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Why the fairies disappeared Disenchantment reigns in our age of modernity

On a fairy hunt (Bridgeman/Getty)

On a fairy hunt (Bridgeman/Getty)


November 8, 2023   5 mins

It’s a long time since I took mushrooms, but my recollection is that the experience is profoundly reality-warping. Assumptions dissolve; mundane details or textures are suddenly fascinating; the wider world no longer echoes back your habitual understanding of it, but invites wild new interpretations.

Such an experience is starkly at odds with the world we inhabit today — one that has, over recent centuries, been progressively disenchanted by its subordination to the instrumental logic of science and technology. Medieval Christianity viewed the world as a book of signs, written by God and open to poetic or mystical interpretation. It was only around the 17th century — the age of Bacon and Descartes — that we began in earnest to lose the capacity for this kind of thinking. Then God first withdrew to the status of “watchmaker” for the world as mechanical watch, and finally — for many — disappeared altogether in favour of science and logic.

The shift away from the medieval mindset toward the scientific one is usually seen as a positive one. But it has left us poorly-equipped (unless we’re on mushrooms) to grasp just how different the thought-worlds of our forebears were, and how thronged with the uncanny. As folklorist Francis Young recounts, until relatively recently the British Isles was alive with “godlings”: spirits, creatures of legend and folklore. Young recounts the record of 6th-century Welsh St Samson of Dol, who reportedly encountered a terrifying “theomacha”, a “God fighter”, while travelling through a Welsh forest – an entity in the figure of an old woman who attacked and injured St Samson’s companion. Nor were such eldritch encounters only a feature of the so-called “Dark Ages” that preceded the medieval era. The 12th-century Gerald of Wales recounts meeting a man who would converse with “tiny huntsmen” who would tell him people’s secret sins.

Sometimes on woodland dog-walks after dark, the gleam of my torch will catch the eyes of a hidden muntjac and I’ll realise with a jolt that the woodland has been watching me all the time. When I try to picture life with all those non-human watchers, but without the comforting beam of light, it’s easy to imagine knowing that fairies are real.

At the very least, perhaps such beings represent a poetic way of expressing something indisputable: that there exist life-forms unfathomably different from our own, but deeply bound up with ours. The scientific explanation for the “fairy ring” circular pattern of mushroom growth is the underground presence of tiny threads called mycelia, that grow through the soil in a circular formation. As the biologist Merlin Sheldrake argues, such mycelia together form a primordial “mycorrhizal network” — a vast, underground matrix. And while this is not an “intelligence” in any sense we’d recognise, it is essential to plant life: an “ancient association” which “gave rise to all recognisable life on land”.

More than two centuries on from William Paley’s “watchmaker theory”, the received mainstream understanding of the world has little to say about mysterious underground mycorrhizal networks. Rather, it tends to describe a mechanistic universe, made of atoms, and devoid of governing intelligence or telos. For someone raised with this worldview, being stripped by hallucinogens of this frame of logic and causality can be exhilarating, eye-opening or simply terrifying. But even accepting that mind-altering substances can, well, alter the mind, even those who indulge would generally view the change as a mere chemical effect.

Last weekend, though, I found myself in just such a mind-altering experience without any such help. Trudging along a muddy path, I passed a “fairy ring” of mushrooms, and fell to thinking about my own hallucinatory adventures and what they suggest about perception. It struck me that even in the most mundane patch of woodland there’s still always something eerie at the edge of vision. As with the gleam of deer-eyes after dark, in the woods it takes only a minor shift in consciousness for all the godlings to creep back out from behind the trees.

Walking on, I passed a gate that seemed familiar and yet strange. I turned again, kept walking, and thought: oh look, another fairy ring. It wasn’t until several minutes further on that I realised that strange-looking gate was the exit, a route I’ve taken hundreds of times. The world suddenly resolved itself into the familiar again: I had passed the fairy ring twice, and was well on my way for a second lap round the woods.

Was it a fit of absent-mindedness? It felt as unmistakably an altered-state experience as being on mushrooms – except it was Saturday morning, and I was stone cold sober. It was like a message from the godlings: a reminder that the world only seems inert, because we’re used to seeing it that way.

And also, perhaps, a reminder that our age of disenchantment is on its way out. For inhabitants of mainstream modern British culture, raised in the birthplace of science and engineering, this may seem counter-intuitive. Fragments of old godlings may cling on in the very wild places, but Britain expelled our last major outbreak of millenarian religious fanatics to the New World, in the century of Bacon and Descartes. Our established church is so doctrinally tepid and reflexively conflict-averse, that hosting “silent discos” or installing helter-skelters in Anglican cathedrals prompts only the mildest of objections.

Those Anglican thinkers troubled by this are sometimes to be found yearning for a return of some sense of mystery. In “Re-Enchanting Christianity” the priest Dave Tomlinson speaks of how “Our world longs for numinosity: for a sense of awe and mystery, for sacredness, spirituality and enchantment, for something ‘more’ than the purely rational and cerebral”. And, he argues, “If the church fails to engage with, and cater to, this longing, it has no real future”.

Despite such efforts, there’s little of the numinous to be found in mainstream modern Anglicanism. But the wider world is on the opposite trajectory. I suspect the future belongs not to the sedate, polite mindset of logic and science to which Britain gave birth, and which by and large we still prefer, but the far more slippery, immanent, and enchanted one of millenarian religious narratives and wild forest beings.

My evidence for this is less the rise in religious extremism, noticeable though this has been especially in recent weeks. Rather, it’s signs that we’re losing the ability across the board to see the world in mechanistic terms: for example losing our ability to build or maintain complex systems, or even keep the roads repaired.

My best effort at explaining this phenomenon is that it’s happening because we are — at least compared with recent predecessors — simply ever less interested in the world of atoms, and physics, and cause and effect. Instead, leaders today are fixated on moral or symbolic dimensions. Evidence of this shift in priorities is everywhere, but perhaps its starkest instance might be what’s sometimes denounced as a “woke takeover of science” — but which could just as accurately be described as the re-subordination of empiricism to moral doctrine.

Even geopolitics has not escaped this re-subordination of reality to grand narratives. The neoconservative American wars, for example, were impelled at least in part by a religious impulse to globalise liberal democracy at gunpoint. Over the same period, too, they’ve been joined by other competing apocalypses. Believers in the climate variant conduct an escalating campaign of dramatic public protest. And the bitter dispute between Israel and Palestine has also, since the Nineties, accrued increasingly eschatalogical religious overtones.

The conflict in Palestine is of course complex. But contra the assertions of groups such as the New Atheists in the early 2000s that all forms of faith were destined for the scrapheap, grand apocalyptic narratives are growing not less but ever more influential. Along with the now endemic re-moralisation of governance, education, and science, this all presages a world that still (at least for now) has cars, and guns, and smartphones — but that runs not on the mechanistic logic of cause and effect, overseen by a remote divine watchmaker, but far more mercurial and sometimes violent logics of faith.

Is there any good news, amid this unsettling re-moralisation of the world? Well, if my Saturday-morning mushroom moment has a lesson it’s that mind-bending shifts in perception may be unnerving, but rich in insight. “Apocalypse” doesn’t just mean “end of the world” but also “revelation”. In Sheldrake’s view, the networked life of fungi can teach us to see ourselves as more porous ‑ something that, he argues, can help us to grasp our interconnectedness with other species, and thus perhaps to find new inspiration for tackling the ecological crisis.

We can perhaps extend this into the re-enchantment of public life: it may re-entangle us in frightening ways, but perhaps we’ll also be less lonely with it. Even so, those Anglicans calling for “re-enchantment” should perhaps be careful what they wish for. Outside the lamplight, the godlings were always looking back.


Mary Harrington is a contributing editor at UnHerd.

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
8 months ago

My evidence for this is less the rise in religious extremism, noticeable though this has been especially in recent weeks. Rather, it’s signs that we’re losing the ability across the board to see the world in mechanistic terms: for example losing our ability to build or maintain complex systems, or even keep the roads repaired.
I’d say a major tipping point for this process came when the common man no longer understood how the vast majority of the technologies around him worked, even on general principle. I’d also say another major driver is our amphibious existence in the internet, which is both illusory and increasingly a crucial component of our reality.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
8 months ago

I think you’re on to something. Once the parts of the non-organic world that you interact with are way beyond your comprehension, there’s less incentive to do so. I remember reading Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance back in the day, and a lot of the author’s points depended on the physical world you interact with being one that’s understandable with care and effort (and one that rewards said care and effort), in the way a mechanical motorcycle is.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

Actually, it was ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ a small but perhaps important difference.

Kelly Madden
Kelly Madden
8 months ago

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” Arthur C. Clarke

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Kelly Madden

Absolutely agree. It’s magical to me.

Gregory Toews
Gregory Toews
8 months ago
Reply to  Kelly Madden

We might also say any omnipotent God (a redundant term, since something not omnipotent is by definition not a God) is indistinguishable from magic. Though, our expectations of gods are very distinguishable from our expectations of magic. Odd that our expectations, whether real or imagined, should differ so widely. Truly material beings have equal expectations of God and magic, and therefore experience an equal level of disappointment if said expectations (again, real or imagined) aren’t met.

Brian Villanueva
Brian Villanueva
8 months ago

I had never thought about this Hippie, but it’s a really good point. Kelly (above) mentioned Arthur C. Clarke’s famous quote about magic. If the majority of things that you use every day are so complex that they are essentially “magical”, that would undoubtedly cause a shift in your perception of the world.
At what point to you think this occurred? Just curious.

Last edited 8 months ago by Brian Villanueva
Martin Butler
Martin Butler
8 months ago

Yes – absolutely right. Part of the problem is the realisation that technological progress does not necessarily lead to better lives. It is far from obvious to most people that the wonders of science, technology, and rationality more generally are leading to a happier more civilised world. Quite the reverse in many cases. The reason for this has been obvious for some time. Technology has the capacity to make aspects of life easier, but it only gives us the means to do things, it says nothing about the ends. It says nothing about the direction we ought to be going in. It was religious belief and morality that was supposed to tell us that. The rationalism of the enlightenment just hasn’t come up to the mark on that score. We are left with an empty individualism which takes the form of a corrosive consumer culture and a desperate desire to ‘be ourselves’. Both are deeply unsatisfying.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

I kind of half agree with you. I chafe against the insipidity of the daily routine and the vapid ugliness of so much of contemporary society.

However, I thanks my lucky stars I was born in an age when my wife and children were all able to survive childbirth, anaesthetic dentistry been invented and I had access to the entire musical output of Western humanity for the last 300 years.

All this progress comes at a cost though. I find the discoveries of astronomy particularly unsettling.

The question is whether it’s possible to embrace nihilism without being consumed by it or comforting oneself with the illusion that the past was better or more ‘holistic’ in some way – I’m not sure it was.

My limited study of the past here in Europe suggest there was much much more barbarism and misery than enchantment.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

“The question is whether it’s possible to embrace nihilism without being consumed by it…”
I wouldn’t use the term “nihilism”, but if by that you mean the understanding that there is no given meaning to our existence other than what we choose to ascribe to it, then i say a resounding yes.
I find the discoveries of astronomy utterly beautiful, as an example of humanity developing the means to discover the furthest possible reaches of the universe, and there’s a way to go yet (possibly always will be). I absolutely do embrace life, and consciousness, and all that goes with it, without any need for guidance from an external or imaginary authority. When death comes, i’ll embrace that too, knowing i’ve lived without the need for the comfort of a belief in an afterlife. If i then “wake up” in an afterlife, i’ll be fine with that too! I’m as good, and as moral as the next person, but no better, and that’s how it should be.

Terry Davies
Terry Davies
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

An enlightening post! Thanks!

Simon Neale
Simon Neale
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

If i then “wake up” in an afterlife, i’ll be fine with that too!

Let’s hope so! Kind of depends on what sort of afterlife, doesn’t it…

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  Simon Neale

It does, and if it’s “heaven” i’ll be bored to erm… death.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Murray
Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

An afterlife implies having to do it all over again. God forbid!!

Yvonne Hayton
Yvonne Hayton
8 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

I think reincarnation implies having to do it all again and with the way the world is heading I say b*llocks to that. While an afterlife, boring as it seems to us now in our unenlightened state, might actually be incredibly peaceful and fascinating. So long as it still has pets and pubs!

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
7 months ago
Reply to  Yvonne Hayton

Billy Graham assures us that there is golf in heaven. (Said nothing about doggie heaven & pubs with no closing time, though.)

Michael Cavanaugh
Michael Cavanaugh
7 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Precisely why the Buddhist tradition comes to conceive salvation as extinction rather than eternal survival. (Life’s a b***h & then you die & life’s a b***h & then you die & life’s a b***h . . .)

William Amos
William Amos
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

‘Humanity’, ‘life’ ‘existence’, ‘morality’, ‘I’,
With respect, and speaking as a layman, I don’t see how these abstract nouns are any more or less imaginary than the external authority you purport to renounce.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

Your decision to use language as a tool for existential doubt has been well-covered, not least by Wittgenstein. As with any attempt at human meaning, you can choose to be negative or positive.

I choose positive, and life, and i’ve been where you seem to be a long time ago, and moved beyond it. Thanks all the same.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

I get that you may be a fellow atheist, Steve, but you do come off a bit smug and superior.

Stephen Kristan
Stephen Kristan
8 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Well, Clare, in kindness, extend the fellow a bit of slack. We’re all just trying, bless you (in a religion-neutral sense).

Stephen Kristan
Stephen Kristan
8 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

Heavens! You are a rarefied fellow.

Russell Sharpe
Russell Sharpe
8 months ago
Reply to  Steve Murray

“…the understanding that there is no given meaning to our existence other than what we choose to ascribe to it, then i say a resounding yes.
I find the discoveries of astronomy utterly beautiful,…”
But do you ‘find’ them beautiful, or do you ‘choose to ascribe’ beauty to them? Can you do that?

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

And it’s coming back.

Paul Devlin
Paul Devlin
8 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

What discoveries of astronomy are unsettling?

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
8 months ago
Reply to  Paul Devlin

Perhaps the ones that are confirming the theory of The Big Beginning, thus leading inexorably to the acknowledgment of the reality of The Beginner of All. “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.”

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Betsy Arehart

Oh right, that would be unsettling to the believers. I didn’t think of that. Bummer!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Exactly. Life itself in whatever age we’re born, can mean “lives of quiet desperation’. It’s the luck of the draw.

Stephen Kristan
Stephen Kristan
8 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

What’s wrong with a little quiet desperation? It’s the human condition. It was ever thus. As the poet Wallace Stevens wrote, “The imperfect is our paradise.”

Alan Thorpe
Alan Thorpe
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

Science has been corrupted to create the idea that we are changing the climate, to lie to us about the effectiveness and safety of vaccines. Technology has made is easier to control us and I believe is has resulted in a situation where there are not enough jobs for everybody and that will get worse.

Jeff Butcher
Jeff Butcher
8 months ago
Reply to  Alan Thorpe

I agree with you that science is a human endeavour and therefore corruptible and there are many questions to be answered about the pandemic.
But surely vaccines are a proven and effective technology? I’ve never met anyone with Polio. Has this startling fact nothing whatsoever to do with the introduction of the polio vaccine?

Pat Davers
Pat Davers
8 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

I think you may have inadvertently hit on the crux of the problem right there. The success of polio and other vaccines has led us into the false belief that anything else which is touted as a “vaccine” will be equally effective – which is obviously not the case.

Ali W
Ali W
8 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Not all vaccines are created equally, not to mention the differences of the pathogens they target result in wildly different outcomes.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ali W
Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Jeff Butcher

Well said.

Graham Strugnell
Graham Strugnell
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

It also leads to a Hobbesian world of dog eat dog where criminals feel no shame about using modern technology to exploit others.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Martin Butler

They may be unsatisfying to you but not to everyone. Was religious belief supposed to tell mankind which direction to go in? You must certainly feel disappointed if that was your expectation.

Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
8 months ago

    Very interesting and welcome article. Thank you Mary Harrington. It is also soothing for me because it has some parallels to aspects of personal experience. My husband and I, raised on neo-Darwinism, steeped in scientific pragmatism via our university choices, and minus anything much more than fifties/sixties school assemblies when it came to religion/spirituality, were taken aback to find out that our twin sons apparently had  some sort of ‘sight’. Indeed, they developed all kinds of traits that we significantly lacked – perfect pitch for example. My husband was at least relieved that they looked like him because otherwise they were very far from exemplars of genetic determinism. Or even conditioning. Naturally (as they were, at that point, in the music industry) we very much pounced on the ‘magic mushroom’ aspect because long country walks, during which they courted the muse in search of lyrics and new chord progressions, started to turn into ‘encounters with fairies’. No drugs involved. ‘Honestly, Mother…’ … ‘And what about your blood glucose levels? Hungry wanderings in the desert can have serious repercussions. Empty tummies bring about entire religions, if you’re not careful! Here, please take a protein bar’. Etc. etc …
    Maternal anxiety wrought serious changes in my reading matter. The ‘no drugs oath’ at least saved me from a re-read of ‘The Doors Of Perception,’ but I became acquainted with Rudolph Steiner and began using the word ‘elementals’. Grounding my panic in Thomas Hardy, I found out, in some surprise, that they had evidently permeated his consciousness. More classically, he called them ‘dryads’.  These, he wrote, woke up for what he called the ‘vernal quarter’, and set off ‘bustlings, strainings, united thrusts and pulls-all-together, in comparison with which the powerful tugs of cranes and pulleys in a noisy city are but pygmy efforts’. This flight of narrative fancy had parallels with Steiner’s views. Interesting.
 Somewhere, I discovered the term ‘the spiritual body of nature’. I interpreted this as the energetic framework of nature. A framework of infinite plurality, unimaginable multiformity. Vital forces hard at work – the dedicated purveyors of the eternal spark, the stuff of life, the very life of life … 
     In this context, I reviewed the idea of an Odic force, élan vital, luminiferous aether etc. now summed up in scientific circles as the idea of ‘vitalism’ and officially damned. 
    I turned to philosophers and read Sartre who had one idea I clung to. He stated that, in emotion, consciousness is degraded, and turns the determined world into a magical world. But, he also acknowledged that there is a reciprocity – that the world sometimes reveals itself to consciousness as magical. We do not only impose magic upon the world, as our emotional frame of mind dictates, but an irruption of magic may come from the world, because there is an existential structure to the world that is magical.
    I’m a big nature lover, gardener and propagator of plants. The elementals have every opportunity to reveal themselves to me but they never do. Nevertheless, immersion in nature is a great soother of the psyche because we are biophilic organisms. Plus, the path to a more spiritual world has been opened up. I won’t perform like our sons who are steadfastly on the road to enlightenment in their desire to find a greater communion with the ‘oneness’, the unifying spirit, but I will stumble along in their wake, emerging somewhat from the world of the blind watchmaker onto what one might call the path of re-enchantment. Not forgetting about science, but attempting to reconcile it with a greater narrative for life via people like John C. Lennox professor of Mathematics at Oxford and physicist Roger Penrose with his work on quantum consciousness. 
    And I shall certainly read ‘Re-Enchanting Christianity’. 
 As Woody Allen said : ‘The only hope any of us has is magic. If it’s only physics, then it’s very sad’.
     

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
8 months ago
Reply to  Glynis Roache

If you want to experience the re-enchantment of Christianity do yourself a favor and read CS Lewis.

Last edited 8 months ago by Betsy Arehart
Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
8 months ago
Reply to  Betsy Arehart

Thank you. I will.

Janet G
Janet G
8 months ago
Reply to  Glynis Roache

Thank you Glynis Roache. Yes, Steiner’s writing on gardening and farming inform my garden work too. And only recently people have started writing books about the consciousness of plants . . .

Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
8 months ago
Reply to  Janet G

Yes. It’s all fascinating stuff isn’t it?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Glynis Roache

He also said “If you’re bi-sexual you stand a better chance of a date on a Saturday night”.

Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
8 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Good one!

William Amos
William Amos
8 months ago

Anyone who has dipped their toes into the incompatibilist view of Free Will, the illusion of consciousness and the phantasm of the ‘Self’ will feel that there is as much hard scientific proof for these ideas as there is for fairies, sprites or pixies.
And yet we cannot dispense with them. Even philosophers who advance the hard incompatibilist view of Free Will admit to being unable to interpret the world without the aid of that phantom.
Once you admit of one phantom, what can we decently say of all the rest? Life is short, understanding is partial and death is certain. The scientific world view, in all its unquestionable utility is a method of desciption which can only aspire to an ever greater, more intricate tautology.
When art and poesy held it’s proper place in our culture our artists understood their work in this life was to extrapolate this wonder:
“…the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve;
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

Last edited 8 months ago by William Amos
Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
8 months ago
Reply to  William Amos

“And yet we cannot dispense with them.”
One might as well say that gravity is a phantom too, but one which we can’t live without. If something cannot be dispensed with, then in what useful sense would we say that it doesn’t exist? When I say that the tooth fairy doesn’t exist what I’m saying is that not believing in the tooth fairy changes nothing as to how my life works. But if I say ‘free will does not exist’ and try to live in accordance with that belief, I become helpless.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

Really? If you told yourself that free will does exist you might find life very frustrating because you might find you don’t have as much control over things as you think you should have.

Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

But if I say ‘free will does not exist’ and try to live in accordance with that belief, I become helpless.
You’ve missed the nuanced point – unconscious mental processes (ultimately derived from nature and nurture), constantly, dynamically occuring within our mind, determine what we think, feel, do – along with indetermined factors (chance, chaos). Conscious observation of the end results of these processes (noticing that your hand is burning, deciding to take it out of the hot water) gives rise to an illusion of freewill. Though ‘self-determination’ does exists to the extent that it is processes within our minds and bodies determine what we feel/think/do…..but they are all ultimately linked to causes, matters beyond our reach, way out of our control.

Whatever you consciously believe about freewill is not a product of freewill, but of either determined and indetermined processes, and makes little or no difference to how you are in the world. People who do not believe in freewill do not actually ‘give up’, rather they continue as normal, subject to the processes upon which the universe works, and their mind is part of that universe, operating on principles that you had no choice in shaping.

Ida March
Ida March
8 months ago

The fairies never went away, Mary. They’re still there. Electric light interferes with our ability to see them. That’s all.
Practice ‘detached vision’ and go into the woods at twilight. But be careful. I tried this, while living in a very remote area, and it turned out that the forest was teeming with all kinds of fairies, or nature spirits as I prefer. And then so was our garden and then the house.
They wouldn’t leave us alone and then the whole affair turned so dark that we ran to the doors of the Catholic Church begging to be let in.
Anyone who wants to re-enchant the world ought to be aware of what else they may encounter in that magical, supernatural realm.
Above all remember that nature doesn’t care about us. It has no mercy.

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago
Reply to  Ida March

Well I’ve never had that sort of frightening experience out in the countryside Pan-ic not withstanding but the evil force and strength of the Powers in the Air, the Powers and Principalities that St Paul warned us of are very tangible nowadays.

Pat Davers
Pat Davers
8 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

Yes. I was a lapsed catholic for several decades, and what brought me back to the church, was not a renewed belief in God (which never really went away) but a renewed belief in the devil, whom I had dismissed as simply a being a metaphor for our imperfections. 
On top of that, our local church has also starting saying St. Michael’s Prayer at the end of mass. It certainly feels that more and more people are aware of evil walking among us.

Ida March
Ida March
8 months ago
Reply to  Pat Davers

Snap. The devil drove me into the Catholic Church. I knew that no-one else was up to the task. The only difference is I was brought up an atheist.
The St Michael’s prayer is one of my favourites and I tend to favour the Traditional Mass.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Pat Davers

Good grief.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
8 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

Yeah. I think that maybe people who go on about magic, will eventually understand miracles: like creation and life, but also the mysterious birth and resurrection.

And of course, anyone who doubts there is evil (surely in men’s souls) will figure it out sooner or later in the world as people get farther and farther away from the Truth.

Ida March
Ida March
8 months ago
Reply to  Richard Pearse

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he doesn’t exist.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Ida March

He doesn’t. But he may well exist for you. Just keep it to yourself or they may lock you up.

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

They’ll definitely be coming for me one day.
I already know that.

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago
Reply to  Ida March

Even I was fooled for a while. But COVID revealed the immense power of His Satanic Majesty to my “God radar” I was amazed that other people around me seemed unaware.

Ida March
Ida March
8 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

Well, I must admit that I did put some effort into it.

Janet G
Janet G
8 months ago
Reply to  Ida March

I, and several others I know, have experienced electric lights flickering, even coming on for a long period, when death and the dead are present. Weird, but real.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Ida March

Is all that tongue-in-cheek?

Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

It’s a benign expression of schizotypy traits.

Glynis Roache
Glynis Roache
8 months ago
Reply to  Ida March

I didn’t go into the dark aspect of fairies because I wanted to accent the positive outcome of their manifestation ie the instigation of a personal search for a greater narrative to this world. Also, I was conscious of occupying too many column inches already. But yes, this sort of awareness of the expanded narrative isn’t always comforting. But that’s a longer story. Suffice to say that Mary ends her essay on a line that would make a good introduction to it : ‘Outside the lamplight, the godlings were always looking back.’ One needs a strong relationship with the ‘lamplight’ to deal with the potentially dark aspect of these things. 

Kelly Madden
Kelly Madden
8 months ago

Be careful what we wish for indeed. It was my great privilege to work for many years as an assistant to an influential pastor in West Africa. His grandfather had been a traditional African healer, his father a Muslim, and he the first Christian in his family. During those years I knew many university students from “animistic” backgrounds of belief. (The correct term now is probably “traditional religions,” but “animism” better evokes their hyper-enchanted reality.)

My boss explained to me that the ability to survive and thrive, on that view, is all about pluses and minuses—engaging positive forces for protection and flourishing in the face of spiritual attacks driven by jealousy. The stakes were real, and really experienced. I knew many students—less than 0.1 percent of the population at that time—who were afraid to return to their villages. 

But the only way out of this endless wandering in the wilderness, said my boss, was to entrust oneself to Jesus Christ. The first creed of the church was and is: Jesus is Lord. Lord over it all.

Years later, I’ve become an Anglican priest. Contrary to the faithlessness of many Anglican clergy today, some of us engage wholeheartedly in the weekly gestures of sacred theater. We retell the story of triumph over death, remembering Jesus’ one sacrifice for all time, in bread and wine, and all that surrounds that moment. (My late boss wrote a popular little book called “Un Seul Sacrifice” connecting the dots to the sacrificial system of traditional African religions.) 

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago
Reply to  Kelly Madden

Interesting because the popular trendy vicars,the ones who are cute enough to be on tv,the female Vicar of Dibley ones,and the male Doctor Who ones,even the ex-80s pop star ones,they almost never name check Jesus. The Christianity they represent is about being “nice”. I have problems and issues with Jesus,sadly but I do find something dodgy about Anglican vicars who you know or sense,don’t really believe it on an intellectual level,but then who does. Only it gets to be all about helping at the playgroup and doing the flowers and always being smiley,not finding redemption from the blackness of sin that eats us up from within. Anyway we are now a society that has lost the concept of REDEMPTION,the reaction to that stupid tv thing about RB demonstrated that. If Jesus was about now he’d have a hard time getting anyone not to throw the first stone!

Pat Davers
Pat Davers
8 months ago

I grew up, like most people I suppose, believing that scientific knowledge was cumulative and incremental, and that the robustness of the scientific endeavour acted as a ratchet, ensuring that knowledge could go forwards, but never backwards.
Even after reading historians of science like Thomas Kuhn, whose “Structure of Scientific Revolutions” showed us that that science didn’t evolve nearly as neatly and linearly as we might suppose, the assumption still was that the revolutionary theories replace the old one because they were more powerful, and that progress was still ensured.
Now, I’m not so sure, and I can’t escape the thought that science itself might have reached its degenerate phase. In my own field (mathematics) I can see so-called mathematical models being used with diminishing efficiency and appropriateness, and whose utility only seems to reside in how far they support a given political or commercial proposition. People’s faith in “The Science” probably peaked during Covid, and will probably never return to those levels.
And as for the WB Yeatsy stuff, well I’ve never felt it myself (and somehow doubt if I ever will) but I know enough people who have, to know that it’s real.

Last edited 8 months ago by Pat Davers
AC Harper
AC Harper
8 months ago

A thought provoking article, but…
Perhaps some, or even many, hanker after enchantment. But far fewer will dose up on hallucinogenic drugs and drive down the motorway. Many may use alternative medicines but few would turn away from regular medicine in extremis. Many may meditate but not while using heavy machinery.
It is true to say, I think, that politicians and religious figures find rationality, evidence and cause and effect an onerous burden. There is a retreat at the higher levels of society to regarding what should be as more primary than what actually is.
And if you cannot see clearly you will make mistakes.

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago
Reply to  AC Harper

If you garden you ALWAYS have enchantment in your life.

Betsy Arehart
Betsy Arehart
8 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

Safe, presumably.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

Not everyone has the luxury of a garden, however.

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Garden on any spare scrap of land. No one will interfere,some people will love it,a lot be indifferent. The local council won’t give a fig.
Just do it.

laurence scaduto
laurence scaduto
8 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

My little garden is just a bit the landlord never bothered to object to.
It’s a great way to engage with passers-by. In fact some have traded plants and seeds with me. The whole effort is somewhat anarchic; you never know what’s going to happen. A different adventure every year!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

Maybe in the UK, not so in the US, and of course, a number of folks live in apartments without even a balcony.

Last edited 8 months ago by Clare Knight
Zirrus VanDevere
Zirrus VanDevere
8 months ago

Iain McGilchrist has done a good bit of re-sacralizing our consciousness, he’s an author who should be read widely by any who are frustrated by the lack of spiritual awe our modernity has caused. I feel that there are a multiplicity of scientific discoveries that are bringing us roundly back to an understanding of the interconnectedness of everything, including but not limited to trees communicating through mycelium, a focus on the reality of the “gut brain”, the magical implications of melanin receptors located in the brain (we are beings of light, and so many have lost sight of this – pun possibly intended-), and the ideas of panpsychism taken seriously in at least some parts of the scientific community. Not to mention quantum physics, which should blow anyone’s mind as adequately as a good dose of mushrooms can!

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago

Well said. Yes, those mycelium trees are mind-blowing. I saw a photo of some all exactly the same. And I’ve seen a documentary of fungus that has a form of intelligence, again mind-blowing. Not to mention ‘The Secret Life of Plants’ video that shows plants reacting to other plants getting chopped up. Must give Vegetarians pause!

Dermot O'Sullivan
Dermot O'Sullivan
8 months ago

I’ve always liked a line in one of Bede Griffiths’s books where he says we don’t see angels etc. anymore because we don’t believe in them!

Ida March
Ida March
8 months ago

Whereas I would argue that we don’t see angels, or fairies, any more because the glare from so much artificial light drowns them out.
We’ve literally lost sight of them, although it’s still possible to detect a hint of that other realm, as the author of this excellent article describes.

Last edited 8 months ago by Ida March
jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago

My great granddad saw Angels,so I’m told. He claimed to. He was probably batty but loved by his family,a kind old Granddad who loved growing flowers and veg in his garden. My gt-granddad said we are surrounded by angels all the time. And I think he was right.

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago

This is brilliant. People have always known there was more to life and things then the elements they are made from. No one believes the scientists who say ,”but my knowledge of the intricate internal structure of DNA molecules makes life more fascinating for me. Those two little girls who took photos of fairies in a Yorkshire wood. They did it to defy the horrid adults who laughed at them when the girls said they played with the fairies there. The two little girls never dreamed they would create an 80 year mystery,only to be admitted to at the point of death. Have you never been in a woodland Glade or heathery hollow or flower meadow and had a real sense of a life force,no not fairies as such,but an actual joyous spirit that isn’t embodied but is not your thoughts. That’s fairies. One very early morning about ten years ago I woke and knew with an utter certainly I had to go to a particular place. Why then I’ll never know. I had just enough money for bus fare one way. I got to the place. I walked up the path following a sort of inner radar. God help us when they jab a microchip in us to replicate this in mechanistic form. I reached the place where a wooden footbridge crossed a shallow stream.
The early morning sunlight was glinting on the turbulent fast running water and motes in the air were twinkling in the sunlight. I knew suddenly with certainty that I was in the company of Naiads. I couldn’t see them but they were there. And not really actual forms at all but a true spirit in the air. And not in my imagination,outside of it. Then I walked home to breakfast. Yes. Scientists and Technicians have woken up that most people don’t care but it’s not so good because they know they can tell us any old toffee,and run the most nasty things past us but with a good story attached and enough of us will buy it.

Duane M
Duane M
8 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

What a wonderful experience for you! Thank you for sharing it.

dasnandakishor.108
dasnandakishor.108
8 months ago

An enchanted view of the world doesn’t stem from imagination, ignorance or putting morality over practical concerns. It is a matter of perception: fairies and godlings are as real as you and me, but require a cultivated, refined perception. The author, together with most of us, is completely caught up in a mechanistic worldview, and is therefore incapable of acknowledging the *actual reality* of those beings – what to speak of interacting with, or at least perceiving them.

Steve Murray
Steve Murray
8 months ago

I’d suggest you’ve misinterpreted the author. MH seems to be very.much acknowledging the alternative worldview you suggest.

Where i might disagree with her is if she’s suggesting our future mindframe could be a reversion to that which prevailed during the medieval period, and long before apropos our Celtic ancestors.

The internet (already mentioned by Right Wing Hippie) is beginning to affect our psyche in ways we’re nowhere near coming to terms with. I’d also argue that our understanding of science (in its intended sense, not in the sense of scientists as “experts”) does include an element of spirituality; the human search for exploration, both without and within. Magic mushrooms are optional, but not necessary.

Last edited 8 months ago by Steve Murray
Robert
Robert
8 months ago

“…help us to grasp our interconnectedness with other species”
Well, here’s hoping you don’t become interconnected with a ground nest of yellow-jackets. They will quickly dispel all feelings of ‘enchantment’ while out in the woods.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Robert

Thank you for that chuckle.

Michael Walsh
Michael Walsh
8 months ago

The writer describes the “woke takeover of science” as the re-subordination of empiricism to moral doctrine. The entrenched Ptolomeicists used religion to attack Galileo’s challenge to their science. Nowadays, they would just call him racist.

Adam Bartlett
Adam Bartlett
8 months ago

While agreeing re-enchantment has its dark side, I very much hope MH is correct here. Dis-enchant / re-enchantment has been discussed by hundreds of great writers going back to Weber & before. I found Oswald Spengler’s account (sadly spread out in the voluminous Decline of the West) the most helpful for understanding the root causes behind all this. Back in the 90s I recall seeing signs that the shift back to the invisible world was proceeding just as Spengler foresaw. But then the internet became more of a thing and initially seemed to very much favour rationalists & demystification. Stil, if God wills it, even the Internet will ultimately be turned to the good.

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

But sadly the digital media is being used to renew that old elemental human fear and distrust of nature. We are being mind trained to be afraid of the natural world again. A red weather morning means -horrors- it’s going to be sunny enough for ice cream,a yellow storm.warning means it’s going to rain a bit.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

You might be being mind-trained I’m not.

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Sadly I’m not which is why I’m for the chop some day.

Richard Pearse
Richard Pearse
8 months ago
Reply to  Adam Bartlett

Interesting – Weber foresaw the prospects of “disenchanted” Western civilization to be either a spiritual renewal or “mechanized petrification” (ie extinction of every human possibility except that of “specialists without spirit or vision and voluptuaries without heart”). Bingo!

Keith Merrick
Keith Merrick
8 months ago

To be fair to Richard Dawkins, he has shown us a way to have the best of both worlds: seeing the world as magical and beautiful through awestruck, realistic scientific eyes. The problem is, though I don’t doubt Richard is sincere, most people don’t see this as magic or wonder at all but just ‘how stuff is’. After all, a rainbow or an elephant stop being wondrous the tenth time you see them. Were fairies ever proven to exist they would join the long list of things that merely induce yawns the following week.

Last edited 8 months ago by Keith Merrick
Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago
Reply to  Keith Merrick

Nice post. Maybe the key is really working at learning, understanding the underlying matters – then they are revealed to be wonderous and beautiful. The problem is most people don’t do the hard work, or are not engaged in a career or endeavour that shows them the intricate detail. Many people want to skip the difficult bits and get straight to the wonder – I suppose we all do, but it is a false path.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Keith Merrick

Speak for yourself. I speak as an old atheist who still thinks billions of people talking on cell phones to each other, simultaneously, all over the world, is magical, and can still weep at the beauty of a sunset.

Last edited 8 months ago by Clare Knight
Jürg Gassmann
Jürg Gassmann
8 months ago

Indeed – for those who have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge (Enlightenment), Paradise (the mediaeval world) is lost.
While mediaeval persons were born into a world where their identity was largely defined at birth, the Enlightenment thrust us into the world naked, obliging us to find our own identity. That is a tough job, and a counterreaction soon set in – Romanticism.
So today we have Siren songs of assisted thinking, eager to relieve us of the burdens of choice and of freedom, witness the attractiveness of religious fundamentalism, of totalitarian ideologies, of the ludicrous fairy-tale weaving practiced by what passes for journalism, fact-checking, and Wikipedia.
The Middle Ages had a strong bent for the numinous, but it was a strictly curated one; venture outside, and you might find yourself at the stake. Until a few years ago, it was inconceivable that we would return there; now with “on-line safety” and “pandemic preparedness”, we are well on our way back

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
8 months ago

Brilliant Mary. Point us to the Wonder, a new re-enchantment and engagement with Nature and Living. True magical thinking that enrichens us all.

Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago

Traditional forms of magic all but died out as the enlightenment steadily and effectively debunked its claims. Some old forms of magic survived, and new forms emerged – usually non-falsifiable (e.g. by confing itself to subjective experience, making no or few claims to objective truth) within: aesthetics, spiritual practice (meditation, prayer), extreme experience (sweat lodges, sleep deprivation, mountain climbing); psychedelic experience; Awe (astronomy, quantum physics, even parenthood); and last-but-not-least, identity magic – you are what you feel yourself to be (and, confusingly, you are also what the correct identity theorists say you are. E.g. a Black African Republican is not a real thing).
‘Magic’ won’t go away as it’s a highly prized experience, an antidote to the mundanity of life (essential to our chronically adventurous, and unsatisfied species); and because it is a default product/experience of schizoptypical minds, of which there are many. As with the cross-fertilisation of the arts and sciences, I am sure magic and real breed well.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago

I still have a lovely little book called ‘Flower Faries of The Garden’ from my childhood. I’m old so I was a child when the Victorian belief in Faries in England was still a bit of a thing. My mother and older sister would put sweets and a note from Queen Mab at the end of the garden for me. I delighted in this and felt special because of Queen Mab’s unconditional love for me, something I had never experienced. Then one day my older sister gleefully told me it wasn’t true, and that it was she who put the sweets and the note there for me. As I sobbed in anguish she just laughed. Needless to say, this had a profound effect on me in many ways. The moral of the story is don’t believe in faries or anything supernatural.

Last edited 8 months ago by Clare Knight
Yvonne Hayton
Yvonne Hayton
8 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Clare, how strange. You seem so bolshy (and I don’t mean that as an insult) I always imagine you as quite young! But I’m so sorry your sister enlightened you in that way. Did she ever regret it do you know?

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Yvonne Hayton

Yes, I’m now a bolshy old broad, and no, my sister is still the same!

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
8 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Well she did mean well enough to give you a bit of a respite from growing up.

Bret Larson
Bret Larson
8 months ago

Looks like the foxhole were all in has inspired a lot of conversions.

Mark Goodhand
Mark Goodhand
8 months ago

“It’s a long time since I took mushrooms”
Take them again. Take them at least once a year. They’re magical.

Melanie Mabey
Melanie Mabey
8 months ago

I think quite a few people still believe in the enchanted world (see the work of historian Dr Simon Young who collates the Fairy census at this address: https://www.fairyist.com/survey/) and many more are out there actively hunting them down with electronic equipment (shown is such programmes as ‘Help my House is Haunted’, ‘Ghost Adventures’ and ‘Spooked Ireland’) .

Judson Heartsill
Judson Heartsill
7 months ago

 Fairies are popular in England because we don’t think they exist; they are no fun at all in Arran or Connemara. … C.S. Lewis

Christian Moon
Christian Moon
8 months ago

Sometimes wonder whether letting women vote and hold responsible jobs has had entirely wholesome consequences.

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

I hope you’re joking and being contrarian into the bargain. But YOURE RIGHT.
Voting means nothing,if it was effective they wouldnt let us do it. And here is a list of outfits that got truly forked by a woman in charge… The British Economy,The Post Office, Talk Talk,Track + Trace, The Metropolitan Police Force,Nat West Bank,and others I can’t think the names of…
.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  jane baker

No, he’s not right.

jane baker
jane baker
8 months ago
Reply to  Clare Knight

Well if voting works why are we now in a kleptocracy. I never voted for that.
And is Alison Rose your flagship lady boss.

Clare Knight
Clare Knight
8 months ago
Reply to  Christian Moon

You’re joking, right?

Dominic A
Dominic A
8 months ago

Last edited 8 months ago by Dominic A
Ray Andrews
Ray Andrews
8 months ago

“violent logics”
Ah yes ‘logics’. We already have ‘knowledges’ so logics had to happen. ‘Different ways of logicking’ … sounds woke, yes?

Pat Davers
Pat Davers
8 months ago
Reply to  Ray Andrews

I still balk at “freedoms”….