Persuasive Ritual : the Role of the Imagination in occult Witchcraft / Les Rites de persuasion : le rôle de l imagination dans la magie noire - article ; n°1 ; vol.60, pg 151-170
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Persuasive Ritual : the Role of the Imagination in occult Witchcraft / Les Rites de persuasion : le rôle de l'imagination dans la magie noire - article ; n°1 ; vol.60, pg 151-170

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Archives des sciences sociales des religions - Année 1985 - Volume 60 - Numéro 1 - Pages 151-170
20 pages
Source : Persée ; Ministère de la jeunesse, de l’éducation nationale et de la recherche, Direction de l’enseignement supérieur, Sous-direction des bibliothèques et de la documentation.



Publié par
Publié le 01 janvier 1985
Nombre de lectures 26
Langue Français
Poids de l'ouvrage 1 Mo


T.M. Luhrmann
Persuasive Ritual : the Role of the Imagination in occult
Witchcraft / Les Rites de persuasion : le rôle de l'imagination
dans la magie noire
In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 60/1, 1985. pp. 151-170.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Luhrmann T.M. Persuasive Ritual : the Role of the Imagination in occult Witchcraft / Les Rites de persuasion : le rôle de
l'imagination dans la magie noire. In: Archives des sciences sociales des religions. N. 60/1, 1985. pp. 151-170.
doi : 10.3406/assr.1985.2371 Sc soc des Rel 1985 juillet-septembre) 151 170
Les des problèmes rituels innovateurs théoriques de aux la magie anthropologues noire ne sont car pas les bases sans poser tradi
tionnelles qui sont supposées leur conférer un sens leur font défaut
auteur examine les exercices rituels qui sont prescrits par les ma
nuels déformation aux sciences occultes et intéresse en particu
lier utilisation qui est faite de imagination dirigée Dans le
cadre de la théorie performative du rituel on peut considérer que
cette de imagination constitue une variante particulière
de action performative article suggère que ce performatif in
térieur peut ne pas être négligeable pour le néophyte en ce sens
il aide assigner une signification conventionnelle des rites
qui lui sont étrangers
In his essay on Baudelaire the critic Walter Benjamin plays with the idea of
two forms of memory mémoire volontaire and mémoire involontaire The for
mer recreates the past through information the latter plunges one into past ex
perience by reaching beyond the intellect the madeleine which recalled Proust
to his childhood The one is memory the other remembrance For Benjamin
ritual combined the two modes of recollection through the simultaneous reitera
tion and evocation of the past Rituals triggered recollection at certain times
and remained handles of memory for life time 1968 159)
Anthropologists have nursed an intuition that the repetition of action sanc
tioned by custom and tradition invokes the emotional power of ritual Mali-
nowski Evans-Pritchard and their students tended to assume that it is the tradi
tional nature of magical spells and rituals which allows their native performers
to find them emotionally powerful and efïlcacious But this assumption causes
difficulty in understanding innovation in interpreting rituals which have no tra
ditional sanction The contemporary London occult is centered on precisely this
sort of innovative ritual which is knitted from the shared culture into radically
new patterns The interpretation of this occult ritual raises important questions
for anthropological theory
This essay examines manuals which purport to train novices in the magical
arts The peculiar characteristics of the training techniques suggest significant
aspects of the learning process involved in performing such innovative rituals
The essay distinguishes ritual actions into words gestures and the imagination
These actions acquire meaning through different contexts affect the ritual
ists in distinctive manners The interweaving of their varied contexts may build
upon and give force to ritual utterance The imagination seems particularly
important in its impact and thus will be the primary focus of the essay
In England the magical Subculture is richly variegated To large extent
magic is smaller component of the New or subculture the
most recent transformation of the sixties counterculture This larger
involves natural medicine health foods political radicalism eastern philoso
phies and psychic occult activities The 1983 Aquarian Festival in London
exhibited fifty-eight stalls of which fifteen were health and natural foods-
centered eight concerned eastern philosophy and five were political The rest
addressed the magical subculture schools advertising their correspondance
courses craftsmen selling their ritual robes and silver pentacles incense sellers
pseudo-scholars books about the cabala geomancy astrology and so
forth Tarot readers and other psychics set up consulting tables on the floor be
low Three thousand people browsed through the venue in an inaccessible part
of London record attendance in 1981 was five thousand
Magic itself embraces variety of groups and activies and despite its adop
tion by the counterculture has somewhat older roots In its essence this magic
involves the active practice of ritual upon the assumption that the ritual may al
ter the so-called subtle energies which affect all life Different magical groups
however have varying theories and ritual techniques There are those who are
trained by particular lodges and practice magic which they derive from the
Elizabethan occult philosophy Such contemporary groups often descend by ini
tiation lineage from XIXth century magical order created by eccentric Ma
sons Other groups descend directly from Theosophy One of the most rapidly
growing magical practices is witchcraft pagan religion based upon magical
Secrecy makes the number of active magical practitioners difficult to esti
mate An guide to occult pagan and new age groups services and pub
lications lists one hundred seventy-five entries for Great Britain but many
groups are unwilling to advertise in even so particular form The largest occult
magazine Prediction has monthly circulation of 35000 but no doubt the
large majority of its readers are not magicians The editor of the magazine
claims that she knows personally of over two hundred magical groups
myself have entered this subculture as an anthropological fieldworker
For eighteen months in 1983-4 subscribed to the journals took the correspon
dance courses and was initiated into several different magical organizations It
is from this fieldwork that draw my understanding of the magical subculture
and the choice of pertinent texts with which to illustrate it
Witchcraft is particularly interesting ethnographic area in which to ex
plore our theoretical concerns The rituals are not only initially unfamiliar to
their practitioners but in addition there is an emphasis upon spontaneity and
originality so that the rituals themselves are rarely stable from meeting to
meeting was initiated into witchcraft group coven in October 1983
have been fortunate in that this group is quite well-connected with others Thus
although secrecy limits my knowledge of witchcraft as whole my understand
ing is based upon significant sample For this essay witchcraft will provide
the ethnographic material
The basis of occult witchcraft lies in the model of pagan worship described
in scholarship in the and transformed into an active practice in the fifties
In 1921 Margaret Murray argued that the witchcraft trials of previous centuries
were genuine attempts to eradicate vital paganism rather than frenzied
scapegoating during social and intellectual upheaval To her witchcraft was an
organized coherent religion whose members met in small groups covens un
der the full moon to ritually worship horned god
work was justly condemned by academic historians as her evi
dence was drawn primarily from confessions exacted under torture But the con
troversial book became popular Under its influence in 1954 civil servant-
cum-archeologist called Gerald Gardner published an anthropological account
of coven he had discovered still practicing their medieval traditions In fact
the probably never existed But Gardner published detailed accounts of
its supposed activities and rituals in pastiche of other occult writings moulded
by his own distinctive personality 1949 1954 1959 His first followers accep
ted them as historically sound With this framework Gardner began to form co
vens initiating individuals who split off from him and initiated others
Occult witchcraft in Britain and the States now consists of network of
small groups of three to thirteen members led by high priestess and her high
priest The tenets are fiercely non-dogmatic but most groups view themselves
as recreating what they describe as an ancient fertility cult They initiate mem
bers into autonomous covens of secret membership which meet on the full
moons and the traditional pagan festivals the solar equinoxes the soltices and
February Candlemas) May Beltane) August Lammas) and 31 October
Halloween The festivals are celebrated for their pagan associations Beltane
and Lammas for example are fire-festivals associated respectively with the fer
tilization of the field and the harvest Halloween concerns feasting with the
dead Witches learn of such customs by reading the literature on Celtic pagan
ism European folklore and the like The Golden Bough and Graves
The White Goddess are popular texts
The theology presents monistic nature religion personified by opposing but
complementary male and female forces The feminine is the cyclic moon and seas
onal earth the masculine her conso

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