Magic, Explanations, and Evil: The Origins and Design of Witches and Sorcerers

Current Anthropology Vol/Iss. 62(1) Wenner-Gren Foundation New York Published In Pages: 1-29
By Singh, Manvir


This article is centered on a survey of instances of malicious magic and its practitioners throughout the Probability Sample Files. In the 60 culture sample, all but one culture is known to have some kind of evil magic-user. While there is notable variation in the degree of harm of malicious magic and the degree of skill of its practitioners cross-culturally, there are striking similarities between different culture's conceptions of witches and sorcerers. The author then qualitatively analyses the characteristics of these archetypes and presents a tripartite theory. This theory argues that witches and sorcerers fall into at least one of three categories: intuitive magic, plausible explanations, and demonizing narratives. No hypotheses are tested, but the article concludes with a series of ten predictions that are derived from the aforementioned theory.


Sample Used Coded Data Comment
Probability Sample Files (PSF)researcher's own

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