There is a problematic phrase that has been common currency (and one that I’ve used many times myself) throughout all my decades long relationship with paganism, and that phrase is ‘re-enchanting the landscape’. I have spent many an hour wondering how, as an animist and a storyteller, I can contribute to this process of re-enchantment. Unlike other areas I have directed my efforts to, this one in particular seemed to meet with some resistance. I’ve never been able to understand why, as somehow this re-enchantment seemed to me to be at the core of what I sought from contemporary paganism.
I understand, of course, that the phrase “re-enchantment of the landscape” often represents a perspective that recognises that the landscape has never not been enchanted and that we are talking about a process of realisation, but as a Bard, and as a magician, I also understand that language matters, and that metaphor lies at our core understanding of reality and our ability to share that understanding meaningfully.
Sometimes I realise I can be a bit slow. In the stories of my forebears, the source of all blessings, abundance and inspiration is the Otherworld, Annwfn. The land is the conduit of these blessings. The Otherworld is traditionally accessed through deep places, caves, or ‘thin places’ where the veil is thin, but the Otherworld is of the landscape, behind the landscape. It is the world behind the world, the time outside of time. It is the source of all our myths, of our inspiration, of sovereignty, of wealth and abundance. Those very stories tell us that, when we fail to behave with honour and integrity, all those things are withdrawn from us.
Pwll, in the first branch of the Mabinogi, secures good relations with the Lord of Annwfn and abundance for his own kingdom through surrendering his greed and arrogance. In the poem ‘Angar Kyfundawt’, ‘The Hostile Confederacy’, in the Book of Taliesin, the poet explicitly informs us:
He and his virtue gave
Inspiration without mediocrity,
Seven score Ogyrven
Are in the Awen.
Eight score, of every score it will be one.
In Annwfn it will cease from ire;
In Annwfn it will be excessively angry;
In Annwfn, below the earth;
In the sky, above the earth.
that awen, inspiration, is made in and comes from this Otherworld, and that
I know the law of the graces of
The Awen, when it flows,
Concerning skilful payments,
Concerning happy days,
Concerning a tranquil life,
Concerning the protection of ages.
Concerning what beseems kings; how long their consolation.
Concerning similar things, that are on the face of the earth.
it is from this source that all blessings come.
Innumerable legends and folktales told to this day tell us how approaching the denizens of this Otherworld with greed and selfishness will result in the withdrawal of their blessings.
The very idea that it is the landscape that needs re-enchantment is itself the problem. It is the same anthropocentric approach to the land that results in mining, fracking, intensive farming etc. It is ultimately exploitative because, in the end, the only real reason we see the problem as one that requires a solution of re-enchantment of the landscape is because we want to get something for ourselves out of the equation.
I hear the objection that by “re-enchanting the landscape” it was not meant that the land ever lost it’s enchantment. But that was what was said. As Terence McKenna said, “The syntactical nature of reality, the real secret of magic, is that the world is made of words. And if you know the words that the world is made of, you can make of it whatever you wish.” (I don’t *completely* agree… if he had said ‘constructed from metaphor’…. But that’s an argument for a different article and the point still stands). Whatever the common trope in paganism *intent* is not enough. Magic, Psychology, Sovereignty. They all have rules. Language directs attention (ask any Bard or storyteller worth their salt) and, as it is said, ‘energy flows where attention flows’. So to say that we are “re-enchanting the landscape” places *us*, grammatically, in the position of the active subject acting on the passive object, the landscape. To talk of “re-enchanting the landscape” robs the landscape of autonomy and agency and is an act of anthropocentric hubris that deserves to deny us those very blessings we seek.
The Seneca First Nations people of North America tell of how an orphaned boy goes out hunting. At first he returns with many birds, but one day he hears a voice that says “Shall I tell you stories?”.
The boy had never heard stories before, and he cannot see where the voice comes from, so he asks what stories are, and the voice tells him that they are events that happened long ago, and that if he leaves some of his birds on a stone, the stone will tell him stories of a time from long ago. The boy does this. Eventually, people wonder why he brings so few birds home and someone follows him and when he sees what he does with his birds, placing them on the stone, seemingly talking to thin air, he challenges him. The boy explains about the stone and the stories and his follower tries for himself and hears the stories. Soon, more people follow them and hear the stories, until the whole village experiences all the stories that the stone has to tell, and the stone tells them “I have finished! You must keep these stories as long as the world lasts; tell them to your children and grandchildren generation after generation. One person will remember them better than another. When you go to a man or a woman to ask for one of these stories carry something to pay for it, bread or meat, or whatever you have. I know all that happened in the world before this; I have told it to you. When you visit one another, you must tell these things, and keep them up always. I have finished.”
This is how the Seneca say that stories came into the world.
The real problem is not that the land has lost its enchantment but that we have. The solution is not to re-enchant the landscape, but to discover how to be re-enchanted by it. To rediscover how the stories came from the land. To go into the wild places and let the hills and stones, rivers and mountains, valleys and marshes tell you their tales. To have the humility to learn the language they speak.