Our Magical Mind

Mini-symposium on Paganism and Neo-shamanistic Ritual Practices:
Its Function in Mind, Society and our Technological Future

Date: March 20, 2012
Location: Medical Faculty, Radboud University Nijmegen

The human mind shows curiosity and a natural inclination to understand the world around. Some scholars even go as far as to suggest that the human mind is magical by nature in that it attempts to attribute meaning and find purpose in experiences and events for which no direct explanation is available. Our minds may naturally assume the existence of forces, metaphysical laws, or supernatural powers that transcend between physical and spiritual realities and that may be invoked and manipulated through ritual and spiritual practices. The present symposium attempts to enlighten our magical minds by focusing intellect on two core ritual practices: the ayahuasca shamanistic ritual and pagan ritualized practices. Several experts in the scientific and experiential study of shamanistic and pagan ritual will provide apprehensive insights in the psychological reality of such magical practices, a history of its scientific study, and the philosophical consequences of an increasing inorganic world.

Content & Biographies

Comforted by a Dream
Arno Adelaars

Abstract: Since the beginning of Mankind, life appeared to be full of inexplicable wonders. An intricate web of Mysteries, connected to each other in patterns which could only be explained - to a certain extend - by men and women with special gifts. Understanding and explaining the Mysteries of the visible and the invisible world created a Magical Mindset. A Shaman is a person who can travel from this world to the other world, and come back with a cure, an insight, a spell or a curse, depending what is needed or wanted. The other world, the invisible world, is like certain parts of the dream world. A chaotic realm full of adventures, some bizarre, others life threatening or full of lust. Somewhere in these journeys treasures can be found, like needles in a haystack. And so it is that somebody can be comforted by a dream, or can be cured by a guided dive into the Trance state. The Trance state is full of Magic. All over the world different techniques have been developed. In South America the Amazon rainforest contains the highest variety of psychoactive plants in the world. Shamans from this region are specialized in the use of certain plants to go in Trance.

Arno Adelaars graduated from the Utrecht School for Journalism in 1978, hitchiked through the Sahara desert, worked as a freelance journalist for (amongst others) NOS Journaal. After a short career in squatter- and anti-racist activism he did sociographic fieldwork on problematic drug-users in the red light-district of Amsterdam and studies on early Ecstasy users in Amsterdam between 1988 and 1991. He wrote the first book on MDMA-users in the Europe and in 1997 the first Dutch book on psilocybian mushrooms. Co-author of Ayahuasca - Rituale, Zaubertränke und visionäre Kunst aus Amazonien. He is a writer, lecturer and activist in the field of drug-legalization. Since 1995 he has been involved in the European Ayahuasca-scene. In 2007 he was initiated as a shaman by Colombian shaman Kajuyali Tsamani.

Co-constructing Self-identity and Cosmology in the Greencraft Tradition
Drs. Léon van Gulik
University of Tilburg

Abstract: Although not in any way a large movement, Wicca seems to have taken firm root in the Low Lands, where the mystery tradition and nature religion has been developing since several decades. Because of both its permanence and openness to change, the movement is a great showcase to understand dialectical processes of religious self-identity in a postmodern age. Focusing on one particular path, I will discuss narratives based on in-depth interviews with Greencraft Wiccans about their meditations, divinations, and spirit encounters, trying to gain an understanding of these personal narratives by putting an emphasis on the motives, intentions and imagination of these believers. After a brief introduction of Wicca and Greencraft I will offer an ethnographic description of a so-called tree walk where some of these stories are created. Using Pruyser's notion of the imaginal as the area of transition between inner and outer world, I will then give an interpretive analysis of the tree walk and the narratives to show how personal meanings emerge from the interactions between person and cosmology and how these become attuned in ritualized action. Briefly touching upon functions like the effort after meaning, biographical reconstruction, and validation of belief, I will demonstrate how both the adherents and religious system are potentially changed by these repetitive interactions. From these observations I will conclude my presentation with a few generalizing points on the creative nature of intention and imagination, showing them to be the engine of ritual renewal, thus relating these particular findings to my overarching ethnographic research project on ritual creativity among Flemish and Dutch Pagans, as well as hinting at the role of psychological processes in religious change at large.

Léon van Gulik graduated summa cum laude in 2006 the field of Psychology of Culture and Religion at Radboud University Nijmegen. In his Master thesis ‘On the Descent of the Man-Made Part of the Environment', advised by Dr. Cor van Halen, he outlined commonalities between cultural psychology and evolutionary thinking, advancing an ecological approach to cultural transmission. At the University of Tilburg he is finishing his interdisciplinary PhD-project titled Creativity and Rituals in a Pagan context. He is part-time employed at the Radboud University as a lecturer offering the courses ‘Psychology of Morality' (in part), and ‘Psychology of Magic', and advising bachelor theses for both Developmental Psychology and Cultural Psychology and Psychology of Religion students.

Entheogens as Eco-consciousness Tools
Dr. Pieter Lemmens
Wageningen University

Abstract: As a biologist and a philosopher fascinated with the technogenic character of human evolution and the fundamentally technological and therefore deeply accidental ‘nature' of the human condition, and concerned with the global ecological challenges humanity is faced with in the current moment, I want to explore how the entheogenic (or psychedelic) experience could be of help in the development of a global ecological consciousness and the felt need for an ethos of care and responsibility with respect to our planetary ecosystem. This is absolutely imperative in light of the multifaceted (economic, social, psychological, existential, symbolic, but foremost ecological) crisis humanity is going through currently. In other words, I want to examine how entheogens could be employed as psychic tools in the transformation of our current ecocidal, ego- and anthropocentric culture towards more ecophilic and ecocentric, yet inevitably more intensely technologized ways of life. As such, I will emphasize their deconditioning and boundary-breaking, ego-dissolving nature and highlight their ‘ecodelic' potential (to use a term recently introduced by author Richard Doyle). In my talk I will especially focus on the eminently shamanic substance ayahuasca. This visionary brew from the Amazon confronts the rational mind with a bewildering number of enigmas though, first of all that of its supposed intelligence.

Pieter Lemmens studied philosophy and biology at the Radboud University of Nijmegen (Netherlands). In 2008 he received his PhD in philosophy. His thesis, Driven by technology. The human condition and the biotechnology revolution, is an examination of the intimate relationship between technology and the human. It argues for a new, non-instrumental, evolutionary and anthropo-ontological view of technology and reflects upon the implications of this new view for our understanding of the biotechnology revolution. He is currently appointed as a post-doc researcher at Wageningen University (Netherlands), working on a project about genomics and Open Source. His main theoretical interests are continental philosophy, continental philosophy of technology, continental philosophy of biology, philosophical anthropology, and leftist political thought.

The Cultural Roots of Resistance against Paganism and Entheogenic Shamanism
Prof. dr. Wouter Hanegraaff
University of Amsterdam

Abstract: Historians of religion are expected to study religious phenomena from a perspective of neutrality ("methodological agnosticism"), and therefore the phenomenon of "pagan" rituals or the use of psychoactive substances in religious or spiritual contexts should be a topic just like any other for them. In practice, however, both scholars and the general public are influenced by long-standing patterns of bias against these types of religious practice. These prejudices go back to the very foundations of Western intellectual culture and make it difficult to study topics such as paganism or entheogenics in a reasonable and more or less objective manner. In my contribution I will identify the main cultural roots of resistance against "paganism" and "entheogenic shamanism", and attempt to show that, far from helping us understand these phenomena, they distort our perception of them. Correcting such biases comes at a price, however, for they require us to question assumptions that are deeply rooted in Western intellectual and academic culture.

Wouter J. Hanegraaff studied classical guitar at the Municipal Conservatory at Zwolle (1982-1987) and Cultural History at the University of Utrecht (1986-1990), with a specialization in alternative religious movements in the 20th century. From 1992-1996 he was a research assistant at the department for Study of Religions of the University of Utrecht, where he defended his dissertation New Age Religion and Western Culture: Esotericism in the Mirror of Secular Thought on 30 November 1995. From 1996 to 2000 he held a postdoctoral fellowship from the Dutch Association for Scientific Research (NWO), and spent a period working in Paris. In 1999 he was appointed full professor of History of Hermetic Philosophy and Related Currents at the University of Amsterdam. From 2002-2006 he was president of the Dutch Society for the Study of Religion and since 2005 he is president of the European Society for the Study of Western Esotericism. In 2006 he was elected member of the Royal Dutch Academy of Arts and Sciences (Koninklijke Nederlandse Academie van Wetenschappen, KNAW).

Panel Discussion and Concluding Thoughts
Govert Derix

Govert Derix is a philosopher, writer and advisor. He published numerous books on topics such as alternative ways of working, healthcare, architecture, cultural philosophy and management. In 2004 he published ‘Ayahuasca, a critique of psychedelic reason', the first extensive study on ayahuasca written in dutch. Among other works are ‘The Vision Web', ‘Holofaust', ‘Eurosofie' (together with Léon Frissen, governor of the province of Limburg) and ‘De wereldomwandelaar' (‘The man who walked the world around'), an anti- novel that can be read as mega-shamanistic fairy-tale about the discovery of the Theory of Everything. His last book is ‘In the beginning. On the future of civilisation'. Derix is a columnist of Dagblad the Limburger. For more information: govertderix.com.

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