MAGIC AND ECOLOGY is a series of online events that brings together scholars, artists and writers from a range of disciplines and across the globe in order to foster new and original thinking on urgent cultural and environmental concerns. MAGIC AND ECOLOGY aims to think the uncertainty of a future through the possibilities thrown up by the concept of magic or possibility itself. The events invite researchers thinking about magic in relation to ecology, and practitioners working with magic to transform modes of earth-living. The purpose is to provide a unique opportunity for enabling collaborative thinking across disciplines and practices. MAGIC AND ECOLOGY is funded by CRASSH and the Faculty of Divinity, University of Cambridge. For more information and details of how to sign up for live online events, please visit the CRASSH website.
In recent decades ecological thinkers and cultural theorists Isabelle Stengers, Jane Bennett, and Timothy Morton have given critical attention to magic and to the way in which it operates as a technique for paying attention to things and to clarifying, rather than confusing, human dependence on the other-than-human that is also more-than-us. Such magic is seen as a counter-force to the powers of capitalist “sorcery” and an alternative to the mindless enchantments of modernity; it is interested in the practical (ethical, political) consequences of not only “including” the nonhuman in one’s circle but working with them, “invoking” and recognizing dependence on them. An entirely new politics of the nonhuman opens up at this point, one that is distinctly non-secular even as it persists on the fringes of “theological” respectability. It is a question of approaching nonhumans as formidable agents and figuring out, from there, how best to make oneself attractive as potential working-partner in their eyes. What changes – modifications to human lifestyles, habits of consumption – must be attended to first before setting up the working space and invoking the other?
Magic and ecology have a long and entangled history. Western magic historically has been concerned with discerning connections between the human (microcosm) and the world (macrocosm), and modern magic (in similarity with many types of folk magic) especially digs deeper into these efforts of discernment by encouraging practitioners to work with all sorts of objects: not only specially designed props or celestial talismans but ordinary everyday things. Thinking with that tangled history and bringing it to light is the purpose of this event. We look at magic and ecology from the perspective of ancient practices as well as contemporary expressions, where the turn towards the magical in recent ecological thinking responds to a well-established tradition of environmental activism, art, and writing by magical practitioners, among them Starhawk, David Abram, Rae Beth, Josephine McCarthy, Sabrina Scott, and Charlotte Rodgers. Magic here becomes, as Isabelle Stengers has argued, a practice of “attention,” or, as Timothy Morton has put it, of “attunement,” a way of looking receptively (“openly”) rather than selectively, “attuning” to what there is and noticing it, as just as it is. These thinkers propose that living ecologically cannot be about saving some things to the exclusion of others (that would be tyranny, not ecology) but about attending to the connections between this thing and that, and between oneself and everything one touches and thinks about, in such a way that things can be felt and responded to, regardless of their supposed value.
The suggestion, coming now from cultural theory, that really useful and effective ecological thinking is more like magic than the policies usually referred to as environmental is at the heart of this event. Challenging the secular normativity of ecological thinking, MAGIC AND ECOLOGY also aims to confront the religious normativity of ecological spirituality. It considers the resources of magic, animist ontologies, occulture, earth-based religions and minor spiritualities often overlooked by mainstream eco-theology and environmentalism alike and thinks the critical potential of “spirituality” from the perspective of its own insurgents. MAGIC AND ECOLOGY aims to give a clear sense for the decolonizing effect of magic not only as it confronts Western society from without, but also as it disrupts Western society from within. MAGIC AND ECOLOGY proposes that disdain for magic has produced a distorted rather than enlightened sense of the nonhuman world. In a step towards redressing this state of affairs, this symposium and art exhibit examines the ecological thinking in magic, in order to test the hypothesis that magic is not only a misunderstood phenomenon in industrialized society but an experimental technique inviting a politics of invocation and working-with that is much needed today.