natural magic.

Natural magic in the context of Renaissance magic is that part of the occult which deals with natural forces directly, as opposed to ceremonial magic, in particular goety and theurgy, which deals with the summoning of spirits.


Both negative and positive understandings of the term recurred in Western culture over the following centuries.


Since the nineteenth century, academics in various disciplines have employed the term magic but have defined it in different ways and used it in reference to different things.


One approach, associated with the anthropologists Edward Tylor and James G. Frazer, uses the term to describe beliefs in hidden sympathies between objects that allow one to influence the other.

Sir James George Frazer was a Scottish social anthropologist and folklorist influential in the early stages of the modern studies of mythology and comparative religion.

Sir Edward Burnett Tylor was an English anthropologist, the founder of cultural anthropology.


Defined in this way, magic is portrayed as the opposite to science.


An alternative approach, associated with the sociologists Marcel Mauss and Émile Durkheim, employs the term to describe private rites and ceremonies and contrasts it with religion, which it defines as a communal and organised activity.


By the 1990s, many scholars were rejecting the term's utility for scholarship.


They argued that it drew arbitrary lines between similar beliefs and practices that were instead considered religious and that, being rooted in Western and Christian history, it was ethnocentric to apply it to other cultures.


Throughout Western history, there have been individuals who engaged in practices that their societies called magic and who sometimes referred to themselves as magicians.


Within modern occultism, which developed in nineteenth-century Europe, there are many self-described magicians and people who practice ritual activities that they call magic.

A ritual "is a sequence of activities involving gestures, words, and objects, performed in a sequestered place, and performed according to set sequence."

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