3. Animism, Magic and the Omnipotence of Thoughts

(1) Animism is in its narrower sense, the doctrine of souls, and in its wider sense, the doctrine of spiritual beings in general. Animistic ideas have arisen from varied races in every period, which Hume (1891) explains "There is a universal tendency among mankind to conceive all beings like themselves, and to transfer to every object those qualities with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious."

Freud also looks at animism in the context of two other systems of thought - religious and scientific - of which animism appears to have been the first to have been created. Animism is not a religion but contains the foundations on which myths and later religions are built, although fine details of this relationship remain unexplained.

(2) In conjunction with animism arose a practical need for controlling the world around them. Such instruction is referred to as 'sorcery' and 'magic' by Freud. Sorcery is the art of influencing spirits by treating them as one would men in like circumstances - through appeasement, propitiating them, intimidating them etc. Magic on the other hand, disregards spirits and makes use of special procedures.

On closer inspection, various groups of magical acts can be identified. Those that are based on the similarity between the act performed and the result expected (e.g. using an effigy of one's enemy and applying harm, or in seeing rain, looking at something that looks like rain etc.) are referred to as 'imitative' or 'homeopathic' by Frazer. A second group is referred to as 'contagious' magic by Frazer. Here the effective principle is no longer similarity, but spatial connection, contiguity, or at least imagined contiguity - the recollection of it.

To explain the essence of magic further than Frazer's classifications, Freud looks at the motives behind its practice - human wishes. Here Freud draws analogies with children who he claims are in the same psychical situation, but for them imitative representation is enough, as they accept their impotence. However adult men, shift their psychological accents from motives to measures for carrying out the act itself. Freud further notices that the two principles of association - similarity and contiguity - are both included in the more comprehensive concept of 'contact' in the metaphorical and literal senses respectively. So it seems that "the principle governing magic, the technique of the animistic mode of thinking, is the principle of the 'omnipotence of thoughts'."

(3) It is in obsessional neuroses that the survival of the omnipotence of thoughts is most visible, but it is present in other neuroses too. This omnipotence of thoughts, results in the overvaluation of mental processes as compared with reality, for example a fear of acknowledging evil wishes for fear that they will become reality. Therefore these neurotics often devise obsessive acts of a magical character designed to ward off the expected disaster (normally death).

In light of the three stages of thought described above, it seems that in the animistic phase men ascribe omnipotence to themselves and only in the religious phase do they ascribe it to the gods.

Freud then refers back to his essays on sexuality, where he described the stage of auto-erotism, where instincts are observable but not directed at any external objects. This stage is then interrupted by a narcissistic stage where the subject directs his instincts towards himself. Having established the overvaluation that primitive men and neurotics can be seen to have for their mental acts, Freud argues that this attitude may be regarded as an essential component of narcissism. Following this proposition, Freud argues that as the animistic phase corresponds to narcissism, the religious phase corresponds to the stage of object-choice, in which a child characteristically attaches itself to its parents, whilst the scientific phase corresponds with reaching sexual maturity and use of the external world as the object of desires.

(4) Freud hypothesizes that man's first theoretical achievement - the creation of spirits, arose from the same source as the moral restrictions to which he was subjected - the observances of taboo - although not necessarily simultaneously. Freud furthermore postulates that the duality of primitive men, is analogous to that with which we are met today of distinctions between mind and body.

  By PanEris using Melati.

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