“Because enchantment, by my definition, has nothing to do with fantasy, or escapism, or magical thinking: it is founded on a vivid sense of belongingness to a rich and many-layered world.”
Pretend, for a moment, that you are from another planet and that someone is attempting to describe Earth to you. They might tell you to imagine a world that began with a single seed. One that sprawled into as many life forms that you could think of, ones that swim and soar and settle on the soil. A world where all of these beings are bound by symbiosis, where everything they exhale is inhaled by greenery that grows freely from the ground. Where an elixir of life isn’t rare, it’s everywhere—covering our planet, flowing in bodies and streams, rising and falling from the atmosphere. Where everything that has ever died remains in other forms, the same ingredients recycled and reused, replanted with ever-evolving purpose. What would your response be?
You might say that sounds like magic. And you wouldn’t be wrong; while we often dismiss the occult in conversations that center science, the two are inherently interlinked. Merriam-Webster defines magic as “an extraordinary power or influence seemingly from a supernatural source.” But the word supernatural only means a force that is “beyond understanding.” Well, isn’t that what science seeks to know? The mysterious forces that shape our world? In this sense, science may be more concerned with magic than most other arts. It takes the supernatural and makes it natural. But perhaps, in that process, we have lost a vital understanding: that our world is magic.
I say this understanding is “vital” not only because it pertains to life, but because I believe that re-enchantment is imperative for us to protect it. When we are able to see something with a sense of wonder, we are naturally moved to protect it—a way of breaking the spell of complacency and apathy that many have fallen under. This is why we include re-enchantment with the natural world as part of our mission statement at Atmos; at a certain point in our evolution, it occurred to us that activism and reporting might not be enough. That what we need runs deeper.
It’s impossible to speak of enchantment and not witches. While Christianity made the world believe they are satanists, witches were and are most often natural healers and wise women. From the 12th to the 15th century, the Church led its Northern Crusades to convert the tribes of Northern Europe from paganism (which the BBC defines as including the practices of witchcraft and ecology). Before long, witch hunts had gripped the rest of the continent; from 1500 to 1660, 80,000 suspected witches—mostly women—were murdered. And that’s just Europe: the attempted erasure of nature-based belief systems around the world went hand-in-hand with colonization.
As everyone from the Atlantic to the New York Times has astutely observed, witchcraft is having a renaissance (check out “Why Witchcraft Is on the Rise” and “When Did Everybody Become a Witch?” for more on this). From herbalism and plant medicine to observing moon cycles and seasons, people everywhere are practicing reconnection with nature. Is it any coincidence that this is happening alongside our reckoning with the catastrophe caused by our severance from it? After all, the same institution is at the root of both; the patriarchy is responsible for not only witch hunts but the climate crisis, too.
The type of essential re-enchantment I’m advocating for, though, extends beyond the resurgence of witchcraft. It’s one that author Sharon Blackie eloquently describes in The Enchanted Life: Unlocking the Magic of the Everyday: “The enchanted life presented here is one which is intuitive, embraces wonder and fully engages the creative imagination—but it is also deeply embodied, ecological, grounded in place and community… It is engaged with the small, the local, the ethical; enchanted living is slow living.” Does that not also perfectly capture what we are increasingly realizing is necessary from an environmental perspective?
Imagine a world where nature is not seen as a resource, but an opportunity for remedy and reconciliation—a force to be revered, rather than reckoned with. A world where Western sciences include the sacred like many Indigenous sciences do, as contributing editor Ruth Hopkins often writes about. A world where the glamour of infinite gain has finally been lifted, where humanity holds itself as a coven in collaboration with everything around it. That world is possible. To conjure it, alongside ecological re-enchantment, we’ll need the alchemy of activism and a potion of policy reform—a remembrance of the power that we all possess to affect change around us. If that’s not magic, I don’t know what is.