From the earliest stages of human development, people realized that the world is filled with many powerful forces, many of which can be quite deadly. Whether it be from animals that were larger, or animals that were poisonous, or from violent storms, to earthquakes and volcanoes, the world seemed to teem with powers that were beyond imagining.
It isn’t difficult to envision how a primitive man may have fancied that a lightning strike, was an extremely powerful spear thrust. So it is equally plausible that such ideas may have given rise to the notion that there were all powerful beings, or gods, that controlled these forces.
One of the key elements in a concept like “magic” is that you have to understand what a “real” power or capability is before you can suggest that there is a power that extends beyond reality. Therefore, it would seem that primitive peoples may have arrived at the idea of magic being a characteristic of anyone that was perceived as having influence with the gods.
In this case, the first manifestation of magic would be that any individual that appeared to have knowledge or some degree of control over these external events. Knowledge of plants that eased pain may well have been perceived as “magic”, as would other experiences, such as controlling fire and eventually being able to actually start it. Such individuals would have occupied the positions of shamans that were the primary source of esoteric knowledge to the entire tribal group.
Since most concepts of “magic” relate to a human relationship with a more powerful “god”, then it seems plausible that the an idea surfaced which suggested that humans could personally acquire such powers, simply by being on good terms with the local deities. The notion of “black magic” or “white magic” would’ve played into the competitive sense that most primitive religions held regarding their deities, so the precursors of “magic” would’ve been associated with early religious beliefs.
Over time, it was these specific attributes that gave rise to significant and severe competition between various religious groups. Knowledgeable individuals were often identified as being in league with some alternate deity or demon, as an explanation for their abilities.
In modern times there are still a fairly substantial number of people that believe in such magic whether in be in the form of psychics, witches, or demons. In many cases, these are a direct result of a religious belief that suggests that such counter-forces are at work in the world. However, I suspect that most people tend to view direct human control of “magic” to be improbable and tend to associate it with tricks rather than powers.
The human mind enjoys puzzles, and magic has become one of the major puzzles of the day. Interestingly, the role of magic as entertainment must continuously stretch and redefine the perceptions of “impossible” in order to keep people engaged.
In the end, the idea of wielding tremendous personal power is appealing because it represents the ultimate control that a person could ever attain. From this, it isn’t difficult to see why people are still enthralled in watching movies about magical beings, or watching magicians, or maintaining a keen interest in the paranormal. Even in stories involving super-heroes, there is a “magical” element that typically describes an ordinary human being’s transformation into a more powerful entity. In everyday life, most of us would enjoy having far more control over events and things than we have, so the appeal of “magic” is to indulge the fantasies in us that suggest how nice it would be to live outside those rules.