Of Love and Land Spirits


We, by the Lake

Willow inclines her tasseled boughs towards the earth, but in the south, Oak is tasseled too, garlanded with Spanish Moss.  Sage-blue tufts drape over branches, gossamer ribbons adorning the shade-queen of the summerlands. Willow mourns, but at night, so too does Oak, a dirging dance of stillness, unnoticed steps through silver light seeping through clouded skies.

A moon ago I sat under her cloaking branches with him, by the lake whose surface shimmered in slight breaths of wind.  The moss swayed with that breath, but not with ours.  Our voices, our fumbling mortal words barely disturbed the night, enveloped in the cooling air,  smelling of late autumn’s fecund slough and thick, humid flowerings.

I spoke, and then he spoke.  Sometimes our words slipped over each other until our withdrawn silences overlapped–sudden ebb of sea from shore, wondering at apparent over-reach, eager to try again and again upon the patterns and pull of the moon.  And yes–the moon was there.  Everything was silver: his face, mine, the draping moss, the wax-green surface of leaf and grey-green skin of water, the white stone upon which we sat, the tree’s dark roots silver-lined wooden slate.

We were not alone, though we were far from other mortals.  And the moment we embraced, when our conversation became wordless and we remembered how to speak voicelessly, it was not just him, it was not just me. The moon behind and above him, the stone below, blue and green and grey of branch, silver of reflection, silver of star embraced us both.

She had seen, and smiled.

She, of the stream

I tended the spirit of a stream nearby this week.  People throw so much trash into beautiful places I wonder if humans hate beauty, hate the spirits and gods for being not-us. Several bags of refuse (mostly plastic, that brilliant product of human “progress”) extracted from the undergrowth along the stream’s banks.

I tried to care for her with kindness, and children came out and sang Christmas carols as I scraped out cans and bottles from the base of fragile Elder and Plantain. A man with a dog passed by and thanked me, but all I felt from her was rage. I slipped and hurt my shoulder (badly) before giving her a libation of spring water from another land, and tried to reckon with her.  I said to her, “we need you, even as we hurt you.”  I was very sore.  “It’s horrible, but maybe you can find your joy again. It’s what I try to do, too.”

They, of the three rivers

Three rivers meet and flow through the ancient city of Quimper in Bretagne.   They didn’t rage, but they were very forward. I didn’t think they’d let me leave. Only after an oath to them did my pack lighten, my feet find purchase against cobbled street to meet an impending train and my next destination. “I’ll try to return,” I said. “And if I don’t, I’ll try to make a world where others will remember what you want and offer.”

She, or maybe he, of the city

The two spirits I courted and co-created with in Seattle were more understanding. One, nearby, in a blind alley where people build tiny shrines understood fully. I met her, or maybe him, more Fae than anything else. I’d scrawled love notes on the walls by her home, love notes for a man who (like the man with me below the oak) became in the end a dream and memory of love. She’d seen those words. She understood why I’d leave. She accepted my thanks, my endless gratitude for allowing me to co-create with her for so many years. And as I cried for the end of dreams and the closing of memories, she shook the leaves and branches of star-lit Birch.

He of the hillside and dying forest

Courtesy Eric Wallen

A dear friend of mine has seen several of the spirits of the place he tends, where oak and alder rot from sudden-death.  He’s walked a hill in Northern California, seen marrow of tree suddenly gone soft, vast groves tumbled-down from whatever new thing we’ve done to this land. He drew a spirit as best he could.  He’d found suddenly from his lungs erupt a First Nations’ song he’d never heard, and later the spirit appeared, a Cyclops, raging against untimely, unexplained death. Raging against hillsides vanquished, lain bare and bald and naked to the warming climate.

Worlding Spirits of Land

Not everyone may be able to see them. Maybe some people cannot. Some people say we don’t need to see them at all, or speaking of them this way is wrong. Some people even say they don’t exist.

I think they do.  I’ve seen them, or as best as I can so far.  This is not just the province of the mystic or the seer, it is also the art of the Bard, who shows others not just how something can be seen, but that it exists both with and without us. This is the agency of the magician, this is how we world the earth.

A god appears to me and I say hello to him. A goddess laughs by a hearth in my dream and I seek her out. A spirit responds to my fumbling attempts at song, and I greet her and write about her and endure her ragings at what others have done to her.  Sometimes they seem to have been waiting outside our consciousness our entire life, patiently wondering if we’d ever notice.  And sometimes it is we who awaken them from their slumber.

There was a Welsh bard, Gwydion.  Through his fumbling attempts to help his brother, he was cursed to run feral through the wilds with him, sire and be sired upon.  And later, after a fumbling attempt to help his uncle, he came guardian of a goddess’s son, awakening a mate for the child from oak and blossom.  And this, too,  did not turn out quite well.

There’s a danger of being Gwydion.  Spirits of land are not ours, even as we world them into our reckoning. They will not always love us. They may one day need to shake us off.  But there is greater sorrow in not awakening them into our worldings–a world where they are trampled, ignored, forgotten, a world disenchanted.

I returned to the lake a few nights ago to thank that spirit. Under the fullness of the moon I lit a candle I made, an offering of my own crafted light to warm the cold night, my exchange of love.  And I saw her.  And she told me to write about her.

And so I have.

[A full size image of Eric Wallen’s Cyclops (NSFW) can be seen here]



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About Rhyd Wildermuth

An intractable tea-swilling leftist-punk bard, Rhyd Wildermuth has left bits of his heart(h) everywhere—in a satyr’s den in Berlin, hanging from an elder tree over a holy well in Bretagne, scattered in back alleys of Seattle, and lost somewhere in the bottom of his rucksack. He’s devoted to Welsh gods, breathes words, makes candles, plays recorder, fumbles with tech, and refuses ever to learn to drive. He also writes at paganarch.com.