REFLECTIONS: Magic & Healing Workshop

by Sarah Dove, originally posted to the Center for the Study of Religion website on 02/02/2021

The Center for the Study of Religion recently hosted a “Magic & Healing Workshop,” programmed as a part of their Living Well, Dying Well: Religion, Health, & Healing series for the first year of a two year Global Arts + Humanities Discovery Theme grant. This event was co-sponsored by the Center for Folklore Studies, and is the third event in the first year of programming focused around the topic of “Living Well.”

This event featured a diverse panel of experts and practitioners of religious healing and magic. The panel was moderated by Michael Swartz of the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures at OSU. The first presenter was Sabina Magliocco of the University of British Columbia, and her contribution was titled “Italian Vernacular Healing Modalities: Story & Song.” During this part of the panel, Dr. Magliocco shared about her work with the breadth of magical religious healing traditions embedded in the everyday life of rural cultures in and around the Tuscan Apennine region of Campagnia, Italy. Her primary argument delivered a counter-Weberian view, laying out the “enchanted worldview” of her interlocutors, perceiving the world as interconnected and permeated by spirits. Members of the communities that Dr. Magliocco comes into contact with engage deeply with the practice of magical religious healing through song and dance as a means to instill a re/integration to balance with and agency within the world around them.

The second panelist, Michael Dangler of Three Cranes Grove, is a practitioner of druidism and gave a presentation on “Healing Through Inspiration and Relationships.” Rev. Dangler’s focusing question as someone both invested in this ritual tradition and critically investigating it was, how does the body (broadly conceived) react to the healing ritual and what is the role of the spirits that aid fellow practitioners also participating in the healing ritual? In the druid tradition, “inspiration” (Aren) is a process of external internal connectivity, it is a path to healing. Directly addressing the ritual practice of “toning,” or the drawing forth of blessings and transforming it into sounds, Rev. Dangler noted the importance of the ritual intent more than the ideas behind the ritual itself. In other words, “the act of healing is healing” for those involved in the ritual.

Third to speak was Alexander Rocklin of Otterbein University. The research he discussed concerned itself with magic and religion in the context of historical colonization. He gave keen attention to radicalized religious practices as marked by colonial suspicion and practices of criminalization, especially ritual healing practices. But as these practices were being examined for their negative association by colonizers, Dr. Rocklin told us, they also demonstrated a mode of identification not hemmed in by blood or borders, but embodiment of spirit through ritual. Essentially, ritual healing practices in this context demonstrate that healing spans divisions.

Last to present of the panelists was Hugh Urban of the Department of Comparative Studies here at OSU. He delivered research from his latest project that undertook a study of “Magic and Healing in Mayong, Northeast India.” The long history of magical religious tradition that has continued into present day. Specifically, Dr. Urban tells us that the region is becoming increasingly well known through news and social media, and national tourism campaigns. As attention in the area increases the magical, religious rituals that permeate the region have also been subjected to increasing scrutiny and accusations of fraud or “black magic.” His overarching question is—and remains—how local practitioners and recipients of magical healing are negotiating their position and efficacy in the world of globalization and digital media.

The intersections of the panelists’ work became clarified across these seemingly disparate field of investigation in two primary ways. First, each presentation in some way discussed the role of sound produced in, around, or by the body of the practitioner or the recipient of healing as integral in some way to the underlying meaning of the ritual practice. Sound, located between the material and the ephemeral, thus becomes a slippery source of power in refiguring agency and efficacy but also allowing suspicion to seep in. A second unifying point of discussion that arose concerned the idea of efficacy more directly. Initially introduced by a member of the audience, the panelists and moderator undertook a lengthy discussion concerning the power of belief in confirming magical, religion healing. In this light, healing is able to move from the level of awareness, into practice, into reality. This stirring affirmation of what Dr. Magliocco called the “enchanted world view” coalesced around a singular defense of practice driving truth for those invested in magical, religious healing: “It may not be true, but I believe it.”

The Center for the Study of Religion would like to thank our panelists for their wonderfully rich and fascinating contributions, and our audience for attending and participating in our lively discussion. If you are interested in viewing a recording of this event, you can locate it using this LINK. For more information or for trouble shooting tips, contact Be sure to catch out next event on February 25, 2021 which will discuss Religion, Healing, and the Movement for Black Lives.

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