Image Magic

Image Magic

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

A form of sympathetic magic, which is based on the belief that "like affects like." The earliest example is found 25,000 years ago, in Paleolithic times. Large clay models of bear and bison have been found constructed on the floors of caves in the south of France. These figures are pock-marked with holes where they were ritually attacked with spears and javelins, as cavemen acted out the hunt. It was believed that by successfully "killing" the images of the animals, the ensuing hunt would be affected by the magic and the animal would be successfully killed. A figure of a bison that had holes in it was found at Le Tuc d'Audoubert, Ariége, France. There was also a similarly pocked figure of a bear, although the bear was missing its head. There was a hole in the neck where, presumably, a stake would be placed with a real bear's head attached to it, to giving extra potency to the magic.

Since that time, there have been numerous examples of this thinking. In ancient Egypt, about 1200 BCE, a treasury official worked harmful magic by making a wax image of Pharaoh Rameses III. In 1325 CE more than twenty men were indicted and tried by the king's bench for a murder committed by tormenting a waxen image. Francis—Earl Bothwell—tried the same thing through the agencies of the North Berwick coven of witches, utilizing an image against King James VI of Scotland in 1590. In seventeenth century France, Catherine de Medici, wife of King Henri II and mother of succeeding kings Francis II, Charles IX, and Henri III, was rumored to have used image magic to bring her sons to the throne. It was not uncommon for a witch's accusers to, during the persecutions, pretend to find wax or clay images in the witch's house. This was always taken as proof of guilt that the witch had been using image magic.

Under the Secular Laws of King Cnut of England (c. 1030 CE), homicide by witchcraft came under the heading of secret murder and was punishable by death. Directly mentioned is the act of invultuacio, the maltreatment of an image or effigy representing the person to be afflicted or destroyed. This method of murder is also mentioned in the Anglo-Saxon Modus Imponendi Poenitentiam of King Edgar and in the Anglo-Saxon Penitential of Pseudo-Ecgbert. A case of image magic occurred in the tenth century, and the accused woman was found guilty and was drowned. In 1419 Richard Walker, a chaplain, was arrested for sorcery by the prior of Winchester. Among his belongings were found two small images of yellow wax together with two books containing conjurations and figures.

In the late 1300s, King Edward III of England became infatuated with a woman named Alice Perrers. That infatuation was later blamed on the Monk of St. Albans, who was one of Perrers's friends. He made wax images of the king and of Alice and, by using these together with other magic, caused the king to become obsessed with the lady. The monk was arrested in 1376. When eleven-year-old Edmund Robinson was carried off to visit the witches by his neighbor, Frances Dicconson (see English Witchcraft), in Lancashire in 1633, he claimed that he observed "three Women take six pictures (images) from off the beam (in the barn), in which pictures were many thorns or such like things sticked in them."

The principle of image magic was well described by Elizabeth Southerns, known as "Old Demdike," at the trial of the Lancashire witches in 1613. She said, "The speediest way to take a man's life away by witchcraft is to make a picture of clay, like unto the shape of the person whom they mean to kill, and dry it thoroughly. And when you would have them to be ill in any one place more than another, then take a thorn or pin and prick it in that part of the picture you would so have to be ill. And when you would have any part of the body to consume away, then take that part of the picture and burn it. And so thereupon by that means the body shall die." An eighteenthcentury chap book titled The Witch of the Woodlands, sold in Aldermary Church Yard, London, in 1710, contains an engraving of a devil-like figure surrounded by witches, two of whom are offering doll-like figures, presumably for his approval and blessing.

In addition to sticking wax images with pins or thorns, harm could be caused by melting the figure slowly or quickly over flames. Clay images were sometimes laid in a stream, so that the action of the water would gradually wash away the clay, rendering a slow and painful death.

The majority of image magic is done for negative reasons, although it can also have positive ramifications. In the example cited above concerning King Edward III, he is made to fall in love; while it is against his will, this is still not as negative as trying to harm or kill him. Certainly much image magic is done in the name of love. Candle magic is often used to attract one person to another. In this type of magic, candles are used to represent the people involved, with the color of the candles determined by the astrological signs of those who are to be affected.

Poppets are often used, especially for positive magic such as healings. A poppet is a cloth doll that represents the person involved. They are stuffed with herbs— either healing herbs or those associated with love. As with the Stone Age clay bear that had a real bear's head attached to it, it is felt that the image or poppet is strengthened if it includes something that belonged to the subject of the image. Hair clippings, fingernail parings, pieces of cloth—even photographs and dirt from the person's footprints—are considered potent.

Image magic was once considered one of the most effective ways of influencing a person. Wiccans today use it mainly for healing, although it has also been used for binding spells. Modern day Witches, however, never use it for negative purposes.

The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism © 2002 Visible Ink Press®. All rights reserved.
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The emergence and spread of anthropomorphic figurines during the Westem Zhou and Spring and Autumn periods was "an extension of the earlier practice of 'image magic'" (p.
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Jessica Dell and Helen Ostovich then return to Hirsch's discussion of image magic. For Dell, gender politics in The Merry Wives of Windsor is used to contextualise magical concepts, social classification, and problems of female virtue, while Ostovich examines the socially constructed meaning of imagery and the consequences of consumption and desire in Bartholomew Fair.
Hirsch, "Three Wax Images, Two Italian Gentlemen, and One English Queen" (155-68); Juditch Bonzol, '"In good reporte and honest estimacion amongst her neighbours': Cunning Women in the Star Chamber and on the Stage in Early Modern England" (169-84); Jessica Dell, "'A witch, a quean, an old cozening quean!': Image Magic and Shakespeare's The Merry Wives of Windsor" (185-202); Helen Ostovich, "'Gingerbread Progeny' in Bartholomew Fair" (203-14); Andrew Loeb, "'My poor fiddle is bewitched': Music, Magic, and the Theatre in The Witch of Edmonton and The Late Lancashire Witches" (215-32).
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