Curated by George Adams
In 1890, Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer coined the term ‘contagious magic’ in his famous book The Golden Bough. A form of sympathetic magic, contagious magic ‘proceeds upon the notion that things which have once been conjoined must remain ever afterwards, even when quite dissevered from each other, in such a sympathetic relation that whatever is done to the one must similarly affect the other.’1
Based on the belief that any part of a body remains permanently connected to it after having been separated, magic could be performed on the remaining fragment – be it hair, fingernails, teeth, clothes or even a footprint left on the sand, to affect or influence, from a distance, the person it comes from. Amongst many other slightly condescending examples, Frazer related the story of the ‘natives of South-Eastern Australia’ who thought that harm could be made to a man by placing sharp pieces of quartz, glass, bone or charcoal in his footprints.