the enchantment of place

To see a universe in a grain of sand…

A single grain of sand is composed of vast numbers of atoms, each far older than the earth, each bearing the minute impressions of its aeons-long experience and emanating the result as its own special unique radiance. It is therefore unbelievably rich in meaningful detail, most of it far too subtle for our human senses to perceive, even when extended by technology. Landscapes are composed of uncountable billions of grains of sand, plus rocks, plants and animals great and small, and water in all its forms and chemical combinations, the great biochemical richness of the living soil, and the fragrances and sounds of the ever-changing atmosphere as well, their combined radiances and wavelengths all mingling in that grand symphony of subtle and unsubtle qualities of a place that constitute its ambience. Add to ambience a fascinating history, or interesting associations of any kind, or simply a tradition of usage or focus, and you begin to be aware of enchantment.

On a simple mundane level, most people are aware that when they decorate a room they are aiming to create a certain atmosphere, perhaps even a deceptive one, in order to produce a particular effect on people who will use the room. They might choose to paint a wall in colours that will make it look closer or further away. They might choose ‘warm’ colours or include ‘intimate’ nooks. They might deliberately try to create a feeling of space, or of excitement, or of peace. To do this they employ not just colour, but also shapes, sizes, textures and images, and choose specific combinations to create their effects. They might include little antiquated touches to add ‘character’, and choose ornaments that add ‘style’ or ‘elegance’. This is the deliberate casting of an enchantment, although not often seen as such.

All this seems so obvious that you might wonder why I’m bothering to state it, but that’s the very point I’m trying to make. There’s nothing difficult or mysterious about casting an enchantment, nothing eerie, other-worldly or supernatural necessarily, although those are among the kinds we’re most likely to respond to consciously. And that’s not to say there’s nothing elusive, subtle or intriguing about it. Everyone has a broad idea of what we mean by ‘style’, ‘taste’, ‘character’ and ‘elegance’, and what qualities make a place feel ‘peaceful’ ‘exciting’, ‘intimate’ or ‘austere’. But try to define these words, or be specific about why certain qualities create the atmospheres they do, and at once you are aware of how subtle, elusive and magical the simplest act of decoration is.

This is even more apparent when we think of the atmosphere of a holy or sacred place. Most people can feel the ‘holy’ atmosphere that sacred places have, churches for example, or the sacred sites of worshipful people. These numinous qualities go far beyond what can be attributed to architecture, or the wildness, remoteness, or incidental physical beauty of the place. Without even understanding or subscribing to this sacredness, many people instinctively feel it, respect it and wish to preserve and protect it. When sacred sites such as Tara in Ireland, Stone Henge in England and Uluru in Australia are threatened or harmed, the human response is passionate and powerful to protect and preserve them.

When a new temple or church is built and consecrated, or a sacred circle cast, there’s a consciousness of creating a holy atmosphere, and even if we’re not quite sure what it’s for, or why it has to be so, we know we are building an atmosphere quite deliberately.

A room decorated with care has a relatively intelligible enchantment. A tree or a wild place may actually cast a more powerful spell because plants are living, aware beings, and respond to the viewer in subtle and interesting ways. Perhaps we’re so accustomed to this that we aren’t even aware of it, like fish who can’t imagine what water is until they’ve been out of it for a while. We simply expect to feel different outside in a place of wild beauty and until we analyse it, we don’t recognise that many secret spells being cast by stones and earth, fungi, mosses and herbs, grasses and flowers, bark, wood and foliage, water and air, sunshine and rain, to build the healthful natural enchantments of wild places. Yet, instinctively we respond to this magic and use it in our lives. This is why people like to bring plants inside, to enhance the enchantment of their rooms.

Often it’s the little things that make the difference. A beautiful room designed by professional decorators may cast a less lovely spell than the same room decorated unprofessionally by the family who will live in it. There’s a definite feel about a designer room that for some people may not be as pleasing as the humbler one. There could be many reasons why, but let’s look at some of the more magical ones.

Psychometry is the ability to read the radiances of things, so as to access their store of memory, stored within the substance of which it is made. Substances vary in their ability to store and re-release the imprints of their experiences. Metals, rocks and crystals are usually easy for psychics to read psychometrically.  Now the ‘atmosphere’ of a place is replete, singing, zinging and sometimes howling with psychometrically readable impressions, and most of these are, probably fortunately in most cases, inaccessible to all but a few very gifted psychics.

Some places are so charged with impressions of events characterised by great energetic discharges that they scare even sceptical people, making hair stand on end, raising goose-flesh, and causing sensations of chilling and fear. Sometimes scenes of traumatic past events may flash into visibility and vanish again, even frightening animals and small children still too young to have been made superstitious by cultural influences.

If it is possible for frightening or highly emotionally charged events to create sinister atmospheres that then emanate from or haunt a place, it is equally possible to create pleasant atmospheres for a place via pleasant, yet highly emotionally charged events, and this can be done deliberately. Think of a house-warming, where fun, love, and happiness are deliberately generated specifically in order to bless and enchant a new home.

The old druids recognised that they had a responsibility to care for the land. Most cultures have some kind of awareness of the enchantments of their lands, and more or less institutionalised programmes of magical care. We’ve lost any certain knowledge of what our ancestors did, but people still put crosses at the site of bad road accidents, and leave flowers and prayers there for the benefit of the spirits. We remember and celebrate scenes of dreadful battles, people visit Auschwitz to put the energy of their mourning, grief and horror into those places, as healing for wounds in the enchantment of the land, whenever Hiroshima and Nagasaki are mentioned, our minds turn in pity and sorrow to grieve for the horrors of their devastation. We sacralise the birth-places of famous people, and the places where they lived and worked.

How can we 21st century druids craft and maintain healthy enchantments for our own ‘lands’. Each of us will come up with different ways – we’re very individualistic people. And we’re very keen to share our ideas and learn from others, and from other cultures. I’m sharing some of my thoughts here, and I believe it’s the proper work of druids to be meditating along these lines in order to become skilled, aware, purposeful manipulators of the enchantment of place for the good of all beings. After all, isn’t that what magic is all about?

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