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Full Text: Anthropos, 69.1974

The Magic of Transgression 
Laura Makarius 
Recent anthropological literature in Britain has devoted consideiable 
s Pa.ce to witchcraft and sorcery. Most of the time, lurid accounts of the malefi- 
Ce m use to which magic is applied have claimed attention. If ever the writer 
Zanders into the field of explanation, it is to theorise on the significance of 
tbe tensions and mediations to which magical practices give rise, or on the 
Personal conflicts which they are supposed to express. As a field worker, his 
s °metimes total absorption in the practical problems they raise is more ger- 
^ane to the preoccupations of the government official which he is not, than 
the self-questioning of the scientific inquirer which he is. While for the 
0r mer the obstinate search for correlations between social function and the 
^ ar ious aspects of witchcraft or sorcery is quite understandable, it is apt to 
blin< i the latter to the fact that witchcraft and sorcery belong to a cultural 
complex which, on the whole, is yet most imperfectly understood. 
. Cases of poisoned food, lingering illnesses or sudden death promise to 
l) c bette 
ter understood when viewed from a distance than when subjected to 
scrutiny, surrounded by a wealth of distracting details - pio\ided, of 
^°urse, that the investigator is theoretically prepared. Would he not be in a 
. e Ror position if already equipped with an explanation of the role of impurit} 
ln magic, of the relation between black magic on the one hand, and incest, 
Car mibalism, and necromancy on the other, of the fact that twins are often 
Regarded as sorcerers themselves, and that, in the case of saciifice, a bloo 
km is the preferred victim? Can it be maintained that, because such knowl- 
e< %e is acquired through theory, it is therefore irrelevant to a correct inter 
preta tion of the various aspects which the current practice of witchcraft re- 
Wals ? 
f The problems posed by witchcraft cannot be elucidated unless detached 
r °m local contingencies, viewed from a higher level of genera it\ t an a 
at which they express themselves in daily practices, and considered m t e 
general context of magic, as a complex of objectively misguided activi- 
les motivated by imaginary beliefs. Thus, the beliefs governing the prepara- 
l0n of love potions or the theft of exuviae cannot be dissociated fiom those,

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