Magic, sorcery and witchcraft are at the epistemological centre of anthropology.
They embed matters at the heart of the definition of modern anthropology,
and the critical issues that they raise are of enduring significance for the discipline.
But the questions these phenomena highlight expand beyond mere disciplinary
or scholastic interest. They point to matters of deep existential
concern in a general quest for an understanding of the human forces engaged
in the human construction of lived realities. Anthropology in the embracing
Kantian sense is involved. The phenomena that are deemed to be magic and
sorcery (including all that which such scholars as Durkheim (1915) and Mauss
(1972) would include under the label ‘profane’) project towards the far shores
of human possibility and potentiality. The human profundities to which they
might lead are already there in the imagery and metaphors of thinkers, both
abstract and concretely pragmatic, worldwide. Within European traditions the
world of the magician and the sorcerer is routinely evoked to explore the continuing
crisis that is faced by humankind, more recently, for example, in the
works of Dante, Goethe and Nietzsche right through to the most contemporary
philosophers and social commentators. The essays in these pages contend with
some of the overarching existential issues towards which a concern with the
magical must extend.
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