Folk magic is a general term that refers to spells, charms, rituals, curses, and other forms of magic that are practiced by average people, particularly those in the working class. It can be contrasted to traditions that require extensive formal training and may only be available to people of a certain social class. Examples of formal magic traditions of the latter type are hermeticism, systems of theurgy reserved for priests or other religious leaders, and (often) the type of magic used in fantasy roleplaying games.
Folk magic practices are used for practical purposes and reflect the daily concerns and needs of the people who utilize them. They typically use items and ingredients that are inexpensive and relatively easy to obtain.
TYPES OF FOLK MAGIC
The specific types of magic found in most folk traditions fall into a limited number of categories:
Apotropaic magic is used to bring good luck, ward off bad luck, and keep people, animals, and homes safe. It is one of the most common categories within folk magic.
Magic designed to heal, cure diseases, and remove poison or venom is the second most common category of folk magic, and tends to be valued highly. Most adults know at least a few folk magic cures, but others require the expertise of a specialist.
Another popular category of folk magic is that which revolves around love and personal relationships in general.
Other positive forms of folk magic are used to locate people or objects, enhance the senses, tell the future, control the weather, deal with ghosts, and prevent the use of malicious magic.
The traditions included in Other Magic treat shapeshifting as an inherently evil act. It is assumed that people change their shapes to make it easier to spy on their neighbors or sneak into areas where they are not welcome.
Amulets and talismans are simple objects designed to protect the people or animals who wear them. Some are left in buildings to protect them from intrusion, fire, or inclement weather. The terms are often interchangeable, though amulets are specifically designed for protection, while talismans may have broader uses, such as bringing good luck.
In English speaking countries, people who use magic with ill intent are most commonly referred to as witches . Equivalent terms are found in most other languages. It is important to note that many folk magic traditions do not equate the term “witch” with a person who has sold his or her soul to a devil, demon, or other evil entity. In those cultures it is more indicative of people who simply choose to use their talents for malicious purposes. “Witches” of this type are capable of using magic in a positive manner, and people who are not normally considered to be witches may occasionally use magic for less than honorable reasons.
The first issue of Other Magic (from the first Kickstarter ZineQuest event) is available onDriveThruRPG in print or PDF form. However, anyone who backs the newest issue, Other Magic #3: The Ancient World (on Kickstarter from February 8-21, 2021) will receive free PDFs of the first two issues!
Dr. Justin Sledge is a Professor of Philosophy and Religion with a research specialization in the “Western Esoteric Tradition.” His Esoterica YouTube channel if full of fascinating videos that explore magical beliefs and practices from an academic perspective.
This particular video is a good introduction to the development of magical characters and symbols over time, starting with late-classical Egypt.
An explanation of the various types of Creative Commons licenses. If you find a piece of artwork that has a Creative Commons license indicated, make sure to check the specific version of it to see what is and is not allowed.
More and more museums are releasing images of the items in their collections into the public domain or some other form of open access. Most of them mark images that fall into that category, and some allow you to limit searches that way. Make sure to check each museum’s rules to see if there are limits on use.
Historical maps can be great additions to projects, and some libraries have open access policies regarding them. As always, check the library’s rules regarding image usage, and make sure that the images you select fall into an open access category.
Other Magic #3: The Ancient World focuses on the magical spells, rituals, and beliefs of the ancient Mediterranean, Near East, and Middle East (Mesopotamia, Egypt, Greece, Rome, etc.). In addition to the translated text of actual spells and magic items, it includes information for GMs on how to create original ones in the same styles. It is system neutral, so there are no spell blocks or specific game mechanics included, but they can easily be adapted to any rpg that uses magic.
the Greek Magical Papyri, magic spells from the syncretistic cultures of Greco-Egyptian Alexandria and surrounding areas
amulets, effigies, ostraca, incantation bowls, magical gems, phylacteries, and other magic items
charakteres, the Ephesia Grammata, onomata barbara, voces magicae, and other magic words and symbols
binding spells to influence address legal concerns, control emotions, influence sports events, and affect other aspects of mundane life
curse magic, including the use of defixiones (“curse tablets”) and “funerary imprecations” (grave curses)
It is time for Kickstarter’s annual ZineQuest event! Other Magic #3: The Ancient World will go live on ZineQuest 3 during the second week of February, 2021. Visit the preview page any time before that to sign up to be notified when it launches!