It seems suddenly to have become fashionable — or was it always fashionable? — to turn one’s nose up at the mention of words like ‘enchantment’ or ‘re-enchantment’. It seems that men in particular don’t like these words, as though they’re just not gritty enough. As though enchantment is somehow about distancing you from the earth rather than connecting you to it. I find that idea perplexing. Once upon a time I used the title ‘Re-enchanting the Earth’ as an overall banner for my work, and although I don’t use that title any more, my work is still very much about re-enchanting. How could it not be? We are narrative creatures, whether you like it or not. Our brains are constructed that way. Stories enchant us, and it is vital that we allow them to, because we are a species that has become disenchanted with this earth, and that has led us to the environmental and social catastrophes we’re now facing. Catastrophes which have their origins in our own beliefs and behaviours. Catastrophes which have been caused by our determined disenchantment, a state of mind which has been centuries in the making. Enchantment, the technocrats and rationalists who run this soul-less, patriarchal Western civilisation of ours have sneered, is for children — and maybe for women, who can’t be expected to know any better.
Yes, enchantment is absolutely for women. Let’s own our enchantment, and be proud of it. Let’s take back the right to be enchanted, and the right to enchant. Let’s take back the right to cast our spells again. Because stories can enchant us all the way back to the earth. Stories can help us to fall in love with the land all over again.
It’s also wise to know what a word means before you either use it or eschew it, and the best way to begin is to look at where the word actually comes from:
Enchantment: late 13c., from Old French encantement, from enchanter “bewitch, charm,” from Latin incantare, literally “enchant, cast a (magic) spell upon,” from in– “upon, into” (see in- (2)) + cantare “to sing” (see chant (v.)). Figurative sense of “alluring” is from 1670s. Cf. Old English galdor “song,” also “spell, enchantment,” from galan “to sing,” source of the second element in nightingale. (Online Etymology Dictionary, © 210 Douglas Harper)
To enchant, then, is literally to sing into. To enchant with story is to sing your story deep into the hearts of your listeners. If you choose your stories well, they will act on those hearts, and transform those listeners. Stories have power: the power of enchantment. Cast your spells wisely; cast your spells well.
It’s necessary for all of us to make a journey back to enchantment. Enchantment is a facility that we are born with, but lose as we grow older. The monsters have ceased to be real. They don’t live in the attic or the closet; they only exist as phantoms in the confinement of our own heads. Animals don’t speak to us any more, and the toys don’t have parties while we’re asleep. Our places are no longer alive and breathing, and the rivers have no more songs to sing. The drumming of a snipe’s wings is no longer the beating heart of the land. We forget that we live on an animate earth, and so find ourselves lonely and alienated. We no longer know how to belong. We find meaning only in ourselves and the gadgets we’ve created to amuse us, and tell ourselves and our children that this is a necessary part of becoming ‘grown-up’. So it is that we find ourselves inhabiting a Wasteland, and the journey out of this Wasteland is a journey towards re-enchantment.
That’s the Heroine’s Journey, for sure, and the Eco-Heroine’s Journey I’ve written about in If Women Rose Rooted: a journey back to enchantment. A journey back to belonging to our places. A regaining of what we once knew, and lost: that this earth is alive, and we are a part of it. That we are in relationship with it, and that the conversations go both ways. Because we are part of the land’s great Dreaming; we are part of the earth’s great Story of itself. This earth enchants us with its stories, sings its stories into us. Enchantment is about learning to listen to the land; enchantment is about learning to hear. Enchantment is about becoming: about living these stories of the land which it sings into us. Once we remember that, once we reclaim our enchantment, everything changes. Because enchantment is as gritty as it gets. Enchantment grounds us, roots us right back in the dark, fecund earth where we belong — where we have always belonged, only we learned a long time ago to forget it.
These stories which the land sings into us, enchants us with, can tell us what we once were, and what we could be again. They can show us how to take back what we lost — or, in the case of women, what was taken from us. To pull a quote from If Women Rose Rooted:
‘If women remember that once upon a time we sang with the tongues of seals and flew with the wings of swans, that we forged our own paths through the dark forest while creating a community of its many inhabitants, then we will rise up rooted, like trees. And if we rise up rooted, like trees … well then, women might indeed save not only ourselves, but the world.’
That’s why enchantment matters. And that’s why I never want to be anything less than enchanted.