Enchantment Book Summary - Enchantment Book explained in key points
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Enchantment summary

Katherine May

Re-awakening Wonder in an Anxious Age

4.2 (43 ratings)
18 mins

Brief summary

Enchantment by Katherine May is a moving memoir that explores the transformative power of nature. Through personal anecdotes and scientific research, May shows how spending time in nature can provide solace, inspiration, and a renewed sense of purpose.

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    Ground Yourself in Earth

    Worn down by the challenges of working and parenting her way through a global pandemic, Katherine May began making a daily pilgrimage to a circle of stones in a field close to the English seaside village where she lived. She didn’t know what drew her to the stones – unlike the ancient cairns and stone circles created centuries before, this stone circle was a newly constructed public art initiative. And yet she kept returning to it. The rhythm of the daily walk began to feel like a ritual; the ritual began to accrue its own meanings and significance. What had once been a walk, she realized, was now a pilgrimage that, without being religious, still felt spiritually nourishing. 

    At the same time she had been making her daily visit to the stone circle, she had also been struggling with a lack in her life. A lack of what? It was hard to articulate. The poet John Keats’s concept of negative capability seemed to gesture at what she was thinking about, though. Keats described negative capability as a mode of thought that allows us to accept – even sink into – mystery, uncertainty, and ineffability without trying to rationalize anything away. In other words, it is the ability to perceive and accept – even embrace – magic. The ability to be enchanted by the world, without trying to break the spell. May realized she had lost that capability. How could she reawaken it? The stones seemed like they might hold at least part of the answer to her question.

    Ultimately, on her quest to re-enchant her relationship with the world, May looked to the four elements of nature: earth, water, fire, and air. 

    Let’s begin this Blink with the element with which May herself began this journey – with stone, soil, grass: the element of earth.

    The Romanian philosopher Mircea Eliade describes a phenomenon he named  . Hierophany is a kind of magic trick whereby if you look at something attentively and worshipfully enough, the power of your gaze can transform it into an object of reverence – something sacred. It works for anything: a tree, a shoe, a loaf of bread. But we have fallen out of this practice. In ancient times, Eliade contends, humans turned this worshipful gaze on everything, and the entire landscape functioned as a hierophany. Now, we spend our time in what Eliade would term shallow terrain: office blocks, suburbs, shopping centers. But there are still parts of this Earth that are deep terrain – places like forests, where the landscape has functioned as a hierophanic site for centuries and is imbued, even now, with generations of reverence, memory, and meaning.

    May found that spending time in deep terrain allowed her to cultivate her own hierophanic capabilities. If you’d like to do the same, try this: carve out time in your day and head for deep terrain. For May, this was a forest. For you, it might be a lake, a hill, or a field. Then simply walk. As you walk, pay worshipful attention to what you see and sense. Notice the pattern of the branches against the sky, the sound of birds chirping. As you walk, try to move through layers of perception. What can you see if you really look? Beneath the layers of birdsong, what else can you hear? You are performing hierophany, casting your own spell over the landscape, and transforming it into something magical and sacred. 

    May found other simple strategies for connecting to the Earth and grounding herself in its possibilities. For example, she grounded her body to the Earth by going barefoot. At first she did this only while meditating. Later, she went barefoot wherever she could and noticed how the feel of earth or floor beneath her feet became a kind of moving meditation. She also looked for pebbles and stones on her walk, and often carried one in her pocket – a simple reminder, whenever she put her hand in her pocket, to stay connected with the earth where she and the stone both came from. 

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    What is Enchantment about?

    Enchantment (2023) asks how – in a world of toxic social media, rolling news coverage, burnout, stress, and anxiety – we can spark feelings of wonder, magic, and miracle. It suggests that discovering a connection with nature and rekindling our connection to our own inner selves will awaken our ability to be enchanted by the world.

    Who should read Enchantment?

    • Anxious scrollers who can’t seem to tear themselves from their newsfeeds
    • Burnt-out workers, parents, and carers who have lost their spark
    • Anyone who feels disconnected from nature and community

    About the Author

    Katherine May is an English poet, writer, and podcaster. Her memoir Wintering was an international bestseller, and her hit podcast How We Live Now is ranked among the top 1% of podcasts globally.

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