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Department of Social Anthropology


CUSAS Seminar with Dr Susan Greenwood (University of Sussex)

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 for not overturning the results of an election not in their favor - magical thinking expressed in the conspiracy theories that led to this situation are alive and well. However, on the other end of a spectrum, such magical thinking manifested, for example, in shamanic healing for psychotic breakdown or contemporary western Pagan ritual practices that encourage a closer connection with nature can be beneficial to individual, community, and the planet. Employing similar participatory patterns of thought, and often expressed using the same Nordic mythology and symbols, this spectrum of magical orientations of mind can have very different objectives and outcomes. On the one hand, the alt-right conspiracy theories utilize magical thinking symbolized in mythologies based in a fascistic neo-Nazi Christianized ‘blood and soil’ battle between good and evil intent on fostering racial and social separatism. While on the other hand, for example, many contemporary western Pagan practitioners of magic might use the same or similar Nordic symbols, but with very different and broadly inclusive participatory meanings based on anti-racist connections with the natural world. From these two examples of magical thinking – one divisive and the other broadly inclusive - such participatory orientations of mind can be used in a complex variety of ways. This complexity is not in any way discrete. Rather, these orientations may on occasion blend into each other depending on varying cultural contexts, as well as the huge influence of social media. In this seminar I will argue that such participatory thinking can be examined as ‘magical consciousness’, a quasi-universal participatory form of meaning-making that can help us understand and make sense of current events in western cultures as well as in more traditional anthropological fields, and beyond.

Please register for this event:

Thursday, 4 March, 2021 - 18:00 to 19:30
Event location: 
Online - please register