New Mysteries: Seven Stages of Re-enchantment

By Hank Wesselman PhD.
November 26th, 2010

My recent series of essays posted on have been focused upon the growing interest in the New Mysteries that are taking form in the Western world once again, and with this in mind, I have been exploring the issue of re-enchantment — the re-enchantment of ourselves as well as the world in which we live.

I have observed, for example, that this re-enchantment will bring us back into the awareness that “Mother Nature” is none other than the Great Wisdom Goddess and Planetary Earth Mother Sophia/Gaia, whose physical embodiment is our beautiful planet and whose spiritual essence is the organic white light with a voice that expresses a vast intelligence with which authentic mystics across time have sought connection.

This reveals that the re-enchantment involves the expansion of our consciousness through the experience of our spiritual unfolding and that this includes a return to the Nature-focused spirituality of our ancestors.

A Confirmation from an Unlikely Direction

When we step onto the shaman’s path of direct revelation, we pay closer attention to everything that is going on around us, both in the outer world in which we live as well as in the inner worlds in which we think, feel and dream. And when we are paying attention, it is not unusual for something to approach us — a seemingly spontaneous event in our outer world that “just happens” yet one that confirms that place, state, or current concern of our focused attention in our inner world. Allow me to share one such experience from my own life.

Recently, I happened to read a research paper written by a distinguished professor of anthropology named Peggy Barlett. It was published in a peer-reviewed academic journal in 2008 (Current Anthropology 49: 10771098) and titled, “Reason and Re-enchantment in Cultural Change: Sustainability in Higher Education.”

I was startled when this word re-enchantment suddenly appeared on the printed page in an anthropology journal no less, and so with her permission, allow me to offer some of her shared wisdom to you as it hinges directly on our consideration of the New Mysteries.

The Re-enchantment

Dr. Barlett leads off by observing that in most of the social institutions that make up contemporary Western society, the given is that science is the secure route to knowledge. She goes on to affirm that one of the hallmarks of modernity is the dominance of reason and logic over emotion and intuition. In response, the objective study of natural phenomena has become valued over and above the enhanced understanding of these phenomena made possible through subjective spiritual perception. In this sense, the term “subjective spiritual perception” implies “gnosis” which means “derived from direct experience or knowing.”

This dominance of rational reason over intuitive understanding, she proclaims in her paper, reveals the existence of “a profound disenchantment within us and within our world.” Dr. Barlett goes on to affirm that this disenchantment is an expression of a long term cultural suppression of our collective relationship with Nature. She also states that this “spiritual divorce” has resulted in the complete removal from our lives of any form of real connection with authentic divinity.

This is quite a statement for a mainstream social scientist to make, don’t you think?

She then cautions us by inviting each of us to consider that our re-enchantment will require the collective and individual tension of “discipline, routine, and the regimen of learning” to keep us from fracturing into the traps of escapism, nostaligia, and sentimentality.

In other words, Mother Nature requires that we “get real” without any romanticism, pretense, or self-promoting schemes. I would add the importance of staying in the positive polarity because histrionic proclamations and pontifications in the negative polarity are unlikely to bring us into the direct mystical connection with the heart of the world herself.

Dr. Barlett’s paper goes on to propose that: “We cannot urge each other to care about the environment unless we (each) have a sense of our primal at-one-ment with the created world.” This thought is confirmed by her sparse (and irrefutable) observation that, “Reverence for the Earth produces both good farmers and good citizens.”

No escape from this woman.

The Experiment

At the heart of her paper lies a carefully crafted experiment — a project that she designed in “expanded systems thinking and personal and community action” with which a large clutch of fellow faculty members at her university were invited to participate.

This project was essentially an extended workshop that involved occasional two-day gatherings, accompanied by ongoing lunchtime Nature walks across the wild areas of the university campus that included the guidance and explanation of what was encountered by environmental experts from the Biology department. The follow up involved more in-depth field trips into Nature-at-large with both lunch and dinner meetings in which the participants were encouraged to reflect on their experiences.

The project was designed for highly-mental academics and drew upon the foundation stones of the academy itself — intellectual curiosity and the satisfaction derived from learning.

To cut to the results, what the re-enchantment project revealed most significantly was the need to think about our human connections and shared responsibilities and to link them with the participants’ direct experiences of the living environment of Nature.

The Seven Aspects of Re-enchantment

Here are some of the reflections reported by the participants in Dr. Barlett’s study that provide us with seven aspects of the re-enchantment experience:

1) Moments of sensory expansion: Many participants reported experiencing a deep, non-rational experience, accompanied by a quiet joy as well as a profound connection to the sensual, alive, wide awake world of Nature, including their own bodies. Some felt a deeper connection to moral goodness as well as to the awareness that goodness and beauty are intrinsic values that exist within us — that they are among our birthrights.

2) Being lost in wonder and awe: Another layer of the re-enchantment experience reported was a sense of the participants being outside themselves, of being caught up or “lost in wonder.” Many experienced a profound “sense of the mysterious” in which everything around them, including their relationships, was more intensely felt and more richly lived after their reconnection with Nature.

3) Peace, Serenity, and Restoration: Some reported that their time spent in Nature and their connections to wild places had an important positive mental or physical health aspect on themselves. They shared that they felt more serene, more at peace, with an increased sense that all of their faculties had been restored.

4) Attachment to Life, and Identification with Living Systems: After their experiences in Nature, a new context for the self often emerged, a shift in identity in which Earth becomes Home and one feels an enhanced sense of belonging to larger systems of living things. People reported a feeling of at-one-ness with the Earth, a sense of being part of the web of life, and this was deeply reassuring to them.

5) Connection to Childhood Experiences: These first four aspects of re-enchantment took on a deeper meaning for the participants when they remembered childhood memories of similar experiences that had happened in relationship with Nature. As adults, most of the experiencers called up positive, memorable, and important experiences from a formative phase of their growing up. They felt delight in making these reconnections, and both their memories and their current experiences of Nature were mutually enhanced, creating expanded dimensions of meaning.

6) Connection to Religious, Moral or Ethical Commitments: For some, the experience of Nature connected them directly with moral precepts for living, personal commitments, or ethical guidelines that they now saw as implicated with the reality of the living world in a new way. A few reported that their Nature experiences reconnected them to prior commitments to social-justice issues from earlier in their lives.

7) Deepened Sense of Care: For many, an experience of re-enchanted Nature and the subsequent re-enchantment of themselves created a breakthrough in their sense of empathy that was transferred to a deeply felt ethic of care for and action on behalf of living things.

Summary and Conclusions

Dr. Barlett’s project reveals that the experience of re-enchantment begins with moments of “sensory and aesthetic expansion, the experience of being outside oneself or caught up in wonder, and a positive mental or physical effect described as peacefulness, serenity or joy.” These experiences then progress toward “a different context for the self, an identity as part of a web of living things. Their power comes from echoes, not only from childhood experiences in Nature, but also of moral precepts, religious commitments, and personal ethics.”

She found that re-enchantment fosters “imagination, playfulness and creativity that can in turn offer new discoveries and new alignments for action.” And she has suggested that “these kinds of experiences strengthen the foundation for the emergence of coalitions to create policies (mechanisms of restraint) that may constrain unsustainable and undesirable economic and political forces at large in our society.”

Subsequent interviews of the 90 faculty members involved in the project revealed that the experiment resulted in heightened systems thinking among most, creating a transition in their lives that translated into changed daily habits for many and new political action for some, both at home and in the workplace.

Finally, evidence from the project revealed that those who described their experience of Nature as re-enchanted were more likely to have stronger, sustainability-related household habits, to become more responsive to the natural world, and to become better able to enact the minimization of harm and suffering.

Re-enchantment reconsidered

This is part of what I mean by our re-enchantment. I have come to understand and accept that in all probability, this alone holds the guarantee of our continued survival as well as our thriving in the millennia to come.

The questions then arise: What else do we truly need? Is there anything else that will truly sustain us in the long term? And given the state of our world today, how do we accomplish this?

I sense that this will ultimately require a redefinition of our selves and our humanity. But what does this mean? Each of us would do well to consider this during the up-coming holiday season — for the shift is almost upon us. This means that the decisions we make in the here and now will create a foundation that will effect the life ways of us all for the next several thousand years. This is not a small thing.


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This entry was posted in Depth Psychology, Ecopsychology, Psychology, Re-Enchantment of Nature, Shamanism and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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