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BAHAR Seminar, Thursday April 14, 2011: Susan Greenwood

On Thursday April 14, 2011, Susan Greenwood (Sussex University) will present a seminar to the Body, Health and Religion Research Group (BAHAR). The topic will be, ‘On Becoming an Owl: Magical Consciousness and Science’. The seminar will take place in Humanities Building, Room 3.48, Cardiff University, from 4.30 to 6 p.m. All welcome.

Susan introduces her seminar as follows: “Early in my anthropological career I became an owl in my imagination. It happened during my first shamanic journey, a form of active meditation accompanied by the rhythm of a drumbeat. Afterwards, I came to understand the experience as a spiritual communication with the bird. I was engaged in participant observation research on British practitioners of magic at the time, and my experience of transformation happened during a workshop at a conference on the performing arts and shamanism in Cardiff, Wales. The experience had a profound effect on me. I was surprised that a neo-shamanic journey at a conference could have had such a deep impact and I came to realize the power of the imagination in the mutability of body boundaries. If I, as a person untrained in such shamanic encounters, could feel that I had become a spirit owl then some aspect of the experience must be universal to human processes of mind. My experience of such communication with spirit beings would have wide implications for my research over the years.

“In this paper I shall give an overview of how I have sought to remain true to the experience of my spirit communication with the owl while still seeking to maintain scientific analysis. In the process of explication, I will put forward a new approach to the anthropological study of magic through the development of what I term ‘magical consciousness’, a holistic process of mind illustrated by my becoming a spirit owl. Applying the concept of magical consciousness to the subject of shamanic healing, I shall show how the western biomedical model, in which spirits do not exist, can be examined alongside a shamanic model that encompasses shamanic beliefs in an inspirited cosmos. The purpose is not to compare their relative merits as healing systems, but to consider how we might understand and apply these different orientations to knowledge in a new attitude towards science.”

Dr Susan Greenwood teaches courses on shamanic consciousness at the University of Sussex and is the author of Magic, Witchcraft and the Otherworld (Berg, 2000), The Nature of Magic: an anthropology of consciousness (Berg, 2005), The Anthropology of Magic (2009), and Dragon Magic: an anthropologist’s journey (forthcoming).

Enquries to Geoffrey Samuel.

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