The Anthropology of Magic

The Anthropology of Magic

The Anthropology of Magic

The Anthropology of Magic

Synopsis

Magic is arguably the least understood subject in anthropology today. Exotic and fascinating, it offers us a glimpse into another world but it also threatens to undermine the foundations of anthropology due to its supposed irrational and non-scientific nature. Magic has thus often been 'explained away' by social or psychological reduction. "The Anthropology of Magic" redresses the balance and brings magic, as an aspect of consciousness, into focus through the use of classic texts andcutting-edge research. & Taking a new approach to some perennial topics in anthropology--such as shamanism, mythology, witchcraft, and healing--the book raises crucial theoretical and methodological issues to provide the reader with an engaging and critical understanding of the dynamics of magic.

Excerpt

The study of magic is central to the discipline of anthropology. Anthropologists have studied magic extensively, even when other social science disciplines have dismissed it as bizarre or peripheral, but it has not always been fully understood. Due to a scientific emphasis on reason, the actual experience of magic has often been reduced to terms and explanations alien to its processes. Many anthropological theories have implicit assumptions about the ultimate irrationality of magic or of the inferiority of magic when compared to science, or they reduce magic to its social or psychological effects, factors that can be understood more readily by the social sciences. But while magic is often explained precisely by what it is not, magic is at the heart of anthropology in terms of the issues it raises in relation to human experience, people’s lived realities and the meaning of science. 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. I shall show how magic can affect everyday conceptions of reality, and how magic can be an analytical category as well as a valuable source of knowledge. Offering a window into human processes of mind, this perspective can illuminate our understandings of a whole range of situations—from traditional anthropological contexts of witch beliefs and shamanism to how we conduct science—as well as challenge our assumptions.

Studying the experience of magic calls for a different anthropological approach. 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. Over the years, I have explored various approaches to magic with Western magical practitioners, and I have participated in many witchcraft rituals, trained as a high magician, and worked with shamans. Each of these activities contributed to my realising the importance of examining an explicitly magical attitude of mind. I have used my experiences of direct insider research on magic as well as those of others to illustrate how this magical attitude of mind works as a research strategy in my two anthropological ethnographies: Magic, Witchcraft and the Otherworld (2000) and The Nature of Magic (2005).

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