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Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England Paperback – March 1, 1989

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Persuasions of the Witch's Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England + In Sorcery's Shadow: A Memoir of Apprenticeship among the Songhay of Niger + Shamans Through Time
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 396 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (March 1, 1989)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674663241
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674663244
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #672,494 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


A groundbreaking study that nimbly interweaves Ms. Luhrmann's own magical adventures with anthropological shoptalk, offering a systematic classification and analysis of modern magic, as well as judicious observations on the nature of belief...A formidable challenge that T. M. Luhrmann's book implicitly poses [is] a rigorous examination of the tenets of our own faith, ideas, dearest intellectual castles, to find just where the foundations lie. To accomplish that would be magic enough for anyone. (Philip Zaleski New York Times Book Review)

Raises questions about the way we think, believe, imagine, know, in a most fascinating way. (Rosemary Dinnage New York Review of Books)

Anyone who likes to speculate about the nature of belief and the organization of belief systems, to learn about the development and meanings of ritual, and to explore efforts toward creative self-realization will be intrigued with the results of Luhrmann's immersion in the several strains of modern British magic. (Michele Slung Washington Post Book World)

Luhrmann has made a major contribution to the study of magic, new religions, and the development of the irrational within a culture that prides itself on rationality. (Helen A. Berger Contemporary Sociology)

Such is the strength of Tanya Luhrmann's narrative that, by the end of the book, magic becomes a normal and almost routine activity--just another way of channeling that desire for worship and that appetite for symbolic ritual that human beings seem to possess. Since this is an anthropological study the author has many serious points to make about the relationship between practice and theory. (Peter Ackroyd London Times)

This brilliant work provides the most wide-ranging sociological or anthropological investigation to date of the interrelated witchcraft, ceremonial magic, and neo-pagan movements that are becoming increasingly important in both Britain and the United States...No one interested in contemporary spirituality or the social scientific study of religion can afford to miss this book. (Robert S. Ellwood Religious Studies Review)

About the Author

Tanya M. Luhrmann is Associate Professor of Anthropology, University of California, San Diego.

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Customer Reviews

Most neopagans don't consider themselves as magicians primarily, and much of the ritual we do is not to create material results.
This is the blindness of an absolute faith in its own way; if its not in the purvue of modern Western science, then it simply does not exist.
Dr. Luhrmann's subsequent publications transplant this same basic methodology into the studies of other current day popular religions.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

18 of 22 people found the following review helpful By darciecal on March 27, 2012
Format: Paperback
Luhrmann recently released a book on evangelical christians in which she hypothesizes that the practice of prayer enables them to hear the Voice of God. This book is being hailed as extremely sensitive to and gentle with her informants.

It is too bad Luhrmann did not extend this courtesy to her witches and magicians. Instead she presents them as people who socially support and encourage each other to believe fantasy. As this was her dissertation work, I believe she was under some pressure at that time to please her professors who basically wanted her to debunk religious belief by deconstructing it. If that is the case, maybe she should go back and rewrite Persuasions now that she has achieved a secure place in her field. Or maybe she should do a follow-up. I suspect many, most or all of her informants for Persuasions have lived fulfilling lives.
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23 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Taylor Ellwood VINE VOICE on September 18, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Reading this made it clear that while the author definitely did some research and came to understand some aspects of magic, there was a lot she was woefully ignorant of. Perhaps what was most telling was the attitude she had toward the subject and toward the people she observed, a subtle attitude that demonstrated a lack of respect. For her magic, seemed liked an opportunity to find a subject study it, write about it, and then promptly leave without continuing further work or further engaging the subject and testing her analysis. She apparently only did this study for a year.

On the other hand, this was a good read precisely because in that year she did get very involved in the communities and in magical practice. What I wonder is whether she critically questioned her own values and beliefs and what those brought to the experience and subject she was studying. I'm not convinced in reading this book that she engaged her own attitudes about magic or was willing to suspend disbelief enough to determine if it was a reality or just an approach to life that people bought into.
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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Garnet on March 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
I was planning on giving this book two stars after I'd gotten about half-way through it, but by the end I couldn't help but reduce it to just one star. If I could give it one and half star, I would. It's not that the book is badly written, at least style-wise, but that it's just that it reads like the author, an anthropologist, went into her study with her mind made up already about what she would find. She went hunting for what would support her thesis and was not open to finding anything but what she'd already decided was going on.

The author joined several magic groups in England at the time, from witch covens to Western Mystery traditions--taking their courses and even getting initiated into their groups. She stated that she also read magic and witch books, but admits that she didn't read them for their content, but for their "tone." It also seems from what she says that she only noticed the tone of what she experienced in the groups, rather than trying to make sense of what they were trying to teach her, and even what she actually ended up experiencing.

The gist of the book is that since, in the author's worldview, magic does not work...why would otherwise reasonably intelligent, reasonably educated, and reasonably sane individuals in modern day (1980's) England believe in it? Part of what she decided is that they have chosen to live in a shared delusion, a fantasy world, in order to regress to a childlike state to deal with unresolved mother-separation issues. She equates the Mother Goddess (of any ilk) with the Good Mother-Bad Mother and the seeking of inner individual power along the path of magic with an attempt to grow up and become an adult, thus separating from the mother.
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20 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Green Stone on October 2, 2010
Format: Paperback
First point: the title of the book is inappropriate, since Luhrmann does not focus specifically on Witches: in fact, in reading the book, the sense one gets is that Witches and Witchcraft are peripheral to her study, since she is "researching" and constantly references magic and "magicians," a realm which includes but is certainly not limited to Witches. Much of what she investigates is what she calls the "Western Mysteries", a realm more aligned with hermeticism and ceremonial magic than Witchcraft.

Second point: Luhrmann's very approach to magic itself disqualifies her from being able to learn anything significant about it. One cannot hope to learn anything significant about magic, witchcraft, or the occult arts with a purely intellectual, coldly logical, computer-like "rational" approach. One might as well try to apply pure cold, disembodied computer logic to understand how a work of art is made. One might further say that approaching witchcraft, magic and the occult arts with a resolutely unimaginative, dully unintuitive, unfeeling "logic" is a highly irrational and futile approach, bound to keep the investigator blind, dumb and deaf to his or her subject. A mature intellect is a holistic, embodied intellect, one that is integrated with feminine ways of knowing, and it enables us to know when and how to apply intuition and feeling and other forms of knowing to our subject. Disembodied, cold, excessively masculine intellect is a disease of modern humankind, and it fails utterly to illuminate matters that are appropriately termed "Feminine Mysteries." Many of these things are termed mysteries precisely because they elude "mere" intellectual knowing and explanation: they require a deeper, more profound level of knowing.
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