Posts Tagged ‘science’
The Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations
Graduate Students’Association presents
The 17th Annual Graduate Symposium
March 14-15, 2013
Open Call for Papers
Deadline for Submissions: January 13, 2013
The Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations Graduate Students Association of the University of Toronto invites proposals for the 17th Annual Graduate Symposium to be held on March 14-15, 2013. Since 1997, the NMCGSA Symposium has provided the opportunity for promising graduate students to share their original research with the broader scholarly community in a conference-like forum, and to publish their presentations as proceedings. By annually bringing together specialists in archaeology, history, anthropology, comparative literature, religion, art, philosophy, and political science, the symposium provides a unique opportunity for interdisciplinary discourse focused on the study of the Near and Middle East. The 2013 symposium aims to highlight this diversity in order to foster communication and exchange across disciplinary boundaries. While we encourage submissions that are related to the topics of science and the occult, we are nevertheless open to any variety of topics that pertain to the realm of Near and Middle Eastern Studies. kkk Submitting a Paper: Presenters are asked to submit an abstract of 250 words by e-mail attachment no later than January 13, 2013. Submissions should also include the following information in the body of the email: presenters name, program (M.A, Ph.D.), year of study, research focus, university and department, complete address, telephone number, email address, title of paper, and audio-visual requirements. We highly encourage the submission of panel proposals as it will increase the chances of acceptance. kkk Presentations must not exceed 20 minutes. The abstracts will be reviewed by committee and presenters will be informed of their acceptance no later than January 27, 2013. For purposes of anonymous adjudication, please do NOT include your name or other identification on the abstract attachment. kkk If your paper is being submitted as part of a proposed panel or considered under a specific theme, please include the panel title or the proposed theme under the title of the paper on the abstract. kkk Please send us your submissions via the following e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org kkk Arshavez Mozafari Ph.D. Candidate (IV) Near & Middle Eastern Civilizations University of Torontoa.email@example.com
THE NEW AGE OF RUSSIA: OCCULT AND ESOTERIC DIMENSIONS
edited Birgit Menzel, Michael Hageneister and Bernice Glazzeer Rosenthatl
SLCCEE, Volume17, – Berlin,Verlag Otto Sagner 2011
Hardcover, 451 pages,
Select Bibliography Michael Hagemeister
This volume is divided into four sections:
Prerevolutionary Roots and Early Soviet Manifestations (five chapters)
Manifestations in the Soviet Period (1930 – 1985) (four chapters)
The Occult Revival in Late and Post Soviet Russia (1985 to the Present) (seven chapters)
Comparative Aspects, Continuity and Change (two chapters)
Birgit Menzel provides a comprehensive introduction. Especially useful in addition to her summaries of individual chapters are some of the reasons she gives why the borders between science, religion and the occult in Russia have differed from those in the West, along with other difficulties for researchers in these fields. Some, as may be imagined, are due to the search for scattered material, some arise from language and translation differences between scholars. Others which must pose considerable problems are due to differences in terminology:
The terms Occult and New Age have been rejected by most Russian members of, what I will call here the occult underground,(p 18).
Terms defined in Western scholarship need modification, or further explanation when applied to Russian material, (p 19).
Specialist and General Readers
My own reading of The New Age in Russia is from the perspectives of both the specialist and general reader. I fit into both categories, having some specialist knowledge of G. I. Gurdjieff and Fourth Way teachings, but little background in Russian studies.
Although primarily a book for the specialist reader in Russian 20th century studies in relation to occultism and esotericism, this collection of essays which examines the origins and influences that formed the kaleidoscope of changing networks of esoteric and occult teachings, their interaction with changing political establishments, together with the prevailing political and international geo-political conditions, will also be of value to the general reader.
There are two factors which, without in any way lessening the value of individual essays, may cause the non-specialist reader to take things slowly. The first is because the time indicated in the first three sections starts in the late eighteenth century and ends in ‘the present’, that is 2012, however; the essays could not be expected to form a sequential series. Most of the scholars need to establish what is happening before the period they focus on, and as the author of the introduction tells us some overlapping is inevitable. The effect of this on a reader who starts at the beginning and continues on sequentially is a kind of dizzy slippage as time seems to moves forwards, backwards and then forward once more. This displacement of the reader is intensified by the change in focus from essay to essay. Some offer a wide lens view of their subject matter whilst others present more of a close up.
The second factor is that much of the subject matter, the influence of esoteric and occult teachings, their sources and backgrounds, the lineages of esoteric and occult teachings together with their relation to cultural influence, political actions and reactions, occur throughout most of the essays, and some of the same people occur in one, two or more essays albeit from differing perspectives and emphasis. For example, my own area of interest as mentioned above, is in Gurdjieff studies and the accounts given here have usefully expanded and repositioned my own understanding, placing him and his ideas in a common context relating to life in Russia before the flight to Europe and America. But these references occur in a number of different essays. Although there are some useful pointers within essays to related chapters, an index would have helped me to navigate this and other subject matters.
New Age and New Identity
The overall impression given by these essays is that Russia was seeking a ‘New Age’ and a new identity for itself during the whole of the period covering at least the century from the 1880s to the 1980s, which saw almost continual turmoil, revolt, and repression manifesting in ways which often ran counter to uninformed Western assumptions. Russians faced a continuing need for redefinitions of interrelated forms of identity: at individual, local, national, and international levels, together with the simultaneous and contradictory need to preserve, hide or obliterate these identities. All of which makes for a tendency towards multiple, separate, blurred, ambiguous or contradictory personal and ideological identities in Russia.
For example Jeffrey Kripal in his On Reading Russian Mystical Literature Upside Down (pp 421 – 431) reminds us of:
‘the multiple censorship of the mystical,‘ [citing the] ‘almost total annihilation‘ of members of the secret society the United Workers’ Brotherhood shot during the Great Terror 1937 – 38, (p 427).
This might accord with stereotyped Western expectations. However: we learn from Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal that:
In the 1920s and early ’30s, the secret police worked with the occultist Barchenko [of the United Worker’s Brotherhood] and the government funded Roerch’s search for Shamhala. In the 1960s and ’70s, the government denounced yoga as spiritual contraband, even while studying yogic breathing techniques, that could help astronauts, and it supported research on parapsychology, (Occultism as a Response to a Spiritual Crisis,p 400).
The activities of Barchenko and Roerich are each the subject of essays. Barchenko in Oleg Shishkin’s The Occultist Aleksandr Barchenko and the Soviet Secret Police (1923-1938)(pp 81-100), and Nicholas Roerich in Markus Osterrieder’sFrom Synarchy to Shambhala: The Role of Political Occultism and Social Messianism in the Activities of Nicholas Roerich(pp 101-134)
The illustrations are a welcome and instructive addition to the text. Two of the images in colour are Married by Satan (1917) p 47, and KonstantineTsiolkovskii. A Polish lacquer miniature, ca. (1980) p 150. Both suggest a close association between the erotic and the occult/esoteric.
The first, a poster for the film looks more like the sexual assault of a naked helpless woman by demons than a marriage, and appears in Julia Mannherz’s The Occult and Popular Entetainment in late Imperial Russia (pp 29-51). She explores ambivalent attitudes to the supernatural which nevertheless appeared as commercial attractions in newspapers.
Even instruction manuals and occult journals mirrored the same ambivalent attitudes … the boundaries were even more blurred in the circus arena, on stage or on the silver screen. In the performing arts, the rational and the mysterious merged within single productions, (p 38).
[Artist Kukulieva Kaleriya Vasillievna b 1937]
The portrait of Tsiolkovskii (1857-1935), regarded as the father of space travel, was made forty-five years after his death when ‘he had been made into a hero by Soviet propoganda‘. See see Michael Hagemeister’s essay Konstantine Tsiolkovskii and the Occult Roots of Soviet Space Travel (pp 135-150) which shows that Tsiolkovskii ‘s scientific resaerch into space travel was but a means to his esoteric ends which while they aimed for cosmic evolution leading to imortality demaded the horrifying notion of the destruction of all imperfect human beings, animals and most plants. Hagemeister writes that ‘The magical-esoteric understanding of science and technology is still prevalent in today’s Russia‘ p 148).
The image shows him sitting with his feet on plans for space rockets, behind him a table of scientific equiment, and behind that again a dark sky with a suggestion of constellations and of the zodiac. His male sexual power has been emphasised by the use of phalic imagery (the rocket, his leg, the drapery), which here unites his career in both rocket science and esotericism, although, as we learn from the essay referred above, he ‘condemned sexual reproduction as ‘humiliating‘, p 139).
Two black and white portraits emit extremes that express the times they belong in. The first on page 23 showing Gleb Ivanovich Bokii (1897-1937) in 1918, so thirty-nine or forty years old, looks more like a painting than a photograph and seen on the page it combines extreme contrasts between black and white to show the left side of the image with a dark face against a light halo shaped background and the right side of the face bright against a dark background, the ear seems to be pointed, the eyes glance upward showing white rims underneath in a way that, for those familiar with them, are remeniscent of images of Gurdjieff. This seems a staged image of occult/esoteric power but is of a member of the OGPU (the principal secret police agency responsible for the detection, arrest, and liquidation of anarchists […] in the early Soviet Union, (see note below) who was nevertheless attracted by esotericim. This image suggests the crossover, and/or interconnections between notions of political and occult power .
The second striking image on p 178, is that of “Tosha” (Vladimir Shuktomv (1957-1987)), this is most probably a photograph which has a degenerating grainy surface quality that is also clearly of the time when dissidents transfered their allegence from political ideology to the rock music of Boris Brebenshikov and the couter-culture (see p 178).
I’ve given attention here to some of the illustrations because in my view though valuable additions, these are mostly underused and undervalued in academic texts.
Russian culture was influenced both by esotericism and occultism, and by politics throughout the periods examined in The New Age of Russia, and I have not attempted a summary of what are in effect a series of summaries of the complex inter-relation of these influences. In brief, areas looked at include medicine, academic institutions and classifications, science, space travel, interplanetary travel, utopia, technology, science fiction, novels, popular culture, theatre, cinema, Shamanism, Tibetan Buddhism, Neo-Hinduism, Eastern mysticism, Theosophy, parapsychology, and Transpersonal Psychology, amongst others.
Occult and New Age Movements in Russia from the 1960 s to the 1980s (pp151-185)
Birgit’ Menzel’s essay enables us to trace the complex paths taken from the first of these dates to the second, to acknowledge Russian connections with the East. and on the way to revise general Western assumptions about the New Age in Russia.
Although there were some similarities with the New Age in Western countries: an interest in changing states of consciousness, experimentation with psychedelic mushrooms, (Castaneda’s writings arrived in Russia) and a love of rock music, this overview shows that there were also major differences and that these are worth understanding. She writes that the state system supported research into the occult or paranormal which would not have been regarded as science in the West, that the Russian New Age was mostly a province of the predominantly male intelligentsia, while in the West it was transmitted via popular culture. Western interest in sexuality and in perfecting the body, via diet, yoga, homoeopathy, and sexual expression. did not occur in Russia where the occult underground was more cerebral, with a stronger emphasis on theory than practice, ‘the ultimate goal was ridding oneself of the body rather than unifying, body mind and soul‘ ( p 185).
Comparative Aspects, Continuity and Change.
In the first essay of the fourth section of the book Bernice Glatzer Rosenthal writes about Occultism as a Response to a Spiritual Crisis, (pp 391-420), covering a series of spiritual crises causes by the loss of faith in specific ‘myths’, or ‘all encompassing ideas’ to live by during the period from prerevoutionary and early Soviet Russia, through to Late and Post-Soviet Russia. When agrarian socialism, Marxism, Symbolism, and Futurism each failed in turn interest in occultism surged, in Theosophy and Theosophically influenced teachers amongst others.
The United States has seen a similar series of crises aroused by ‘the fading appeal of the American civil religion, also known as the American Dream’ p 403). War, fears of nuclear war, the revelation of Nazi death camps, and a recognition of social injustice induced a refusal to accept the restrictions of prevailing cultural norms and were some of the factors that contributed to the counter-culture of ‘hippies’ and ‘beats’. This became an unprecedented surge in occultism from the 1960s to the present. She concludes that the uncertainties current in Russia and the USA that are likely to encourage a continued interest in occultism
In the second essay of this section Jeffrey J. Kripal’s On Reading Russian Mystical Literature Upside Down (pp 421 – 431), observes the globalisation of esoteric movements which unlike religions are usually ‘very bad at maintaining stable communities, p 421). He wonders if:
a mystical event may not only be culturally or politically dissident: it may also be cognitively and epistemologically dissonant, (p 424).
and raises a number of issues that face the scholar of esotericism. These include the ‘censoring and suppressing ideologies of the modern-day academy, p 425), and he goes on to write that in this volume only Natalia Zhukovskaia in her Shamanism in the Russian Intelligentsia (Post Soviet Space and Time) (pp 328-3470, has been willing to recount her first hand experience as researcher-scholar, and in doing so shows the reader:
Russian anthropologists and intellectuals taking on the practices and roles of the shaman themselves, in essence, going native, (p 430 431) emphasis added.
Kripal’s use of the poetic and archaic phrase, ‘going native’ is a telling one. With it he refers to notions of an abandonment of ‘civilised values’, a descent into an irrational and inferior way of life. These are familiar nineteenth, if not eighteenth century attitudes, all of which we must assume are not his own attitudes but those of the ‘suppressing ideologies of the modern-day academy‘ (p 431 ).
These are almost the final words in The New Age of Russia, and bring this intricate and detailed overview of a century and more of academic study firmly into one of the major contemporary academic debates.
Acknowledgements and thanks are due to the editors who brought this valuable contribution to esoteric and occult studies to publication. It offers evidence of the human refusal to obey or stay within defined boundaries, while simultaneously longing for security. In Russia during the 20th century these conflicting desires were expressed by politically repressive boundries, serially accompanied by a refusal to accept or to be bound by fixed, enprisoning ideologies. The two unbounded areas that continued to defy definition and which remained open for exploration during the whole century were those of the inner life, and outer space.
This photograph of Gleb Ivanovich Bokii (1897-1937) found in Google images, is clearly the source for the image described above.
As a post script to the above here are a couple of definitions of terms and initials used in the text which may be of use to fellow non-Russianists, (retreived from Wikipedia (5.6.2012).
Samizdat(Russian: самизда́т; IPA: ) was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader.
refers to literature published abroad (там, tam, “there”), often from smuggled manuscripts.
The OGPU (1922-1934) was responsible for the creation of the Gulag system. It also became the Soviet government’s arm for the persecution of the Russian Orthodox Church, the Greek Catholics, the Latin Catholics, Islam and other religious organisations […] The OGPU was also the principal secret police agency responsible for the detection, arrest, and liquidation of anarchists and other dissident left-wing factions in the early Soviet Union.
NKVD stands for The People’s Commissariatfor Internal Affairs, Narodnyy Komissariat Vnutrennikh Del), abbreviated NKVD (1934 – 1954).
from the entry for State Political Directorate Wikipedia retrieved 29.5. 2012
UK’s Science and Religion Forum: 2012 Conference: ‘The soul – can the concept of the soul still have meaning?’
Regent’s Park College, Oxford
from late afternoon on Thursday 6 September to lunchtime on Saturday 8 September 2012.
The programme will follow the usual pattern and includes the Annual Gowland Lecture, a number of plenary lectures on the conference theme, and a short-paper session of 15-minute presentations by Forum members. The programme will also include a conference dinner, and there will be an early morning service of worship for those who are interested. The Forum’s AGM will take place during the Conference.
The conference fees (for full board) will be as follows:
SRF members £230
Bursaries will be offered for those who have been members of the Forum for at least six months and have no financial assistance from employers or sponsors (bursaries will probably be worth £60 which would reduce the fee to £170.
Further details: http://www.srforum.org/
Revd Dr Arthur Peacocke
The Peacocke Student Essay Prize
In memory of its founding President and former Chairman, the Revd Dr Arthur Peacocke, the Science and Religion Forum offers a prize for an essay directly relevant to the theme of its annual conference.
Congratulations to George H. Medley III, winner of the 2011 Peacocke Prize.
The competition is open to all students (undergraduate and postgraduate) and the closing date is July 31st 2012.
Details of 2012 prize to follow soon at UK’s Science and Religion Forum http://www.srforum.org/
Esotericism and the Academy
Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture
Wouter J. Hanegraaff, University of Amsterdam
Cambridge University Press
Publication date:January 2012
Dimensions: 228 x 152 mm
Academics tend to look on ‘esoteric’, ‘occult’ or ‘magical’ beliefs with contempt, but are usually ignorant about the religious and philosophical traditions to which these terms refer, or their relevance to intellectual history. Wouter Hanegraaff tells the neglected story of how intellectuals since the Renaissance have tried to come to terms with a cluster of ‘pagan’ ideas from late antiquity that challenged the foundations of biblical religion and Greek rationality. Expelled from the academy on the basis of Protestant and Enlightenment polemics, these traditions have come to be perceived as the Other by which academics define their identity to the present day. Hanegraaff grounds his discussion in a meticulous study of primary and secondary sources, taking the reader on an exciting intellectual voyage from the fifteenth century to the present day and asking what implications the forgotten history of exclusion has for established textbook narratives of religion, philosophy and science.
Table of Contents
Introduction: hic sunt dracones
1. The history of truth: recovering ancient wisdom
2. The history of error: exorcizing Paganism
3. The error of history: imagining the Occult
4. The truth of history: entering the Academy
Conclusions: restoring memory.
• The argument is presented as a historical narrative, taking the reader on an intellectual voyage from the early Renaissance to the present day
• Discusses currents of thought which have played an important role in intellectual history, but have never before been sufficiently identified
• Demonstrates patterns of intellectual prejudice that have distorted views of the history of religion, philosophy and science
Wouter Jacobus Hanegraaff (born 1961) is full professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy and related currents at the University of Amsterdam, the Netherlands. He is also President of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism (ESSWE).
(Above info thanks to Wikipedia Hanegraaff page)
Call For Papers/ Presentations/ Performance:
Hosting 6: “Absence – Haunted Landscapes”
Hosting 7: “Presence – Manifesting Ghosts”
GHost invites proposals for papers, presentations, or performances of 30 minutes exploring the desire and attempt to materialise what is absent via the medium of haunted landscapes or through the manifestation of a ghost. We would like to hear from researchers within all fields – anthropology, art history, cultural studies, film studies, history, science, law, literary studies, parapsychology, psychology, philosophy etc. as well as practising artists.
The Hostings will take place in the Court Room, University of London, Senate House between 6.30 – 9.00pm on the 29th February and 14th March.
Please send a (working) title and an abstract of approximately 300 words, also include which Hosting you are submitting to and, if applicable, one or two pictures.
Send these to Sarah Sparkes at: firstname.lastname@example.org
More about GHost:
Deadline for submissions of proposals: 13th January 2012
Hostings 6: Absence – Haunted Landscapes
The Key Of Solomon, a medieval grimoire instructs magicians to seek out “places that lie concealed, distant and removed from the haunts of men. Wherefore desolate and uninhabited regions are most appropriate, such as the borders of lakes, forests, dark and obscure places, old and deserted houses, whither rarely and scarce ever men do come, mountains, caves, caverns, grottos, gardens, orchards…”
Could it be that this instruction suggests a common topography of the haunted landscape that such venues operate as amplifiers for achieving rapport with the dead? Perhaps it is the absence of life and the nature of our own loneliness that in fact haunts the landscape? Are places of tragedy imbued with spirits of their victims or is this just a romantic engagement, an imaginative association with a past event? Is it possible to use a particular landscapes to facilitate the experience of paranormal phenomena – in this respect can landscape serve like the séance room for the natural channelling of the spirit of place, or the dead souls of its past? Moreover, have artists and writers intuitively apprehended these landscapes to manifest a haunted aesthetic?
GHost invites submissions exploring these or other ideas associated with the Haunted Landscape.
Hostings 7: Presence – Manifesting Ghosts
“Ghost Seance has the potential to summon spirits at any given location and time although 3:00 a.m. usually produces the best results.” (Taken from a website advertising a séance app. for smart phones)
Writers, psychical investigators, mediums, parapsychologists, illusionists, artists all have manifested ghosts in their own way. The writers mind conjures up ghostly apparitions, pinning down their fleeting forms with words. In the darkened séance room both psychical investigator and audience witness phenomena produced by the medium. Whether witnessed by believer or sceptic, the spirit announces itself, with a common ghostly language: wraps, moving furniture, unexplained scents, temperature changes, phosphorescent lights etc. In more recent times visual and auditory ephemera has been described and captured by paranormal investigators with the help of technological devices. This new language of the ghostly reappears in the haunted aesthetics of films such as Nigel Kneale’s The Stone Tape and in the work of contemporary artists such as Susan Hiller. When attempting to document ghosts, is it us or the ghosts who are controlling the means by which we describe and measure their presence?
GHost invites submissions exploring ghost-makers; their means, methods and their reasons for manifesting ghosts.
GHost is a visual arts and creative research project which explores the various roles ghosts play in contemporary culture by bringing artists, writers, curators, researchers and others together. In homage to Duchamp’s wordplay “A guest + a host = a ghost”, we take on and explore the various roles of ghosts, guests and hosts in our activities. The project has been running since 2008 and we have organised exhibitions, performance nights and so-called Hostings, seminar-style workshops which serve as a forum for exchange between thinkers and makers, audience and practitioners. As a research project, GHost blurs the boundaries between the diverse research groups and audiences that exist for the paranormal and hosts events in which these groups can explore their various beliefs. As a visual arts project, GHost explores the illusionary power of art and artists to create what could be seen as a ‘haunted aesthetic’. Visual art exhibitions have been hosted by a John Soane church in East London, at the London Art Fair and the Folkestone Triennial Fringe while the Hostings have been held at Senate House, University of London.
GHost has been organising Hostings in association with the IGRS, School of Advanced Study, University of London since 2009.
An eye-opener of a book written by Susan Greenwood is reviewed by John Robert Colombo
There is an amusing story that is told about the Danish physicist Niels Bohr who was showing a colleague the barn behind his chalet which he had converted into a study where he undertook his calculations. The colleague pointed out that above the barn door someone had nailed an inverted horseshoe, a symbol of good luck. He asked Bohr if he believed the horseshoe would bring him good luck. “No,” Bohr replied, “but I understand it works whether I believe in it or not.”
I was reminded of this tale when I began to read “The Anthropology of Magic” written by Susan Greenwood. It came to mind because the moral of her book – I am not offering a “spoiler warning” here so much as I am “cutting to the chase” – seems to be that “thinking makes it so” or “if you believe you can do something or if you believe you cannot do something, you are right.”
The two statements seem to be platitudes – indeed, the first is a cliché, and the second is a paradox – yet these truisms are … well … true. There is a kind of knowledge that results from “magical thinking” as there is a kind of knowledge that results from “scientific thinking.” This in a nutshell I assume to be the argument of Dr. Greenwood’s study. As for the nutshell mentioned in the previous sentence, it was Prince Hamlet (who has been called the first modern man) who boasted, “I could be bounded in a nutshell, and call myself king of infinite space …. ”
It occurred to the biologist Stephen Jay Gould while he was in Vatican City that there are two forms of authority (if not knowledge) and that these two forms are derived from “the magisterium of science” and “the magisterium of religion” and that the two magisteria do not overlap. At the time of this formulation Gould was in Rome, accompanied by Carl Sagan, the sceptical astronomer, who had a deep “sense of wonder.” They were there to participate in a scientific conference. Sagan derided Gould for his suggestion (or concession) there is any knowledge in religion, knowledge at any rate that resembles the “real” knowledge that results from the work of scientists, that produces measurable results, and that can be falsified. Gould was miffed and wrote an essay about the disagreement.
Aleister Crowley practised ritual magic the way Dorothy Clutterbuck practised the ceremonial magic of wicca. The Great Beast used to call what he did “magick,” and I seem to recall that he defined this practice as “causing change to occur in conformity with Will.” Crowley conformed to the image of the Black Magician. The White Witch may be seen in the person of Clutterbuck, who inspired Gerald Gardner, who gave much of the characteristic form and feel to the contemporary practice of Wicca, which is at home with the subtle forces of the natural and supernatural worlds. Both Crowley and Clutterbuck worked in “imaginal” realms.
These ideas and notions were rattling around in my brain (or mind) when I began to read “The Anthropology of Magic,” which is a serious contribution to both anthropology and magic written Dr. Susan Greenwood, who is Visiting Senior Research Fellow of the University of Sussex, Brighton, England. She is scheduled to deliver the keynote address at a seminar to be held at Girton College, Cambridge, England. It takes place on May 13, 2010, and the title of the session is “Legitimate Forms of Knowledge?” (I imagine that the question mark is important in her address.) So Dr. Greenwood is a scholar. She is also a practitioner of magic.
First, a note of “disambiguation.” Susan Greenwood is not to be confused with her near-namesake, Susan Greenfield. The former is an anthropologist; the latter is Baroness Greenfield, an Oxford scholar and a biomedical writer of considerable ability and media-savvy and the author of numerous works, including The Human Mind Explained, and other popular and not-so-popular texts. The two Susans are very able people, but the Baroness does not profess to be a magician.
The Anthropology of Magic, written by the scholar who professes to read tarot cards and to practice the healing arts, is a big book in that it is an oversize trade paperback that measures 6 inches by 9.5 inches. It is only viii + 164 pages long but the type is quite small so there are many sentences. It was issued in soft and hard-cover editions in 2009 by Berg Publishers, an academic house based in Oxford that publishes books and journals in a great variety of fields with a specialty in modern design. Its website lists and describes its serious publications, including the present one.
I imagine Dr. Greenwood to be a fine lecturer because she is a fine writer. I am tempted to say that for an anthropologist she writes with great clarity. Her sentences are crystal clear and the diagrams that she has added to the text to display contrasts between scientific and non-scientific modes of thought are ideal for PowerPoint presentations. She is one anthropologist who is interested in communicating with a public that is academic though not limited to fellow anthropologists or magicians. In this regard she reminds me of Susan Blackmore, who in her shift from espousing parapsychology to embracing scepticism has never ceased to be a psychologist and a scientist.
Like Dr. Blackmore, Dr. Greenwood is an enthusiast and a participant who is willing to advance atypical views. But the two academics are unalike in that Dr. Blackmore works as an experimental psychologist and follows the trail of the evidence (or lack of it), whereas Dr. Greenwood is a theorist and not a scientist who is concerned with finding a place in intellectual discourse for what is regarded as the irrational. Dr. Greenwood is arguing a case, and she argues well, but after a while the reader – this reader anyway – begins to feel that he is being led to face a series of foregone conclusions.
In the next paragraphs, I will summarize the contents of Dr. Greenwood’s book and thereafter offer an evaluation of her approach. Now I will begin with the Table of Contents which neatly outlines the subject – which I take to be how an anthropologist argues that we could look at magic as a source of knowledge, and if knowledge is a form of power, then as a source of power too.
There are four sections. The first section is titled “Explaining Magic” and it describes what used to be called the “participation mystique” (it sounds better in French) and the structure and operation of magical thinking (through connections and associations). The second section is called “The Experience of Magic” and it presents what the author considers “magical consciousness” and “a mythological language of magic.” The third section is labelled “Practical Magic” and it deals with “webs of beliefs,” basically how being human we can never escape this way of experiencing the world. The fourth section is termed “Working with Magic” and deals with what might be called consilience but which the author describes in the phrase “Not Only, but Also.”
So much for the arrangement of the contents of the book. I will now try to abridge the author’s Introduction, introducing some of my own impressions along the way, but downplaying to some extent the author’s great strength: her knowledge of and respect for the theories and insights of the great anthropologists of the past and the present. She argues that the discipline has always had to deal with the subject of magic and that the approaches that anthropologists have taken in the past have told their readers more about themselves and their societies than about the theory and practice of magic itself. As well, it seems, the conception of the nature magic has changed with the times.
There are two main problems: the “ultimate irrationality of magic” and its “inferiority … when compared to science.” Nevertheless magic lies “at the heart of anthropology” because of “the issues it raises in relation to human experience.” If it lies at the “heart” of anthropology, it lies at the “heart” of men and women too. We seem to be creatures who are able to respond to the world both magically and scientifically.
The author writes, “The time has come to propose another understanding of magic, and it is the aim of this book to examine magic as an aspect of human consciousness.” She is prepared to show how it affects “everyday conceptions of reality” and how it can be “an analytical category as well as a valuable source of knowledge.” Perhaps I am taking this further than the author does when I suggest that to her magic offers a way of knowing about ourselves in the world through the imagination, a way of knowledge that augments the way we generally know the world of matter through measurement.
“When I first started my doctoral research in the 1990s, I made the decision to study magic from the inside, as a practitioner of magic as well as an anthropologist. I wanted to discover what could be learnt through direct experience.” She explored the ramifications of this approach in her two previous books, both published by Berg: “Magic, Witchcraft and the Otherworld” (2000) and “The Nature of Magic” (2005).
A dozen pages of Introduction follow in which she discusses cultural assumptions and contrasts the experiences of magical practice in our own culture with those in other cultures. She notes the effects of “a detraditionalisation of mainstream religions”and limns the changing face of magic in Western occultism. In the process, I acquired two new words that have recognizable meanings: “Celticity” and “Druidry.” She amusingly compares traditional “African witch-doctors with Western political spin-doctors” (like those employed by prime ministers and presidents and other political leaders to create new “narrative”). She concludes, “Magic is alive and well as an analytical category in a whole range of new ethnographies.”
She writes, “The approach taken here focuses on _magical consciousness_, a term that I use to describe a mythopoetic, expanded aspect of awareness that can potentially be experienced by everyone …. ” Despite the importance of this mode of knowledge, magic has been marginalized in what she calls our “Western rationalist culture.” The writings of Tylor, Kroeber, Freud, Durkheim, and others are mentioned to demonstrate how magic has been dismissed as deluded, dangerous, deceitful, or dumb.
Yet shamanism is not so easily dismissed because it does produce a change in consciousness in the sense of a transformation of sensations, impressions, emotions, and conceptions. These in turn affect values. The transformation of consciousness immediately brought to my mind the following lines from the poem “Vacillation” in which Yeats describes the illumination of a fifty-year-old man:
While on the shop and street I gazed
My body of a sudden blazed;
And twenty minutes more or less
It seemed, so great my happiness,
That I was blessed and could bless.
Many people feel (at times anyway) blessed, but anyone who is able to bless is a magician. It would seem the poets are there with the magicians.
A consideration of the truths or insights that come to us through the medium of poetry is offered through a brief but relevant discussion of Donne’s poem “A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning.” Yet only one page is devoted to the nature of consciousness itself, despite the advances recorded in the 1990s by neurologists and philosophers into the mind / brain division in the field of “consciousness studies.” I guess these are not subjects regularly discussed by anthropologists, nor should we expect them in a book about the “anthropology” of magic.
Some subjects do not yield their secrets to logic and this is one of them, so with relief she switches into a visionary mode. She begins one paragraph, “I remembered a dream I had had previously in which I was climbing down a deep tunnel in the middle of the earth …. ” The dream continues and it involves a loss of skin, a round space, swimming in water, narrow tunnels, bones being picked by a large crow, etc. This is a fertile field for a Freud or a Jung!
I have maintained a daily dream diary for the last five years, so I can attest that one’s dreams are significant to the dreamer but seldom meaningful to anyone else. These motifs in the dream world may or may not be relevant to the waking world. She concludes, “This experience had a profound effect on me,” and I do not doubt her, but was it an “imaginal experience” as she suggests? Not in Corbin’s meaning of that word. A dream is an experience, but it is the experience of an illusion, and no special effects necessarily issue from it. Are any such illusory experiences meaningful and significant? I doubt it but the subject may be debated and Dr. Greenwood does debate it well.
Psychology is not much to the fore. I read Tanya Luhrmann’s Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft when it appeared in 1989, but in the intervening years, I have found little reason to recall its argument. Luhrmann found magic or Wicca to be rich in psychological insight, period. Dr. Greenfield finds it to be rich in many other fields as well.
The author is concerned to square insights from the practice of magic with the understanding offered by her discipline. “The difficulty is that anthropology is a discipline with theoretical and methodological understandings located firmly in the material world, despite attempts to value all human orientations as valid.” Yes, but is there communicable knowledge beyond the confines of the material world? She would answer Yes. I am inclined to agree with her, but I prefer to hedge my bet, like the majority of scholars and scientists, and take refuge in the Scots verdict “not proven.”
The great anthropologist Frazer is given his due, limitations and all, for he was the Darwin in his field. One upon a time, à la Frazer, there was magic which gave way to religion which gave way to science. Given the paradigm shift proposed in these pages, it seems science may now yield to religion and religion to magic. Perhaps “paradigm shift” is the wrong phrase to use here, for there are no references in the text to Kuhn and his theory of just such a shift.
Dr. Greenwood much prefers what has been called the “interpretive drift.” This is part of the mythopoeic faculty which has always been inherent in the nature of man and woman and been granted at least some recognition in every human society (except, according to convention, that of ancient Sparta). Denis Saurat saw it explained as “philosophical poetry.”
The author discusses the views of the “mystical mentality” adopted by the philosopher Lévy-Bruhl and the psychologist Evans-Pritchard. She even writes an imaginary dialogue for them to debate their points of view. She feels their views hold promise today for they agree that “mystical mentality was universal to all human beings.” The savage of the past was no less rational than is the scientist of today. The anthropologist or psychologist is on safe ground in making this observation for the statement challenges neither of these disciplines. I recall reading somewhere that a researcher once said, “Superstition is superstition. But the study of superstition is science.”
The profession of magic is very much part of the author’s life, as is the profession of anthropology. “This book tells a story about my journey to discover the anthropology of magic; it feels like a patchwork quilt or a jigsaw of pieces of information that I have picked up over the years, both in trying to make sense of my fieldwork experience and also in teaching ideas about magic in anthropology of religion courses at Goldsmith’s College, University of London, and shamanic and altered states of consciousness courses at the University of Sussex.”
So much for the Introduction. If I continued to try to paraphrase and comment in such detail on the balance of the book, I would produce a tedious review too long to be read in a single sitting, and I would do the author’s thesis less than justice. Instead, I propose to do something unusual and allow the author to make her major points in her own words. I will do so by quoting the four paragraphs that the author has written to outline her argument section by section. These are well handled.
Summary of Section One:
“This section sets out to explain theories that help an understanding of magic: not the explanations that somehow reduce magic to its effects on human behaviour or society, but the essence of magic as an intuitive process of mind. Magic is a holistic orientation to the world that is essentially relational and expansive; it is not irrational or confined to the thought of so-called primitives, nor is magic the preserve of non-Western, exotic societies. Rather, it is an aspect of human consciousness, and therefore it is especially appropriate to study magic in modern, Western societies, where it often manifests as an undercurrent.”
Summary of Section Two:
“Using my own experience, in this section, I focus on breaking down the barrier between researcher and researched to show how magical consciousness flows through emotion and the mythological imagination.” (Added to this summary are two quotations. The first one has Dr. Greenwood quoting herself about the “uncomfortable process” of “self-examination and exploration.” The second one is an observation of Jo Crow, a British shaman, who alludes to the “multidimensional” nature of this experience.)
Summary of Section Three:
“Magic is often said to be about the purported art of influencing the course of events through occult means; it is a practice that is said can bring about certain effects such as causing harm or healing. It can be conscious or unconscious as well as rational and mystical, but above all, magic involves an immaterial psychic dimension to everyday reality; this is widely described as spirit. In this section, we will explore everyday magic, from the classical ethnographic work of Evans-Pritchard on Azande witchcraft, magic and oracles (Chapter 6) to divination and healing in various cultural settings (Chapter 7).” (Also included are three quotations from Evans-Pritchard, Tedlock, and Parrish which add little to the above description.)
Summary of Section Four:
“Anthropologists working in the field encounter specific challenges when confronted with the gap between informants’ accounts of spirit beings and their own position as researchers within the essentially rationalistic academic anthropological discipline. Magic poses problems for many anthropologists; this is due to the fact that its spiritual nature conflicts with Western notions of rationality, as we will see in Chapter 8. A more inclusive scientific framework is needed that overcomes the theoretical tendency to devalue magical experience and to recognize magical knowledge as a valuable aspect of human consciousness. Chapter 9 builds on ideas developed by Gregory Bateson and Geoffrey Samuel to just this end.” (Also included are short quotations from Turner, Lévy-Bruhl, and Bateson.)
I should add that the book includes extensive source notes and an index. There is no general bibliography but there are short bibliographies for “further reading.” There is no section called Conclusion, but I soon came to the conclusion that none is required for what the author would have to say in any final section is a foregone conclusion.
Dr. Greenwood is appreciative of the anthropologists of the past who devoted their lives to fieldwork. I imagine she regards her own experiences and the effects they have caused in magical circles as a form of fieldwork. She sees the great anthropologists’ insights into shamans and magical journeys as transferrable to today’s witches and their imaginative encounters. In this undertaking, she wins on points because she is what the French describe as “parti pris.” She knows where she stands and that is where she is heading. The reader is not taken on a journey so much as allowed to explore the intellectual ground already claimed. So her study does not add to human knowledge but it does examine some of our preconceptions of the nature of that knowledge.
There is a short but interesting section devoted to the relationship between mythos and logos. I wish it were longer and that it took into account the conception of that connection in the analysis of Northrop Frye who found the relationship to be one of “interpenetration.” But to do so would have required Dr. Greenwood to enter into the woods of the archetypal world of Nemi that is more frequented by literary critics and analytical psychologists than by anthropologists and ethnologists. As well, the author spends some time with phenomenology, she never really exorcizes its demon of subjectivity, even misspelling that word on page 141.
Yet I find “The Anthropology of Magic” to be an eye-opener of a book, not so much because of what or how it argues, but more because of the position for which it argues: the postmodern notion which is rapidly gaining ground that it is not necessary to believe in anything.
Near the end of the book she writes, “Whilst participating in a magical aspect of consciousness, the question of belief is irrelevant: belief is not a necessary condition to communicate with an inspirited world.” What works, works. William James’s contribution to the notion of multiple consciousnesses – not just to multiple layers of consciousness – is acknowledged, and as a pragmatist he would have agreed. So would Niels Bohr with his horseshoe.
John Robert Colombo, an author and commentator who lives in Toronto, is an anthologist, not an anthropologist (although he did pass two “anthrop” courses at the University of Toronto in the late 1950s). His latest publication (co-edited with Dr. Cyril Greenland) is an expanded edition of “Walt Whitman’s Canada.” He is currently writing an introduction to an omnibus edition of the five Sumuru novels written by Sax Rohmer (the mystery story writer who created Dr. Fu Manchu). Colombo’s personal website is http://www.colombo-plus.ca
YOU CAN READ MORE OF JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO’S REVIEWS
ON THE JOHN ROBERT COLOMBO PAGE AT
CCWE is independent of any academic or esoteric communities, the co-ordinators share an interest in the need for a wider dialogue between scholars and practitioners in the field of Western Esotericism and in the establishment of a secular space in which an interdisciplinary network can thrive.