So, I haven’t exactly been keeping these alphabet posts on a weekly schedule, but that’s OK. Trying to juggle a full-time job, a distance-learning Master’s Degree, the OBOD course and have some semblance of a social life as well doesn’t leave much time for blogging.
In a nice bit of synchronicity I was reading John Michael Greer’s Druid Magic Handbook the other day where he writes about the need for re-enchantment of the world.
In 1904, the sociologist Max Weber wrote:
The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization, and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world’.
Weber noticed that traditional, pre-industrial societies saw the world as enchanted. It was alive with magic and meaning, with which one could form a participatory relationship. The industrial revolution, and the development of science and materialism, began the process of ‘disenchanting‘ the world. In a disenchanted world, nature is seen as mere lumps of matter incapable of relationship and pretty much there for us to use as we see fit. Likewise, human life becomes disenchanted and denuded of meaning and purpose, leaving people in the humdrum routine of work-eat-sleep-repeat until death.
The project of re-enchanting the world may be seen as one of bringing meaning and relationship back into our understanding of nature. But how do we go about this?
Greer suggests that the best methods for re-enchanting the world are those that traditional societies used to enchant it in the first place, namely myth, ritual and magic. I tend to agree with Greer, but with a different take on things. Myth is important as long as it is understood as myth, not history or science. Ritual is participatory drama, ‘poetry in the world of acts’ as Ross Nichols said.
Magic is an interesting one. I don’t believe in supernatural magic, and to his credit, nor does Greer. He admits that magic cannot make broomsticks fly or shoot lightning from your fingers. Magic for him is a natural, not supernatural process and it cannot break the laws of nature. So what is magic for?
I see magic in a similar way to the related practices of meditation and ritual. It is a useful tool for changing consciousness and shifting awareness. Rather than changing the world, magic might help us to change the way we relate to the world. By concentrating our focus on the relationships between different parts of nature, we can once again see ourselves as being in relationship with nature, we can re-enchant our own worlds.
The truth is more magical – in the best and most exciting sense of the word – than any myth or made-up mystery or miracle. Science has its own magic: the magic of reality.
This magic is not the illusion of the stage magician, nor the gaudy supernatural spells and charms of the occultist, but the magic of an enchanted reality. Where Greer and other pagans sometimes seem dismissive of science, implying it is spiritually dead and reduces the world to dead matter by ignoring magic (‘unweaving the rainbow’ in Keats’ memorable phrase), I see science as opening our eyes to a reality that is more magical, more enchanted and more wonderful than any myth or religion has ever imagined. Who could have thought that we are all made of stardust? That we are related to every animal and plant on earth? That the universe is vaster and more ancient than we can imagine? Yet science reveals those things, not as symbols or stories, but as truth.
For me, this understanding is the key to enchantment. Science shows us our true place in the universe, as children of the stars and the earth, as strands in the great web of life, in relationship with everything else that exists. Ritual and magic should not be seen as opposed to this scientific wonder and awe, but as techniques and practices that help us to experience this wonder on an emotive and experiential level as well as an intellectual one. If we could bring science and spirituality into harmony, then we could create a world more deeply enchanted and full of meaning and joy than ever before.
I’m nowhere near there yet, but it’s not a bad thing to hope for!