The Logic of Disenchantment

Cyril Mann–“Dark Satanic Mills”

Think, if you will, upon the earth below your feet. Consider the worlds of life in the soil, the dance and struggles of unseen lives breaking down and building up the very stuff upon which our lives are built. Think on that soil, sustaining the pillars of our homes, bequeathing nourishment to the fecundity of trees and plants whose roots reach deeply into its dark loam–delving ever farther down while reaching up towards the light of sun, star and moon. Think of the rain dripping from leaf and blade to soak through that soil, welling together in springs and streams, gathering into lakes and rivers to carry the dreams of land into the dreams of the sea.

Think of the spirits of those trees, the dryads, the fae. Think of the landwights, the genius loci, the goddesses of rivers and springs. The animals who burrow within the ground, who make homes from the scattered droppings of the trees, the birds who wing amidst branch and vine. Think on the spirits who guide them, the totems who reveal to us their whispers of meaning.

Much of the earth from which our life derives, in which the Other inhabits and reveals itself to us? It’s property.

Capitalism and Disenchantment

I’ve been discussing the disenchantment of the world in these posts but have thus far only touched upon something integral to the concept, There’s a the looming spectre haunting the process of disenchantment. Very few writers confront it, and I’ll be honest—I’m a bit reluctant myself. This won’t make me popular.

Something happened in the 1700’s, some great disconnection between us humans and the earth around us. Somehow, our relationship to place, to nature, and to each other shifted. The writer who first popularized the idea of disenchantment, Max Weber, borrowed it to describe the shift in the way we began approaching the world.  From his lecture entitled “Science as Vocation”:

The fate of our times is characterized by rationalization and intellectualization and, above all, by the ‘disenchantment of the world.’ Precisely the ultimate and most sublime values have retreated from public life either into the transcendental realm of mystic life or into the brotherliness of direct and personal human relations.

He echoes another man also responsible for the birth of sociology, Karl Marx. From The Communist Manifesto, written with Friedrich Engels: [emphasis mine]

Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

Both men are referring to a specific process, tracking a a shift in the way humanity related to each other and, to a lesser extent, to the earth. This shift was the birth of Capitalism.

A Very Brief History of a Horrible Idea

Several stories are told about the birth of Capitalism, how a new system of relations was worlded into our lives. Some suggest it was a natural outgrowth of earlier forms, inevitable as humanity “progressed.” This version of the story (the “progress narrative”)  defines much of the way we see ourselves. This worlding asserts that humans are constantly getting better, more complicated, advancing from a primitive state to something more enlightened. And speaking of enlightened, this theory comes from the Enlightenment, appearing suddenly in a diverse set of philosophies at the same time Capitalism is birthed. It’s a new idea, a new sort of history which was almost unheard of in the histories of the world before the 1600’s.

There’s a better explanation than this, and it’s quite simple. Capitalism was born during a very specific time and in a very specific land,  a response to a sudden change in humanity’s relationship to place. There’d never been a “market” in land rents before, but suddenly, in the countryside of England, after the repeal of specific laws and the passing of new ones (including the Enclosure Acts), land became a commodity, a product to be bought and sold and owned and traded.

That is, our relationship to the places we lived, the places we grew food and hunted animals and gathered herbs and raised animals suddenly changed. Worse than being merely something to trade, it became something to improve. Suddenly divorced (some would say “liberated”) from older conceptions of nature, societies changed. People who’d rented land at prices previously fixed by tradition, law, and religious notions of fairness suddenly couldn’t afford to do so without constantly producing more from the land they worked. Those who figured out how to “improve” their “production” could keep renting land, possibly renting more and even purchasing their own once the ancient practice of the commons (land open to anyone to use) ended.

The rest?  No longer having access to land (“the means of production,” in Marxist terminology), they made the only logical choice for their situations.  They sold their time and work (their “labor”) to owners of land or mills in order to survive, away from a relationship to the land where spirits dwelt.

“Among These Dark Satanic Mills”

At the same time that Capitalism was birthed from the newly parceled lands of England, there sprung something else. The birth of modern Druidry can be traced to the same period, as well as the birth of archeology and folklore studies. As this new form of worlding spread from England to its colonies and the mainland, formal attempts to re-invigorate ancient wisdom and practices sprung up all over Europe.

Most of us know this story, but I wonder how seriously we allow ourselves to take it? A new ordering of the world springs up and spreads like a plague, and suddenly new orders and traditions rise up to confront it. It’s kinda epic.

And here we are, Pagans, some 300 years after the birth of Capitalism and the spread of its destructive, Materialistic logic.  It’s still around, and getting worse, and the earth is dying around us. We, united in our love and reverence of nature, painfully aware that something is wrong with the way we world the earth, seeing its disenchantment and craving to see the Other in our worldings–it’s time we confront Capitalism.

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About Rhyd Wildermuth

An intractable tea-swilling leftist-punk bard, Rhyd Wildermuth has left bits of his heart(h) everywhere—in a satyr’s den in Berlin, hanging from an elder tree over a holy well in Bretagne, scattered in back alleys of Seattle, and lost somewhere in the bottom of his rucksack. He’s devoted to Welsh gods, breathes words, makes candles, plays recorder, fumbles with tech, and refuses ever to learn to drive. He also writes at