Cambridge Centre for the study of Western Esotericism

Research, Reviews, Conferences

Archive for the ‘Legitimate Forms of Knowledge?’ Category

CCWE SEMINAR 1: Legitimate Forms of Knowledge?


SEMINAR 1: Legitimate Forms of Knowledge?

Date and time: Thursday 13 May 2010, 2.30 – 5.30 pm

Venue: Wolfson Court, Girton College, Cambridge

There are practitioners of esoteric disciplines for example: Magic, Alchemy, Astrology, Gnosticism,

and there are scholars who study these disciplines. This seminar is for academics who belong to both these groups and would like to begin an exploration of some of the ways we might encourage a better understanding of both these interrelated activities by asking how we define legitimate forms of knowledge.

We are delighted to have with us:

DR SUSAN GREENWOOD Visiting Senior Research Fellow of Sussex University, a scholar and practitioner of magic, whose recent publication The Anthropology of Magic, (Berg, 2009), addresses this question by recounting some of the academic debates about the history and nature of magic together with her own experience of magical practices and begins to examine ‘the challenging topic of revisioning science so that magic can be considered as a legitimate form of knowledge.’

The seminar will be chaired by ANDREW JAMES BROWN, Woolf Institute, Cambridge.


2.30 – 2.45  Welcome and introductions

2.45 – 3.00  DR SUSAN GREENWOOD will present for ten /fifteen mins


Visualise a spider’s web that stretches across different branches in a hedge at dawn; pearls of dew hang from its delicate strands and each thread makes a connection to the whole. This web is a beautiful part of the natural world and a wonder of nature in itself, but it can also be used for envisioning a different type of science. The metaphor of a web can bring together such seemingly disparate branches of knowledge as science and magic into a new pattern that includes both.
Susan Greenwood The Anthropology of Magic Oxford: Berg, 2009: 146.

Historically magic has been seen as an irrational belief opposed to reason, and in evolutionist terms as leading to the development of an enlightened science. Due to rationalistic theories in the social sciences, magic has more recently tended to be explained solely by its psychological or sociological effects, resulting in the subjective experience of magic being marginalized.

As a practitioner of magic and an anthropologist my aim has been to create a bridge of communication between the experiential domain of magic and the social sciences. The focus of my paper is to explore an approach to this subject that helps us understand the experience of magic as an aspect of consciousness, and legitimate it as a source of knowledge.

3.00 – 3.30 general response and discussion of her presentation

3.30 – 3.45 tea

3.45 – 4.30  ten/fifteen min presentation from
DR MATT LEE, Greenwich University,
Matt is an active philosopher and practicing magician from Brighton, UK. Academically he works in the space in between the dominant traditions of analytical and continental philosophy, drawing upon Deleuze and Guattari to develop a transcendental materialist philosophy. Magically he draws on the Chaos current and for the last three years has been facilitating a working magical group in Brighton which irreverently practices Golden Dawn kabbalistic techniques and Enochian magic.

The role of practical knowledge (‘know-how’) has become increasingly central to philosophical concerns with knowledge over the last century. One of the central difficulties encountered in the increasing acknowledgement of the role of ‘know-how’ is a problem of transmissibility and learning. The more knowledge is taken to be something unconsciously learnt, the less conscious reasoning processes can be taken to be at its centre. The worry for many in philosophy is that this dynamic masks a loss of reason rather than an advance into a new conscious practice.
Followed by discussion

4.30 – 5.00  DR ALASTAIR REID, Girton College, Cambridge, will lead a structured exploration of points arising during the afternoon.

5.00 –  5.30  Options. Looking at how to take this forward into the next seminar.

There are limited places, if you are interested in securing a place at the seminar please email Dr Sophia Wellbeloved at with a brief note of your academic and practitioner interests.

There will be a fee of £15.00 to cover costs (this includes tea and there is free available parking).


The Cambridge Centre for the Study of Western Esotericism, see is independent of any academic or esoteric communities with an aim to forward the need for a wider dialogue between scholars and practitioners in the field of Western Esotericism and for the provision of a secular space in which an interdisciplinary network of scholars and practitioners can thrive. From 2009 CCWE has operated within Lighthouse Editions Limited, a small publishing company Directors: Dr Sophia Wellbeloved, Jeremy Cranswick – see


%d bloggers like this: