Quotes from ‘Magic in the Ancient Greek World’

Magic in the ancient greek worldLévy-Bruhl helps us to understand why statues and figurines were treated in this way, without resorting to a notion of irrationality defined (in our Western manner) by a failure to draw the proper dividing line between animate and inanimate objects. In Greece in particular, matter itself could have an ambiguous status. To give a specific example, or some highly educated thinkers such as the late seventh/early sixth-century BCE philosopher Thales of Miletus, stones that had magnetic properties were thought to contain souls…It is not hard to see how magnetic stones that attracted to iron fillings, in the absence of an available electromagnetic theory, could be thought to be animate – in other words to contain a soul. Reality as we know it in the mechanical, casual Western view, with its sharp dividing line between organic and inorganic matter, is collapsed in Thales’ view of the magnet…”


“Greeks harbored many different beliefs about dead souls, and scaled them in different ways, from heroes who rested at their leisure in the Elysium fields and the Isles of the Blessed, to an altogether different sort of underworld community whose anger was beyond human appeasement.”


“The shocking and bizarre nature of an epileptic seizure, as every Greek who knew Herakles’ own sufferings could attest, was so extraordinary that it almost begged for divine explanation. But to the Greeks, the fact that a divinity could invade a human body was a familiar experience, most famously illustrated in the case of the Pythia at Delphi being invaded by Apollo who thereby provided her with an oracular voice. In this case Apollo’s divine visitation was invited and controlled and unlike a sudden epileptic seizure, where it was not even clear which divinity might in fact be present…. The Greeks construed an epileptic seizure in terms of divine invasion, and in anthropological terms this kind of cultural phenomenon is called possession. The issue now for the patient, however, according to the author of On the Sacred Disease, was to determine which divinity was responsible for the possession.”

From, Magic in the Ancient Greek World by Derek Collins

Ursula K. Le Guin on Philip Pullman:

“Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy is a long, richly imagined, and deeply incoherent work, in which I’ll try only to trace the part animals play. Despite appearances, it is a small part. The two cats in the story, who have a minor but important role, do what cats have often done in myth and fable: they cross between worlds. Otherwise they’re just cats, realistically drawn. Animals are otherwise absent from the books, except for a tribe of polar bears who talk and build forts and use weapons, as humans do, but who don’t have daemons, as humans do.

But I think Pullman overloads the concept and then confuses it. He implies strongly that the daemon is a kind of visible soul, that to be severed from it is fatal, and his plot hinges on the cruelty and horror of this separation. But then he begins changing the rules: we find that witches can live apart from their daemons; in the second voume we are in our world, where nobody has visible or tangible daemons; back in her world, the heroine Lyra leaves her daemon on the wharves of hell, and though she misses him, she lives on perfectly competently, and in fact saves the universe, without him. Their reunion seems almost perfunctory.

In fantasy, to change or break your own rules is to make the story literally inconsequential. If the daemons are meant to show that we are part animal and must not be severed from our animality, they can’t do it, since the essence of animality is the body, the living body with all its brainless needs and embarrassing functions—exactly what the daemons do not have.”

– Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘The Beast in the Book.’