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MagiCog: Cognitive Approaches to Ancient Magic

  • Senate House, Malet Street Room G22/26 London WC1E 7HU (map)
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[Organised by Esther Eidinow, Irene Salvo and Tanja Scheer, and featuring a talk by Adam Parker]

“This workshop will explore cognitive approaches to ancient magical practices, bringing together scholars of ancient cultures with specialists in cognitive approaches to magic. It aims to expose scholarship on ancient magic to new cognitive approaches, and allow methodical exploration of the results; test the questions raised by different cognitive approaches to magic; encourage comparison between approaches used to study disparate ancient cultures; and contribute to contemporary debates on the nature and role of magic. 

We aim to discuss the practise of rituals, their perceived efficacy, and psychological functions; the role of emotions and the body in magical practices; the instrumentality of magical rituals, and/or their coercive nature; the performative nature of magical action, including the language of magic; the categorisation of ritual practices, including the interaction of magical actions with other types of symbolic behaviour and the historical context of institutional systems; magical practices as constituents of a cultural symbolic environment; the transmission of informed expertise in magic; and processes of learning magical knowledge.”

Thu, Jan 17, 2019, 9:00 AM –Fri, Jan 18, 2019, 3:30 PM GMT

The programme is as follows:

Thursday, Jan 17

9.15 Introduction

9.30 Chris Gosden (Oxford), A Brief Description of Magic

10.15 Laura Feldt (SDU), The Role of Emotions in Magical Practice: the Mesopotamian Witchcraft Ritual Maqlû

11.00 Coffee break

11.30 Irene Salvo (Göttingen), Magical Knowledge and Learning Processesin Classical Athens: The Mental and Bodily Components

12.15 Yulia Ustinova (Ben Gurion), ‘Hands of Gods’ at Work: Magic and Hippocratic Catharsis

13.00 Lunch

14.00 Gustav Kuhn (Goldsmiths), Experiencing the Impossible: How Stage Magic Perpetuates Magical Beliefs

14.45 Jennifer Larson (Kent State), Causal Opacity or Causal Translucence? Magic, Causal Attribution and "the Ritual Stance"

15.30 Coffee break

16.00 Esther Eidinow (Bristol), Ancient Greek Magic: A Culture of Anxiety?

16.45 Anton Alvar (Málaga), Embodied Theories of Knowledge and the Evil Eye in the Roman World

Friday, Jan 18th

9.30 Jesper Sørensen (Aarhus), The Creation of Special Force: Reinvestigating Mana  through Cognitive Science

10.15 Celia Sánchez Natalías (Zaragoza), To Catch a Thief in Roman Britain

11.00 Coffee break

11.30 Adam Parker (OU), Teething Problems: Pierced Tooth Pendants and the Protection of Pain in Roman Childhood

12.15 Lambros Malafouris (Oxford), Magical Thinging: On the Agency and Semiotics of Matter

13.00 Lunch

14.00 Franziska Naether (Leipzig), The Ignorant Pharaoh? Oracles in an Egyptian Narrative

14.45 Eleni Pachoumi (HOU/Oxford), Ritual Actions and Words in the Greek Magical Papyri from Roman Egypt

15.30 Concluding Thoughts

15.45 End

For more information and booking details, see

Image: From the British Museum Collection Online. Magical gem; intaglio; haematite. Museum number: OA.9967 © Trustees of the British Museum