Magic, witchcraft, and faërie: Evolution of magical ideas in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea cycle

— Oleksandra Filonenko

26 April 2021 | Mythlore, Volume 39, № 2: Ursula K. Le Guin, 2

In my article, I discuss a peculiar connection between the persisting ideas about magic in the Western world and Ursula Le Guin’s magical world in the Earthsea universe and its evolution over the decades. For centuries in the Western European culture, magic has been a subject for an ongoing debate vacillating between the total rejection of this part of human spiritual life or reluctant acceptance of it. There is also some internal hierarchy of types of magic revealed in the dichotomy magic versus witchcraft.” Encyclopaedia Britannica describes magic and witchcraft as two separate phenomena, connected yet distinctively different. The former is an umbrella term for everything that is or might be perceived as magical. Yet, in the Western world, the concept of magic has strong connections with Western esoteric tradition and is quite often designated as learned magic” implying hard learning and intellectual practices, in particular knowledge of ancient and secret languages. Moreover, learned magic had been an exclusively male occupation for centuries and, to some extent, complied with the dominant Christian worldview. Witchcraft, on the other hand, does not normally demand much learning; however, practitioners are expected to have an inborn or acquired ability to work magic. In the context of Western culture, witchcraft has predominantly been a female practise and, until recently, stigmatized as demonic. There is also a third branch of magic designated by J.R.R. Tolkien in his seminal essay On Fairy-Stories” as Faërie — the magic of non-human magical creatures as there natural ability, which is the strongest of all magical types and does not seem to have any limitations.…

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