Once upon a time the earth was suffused and enveloped by “enchantment,” an invisible universe of spirits and deities who inhabited the natural world and could shape the course of human affairs.
These spirits animated objects, dwelled in mountains or forests, and delivered messages through dreams, oracles, and prophets. Whether they were capricious or governed by providential design, these forces could be mastered or entreated through practices of magic, divination, and prayer. The medieval Church built a Christian enclave for these beings in its system of saintly holy places, and sacraments, but its Protestant (especially Calvinist) antagonists — suspicious, in Weber’s words, of “magical and sacramental forces” — commenced the demolition of the enchanted sanctuary. And with the victories of science, technology and capitalism, we discovered that the cosmos of enchantment was unreal, or at best utterly unverifiable; we cast most of the spirits into oblivion, and made room for their withered but venerable survivors in our chambers of private belief.
When Max Weber suggested in 1917 that the world had been disenchanted, he meant that modernity was best understood by the expansion of “technological means” that controlled “all things through calculation.” The real power of these technical means lay not in the techniques and technologies themselves but in the disposition of those who used them, in their unshakable confidence that there were in principle “no mysterious, incalculable forces” they could not calculate and control. Such a technical rationality had replaced the “magical means” premodern people had used to placate gods and spirits. In Weber’s account, which was both elegiac and supercilious, when the “technical” superseded the “magical,” wonder disappeared from the world. The confident, calculating scientist, the intellectual heir of the modern world, was incapable of “wonder” and inured to “revelation.” Nothing surprised him, and nothing could be revealed to him.
— Chad Wellmon. Sacred Reading: From Augustine to the Digital Humanities
Although attempts to re-enchant the world have surfaced periodically — Romantic poetry and philosophy, “New Age” spirituality, various religious fundamentalisms — none of these bids to revitalize enchantment has succeeded in wrecking the “immanent frame.”
— Eugene McCarraher. We Have Never Been Disenchanted
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