Tuesday, July 08, 2008

The uses of enchantment -- part 2

There are those who seek to re-enchant nature by reviving the past. They will gather at Stonehenge on the equinox in druidic garb and chant hymns to the Sun, or refurnish the imagination with alien abductors, crop circles, angels, or witches covens. All up and down this westernmost fringe of Europe there are colonies of folks trying to live like ancient Celts in a spirit-infested landscape.

Their efforts are sincere. All things considered, I would rather hang out with homespun people who have their ears atuned to the keening of fairies than sit in a California megachurch listening to a polyester-suited Bible-thumper telling me how to avoid hellfire. But for someone trained in the scientific way of knowing and the application of Ockham's Razor, the one way of life is as archaic as the other.

Where then do we find the sources of re-enchantment? How do we cultivate a sense of ambient mystery?

Before I sat down to write these thoughts, I was examining under a magnifier one of the red spider mites that swarm on the outside window sill on a sunny day. Eight little legs. Antennae. Mouth. Eyes. Internal organs too. All in a package no bigger than the dot at the end of this sentence. And the mite no doubt has yet smaller creatures living on and in it, even as our own bodies are infested with trillions of microbes for whom we are a habitat. I lean close, my eye to the magnifier, and I'm breathless.

Breathless with the prodigiality of life, united by the epic story of cosmic evolution. Feeling oneself part of that story, swept along by the unfolding mystery, a wind of atoms forged in stars that blows though creation, cycled and re-cycled, me and the spider mite, every cell of us spinning and weaving, ceaslessly, the four-letter code of the DNA like the notes of Beethoven's Ode to Joy.

I don't need a druidic priest or a Bible-thumpering preacher to enchant the world. I need only learn as best I can what human curiosity has reliably discovered about the cosmos we live in -- the evolutionary epic that embraces the eons and the light-years -- then pay attention.

Does the new story have ethical implications? More tomorrow.