Summary of “The limits of reason: Philip Pullman on why we believe in magic”

A new exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford brings together a multitude of objects and artworks – there’s a “Poppet” or rag doll with a stiletto stuck through its face, an amulet containing a human heart, a wisp of “Ectoplasm” apparently extruded by a medium in Wales, and too many others to count – from a dark world of nonsense and superstition that we ought to have outgrown a long time ago.
In Christian countries it reached a pitch of hysterical panic between the 15th and the late 18th centuries, at a time when tensions between Protestant and Catholic powers were at their highest, and when the medieval world of faith was being challenged by the new thinking of the Enlightenment.
Everything in the exhibition testifies to a near-universal belief in the existence of an invisible, imaginary world that could affect human life and be affected in turn by those who knew how to do it; and so do millions of other objects of similar kinds collected, exhibited, studied, or uncollected, unknown, lost, throughout the world and every period of history.
Imagination is one of our highest faculties, and wherever it appears, however it “Bodies forth / The forms of things unknown”, I want to treat it with respect.
At its most intense it becomes a kind of perception, as in William Blake’s notion of “Twofold Vision”, by which he means what we see when we look “Not with but through the eye”: the state of mind in which we can “See a World in a Grain of Sand / And a Heaven in a Wild Flower”.
On the contrary, I’d rather say that there are times when we have to keep our reason in line.
Imagination can give us an empathetic understanding of the world of magic; reason reminds us that the cast of mind that persecuted witches is still alive.
The Varieties of Magical Experience still has to be written, as far as I know; and it will only be done successfully by someone who engages the subject with both reason and imagination.

The orginal article.