Behind the Crystal Ball: Magic, Science and the Occult from Antiquity Through the New Ageby Anthony F. Aveni, Anthony Aveni
In this fascinating exploration of occult practice, Anthony Aveni takes the reader on a whirlwind tour through time and space, traveling from the ancient Tigris-Euphrates river valley to the streets of our modern-day cities. On the way, he catalogs the many ways people have used magic over the millennia in hopes of improving their lives. Consider a page from your… See more details below
In this fascinating exploration of occult practice, Anthony Aveni takes the reader on a whirlwind tour through time and space, traveling from the ancient Tigris-Euphrates river valley to the streets of our modern-day cities. On the way, he catalogs the many ways people have used magic over the millennia in hopes of improving their lives. Consider a page from your ancestors' book of spells: For a headache, pour vinegar on your door hinges. For warts, wait until the twentieth day after a new moon, rub dirt on the warts while you lie in the road, and gaze up at the moon. Or, if you prefer more modern superstitions and want to be a good pitcher, be like Texas Ranger Mike Griffin and always eat bacon the day before you take to the mound. Professor Aveni argues persuasively that we cannot separate a culture's perception of reality from its times. The ancient priests of Egypt saw the dung beetle, or scarab, as a sign of life not because they were ignorant primitives, but because they were using the available clues in the world around them to map out a greater truth. When Kabbalists sought to discover meaning through the letters in a name or an historical date, they were seeking to satisfy a very deeply held urge. The ancients sought the same goals we now obtain from science and religion - a clearer picture of humanity's place in the cosmos. How and why has Western thought and scientific inquiry diverged from magic? At a time when crystals, channeling, faith healing, earth worship, and transcendental meditation are enjoying a renaissance, the lines between science, magic, and the occult are beginning to blur once again. Comparing Harry Houdini and scientific provocateur Richard Feynman, Professor Aveni asks, "Is magic in the eye of the beholder?"
While he recognizes the many benign uses of magicas religion, as ritual, as epistemologyAveni is also far too accepting of the innumerable abuses. Pulling the usual flea-bitten rhetorical rabbits out of his hat (science is limited, magic is nonempirical, etc.), he clumsily seeks to excuse all manner of mountebanks and charlatans: "When we compare magic's by-laws to those of science, it becomes very clear why the two constitute ways of knowing that are totally at odds with one another concerning both what knowledge is valid and how that knowledge gets passed on." Yet as Aveni acknowledges, the two have sometimes become entwined. Further, he believes that as science supposedly becomes less rational (cf. quantum mechanics), it will once again meld with magic. Interestingly, while science changes constantly, magic has altered very little over the centuries, with old beliefs constantly "being rediscovered and dressed up in brand-new clothing." Though Aveni's erudition is impressively vast, he doesn't know when to rein it in, as he hies off after even the most obscure flummeries. Yet he manages to slight both non-Western magic and the history of science. In short, this is one of those works that seem both too long and too incomplete. Certainly, it is far removed from the benchmark history of mysticism, Charles Mackay's entertaining 19th- century classic, Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds.
Still, saw this book in half, suspend some of Aveni's credulity, and presto chango, you just might conjure up a highly readable book.
- Crown Publishing Group
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- 1st ed
- Product dimensions:
- 6.48(w) x 9.56(h) x 1.39(d)
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