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

3.3 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

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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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: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #250,309 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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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It was back in the 1980’s that Ph.D candidate Tanya Luhrman left her home in the United States and went to Great Britain in order to study up close the magical communities of England. She lived and practiced magic immersing herself into the environment of the magician. She told them what she was up to and she was accepted although she only rarely brought in a tape recorder, often times jotting down notes after the ritual or mediation or teaching. Among the orders or covens that she was with were Marian Green’s “Green Circle”, the Hornsby Group, Gareth Knight’s group and the Glittering sword.

While she herself did not believe in magic she did have healthy dose of respect for those who did. She went in as an anthropologist seeking to live the life of the community. Her study does not cover paganism per se or devil worship just magic. I am glad that she kept that line very clear. There are some magicians who work with Aruthurian mythos, others with angels and some with planetary powers.

Most of those involved in magical groups tend to be middle class or upper middle class and have a great deal of education under their belt. They are usually employed in the computer industry where creativity and deciphering things can be of use. Some are teachers and others are therapist. What leads them to magic is often a search for more control in their life or some deeper spirituality without joining a new religion or a cult. Many people are led to the magical path after reading fantasy book written by JRR. Tolkien, CS Lewis, Ursula Leguine, and Marion Zimmer Bradley. Need I forget to mention that many computer geeks and magi are involved in the role playing game Dungeons and Dragons?
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