Verbal Magic in the Pali Canon
: A Study on Protective-chants, Truth-acts, and Vows

Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Philosophy (MPhil)


The study of magic has long been controversial. Whilst on the surface it would appear to be used as a means of categorising practices that are used to manipulate, predict, or control events, it has historically been associated with negative and sinister motivations. Often compared and contrasted to religious ritual, magic has been seen as being its opposite and its equal. In this thesis I intend to explore the nature of the relationship between magic and religious ritual within Theravāda Buddhism. This will be done by examining the use of verbal and written language within Theravāda practice. In academic discussion on both magic and ritual we see that one of the most common themes is the use of language in such acts. Language is a powerful tool. In my analysis of magic in Theravāda Buddhism I will address two main issues. Firstly, I reject the notion that magic represents a failing or subversion of religion. Secondly, I reject the idea that magic is not found in the Pali Canon. This thesis will demonstrate that there is a rich history of magical acts in the Pali Canon and these acts cater to both worldly and non-worldly aims.
Date of Award23 Jan 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Bristol
SupervisorRita E M Langer (Supervisor) & Carolyn A Muessig (Supervisor)


  • Buddhism
  • Magic
  • Theravada
  • Language
  • Pali
  • Pali Canon

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