My thoughts on the history of magic and some myths about it
If one does not understand the history of magic, I do not think one can understand where it is today and why it was repressed for so long. You would not understand how far back into human history it goes or how strange it is that we just jettisoned all the magical wisdom of our ancestors as if they were idiots. You would not understand why the nature magician is the strongest kind of environmentalist, an eco-warrior who holds exactly the kind of consciousness required to restore harmony amongst people, nations, animals, plants and other beings in this world. You would not understand how we went from 100% of the human population practicing magic to a much smaller percentage today.
Magic appears to have come very early in human evolution, a product of living in tribes. Some archaeologists have theorised that Neanderthals, an older human species (dating back perhaps 500,000 years) who shared the earth with us for a short time (about 300,000 years ago), often used magic for the hunt. Our species, homo sapiens, continued practicing tribal magic for the next 290,000 years. What other knowledge system did they have? We also see solid evidence of this between the historic tribes we know of (e.g., Aborigines up to 100,000 years ago and European cave paintings dating to some 30,000 years ago). Roll history forward to precolonial times, and we see that free tribes everywhere in the world, just before conquest and absorption into states, were practicing some form of magic (e.g., shamanism, earth religion, etc.).
Indigenous peoples, tribes, kingdoms and small nations around the world were mostly practicing nature magic (a kind of magic natural to humans) and living more harmoniously with nature, much more so than the land-grabbing states imposed on top of them that we call civilisation! I think the conquerors wanted land and wealth at any cost and justified much brutality and ecocide by calling their nature-loving victims barbarians and referring to their magic as blasphemy. ‘Convert to our religion or die’. By the end of the Twentieth Century, after a few centuries of genocidal rampaging, indigenous peoples’ lands all over the world were expropriated and consolidated into some 200 states not because of civilisation building but owing to GREED! Millions of tribal peoples (all magicians) died and many tribes were extinguished to see a new political geography arise: cookie cutter states run by centralised military-civilian-corporate bureaucracies that facilitate resource extraction for profit, repress all resistance, and ignore the need to protect nature.
After tens of thousands of cultures were absorbed into expansionist states, most were unable to practice traditional magic (ceremonial magic) because that requires land and resources, which the rich and powerful took to exploit for short-term profit, which caused terrible suffering for generations to come. Ancient homelands, maintained sustainably, were turned into shopping centers, mines and parking lots and the whole world saw increased uniformity in behavior and culture. That cultures, peoples, landscapes, flora, fauna, soils and water resources were swept aside to enable a few to make quick profits is the best single explanation for the gravest social, political, economic and ecological problems facing us today. Destroying the earth for the profit of very few individuals (the rest are situated under a power pyramid of authority and repressed) is dark magic and needs to be reversed. It cannot be reversed if white magic/nature magic is repressed and not distinguished because the best antidote to dark magic is white magic. Dark magicians as religious authorities repressing other magiciansq helps describe the Inquisition. In fact, for 2,000 years or so state and religious authorities so repressed white magic that very few people really understand it today (even though it was practiced for 300,000 years by their very ancestors). All that length of history is then rubbished as primitive and we learn nothing more.
Many people say, “Leave this painful subject to the past’ but the way of the nature magician is not to conceal evil but shine light (truth) upon the face of it until it withers away. The global war on indigenous peoples is not over nor is the use of genocide, ecocide, and ethnocide to forcefully remove them off the lands they maintained with good ecological practices for millennia. This horrific violence enables the reckless and wasteful exploitation of resources (e.g., oil, gas, coal, minerals, grazing lands, lumber and much more); undermines the concept of responsible stewardship; and creates and ‘normalizes’ an unending cycle of exploitative relations amongst humans and between humans and every single species on the planet. Not knowing of this violent history is also part of repressing the masses. Most of the pressures that you feel to conform owe to a history of dark magic (defined as hierarchical magic or authoritarianism—obey your master) repressing white magic. White magic or what I call Nature Magic is about being free to express the living light that is inside each of us—we do not need to bow before our masters or conform to anyone. That magic message is the essential reason people today have been taught not to believe in magic (i.e., ‘it is a fantasy’): it stands in the way of conformity And the repression has been successful—many people now believe magic is impossible or it is just theatre. However, whatever you tell yourself is impossible is impossible. One has to replace that ‘impossible’ mantra with the ‘magic is possible’ mantra to even see magic let alone begin practice.
Owing to state-building by territorial annexation, state bureaucracies came to rule over vast and disparate populations. State-authorised religions and education then developed not to develop thinking masses but to control them. If all subservient classes believe the same thing, it facilitates easy rule. Examples of enforcing religion upon penalty of death included: later periods of Roman expansion; the Inquisition in Europe; and the Age of Colonialism (converting indigenous populations). Torturing and killing people to change their faith might not be good religious practice but it occurred then and still does in major parts of the world today. Essentially, state-sponsored religion was used to wipe out magic and to this day many people indoctrinated in certain religions fear magic because they have been taught to fear it but those same people know next to nothing about it, often thinking it was a European invention that has witches on brooms. In fact, it is the oldest knowledge system of humankind, still containing many treasures, which are now kept in secrecy by an elite who practice magic like mad (big numbers of the mighty and powerful, old families, belonging to secret magic societies and don’t really conceal it from the masses because the indoctrination to keep magic away from them has worked so effectively the masses cannot imagine this yet).
The place to look to understand the history of magic is not Europe but to indigenous populations, all magicians all around the world before contact. And on every continent, magic practicing tribes were massacred by armies, tortured to death, subjected to germ warfare, and invaded for their land and resources. Today, some small percentage of tribal peoples are lucky if they live in tiny remnants of their former homelands because most were removed. But…there are some rainforest areas, deserts, and icy climates where they can still practice magic. They are mostly under continuous assault for their resources and many converted to Christianity long ago and form part of the culture less masses. The remaining citizens who lack culture or tribe and so distanced from magic that they have come to perceive of it as theatre performers or pulling rabbits out of hats.
Most people seem to believe that magic and the indigenous peoples who practiced it disappeared owing to ‘progress’ when they actually fell under assault from more advanced weaponry and warfare. Indigenous people sat on land with precious minerals, forests, wild animals and other resources desired by businessmen who organised the removal of these ancient cultures standing in their way. The civilian-military bureaucracies we call states were built by forcefully expanding across indigenous peoples’ lands, which saw the death of at least hundred million.
Author & Magician
Richard has a background as a social scientist (PhD 1993 UC Berkeley) as well as completing studies of various kinds over the decades. He believes in the power of magic, practices and writes about it. Not tricks on a stage, but the magic that is as ancient as humanity, our shared birth right that was suppressed to bring hierarchies to power. Richard lives in Lives in Cape Town, Western Cape