Contagious Magic – Items that have been in contact remain connected

James George Frazer was a Scottish anthropologist who made significant contributions to the study of mythology and comparative religion. In his book “The Golden Bough,” Frazer proposed that there were two major categories of magic: sympathetic magic and contagious magic.

Sympathetic magic is based on the principle of “like produces like,” while contagious magic is based on the principle that things which have once been in contact can continue to have an effect on each other even after they are separated.

“The most familiar example of Contagious Magic is the magical sympathy which is supposed to exist between a man and any severed portion of his person, as his hair or nails; so that whoever gets possession of human hair or nails may work his will, at any distance, upon the person from whom they were cut.”

Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922

What is Contagious Magic?

According to Frazer, contagious magic is a type of magic based on the principle that things or persons once in contact can influence each other even after they have been separated. Practitioners of contagious magic believed that the essence of an individual was imbued in anything that was part of their person, and that this essence could be harnessed through the use of symbols or objects.

This principle is at the heart of contagious magic, which relies on the idea that things which have once been in contact can continue to have an effect on each other even after they are separated.

Common examples of items used in contagious magic include hair, nails, clothing, and bodily fluids such as blood or saliva. These items were often incorporated into spells or rituals to achieve specific outcomes such as healing, protection, or harm towards others.

For example, if someone wanted to cause harm to an enemy, they might use a lock of their hair or fingernail clippings in a spell designed to cause illness or misfortune. Similarly, if someone wanted to protect themselves from harm, they might carry a charm made from a piece of clothing worn by a powerful or respected person.

“The Basutos are careful to conceal their extracted teeth, lest these should fall into the hands of certain mythical beings who haunt graves, and who could harm the owner of the tooth by working magic on it.”

Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).  The Golden Bough.  1922

Contagious magic was also used by hunters as a means of controlling the spirits of the animals they were hunting. By taking a piece of the animal, such as a bone or a piece of fur, and using it in a ritual, the hunter believed that they could gain power over the animal’s spirit and ultimately control its movements.

This was seen as a way to increase their chances of success in the hunt and ensure that they would be able to provide for their community. The use of contagious magic in this context highlights its practical applications beyond just spiritual or religious purposes.

An Example of Contagious Magic – Voodoo

Voodoo, also known as Vodou or Vodun, is a religion that originated in West Africa and was brought to the Americas by enslaved Africans. It is often associated with Haiti, where it has been practiced for centuries.

In voodoo, contagious magic plays an important role in many rituals and spells. For example, one common practice is the use of a “pwen,” which is a small packet containing personal items such as hair or fingernail clippings from the person the spell is intended for. The pwen is then used in a ritual designed to influence supernatural forces to achieve a specific outcome.

Another example of contagious magic in voodoo is the use of dolls or effigies. These dolls are often made to resemble a specific person and are used in spells designed to cause harm or bring good fortune to that person. By using the doll in conjunction with other items such as herbs or candles, practitioners believe they can manipulate supernatural forces to achieve their desired outcome.

Overall, voodoo provides many examples of how contagious magic has been used throughout history and continues to be practiced today as a way of gaining power over supernatural forces and controlling one’s environment.


In conclusion, contagious magic is a fascinating and complex practice that has been used by many cultures throughout history. By using personal items such as hair, nails, or clothing in spells and rituals, practitioners believed they could manipulate supernatural forces to achieve their desired outcomes. This practice played an important role in many cultures and continues to be practiced today in various forms.

Related terms:

Sympathetic magic: The belief that like affects like.

Voodoo doll: A doll that is used in sympathetic magic to control or hurt someone by harming the doll.

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