Incantation - Encyclopedia




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INCANTATION, the use of words, spoken, sung or chanted, usually as a set formula, for the purpose of obtaining a result by their supposed magical power. The word is derived from the Latin incantare, to chant a magical formula; cf. the use of carmen, for such a formula of words. The Latin use is very early; thus it appears in a fragment of the XII. Tables quoted in Pliny (N.H. xxviii. 2, 4, 17), "Qui malum carmen incantasset." From the O. Fr. derivative of incantare, enchanter, comes "enchant," "enchantment," &c., properly of the exercise of magical powers, hence to charm, to fascinate, words which also by origin are of magical significance. The early magi of Assyria and Babylonia were adepts at this art, as is evident from the examples of Akkadian spells that have been discovered. Daniel (v. I I) is spoken of as "master of the enchanters" of Babylon. In Egypt and in India many formulas of religious magic were in use, witness especially the Vedic mantras, which are closely akin to the Maori karakias and the North American matamanik. Among the holy men presented by the king of Korea to the mikado of Japan in A.D. 577 was a reciter of mantras, who would find himself at home with the majinahi or incantation practised by the ancient Japanese for dissipating evil influences. One of the most common, widespread and persistent uses of incantation was in healing wounds, instanc3s of which are found in the Odyssey and the Kalcvala, and in the traditional folk-lore of almost every European country. Similar songs were sung to win back a faithless lover (cf. the second Idyll of Theocritus).

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