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Enchantivism happens when we inspire deep societal change, whether locally or more widely, through inspiration and vision. Whereas reform and activism tend to push and pressure, enchantivism pulls through alluring stories of the communities of our desire. Enchantivism is for non-activists who don’t protest or march but want to make a lasting positive difference as well as for activists seeking to regenerate their efforts by working with story, myth, dream, and the presence of place.

Enchantivism: Transmutation through Inspiration

What does action in the world by non-heroes look like? What if we replaced arguing, shaming, and moralizing with storytelling, empathizing, and inspiring? If we fought sorcery (lies and propaganda) with enchantment and hatred with imaginative hope?

Beyond the Heroic

I am a descendant of heroes. My ancestors fought in the American Civil War, raised their bows to liberate Scotland, sallied forth as Vikings, burned Rome to the ground. My families (both birth and adoptive) include Army Rangers, Marine skydiving instructors, decorated Navy officers and marksmen, even an aunt who fought fires and rescued badly trained Boy Scout troops. My birth mother smuggled, carried a gun, and survived a plane crash. She pulled that gun on my father once. He disarmed her but was less inclined to argue with her afterwards.

Unlike my relatives, I am not a hero. But as I entered my late twenties, something shifted, as though my little patch of the sentient world wanted me to understand heroism better.

I helped lift an injured driver from a smoking car wreck. During a bomb scare I ran back into an evacuated building to find a missing elderly colleague; we emerged a few minutes after the bomb was supposed to have gone off. I pulled an ex-girlfriend out of a seaside cave three seconds before an avalanche obliterated it. How many times I’ve administered first aid I do not know.

For six years I worked with men who had gone to jail or prison for violent crimes. Part of my job was to talk them out of further violence, which I did, spending one Christmas Eve working with an armed man in fatigues while the police hovered anxiously outside my office. My clientele included batterers, rapists, the occasional hitman, military personnel in trouble with the law, a former Viet Cong sniper, at least one Hells Angels enforcer, and a founding member of the Crips.

In my late thirties, things shifted again, drivers stopped crashing nearby, guns vanished from view, and my life became much calmer. As I worked as a volunteer locator of funding for street activists, I also felt at liberty to explore what Joseph Campbell called the Hero’s Journey more reflectively, from outside the circle. My ponderings included a certain dismay that direct action so seldom made for lasting change. I had helped many people and saved some lives, which was gratifying, but the conditions that had brought affliction and injustice remained.

With my admission into the Pacifica Graduate Institute Depth Psychology Program, I began to wonder how what I learned there could bring some good into the world. Questions began to form that would not mature until years after graduation: What opportunities for fomenting social change awaited retired heroes, non-heroes, and formerly heroic activists who sought a different path? What was there for the common person to do?

Another question took shape as I taught depth psychology and mythology to more and more activists: the real heroines and heroes who protect the rights we still enjoy. As deeply as I respected what they achieved, I couldn’t see myself doing it. In spite of that earlier turbulence, I am, at heart, a quiet person. Additionally, activism of the abrasive, finger-pointing, sign-waving, accusatory sort turned me off. (In many situations it’s also counterproductive. Who reconsiders their actions after being insulted or talked down to?) I am convinced of the value of civility and respect.

So what was a quiet non-hero to do?

The Enchantivist Alternative

Enchantivism (coined in 2017) describes the many ways we make lasting change by telling inspiring stories about our relations with ourselves, each other, or our ailing but still-beautiful planet; sharing our reflections and inviting others’ on the relevance of these stories; and then letting the stories impel creative and thoughtful responses to how things are. The stories can be narratives, displays of imagery, humor, even dance and ritual. So: inspiration, reflection, and response. 

We do this by awakening people through reenchantment, aspiration, and hope. Enchantivism is analogous to the advice given by organic farmers: tend the soil, and the plants look after themselves.

Being an enchantivist requires no shouting or preaching. The quiet can use it so long as they possess a lively imagination, a deep care for life on Earth, and a willingness to plant stories in the space of fertile soil between real and ideal. Enchantivism can also be used as a form of inspirational activism. 

In its own quiet way, enchantivism often draws on the power of imaginative vision through retelling and reimagining old myths, fairy tales, reborn legends, surfacing fantasies, and personal accounts. Unlike lecturing or debating, storytelling invites us into a shared imaginal landscape, leaving its interpretation, if any, to the listener. It seeks common ground by collecting visions of times and places that can delight us. In story, the activist and corporatist, rebel and cop, artist and financier come together in a commons of image and language as fellow humans dwelling in more-than-human terrain.

The enchantivist approach recognizes the importance of stating facts but sees clearly that this will not suffice to change actions or worldviews, especially when the facts bounce off an entrenched story tenaciously held. Only a better story movingly told can meet that. Not louder words or cleverer arguments.

Whether telling stories, linking myths to current events, changing consciousness through photography, dance, or art, saving forests with poetry, or finding other ways to build relationships and knowledge through creative endeavors that inspire and delight, enchantivism aims in the long run to peacefully mobilize energies needed to bring about abiding change, change both personal and collective.

Because “enchantivism” is a relatively new coinage, many have done and are doing it without being aware of the term. A few exemplars:

Nichelle Nichols was praised for playing Star Trek’s Uhura by Martin Luther King Jr. Black watchers wept with joy to see themselves represented in a future community of explorers.

Jacqueline Suskin saved a stand of redwoods by writing poems for the CEO of the logging company preparing to cut them down. Later, she helped design for him a permaculture dwelling.

The Wakanda Dream Lab draws on the storytelling imagery of the fantasy kingdom of Wakanda to offer worldbuilding and other resources to Black activists seeking visions of what true liberation can look like. “We believe Black Liberation begets liberation of all peoples.”

Ramzi Aburedwan assembled Al Kamandjati (The Violinist) musical groups to bring music – and hope – to the occupied West Bank, Gaza, and Lebanon, in spite of checkpoints, tanks, and bullets. Even the Israeli soldiers stopped to listen to the concerts.

Namina Forms, author of The Gilded Ones, loved Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, but she found no one in Middle-earth who looked like her. She drew upon the folklore of her beloved but war-riven Sierra Leone to write fantasy epics featuring Black and brown women.

Ari Honavar notes that even before the COVID-19 pandemic videos of Iranian doctors dancing in hospitals and Italian residents singing from balconies, Persians chanted Rumi – “I am the sultan of love!” – during the Iran-Iraq War. “Those of us who lived through the fundamentalist power grab in Iran experienced a revolution of joylessness. Perhaps the most radical act of resistance in the face of adversity is to live joyfully.”

Australian Aboriginal rainmaking singers offer workshops for both preserving their own languages and bringing comfort in the wake of the terrible climate change fires ravaging the continent. The songs are about survival and hope. Jacinta Tobin: ““We are revitalising our language and trying to bring back that stronger connection to country through song. Our country has been under stress for a long time, and hopefully by sharing our culture with others, we may be able to walk together to bring back the respect and practice of those old ways.”

As a response to drought, desertification, warfare, and extreme poverty, the “utopian” Great Green Wall project began in 2007 to create jobs, food security, and wildlife corridors reaching across Africa from Senegal to Djibouti. The project is planting drought-resistant trees, regenerating depleted soils, solving conflicts, and funding local financial initiatives in twenty African countries. Part of its effect involves staging music festivals.

Beth Moses, the first woman to fly commercially into space, said of the trip, “I felt like the Earth was so beautiful, but even more so than you can describe or can be imagined. I happened to fly on a day where we had snow on the mountains in the southwestern United States. And I remember vividly that appearance of glistening white mountaintops and blue Pacific Ocean and the green of the Earth. I told someone the other day I felt like Earth was wearing her diamonds for us that day, because it was so, so glistening and sharp… I do feel very much more connected to myself and the people around me and planet Earth. I’m one of those glass-half-full, people-are-good, Earth-is-lovely kind of people. And I feel that even more so now.”

Toronto’s Chief City Planner Jennifer Keesmaat hosts the Invisible City Podcast to share stories of how thoughtful and creative city design encourages human flourishing.

Thyonne Gordon uses nature walks to recharge her storytelling, consulting, and community advocacy work: “What if we paralleled nature and focused on purposed giving for the time we have instead of wallowing in what was?”

Devdutt Pattanaik retells Hindu myths as part of increasing diversity awareness in educational and business settings worldwide.

Generations of women have been inspired by the feminist science fiction and fantasy works of Ursula K. Le Guin.

Environmental activists have taken heart from J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.

The “People on the Path” project lines the proposed Trans Mountain oil pipeline site with large images of Albertans with messages like, “For my daughter 100% renewable energy” written on their bodies.

Klaus Tan Yihong photographed beautiful, community-building, clean-energy home, work, and city spaces in Singapore to show what the future could look like.

In Todmorden, England, Mary Clear and others responded to news of global warming by planting simple food gardens in front yards under signs inviting people to eat. Incredible Edible is now an international movement.

See more examples here.

Although enchantivism does not require a public audience, these examples share a bridging of reflection and action that begins in fantasy and moves into personal and cultural transmutation through a change of story. We speak of “transmutation” because transformation, a popular but vague word, can refer to superficial change, as when you put on a hat to transform your appearance. Transmutation refers to deep, alchemical, lasting change of the type C.G. Jung referred to when he wrote that the big problems in life are not worked through, but outgrown.

An inspiration-based storytelling approach also triggers less push-back. It is never enough merely to oppose racism or sexism: the racist and the sexist need reeducating, as I saw from years of work in group. The same applies to the violent.

Powerful, the focus on how things could be. Although quite clear on injustices, MLK did not say, “We’re a bunch of victims.” He said he had been to the mountaintop and seen, and by saying this, he moved mountains. He denounced racism, violence, poverty, and warfare—and while doing so gave us a visionary glimpse of the Beloved Community. Never one to stay only with what went wrong, he dared to imagine how things could go right.

Fiction Changes Reality

Enchantivism seeks to examine and enlarge our keystone fictions, the guiding stories by which we navigate through life. Fiction is often set in opposition to fact, but the stories we tell ourselves about who we are, where we belong or don't, and why we are here can be considered useful working fictions. Fiction itself often inspires more powerfully than appeals to data or reason. 

It is by such statements as, ‘Once upon a time there was a dragon,’ or ‘In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit’—it is by such beautiful non-facts that we fantastic human beings may arrive, in our peculiar fashion, at the truth.

At first, it might seem odd that this kind of influence depends so much on imaginative inspiration. But what large step forward doesn't? Fed by imagined possibility, inspiration moves mountains, overturns empires, founds new industries, launches movements. Social transformations at this level involve planning, data, and procedure, but not as primary drivers. The spark of ignition is carried by people enchanted by some great cause. Inspiration at the right time and place changes everything, sometimes permanently. 

The first step is to answer the question: What lights you up? Epiphany is an angel with marching orders. Get clear on the imaginings of your most ardent desire, and the way and the means will open.

Octavio Paz believed that poetry constitutes “the secret religion of the modern age.” Perhaps enchantivism, which embraces the poetic and the mythopoetic, offers a psychospiritual path of reflective action and community-gathering independent of dogma or belief. Certainly it gives those who do it an abiding sense of purpose: a sustaining resource in a time of violent confusion.

In the end, which will gain more traction for transmutation: moralistic demands, chilly facts—or the irenic summons of inspiration?


A list of examples of enchantivism (continually updated). 

A video covering examples of enchantivism. 

Blog: "Are You a World Conjurer?"

My professional work in relation to enchantivism. 

The enchantivist science fiction novel Soulmapper


Transrevolution refers to deep, permanent changes in a complex system. We can see it ignite on many scales and levels: a life-altering epiphany, a family reorganized and evolved beyond some great loss, a neighborhood rejuvenated from within, a movement for civil rights, a nation healed and restored. Enchantivism can bring about transrevolution.

Unlike first-order change, which refers to surface transformation, and unlike revolution, which tends to violently revolve the wrong people into power without altering much else, transrevolution is structural second-order transmutation from the inside out of a destabilized system nearing chaos. Below and beyond the level of political parties or religious divisions, systemic structures change because the interactions feeding them, the values and beliefs ordering them, and the worldview underlying them also change as a new attractor appears, a new archetype rises, a new vision shines forth from below.

The greatest transrevolution in history would be a shift in world culture toward just, inclusive, Earth-loving self-governance. This will depend on the enchanting stories we tell ourselves about who we are, how we relate to each other, and how we can live in peace and delight on our homeworld.

If after reading the article on enchantivism here you are interested in becoming an agent of reenchantment who tells inspiring stories and encourages inspiration, you can download a free kit and get started right away.

Above the Clouds


Such is of the course of deeds that move the wheels of the world: small hands do them because they must, while the eyes of the great are elsewhere.

– J. R. R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

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