Tag Archives: enchantment

The Enchanted Life – a review

Sharon Blackie’s The Enchanted Life is a non-fiction book about enchantment and re-enchantment. It’s written for people who are suspicious that there are fundamental things wrong with life that they need to fix. The book offers stories, the author’s experiences and useful exercises to help you recognise your disenchantment and do something about it. It includes a solid analysis of how we collectively got into this mess in the first place – the beliefs, values and philosophy that brought us here – and how to rethink that.

It’s a very readable book, it ambles round subjects with the leisurely grace of a wild river and it has a lot to offer by way of insight and inspiration. I think it would be a good book for anyone just starting out on the Druid path as well as for anyone feeling the first yearnings for re-enchantment in their life. For the person a bit further along this road, it offers affirmation, and ideas and may well prove useful.

Most of the time, the assumed reader seems to be middle aged, middle class and winning at life by conventional standards – they’ve got the house, the job, the busy life, the generally accepted signs of success. Many of the people whose work the author draws on seem to fall into this category. They have it all, and then they take a massive risk and jump into another, more authentic, simpler and happier way of being. There’s not much here about how you go the other way – from the pressures and miseries of abject poverty and insecurity towards this more liberated way of life. How do you do it if you don’t have personal resources, or skills? Going self employed calls for a massive skill set, you have to do all the things a company does – the legal and financial obligations, the marketing and building a client base as well as doing the work. It’s not, I think, something everyone could do.

There’s also an underlying assumption here that you are an able bodied person who can walk every day, and sit outside every day. Now, as disability goes, I’m at the not so afflicted end, and I cannot go for a walk every day, and sitting outside in cold weather would cause me considerable harm. I’d like to see re-enchantment work that doesn’t assume an able body.

Sharon Blackie has a lot to say about the rise of stress, depression and anxiety in our culture and the relationship between that and our working lives. I’m very glad to see this getting properly explored and discussed. However, much of the book focuses on solitary, personal re-enchantment, and while that’s a good place to start, I wanted her to go further. I wanted more about how we enable re-enchantment in each other, how we build communities of mutual support. I think one of the big problems in our culture is that we make problems personal that should be seen as collective. How disability and mental health impact on us are fine cases in point.

What can I do, as a person who has broken out to a fair degree, to help someone who is stuck in the consumerist machine still? What can I do to support the people who can’t easily get out and connect with nature? How can I be part of the solution for other people, not just myself?

My guess is that the cover and title will appeal to readers who are already exploring this path. Folk who are reading Robert Macfarlane, and slow movement books, people interested in the Transition movement, permaculture, people who are already looking at sustainable and low stress lifestyles. Probably the people who most need to read this book are actually the ones who don’t yet consciously know they are in trouble. So, here’s my suggestion. If you are the sort of person to be automatically attracted to this book, buy it, read it, figure out who you know who would most benefit from it, and press a copy into their hands.

More about the book here – http://sharonblackie.net/the-enchanted-life/

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The Princess in the Mound – a review

I first encountered Linda Raedisch through her folklore-orientated non-fiction work. So when this novel came to my attention, I was keen to read it. It isn’t a big book – 98 pages of not especially dense text, but my Gods! So much happens.

I was really excited by the way this book has been written. The subtitle is ‘A Visitor’s Guide to Alvenholm Castle’ and that is the form the book takes. We begin with a note on the artist in residence, an overview of the castle and its upkeep fund, then short sections on history, architecture and haunting. Then we step into the entry hall and make our way around the rooms and gardens.

As the guide book takes us from room to room, a story unfolds. It is not a straightforward story, and various versions of it and glimpses into it are offered as we go along. The reader is obliged to draw their own conclusions, choose which stories to put together and what shape to give them. I like ambiguity in books, and I like being asked to become an active participant in making sense of a story. To a degree, all stories do this, and often the real magic of a book comes from the author’s ability to shape gaps for the reader to play in. These shaped gaps have the delicacy and complexity of lace. Technically speaking, it is a stunning piece of work.

The story itself explores the interplay between what we think we know about history, and what we think we know about fairy tales. The swan maidens of fairytale and myth are very much at the heart of this book. As a folklorist, the author has a keen appreciation of how events transform into stories, and stories colour events, and fragments from ancient history linger in folk memory. She’s able to put rationalisations into some character’s mouths and wild, magical thinking into the mouths of others, and sit these varying takes on things alongside each other. It’s not an entirely neutral telling – I certainly felt I was being steered towards the magical and supernatural interpretations, but then, that might be reader bias!

This is a book that also deftly explores the roles of women as wives and mothers, sisters and daughters, as keepers of the castle, and workers in the laundry. Women as figures you will empathise with and women who will make you uncomfortable. Women who are all too banal and of this earth, and women who seem touched by otherness. It’s splendidly rich in this regard.

Linda Raedisch offers a view of the modern world that still has plenty of room for magic and mystery in it. A world alive with stories, rich with deep history, and rooted in landscape. This is a book of enchantment. You need to read it.

Buy the book here – https://www.amazon.com/Princess-Mound-Visitors-Alvenholm-Castle/dp/1548161799/


Bardic Magic – collaboration

There are a number of aspects to bardic magic, but I think inspiration and the flow of it in a creative context lies at the heart of the experience. If you’ve set out to walk the bard path, creativity obviously speaks to you already, but how does a person take that up a level?

Working with other people offers some options. For me, just being around people whose work I find exciting and inspiring can have a huge effect. Being in a space where other people are being creative – be that a workshop or something less formal – can be an encouragement to create. Having people to share your own creativity with can be an incentive to get busy.

Doing creative things with people is really interesting stuff. I’m going to write about singing just to give it a focus, but from experience anything you can do collectively will create similar possibilities, although I think collective singing has a particular magic of its own.

There’s an intimacy, and a sense of involvement when you put voices together – as true for chanting protest slogans as it is for songs. There’s a real sense of being together. Any participation will give you that if you are open to it.

When people are skilled and experienced, they can fall into singing together really easily – improvising together, playing with the playing. This can be possible just from a depth of musical experience. It can be a powerful and moving experience to share with people in this way.

However, sometimes, for reasons that defy explanations, something amazing happens. It’s not always about the quality of music produced – although often the results are beyond what could have been expected. People sing together, and something emerges that is more than the sum of its parts. For me, it’s a sense that the music is coming from somewhere else, as though between them, the people involved have opened a doorway into magic. A sense of enchantment enters the song. It’s hard to put into words what is, for me, a deeply numinous experience.

When music becomes magic, it’s a soul nourishing, heart lifting sort of thing. I’ve been blessed, in my past, with two long term musical collaborations that reliably had this effect, and I’ve sung and played with a few other people where magic showed up.

So, how to do it? It’s not the sort of thing that can be reached by any kind of mechanical process, but it is about having your heart open, and being willing to be open to the people or person you are singing with. Willing to bare your soul, and give everything of yourself, and open to their baring of soul, their complete giving.


Beyond the fields we know

Most life happens at the edges, most growth is at the margins. They are often fertile places where the interplay between different environments creates maximum possibility. Something similar happens in the inner landscapes when we move to the edges.

There are three different things at work here, and they are all equally essential. The comfort zone, the unknown and the boundary. Having space – physical and psychological – where we feel safe and relaxed, is essential. I’ve tried doing this the other way, (not deliberately, it’s just what I got) and it turns life into a perpetual, exhausting battle ground. Without much of a comfort zone, there is no rest, nor peace, and if everything is allowed to become a bit other, a bit threatening and untrustworthy it’s a form of insanity as likely to paralyse a person as anything else. These are all things we learn how to construct, but might not notice ourselves making. The comfort zone, the otherness and the borders are largely of our own devising.

The author Lord Dunsany used the refrain ‘beyond the fields we know’ to allude to Faerie. I find it a very helpful thought form.  The fields we know are familiar, close to home, part of our landscape. Things can happen there that are interesting and engaging, but they fall within a predictable framework. Beyond the fields we know, all bets are off. Nothing can be relied on to function in the same way. For Dunsany, the border between the two is shifting and unpredictable as well, and that’s an important point. Where we feel familiar, and comfortable, where we feel uneasy and exposed can change and it’s not always obvious why. Our own borders and edges shift, sometimes they are easily crossed, sometimes painfully difficult.

As a walker, I have learned the enchantment of going beyond the fields we know. Even a short detour on an unfamiliar track brings a sense of magical potential. To see a familiar landmark from an unfamiliar angle is to see it anew. Going into the unknown, we can look back and get a whole other perspective on the things we thought we knew.

Going too far into the unknown, without maps or references, can result in an overwhelming, overload of experience that we can’t always make much sense of. Too much of the unfamiliar at once can be hard to take. At the point where we are lost, confused and exhausted, the adventure sours into something miserable. We have to cross back over into the place we understand. And here’s another lesson from Dunsany, because if you start out in Faerie, with that as your comfort zone, then the fields you know are other fields entirely, and Faerie becomes the safe space to retreat back to. It is not the landscape that is inherently strange or mundane, it is our experience that makes it so. In several Dunsany tales, otherworldly things return to their otherworldly places because this world is just too much for them. We who live here all the time do not notice the things that might make it wonderful to someone else.


Re-enchantment for Druids

In my blog on Seeking inspiration recently, I talked about how we lose that sense of wonder we had as children. We start to imagine the world as familiar and predictable, and begin a process of selectively not seeing all the ways in which this is not so. I have spent a while in that sort of conceptual space. It had a lot to do with feeling like I had to fit in with other people’s ideas of what a responsible adult might look like, and it was also a reaction against experiencing people whose reality was highly dysfunctional. It is possible to hold a sense of magical reality whilst being able to cope with the ‘normal’ reality the majority of people at least appear to inhabit.

Re-enchantment does not mean moving away from the world as is, into some fantasy in which you are a fairy princess, or a dragon. It is not escapism. Re-enchantment is about forging a deeper and more spiritual relationship with the world, as it is. Not taking anything for granted is an essential first step here.

If we deliberately narrow our experience – from bed, to car, to work, and home to television with very little else in the mix, we do not allow ourselves opportunity to experience something unfamiliar, and we reinforce a mundane impression of the world. Seeking out opportunities to be surprised isn’t that difficult. Going somewhere new, talking to a stranger, reading more widely, and most importantly, going outside and getting some direct, first-hand experience of the natural world. Life is amazing, from the miraculous fuzzy ducklings of spring, through to the intensity of summer blossom, the vivid colours of autumn and the pristine shock of snow. Each day offers us weather, sky, a precise moment in the seasonal cycle, and scope for seeing a thousand things we have never noticed before. There is wonder in the small detail. The blue flash of a kingfisher’s startling wings. The sheer beauty of a dawn chorus. The smell of the air, after rain.

It’s easy to go through life with a head full of what we just did, what we’re about to do, what we wish we were doing, what were worried about and all the mental clutter that makes it hard to live now. It is possible to be thinking about your life without being so inward looking that you entirely miss the external reality. The trick is to not treat most of external reality like some kind of wallpaper. It’s not a backdrop for the film plot of your life, it needs taking seriously. Noticing, or not noticing, is a habit of thought. It just takes practice.

The next step is to feel. For some reason, the last I don’t know how long… few hundreds of years? We’ve been collectively wary of emotion, seeing it as the opposite of good thinking, the enemy of rationality, and at odds with civilization. Emotion is intrinsic to being human. You can’t feel a sense of enchantment if you are not willing to feel. It may not seem ‘grown up’ to be cooing over lambs, or to cry over a dead swan, but the wrong there lies with our culture, not with the emotional response. Being willing to be moved to tears by beauty, or to be filled with ecstatic laughter over the pure joy of something, requires a letting go, an opening up. People may look at you funny. You may seem crazy to others. You may seem crazy to yourself. It is a process.

From here, the magic inherent in the everyday world starts to open up. Life feels more vivid, more real, and more immediate. The small things become relevant and important. A day can become a good day for hearing a bird sing, or because there was a rainbow. The previous priorities and obsessions of an entirely fabricated, human-centric awareness, change. You stop expecting to be able to buy happiness and start knowing where to find it. You pause in delight over the way in which the water is catching the light. You smile because this morning you saw a fox, and that was a beautiful moment. You notice how the air smells and how the ground feels beneath your feet. And then, because these things start to matter to you, and you are paying attention to them, you become more aware of what they do, how they interact, the individuality of them, and the connectedness. Where before there was barely regarded scenery, now there is spirit, and relationship.

It’s a process with no end point. There is always more to see, further to go, more to recognise, to understand, to engage with. I think a big part of druidry is this quest for relationship, but there’s not a vast amount of information out there about how to do it. You certainly don’t need the right robes, or necessarily even the right rituals. I’m going to finish with a quick plug for Druidry and Meditation, because I’ve explored a lot of ways of seeking this awareness shift in that book, so if you want to explore further and could use a few more tools, it may help.