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Thread: Magic in Ancient History

  1. #1 Magic in Ancient History 
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    I wonder sometimes, how often some technologies, perhaps known to a small minority, but not to most people, were passed off as magic. I know the stone masons were often considered to be magical for their ability to design and engineer castles and make all the stonework fit.

    I've also come across a few cases where shamans and such would pass off herbal poison/cures as magic and/or a supernatural effect. Supposedly some witches in Jamaica knew of a root that could cause a person to apparently die, and then raise up as a mindless robot of their former self, lending credibility to the legend of zombies.

    I wonder what else? Maybe those batteries they found near Bahgdad were used by some priests or sorcerers to try and make people afraid of their powers?


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    Forum Junior Zitterbewegung's Avatar
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    Well, Heron of Alexandria comes to mind. He was a buff when it came to water and steam-power (Heron's Ball for example) He constructed a temple portal that opened when you lit a fire on the altar next to the portal.


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  4. #3 Re: Magic in Ancient History 
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    Quote Originally Posted by kojax
    I wonder what else? Maybe those batteries they found near Bahgdad were used by some priests or sorcerers to try and make people afraid of their powers?
    It's not at all clear that those were actually batteries.
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    I thought that most things that were unable to be explained (such as static electricity for example, something i think Aristotle experimented with) were viewed as 'magic' by those in ancient times.
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    I thought that most things that were unable to be explained (such as static electricity for example, something i think Aristotle experimented with) were viewed as 'magic' by those in ancient times.
    ehh! way too many generalization and assumptions in this sentence
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  7. #6  
    The Doctor Quantime's Avatar
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    If you can't explain it, call it magic. Take a Eurofighter Typhoon back in time 1000 years, how does it fly? OoOOHHH! Its magic!

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  8. #7  
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    Quote Originally Posted by Demons are real, ask God
    I thought that most things that were unable to be explained (such as static electricity for example, something i think Aristotle experimented with) were viewed as 'magic' by those in ancient times.
    Actually the ancient Greeks were often amazingly scientific about their studies of things like static electricity. One of their proposed explanations for why charged objects attracted things was that they emitted invisible particles that knocked air away, which created a vacuum that tried to suck in things. Which is totally wrong and doesn't really make a lot of sense, but they were clearly trying to understand it in terms of physical things that happen rather than "magic".
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  9. #8  
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    One gets the impression that the Greeks were exceptional in this way. Maybe their culture marks a turning point in human history where people began seeking genuinely logical explanations, instead of just accepting what they saw as unexplainable?

    I wonder how another culture would have approached it.
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    when you say greeks i hope your refering to a specific time, maybe 300 bc to 100 ad or so or narrower
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  11. #10  
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    I'll just go with whatever we would call their "classical age". I'm not sure which philosophers, scientists, and/or engineers were contemporary with one another, so I'm not going to try and speculate any closer.

    Their culture is widely considered to be the birth of modern philosophy, and modern philosophy might in turn be considered the birth of asking questions, instead of just jumping to the most readily available explanation. Most of the modern scientific method can trace its roots back to that start.

    Prior to science, what would you call an unexplained phenomenon?
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    I often wonder where the stories in mythology came from where people were talking about magicians and sorcerers who could communicate through crystals... seems a little interesting to me since the first modern radio transmissions were performed using crystal transceivers and receivers...

    I wonder if someone waaay back somehow stumbled upon this discovery before modern times? Then it got exaggerated until the stories evolved until they turned into crystal balls and the like...
    "It's no wonder that truth is stranger than fiction. Fiction has to make sense." - Mark Twain
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    I read in Storms from the Sun that Columbus was able to get some natives to cooperate with him by threatening them with an "eclipse", the prediction of which was made possible by whatever achievements in science the Europeans had maintained/achieved by that time.
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    Any technology not understood would have been seen as magical. This would apply right up to the 19th century. I imagine those who had the skill to melt and forge iron were thought of as either highly skilled or perhaps even magical by anyone first introduced to metal tools. Didn't they burn women as witches in the 1800's ? Fear of the unknown can be translated into fear of (black) magic.

    It has been relatively recently that people do not put the 'magical' label on things they do not understand. By magical, I also mean spiritual, or God-like. Actually, come to think of it, people at my work still think I am magic when I fix their computer problems :wink:
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  15. #14  
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    Quote Originally Posted by CShark
    Didn't they burn women as witches in the 1800's ? Fear of the unknown can be translated into fear of (black) magic.
    No, that was around 1300-1600. There was still an occasional witch trial in the late 1600s/early 1700, but it had completely died out by the mid 1700s.
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  16. #15  
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    It goes to show you how superstition is affected by things like the printing press or other forms of mass communication. Having nothing to compare with, any odd lady in the village could be seen as a witch. But, when you know other societies have had ladies like her, and they weren't witches, then it's a little different.

    Maybe that tells us a little about what direction legends from before the printing press will tend to be shaded in?


    Quote Originally Posted by SuperNatendo
    I often wonder where the stories in mythology came from where people were talking about magicians and sorcerers who could communicate through crystals... seems a little interesting to me since the first modern radio transmissions were performed using crystal transceivers and receivers...

    I wonder if someone waaay back somehow stumbled upon this discovery before modern times? Then it got exaggerated until the stories evolved until they turned into crystal balls and the like...
    A lot of the point in this thread for me is to find credible possibilities for fiction. That's a pretty good one.

    I mean, whether we believe that some people could have figured that one out or not, it makes for a very good story. And, who knows? Maybe they could have. It makes me want to read about crystal radios to see how simple they were, and how hard it would be to arrive at such a technology by guesswork.
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    i cant even begin to tackle the pure ignorance in this topic
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  18. #17  
    The Doctor Quantime's Avatar
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    Because ignorance is bliss. :wink:
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  19. #18  
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    Quote Originally Posted by ishmaelblues
    i cant even begin to tackle the pure ignorance in this topic
    I'm curious what you're getting at.

    I'm kind of going for the "Ancient guilds knew stuff, but kept it secret." angle on ancient history. We could turn the thread toward looking for the evidence, perhaps. There is some reasonably good stuff out there.
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