I’ve been asked to discuss the significance of “sympathetic magic” to prehistoric art, and if I believe there is a connection between such magic and mythology. Now in order to figure this out I have to understand what sympathetic magic really is. Merriam-Webster defines sympathetic magic as: magic based on the assumption that a person or thing can be supernaturally affected through its name or an object representing it. So, the question now is do I believe if a prehistoric artist painted what he did because of the belief that he could somehow be supernaturally affected through it. My answer as of now? Absolutely.
Now, the theory of sympathetic magic was first developed by Sir James Frazer in The Golden Bough. He categorized sympathetic magic in two categories: that that relies on similarity, and that that relies on contact. Sir James Frazer states, “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. The former principle may be called the Law of Similarity, the latter the Law of Contact or Contagion..”
Now that we know what sympathetic magic is, it’s time to look at some examples of how people have used sympathetic magic, from prehistory all the way to modern times. In prehistoric times we see our ancestors going into caves such as the Chauvet Cave, or the Cave of Niaux, and painting truly immaculate, unbelievable portrayals of (most commonly) large wild animals. These caves are covered on the walls and the ceilings with these animals, and it is quite clear that our ancestors showed these images a lot of respect. These images were not drawn in caves in which people lived, in fact most caves showed very little signs of life at all. Some of these caves...
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