What Does Enchantment Look Like?

April 5, 2017


Enchantment is a very real locus of experience, a place neither fully a matter of the natural world, nor fully an idea of the mind.  Enchantment, of course, describes only one dimension of  French philosopher Henry Corbin's mundus imaginalis, or imaginal realm. There are many points of entry into this place of soul.  The following excerpt from Imaginal Figures in Everyday Life: Stories from the World Between Matter and Mind,  finds me simply sitting in my garden one morning, choosing to allow a relaxing of consciousness— a state of being—called reverie.  


Reverie invites experiences of deep being, wondering, longing, and movement into multivocal levels of reality. Bachelard (1960/1971) describes reverie as an encounter with soul, a descent without fall. In reverie, he writes that every man or woman finds repose in the depths. Reverie evokes poetic images that require full attention. Reverie, like poetic image, claims us, and takes us where we need to be to encounter the imaginal.


This excerpt is from a story I call, "Coffee Hour," and provides, I think, a good example of what Robert Romanyshyn describes as seeing the world with a poetic sensibility. It seems a fitting recognition of April's month of poetry.




... As if directed by some playful imp, my attention darts to the space between the ground and the sky above where a riotous dance ensues. The trees around me—Cherry, Silver Maple, Alberta Spruce—are awash with life, singing in a fabulous frenzy. Brilliantly orchestrated, a rhythm begins, a first whisper builds with the speed of an approaching train, until the dance between the leaves and wind bursts into a loud chorus, each tree belonging to a prescient multivocal community.


With each repetition—a first whisper of a breeze, an insistent stirring, the crescendoed whoosh ending with leaves whipping through air—a vivid anticipation of life is both born and realized, not in the grand gesture of the Rocky Mountains, but in the beauty of refined dance steps, each building upon the ones before, each creating its own hunger for the next. How does this gorgeous enchantment become itself? As the dancer needs the music, so too does the leaf need the wind. As the dancer needs the troupe, so too does the leaf need a thousand sister leaves.


Yet as quickly as it begins, like a brief measure of a musical score, it ends. One, two, three, four. Done. From a first whisper, to open armed yes, the tree chorus builds, then quiets as if a breath is done, though the air is filled with pregnant anticipation. There is no doubt that the rhythmic pattern will repeat itself, proof that this morning’s arpeggio will see itself through.

Being here this morning, in the role of audience extraordinaire, thoughts intrude like uninvited guests, “Who makes this moment thus? Who creates this spirited dance?” What exquisite divine allows such beauty to present herself to me a simple coffee drinker in an Adirondack chair?


An answer comes as I gaze up, almost blinded by a shock of sun bouncing behind high branches, “Simply accept this gift. Listen as the song of each rustling branch fills you. Hear an army of field grasshoppers scratching rasped legs against tiny wings, (males singing for mates), and birds, too many to count, announce from the woods beyond, that they are here too. Experience all of this even as the leaves, first low than insistent, then wildly alive, repeat their song. Hear it, feel it, see it, smell it, taste it if you can. Don’t miss any of it.”


As if to say, “There’s much more,” a cool breeze visits my sandaled toes. My breath quickens, as this is the same fast breeze that makes the trees sing. My toes open web-like allowing my embodied soul to drink herself full. Looking toward the woods, a giggle bubbles out of me, as I notice a troupe of tall grasses, pirouetting as if above the ground. Each blade glistens with its own light, individual yet moving with the others in unison, creating ocean waves of movement. Though I have heard that no two snowflakes are alike, I wonder could this also be true of each blade of grass. Could each blade be its own unique miracle? Again an answer, not from a cool breeze but a quickened wind as she kicks up multitudes of grasses, causing each to sparkle like diamonds, crying out in tiny voices, “See for yourself. Are we not unique unto ourselves, even as we join with others?”


Astonished, I wonder, “How could I have not seen this before?”

By choosing awareness I have become a participant in an animated, sensate world. Though I sit stationary in my chair, I amazingly find myself rustling loudly through a thousand maple branches. I experience whispers of light caught in the mitts of dancing grasses, each blade an outfielder catching a ball in the curve of a gloved hand, at once surrendering to the moment of contact, and also holding the ball in the mitt’s center, firm and sure.


Like each coffee hour before, this one draws to its close. As so often happens I have not been disappointed. I will take the pleasure of this morning’s encounter through my day, knowing that even with my departure, the song of the wind in the trees, the grasshopper music, and the bright dance of grasses will continue (Harrell, Personal Journal, 2010).


A Soul Carved into Its Fullness

In this account, reverie indeed claims me, placing my being—awake, aware, and fully engaged—in the arms of the Great Mother. It is reverie that circumvents an overvalued, ego-centered, modern world view; in that act of circumvention, I am fully aware that humankind is only a small part of a vast pulsating universe. Surely, my reader noticed that in the altered consciousness of reverie, the unseen is rendered visible, and the enchantment of the world erupts. The feelings of unabashed abandon, so obvious in “Coffee Hour,” flow from an encounter with the vitality and consciousness of the natural world.


This delightful story is a testament to the claim I make throughout this book that suffering and descent are preparatory and transformative steps that one must take if one’s soul is to be deepened. Suffering—the royal road to a life lived within a rich and deep matrix of experience—allows one, in the end, to open wide to a multitude of imaginal mysteries and breathtaking moments.


I shared this particular story called, “Coffee Hour” so that, my reader might know, or might be re-minded of, this vibrant, light-filled capacity of a soul, made deep through suffering. I want my reader to remember the wonder and possibility of a soul carved into its fullness. It's my intention that he or she will agree that this felt abundance is reason enough to carry on when life’s journey becomes so difficult that we feel as if, instead of breathing air, we are breathing sand.


Martin Luther King once said that life is hard as steel. I completely agree that this can be so, at times, and yet, one can nonetheless choose to claim the harsh, cold, unyielding aspects of life, and seeing suffering’s benefit—soul’s perfection—surrender into it. By doing so, one earns the wings to gently fold, or proudly span the distance from the end of light, to its source.


Affects and Beliefs in the Imaginal Field

On this day in the garden, this visitation by the instinctual feminine, the archetypal Mother, carries the scent of gorgeous bounty, and also, the triumph of an exuberant bear finding a honey pot. And yet that true and positive affect pales in the face of what my soul signals to me on this day: the encounter marks a return home to the best of me—me before the orphaning from my mother’s death, me before the loss of family patterns and partnership after divorce, and me before the death of a sweet son whose unlived life haunted me in dark corners of experience.


One is away from home, not present in one’s life, when one’s inner experience seems like that of a gravely wounded animal in the isolated recesses of a barn, laying low, breathing shallow, not eating, just waiting for enough strength of heart, enough intuitive clarity, to go into the world and continue another day.


The longer one is away, the sweeter the scent of home, the more one can feel the tender warmth of her mother’s open arms, or in my particular situation, the open arms of the archetypal Mother. Coming home for me, and for many who experience loss and grief, is reaching the end of a long descent into the underworld experience. I have also been privileged to witness this “coming home” in some of my patients in my psychotherapy practice, when after years of individual healing they find this return to the self.


Mary Harrell is a Jungian-oriented psychotherapist and the author of Imaginal Figures in Everyday Life: Stories from the World Between Matter and Mind (Chiron Publications, 2015).  Find my blog posts at maryharrellphd.com.




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