Early History of Magic

Thousands of years ago, magic was already ancient.

ancient goddess
Image by H. Newberry from Pixabay

The true root of the word “magic” is unknown, but it is related to and perhaps derived from the Magi. You don’t need me to tell you that, as there are thousands of pages online telling you authoritatively the aforementioned Zoroastrian priest class are at the start of the whole affair.

This would put the origins of what we now call magic at potentially 4,000 years ago. While it’s amazing that a practical system could stand the test of that much time and still be relevant today, there’s simply no reason to believe humanity doddled along without her (Magic) all those millennia prior to 2,000 B.C., roughly.

In his Lost Magic of Christianity Michael Poynder posits convincingly that Stone Age Man developed a complex and profound system of magic before recorded history. T. W. Rolleston sketches a similar image in Celtic Myths and Legends.

Pliny (elder? younger? sorry) commented that while he credited the Persians, he believed the art of Magic to be older than the most recent Zoroaster, asking “has there not been more than one?”. While he accused Osthanes, the Magi at the side of Xerxes himself, with “spreading the germs of his monstrous art” throughout Europe”, he too acknowledges elsewhere the Druids and laments that magic can’t be prohibited because it “penetrates the confines of Nature.”

From monoliths like Stone Henge to 40,000 (or so) year old cave paintings, the traces of magic go back as far as Homo Sapien bones (and probably hominid bones in general) can be tilled up from the earth. It seems likely the Art was at one point in our history indistinguishable from religion.

Before the polytheistic systems of Egypt and even Mesopotamia, where divinity or spirit was d across multiple persona or spheres, that vital force may have been implicit within the time and space in which our early ancestors lived, moved, and had their being. Magic then, would have been intrinsic to the very fabric and mystery of life, as ubiquitous as the breath and as mysterious as the consciousness.

Quite a bit of the material I find, and it has to be speculative due to its very context, comes across as either Egypt-centric or focused on the Semitic tribes, or on the “from Persia” bandwagon. All these perspectives neatly forget how the people of Norhtern Europe (Celts, et al) developed their own religions and culture quite successfully and apart from the Near East, to say nothing of Asia and the earliest arrivals to North America 20.000-40.000 (depending on the source) years ago.

I’ve used the word ubiquitous already in this post but, dammit, I’m comfortable doing it again: Magic in some form or another may be among the, if not the most ubiquitous of humanity’s deeper pursuits, and it remains a living part of us tens of thousands of years later.