Re-Enchantment

sun shining through clouds on the water

“Have I not known the sky and sea Put on a look as hushed and stilled As if some ancient prophecy drew close upon to be fulfilled?” — “The Mystic” (poem) by Don Marquis

The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers:
Little we see in Nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
The Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers;
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not.Great God! Id rather be
A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I, standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old Triton blow his wreathed horn.

— William Wordsworth, “The World Is Too Much with Us”

“The re-enchantment of the world” is a phrase that is used fre­quently by Neo-Pagan authors. The corresponding phrase “disen­chantment of the world” was coined by Max Weber to re­fer to a symptom of modernity.  The re-enchantment of the world refers to the return of a sense of our participation in the world through our non-intellective faculties. Re-enchantment is a countercultural response to a reductionist and positivistic sci­ence that views nature (including human beings) as mechanism and a capitalism that reduces nature (including human beings) to commodity and resource.

In The Reenchantment of the World (1984), Morris Berman ex­plains the origin of the disenchantment of the world:

“The view of nature that predominated in the West down to the eve of the Scientific Revolution was that of an enchanted world. Rocks, trees, rivers, and clouds were all seen as wondrous, alive, and human beings felt at home in this environment. The cosmos, in short was a place of belonging. A member of the cosmos was not an al­ienated observer of it but a direct participant in its drama. [Their] personal destiny was bound up with its des­tiny, and this relationship gave meaning to [their] life. This type of consciousness—that I shall refer to in this book as ‘participating consciousness’—involves merger, or identification with one’s surroundings, and bespeaks a psychic wholeness that has long since passed from the scene.

“The story of the modern epoch, at least on the level of mind, is one of progressive disenchantment. … The scien­tific mode of thinking can best be described as disenchant­ment, nonparticipation, for it insists on a rigid distinction between observer and observed. Scientific con­sciousness is alienated consciousness; there is no ec­static merger with nature. … The logical endpoint of this world­view is a feeling of total reification: everything is an object, alien, not-me; and I am ultimately an object too, an alienated ‘thing’ in a world of other, equally mean­ingless things.”

To facilitate a scientific understanding of the world, humankind sought to separate itself from nature, to step “outside” of natural phenomena and become observers of the world, to see the world as an object. This is very effective as a scientific method, but it has become our ordinary, everyday consciousness. The fruits of this disenchanted consciousness are psychological, social and environmental sickness: individual neurosis, social alienation, and environmental desecration. Religious studies scholar, Albert Raboteau, describes the experience of disenchantment this way:

“The world becomes flattened, surface, ordinary, spirit­less. And in response we succumb to the pseudo-enchant­ment of addiction to entertainment, to food, to alco­hol, to sex, to possessions—out of our deep innate hun­ger for mystery, for spirit, for glory. Like Esau, we trade our birthright. We settle for glittering treasure, dragon bait, but then the dragon wakens and eats our souls. We become the hollow men and women that T. S. El­iot described. We may not know how to name it, but we are no less deprived, impoverished, hungry. The gnaw­ing feeling that our lives ought to be more pos­sesses us. And we are right.”

Berman explains that this disenchantment is a loss of a sense of essential participation in the world. Re-enchantment invites a return of that sense of participation. In The Nature of Magic (2005), anthropologist, Susan Greenwood, explains that “re-en­chanting the world” means overcoming cultural alienation and relating to the universe as a living cosmos with an expanded aware­ness of our participation in the natural world. This is simi­lar to what anthropologist, Levy-Bruhl, calls the “participation mystique” and philosopher, Owen Barfield, calls “original partici­pation.” In “Constructive Postmodernism,” John Cobb describes re-enchantment in this way, “Instead of a world of dead, passive, valueless matter, we inhabit a world of living, ac­tive, intrinsically valuable occasions. Instead of alienation from a merely objective world, we experience kinship and participation in nature.”

Neo-Pagans seek to re-enchant the world through ritual and other religious practices, especially those practices that connect us with our non-intellective faculties, our senses and imagina­tion, our physical environment, and especially our bodies. In our bodies, the self and the world, the subjective and the objective, blend imperceptibly together. Our bodies are the door that leads out of our solipsistic mind and opens onto the world. Eco-psycholo­gist, Adrian Harris, contends that we must move be­yond ratio-linguistic ways of knowing to the “direct experience of a wholeness rooted in the body,” what he calls “embodied knowing.” This can occur, he says, through ecstatic ritual or even through good sex.

Updated 2019

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