Katherine May’s “Enchantment”

The bestselling author of Wintering, Katherine May has written an exquisite meditation on living through the pandemic and emerging on the other side, in a different world, in a different setup, as a new you that is hard to recognise. May’s new book is called “Enchantment: Reawakening wonder in an exhausted age”. It is to be published by Faber Books in early 2023.

There is a gentle frailty exhibited in these essays. It is almost as if it mirrors May’s mental state of being but her voice becomes stronger as she nears the end of the book. It is almost as if she is reaching a crescendo, a moment of jubilation at discovering what may work for her to heal. Despite talking about herself and making it a very personal experience, undoubtedly many readers will recognise parts of themselves in these musings. There is also this acute sense of an overtly secular world (or at least that which is exhibited on social media platforms), there is a crying need to develop a comforting ritual, to help give a rhythm and a sense of normalcy in an otherwise chaotic world. The pandemic alert in March 2020 destroyed many lives, it snatched away food, financial, home, and health/ mental health security; if it did not take away lives, it made living a hellish nightmare. Even those who seemed to have survived are extremely fragile and not as robust as they may seem outwardly. There are many, many examples that May shares in her book about feeling centred in the ordinariness of mundane activities. It could be as common as stitching a button to sitting by a step well built around a spring and admiring the rose climber. In a similar vein she writes about how the chaos of the lockdown crumbled her ability to read. Her autism has nothing to do with it, but the pandemic has — she cannot sit still, she cannot concentrate, she cannot read. The present-day burnout has robbed her of a disciplined, complex and an unfathomable form of reading.

In her quest for this point of centeredness, she feels that our “sense of enchantment is not triggered by grand things; the sublime is not hiding in distant landscapes. the awe-inspiring, the numinous, is all around us, all the time. It is tranformed by our deliberate attention. It becomes valuable when we value it. It becomes meaningful when we invest it with meaning. The magic is in our own conjuring. Hierophany — that revelation of the sacred — is something that we bring to everyday things, rather than something given to us. That quality of experience that reveals to us the workings of the world, that comforts and innervates us, that ushers us towards a genuine understanding of the business of being human: it is not in itself rare. What is rre is our will to pursue it. If we wait passively to become enchanted, we could wait a long time.”

She is so right! In her wisdom, she shares her thoughts about living through flux as we have during the pandemic. It has been a nerve-wracking experience for everyone. IT has been a collective trauma that is going to take a long while to recover from. We need to find our solace. This is what she has to say about change.

“Change is the restless bedrock on which we’re founded. Lauren Olamin, the heroine of Octavia Butler’s Earthseed series, makes a god out of change itself, ‘the only lasting truth in the world’. For her, the sacred is found in adaptation. Perhaps this is what I’m seeking too, the ability to step into the world’s flux, to travel with it rather than rasping against it, to let my own form dance across it. ‘We do not workship God,’ Lauren writes in verse. ‘We perceive and attend to God/ We learn from God… We shape God.’ It’s as good a truth as any, as holy a space in which to rest our minds: we are not the passive receipients of the numinous, but the active constructors of a pantheon. We make the change, and it makes us. Entering into that exchange — knowing the depths of permanence and the restlessness of movement — is the work of a lifetime.

How do we meet this kind of god, this irresistible force that roars through our existence like a hurricane? We adapt. We evolve. We rebuild and remake and renew. We listen to what it has to tell us, and undertake the work of integrating the new knowledge. Sometimes we read it in books. Sometimes we read it elsewhere, in scents carried on the air and the flight paths of birds. Sometimes we need to feel the tingle of magic to remind us what we believe.”

Next year, when the book is made widely available, buy it. You will not regret it. 

24 Jan 2023 ( First published on Facebook on 4 Nov 2022)

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