MARTOR no. 28 / year 2023

Reflections on Christian Magic

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Astrid Cambose
“Alexandru Philippide” Romanian Philology Research Institute, Romania
ORCID: 0009-0001-6248-2581

Astrid Cambose is Researcher at the Department of Literary History, “Alexandru Philippide” Institute of Romanian Philology, Romanian Academy – Iași Branch. She specializes in Romanian cultural studies, literary history, ethnology, folklore, popular religious art, memoir studies, and recent history.

PAGES: 138-146

KEYWORDS: Magic; Orthodox/Eastern Christianity; fasting; black liturgy; cutting morsels; religious oaths.


This article tackles the much-disputed borderline between religion and magic, focusing on a sensitive subject that is still under debate: the Christian magic. The Christian doctrine states its irreconcilable opposition to magic, but in a practical perspective the line of separation between the two is quite blurred. The paper argues that many Christian priests and most of the Christian believers can be seen as practitioners of magic, like shamans, clairvoyants, or witches in more marginal cults. These practitioners form a very large community with shared practices of confronting evil. They interrelate on the grounds of timeless common magic representations. The paper suggests that in all religions, and despite the possible prescriptions of the religious authorities, the commoners produce and make use of their own version of that specific religion. Scholars call this version a popular, lay, or vernacular religion. The present article explores the cultural and social meaning of these terms. In the case of vernacular Christianity, should the interpretation focus on Christianity, or on the too vaguely defined term vernacular? And, in the latter case, is it sure that some vernacular features could still be called Christian? The present article proposes an analysis of field data separated from the usual religious frame of interpretation in order to reach a possibly different understanding of how popular religion actually works on a daily basis. Can popular practice transform any given religion into some sort of magic bearing the appearance and using the canonical religious symbols? The paper discusses contemporary examples based on the fieldwork I have conducted in villages with predominantly Orthodox Christian population and in villages with Roman Catholic population in the region of Moldavia, Romania, between 2015 and 2021. The data reflects the following practices: a) Fasting as a magic tool; b) Consecration of different substances and objects in order to sustain magic practices; and c) Special forms of religious service, such as “black liturgy” or “barefoot liturgy,” “cutting morsels,” priests’ curses, and priests’ help with believers’ oath-making. All these rituals have a religious appearance and at the same time they illustrate magic at work.


Cambose, Astrid. 2023. “Reflections on Christian Magic”. Martor 28: 138-146. [DOI: 10.57225/martor.2023.28.09]

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