Rethink ing how to define magic

Richard Kieckhefer*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

1 Scopus citations


What is magic? We know perfectly well what it is if no one asks us, but when someone asks and we try to define it, we are confused. Or perhaps we give definitions adequate to some forms of magic but not others. Or we have definitions that make sense to us but not to others around us, who, when pressed, come to the table with rather different notions. We tell people, “When I speak of magic, what I mean by it is …”, but then we should not be surprised if they tune out our abstractions and understand us in terms of their own vague preconceptions. Defining magic is notoriously tricky business. And one reason for that is, I wish to argue, that we try to make the word “magic” accomplish what it is ill equipped to do. It is the wrong kind of term for what we want to do with it.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationThe Routledge History of Medieval Magic
PublisherTaylor and Francis
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781317042761
ISBN (Print)9781472447302
StatePublished - Jan 1 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities(all)


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