Enchantivism is “activism for introverts,” as my teacher describes it.  Dr. Craig Chalquist, PhD puts it simply, “If you want to change someone’s mind, tell them a story.”  But it’s so much more than that.  Craig is a depth psychologist who has created a course in how to use dreams, myths and deep storytelling to inspire positive change.  He is also a master gardener, which adds an ecological element to the work–our well-being is connected to the health of the living planet.  He calls this practice “Enchantivism” because of the need to re-enchant, or bring magic back into the world.  All of which sounds perfect for Goddard’s MFA in Creative Writing program. 

Goddard College was founded in 1938 by Tim Pitkin, as a response to the rise of fascism in Europe.  History has been looping back around in recent years.  One need look no further than the latest headlines to see familiar archetypes on the rise– the God of War stalking the land; King Midas turning everything to gold, including the food he eats, the children he is meant to protect.  Innocents and the nurturing world being reduced to numbers and bottom lines.  Enchantivism offers a way to respond to this new rise in fascism in the spirit of Pitkin.  For the past three semesters, we’ve been re-enchanting at Goddard, revitalizing the school’s old motto, “Magical, Radical.”

In “Introduction to Enchantivism,” I give a crash course on those eight weeks spent studying with Dr. Chalquist.  Students learn about the extroverted nature of modern activism:  marches, protests, raising voices to be heard and seen.  And the quieter process of Enchantivism:  soft voices around the fire, the storyteller’s circle, the dreamer.  Enchantivism is sort of like the Slow Food Movement.  It’s not the sort of revolution that gets televised.  It happens in groups called “heartsteads.”  These are small collectives of like-minded thinkers, working from personal and cultural stories to slowly shift the course of society.  Slow change– lasting change– is the hope.

The second course in Enchantivism is run like a heartstead.  Participants sit in a circle and we share the dreams that have been coming to us lately, along with the worries that keep us up at night.  We delve into the meanings beneath those dream images, and stories that apply to the problems they reveal.  And we talk about ways of addressing those issues, either through a series of actions in the outer world– one of the tenets of Enchantivism– or, as writers, through our work.  How can we disseminate healing action through our writing?  How can we plant the seeds for ideas in stories that will be retold and pollinate around the country and the world?

That is the work of Enchantivism in writing.  It takes ingenuity, some good sleep perchance to dream, and a community willing to be magical and radical at the same time. 

This past June I was headed to the Community Center to prep for another Intro class, and I wasn’t feeling it.  I’d had a busy year, with little time devoted to dreaming or spending time in nature.  It was a warm morning, fresh after a night of rain.  As I walked up the path to the Community Center, I fretted over the impossibility of re-enchanting anything from a place of depletion.  And I reminded myself to take in the world around me.  An element of my personal Enchantivism work is speaking with Nature.  In particular, I took note of the  stand of trees that guard the end of the path.  As I approached them, I said “Hello, trees!”   The trees waved their leaves in the wind, and I was sprinkled with the rain drops that still clung to their limbs.  And a word whispered through me.  Benediction.  I walked into class a thousand tons lighter, and shared the word of the trees with  my Enchantivism class.  And gave thanks to the place that is Goddard, trees, the people, the land.

That benediction was a small action in the world.  Just a few drops of water and a word.  But it had behind it the wide breathing space of myths– of dryads in the trees, of holy water, of blessings.  That action touched off a change in me that fed into my students and our work. 

A few days ago, a graduate who attended that session wrote to me.  She had never spoken to trees before, but she was doing it now.  And finding that they have something to say.  That’s Enchantivism.  A connection to the land.  A space for storytelling.  A way of seeing things and sharing them.  Small, slow changes, but lasting ones.  That’s how we will re-enchant the world.

Sherri L. Smith holds a Certificate in Enchantivism from Pacifica Graduate Institute (her official Goddard College MFAW faculty bio is below).  You can learn more about Enchantivism and Craig Chalquist’s work at Chalquist.com

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Sherri L. Smith is the author of seven award-winning young adult novels, including the 2009 California Book Awards Gold Medalist, Flygirl, and the historical fantasy, The Toymaker’s Apprentice. Her books appear on multiple state lists and have been named Amelia Bloomer and American Library Association Best Books for Young People selections. She teaches in the MFA Writing program at Goddard College in Vermont. Her newest novel is The Blossom and the Firefly. Learn more at www.sherrilsmith.com
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