Whose land (spirit) is it, anyway?

Welcome to A Sense of Place, a new blog where four contributors with different perspectives will be sharing thoughts and experiences of our places, our connection with the land and all its peoples (human and otherwise), and the relevance of these to our Pagan spiritualities.

Why this topic?

I have two wonderful Pagan friends from the USA who are currently living in Scotland. When they arrived a year ago, they told me that they had wanted to come to Britain because “this is where you keep the history.” They were only half joking.

The Loupin' Stanes, one of Eskdalemuir's two stone circles.

The Loupin’ Stanes today, in sun and snow

Where I live in Scotland, I’m surrounded by the evidence of 5000 plus years of continuous human habitation. To give you a small sample: across the burn from my 18th century house, under the earth, is an Iron Age settlement. A mile away is a Roman fort, built around 80CE*. Four miles away are two stone circles, one partly collapsed into the river as it’s changed its course over the past 4-5000 years.

By anyone’s standards, it’s an old place.

Who ‘owns’ connection to the land?

Many of my North American Pagan friends drool over my easy access to ancient monuments, to the weight and depth of pre-Christian tradition embedded in the land here. But the spirits and ancestors of this land are no more mine than they are those friends’ – or if they are, it’s because I’ve worked to make them so.

I’ve only lived here for twelve years, after all, and I have no ancestral connection with this particular place. In fact, I have easily as unsettled and mobile an ancestry as any US citizen. My mother’s mother was from the rural Welsh borders, and her father was from a small town in north-east Scotland. My mother’s father was a Polish nationalist refugee from the war against Hitler’s Reich.

Pagans as displaced people

I was born in London, and raised in Birmingham, Britain’s second biggest city, and one of its most ethnically diverse. It’s a city which grew up in part out of the upheaval of the industrial revolution, when the English countryside was stripped of its people by the combination of work in the cities, and enclosure and appropriation of the common land by wealthy friends of King George III.

That same movement of enclosure and appropriation emptied the Scottish Highlands, and sent many Scots on their way to colonise the ‘New World’ of Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand — in the process overpowering, displacing and often killing the people who already lived there, along with their cultures.

Reconnecting our deep roots

Like so many modern Pagans around the world – whether we have European, African, Asian, or multiple ancestry – my family’s history is one of displacement: partly by choice, partly by force. Perhaps that’s why as a religious group we tend to put emphasis on our connection with our ancestors, with our environment, and with the spirits of the land. We are looking for the deep roots which our forebears lost, or which were cut from them.

That’s what I’ll be exploring in this blog. How do we reconnect those deep roots? Does it matter if we’re living in an urban or a rural environment? Is it easier in an ‘old’ (European) country than in a ‘new’ (colonised and Europeanised) country? Why do so many of us seem to be called by deities and traditions which have no connection with the lands either of our forebears or in which we now live?

I’m looking forward to some bracing conversations.

 

* In my postings to this blog, I will be using the convention of ‘CE’ (Current/Christian Era) and ‘BCE’ (Before Current/Christian Era) rather than ‘AD’ (Anno Domini) and ‘BC’ (Before Christ).

About Elinor Predota

Elinor Predota was born in London in 1970, and was raised in England’s second city. Her hippy parents took her on endless, wonderful visits to birdwatching hides, Iron Age hill forts, Medieval Castles and ancient stone circles across Britain, which kindled her longing for green hills. She finally moved to the country in the year 2000, where the land has taught her more magic than any book or human being ever could. She is a scholar, a priestess and a poet, and lives in southern Scotland with her partner and two very big dogs. She can also be found online at A New Adventure Every Day

  • http://www.intentionalinsights.com Kelley

    Brilliant! I look forward to reading!

    • http://www.anewadventureeveryday.com/ Elinor Predota

      Hi, Kelley. Thank you. I certainly hope we make the reading worthwhile!

  • chelidon

    How wonderful to see your words here — looking forward to more! And yes, spirits of place is such an interesting and complex topic….where we are in northern New England, there is comparatively so little human history, so many fewer human lives lived, or marks (lasting or not) made on or in the earth. I find it makes for a very, very slow, organic, growing connection to the spirits of place, perhaps because there are so few human “intermediaries.” To get to know the land where we are, it’s all about slowing way down and listening to the spirits of stone, tree, stream and sky. There is a much more tenuous human presence here, though we certainly have left our mark, even so (massive deforestation in the late 1800s/early 1900s, etc).

    • http://www.anewadventureeveryday.com/ Elinor Predota

      Chelidon, thank you. That’s interesting what you say about lack of intermediaries in some places. I’ve heard other US friends who work with land spirits a lot and who’ve come to Britain and Ireland say that they’re more willing to engage here – not exactly more friendly, but happier to have the attention.

  • http://www.onefootfirst.com Stacey

    I’m looking forward to reading it too. I can just imagine the breathtaking landscape of your home :)

    • http://www.anewadventureeveryday.com/ Elinor Predota

      It is beautiful, and also has its challenges. (For example, although it’s in southern Scotland, it’s regularly recorded as the coldest, wettest place in Britain!)

  • http://bella-magic.com d.bella

    Developing a relationship with place has been an eye-opening experience for me. I look forward to reading more of your posts, and the commentary that develops from this exploration!

    • http://www.anewadventureeveryday.com/ Elinor Predota

      Me too :-)

  • pagansister

    I’m so excited to see this new Blog in the Pagan Channel. Have been lucky enough to spend a small amount of time in Scotland on a vacation with my 2 sisters. I was taken back by it beauty! My ancestors came from England, Ireland, Scotland and Wales. In my first trip to those countries, I felt immediately at home—like I was coming home—where I belonged. Stonehenge has a family connection, as my 3rd cousin’s father was related ( blood related) to the next to the last owner of the land Stonehenge (thus owning Stonehenge) sits on. Her father was offered the change to buy Stonehenge, but since he was a minister (and in the USA) he had no money to make that purchase. My sisters and I walked inside the Stones on a slightly rainy morning and I did not want to leave. We were permitted an hour starting at 6:00 AM. I cannot describe the feelings I had being enclosed in that very sacred space. The rain that day seemed to have been perfect as my sisters and I were the only ones inside except for one couple. Even without that family connection, however, the feelings would have been the same, I believe. Before moving here to north Florida, the last 18 years were in New England, little state of RI. It’s beauty is unique—and I found a beautiful calming, and to me, sacred spot in Jamestown, RI, at Beavertail Lighthouse and the surrounding parkland, 3 sides water. I also have a love of rocks—-they speak to me. They are all over my house. Once again, I look forward to more posts on this site!

    • pagansister

      sorry for the mistypes above :o )

    • http://www.anewadventureeveryday.com/ Elinor Predota

      pagansister, what a beautiful story! That feeling of finding heart’s home with/in a place is so magical. I look forward to conversing with you :-) (And please don’t worry about typos in your comments!)

  • June Courage

    This is SUCH an imporant topic, and specially so, I think for pagans.
    Important because of the huge and diverse spread of populations over the past hundred years and more; and important for pagans both because of the spirituality they invest in the land, and also because of the importance they attach to connections with the ancestors.
    Now, I was born and bred in London: but my father was Cornish with a half Romany mother; my own mother was part Welsh, part Irish with a Jewish great grandfather. I have lived all over Brtish isles, and now have a house in Dorset where you can’t go out and post a letter without sighting a tumulus or a hill fort. Maiden Castle is just up the road, and every inch of the surrounding countryside (very beautiful countryside) exhibits stone/bronze/iron/ – age remains as well the signs of Roman, Dark Age and medeval settlement .
    Curiously, however, with such a strongly ‘Celtic’ descent, I feel drawn to traditional ‘English’ magical practice – which, of course, raises more questions than it answers.
    However, I love all the landscapes of these beautiful islands, and think of myself as ‘British’ (rather than English, or Welsh). The ancient name of the sacred landscape in which I live (Thomas Hardy’s landscape) is, of course, Wessex. The magical name of of the Island of Britain is (as William Blake knew) Albion.
    It’s almost too much isn’t it ? How does a second generation settler whose parents came from, say, India relate to all that ? How could I possibly accomodate the equally ancient civilisations of the Indus Valley within 2 generations ? But these are accomodations millions of people must and do make in the 21st century.

    A couple of things seem worth mentioning here. First, none of us really know who our ancestors were. For sure, we all ‘came out of Africa’, but that was a long time ago and in the meantime our genes have had all kinds of adventures. Even though I can trace my lineage in Cornwall, and on theWelsh Borders, back seven and eight generations, that doesn’t amount to much in a 10,000 year and more time span. Maybe my Welsh gggggg grandmother was in fact the direct decsendant of a Syrian slave traded for Irish hunting dogs by a Viking warlord. Maybe my Irish ggg grandmother was descended from a Scythian trader who did the right thing by the local girl and stayed on. I shall never know, and it wouldn’t make a jot of difference if I did. HERE and NOW is where I am and where I must find my connections.
    So, if the connections are not (wholly) genetic they must be cultural (learned within a couple of generations) and also intuitive (me prefering ‘Anglo-saxon’ to ‘Celtic’ pagan practice) and also invented – (which in our post-modern landscape comes to much the same thing as ‘discovered’ anyway) .

    The other thing that interests me is the pull so many North Americans seems to feel toward these islands (like a gravitational force powering down the ley lines and through the cables laid across the floor of the Atlantic).
    Is this because of a deep ancestral yearing for home which can only be satisfied by return, or is it (more lethally) because of the difficulty of connecting to a landcape which is still felt to belong, of right, to others ? Robert Frost says ‘we were the land’s before the land was ours’ – but this raises HUGE questions about settlement, right, ownership, and First Peoples. (The same goes for Australia, Canada, and so on). Americans, all Americans, have this extraordinary sacred tradition, which is deeply connected to the landscape : but it seems to me (my cousins across the Pond will forgive me for saying so) that all Americans do not feel that these traditions and this landscape are necessarily theirs (the way I hope the second generation settler from India might come to find Wessex hers). And so I wonder to what extent this longing to return is at least in part a consequence of being unable to penetrate (as it were) the landscape of home ?
    OK, enough already. This response is far too long, but I hope it has raised a few question. For myself, I think the sacred landscape of Albion belongs to all and any who love and respect it, and are willing with a good heart to try and learn its mysteries.

    • http://www.anewadventureeveryday.com/ Elinor Predota

      June, thank you for such an amazing response! It’s not too long at all :-)

      Maybe my Welsh gggggg grandmother was in fact the direct decsendant of a Syrian slave traded for Irish hunting dogs by a Viking warlord.

      I LOVE this! This is it entirely. As human beings we have always moved – whether by choice, or by force, or a combination. Our very first homo sapiens ancestors were nomads. Our traditions have always, by necessity been that combination you talk of: culture + intuition + invention.

      I think you have an extremely important point also about what might be going on psychologically / psychically / energetically with Americans’ pull to these ‘Celtic’ isles — I hope some of our American writers and readers will chip in on this topic in the future!

      Thanks again for your comprehensive comment, and I look forward to more dialogue with you on this and other topics.

    • http://hedgeconfessions.com Traci

      Oh, June! I do believe you have nipped the iceberg! My hunch is that these juicy topics will DEFINITELY be delved into! (and I will say, being an American in Ireland….that if and when I go back Home…my eyes will nary a glance over the pond make! – lessons from the MotherShip part 1)

      Thanks for the juicy response! It has inspired me!

  • Heather Awen

    Hi, I would really like it if you and the other contributors would contribute to the Animist Blog Carnival.

    http://ecoanimism.com/blog/heather-awen/2013-jul-03/august-animist-blog-carnival-birds-call-submissions