Friday, June 19, 2009

A Sense Of Place

To add an important point to my post below about Stonehenge. I think that a certain bit of nostalgic romanticism is fine -- a good thing in fact. And it's certainly to be expected, in a religious movement that is, at least in part, about attempting to reanimate religious ideals that are centuries old, that its adherents will look to the past with a certain amount of longing and reverence.

But Paganism is, at least IMHO, a religion of place. It's wonderful to love Mamma Gaia and the entire planet, but the daily practice of Paganism is hugely involved, I think, in the business of being in deeper and deeper relationship with one's own particular landbase/watershed/genius loci. It's largely about becoming familiar with, listening to, doing right by, and helping to turn the wheel in concert with the particular spirits of your particular place. And that's something that I think that American Pagans, especially, haven't yet done or learned how to do, which may partly explain our longing for (insert your spot here) Stonehenge, Avebury, Bridget's Well, the Caves in Lascaux, Crete, the Parthenon, ancient Egypt, etc.

Part of it is that most of us are relatively "new" here. There is no "place" in America where my ancestors worshipped from time immemorial before me. My ancestors showed up here in the late 1800s, after Sweden experienced both a drop in infant mortality and bad harvests. They landed in NY and kept moving, often more than once in a generation. There are sacred spaces here in North America, (indeed, some of which are as sensitive to the Summer Solstice as Stonehenge) but they belong to the First Nations, and there's a large sensitivity to the issue of appropriation. Who are the American Goddess and Gods? I invoke Goddesses from ancient Sumeria and Greece in my daily practice. So, we tend to look back.

Part of it is that most of us now live in urban areas. It's difficult in the extreme to be in relationship with the large Slurpee-cup-littered concrete parking lot between your 8th floor apartment and the strip mall that borders the interstate. (Although it's needed there, maybe more than anywhere else.) Urban pagans can get away, sometimes, to more rural areas, but finding a way -- whether it's creating a balcony garden or adopting a nearby park or abandoned lot -- to be in regular, daily communication with the land is enough of a challenge for urban pagans that it can be easier, at times, to simply dream of living in a wattle hut near a sacred spring somewhere in Scotland.

Part of it is that many of us travel a lot. What's the point of investing in a relationship with a watershed that I know I'll be leaving in a year, next month, next week? What relationship does one have with interchangeable airports, hotels, conference centers, streets? Easier to avoid the whole problem on a daily basis and just return every year to the same 4-day festival held at a campground that eventually becomes holy ground (as if there were any other kind!). And there's nothing wrong with that, except that it can leave daily practice drained of an essential element of communication and working with the land.

And part of it is that I think modern Pagan training fails to provide enough focus on the nuts and bolts of how to listen to land, how to be in relationship with the spirits of a place, how to work to turn the wheel along with those spirits, rather than simply alone or with other humans. Some of us get some of it intuitively; that may be part of what attracted us to Paganism in the first place. And some of us are lucky enough to make some contact and to then receive instruction from the land itself. But we could and must do a better job of teaching ourselves this essential skill, far more essential than learning herbal and color correspondences or learning which incense to burn with which spell.

I hope to blog more about this in coming months, but I'll make a few suggestions that I've found to be good beginnings. First, ground. Do it daily. Second, consider paying more attention to the land than to all the books in Llewellyn or to some teacher. We've all learned that the element of Water corresponds with the West, and if you live in England (or San Francisco), that makes sense. But here, on the East Coast, not so much. My brilliant friend E associates the element of Water in her daily practice with wherever the closest body of water is to where she lives at the time. Do you know where the closest body of water is to the place where you do you daily practice? How would you find out?

Photo of the SE corner of the author's garden

1 comment:

Rhode Island Rules said...

I happen to live in one of the original 13 colonies, in a place that was heavily populated by a native American tribe. When the colonists came they set up farmland and the area is infused with colonial stone walls and history. I have seen the ghosts of Native Americans, both when I was a child and now as an adult. I see their likenesses in the trees in my yard at times. My town has 137 species of dragonflies. They are a continuation of an ancient spirit. I commune with my patch of land and the sprites, fairies, wildlife and ghosts who inhabit it everyday.
I do not keep them away, no matter how much damage they do to my gardens. I very much want them here.