Building a Devotional Practice with the Land
Working with High Days is a wonderful thing, but High Days come and go eight times a year. What can someone do if they want to develop a monthly, weekly, or daily practice? This series of articles will investigate building a devotional practice with the Three Realms, namely, Land, Sea, and Sky. Lunar-based devotional practices will also be discussed as part of the Sky realm.
In approaching the land as the object of a devotional practice, one should not focus on the creatures living on the land, but the land itself. While all the earth is “land”, each locale has variations and differences that make it unique. One can approach this devotional in one of two ways: a) acknowledging and working with the local variations of the land to anchor one’s practice in context with the local surroundings; or b) working with the land as an entity. This option is not the same as working with the Earth Mother.
In working with the land and devotionals, one should always have an offering in mind. The perfect gift for land-based entities is water. Water will most always be absorbed into the land and will therefore be an offering that will immediately be consumed. I believe that offerings which are immediately consumed are immediately accepted. The land may be found in the soil in a potted plant in your home. It may be found in your garden outside. It may exist in a nearby park. It may be found in a painting or a photograph of a landscape. It is where you find it.
Why establish a devotion to the land, outside of a relationship to the Earth Mother? Let’s use the garden as an example. While I feel that the Earth Mother is at work most directly with the garden, the plants that inhabit your garden are alive and they require your help and your interaction. When I place the plants or seeds in the garden, I am ever-mindful that through the interaction of light, heat, soil, and water – along with some degree of spirit – these plants will either produce fruit, vegetable, flower, or some other bounty that will benefit, feed, beautify, or otherwise enrich my life. Once the plant is first put in the ground or the seed is sown, I say a prayer for the well-being of the seed/plant. I offer my work in planting to a deity, be it Goddess or God, and ask for their blessing while it grows.
As it grows, I remain ever-mindful of the work that must be done between seeding and producing, and I treat the plants as living, beneficial entities. Once the seed is planted and the head breaks through the surface of the soil, there develops a relationship between plant and caretaker. In an area like mine, where rain has become less frequent than before, the plant cannot flourish without my help. This is where devotion arises: in the relationship between need and provision. I provide water so that the plant may grow Water is the offering in and of itself and it is also exactly what the plant needs. A relationship develops between plant and provider that should last all the season long.
Speak in Devotion
As part of the devotional, I think it makes sense to talk to the plants in question, just like you would talk to a deity in one’s devotional practice. My neighbours got over the fact that I was talking to my garden rather quickly and it is just another voice in the wind to them. Another part of this devotional practice, whether it is garden or tree or plant in the window is care of the soil, care for the Earth. We must remove weeds and maintain the general care of the plant. Pruning of branches and care for roots can also be important for trees and saplings.
Land devotionals can extend beyond the garden to roses, trees, lawns, patches of weeds, even potted plants in the house. It really is anything that grows on the earth or in earth. The possibilities are endless.
When it is time to harvest the bounty of the plants, for every fruit, flower, vegetable, herb, etc. that I gather, I always say “Thank you for your bounty”. My offering to these plants, to these residents of the land while they are growing? Water and love. Even after they have ceased producing, I continue to water them and rejoice in the fact that they are alive and sharing this place, this space, with me. The relationship that develops between plant and person is unique – the plant is alive, and I am alive and we both share the need for companionship and nourishment. The devotional we establish becomes a devotion to life, to one of the Spirits of Nature.
The Spirits of Nature teach us of the cycles in our world: birth, growth, flourishing, maturity, decline, and death. By establishing a devotional with the Land, we see, upfront and personal how these cycles work, and we see ourselves, in a small way, in this annual cycle.
We are all used to seeing our lives unfold in a linear fashion. Time moves forward in a straight line and we just add a day every day from the day we are born to the day we pass into the next world. I prefer to look at time in a cyclical manner, where our lives pass in cycles that return, as opposed to a straight line that just keeps going. For me, the hands of the clock measure our lives whether we live one year or 95 years: the clock doesn’t fill out until the end of our days. The hour hand measures our years; the second hand measures our progress through a given solar year. In this way, we are much like our plants, living a yearly cycle.
With a garden, our plants live for a year and then they are no more. With perennials, these plants return every year and we may continue our devotionals with the same plants, our same objects of devotion. For plants that drop seeds, we can then establish devotions with the heirs of last year’s plants. In longer lived plants, like tree, we may find that they outlive us in the grand scheme of things. In this case, if the Gods provide, someone will take our place in the grander cycles of devotion.
When we come to the end of our days, we return to the Earth Mother. Our bodies or our ashes will return to the land and will become a devotional in and of themselves. We will then become a part of the grander cycle of life and return, just like the Land to which we devoted ourselves.
Here is my devotional for the Land:
I call out to the land;;
I offer you water to nurture
Those plants and animals that live
I will water you with regularity
From the living,
To the living,
For the life that arises.
Thank you for the bounty
That you bring to my life.