Whereas ‘Western learned magic’ as well as ‘magick’ could be considered signifiers that refer to a specific (Western) type of religious data on the object level, the third lecture will adopt a more theoretical perspective and ponder whether ‘magic’ could be re-established as an analytical term of cross-cultural and diachronic scope. Of course, we do not want to relapse into out-dated essentialist or Eurocentric definitions, join in the chatter about so-called ‘heuristic’ (but ultimately meaningless) categories, or rely on the vagueness and arbitrariness of everyday language. Against the backdrop of these obstacles, the lecture suggests a methodological pathway that allows for conceptualising ‘magic’ as a comparative category that can be applied to any religious data, independent of its timely, geographical, or cultural contexts. Taking ‘magic’s’ Western history as an analytical starting point (which is the only plausible way to do it), the magic word is ‘conceptual reverse-engineering’: thereby, ‘magic’ is chopped into smaller bits and pieces that may be allocated to three basic domains – the (A) conceptual-intellectual, the (B) discursive, and the (C) ritual domain. The items that we find in these domains – for instance: (A1) ‘ritual’, (A2) ‘power’, (A3) ‘miracle’, and (A4) ‘wish-fulfilment’ in the domain of concepts and ideas – can then be used as tertia comparationis in a comparative framework. Exemplary findings show that this procedure may lead to more nuanced analyses of various ‘same same but different’ phenomena on the object level, but it also raises the question whether – and how – apparent similarities across different times and spaces can be explained. As this is ultimately a theoretical question, the lecture concludes with tentative suggestions of how the suggested methodological procedure may provide building blocks of a new cultural theory of ‘magic’.
At this very moment, a global discourse of contemporaneous self-proclaimed ‘magicians’ is flourishing more or less below the radar of the scholarly community and media awareness. These self-proclaimed ‘magicians’ (which may today amount to roughly one million) practice a ritual art usually denoted as ‘magick’ and bear witness to their experiences by means of a large variety of publication activities. The lecture will present findings from a cooperative research project entitled ‘Mapping Modern Magic(k)’ (with Prof. Egil Asprem, Stockholm, and Prof. Marco Pasi, Amsterdam, as co-researchers) that strives to systematically map and analyse the internal structures and networks, the formation of groups and schools, the self-perceptions and experience reports, and the conceptual and ritual dynamics of this discourse. The project is ambitious and challenging insofar as the said discourse is inherently global and transcultural as well as extremely heterogenous. One of the main goals of the project is to develop an analytical matrix that helps to map and organise the manifold material; this matrix will be presented and discussed during the lecture. Finally, a range of explanations will be provided regarding the (unexpected?) persistence, innovativity and popularity of ‘magick’ in the (post-)modern West.
The university library of Leipzig hosts one of the most extensive and complete early modern collections of hand-written manuscripts of ‘Western learned magic’. The collection was sold in 1710 for an extraordinary price, and both the selling catalogue entitled ‘catalogus rariorum manuscriptorum’ as well as 134 (of 140) manuscripts have survived. The collection is unique in several ways: with numerous texts going back to late antiquity and the Middle Ages, as well as early modern adaptations and innovations, the collection attests both the longue-durée nature of the textual-ritual tradition of ‘Western learned magic’ as well as its striking adaptability and changeability. With over hundred texts translated into German, it attests processes of vernacularising texts and techniques of ‘learned magic’ in German-speaking Europe that happened significantly earlier than assumed thus far. With over 65 % of the texts devoted to the Solomonic art of conjuring spirits, the collection provides a unique window into ritual knowledge that was highly contested and illegal at the time, and at the same time demonstrates that this knowledge was much more elaborate and versatile in the 17th and 18th centuries than assumed thus far. After an introduction into the concept and tradition of ‘Western learned magic’, the lecture provides an overview over the history and contents of the Leipzig Cod. Mag. collection.