Video: Exploring Magical Consciousness as a Form of Knowledge

October 26, 2021
Exploring Magical Consciousness

Welcome to the first event of GnoseologiesTranscendence and Transformation Today in which we will discuss “magic” with Dr. Susan Greenwood. This series focuses on ways of knowing that are often labeled as “non-rational.” Traditionally referred to as gnosis in Western philosophical and religious traditions, and often understood in contraposition to science (episteme), these ways of knowing are becoming more and more influential in contemporary societies, popular culture, and academic research. What is the place of spirit possession, divination, and experiences perceived as “out-of-the ordinary” in our lives? How can we study and approach these types of phenomena? Going beyond dichotomies such as body and mind, ordinary and extraordinary, reason and experience, and matter and spirit, this series hosts scholars of different disciplines and practitioners interested in exploring and expanding the boundaries of what counts as “knowledge” today.

Susan Greenwood is an anthropologist specializing in magic as an altered mode of awareness, and her initial fieldwork among British pagans, witches, and shamanic practitioners. She has lectured courses on the anthropology of religion at Goldsmiths University of London, and altered states of consciousness at the University of Sussex. The author of many articles and books on magical consciousness including The Anthropology of Magic (Berg 2009; Routledge 2020), Magical Consciousness: an anthropological and neurobiological approach [with Erik Goodwyn]  (Routledge, 2017), and Developing Magical Consciousness: a theoretical and practical guide for the expansion of perception (Routledge 2020), her research focus is now on exploring alternative modes of knowledge through storytelling.


FULL TRANSCRIPT: 

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SPEAKER 1: Harvard Divinity School.

SPEAKER 2: Exploring Magical Consciousness as a Form of Knowledge-- A Conversation with Susan Greenwood, October 13, 2021.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: And welcome to the first lecture of Gnoseologies. My name is Giovanna Parmigiani, and I'm a lecturer in anthropology and religion at Harvard Divinity School, and a research associate of the Transcendence and Transformation Initiative of the Center for the Study of World Religions here at Harvard University. I'm also the host of this series that focuses on ways of knowing that are often labeled as non-rational. Traditionally referred to as gnosis in Western philosophical and religious traditions, hence the title, and often understood in contra position to science, epistemic, these ways of knowing are becoming more and more influential in contemporary societies, popular culture, and academic research.

Going beyond dichotomies, such as body and mind, ordinary and extraordinary, reason and experience, and matter and spirit, this series hosts scholars of different disciplines and practitioners interested in exploring and expanding the boundaries of what counts as knowledge today.

The guest of this inaugural lecture is Dr. Susan Greenwood. Susan is an anthropologist and devoted most of her career to the study of magic. She did field work among British pagans, witches, and shamanic practitioners, and she is the author of many articles and books on magical consciousness, including The Anthropology of Magic, The Nature of Magic, Magical Consciousness-- An Anthropological and Neurobiological Approach with Erik Goodwyn, and Developing Magical Consciousness-- A Theoretical and Practical Guide for the Expansion of Perception. Thank you, Susan, for being here with us, and welcome. Hello.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Thank you so much for the invitation. And it's a real delight and honor to be here. So thank you.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Thank you so much. And before starting with the questions, some of which were suggested by the students of my course in the Anthropology of Magic, who I would like to thank. So Susan, thank you so much for being here. What do you think about the focus of this series? Let's start with that.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Oh, I think it's incredible. It's such a broad scope of practices, experiences right across the board-- so many different ways of coming to understand the deeper aspects of life through mind, body, and spirit as well. And it's a delight to see so many different options really.

So I think it's so important to have all these different paths, so that we can gain a deeper understanding of ourselves in terms of body, mind, and spirit. Because by doing that, I believe that we're more in touch with dealing with the issues we face on a world scale, on a global scale, in terms of the environmental crisis. And I think by knowing ourselves, we are much more-- in a much better place to be able to work together in a way to deal with the wider global issues. And I think that's a really important issue at the moment that faces all of us.

I would like to say right at the beginning that the poet and artist, William Blake, has been a little bit of a mentor for me through the years with my academic work and some of the other work that I've been doing. And one phrase that he said is that revelation has to come before revolution.

And I really like that. It's like we have to make the internal changes before we can start thinking about what to do in social terms or environmental terms. So the whole spectrum of talks and webinars that you have on offer I think are amazing. Yeah, absolutely amazing.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: So would you agree that what has been labeled as non-rational ways of knowing are very relevant today in our contemporary society?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Absolutely relevant. And I may be a bit biased, I suppose. But in my own work on magical consciousness I have been using what I've learned through my academic work in a very practical way, in a variety of different ways, in terms of healing on an individual basis, talking about issues of mental health, as well as environmental work. I've been mentoring a PhD student who's been working with the Cree in Canada and helping provide a bridge of communication between Western cultures and Indigenous-- so-called Indigenous cultures. And that's really been my aim throughout my work is to create a bridge of communication.

And my last project about developing magical consciousness was actually looking at mythologies and storytelling as a way of bridging communication between Western cultures that are largely rationalistic-- I mean, that's a bit of a generalization-- but with Indigenous cultures, specifically Aboriginal Australians, because I thought we could create a sense of speaking the same language through mythology. Because, of course, mythologies are the language of magic, and I'll come to talk about that a bit later on. But I think it's really important that we can make those connections for all sorts of political and environmental reasons.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: That's very interesting. Let's do a step back because--

SUSAN GREENWOOD: What I'd really like to say at this point, but I do find that terms like non-rational aren't particularly helpful in this sort of work. And I know you put it sort of so-called non-rational, but the way that we describe magic and alternative forms of knowing is often within the terminology of the Enlightenment.

And the Enlightenment, of course, has kind of commandeered what is reason and what is logic and what is rational and what is irrational? So our discourses are framed within the irrational. And I think that that's not helpful. We need to find a different sort of language to talk about much of this stuff.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: That's a fantastic starting point. Thank you for pointing it out.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: I'd just like to jump in again and say that I think magic is both rational and reasonable.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Fantastic. Well put. This is very important in your work because those of us who did not read your work-- I did, actually, all of it, but there might be someone in the audience who did not-- don't know that participatory consciousness is really a key concept in your work, is your way of dealing with some of the things you just mentioned. Do you want to say more about it maybe?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Yeah, absolutely. I have to start from the beginning really, that-- on the understanding that magic is a legitimate form of knowledge, given the Enlightenment legacy, that actually this is-- magic as an alternative form of knowing is legitimate. But it actually works on a different form of process, and we cannot understand it through the lens of logic. So we actually need a different type of understanding, and I'll come to the bit about participation through that.

Because if we look at logic, which is the dominant mode of scientific thought, it's a sort of knowledge that converges and it creates categories and boundaries, and it also creates oppositions that are-- I mean, this is a stereotype, of course, but we're just laying the ground rules here for a sort of a basic understanding.

So you've got logic on the one hand. But the sort of magic and the sort of awareness that I'm talking about, is analogical. So this is a divergent type of thinking, feeling, actually. It's much more based on emotion, and it creates patterns. And these patterns are meaningful for the individual or the group.

And in terms of analogical knowing, it's very participatory. It creates those connections between spirit and matter. So spirit isn't cut off from matter. It's all-- it brings it all together. So that's where participation comes in. It's one of the fundamental building blocks, really, of magical thinking. It's about thinking with things, making connections.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Can you tell us a bit more maybe of how you came to think about this framework, who are the authors you're engaging with, and some examples maybe?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Yeah. Yeah. Well, when I was-- when I first started studying magic I was very much-- and I was interested in magic anyway. I had all sorts of questions about spirituality and the religious framework that I was brought up in. And so I did a lot of experimentation. And I joined a feminist witchcraft coven in London, and that led to more questions. And so I did an anthropology and sociology degree, again, because I thought, well, I want to find out more about what this magic thing is.

And anyway, I finished. But as an undergraduate, we were taught about Levy-Bruhl, in particular. And he's the philosopher the most concerned with participatory knowledge. And I shared a collective indignation that Levy-Bruhl is racist because of his notion of prelogical mentality. And there was-- we were taught that this was not the way to go forward.

But I then transferred to become a PhD student, and I revisited Levy-Bruhl's work. And I saw that actually it was really, really important in my whole understanding of the experience of magic, the magic that I had experience practicing in witchcraft covens and various other things. And as part of my PhD fieldwork, I was involved in a whole manner of magical practices, from ceremonial magic to shamanistic practices. And I'd often be sort of trawling off in the wood in the middle of the night to do various things.

So as part of trying to understand how I could find a framework for understanding this experience, that not only I was having, but my informants were having, I did revisit Levy-Bruhl, and I found a really interesting thing in the social sciences. And I think probably why he was so badly thought of at the time, because it was very Durkheimian influence. And the line of thought from Durkheim was, of course, as you know, that actually magic and religion is a sort of a precursor of scientific thought.

So the line of thinking was logical. And this wasn't helping me at all to understand the experience of what I and my informants were having during these magical practices. And, of course, the dominant form of framework at the time was through Durkheim, but particularly through to Levi-Strauss, who was creating systems of patterning, but again, based on that logical profile.

So I had to really revisit Levy-Bruhl, and I read a lot of this work about mystical mentality and about participation. And participation became a central organizing framework around my whole theoretical basis. And it still is, actually, because Levy-Bruhl talked about participation as being the emotional association between persons and things in contact with a nonordinary reality. And I thought, this is what really speaks to me and speaks to my framework for knowledge about how to create a bridge of communication between the academic world and the world of my informants and the world of my own experience through participating in these rituals.

So I felt very, very strongly-- and I've come to write about that much later, particularly in the work with-- on medical consciousness with Erik Goodwyn about Levy-Bruhl has really been misrepresented in the whole of anthropological theory, and in the social sciences, generally. And I felt really strongly about that, enough to write an entry in the SAGE Encyclopedia of Research Methods that he was actually a pioneer. Because I thought I need to redress the balance a bit, to move all the analysis from logical frameworks to analogical frameworks, participatory frameworks. Because these are much, much, much more helpful in understanding the emotional experience that people have during these rituals. So yes, I hope that answers your question.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: No, absolutely. I just want to tell to the audience that might not be familiar with the Levy-Bruhl, that he was a product of his time. So if you read Levy-Bruhl, you read all about primitives. The language is off-putting, I have to say. So I can understand how you found some interesting venues within his work. But he was still a product of his time and not the best of our common anthropological origins, let's say. But can you tell us how you moved from mentality to consciousness? So why did you decide to focus on consciousness?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Well, I think I was very influenced, and I read a lot about Levy-Bruhl's conversation with Evans-Pritchard, who's another-- for those non-anthropologists, he's another notable anthropologist. And while many, many people disregarded Levy-Bruhl at the time, Evans-Pritchard didn't, because he was interested as well in how people thought. And he thought that Levy-Bruhl had made too much of a case of mystical mentality for so-called natives or Indigenous people. All these terms are problematic, of course.

So working with Levy-Bruhl, they came to this shared agreement that all cultures, all societies, have these different modes of thinking, both logical and analogical participatory and scientific. And it was the social-- the societies or the social groupings that actually shaped which was most dominant.

So thinking about that, I'm thinking about my research field, which was on a Western culture, you know, people practicing magic in Britain, Western culture. They were mostly brought up in a society that believed more in science as the dominant framework. So it was-- for me it was a question of rebalancing. And I thought, it's not just about this small group of people that I'm studying in Britain. It's actually this issue is probably much wider, and perhaps we need to look at it on bigger terms.

And one of the strong-- of course, one of the strongest parts of anthropology is the notion of participant observation, and you focus on the small part. But also, I thought perhaps we're kind of losing the sense of the whole as well. And so that's what made me focus on consciousness, that actually we need to look at this perhaps as a pan-human, on a pan-human level, because this is something that affects all of us.

We all have different ways of thinking, and I do think that it's important to see ourselves as having more likenesses than not. Because to come back to what I was saying at the beginning, this is how we kind of create communication between different elements of society and to resolve common problems. So that's why I focus on consciousness.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Yeah, as my students know, and the former ones, I use the filter of participatory consciousness to actually inform our readings about magic, for example. And I find it extremely, extremely useful.

And to summarize a little bit your point, we all use different ways to engage with the world. Some are logical, and some are participatory analogical, as I would say. Can you make us some examples of what do you experience maybe in your field work-- I don't know-- or what you've seen about participatory consciousness and magic as you lived in this particular way?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Of how you participate in both?

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Yes.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: In both. Well, it started off, I suppose, when I was a PhD student. And although I had a lot of experience of magical experiences, as part of my fieldwork I had to learn the very tricky process of navigating both types of identities, really, of being a field worker and being-- having to keep the theoretical and the analytical aspects of my brain working.

But I also had to go deeper and deeper into the experience of magic. And this was something that was really important to me, because I felt that there wasn't a lot of information at the time. You have to remember, we're going back quite a few years now to the 1990s, and maybe things have changed a bit now. I hope they have. But it was very tricky to begin with to be able to negotiate the two identities, if you like. And I don't think I would have done it unless I'd had an awful lot of support.

Fortunately, I had two PhD supervisors at Goldsmiths who were absolutely fantastic. The first was the late Olivia Harris, and she held the space for me, the academic space for me, where I could go and become immersed in. I did a training of becoming a ceremonial magician, and I learned Kabbalah, and I had to do meditations every day and all of this sort of thing, and I had to totally be in it. But the thing that kind of kept me anchored was having to write notes from the field to Olivia every month, and that helped to kind of ground me.

But also, I was very, very fortunate with Pat Caplan, my second supervisor, who really understood what I was trying to do. And she just really supported me in helping me build up an academic framework for my PhD. And, of course, the main issue in anthropology is that experience makes you a-- experience in the field makes you an anthropologist. But when you come back to the academy, you're supposed to put that to one side.

Well, I kind of resisted that. Maybe I'm sort of a-- maybe there's something in me that's quite awkward. But I thought, why do I have to put that to one side if I'm-- it's part of my human experience?

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Absolutely. I'm with you here. I have the same concerns and problems and ideas as well.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Well, lots of times it's a bit like becoming bilingual, I think, that you-- it becomes easier.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Because it's not just that you were doing ethnography on the field, having to have-- hold your academic identity persona, let's say. But also, and you're quite open about that, you're a scholar and practitioner, right?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Yeah.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: So how do you navigate these two identities-- well, more than two, but you know.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Yeah. Yeah. I mean, as I say, it was very tricky to begin with. I could say it was being like slightly schizophrenic, but that might be a bit dramatic. I think it is a bit like becoming bilingual, that you have to immerse yourself in both languages. Because there's a very definite language of academia, and a very different but definite language of magic.

And I think by immersing yourself in the two, in the logical and the analogical frames of mind, and then becoming conversant and trying to explain one to the other-- and this is why I became I think partly, slightly obsessed about this bridge of communication. Because I wanted to communicate both ways, but in order to do that, you have to really understand both languages. So it just took time, really. But after a while, you kind of get used to it. It becomes a way of life, really.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Like lots of code-switching then, I imagine.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Yeah. But it was important to me to try and explain the process to other people-- other field workers or undergraduates who might be thinking of doing the same thing. And that was really the reason why I wrote The Anthropology of Magic as a textbook, as a sort of way that they could read that, OK, these are the things that are likely to happen, and you will have these experiences. But it was like someone had actually trodden that path before to make it easier, hopefully, for them.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: No, absolutely. We read with my students some of your work for the Anthropology of Magic course I'm teaching. And one student asked me whether your academic work is linked, or the result of, the performance of magical practices?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Yeah, these are really good questions, and I would like to thank your students for these, because they've really made me think about the whole process of what I've been doing with my academic life, really. I think it stems from me being a very curious child and having all sorts of questions which weren't answered at school. Like if God made the universe, who made God, and things like that, which used to terrify my teachers because they could never find answers. But I think I was a curious child, and that led to more and more questions.

And I think I was actually into the process of magic as a way of opening up to different types of knowledge and exploration, instead of wanting a framework that would give me answers. Because I was never satisfied with the answers, I suppose. So it was very much me shaping my academic work through my own questions and not the other way around. I didn't start as an academic and think, well, what will I do my research on? I think you know that.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: So would you say that experiencing and expansion of your boundary of your consciousness was translating to expanding the boundary somehow of anthropology as a discipline in a way, right, in this way. That's awesome. That's fantastic.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: It was kind of maybe I was a bit-- I had-- I felt as if I-- there was something I needed to say, or there was something within anthropology that was stopping me from being able to what I wanted to say, which I thought was a legitimate experience. And that was very much about this nonordinary form of knowledge. And it was knowledge, and I felt that it wasn't being treated with as much interest or as it should have been. So yeah.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Because we have to understand the 1990s going native within the anthropological milieu wasn't a good thing, right? Not that today is easy, but it was even more difficult at that point.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: It was a-- at times, it was a lonely . path. But I suppose there's something. I'm just-- I'm maybe just I'm a bit awkward or something. But I wasn't-- I'm like a dog with a bone, I wasn't going to give it up.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: I understand. Did you experience any ostracism in your career for that?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: There's always opposition to the status quo. I did experience opposition. I think in academia or maybe in any sort of discipline or whatever, there's always a resistance to change. And I did feel that a whole paradigm change was really necessary. And so I think I probably did face ostracism. But me being me, I just thought, well, I'll just carry on anyway. I think [INAUDIBLE] say probably a bit awkward.

But on a personal level, going against the grain, it wasn't always easy. I've had some quite scathing reviews of some of my books, whereby I think people haven't really got what I was trying to say. Or if they did get it, they didn't agree with it. And I think it was to do with the loss of objectivity, and that there's somehow this notion that if you experience or you talk about your own subjectivity, then there must be some sort of corresponding loss of objectivity.

Well, I didn't agree with that at all, because I thought, well, I can be objective, but I can also be subjective about what's going on. And I talk a lot about that in The Anthropology of Magic. I think I probably call it "have your cake and eat it" theory, that you can be both. And we're very flexible in terms of our thinking, and we can be both. We can be subjective and objective.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: And if I can share a little bit of my own experience, I went native, too, on the field. I wasn't interested in paganism magic before I actually started my own fieldwork. And when I came back from the fieldwork and I read your work, I think you gave me language-- a language to talk about what I had experienced as an anthropologist. So I'm here with my two cents chiming in in this conversation with my own experience with your work.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Well, that's wonderful. I mean, that makes it all worthwhile. I mean, that's-- thank you.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Thank you, actually. So I have another question from one of my students. So how does participatory consciousness feel in your body?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Right, OK. Now, this is the sort of question I like-- not that I don't dislike the others. OK, so I suppose what I'm saying is that participatory consciousness-- it's quasi-universal. I think everybody has the-- most people have the ability to experience it. And I would like to explain it as on a spectrum of different levels really.

On the one end of the spectrum might be where perhaps you might have a vague sense of connectedness, maybe through listening to music or poetry or, I don't know, watching a film or looking at a painting or something like that, where you get a sense of something greater, but your actual sense of yourself is intact. You are who you are, even though you're feeling very open, expansive, and connected.

And then in the middle of this spectrum, perhaps there would be the form of participatory awareness that is shaped through a religious framework or a magical ritual, where there are certain sort of frameworks, boundaries. There might be prayers, meditations, where there is contact with a spirit or God or gods, whatever it is. But that contact is largely mediated or shaped within that framework.

At the other end of the spectrum is what I might call the specialist end, where you get people that are really into participatory consciousness. I mean, the classic example would be a shaman or healers or spirit workers, who actually lose their sense of self in terms of shape shifting, often. So they might actually become the spirits that they work with.

And they do that-- I mean, in the classic sense, they do that for the community that they work for in order to help the community to resolve problems in a traditional sense-- lack of food or someone's ill or something like that. So they would have such a deep and intense relationship with the spirit world with more material reality, that they lose themselves.

But, of course, the most important part of that process is that they always can come home to themselves, because that's what makes them specialists. They can go out, but they also return. So I would say participatory consciousness feels different in different situations. But that is-- that's an explanation from an academic for a Western perspective. If you went into a non-western, small-scale society or whatever, they would have a very different take on it, really.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Thank you so much for--

SUSAN GREENWOOD: But I would like to say that on a personal level, I mean, to move into the subjective, I would talk about the very first experience that I had of participatory consciousness in a shamanic-- was in a shamanic workshop when I just started fieldwork. And the leader of the workshop put on a tape, a drumming tape, and we're all lying on the floor. And I thought, right, I got to have a journey, and we're told to find a hole to go down into it, and whatever, to find our spirit helper or whatever. And I thought, right I must go down. I must find my spirit helper. Anyway, nothing happened, of course.

So the moment I gave up, I found my imagination going down this hole, and my-- and it was really tight, and it was quite nightmarish, and I felt all my skin being stripped off. And then my muscles, my fat, and I was just left as bones. And I-- when I had eventually come to this state of being a skeleton, I met this owl, and I became one with that owl. And I felt what it was like to fly. I could actually feel the wind on my-- the feathers of my wings.

And it was such a powerful experience for me. It kind of shaped how I saw all of my research, really. And I still find that the shamanic aspects of magical consciousness are the ones that speak to me the most. And it's that connection with the non-human world, with other than human, that I feel is so important today in terms of our ecological crisis. Because they become more like kin, and they have messages for us if we'll listen. So that was a really, really powerful experience.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Thank you for sharing this personal experience. I think we all like this personal anecdotes. Was it scary? Did you feel scared? Did you feel scared, afraid of the experience that you just had?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Well, it's kind of-- when you're in it, it didn't feel scary. It just felt like the most normal thing to do. It was scary being-- like, going underground and feeling trapped. But-- I felt quite claustrophobic. But after that, the whole experience of losing my fat and muscles just felt like a-- well, yeah, that's what's supposed to happen [INAUDIBLE].

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Thank you for sharing.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Yeah, it was just incredible-- just incredible.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: And I think this was the first of many experiences of this sort, right?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: I have had some, yeah, some different ones which were-- yeah. Well, I could talk a lot about them.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: No, absolutely. I would love to, I think. And if you want to talk about this and your collaboration with Goodwyn, because-- yes, do you want to tell us a bit about this?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Yeah. Well with Erik-- in fact, that's the case in point, really. Because Erik really acted a little bit like my first PhD supervisor, because he held the academic space for me. I was really trying to work out what is the process of mind, this participatory process of mind? What it is it that creates meaning?

So I went deeply into-- and this is written up in the medical consciousness book with Eric. But it was like, how do you get into this deep space where these things become really meaningful to you?

So I went back into my childhood and constructed a synchronatic, analogical picture, mainly through the mythology of the dragon and symbolism of the dragon. But Erik was fantastic, really, because he was a medic, a psychiatrist, but he approached me because-- about writing a paper together. And I read his book, which was called The Neurology of the Gods. And it was like opening-- he gave me a key into opening a locked room.

But there was all this information about neuroscience, but nonreductive. And he was looking at feelings as being metaphorical connections in consciousness through mythologies. And it was a sort of a shared language which we could really relate to. And he understood about magic, and he understood about the whole process of magic. And so there were no problems really writing that book with him.

You would think coming from different disciplines, which are really quite different, that perhaps there would be lots of misunderstanding, but that wasn't the case. It was the easiest thing. We had lots and lots of conversations from our different perspectives, and we came to this nonreductive place in the middle, where we could actually both explore. And that was really exciting.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: But your abilities to experience magic in the way you just described to us was part of the conversation and the writing together of the book, right?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Well, as I've said, he held the space, and he would prompt me to go into the deeper aspects of-- because I was wanting to understand about what the dragon meant. That was a kind of a-- it was kind of a metaphor in the deep kind of academic sense of metaphor.

It was a metaphor for some of the really deep experiences I'd had in the field, particularly working with some shamanic practitioners, where I had to sleep alone by the side of a stream in a tent at the foot of the Snowdon-- this river at the bottom of Snowdon. And I was-- the spirits of the river were so non-human, but they kind of taught me-- it was a little bit like the first example I gave you of the owl. The spirits of the river kind of just taught me about-- so much about the raw, elemental side of nature that was totally non-human. And it had such a profound effect on me that I later came to symbolize it as a dragon.

And that's what I wrote about. And I had to go back through my childhood, and I found all sorts of synchronistic connections that displayed to me and to Erik that this was the process of how our mind worked. Using a so-called metaphor, you could get into these deep emotions and feelings that were otherwise inaccessible.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: And I have a very practical question. But I mean, if it's too personal, please, you can just avoid it. How did it work? I mean, you went into this meditation, and you went in contact with your dragon, and Goodwyn was watching you? Was--

SUSAN GREENWOOD: No. It was-- I offered him my research and then we could put it into context. But we kind of worked the book, so that we worked through everything together, but not in a practical way because I'd already done that.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Oh, I see. OK, interesting. Do you want to tell us more about it?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: It was just-- it totally fed into my aim to be able to create bridges of communication. This was my aim with my PhD, with my doctoral fieldwork, that I wanted a bridge of communication between academia and my informants. And also, I felt that there was a bigger message there about human consciousness.

And so I wrote-- magic was the vehicle for that. And so I wrote an Encyclopedia of Magic and Witchcraft to try and make academic theories more accessible for the general reader. And then, as I've mentioned, I've also written the Developing Magical book, where I'm trying to create connections between Western cultures, and particularly with the Aboriginal dreaming through mythology.

And at the moment now, I'm writing novels as a different sort of genre to try-- I mean, I'm making stories of them, but I do think that stories are the way that we pass on information. And I'm trying to build up stories based on my own-- it's slightly autobiographical, not quite, but with the same sorts of-- raising the same sorts of issues, really.

But it comes back to William Blake, really, because William Blake has been a bit of a mentor for me in a way, that you work these things out through your own experience. And the imagination isn't just the imagination. Actually, it's a vehicle for a sort of a higher gnosis in his terms.

But it's been really, really helpful for me to read about his work. And, of course, he was trying to show that there was different ways of knowing at the time when the Scientific Revolution was actually happening, and he could see that reason-- that version of reason was getting a bit out of control. And so he was trying to find stories about bringing it back into some sort of balance. And I found that quite inspirational, really.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Thank you so much for mentioning, again, the issues around communication and your project of writing narratives. I find it extremely fascinating. Because one of the aspects-- and this will be probably the last question-- that my students and I try to grapple with is the performative, or possibly perlocutionary aspects embedded in your writing.

So we were thinking about who is your imagined public? What are the strengths and pitfalls of referring to childhood experiences, for example, as you do to talk about magic. And again, what are your communicative intents? Do you want to tell us a bit about that?

SUSAN GREENWOOD: [INAUDIBLE] really. Like as I say, I've tried to communicate what I think is important in an academic way through the PhD, but also trying to reach out to other groups of people, like just people who would read an encyclopedia or something. Or it's really-- I think this aspect is so important. And to get back to your research initiative here, it's so important that these ways of knowing are taken seriously as really important forms of knowledge. And I suppose that might be my main aim.

Because I've worked with people on an individual level. As you mentioned earlier, I have become a little bit of a shamanic anthropologist turned shamanic healer. And I find that by working in a shamanic way, it can be deeply healing to bring people back to themselves. And I think this is really important in terms of the sort of the mental health crisis that we're having at the time, really, where it's-- I think this is really important. So I think there's so many ways that this participatory consciousness can be used.

And I just I just highlighted one way, really. But I mean, my colleague, Geoffrey Samuel, has written I think a groundbreaking book called Mind, Body, and Culture. And he's looking at sort of bigger frameworks where different types of knowledge can come together.

And also, people like Donna Haraway, who are looking at, again, different types of knowledge whereby there isn't seen to be one truth or one form of rationality, but it's more like a rhizome, so that there are many voices, many different voices. And that's why your initiative is so important, because these voices need to come together. But yeah, I mean, that's been my main aim is just to contribute my voice amid hopefully many, many more voices.

GIOVANNA PARMIGIANI: Thank you so much. I think this is a wonderful way to wrap up. I think it's almost 1 o'clock. Thank you so, so much, Susan, for being with us, and thank you all for joining us in our conversation today. I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did, actually.

Please stay tuned because there will be other events in the series on the CSWR overall, and you'll find the calendar on the CSWR website. Again, there's not, unfortunately, a Q&A with the audience. But if you're interested in asking some more questions to Susan or me, please email us. You can find our email addresses in the chat. And thanks again, and hope to see you soon. Bye-bye.

SUSAN GREENWOOD: Thank you, Giovanna. Thank you.

SPEAKER 2: Sponsor-- Center for the Study of World Religions.

SPEAKER 1: Copyright 2021, President and Fellows of Harvard College.