David Abram wears many hats. He is an ecologist, philosopher, linguist, and professional sleight-of-hand magician. Wait. What? A Magician?
His story, “The Ecology of Magic,” is a study of the relationship between folk medicine and magic. While in Southeast Asia, Abram became “increasingly aware of his own culture’s alienation from the natural world, (Norton Book of Nature Writing).
A central theme of “The Ecology of Magic,” discusses Abram’s belief that immediate, sensory knowledge has been replaced with linguistic thought. He states that many of our spiritual ideas derive from direct physical experience with the natural world. Abrams believes we must, “write our senses back into the land,” (Nature).
Discussing how American culture has removed itself from Nature, he investigates the shaman’s ability to slip out of “perceptual boundaries,” and reconnect to “the other powers in the land,” (Nature).
As an example, he tells of a daily offering made by the wife of a balian, (a young magic practitioner in Bali). Each morning she placed small woven of palm frond bowls, filled with rice, at the corner of each building. These were in honor of the, “household spirits,” (Nature). At the end of each day the bowls were empty and the spirits allegedly appeased.
Upon closer inspection, Abram discovered that the family’s compound was built upon a massive ant colony and each individual grain of rice was painstakingly carried away each day by ants. This was in the hopes that the ants would be satisfied and would not enter the buildings. Magic? Spirits? It depends on how one believes, but the ‘spririts’ were, in fact, appeased.
Abrams’ point is that we must allow ourselves to sense Nature again. We are nourished by the Earth and we return to it when we die. We are, “Caught up in a mass of abstractions, our attention hypnotized by a host of man-made technologies that only reflect us back to ourselves,” (Nature). We can no longer afford to shut ourselves off from the other voices of our Natural world. We must realize our place within the circle of creation, and not above it.