Hunting Magic

Hunting Magic – The notion that shamans believe they can control game via magical means and so ensure a successful hunt. The concept tends to signify stupidity and/or superstitious belief in magic on the part of the peoples at issue. Hunting magic was an idea popularized by Sir James Frazer (1854–1941) in his infamous The Golden Bough (1890) and informs us more about the prejudices of Victorian male armchair anthropologists than about indigenous practices and knowledges. Hunting magic has since been applied to and become erroneously synonymous with the making of rock art and European Paleolithic cave art in particular: hungry hunters painted images of their quarry in the false belief that by jabbing spears at these effigies, or painting mortal wounds on them, this game could be successfully hunted in the bush. Despite its prevalence, this interpretation is supported by little or no evidence (e.g., most of the animals depicted were not primary sources of food). A more nuanced understanding of hunting magic and the role of shamans in it is facilitated by the new animism. Shamans, certainly, may undertake journeys into the other world in order to seek out game and mediate with other-thanhuman persons or spirits in order to negotiate success for hunters, usually making agreements or sacrifices in turn, such as the establishing and regulating of certain taboos. In this sense, hunting magic is more like resource management than foolish superstition.


Historical Dictionary of Shamanism by Graham Harvey and Robert J. Wallis 2007


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