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As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

The Nature of Magic: Dr Susan Greenwood

Just found the transcript of a very interesting talk given by Dr Susan Greenwood at the launch of her new book , The Nature of Magic : an anthropology of consciousness , on Phile Hine's website -see

I have snipped a bit and pasted below, since the mentions of Lucien Levy Bruhl and Stanley Tambiah relate to my ' Culture as Heat' blog - based on an article I wrote for Chaos International.

If we see 'consciousness' as something wider than just our own minds; as something that enables us to connect with other beings through our imaginations - there are no limits: we can change shape, shape-shift, with all manner of beings - and thereby gain knowledge. We can experience what it's like to be an owl, for example. We can feel what it's like to have feathers and to feel the air moving through our feathers when we fly. Magical consciousness is a source of knowledge that has been devalued and trivialized in Western societies.

Connections are made through our personal minds linking with other minds in a wider consciousness or consciousnesses.

- through participation, an ancient concept in philosophy which means that things 'take part' in something bigger…

The term was developed by philosopher Lucien Levy-Bruhl to refer to mystical thinking - a unity of thinking that made associations between things based on the idea that energy suffuses everything. Levy-Bruhl initially said that this was how non-western peoples thought.

This started something of an aggravated debate in anthropology in the early 20th century with various celebrated anthropologists claiming that Levy-Bruhl made native peoples more mystical than they really were. Levy-Bruhl then modified his position but what he said about participation still remains relevant.
Anthropologist Stanley Tambiah developed Levy-Bruhl's notion of participation to argue that people everywhere have two co-existing orientations to the world:

causality (logical thinking: abstract, separated, focused)

participation (analogical, holistic thinking: works with patterns and connection, though myths, ritual, and symbols) - basis of magical consciousness.


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