One of the things I’ve observed about the witches, seers and neoshamans I admire most is their focus on cultivating relationships. They seem to have a visceral understanding of being part of our planet’s tapestry of life (physical, spiritual and energetic) in a way that most of us do not. Their Work, magickal and otherwise, flows from a perspective of co-creation and Right Relationship. Over Ostara weekend, I was at a wonderful Pagan gathering: Sacred Space Conference. The conference is specifically for intermediate to advanced practitioners and is just fantastic. While there, I noticed the thread of relationship in most of the workshops and rituals I attended.
One of my favorite presenters at the conference was Byron Ballard. Her witty, observant humor and commonsense but profound approach to living the Path makes her a highly engaging teacher. A question she posed that really stayed with me involved our relationship to the Land. Not the Pagan Woodland Fantasy land, nor the Self Sustaining Farm Fantasy land, but the Land right here, right now, that you are standing on. The one beneath and around your house, apartment or office. The one we drive on every day. Her question was, roughly, ‘What are you doing right now to support the other beings that live on the land you have influence over?’
Once upon a time, the leavings of a spell (candle stubs, ashes, etc) would be buried. This was the advice in most texts and Traditions of the Path. I’ve long come to think of that as a disrespectful rather than safe practice. It doesn’t take into account whether the ingredients of a spell are biodegradable, or what impact they might have on the surrounding environment as they break down. Very few of us use straight beeswax or organic soy candles for every spell, and even if we did, we’d still be introducing a foreign substance into an established microecosystem. I no longer bury the remains of my spells, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
Over the last couple years, I’ve also begun changing the way I make outdoor offerings. Sometimes the land spirits like a shiny rock to add to their space (you’ll need to ask yours to know for sure), but sometimes they view it as invasive – the bones of another set of land spirits far away being dropped into an energetic microecosystem. This has informed some of my home practice. I’ve been putting together a small cairn or Ve in my front yard. A few years ago, I would have gone out and found or purchased the rocks from a landscaping supplier. Now? Now when I dig into the earth at my house, I pull the stones out that I run into, wash them off, and add them to the Ve. They are already a part of the Land, and resonate with the sacred energy of my particular location.
Both of those small changes in approach are more respectful to the existing biota as well as the spirits that reside with me. However, Byron’s question goes further. It’s not just ‘what are you doing to reduce your impact?’ It’s ‘What are you doing to help?’
Humans love boxes and categories – it’s why people adore all the ‘what Hogwarts House do you belong to?’ quizzes online.
The thing is, sometimes when we compartmentalize, we forget that the lines of separation are illusory. Many of us regularly approach the spiritual, energetic and physical world as separate spheres. We think of the land spirits as distinct and unrelated to the living, breathing plants, birds, animals, insects and microbes that inhabit a given space. Human souls wear bodies. I believe Land Spirits do too. We can create better relationships with those souls by being kind to their bodies – to the biota that makes up the physical part of a spiritual Being.
So how can we help? How can we use our practice, our connection to the Earth, to benefit the small areas of Land we have access to and some influence over? I have some ideas.
What if the offerings we made also benefitted the local ecosystem? Rather than pouring out a bottle of wine on the earth, what if the offering was *good* for the ground? Water is a wonderful offering in most places, and can easily be made special. I make my own holy water. It’s a combination of different waters I’ve collected from my environment: hailstones and snow, the water from the first summer thunderstorm, dew gathered on Beltane morning, rain on full moon nights…there are lots of possibilities. Creating holy water takes more work than a trip to the liquor store as well – it takes time, consideration, planning, collecting, charging and consecrating. It’s a valuable offering not only due to its physical composition, but because of the work that went into creating it.
We can go one step further as well – what nutrients do the soil and the plants that live in it need? Along with nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, plants also need secondary and micronutrients – trace amounts of different compounds and elements. And the good news is there are lots of options for what to offer. Compost or worm tea (the liquid from vermiposting, just make sure to water it down to a 10:1 ratio) is fantastic for those of us who have a compost heap or worm farm, but not everyone does. However, most of us have access to coffee grounds – even spent ones work. Most plants love coffee grounds and as long as you’re east of the Mississippi, the soil will benefit from a little coffee. The same is true of fireplace ashes as long as you only burned wood. Powdered eggshells can also be used. If you buy eggs from local hens you’re continuing to honor the loop of your local energetic ecosystem by returning nutrients from your region back to the Land.
For those of us who ‘own’ land (tell that to the land spirits) or can tinker with our gardens in rental properties, mindful introduction of native species of plants can be a powerful offering. Remember, before your home stood on your land, something else did – maybe it was grassland or meadow, forest or scrub. Learn about what plants are native to your region and consider returning some of that flora to the land spirits. Your local plant nursery (NOT the big box store) can frequently be a good source of that kind of information. There’s also a great website right here where you can look up native plants by zip code.
But what if we can’t dig up our yard? What if we don’t even have a yard? This is where caring for some of the fauna – the insects, birds and mammals who share our region with us – can become part of our practice. Most of us can set up a bird feeder or birdbath somewhere. Bird seed comes in many different varieties and can be selected to benefit the birds native to your region. We can also help support pollinators by working to address some of the harm we’ve done. Setting up a beehive is impractical for many of us, but raising butterflies and then releasing them into the wild is inexpensive, fascinating, and truly beneficial to declining species.
There are many ways to help the Land we live on, and it’s past time we took our spirituality off the computer, out of the books and into the world. So go out and give your Land Spirits some love – with your heart, with your spirit, and with a little bit of elbow grease.
Or coffee. Whichever they prefer.
Do you have some other ideas about how to help the biota around you? Add them in the comments section. Let’s show the Land some love.