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How to Re-Enchant an Essentially Disenchanted World


American historian Erik Davis delves into the subject of visionary experiences as a manner of revitalizing our world.

In Russian, ostranie (остранение) is a noun that means: “to encourage people to see everyday objects as if they were strange, wild or unfamiliar; to make the known unknown, and to understand it in a different or more profound manner”. This word contains what Erik Davis, American historian and writer, developed during a conference imparted in Mexico City on dreams and shamanism.

Davis explores visionary experiences as a whole —including meditation, dreams, and trances—, in a dignified manner that differs greatly from the norm. “Much of our attraction to the visionary experience is because we were educated in an extremely disillusioned world.” According to the author of Techgnosis, in order for the modern Western machinery to work, we sadly had to remove the spirits of the Earth.

Things need to be disenchanted so that the developmental machinery of modernity, which is carcinogenic, marvelous, brilliant and terrifying, can operate. One of the reasons why people are so attracted to visionary experiences is because they are a way of re-enchanting the world.

Like the Russian word, Davis suggests that unfamiliarizing the familiar (looking from a different stand) helps us to “know” something in a different way, an enchanted way. His analysis alludes to an important aspect on the West’s modern search for spirituality. It suggests that people seek visionary experiences not with the purpose of finding enlightenment –­–as many theorists have assumed––, but with the intention of leaving a world of dead objects behind and, in turn, opening the gates of a new world where “something like spirits, like energy, like power” seems to exist. Davis refers to this quest as a “re-animation” in the sense of arousing a more vivid narrative, a motion, to a world that has been sterilized for pragmatic needs.

Based on these visionary experiences, the small simplicities that occur on a daily basis seem to imply that there is a deeper story than that which meets our eye in our mundane, ordinary modern life. However, and this is absolutely essential, Davis also highlights the importance of disenchanting the world ––at least to a certain extent–– once we have re-enchanted it. “In the process of enchanting,” he warns us, “we can also lose our way.”

To me, visionary experience is about enchanting as much as it is about disenchanting. And I do not refer to disenchantment in a nihilist fashion: ‘it is merely my brain’ or ‘it is merely the drug.’ I mean that a part of that which we are meant to do when we are attracted to the visionary experience in that moment in time, is to simultaneously open the mystery: allow ourselves to be changed by our encounters, risk a transformation, but do so while we are also bringing an skeptical perspective to these things. And when I say skepticism, I must insist, I do so not with a trivial or nihilist approach, but with an understanding of how these things can be produced; how these visions can come to us and not really be what they appear to be. Some things should be attributed the mind’s brightness; a mind that is not just a machine made of flesh but something that is, in itself, extraordinarily powerful.

It seems like doubt is essential. But after having doubted, and having allowed ourselves to evaluate the experience; after we have already disenchanted the enchanted, something remains. “The story does not end there”, adds Davis. “There are always leftovers. I can’t do anything other than welcome these leftovers. I can’t do anything but defend them. I can’t do anything except tell science: ‘No, that explanation does not suffice.’” This surplus, or excess, or surfeit, which Davis points out, is what really re-enchants the world. Is the real Anima Mundi.

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