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James Randi Educational Foundation

An Encyclopedia of Claims, Frauds, and Hoaxes of the Occult and Supernatural

Introduction | "R" Reading | Curse of the Pharaoh | End-of-the-World Prophecies

Index | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | Y | Z

sympathetic magic (also known as image magic) Best exemplified by the myth of the voodoo doll, usually made of wax or clay, in which injuries inflicted upon a figure representing the victim are simultaneously experienced by the real person. Thorns, pins, or needles are stuck into the doll, which has been identified specifically with the subject by having incorporated in it scraps of clothing, hair, fingernail or toenail parings, or other personal substances of the victim, or by being baptized in that person's name.
      Such dolls were also used in ancient Assyria and Egypt as early as the reign of Rameses III in the twelfth century B.C. The Greeks and Romans were also familiar with the practice. The Greek sorcerer Theocritus was said to have killed his enemies by performing magic rites over their images. In Latin, the dolls are called imaguncula.
      Another example of this sort of thinking was first written about by Baptista Porta in his Magiae Naturalis (1558), when he described “magic needles.” He wrote that if two needles were prepared from the same piece of iron then magnetized and placed upon pivots like compass needles, one needle would follow the same direction as the other if it were moved, no matter what distance was between the two. Cardinal Richelieu of France accepted this idea. The cardinal accepted almost anything.
      The Celtic witches used figures this way, and the Scots called them “clay bodies.” Today in Malaysia magicians still use such images.

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