Book Review: Magic And Fetishism

Magic And Fetishism, by Alfred C. Haddon

I found this book, an obscure and forgotten century-old short manuscript from a philosopher of religion, to be surprisingly practical.  As someone who is no stranger to reading about the lasting influence of magical thinking and the occult [1], this book was deeply relevant and interesting beyond the intentions of the author.  The author, of course, wrote this book mainly to discuss the persistence of superstition and shamanism and other beliefs in magic and voodoo and related matters in non-Western societies.  The author also points out the survival of belief in the potency of saintly relics in nominally Christian societies as well.  The author, though, seems to underplay the survival of magical thinking even within our society, as a great deal of alternative medicine as well as scientific behavior consists in wrestling with and falling prey to beliefs in magical power and sorcery on our part, our belief that we have the power to remake the world as we would wish rather than having to deal with an external reality that is and that is ruled over by God.  Be that as it may, there are few serious readers of studies of magic and other related subjects, and so it is not surprising that this book fell through the cracks.

In terms of its contents, this short book is only a bit over 100 pages, and is not a difficult challenge for someone who is interested in its subject matter.  The majority of this book consists of a treatment of magic.  The author talks about sympathetic magic, namely contagious magic and homeopathic magic, by which people learned at least a little bit about healthy living and avoiding contagion.  Then he talks about the magical power of names and words in the next chapter before examining talismans and amulets in the next two chapters.  The author goes on to discuss public and private magic as well as magicians and their supposed power before closing the discussion with an examination of the psychology of magic and views about mana and telepathy.  By contrast, his discussion on the issue of fetishism is rather limited, being confined to three relatively short chapters on defining the term (it does not mean anything sexual, in contrast to its present meaning), looking at the essential character of the term, and looking at its role in heathen religious worship.

Again, this book will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  Few people have an abiding interest in the way that superstitious people look to physical objects in search of fortune and blessing and fail to understand the transcendent nature of God.  This book is more or less an extended riff on Paul’s complaint in Romans 1 about worshiping the creation rather than the creator and how those who profess themselves wise by seeking power and denying God’s authority make themselves to be fools and fall into corruption.  A great deal of the suffering and misery of our world results from such thinking, which is extremely common among all walks of life.  It is worthwhile to know something about the problem because of the temptation that magical and fetishistic thinking has for all of us, no matter how rational or religious we may consider ourselves to be.  The fact that such thinking is rampant all over the world suggests that a great deal of what people consider to be religious devotion of any kind is merely superstition and magical thinking that God abhors, and if we wish to worship God as He pleases, we need to change our ways of thinking to avoid this sort of heathen superstition.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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1 Response to Book Review: Magic And Fetishism

  1. Pingback: Book Review: Goddess Tricked | Edge Induced Cohesion

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