From The Bench

Understanding Spiritual & Ritual Charms: A Framework of Understanding, Part 1

How Did Spiritual & Ritual Charms Come to Be?

Regardless of how the field of magic and rituals are delimited and defined in non-literate cultures, it is likely that most students of comparative religion and anthropology today regard to magic, including spiritual & ritual charms, as falling entirely or partially within the broader field of religion.

While many writers on the subject agree with the idea of the two fundamental principles of magic—the contagious and imitative —few agree with the view of magic as the essential or primitive equivalent of what is now known as modern science. Magic is no science, and even the most modern practitioners of any magical craft will be up in arms when they hear this.

Now, if people do not regard their magic as pure technology and thus do not view the relationship between the rite and its effect as mechanistic-causal, how is the relationship thought of? Why do people believe in magical acts’ efficacy? And how are we to account for this belief?

There is a strong emphasis on magic and religion as modes of action, especially with the use of spiritual & ritual charms. “ritual” is self-explanatory; it refers to magical-religious actions and associated beliefs, values, and attitudes. However, there is belief and myth frequently conceived as justifications for ritual activities before moving. Thus, belief cannot be used to explain ritual activity; instead, it is a component of forms of activity. This totality is what needs to be explained. Necessarily, this totality includes people using charms and other items to denote their faith and beliefs. You can read more about that in our super comprehensive guide on sterling silver zodiac charms and zodiac signs.

Symbols in Daily Life and Magic

Rituals are symbolic. To the extent that beliefs are not merely rationalizations, they are also extended. This means that a distinction must be made between the actor’s conscious and explicit level, the literal meaning of their actions and beliefs, and the level at which such acts and beliefs must be truly understood. Because magical and religious acts cannot be fully comprehended within the actor’s frame of reference — that is, on a literal level — the true meaning must be sought on a symbolic level that is frequently hidden from the actor’s consciousness.

Thus, when an African villager slaughters a goat, the literal interpretation may be that he is offering a sacrifice to his forefathers. However, symbolists maintain that the man is making a statement about his lineage structure and values. Thus, ritual acts are not primarily about “doing” something; they are about “saying.” This is also true of magical acts. While they are, on a literal level, ways of doing something, frequently something particular and practical, the symbolist theory requires that they are fundamental ways of saying something. Thus, a central role is given to the concept of symbol, a subset of signs: Things that have significance and serve as a symbol for something greater than themselves.

Thus, “we use the term ‘symbols’ to refer to comprehensible (i.e. ‘graspable’) entities, whether objects, ideas, or patterns of behavior, that represent, through an underlying rationale, some more or less abstract concept (power, social or group unity, ‘maleness’ and ‘femaleness,’ life, the dangerous, and unfamiliar, are examples), to which a social or cultural value, positive or negative, is attached.

Objects, ideas, and actions all have a symbolic nature within the category of ritual. Thus, supernatural, or irrational, powers such as spirits and gods are also symbols “‘. The central thought on magic and religion requires a distinction between a literal level on which people believe they are interacting with supernatural beings whose reality they do not doubt and a deeper, symbolic level on which both religious activities and supernatural beings are correctly understood.

Symbolizing certain critical facets of the environment’s physical and sociocultural components is important, especially when you’re using spiritual & ritual charms. When applied to magical acts, belief in the efficacy of magic falls under the literal category. On a symbolic level, the actor is saying something, not doing anything.

Therefore, magical acts should not be regarded as inadequate means of achieving empirical goals but as dramatic assertions capable of serving as ends in themselves. As symbols, supernatural acts should refer to abstract social concepts, preferably to the social or natural order. Thus, when people perform a rainmaking ceremony by pouring water or producing dense smoke, they are symbolically expressing the value they place on rain and their sincere desire for it to fall.

When a man inserts a pin into a wax model of his adversary, he expresses his desire for the adversary’s death by creating a miniature representation of what he desires”. While rain is far from an abstract concept, it qualifies as a social value. Additionally, the death of an adversary may imply a social value, but this is not always the case, and again, no abstract concept appears to be involved.

The collective procedures we refer to as ‘magical’ do not have to be, and frequently are not, viewed as purely symbolic by their practitioners (or even as symbolic). Instead, they are strategies for obtaining what they desire and what is done in such and such a situation in a particular culture.

Now that it is self-evident that someone performing a magical rite has no difficulty verbalizing and expressing explicitly that he is acting to accomplish a specific goal, supernatural acts are instrumental on a literal level.

The most compelling argument appears to be that the symbolic level of consciousness is implicit or unconscious, but that the anthropologist can demonstrate its existence by contextualizing the rites and symbols he observes. The conclusion must be that those who perform magical rituals act explicitly and deliberately on an instrumental and literate level, but not on an expressive level, which is necessary for an adequate understanding of such acts.

Why should those who perform truly expressive and symbolic magical acts be convinced of their efficacy? The conviction of their effectiveness is founded on their symbolic nature. The theory asserts that, fundamentally, the efficacy of a ritual is believed to reside in its expressiveness.

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