Magic is a topic that fascinates scholars and curators as well as visitors to museums.
The numerous exhibitions on magic are an expression of the great academic
and non-academic interest in this field. This can be understood in the context of
the appreciation discourse (‘Aufwertungsdiskurs’) on magic, which Bernd-Christian
Otto ascribes to the present day. Previously, in the course of its 2500-year
history, the term magic appeared in Greek, Roman, and Christian sources to designate
phenomena that were branded as harmful, immoral, fraudulent, or ineffective.
Persons defamed as magicians were therefore excluded, devalued, and
sometimes threatened with the death penalty. It is therefore not surprising that
the use of the term as a positive self-designation was the absolute exception until
the end of the 19th century. It is interesting to note that for some observers,
similar phenomena could be described pejoratively as magic when encountered
outside of the observer’s own context, and yet as miracles when found within it.
In its beginnings, the study of religion adopted the negative connotations of the
term magic from its roots in Christian theology and the European Enlightenment.
Thus, magic as an academic meta-category appeared as the inferior opposite of
either religion or science and was especially attributed to non-European cultures.