Contagious Magic


While researching Appalachian Folk Magic for my latest wip, I read Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough. In his chapter “The Principles of Magic,” I encountered this:

“If we analyze the principles of thought on which magic is based, they will probably be found to resolve themselves into two: first, that like produces like, or that an effect resembles its cause; and, second, that things which have once been in contact with each other continue to act on each other at a distance after the physical contact has been severed.” (p. 12)

Frazer refers to this principle, which he calls “Contagious Magic,” in his discussion of spells around the world that involve the use of hair or nail clippings to exert control over the owner. Even things that were once close, and not necessarily part of the body, can be used because a bond still exists. For example, in Mecklenburg, Germany, practitioners of folk magic believed a coffin nail driven into a footprint would make the person who made the print go lame.

Frazer, with his usual scholarly contempt, dismisses such thinking while painstakingly documenting other examples of it.

But now we have quantum mechanics, which says to folks like Frazer, “Not so fast.” From the Encyclopedia of Science:

“Identical twins, it’s said, can sometimes sense when one of the pair is in danger, even if they’re oceans apart. Tales of telepathy abound. Scientists cast a skeptical eye over such claims, largely because it isn’t clear how these weird connections could possibly work. Yet they’ve had to come to terms with something that’s no less strange in the world of physics: an instantaneous link between particles that remains strong, secure, and undiluted no matter how far apart the particles may be – even if they’re on opposite sides of the universe.”

Erwin Schrödinger, in a letter to Albert Einstein, called this phenomenon “entanglement”:

“When two systems … enter into temporary physical interaction … and when after a time of mutual influence the systems separate again, then they can no longer be described in the same way as before, viz. by endowing each of them with a representative of its own. I would not call that one but rather the characteristic trait of quantum mechanics, the one that enforces its entire departure from classical lines of thought. By the interaction the two representatives [the quantum states] have become entangled.”

Einstein dismissed Schrödinger’s ideas as “spooky action at a distance.” (And isn’t that what magic is all about?) But it’s for real. Today, IT researchers are studying how to create super computers that can exchange data instantaneously through entangled components despite being separated by thousands of miles.

Spooky, indeed.

7 thoughts on “Contagious Magic”

  1. There are a lot of things in quantum mechanics that are proving the Old Ways had more about them than mere superstition. The observation/creation of a personal reality is little different, for example, from the visualisation techniques of practical magic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Sue Vincent,

      Good point. Neuroscientists now say that metaphors are essential to human thought. For example, when you read about a physical action, such as “The boy kicked the ball,” MRIs reveal that the part of your brain associated with motor control is activated. No wonder visualization helps you improve a skill.


  2. I am convinced that some particles connect more than others…and some particles repel each other. Just like in magnets. Look at animals, for instance dogs, and how they wag their tail at some dogs but growl at others. Immediate and instant. What do they rely on? And we go through life meeting many other people, of which some stay, some disappear, some come back, and some are forever, whether in your life or not.

    Liked by 1 person

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