In the early 20th century Max Weber, a German Sociologist, proposed that the modern world had been ‘disenchanted.’ He described the Western world view as having de-mystified nature, instead relying on a rational, materialistic outlook embodied in science, bureaucracy and the law. Weber attributed this change to the introduction of Protestant forms of Christianity and the scientific revolution. Although later scholars have argued that this process has been incomplete, there is still a great deal of evidence for a decline in magical belief at all levels of Western society over the last three centuries.
The magician (under which term I include all practitioners of magic) cannot escape disenchantment. Although they may personally espouse a world view that denies scientific materialism as a dominant ideology, they remain part of a society which widely considers magic to be fictional. This has affected a change in the status and role of the magician and increasingly marginalized their skills and work. Although magicians have for centuries been ‘outsiders’, there was once a place for licit magic whether in the form of priesthood, divination, healing or protection. Other forms of magic, including necromancy and maleficia, were historically perceived as genuine threats and legislated against. Although we now have, (at least in the UK), more freedom under the legal system – this too is a symptom of disenchantment. We do not legislate against things we consider ‘imaginary.’
The way magicians respond to disenchantment varies. Some find explanation for their experiences and practice in the hard and soft sciences; psychology, quantum physics etc., thereby conforming their magical world view to loosely fit the more widely accepted scientific one. Others simply ignore disenchantment, embracing their place outside of the shared world view and seeing no need to justify or explain their beliefs. A few, myself included, study historical world views in an effort to better understand why the modern world rejects magic. By replacing our mental furniture with that belonging to an older culture, we attempt to experience the world as it was pre-disenchantment – through the eyes of an ancient Greek, a medieval Christian or a Renaissance philosopher.
I feel that all of these methods of dealing with disenchantment are valid. Yet while they allow us to come to terms with the fact that we believe in magic in a society that does not, they rarely do much more. I’m interested in findings ways that magicians can actively influence the shared world view of their cultures, in favour of re-enchantment.
Re-enchantment is a challenge. Many of us have struggled to overcome skepticism, prejudice and even fear-for-our-own-sanity in becoming involved with magic. We know that this process is not easy. However, I also believe our society is ready for re-enchantment. We have come through the industrial era and seen the damage that is done to our world and ourselves by a quantitative, materialist world view. An increasing interest in magic-as-fiction reflects a desire for magic-as-reality. Even within the occult community there is a push away from seeing magic as a glorified self-help tool, towards re-engagement with the spirit world and learning from other cultures who have maintained an enchanted perspective.
Magicians – as individuals who have succeeded in re-enchanting their own reality, are perhaps the best placed to encourage re-enchantment in our cultures. I feel the heart of this mission lies in engagement. Making connections with others in our communities who suffer from disenchantment and helping them re-connect to magic, whether through history, nature, story, music or art. I am greatly inspired by magicians who do not simply ‘preach to the choir,’ but actively share their experience and knowledge beyond the occult and pagan communities. This does not necessarily mean becoming a public magician, outing one-self as a witch/druid/mage etc. As empowering as that may be for the individual, I’m not sure it does much to convince a dis-enchanted public who view such titles are belonging to pure fantasy.
I do not have the solution to dis-enchantment, but I am very interested in finding new ways to overcome it. I believe this must be done by putting aside the ego – the desire to be seen as magical ourselves. I feel our methods must be subtle, but powerful; stories and rituals and healing shared. If we are to re-enchant the world for others, it is not enough to tell them about magic, they must be allowed to experience it in some undeniable way, for themselves.