Anthony Aveni, who teaches astronomy and anthropology at Colgate University and is the author of a book on the astrological origins of astronomy, Conversing With the Planets: How Science and Myth Invented the Cosmos
, is an interested but skeptical inquirer into the wackier realms of superstition. His assumptions are scientific, rational, and secular as he charts the history of magical and supernatural beliefs and their pseudo-scientific manifestations. The thread of his story runs from early Greece and Rome through the Dark Ages of alchemy and witchcraft to the Age of Enlightenment and on to our New Age resurgence of belief in the spirit world. From the evil eye to the crystal ball to new age healing crystals, Aveni identifies a consistent human weakness for magical solutions to life's puzzles.
From Publishers Weekly
Titles on science and spirituality are usually targeted at readers interested in new scientific paradigms. This informative but stacked-deck history of science and magic (the latter a discipline that Aveni defines broadly enough to include kundalini yoga), however, presupposes a readership that embraces a scientific-materialistic worldview that sees little or no sense in the pursuit of so-called magical practices. Aveni, who teaches astronomy and anthropology at Colgate, seems eager to understand the motives of the magically inclined, but his tone can be condescending or flippant ("the seeming mumbo-jumbo magic of Kabbalism"). He offers a whirlwind tour that covers, among other matters, the complicated cures of the ancients, the rise of alchemy in medieval times, 19th-century occultism and New Age phenomena from channeling to UFO abductions to near-death experiences. His reach is so broad that he fails to cover any one subject in significant depth, meanwhile exhibiting a lack of scale and discrimination?for instance, by following up a mention of a modern-day innovation like magnet-therapy with a discussion of the venerable practice of tai chi. Aveni does a solid job of explaining the basic principles of magic (e.g., that like cures like), and he ultimately concludes that, to its practitioners, magic is an expression of deeply held religious beliefs. In his wonderful book Conversing with the Planets, Aveni sensitively explored astronomy's roots in astrology; that sensitivity is sorely lacking here.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.