People and Place

This way to the Iron Age earth works

Today I have no answers or great stories to tell, just a rambling discursive meditation on the relationship between people and place. Do people make a place the way it is or does a place shape the people who live there?

Chicken. Egg. There’s really no answer to this question. But when you think of the personality of a place, it has a lot to do with the culture and personality of the people who live there.

But the personality of a place shifts over time, in part because of migrations of people who shift the balance toward one aspect or another. Often this shift is just a matter of reinforcing something that is already there, taking an aspect that is already established and making it iconic of the region. Think of the number of gay men who moved to San Francisco in the late 70′s 80′s and 90′s because they new it as a safe place to go with a large community of other gay men. Think of the number of tech entrepreneurs who have moved to San Francisco and the South Bay (aka Silicon Valley) in the late 90′s, 00′s and 10′s. It’s not that there weren’t gay men in San Francisco before the 70′s, but over time the Bay Area came to be known as a place where it was safe to be Out, and a tolerance of different sexualities has become a hallmark of the area. And the San Francisco Bay Area was on the cutting edge of technology even in the 50′s and 60′s. It was home to nuclear and space research, computer science and innovations in medicine long before the first dot com bubble. But now, when you think about San Francisco, many people think of the rise of Google and Facebook and all of the cultural issues that come with an early adopter technology community.

What about the longer term, though? I’m sure that Portland wasn’t considered a haven for lefties, hippies or the counter cultural equivalent back in the 1810′s or even the 1910′s. It’s hard to miss the sense today, though, that the Pacific Northwest is a great place to be if you fit those categories that are misfits elsewhere in the US. Is it the weather? The forests? Something innate to the place? Or is it just the cumulative cultural shift over time?

Strangely, what got me thinking about these questions wasn’t thinking about larger cultural issues, but rather thinking about the power of certain sacred sites. Which came first, the unique sacredness or the people? Is the answer always the same?

There is an iron age earth works, a half buried stone circle, right in Queens Park that it seems almost no one in Glasgow knows about. There is another stone circle, built in modern times, which has become a place for Pagan worship as well as more general community interest, despite the fact that it is known that this is a modern site. Does one have more power than the other because of its age? Has the newer stone circle become more powerful because it is getting more human energy in the present day?

What about churches? I love visiting Glasgow Cathedral. It feel such a power there, different energies in different parts of the church, and different voices of Spirit, too. Down in Stoke Poges, Buckinghamshire, England there is a little church with parts of its structure still surviving from 1086. I used to enjoy sitting in the church to meditate and listen for the voices of history speaking through the stones.

What makes Glasgow Cathedral a place of Power? Is it the rituals that have been done there? The Ancestors who are buried there? The size of the building? The innate power of the place where it was built?

And what about St. Giles Church in tiny Stoke Poges? It’s an older, smaller place, nearly forgotten by modernity, but it has so much history. Even fairly recent history. There is a connection between this place and Pennsylvania in the US as several generations of Penns called Stoke Manner their home. How strange, don’t you think, an Anglican church supported by a mostly Quaker family. What, if anything, does that have to do with the energies there today?

(This post is part of the Animist Blog Carnival)

About Sterling

When Sterling was 3 years old, her parents packed everything they owned into storage, put a roof rack on their ‘66 VW Bug and spent three months driving with her across the US and Canada. She’s been a nomad ever since. She’s lived in El Salvador, Guatemala, Canada, England, Scotland, Israel and several states in the US. Every place is a new spirit to get acquainted with, fall in love with, or struggle with. Her path within Druidry is a spiritual dance of learning the relationships of all the people, human and otherwise, in the context of place.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I am a firm believer that cultures belong to place. Move a person outside of a particular place and that person changes.

    That is what people do. They adapt to their environment. Scale that up from the individual to the masses and we see cultures being defined by their geography.

    Yes the ‘Vikings’ may have travelled the known world in their day, but they will forever be the of the harsh lands of northern Europe, in just the same way that the Greeks will be defined by their Mediterranean climate.

    This is no bad thing, to my mind. A culture entwined with its environment is a beautiful thing people so well adapted to the land that, oftentimes, it is impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins.

    What I feel lacking in the contemporary world is the acceptance of this truth. The rise of globalism lets people think they can be anything anywhere. (Try wearing traditional Masai garb in Greenland, or vice versa.) More and more we see the attempts of people to change their environment to suit them. Most here will doubtless acknowledge just how foolish such a conceit is.

    (I go further than this and place spirits – including gods – into a geographical context, also.)

    • http://www.alwayssababa.com/ lishevita

      This reminds me of when I realized how useful “traditional” houses in the rural areas of El Salvador were so much better suited to the local climate than any of the more “modern” buildings in the city and suburbs. In the rural areas (at least back in the early 90′s), all the houses were made of stone or brick and had a gap between the top of the walls and the roof. The roof sat on rafters that were on top of the walls rather than anchored inside them. This mean that hot air rose and left the house rather than getting trapped inside. The walls provided insulation from the temperatures outside, but also released heat slowly through the night when the temperatures got cold and you could really use that little extra bit of warmth. The modern houses were all closed in, often with horrible tin roofs that just amplified the awful heat. But most people felt that they were moving up in the world if they moved to one of these closed in houses and had to start using air conditioning!!!

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Exactly!

        I would be inclined to go further and say that cities are an excellent example of mankind attempting to assert dominance over nature, anyway. Cities are the ultimate temples of the ego.

        It is mankind worshipping itself. Far better for mankind to find ways to live within their environment, instead of trying to create the illusion of being apart from it.

  • Heather Awen

    Hi! I was wondering if you would like to have this included in the Animist Blog Carnival issue “Bioregion?” It’s great! Here is the general call I just put out, please share with others who may be interested. Blessings Heather

    While many of us are still working on a BIRDS contribution
    for the August Animist Blog Carnival (deadline July 29th) hosted at
    animist jottings (http://animistjottings.wordpress.com/), I wanted to give
    everyone a head’s up on September’s theme: BIOREGION. It shall be hosted by
    Lupa at Therioshamism (http://therioshamanism.com/). Please have your essays/poems/pictures/etc
    posted on your blog before August 28th and a link sent to Lupa on or
    before the 28th (http://www.thegreenwolf.com/contact.html).

    Your contribution can be older writing/art that relates to
    bioregion.

    Some ideas: Water shed, native food shed, foraging. Geology.
    How does one bioregion in your life feel different from another? Photos of your
    bioregion. Famous poems, slang or songs about/from your bioregion. Climate
    Change/development affecting bioregion. Internet or facebook as a bioregion.
    Totem of the bioregion. Saying hello to a new bioregion, saying goodbye to one
    when you move. Topophilia. Guide books for your bioregion. Ceremonies about a
    bioregion’s seasonal changes. A personal almanac. Astrological chart as
    bioregion. Local economy, locavore eating, local arts, local music scene. The maps in children’s books- what if you
    made one for your bioregion or one from your past? History of bioregion. Art
    made with found items from bioregion. Idealized goal for bioregion. Resources
    for studying bioregion. Teachers about your bioregion. Soil testing, putting in
    a garden, who grows where the best.
    Symbiotic relationships in your bioregion. Natural disasters. Why tourists come. Why you
    live there. What your role is in the bioregion. Body as bioregion. Weather
    patterns, animal migration, other cycles. Indigenous people of the bioregion,
    where are they now? Land restoration and wildlife rehabbing. Invasive species
    and extinct species. Interview with a
    human, tree, river where you live. Globalization and bioregion. A scene from
    your animist life interacting in some small way with the bioregion, the return
    of a migrating bird, the first rains after a dry spell, tending the community
    garden, shoveling snow, the first fruit of the year at the farmer’s market. An
    annual vacation spot. Bioregions of the past: where felt right for you, where
    felt wrong? How does the bioregion
    affect the human civilization, behaviors and cultures there?

    ABC
    Contributor Guidelines

    1.
    Write an essay, poem, memoir, conduct an
    interview, etc about the month’s theme. (To check the theme, go to the ABC HQ.)
    Or film a song or photograph an image or art piece that is about the theme.

    2.
    Post on your blog with a link to the month’s
    hosting blog and a link to the ABC HQ (http://ecoanimism.com/blog-carnival).

    3.
    Send link to your post to that month’s host by
    the 2nd to last day of the month.

    I created a bioregional re-indigenize quiz, which is in the
    TerraMystes (http://ecoanimism.com) wiki.
    Yep, Glen built a wiki just for bioregional animism and sacred ecology, to have
    another aspect of collaborative work.
    The quiz is meant as a jumping off point for getting to know your
    bioregion. If you take a look at it, it might spark some ideas. I filled it out
    myself on my blog ​(http://ecoanimism.com/author/heather-awen).Glen
    and I think it would be cool if the wiki someday had a section of people
    worldwide’s answers to the quiz, so if you ever fill it out, please let us
    know! TerraMystes is rather ambitious
    and still in beta phase with me as the beta tester, but Glen hopes it will be a
    collective center for bioregional animists and sacred ecologist types. He’s
    still tweeking it so if it is down for a day, that’s why.

    For those thinking even farther ahead, September 28th
    deadline is for DEATH, hosted at Pray to the Moon.

    Does
    anyone want to choose to a topic and host for Nov, Dec, Jan or Feb?

    If you are on the fence, going “Am I an animist?” this month
    I’ll share some quotes from Emma Restall Orr’s book on animism, the Wakeful
    World:

    “As a metaphysical monism, animism is based upon the idea
    that nature’s essence is minded. We have no language just what that essence is,
    but- and indeed because – fundamentally it is all that there is. Moment by
    moment, interaction within that essence generates data that utilizes nature’s
    capacity for mind, rousing it to perceive and respond.”

    “(I)n his practice of learning and reverence, the animist
    will acknowledge the spirits of a place, the spirits of a river, of fire and
    storm, the spirits of tribe, of motherhood, of the dead, the spirits of a
    gathering, of an event in time, and so on. In doing so he is reaching to
    perceive those fleeting patterns that, so filled with energy and potentiality,
    are the essential moments flowing into moments, the raw creativity that
    manifests each form, saturating each experience. (He) is aspiring to play an active and
    respectful part on the creative process of life, even if only though gratitude,
    awe and devotion. (T)he animist will also acknowledge the soul, reaching here
    to catch a glimpse of what is the summation of all that has been.”

    “Everything in nature is awake, both perceiving its
    environment and with its own being….However, I am not proposing that everything
    is capable of making considered decisions, nor that everything could be then
    said to be accountable for its actions as if it were self-determining.”

    “(E)verything exists for itself. The conviction that
    everything has its place within the greater soul of nature, that everything is
    in wakeful relationship with every other member if its community or
    communities, confers to everything an inherent value…. “(E)verything is
    sacred.”

    • http://www.alwayssababa.com/ lishevita

      Sure! That would be great. Thank you!


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