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NOTE: For a complete list of articles related to this chapter... Visit the Main Index FOR this section.
Connecting To The Land
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This essay is for all those who’ve read the books on Wicca 101, tarot, astrology, runes, angels, crystals and herbs and, while you have a wide spread of knowledge in all those areas - enough for you to look at the New Age shelves in bookstores and think ‘Done that’ - you feel you have no depth to your beliefs. Your tarot isn’t really coming along because you have no-one to practice on; the runes are a bit iffy because you have no connection to the Norse religions; and the astrology just isn’t coming together at all.
You can’t afford the crystals, you don’t have a garden for herbs, and no particular Goddess or God has called to you. Much as the idea of being a wise man or woman serving the community in many magickal ways appeals to you, the fact is that you live in a flat in busy suburbs, which means a very different sense of community to the sage’s hamlet before long-distance travel was even considered. How are you supposed to build a connection to your local community and land when the New Age books have ceased to inspire you?
Obviously, when I say ‘you’…I kind of mean ‘me’.
But let’s address that last question, which is one I am beginning to answer now in my path, as I would like to share my progress with you in case it spreads the inspiration on. How do we, as modern city-dwelling Pagans, live up to the aspirational title of Witch, or even Pagan? How do we forge a connection to our land when it is covered in concrete; how do we connect to our local community and local Gods, Goddesses and spirits when our lives are so disconnected from it?
Don’t worry; this isn’t going to turn into an eco-rant (although that is a favourite pastime of mine) .
The trick I have found working incredibly well for me is to step away from the Neo-Pagan bookshelves and sidle over to the Local History section.
No! Wait, come back! It gets better, I promise. Yes, I am sorry for masking the ‘History’ theme with the term ‘Connecting’ – but I hated history, a year or so ago, and I figured this title would appeal to the Me That Was and I guess it hooked you in too. Sorry. Trust me though; it’ll be worth it.
So, how is Local History making me a better Pagan?
Well, I’m a pantheist. I believe everything is alive and holds a sacred consciousness. You have one, too: it’s what is sometimes called your higher self. I believe that a blade of grass has a very small sacred consciousness, which is connected to a sacred consciousness of grass in general and also connected to the sacred consciousness of the garden it grows in, which in turn is connected to the sacred consciousness of the property, the street, the block, the town, the land, the country, the Earth, the Universe.
Many of us believe that the Earth, animals, herbs, crystals and trees are conscious enough for us to try and communicate with them as part of our spiritual path. Some of us talk to our cars – I personally often talk to the photocopier at work (“Now come on, you’re just being silly. I know you want attention but this isn’t the way to get it.” My co-workers must sense the irony.)
It seems I’ve always had this desire to communicate with everything. I worked in a conservation park and it was easy to envisage the trees and the land itself to be alive – easier than the concrete blocks of human habitation down the road. After work I would just walk through the park letting my intuition guide me, trying to listen to the land and plants, trying to hear their messages.
Often that message was: “What is this weird human doing trying to talk to us? What exactly does she want?” Which was fair enough, I suppose.
One day I tried to keep up that level of consciousness, the intuitive listening to the land, all the way back home. I realised that my town had a spirit, too, a hardy yet downtrodden one who pushed flowering weeds through the pavement cracks as a sign of hope. I saw each house as a little hearth-fire of human spirit lit up in the dark, the gardens bustling with life. Realising not only that Spirit was really omnipresent, and feeling it in my bones, gave me a sense of such bliss and security.
Some people call these sacred consciousnesses devas, faeries or angels. (1)
So when is the local history coming into all this? Sssh, be patient. Two more paragraphs and I’ll stop with the endless life story. I promise.
Later that year I went on holiday with my family to Italy. Before I went to bed the first night, I closed my eyes and reached out to the land to greet it. I found myself in a garden with a fountain with purple flowers (in my imagination. If I’d actually teleported, trust me, I’d be offering myself up for scientific research) .
I looked for the land spirit and saw a woman with large wings. I greeted her, told her I would try and stay aware of her during my stay here. The next day on our exploration we walked past a statue of a woman looking out to sea, with huge wings, surrounded by amazing purple flowers. It wasn’t an exact replica of my vision, but I felt that this was what she had been trying to portray to me. It reinforced my belief that I really had connected with the spirit of the land and this statue was what it identified itself with, this female energy guarding the land from the dangers of the sea but also looking out to the horizon for new possibilities.
That’s not a very exciting story but it is an example of how you can begin to build a connection with the land, and not just of your immediate surroundings, but also when you are travelling – an important skill in the modern age when we are free to move around so much.
For me it brings an instant sense of peace, a feeling of higher purpose and a feeling of connection – and the messages are always a surprise. I do not see myself as psychic, and usually I am accepting of the fact that imagination has a large part to play in my conversations with spirits, but when something is reinforced, when a vision is repeated in reality, it makes you feel very connected and….almost….like a wise woman of old.
Very recently I moved far away from my childhood home to a coastal area (I know, I know, I totally haven’t stopped with the endless life story) . Now, I don’t ‘get’ the sea. It’s just huge and flat. Likewise the desert. I know that there is an abundance of life in there somewhere, and sure, sometimes the moon’s reflection or a good sunset can give it a bit of variety for a while but, really, I just prefer the shadows and human shapes of a forest. I found it hard to anthropomorphise the sea, to imagine its spiritual energy, so I just couldn’t connect to this new town for ages.
That’s when I discovered local history. It was a mindblower. I found out that my town used to have a cathedral, which was eroded and swallowed by the sea, and local legend has it that you can still hear its bells ringing forlornly beneath the waves on stormy nights. I found that this town was a cruddy marshland, not so long ago, with only a tiny hamlet living on it, until a Victorian entrepreneur discovered the soil was perfect for brick-making and built an entire town for aristocrats wanting a seaside stay.
This sense of history, this sense of what the land could have gotten away with if it wasn’t for us pesky humans, instantly filled me with a sense of wonder and reconnected me to the land. But not just that: I also sensed the energy of that Victorian entrepreneur still looking over us, wanting to be of help. The sea suddenly seemed filled with a mythical ghost town, a spirit that used to be feared and appeased with offerings (and is now kept at bay with a sturdy wall) .
And that’s just the history of a 200-year-old town. What of the older towns? A great website for British history is www.phillimore.co.uk, which sells well-researched books with beautiful old photographs and maps. A really stunning thing I’ve discovered is the clues to Pagan history in our place-names. As there are no contemporary written records of Pagan practice by Pagans, our resources are the writings of the Roman invaders and settlers and place-names.
For instance, many Roman forts are named after British deities: one at Buxton was called Aquae Arnemetiae – thermal baths named after a British goddess, Arnemetia, and Aquae Sulis, in Bath, after Sulis, a British goddess equated with Minerva. In Cumberland there was Fanococidi, from Latin fanum ‘shrine, temple’ and the name of a Romano-British war-god Cocidius. Deva (the Roman fort and town at Chester) comes from British Du ‘the Goddess’, which is also who the River Dee is named after. In Leicester a Romano-British settlement on the Foss Way called Vernemeto means the ‘Great sacred grove’. Similarly Nemetostatio, whence we get the modern settlement name Nymet, may mean ‘sacred wood’ or shrine. Colchester was once called Camoloduno, ‘Fort of Camulos’, a war-god.
From the Anglo-Saxons we have many tumuli (beorgs) containing treasure and guarded by dragons, and the place-names Drakelow and Dragley mean ‘dragon tumulus’. As wyrm also means a dragon, places like Wormwood Hill are considered to have a resident dragon.
Ramsbury, though in all appearances looking like a ram’s burh, actually derives from Old English hræfnesbyrig, ‘raven’s fort’, which may refer to the god Woden. Aside from Wednesbury, Woden is also referred to in places like Wansdyke (‘dyke of the god Woden’) and Grimsditch/ Grim’s Dyke (Grim being another name for Woden) . Thunor and Tiw are also often referred to in place-names.
Visiting your local church may take on new meaning when you know where it is built, and churches on the hills at Harrow and Wednesbury almost definitely stand on the sites of earlier pagan shrines. (2)
Many Pagan place-names can be found in Domesday registers and parish maps if they have not survived to the present, again often found in local history books or museums. For me, it means so much more to connect with a deity you know was worshipped here millennia ago and has since waited, forgotten, and you can still taste their energy faintly in the air, and know that when you reach out to them their power will rise up once more.
I know all this is very British-centric, but if you’re American town was named after a town that was named after a Pagan shrine…well, the only way to find out if that action brought the energy of that shrine with it is to reach out with your mind and check….
And if no record of Pagan shrines has survived for your area, using leylines and dowsing rods searching for the sacred energies of the land, asking the spirits of the land where you should build a shrine to them so its energies have the greatest power for them, will always be appreciated (even if it does make you seem a wee bit eccentric to your neighbours) .
And if land spirits and local deities just aren’t your thing, what about the connection of ancestors? Researching your family history and presenting a hand-drawn family tree on your altar to them must surely be the greatest gift of your recognition of how they lived and what they did. (3)
All this knowledge has increased the strength of my relationship to the land and to the people who lived and worked on it. One last couple of ideas: visit your local museum and before you step through the entrance, tell the local land spirits you are here to learn more about the land and them. Then let your intuition guide you. You’ll most likely find that you only look at one or two things per room, but that the objects you do look at have lessons you can learn from them that will help you later connect all the more strongly to the land spirits.
Secondly, after I’d connected to my new hometown, I walked through my flat trying to get it in tune with that energy to make it a more magickal home. This idea is not far removed from Feng Shui. Our guest bedroom, for instance, has now been themed on the seaside, and our bedroom themed on the night-sky.
The cold but functional bachelor pad (no offence, honey) I moved in to now feels like a Pagan home, each room a visual reminder of my connection to the local Earth spirits.
(1) William Bloom, Working with Angels, Fairies and Nature Spirits.
(2) This information has all been taken from Signposts to the Past by Margaret Gelling.
(3) Family Trees, A Manual For their Design, Layout and Display, by Marie Lynskey, has some beautiful ideas for hand-made ones.
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