Paradigm Worker

False Power, 2024, Digital illustration. Image effects by author over detail from original photo by Saskia Wustefeld on Unsplash

Apprenticene Part 3

Disillusionment of the Apprentice

January 2024 Column - January 31, 2024

By: Jonee Kulman Brigham

The January column from Paradigm Worker, a place for monthly reflections (after a hiatus) on how we think about things, and why it matters. This is part three of a series exploring human-nature stories and a proposed counter-narrative to the Anthropocene. 

Also on Medium


“The Anthropocene is helpful in describing our disruption, but perhaps not helpful in describing a desired destiny. If we need a new story, … what is it?” – From Domination to a Caring Ecology

As I mentioned in part one of this series, the Anthropocene, is a name proposed for our geologic epoch to describe our outsized impact as a species on the form and function of the Earth’s systems. As I argued from the perspective of Caring Ecology, the narrative of humans dominating the planet contradicts an understanding of our place as a species among many and a member—not master of the Earth.  

In trying to wrangle with issues so large, I like to engage story and myth. As I resisted the immodestly larger than life role of humans in the implied narrative of the Anthropocene, I found a myth that filled the need for adjusting the story.

The Sorcerer’s Apprentice is a folktale that you may recognize from the Disney film, Fantasia. (Watch ten-minute segment here). For those that aren’t familiar, it is an animated story based on a classic folktale. A sorcerer, in a classic robe and wizard hat is assisted by his apprentice, played by Mickey Mouse in the Disney version (spoilers follow). After practicing his magic, the sorcerer leaves Mickey to continue his duties to carry buckets of water from outdoors inside and put them in a basin. Mickey finds the task tiring, and decides to try his hand at the sorcerer’s magic and casts a spell on a broom to carry the water for him. He takes a nap while the broom continues working. Mickey awakens from his nap to realize the broom has carried so much water that the room is flooding.

Then there is a moment. A turning point. We see Mickey in the darkened room, waist deep in water, reaching helplessly up to try to stop the enchanted broom from bringing more water buckets in. Mickey has become disillusioned. The magic he used has spun the world out of control. He doesn’t know how to contain it. The room is flooding.

Mickey tries to destroy the boom, but just ends up creating more brooms, that carry more water, as the room fills with even more water. Mickey finds the sorcerer’s spell book, but is unable to correct the situation.

It is at this point that the sorcerer returns, takes care of the mess and scolds Mickey for stepping out of his role. The apprentice has been put back in his place, which was necessary to restore balance and well-being.

“Whereas the Anthropocene names an era for our power, the Apprenticene names it for our failure.”
– From Domination to a Caring Ecology

“2023 was the world’s warmest year on record, by far.”
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

Disillusionment of the Apprentice

This is the moment I believe we are at in the climate crisis. We have solved many problems with our use of fossil fuels and technology and our industrial processes. But our power has spun out of control creating havoc that has disrupted our entire earth system. We are an errant apprentice unable to control the power we’ve unleashed. Who is the sorcerer? A higher power? Earth and her ancient wisdom that creates a habitable planet full of life and beauty? It is time to listen and live within the guidance of natural systems, of creation.

One of the reasons I propose “The Apprenticene” as a counter narrative to “The Anthropocene” is to invoke the lesson of humility embodied in the classic folktale of the Sorcerer’s Apprentice. You can read more about lessons from the folktale in the full original article, including insights from folklore scholar Jack Zipes from his book, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, which looks at variations on this story across cultures and the way it reflects beliefs about power relationships.

In the next part, I’ll describe how the Apprenticene narrative is also inspired by models of embedded learning.

This series highlights themes previously published in a paper called “From Domination to a Caring Ecology: Healing Paradigms and Creative Practices for the Apprenticene,” which was published in the October 2017 issue of the Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies. LINK


Brigham, J. K. (2017). From Domination to a Caring Ecology: Healing Paradigms and Creative Practices for the Apprenticene. Interdisciplinary Journal of Partnership Studies, 4(3).

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 2023 Was the World’s Warmest Year on Record, by Far. 12 Jan. 2024,

Sorcerer’s Apprentice - Fantasia. Directed by James Algar., Accessed 26 Sept. 2019.

Zipes, J., & Frank, N. (Eds.). (2017). The sorcerer’s apprentice: An anthology of magical tales. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

©Jonee Kulman Brigham