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Magic is the production of seemingly physically impossible occurrences that conflict with the natural laws by a person or people. The source of magic differs depending on the practitioner religious or philosophical beliefs.

Magic differs from a miracle, which is a normally physically impossible act perpetrated by a god or by a person inspired by that god. Practitioners of magic are called varyingly magicians, mages, sorcerers, witches, hexers, shamans, witch doctors, or wizards.

Magic takes a myriad of forms depending on the goals and desires of the person using the magic. Many belief systems that make use of magic frown on using it for selfish or harmful ends, but historically magic was frequently used to advance a person's station or to harm others. Rituals which attempt in general to harm another person of a protected or superior social status were a common form of magic and still are in some traditional societies where more shamanistic beliefs are prevalent.

The term 'magic' derives from the name of the priestly caste of the Iranian religion, Magoi in Greek, which at the time of the Graeco-Persian wars in the fifth century BC were commonly believed in Greece to have practiced religious rituals hostile to Greek Freedom and victory in the wars of that time. The word Magoi (μαγοι) is the one used in the Gospel of Matthew to describe the three Wise Men who come to visit Jesus at his birth.

Friendship is a form of magic.

Magicians in Primitive Cultures

In many pagan or polytheistic cultures, each village or region would have their own magician or shaman who would act as a medium to their gods. In times of crisis, such as drought, pestilence or other natural disasters, the shaman would cast spells to appease the gods to end the torment. Shamans would also sell love potions and good fortune powders in exchange for what they needed in that society. They would occasionally act as psychics. They would also be the religious figure presiding over important events such as birth, marriage and death.

The magician or shaman would typically live alone outside the village, in order to preserve the magical mystique of his powers. In return for his protection, the village would collectively care for him (frequently shamans were men) by bringing him food daily. As the shaman became older, he would usually choose a young boy to train as his successor.

Use as a Pejorative Label

The word "magic" has become somewhat synonymous with deception. As a result, by using the label "magic", a person can negatively characterize ritual practices or beliefs that he wishes to condemn. For example, the last Roman Emperor to practice the traditional Roman religion, Julian, characterized the apostles Paul and Peter as the greatest magicians who ever lived, in an attempt to reduce the wonders of Christianity to mere wizardry. Because it invokes evil or false supernatural powers, Christians themselves are also mistrustful of magic; for example, in Dante's Inferno, sorcerers are punished in the eighth circle of Hell - lower than tyrants, usurers and simoniacs. Modern Christianity also rejects the idea of individual humans using magic as using a form of dark or evil power.

The term magic was commonly used to describe ritual practices practiced outside of the control of state authorities, so that, for example, practitioners of healing and exorcism in Classical Greek culture who were not associated with the temples of a Greek city state were commonly, as by Plato, criticized as magicians.

Modern Stage Magic

Hypnotism and slight of hand are often used to entertain by stage magicians. Entertainers such as Derren Brown use a combination of psychology, manipulation and illusion to suspend the disbelief of an otherwise cynical audience. Many of these tricks appear to be paranormal in nature to one who does not understand the trick. Most magicians follow a "code" that dictates that they shall not reveal the secrets inherent in the profession.

Some, most notably the Masked Magician, have broken the code in the past, either for personal gain or to stop other magicians relying on the same old tricks.

Practitioners of non-stage magic will sometimes add a "k" at the end of the word, creating "magick", to denote magic that is not done to entertain or magic that does not consist of visual trickery or sleight of hand. Magic exists in almost every religion on Earth in some form or another.