What Is Sympathetic Or Imitative Magic? | Why Does It Work So Well

The term “Sympathetic Magic” first appeared in a book called “The Golden Bough” by Sir James George Frazer in 1889.

However, a German book, Ethnographische Parallelen und Vergleiche (Ethnographic parallels and comparisons) by Richard Andree, just 11 years earlier, had used the term Sympathie-Zauber (sympathy-enchantment).

In his book, Frazer divided sympathetic magic into two varieties.

The first was “Imitation“, and the second was “Contagion.”

In the first section of this article, we will take a look at Imitation, and then, in part 2, we will review the concept of Contagion.


Imitation is sometimes referred to as “Similarity.

Sir James George Frazer stated that “Similarity” is the magician inferring that he is able to produce any result he wants, simply by imitating it.

Perhaps the earliest examples of Imitation are the prehistoric cave paintings.

These cave paintings of the Paleolithic era are thought to be the work of “Shamans.

The Shamans would retreat into the caves, often deep inside or in sub-caves, and create cave paintings that depicted what they wanted to happen.

For example, they may include paintings of a hunting scene that depicts wounded animals, in an effort to ensure the success of the next hunt.

These Shamans would also act out hunting scenes as they dressed in animal skins and used sticks to simulate front legs.

Leo Frobenius (a major figure in German Ethnography) in 1933 in a discussion on Cave Paintings in North Africa, gave his opinion that these cave paintings were more than just paintings and seem to be representations or imitations of hunts that served some magickal function.

In 1925 Harlan I. Smith (an anthropologist) published a book called, “Sympathetic Magic and Witchcraft among the Bellacoola,” in which he described the use of Sympathetic Magic among the Bellacoola tribe.

This tribe practiced sympathetic magic in several ways.

Tying particular types of skin around a baby’s wrist to ensure they developed in a certain way, for example.

With these dolls, built to represent a person, magickal acts carried out on the doll will be replicated on the real person, making them powerful weapons.


Most people know what a Voodoo doll is.

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It is featured in many movies, but similar dolls were also common in Ancient Greece and Egypt, these tools of Imitation Magick show that these Sympathetic Magick beliefs are commonly part of our culture.


Ramses III had many enemies in Egypt, not only strangers but also members of his harem and at least on the high-level figures in his entourage.

All of these people used Poppets to try to bring about his death.

Ancient Greece

Greek Poppets were called Kolossoi and were typically used to counter ghosts or even deities, as well as encouraging romance.

Great Britain

In more recent times The Princess of Wales, Caroline of Brunswick, the wife of future King George IV, disliked her husband so much that she would spend hours making wax Poppets of her husband and jabbing them with pins.

She eventually ran off to Italy with her young lover, King George seemed happy enough to be rid of her and the pair remained married but living separate lives until she died in 1821.

Nobody seems to know what effect the dolls had on the king.

West Africa

When captured and sold into slavery West Africans often brought with them a small Poppet called a “Fetish.”

These dolls were imbued with the spirits of the owner and contained significant power.

They were worn by the owner as a talisman. In North America, during the “colonial” period if you owned a slave who possessed a talisman you were allowed to kill them.

Making a Poppet

This is possibly the most commonly used tool in Sympathetic Magick.

Since they are featured in many belief systems there are a variety of ways of making them.

Despite the portrayal in popular culture they can be used to heal, as well as harm.

A Poppet is usually constructed using a material, but it can also be made of clay, wax, paper, wood, or just about any material you have available.

Typically, they will be stuffed with something.

Once you have constructed the physical puppet it has to be “connected” with the subject of the magic, using some kind of magical link.

Poppets can be used for

  • Healing someone
  • Removing Negative people from your life
  • Bring riches

The Poppet can be used for pretty well any purpose you can think of.

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There is no real limitation on them.

It is up to the individual how detailed the Poppet is made.

In some magic traditions, the more elaborate the Poppet, the more powerful the magic.

It is important to decide who the Poppet represents before construction is started.

You may choose to make the color of the fabric used to match the purpose of the Poppet, so that, for example, for a love spell you would use red fabric.

In addition to fabric fills for the Poppet, you will also place the spell ingredients.

This may include a bit of hair from the subject of nail clippings, body fluids, a photo, or a business card.

Once you have put everything inside then sew up the Poppet.


Correspondences, although not strictly imitation is a similar belief that is often grouped together with the imitation.

This belief is carried through to today where some magicians (Magickians) use the concept of correspondences, which is a development of imitation.

In correspondences, magical items are linked with non-magical items – for example:


  • Jet – Binding
  • Sodalite, TigerEye, and Turquoise – Communication
  • Onyx, clear quartz, or selenite – Curse Breaking

Herbs, Flowers, and Roots

  • Apple, Cucumber, Fig, and Ivy – Fertility
  • Adam & Eve Root, Apple, Basil, Beet, Catnip, Clove, Laurel, Lavender and Rose – Love
  • Cinnamon, Ginger, Orange, Patchouli, and Vervain – Money

Tables of correspondences are a table that lists magickal advice.

It describes the properties of colors, herbs, crystals, etc.

This belief in the properties of unconnected items exists in many cultures including the Jewish mystical practice called Kabbalah.


The “Law of Contagion” from the “Golden Bough by “James George Frazer” is a magical tradition that works on the principle that once two people or objects have had contact then there will always be a magical link between them.

Isaac Bonewits (1949 – 2010) who was a well-known American Neo-Druid claimed that there were equivalent links in quantum physics.

Just like in Imitation, there can be two sides to Contagion.

This link can be either a positive or a negative one.

It does not have to be direct contact to transfer this contagion. A person’s essence can be transmitted by touching something they have touched.

Positive Contagion

For example, in the Roman Catholic Church, there is veneration or relics from saints or holy artifacts, and they are seen to have a powerful effect.

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They are a kind of battery that stores the holiness.

Other religions also have these beliefs.

For example, I once went to an exhibition of clothes worn by Abdu’l Baha, the son of the founder of the Baha’i Faith.

Just watching the visitors, it was obvious the sense of veneration that was generated and distributed to the believers.

Negative Contagion

Many people living in Tanna, in the Pacific island State of Vanuatu in the 1970s very careful about what they threw-away in the trash.

Uneaten food and fingernails were among the many items that could be connected by an enemy to cast a spell which might result in fever.

In New Guinea, there is a population that has a belief that everything that a man has contact with retains a small portion of influence from his soul.

Even a small amount of this “essence” carries a version of the whole essence.

An analogy would be when a Roach takes a sip from a glass of juice, we throw away the whole glass.

In the Philippines, I asked a group of Filipinos if they would wear anything that had been owned by an evil person and they unanimously said they would not even go near the objects because the evil might be transferred to them.

They were horrified that I would even think of asking.

A residual sense of this belief still stays with us today. In a recent test volunteers were asked to put on a sweater that was previously owned by a serial killer and a surprisingly large number of them declined to do it.

A belief in ghosts that haunt a particular house where they once lived is a kind of contagion magick belief.

People believe the essence of the person is trapped in a physical object (the building).

If you can believe in a ghost it is very little different to believe that an old ring may retain some of that essence.

Final Thoughts

A belief in Contagion in one form or another must mean that you can accept other forms of contagion.

Either contagion exists or it does not.

If an essence can be passed on in an artifact like a ring, sweater, or painting, then surely a larger all-encompassing object like a house could have such a lot of that essence that the manifestation of a ghost could appear.

Improve Magic

I believe that life is magic. I'm a playing cards collector, I love performing magic tricks and I'm also the owner of a small magic shop. Apart from that I like to explore different kinds of supernatural magic that we all have in our lives and I like to share what I learn... I'm great fan of Harry Potter...

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