I have lived all my life in a city, but in my heart, I yearn for the wild.
I want to see the incandescent lights of the aurora borealis dance through the darkness, I want to hear wolves howl, and be surprised by the sudden rush of muffled wings as a snowy owl swoops past. I want to look up at a sky thick with stars, and walk through forests where the trees have been talking to each other for a thousand years. I want to imagine a time before enchantment was lost.
The word ‘enchantment’ has its roots in an ancient word that means ‘to sing’. Other words that share this root are ‘chant’ and ‘incantation’ and ‘charm’ which mean to cast a spell, and ‘cantata’ and ‘canticle’ which mean to worship by singing. To be enchanted is to be bewitched.
To be enchanted is to exult.
These intense soul-shaking emotions of joy, amazement, and reverence are increasingly rare in our world of today, yet they can lead to a new and profound understanding of the meaning of life and the secret of happiness. For many people, the search for awe and wonder has become a quest to re-enchant the world – a mission linked with the re-wilding and slow living movements which aim to connect us more fully with ourselves, each other and the natural world with its timeless rhythms of birth, life and death.
The concept of ‘disenchantment’ first became cultural currency in late 1917, when the German sociologist Max Weber gave a lecture on ‘Science as Vocation’ at Munich University. Weber believed that the modern emphasis on reason had leeched the world of mystery and transcendence. The word he used was ‘entzauberung’, which literally means ‘the breaking of a magic spell’.
Science had failed to fill the vacuum left by the diminishment of religion, Weber argued, yet he did not believe that a return to conventional belief systems was the answer. He had no cure in mind. Writing at the end of the First World War, at a time when new technologies, mechanisation of labour, secularism and capitalism were all on the rise, he ‘offered little hope to optimistic dreamers’, as one academic pithily expressed it.
Optimistic dreamers like myself have seized upon his word, however, and turned it inside out. If a disenchanted world is one that is drained of meaning and lacking in joy, a world cut off from a sense of the sacred, a world which prioritises productivity and consumerism over creativity and resourcefulness, then what does an enchanted world look like?
It is a world in which we all find joy and purpose in our work, a world in which we all create beauty with our hands and sing and dance and make art and music, every day. A world in which we use only what we need, and want for nothing. A world in which we do our best to live in harmony with other living creatures, and cause as little harm to our beautiful planet as possible. A world in which we consciously seek moments of transcendence.
It is a world I want to live in, and so every day I seek to live a more enchanted life.
Here are just some of the ways in which I seek enchantment in every day:
I write in my journal every morning. I record my thoughts, feelings, impressions and inspirations, peak experiences, dreams, what I am reading and doing. At night, before I go to bed, I scribble down observations on the day – something I’ve seen, heard, or read, something that has sparked my interest in some way.
I walk in nature. I search out forests, gardens, parks, lakes and the ocean, and walk in silence, just listening, looking, thinking, imagining.
I look for beauty, photograph it and share it. Clouds reflected in a puddle. Lichen blossoming on a fallen trunk. An unfurling flower in my garden. The curled hand of my sleeping daughter.
I take pleasure in keeping my home in order. I make my bed, tidy the rooms, and sweep and wash the floors. I pick bunches of flowers from my garden for my desk and my table, and light sweet-scented candles at night. I have found that a clean, calm and ordered house makes every day easier and more pleasurable for me and my whole family.
I read a poem every day. I write them into my diary, and try and learn ones I really love by heart. Sometimes I choose a poet and read a selected collection of their works. Other times I will follow a theme or a motif for a while, seeking to discover new poets. Occasionally I write poems too, just for my own pleasure.
I also read every night before I go to bed. I read as widely as possible – fiction and memoir and creative non-fiction about history, art, nature, myth, fairy tale and science. I want to learn, but I also want to be enchanted and so I consciously seek out books that will enrich me and spark joy.
I fill my life with art. I have a gallery wall of inspiration in my writing room. It is covered with paintings and postcards and artefacts I have collected in my travels. All have some kind of meaning for me. A key to a chateau in France that was found at the bottom of a well. A painting by my grandmother. A sun-and-moon mask I bought in Venice. Quotes that speak to me. Art created for me by my readers. Rosehips from my garden. Tin hearts and angel wings. Favourite covers of my books. Images of magical flowers from old herbals. Tattered embroideries and tapestries. All lovingly framed and arranged on my wall. Whenever I am in a foreign city, I go to its museums and galleries, I seek out its art and its artists, and I travel to see new exhibitions whenever I can. I keep a book of art on my desk to look at in moments of repose or boredom, and buy new ones all the time. I also draw in my diary most nights, for my own private pleasure. I draw like a child – a swift naïve doodle that captures a thought or something I’ve seen – but it makes me happy.
I dance every day. By myself.
Listen to music
I immerse myself in music. I particularly love to lie in bed at night, the curtains open so I can see the city lights or the stars, and just listen and think. It’s a kind of meditation for me.
I grow things in my garden. Flowers to bring beauty and perfume into our everyday life and herbs, fruit and vegetables for health and deliciousness. My aim is to eat something I’ve grown with my own hands every day. Often it’s only a few sprigs of thyme and a couple of tomatoes. But it brings me such joy.
I do my best to reduce, re-use and recycle. I buy furniture second-hand, painting it and lining it with old wallpaper to make it unique and beautiful. I love rummaging in charity shops and garage sales for antique china and silver, vintage clothes, second-hand books, and other treasures. I like to think that much of what I own has a history to it, a story.
I like to make things by hand. No bread is so delicious as bread you’ve kneaded yourself, no store-bought cushion is as pretty as one you sewed by hand. I sew very badly, but I persevere and gradually I am getting better. I’m hoping to start embroidering soon.
I consciously search for places and experiences that incite joy and wonder and reverence in me.
I seek to build a sacred practise for myself, a way of observing and honouring the phases of the moon, the turning of the seasons, the fundamental crises of birth and life and death. My cathedral is a wild garden, an ancient forest, a vault of the starry sky, a murmuration of birds, the crumpled crimson folds of a rose.
I practise kindness.
I endeavour to enchant others with my words.
Albert Einstein said: ‘there are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.’
And so I choose to believe that everything is miraculous, everything is meaningful, everything is enchanted. That is the first step towards re-enchanting the world