Magic has gotten a bad rap for the past few hundred years: in our haste to become rational, logical creatures of the Enlightenment, we’ve disavowed magic of all kinds (and burned a few hundred thousand women as witches along the way). Oxford professor of archaeology Chris Gosden wants to change the way we think about magic, starting with its definition: a connection with the universe that allows us to directly influence its workings. Gosden considers it the oldest and most neglected form of human engagement with the world, wrongly condemned by adherents of science and religion. His new book, Magic: A History, runs from the stones of prehistory to the apps on our smartphones to explore practices on every inhabited continent. What might we learn by considering the sentience of trees, or the connections between the living and the dead? Who is excluded from the hierarchies of religion or science? And might a 21st-century magic lead us to a better response to climate catastrophe?
Go beyond the episode:
- Chris Gosden’s Magic: A History
- We covered the darker side of the practice in a previous interview with Ronald Hutton about witchcraft
- Our host’s guilty pleasure is reading astrologist Chani Nicholas’s sometimes eery horoscopes
- One of the most profound forms of magic still practiced today is found in the Aboriginal cultures of Australia, especially the concept of the Dreaming (much confused by Bruce Chatwin and valued today by art collectors)
- Or consider herbalism, which has been put to use in kitchens from prehistory to today, and has already led to significant pharmaceutical developments
Tune in every week to catch interviews with the liveliest voices from literature, the arts, sciences, history, and public affairs; reports on cutting-edge works in progress; long-form narratives; and compelling excerpts from new books. Hosted by Stephanie Bastek.
Download the audio here (right click to “save link as …”)
Have suggestions for projects you’d like us to catch up on, or writers you want to hear from? Send us a note: podcast [at] theamericanscholar [dot] org. And rate us on iTunes!
Permission required for reprinting, reproducing, or other uses.