ANTHROPOLOGY TODAY Vol 38 No 1 February 2022:
‘A Spectrum of Magical Consciousness: Conspiracy Theories and the Stories We Tell Ourselves’
Magical thinking expressed in conspiracy theories is alive and well, as recent insurrection events at the US Capitol have shown, where alt-right White supremacist activists stormed the government waving Confederate flags and a noose to hang the vice president. This article suggests that such ‘magical consciousness’ is a pan-human mode of participatory awareness that plays out in a spectrum of various cultural situations with very different objectives and outcomes. While alt-right conspiracy theories are based in a fascistic, neo-Nazi, Christianized ‘blood and soil’ battle intent on fostering racial and social separatism, many contemporary British pagan practitioners of magic, for example, might use the same myths but with broadly inclusive meanings. At its most basic level, magical consciousness forms relationships between things created through myths and the stories people tell each other. Broadening the perspective, I suggest that anthropological theories might also be viewed as ‘stories’ in the form of frameworks guided by scientific analysis with their own changing history.
This article documents the life of an anthropologist studying magic; it chronicles her trajectory of finding a place between the rationalized, analytically based academy on the one hand, and a life infused with spirits on the other. Not wanting to prioritize either critical thinking or the reality of a non-material world, Susan Greenwood shows how she has explored a magical terrain engaging sensory experiences, the imagination as a ‘doorway’ into an inspirited reality, and critical thinking through her anthropological work. Greenwood shows how she has negotiated often uncomfortable – but highly relevant – subjective and theoretical domains with the aim of not reducing or privileging one to the other. In the process she has sought to legitimize magic as an important aspect of knowledge that can bring academic – as well as individual – insights.
2011 Mark A. Schroll and Susan Greenwood ‘World views in collision – world views in metamorphosis: toward a multi-state paradigm.’ Anthropology of Consciousness 22 (1)
2011 ‘Reflections on Anne Boleyn’s Well’ Rhine Online Psi-News Magazine 3 (1)
2010 ‘Going native, being native: Adventures in the anthropology of western magic’. Treadwell’s ‘Research in Magic’ Seminar Series, Covent Garden, London. 14 April