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Use of means (such as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces. It constitutes the core of many religious systems and plays a central social role in many nonliterate cultures. Magic is often distinguished from religion as being more impersonal and mechanical and emphasizing technique. Its techniques are usually regarded as means to specific ends (an enemys defeat, rainfall, etc.), although another view ascribes a more symbolic, expressive character to such activity. Thus, a rainmaking ritual may both elicit rainfall and stress the symbolic importance of rain and the agricultural activities associated with it. Both the magician and the magical rite are typically surrounded by taboos, purification procedures, and other activities that draw the participants into the magical sphere. Strains of magic in Western tradition, formerly associated with heretics, alchemists, witches, and sorcerers, persist in modern times in the activities of satanists and others. The art of entertaining by performing apparently magical feats (sometimes called conjuring) relies on the use of sleight of hand and other means. See also shaman, vodun, witchcraft and sorcery.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on magic, visit Britannica.com.