The (Im)Materiality of Everyday Magic
By Ceri Houlbrook
I was reading through Adam Parker’s fascinating perspective on ‘Magic in Archaeology’ and was struck by his Umbrella Paradigm. Adherence to unwritten ‘laws’ concerning what will bring you bad luck, good luck, future fortune, and so on, is prevalent in contemporary society. We make wishes on wishbones. We avoid walking under ladders. We knock on wood to avoid tempting fate. Whether or not there is any actual belief behind the adherence is hard to judge and even harder to write about, but physical adherence itself is widespread. This much can hardly be doubted.
What interests me is how these adherences leave very little trace in the material record. The material evidence of an umbrella testifies to its use as a device to protect against rainfall; it does not testify to the notion that it’s considered unlucky to open an umbrella indoors. Likewise, the material evidence of a…
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