Herbert Passin and John Bennett offered academic discussion of traditional "Magic" in Illinois town.

Academic / Technical Report
Herbert Passin

Herbert Passin and John W. Bennett, “Changing Agricultural Magic in Southern Illinois: A Systematic Analysis of Folk-Urban Transition,”in The Study of Folklore, ed. Alan Dundes (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1965), 314-30

Herbert Passin, John W. Bennett
General Public

[Discussion of agricultural magic in an Illinois town as collected in 1939 when the practices were beginning to fade. Authors note that they were practices that followed the Old English pattern.]

It was believed that successful crops required careful observation of traditional “signs.” Lettuce and certain other garden crops must be planted on St. Valentine's day, February 14. Failure to observe this prescription automatically results in a bad crop. Cucumbers must be planted in “dark moon” and by the Zodiacal “twin” sign. Potatoes and corn must be planted in the dark of the moon.

Beans should be planted on Good Friday. In general, the principle seems to have been that plants that grow primarily above the ground should be seeded in “light moon,” the others in “dark moon.” Things that grow along a vine should be planted when the signs are in the arms. The signs are also significant in respect to the care of stock. Hogs should be slaughtered in the dark of the moon when the sign is between the thighs and the knees. Otherwise the meat swells up. To prevent hemorrhage and harmful aftereffects, castration should be performed by the same signs. The same sign determines the time of preserving meat. If it is not observed, the meat will “fry away into grease,” the grease will unaccountably disappear, the meat will curl in the frying pan, and it will be difficult to make brown gravy.

Stock should be weaned when the sign is in the head, or else “they go to hollerin’.” (The same was suggested for human children.)

Soap must be made in the dark of the moon. Planking and house building must occur in the appropriate sign, or the roofing will curl upwards. The coming weather, an item of extreme importance to farmers, can be predicted from a variety of signs, astral, floral, and faunal. These are sufficiently numerous to fill a small-sized volume and must be omitted here. The magical prescriptions carry their own sanctions. Failure to comply results in unfortunate consequences, even disaster, for the skeptic or forgetful one. The potency of these underlying sanctions must be taken to indicate the urgent and immediate importance of the magical practices in the life of the people . . .


1. The proposition that change from isolation and homogeneity to mobility and heterogeneity entails predictable consequences in terms of such processes as disorganization, secularization, and disintegration was tested. Magical beliefs and practices were specifically chosen for demonstration.

2. The hypothesis, although based upon results obtained among peoples outside of the Western culture-historical tradition, has reference not to concrete historic entities as such, but to type-situations. It is therefore applicable wherever the heuristic conditions which will satisfy its proposed variables may be found.

3. These may be found in three general types of situations: (a) in a comparison of two or more societies that come from discrete historical traditions, where differences in respect to isolation and homogeneity can be shown; (b) among two or more societies within an historically continuous culture-area, but where differentials in the historic process have brought about type-differences in the isolation-homogeneity range, as in Redfield’s study; and (c) in the historic course of change in a given society, where the change has been in the direction of the mobile heterogeneous pole. Our study exemplifies this latter type.

4. The historic course of change in the Stringtown area has been from relative isolation and homogeneity to relative external contact and heterogeneity, as a consequence of economic changes.

5. Within this context, it was expected that detailed study of the system of magic, or of any other institution, would demonstrate a systematic change in the direction of secularization, rationalization, and disorganization.

6. The empirical course of magical change seems a fairly good fit to theoretical expectancy.

7. It was also found that reintegration occurred at precisely those points where some equilibrium was being achieved within the changing culture, whether as persistence or re-adaptation of entirely new elements.

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