Posted on March 15, 2011
Filed Under academia, Magic |
I’m currently reading A Cognitive Theory of Magic (affiliate link) by Jesper Sorenson and the Anthropology of Magic (affiliate link) by Susan Greenwood. So far, they are fascinating reads, but in looking over their bibliography I find myself annoyed because in their effort to comment on magic the only sources they have pulled from are academic sources, and they have not even done a complete survey of that body of literature. But most importantly they have not also drawn on what occultists actually have to say about magic.
Greenwood, being an actual practitioner, has no real excuse for not doing this, but Sorenson also doesn’t have an excuse because he hasn’t even drawn on contemporary academic examinations of magic. Actually neither of them have, instead drawing on the academic work of scholars from the early to late twentieth century. Certainly it’s good they are drawing on those sources, but both authors have done something I see occur in a lot of academic work on magic, namely limited themselves in drawing on very specific sources, while ignoring others. It’s an academic tactic I’m familiar from my own days in the institution and paradoxically there’s also this cry to be “rigorous” and thorough in drawing on available sources.
However even looking at the academic works of people who practice magic, we see more of a focus on pagan academic studies than occult or esoteric studies. And while that is still a good development, the pagan focus as it pertains to magic is more of a religious approach and less of a practical approach.
The aforementioned authors are focused on discussing the practical application of magic and where it fits into civilization, or lack thereof, but there’s always this curious lack of inquiry into the actual occult texts that are available. I’ve seen it in other academic texts as well. There’s lots of commentary on what other academics had to say about magic, but little to no commentary on what occultists might have to say on the subject. To claim authority in defining magic there necessarily needs to be familiarity with the entire field of study, which means drawing on a wide variety of sources that aren’t academic, but also involves doing a thorough reading of the available academic literature. I’d like to see more of that kind of rigor in academic works on magic.