Connecting with place

One of the key elements of Pagan thought is connecting with the Earth, Nature, and/or the land. As a general thing, Wiccans seem to focus more on Nature, Druids seem to focus more on the Earth, and Heathens seem to focus more on the land. however, there are always individual exceptions to these generalities. I have always felt very attached to the land around me, especially hills and ranges of hills.

The Pagan revival began, in part, because people felt alienated from Nature by the Industrial Revolution and living in cities.

Looking at other indigenous spiritualities and religions around the world, we can see that connection to the land and Nature is extremely important to them. This connection includes awareness of ecosystems, bio-regions, animals, plants, seasonal changes, rivers, rocks, and trees.

If you live in a colonized country, such as Australia, Canada, New Zealand, or the USA, how do you make a connection to your local landscape without giving further pain to the indigenous people, and without appropriating their spirituality?

The first step is to acknowledge that you live in a colonized country, and find out what you can do to support the indigenous people and their ongoing struggle for land-rights. If you live in Canada, a great place to start is to take part in 150 Acts of Reconciliation.  I have made a spreadsheet template for people to save to their own Google Drive to keep track of which of the 150 acts you have done. There is also a Twitter hashtag, #150acts.

A powerful thing that you can do at every gathering is to acknowledge that you are on the traditional territory of the local First Nation. In order to find out the preferred land acknowledgement for your area, Google for “land acknowledgement” together with the name of your city. Here’s an example, with some reflections on how to do this meaningfully.

It is also a good idea to find out the indigenous names of the local places. An excellent resource for this is the Decolonial Atlas, especially their article about the Great Lakes in Ojibwe.

It is important to avoid cultural appropriation of their rituals and spirituality, though, so the next step that I would suggest is to map your ritual system onto the landscape around you (rather than appropriating their ritual system).

Before you start your ritual, make your land acknowledgement, and ask the local land spirits for permission to work on their land (I do this wherever I am, not only in colonized countries).

Sacred directions

I should probably mention at this point that the concept of sacred directions has been part of the Western Mystery Tradition for centuries, and is not appropriated from indigenous cultures.

If you work with the four sacred directions in your tradition, identify prominent landscape features that are located to the North, East, South, and West of your hearth, grove, or covenstead. These should preferably be features that fit the elements you attribute to the directions – for example, a lake for Water, a hill or mountain for Air, a valley or an especially fertile area for Earth, and something red or hot for Fire (such as a volcano, a red cliff, a deposit of red sandstone, a hot spring).

Identify local species of bird for each direction that match the colours you attribute to the elements, and whose habitat matches the element; for example, a water bird such as a duck or a wader for Water; a cardinal for Fire, and so on.

Identify local species of animal for each direction that match the colours you attribute to the elements, and whose habitat matches the element; for example, a squirrel for Air, a burrowing animal for Earth, and so on.

Identify local species of flower and/or tree and/or food plant for each direction that match the colours you attribute to the elements, and whose habitat matches the element; for example, a mountain flower for Air, an aquatic plant for Water, and so on.

Collect pictures of your landscape features, birds, animals, and plants to put in your temple or on your altar. Visit the landscape features and bring back a small pebble from each (without disturbing any sacred petroglyphs or similar that may have been placed there by indigenous people).

When you call the quarters in your ritual, mention the landscape features, birds, animals, and plants you have connected with the four directions.

Landscape

Landscape. [CC0 Public Domain]

Seasonal festivals

In many climates and bioregions, the contemporary Pagan Wheel of the Year doesn’t really fit the local seasons. Australian Pagans have adapted to the Southern Hemisphere by shifting the festivals by six  months, so that the Winter Solstice is on 21 June, and the Summer Solstice is on 21 December.

In southern Britain, we celebrate Imbolc when the snowdrops start coming up. If there’s still three feet of snow on the ground where you are, this doesn’t make much sense. We celebrate Beltane when the hawthorn blossom comes out; again, if there’s no hawthorn blossom where you are, that doesn’t make much sense.

The solstices and equinoxes, being astronomical phenomena, are the same all over the planet (though the shortest day in the southern hemisphere is the longest day in the northern hemisphere, of course).

If you work with the contemporary Pagan Wheel of the Year, in order to adapt the seasonal festivals to your local climate and seasons, you might need to move them, or devise new ones that relate to your local flora and fauna. For example, in Ontario, Canada, there is the Lilac Festival (which is quite near the May 24 weekend, too!) and this might be a better time to have some sort of Beltane-like celebration. Canadian Thanksgiving (which is almost entirely unrelated to American Thanksgiving) is derived from the Harvest festival, and could also be a potential addition to your seasonal festivals. If you work with another set of Pagan or polytheist festivals, you might like to consider identifying local flora and fauna that appears around the date of your festivals. Notice that I am not advocating the appropriation of indigenous festivals, but instead, the creation of meaningful Pagan festivals that fit the local climate and seasons. (If the local indigenous people want settlers to celebrate something with them, that is different, but generally speaking, appropriations of their festivals, rituals, and symbolism are extremely unhelpful.)

All of this involves looking at your local history, climate, land use, bioregion, landscape features, flora, and fauna, and building a relationship with them.

In order to engage ethically with your local landscape, if you live in a colonized country, it also involves engaging in reconciliation with local indigenous peoples, and working to dismantle colonial attitudes, laws, and injustices.

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6 thoughts on “Connecting with place

  1. In terms of cultural appropriation, how are we to view Neo-Druids using Stone Circles? Certainly if you are British, your ancestors likely worshiped in Stone or Wooden Circles. That religion and culture is gone – which may be why it isn’t.appropriating – but maybe it should be viewed as such, as the ancients have no voice to speak for them. Politically, they are powerless. Just curious as to how you see this.

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    • First Nations shops sell sage bundles (presumably with the expectation that they will be used in some form of ritual cleansing) – so I think it is OK as long as you don’t appropriate the ritual that surrounds it; and make sure you are buying from a shop on a reservation or where you know the owner is indigenous so that the money from your purchase will go to directly benefit First Nations.

      Example: using a sage bundle to purify your Wiccan circle. Use the words you would have used for the part of your Wiccan ritual when you cense the circle with incense. Do not use words from indigenous ritual, unless explicitly invited to do so by an indigenous ritual practitioner.

      I can’t remember the origins of the word “smudge” but I think some people feel that calling it smudging is appropriation so I would just call it censing.

      Censing the circle with incense comes from the Western Mystery Tradition, so the action of filling your circle with purifying smoke isn’t appropriation. The words you use to accompany it might be.

      And check out some resources on this topic written by indigenous people themselves, like this excellent article by âpihtawikosisân, The do’s, don’ts, maybes, and I-don’t-knows of cultural appropriation. And her excellent book, Indigenous Writes.

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      • Smudge comes from an Old English word. Same word that smog was derived from. The word smudging was applied to indigenous rituals in the early19th century.

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