A fresh take on “magic” on the Societas Magica blog

merleau-ponty

Bodies, brains, magic, culture.
Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s new uses.

Some time ago I mentioned that Societas Magica were going to launch a blog. Well, that happened soon after, and I did not pay attention. So, quite overdue, here is the link to this new and valuable addition to the esoteric-et-cetera blog community.

So far there is only one post, but it is also a very good one that sets a high standard: “Ritual Magic and Conjured Bodies: A Philosophy and Methodology” by Damon Lycourinos. I was impressed with Damon’s paper at ESSWE4, on the use of Merleau-Ponty and embodiment theory in the analysis of contemporary ritual magical practice. In his first blog post at Societas Magica, Damon continues this exploration and offers, I think, some very valuable and stimulating reflections on how to theorise magical practice.

In particular, I couldn’t agree more with his complaint that talk about the body and embodiment in “postmodern” theorising has in fact not taken the body seriously at all – and that this could be remedied by returning to the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty:

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On “Scientific Illuminism” and the Psychologisation of Magic

There is a post up at the tyromanteia blog, which offers a nice criticism of my article on Aleister Crowley’s negotiation of magic with science and psychology (“Magic Naturalized?”, published in Aries back in 2008). Tyromanteia draws on the work of Alex Owen (which I briefly reviewed last year) to place three 20th century magicians, Crowley, Israel Regardie, and Dion Fortune, within a broader “crisis of subjectivity” and a process of psychologisation. In this connection, the author finds opportunity to deal with my criticism of the “psychologisation thesis” on the survival of magic. I largely performed this criticism on the basis of Crowley, arguing that in this case, an attempted naturalisation of magic is more important than psychologisation. To this, Tyromanteia objects that Crowley largely anticipated the psychological and even psychotherapeutic interpretations which Regardie and Fortune later emphasised in their teachings. As I think this criticism points out an ambiguity in the original article, I will take this opportunity to make a brief response.

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Naturalistic Spiritualisms

Spiritualism was a symptomatic cultural trend of the Victorian period. For decades mediums captivated the worker, the bourgeois, the nobleman, the socialist utopian, the Christian apostate, and people from virtually any and all professions, with their table rappings, levitating furniture, full-form materializations, and messages from beyond the grave. When a message was coming through, whether from the ghost of Benjamin Franklin, the archangel Gabriel, or the sitter’s aunt Nelly, the spirit medium provided the goods. But despite this caricature, which no doubt does full justice to much of the movement, spiritualism also became a heated battleground for deeply natural-philosophic questions: what is Nature, how does she operate, and what can we know about her? Where are the boundaries of the natural to be drawn?

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Some notes on scientism

The word “scientism” gets tossed around a lot in critical public debates about science’s place in society. Usually it is used derogatorily to dismiss a trend in using science which the user of the word doesn’t like. Used in this way, it is a rhetorical label without much analytic content. But it may also be turned into a useful category for analyzing historical data.

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