The Nature of Magic: An Anthropology of Consciousness

The Nature of Magic: An Anthropology of Consciousness

The Nature of Magic: An Anthropology of Consciousness

The Nature of Magic: An Anthropology of Consciousness

Excerpt

On one occasion at Beltane (1 May) on Old Winchester Hill, an Iron Age hill fort on the South Downs in Southern England, a gathering of ten New Age practitioners attuned to the natural energies of the earth. Using a combination of chanting, walking, singing, dowsing, and dancing around a maypole, the aim was to bring healing and balance to each person as well as to the environment by the alignment of inner energies with the ley lines and chakras of the earth. Up and down the country assorted groups of witches celebrated the coming of summer in various ways, some as the rebirth of the young King of the Greenwood and his union with the Goddess as the embodiment of nature; while other Pagans were encamped in a wood in Kent to prevent it being turned into a leisure centre. During the same period in the same county, a group of local school children, guided by shaman environmental educators, created an imaginative world of animals, plants and fairies in a bluebell wood for a May Fair. What motivates and connects these events is a spiritual revaluing of the natural world and the regaining of a sense of unity with nature. One well-known Pagan said to me: 'For modern people the world has been intentionally deprived of significance, and so you have to reconnect.' Connection with the natural world is thus the basis of nature spiritualities.

How is it that the human mind comes to 'disconnect', to 'renounce its sensuous bearings isolating itself from the other animals and the animate earth' (Abram, 1997: 261)? Historian Catherine Albanese, in her study of nature religion in America, observes that historically religious reflection in Western cultures, which has been primarily conducted through the 'Judeo-Christian tradition', has been preoccupied with three symbolic centres: God, humanity, and nature. God has been paramount, and humans and nature, as creatures of God, have shone – but only in reflected light, leaving nature as a symbolic centre largely unnoticed. By contrast, what she terms 'nature religion' focuses on nature as source of the sacred (1991:7–9). Disconnection is largely due to the fact that in Western history there has been a progressive withdrawal of divinity from the natural world accompanied by a devaluation of human experience. This started in the period of Late Antiquity between the accession of Marcus Aurelius and the conversion of Constantine to Christianity (Dodds, 1990:37). Aided by Copernicus's transferral, in 1543, of many astronomical functions previously attributed to the earth to the sun, a fundamental change was made regarding human relationships to the universe . . .

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