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August 23, 2015

Magic, not religion

A guest contribution by Katarzyna Herd, PhD candidate in ethnology at the Department of Arts and Cultural Sciences of Lund University.

In the autumn of 2012, when studying Applied Cultural Analysis at Lund University, I was accepted as an intern at Malmö FF. Shortly afterwards I saw my first match live, and that left me with many questions. Simply, I could not make sense of the intense emotional involvement, of the loud singing and flares, of about 16,000 people adorned in white-blue scarves who would voluntarily spend their evening in cold rain screaming abuse at referees and players, and leave frustrated and upset only to return a week later to shout, hop, and suffer more mental torture.

Magic made in Malmö.

As the internship drew to an end, I found myself confused but also addicted to this strange scene. Thus, my MA thesis called Dream Factory: Magic and Myth-Making in Football turned out to be an attempt to understand what football as a socially constructed space is, and what role it has in its local environment. The fieldwork was collected during eight months that I spent in Malmö FF, using ethnographic methods like interviews, go-alongs, observations and focus groups. The material included in the thesis shows how creative, flexible and rich this environment is.

Theoretically, the analysis is based on magic and myth-making. I used the concept of magic as presented by Marcel Mauss in his book The General Theory of Magic (1972). Mauss places magic between religion and technology. He distinguishes magic from religion in that its rites serve technical objectives, unlike religion which carries the notion of the sacred. Magic employs gods and demons, but these are treated as tools, not sacred beings to be worshipped. Magic is also context-based as a magical rite cannot happen just anywhere. That is why some of the behaviour that would be unacceptable in other circumstances appears during matches, as for example aggression, but also men hugging and singing become parts of the rite.

It is clear to me that football, contrary to the common cliché that compares it to a religion, relates to magic. Rather than worship, all different groups involved in football co-create their different rites while performing them. They use each other as means to achieve their objectives. Being ‘magicians’, those involved believe in their powers and they all try to claim ownership over their creations. It is common enough to hear supporters say that they are the club, not the fast-changing players or the management. The reference to magic may also explain how a collective phenomenon can assume individual forms as football offers a plethora of possibilities to get engaged on a personal level.

The local football club supplies its spectators with a possibility to create stories and histories. The relative vulnerability of the football club opens up possibilities for creative struggles and interpretations, and invites spectators to use all possible forms to express themselves, show their views and make the emotional side of football visible.

The depth of football’s history and context makes it into a perfect battleground for myth-making. No matter whether the focus of the different groups involved lies on football skills, financial benefits, making of banners, local patriotism or violence, all are able to tear a bit of the club for themselves and add their own interpretation of what football really means. As the French sociologist Henry Lefebvre wrote, every society needs a space where one can perform an act of rejuvenation, crown a king, and sacrifice a deity. On a match day, at a stadium, you can have that all.

Feel FREE to download the complete master thesis
under https://lup.lub.lu.se/search/publication/3954704 .

Post by Albrecht Sonntag in the category : Identities - No Comment

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