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Ruth Rikowski
Framlingham Castle



Ruth Rikowski, London South Bank University & Series Editor for the Chandos Information Professional Series

This is Ruth Rikowski’s presentation at the recent International Conference on Critical Education VIII, held at the University of East London, 25 – 28 July 2018.

The Presentation PowerPoint can be viewed at:




A Magical Marxism – as writers such as Andy Merrifield and Derek Ford have noted – can illuminate the future whilst helping to shatter the shackles of the past. Shining this light on libraries and education in contemporary capitalism allows us to glimpse the subversive magic which, on the one hand is dreaded by representatives of capital, and on the other generates hope for humankind. A brief autobiographical account of how libraries hold a certain kind of personal magic is included. Then the notion of ‘subversive magic’ is outlined, with reference to ideas drawn from Giordano Bruno and his ‘Essays on Magic’ (1588). This is contrasted with Abstract Magic: a form of magic ground in the capitalist impulse. From these preliminary points and in the context of libraries in England, the first stop in the analysis is the Mechanics Institutes. This is followed by examining the capitalist state’s attempts to curtail, or at least control, their subversive magic through establishing constraining cultural spaces; that is, a public library system. The strange cases of John Passmore Edwards and Andrew Carnegie libraries are considered at this juncture: specifically, their effects in terms of possibilities for enchanting the public library system. The falling apart of the capitalist state’s paradigm for libraries is then taken up, with an examination of Thatcherism and neoliberalism from the 1980s. During the 1980s, and 1990s, but especially after the capitalist crisis of 2007-09, together with Tory austerity policies and related cuts, public libraries have faced a resulting atmosphere of disenchantment. Today, the state library system has given way to capitalist functionality, together with desperate local attempts to re-enchant them. This point is illustrated through developments in libraries in the London Borough of Newham. The paper ends by discussing prospects for a new subversive magic in libraries. It also explores whether it is possible for state-financed libraries to ever let the subversive magic that is required to flourish, and whether they can nourish the dangerous imaginative qualities required for nurturing the communist impulse.


The Paper is available at:



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An Aries Special Issue

Together with Markus Altena Davidsen (Leiden University), I am setting up a special issue of Aries on “Esotericism and the Cognitive Science or Religion”. At this stage we are looking for abstracts from people who might be interested in contributing a full research article.

Please find details in the CfP, linked here and pasted below. Feel free to spread the word to anyone who might be interested in this project.

Call for Abstracts, Aries special issue on Esotericism and the Cognitive Science of Religion

(Edited by Egil Asprem and Markus Altena Davidsen)

The cognitive science of religion (CSR) and the academic study of Western esotericism have both made a significant impact on religious studies over the past two decades. The study of esotericism continues to deepen our understanding of the historical complexities of religion in the West, and has identified a number of blind-spots related to heterodox religion, radically experiential practices, and overlaps between “religion”, “magic”, and “science”.

Meanwhile, CSR is rapidly changing the way scholars think about and approach key processes of religious practice, adding important new experimental and analytic tools to the scholar’s toolbox. This special issue of Aries aims to explore the potential of bringing these two fruitful fields together. What happens when we apply CSR approaches to the empirical material studied by esotericism scholars? How can key areas of interest in the study of esotericism, such as the notion of (experiential) gnosis, correspondences, imagination, higher knowledge, rejected knowledge, magical thinking, secrecy, and initiation contribute to the development of new approaches in CSR? How can we think about ritual practices such as theurgy, divination, healing, and ceremonial magic in terms of CSR approaches to ritual? Moreover, how can we use CSR approaches to these issues to integrate the study of esotericism more firmly in the broader comparative study of religion?

We are looking to curate research articles that deal with these and related questions. We take an inclusive view of CSR, and are happy to consider approaches from e.g. personality- and social psychology. We are especially interested in hands-on approaches that demonstrate the use of CSR inspired methodology to esoteric subject matters. We look in particular for articles based on contemporary ethnographies, interview or experimental data, but are also open for articles that bring CSR to bear on historical sources. The important thing is that studies should be able to integrate cognitive and psychological perspectives with existing state-of-the-art scholarship on esotericism.

If you want to take part in this special issue, please send us an abstract of your proposed topic by June 15 2015. Please specify as far as possible the empirical scope of your proposed article, as well as the CSR approaches you plan to work with. Include a short bibliography of the key literature you intend to draw on. On the basis of received abstracts, we will invite authors to submit their completed articles for peer review. The deadline for receiving finished manuscripts will be February 1 2016.


Relevant subject matter includes but is not limited to:

  • New Age movement
  • Ritual magic
  • Channeling
  • Healing/holistic health
  • Correspondence thinking
  • Kabbalah / esoteric hermeneutics
  • Sex magic
  • Spiritualism
  • Neoshamanism
  • Contemporary paganism
  • Astrology
  • Alchemy
  • Western initiatory societies


Relevant CSR approaches include but are not limited to:

  • Epidemiological approaches to the spread of esoteric representations
  • Cognitive optimality theory (e.g., agency detection, promiscuous teleology, minimal counter-intuitiveness, theological correctness)
  • Cognitive ritual theory (e.g., ritual form hypothesis, two modes theory, cognitive resource depletion theory)
  • Embodied cognition
  • Neurocognitive, experimental, and psychological approaches to experiential practices
  • Personality and individual difference correlates for esoteric practitioners (e.g. positive schizotypy, absorption, hypnotizability)
  • Conceptual blending theory


Please email your proposed abstract to Egil Asprem ( and Markus Altena Davidsen ( If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to contact us.

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‘Human Herbs’ – a song by Cold Hands & Quarter Moon:

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Mors Mystica

Mors Mystica


Categorisation – Comparison – Materiality

10th-11th June 2015

MF Norwegian School of Theology





Wednesday 10th June


08.30 Coffee and welcome, Nils H. Korsvoll and Liv Ingeborg Lied

09.00-09.40 Nils H. Korsvoll (MF)

Cruciform Motifs in Syriac Incantation Bowls

09.40-10.20 Victor Ghica (MF)

Voces Magicae and Nomina Barbara in Egyptian Gnostic and Magical Texts: Dynamics of Development

10.30-11.30 Short papers

12.00 Lunch


13.00-14.00 David Frankfurter (Boston University)

From Magic to Materiality: Refining an Exotic Discipline

14.00-15.00 Marco Moriggi (Università di Catania)

Jewish Divorce Formulae in Syriac Incantation Bowls


Thursday 11th June


08.30 Coffee

09.00-09.45 Marco Moriggi

The Relationship between Magic and ‘Official Religion’ in Sasanian Mesopotamia

09.45-10.30 David Frankfurter

Magical Charms from Late Antique Egypt

10.45-11.45 Short papers

12.00 Lunch

13.00-15.00 Excursion: Oslo University Papyri Collection



We invite proposals for short papers (15 mins + 15 mins Q&A) on the workshop theme from PhD-students and Post-docs.

Please send proposals to by May 1st 2015.



David Frankfurter (Boston University)

Frankfurter’s particular interests revolve around theoretical issues addressing the place of magic in religion, the relationship of religion and violence, the nature of Christianisation, and the representation of evil in culture. He teaches on Christian apocalyptic literature, and the documents of early Christianity, including extra-canonical sources, magical texts, and saints’ lives.

Marco Moriggi (Università di Catania)

Moriggi has published extensively on Syriac amulets, as well as Aramaic philology and epigraphy more generally. He also works with Semitics and linguistic theory, and has recently produced a corpus of Syriac incantation bowls.

Victor Ghica (MF Norwegian School of Theology)

Ghica is a trained archaeologist and philologist and works on Christian archaeology, coptology, papyrology and epigraphy. He is a member of the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology and has published on gnostic texts and Coptic and Manichean epigraphy.

The workshop is organised by Liv Ingeborg Lied and Nils H. Korsvoll


‘Human Herbs’ – a song by Cold Hands & Quarter Moon:

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Glenn Rikowski @ Academia:

Some Additions to Academia: February 2015:




23rd April 2015

12-5 pm

St. Vitus Bar

Greenpoint, Brooklyn, NYC

“Only that person who says: My soul chooses hanging, and my bones death can truly embrace this fire … for it is absolutely true that no one can see me and live” — Bonaventure, Iterium Mentis in Deum

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‘Human Herbs’ – a song by Cold Hands & Quarter Moon:

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Radical Anthropology Taster Day: The Science of Myth, Magic and Folklore

Saturday, Sept 17, 11 to 5 p.m.

Room: V221, SOAS campus, Vernon Square, Penton Rise,
(near Kings Cross)

11.10 Introduction to Human Origins

(Chris Knight, 40 mins plus discussion)

12.00 Workshop on decoding fairytales: Sleeping Beauty

(Chris Knight, 60 mins, plus discussion/lunch)

1.45 Lunarchy: Hunter-gatherers and the Moon

(Camilla Power, 40 mins plus discussion)

2.45 Film show: The Moon Inside You

(60 mins, plus discussion)

4.00 Discussion space. What can we learn from anthropology about making another world possible?

This event is free, and all are welcome; if you can, please bring snack foods to share over lunch. Some drinks will be provided, plus bookstall space.

Run by the Radical Anthropology Group, in association with SOAS Student Union
For more info or to secure a place, email:

An Evening Class Introduction to Anthropology: From Evolution to Revolution

Autumn Term Syllabus 2011

Sep 20 The science of myth, magic and folklore, Chris Knight

Sep 27 The origins of culture and society ’’

Oct 4 Totem and taboo ’’

Oct 11 Early human kinship was matrilineal ‘’

Oct 18 The myth of primitive matriarchy ’’

Oct 25 Noam Chomsky’s politics and linguistics

Nov 1 Apes Like Us: Confessions of a primatologist Volker Sommer

Nov 8 Why don’t apes speak? Chris Knight

Nov 15 The origin of our species Chris Stringer

Nov 22 ‘Woman’s biggest husband is the Moon’ Jerome Lewis

Nov 29 How women initiated the French and Russian revolutions, with Mark Kosman

Dec 6 Neanderthals and the symbolic revolution Camilla Power

Dec 13 A Christmas fairy tale: The Shoes that were Danced to Pieces, Chris Knight

All lectures are held at the St Martinʼs Community Centre, 43 Carol St, London NW1 0HT (2 minutes from Camden Town tube)

Tuesday evenings, 6.15–9.00 pm.



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