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American EnchantmentRituals of the People in the Post-Revolutionary World$
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Michelle Sizemore

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9780190627539

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2017

DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780190627539.001.0001

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American Civil Mysticism

American Civil Mysticism

(p.17) 1 American Civil Mysticism
American Enchantment

Michelle Sizemore

Oxford University Press

This theoretical chapter introduces a largely overlooked tradition of mysticism in the politics, art, religion, and culture of post-revolutionary U.S. society. Civil mysticism refers to nonsectarian practices of transcendence that engender the people, namely political and social rituals such as maypole ceremonies, presidential inaugurations, and literary pilgrimages. This chapter elaborates on civil mysticism’s specific conditions and techniques, insisting that the sacred interval of ritual is indispensable—its embodied practices (e.g., dancing, chanting, reading), sensuous objects (icons, books), and cognitive states or moods (enchantment). Drawing on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Maypole of Merry Mount” and other nineteenth-century depictions of maypoles and liberty poles, the chapter argues that civil mysticism managed the democratic representational conundrum of being plural at the same time as being one.

Keywords:   mysticism, Nathaniel Hawthorne, maypoles, liberty poles, enchantment, the people, process ontology

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