Magic as participatory consciousness

We continue our exploration of participatory spirituality, which we monitor through a special topical area at the P2P Foundation, which contain the especially popular entries on Participatory and Relational Spirituality.

A key question is the following: Should older forms of human consciousness be abandoned and rejected as prerational or irrational, or rather, should they be integrated, and be considered part and parcel of a contempoary integral and participatory consciousness? Can we (post)moderns still learn something from the participatory worldviews characteristic of magical, animistic or shamanic consciousness?
An interesting book about this topic is Susan Greenwood’s: The Nature of Magic: an anthropology of consciousness. Berg, 2005, which is reviewed by Phil Kline.

Dr. Susan Greenwood has an interesting quote on the conception of David Abram, directly relevant for our query:

“Magic is participating in a world of multiple intelligences with the intuition that every form one perceives – from swallow swooping overhead to the fly on a blade of grass, and indeed the blade of grass itself – is an experiencing form, an entity with its own predilections and sensations that are very different from our own.”

Source: David Abram. The Spell of the Sensuous. Vintage, 1997, p. 10

Phile Kline then elaborates on Susan Greenwood’s own ideas, note the conclusion:

“Magical consciousness works through connections. How? Through seeing things in terms of patterns of communication.

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.

Causality and participation do not form a dualism but rather an ‘entwining’ – we use both, probably slipping in and out of each with ease without really realizing. We’re looking at magical consciousnesss so we’re interested in participation rather than causality.â€?

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