Building a Devotional Practice with the Nature Spirits
As Pagans, we can merely observe the eight High Days and then move on with our lives. As Devoted Pagans, we can develop a practice that we undertake daily that helps us to build better relationships with the entities, spirits, and allies in our lives.
This is the fifth in a series of “Building a Devotional Practice with” presentations. The first three dealt with the Land, the Sea, and the Sky. In this offering, we continue our discussion of building devotional practices with the Kindreds. The first of our Kindreds discussions was about building a practice with the Ancestors. This presentation will deal with the Nature Spirits.
Three Groups of Nature Spirits
I divide the Nature Spirits in to three groups. The first is the spirits of nature that represents creatures that we recognize in this middle world: creatures of the realms, land, sea, and sky. This would include mammals, inspects, fish, birds, etc. These entities have names that everyone understands.
These creatures have correspondences that most people are aware of. Sharks are aggressive, foxes are wily, doves are peaceful, and cats are inscrutable. Some of these animals may be allies of ours. If they are allies, they may exhibit the kind of attributes we come to expect. By the same token, they may also exhibit qualities that are particular to our relationship with them.
The second group of Nature Spirits are the spirits of place. These are not creatures, but elements in nature that have special or perhaps magical qualities that one would NOT necessarily associate with them. For example, some rivers in the ancient world were revered as sacred, like the Danube or the Seine. One may also discover places in nature that feel differently that others, that feel sacred, or holy, or even alive and sentient.
Think about some of the rivers that you are familiar with: do they feel magical or are they just rivers? Think of other bodies of water that have caused a feel of awe or “presence” in you: these are the spirits in nature that I am talking about, all contained in the category of Nature Spirits. This kind of feel may include glades or canyons or long stretches of sky. If it feels holy or sentient or special, I would trust your intuition.
The final group of nature spirits are imaginary creatures. These are gnomes or sylphs or dryads or yeti, creatures that you have a connection to but are not generally acknowledged as existing in the real world. In the work that you do, these creatures may call to you and if they do, I would respond to them. Just because a unicorn may not exist in the real world, they may very well exist in your magical or vital world
The Cycles in Our Lives
What can the Nature Spirits bring to our lives and our practice? I believe that the one thing that the Nature Spirits can help us with is to give us an understanding of the cycles in the world and in our lives. The Nature Spirits, like us, live within the solar and lunar cycles that affect this world, our planet. While we as humans and many of these creatures live longer that a single solar cycle, we all take part in the cycles of renewal: birth and rebirth, emergence from our slumber, growth, flourish, harvest, decline, death and decay.
Some of the cycles do not mean actual events: death and decay may just refer to times where our lives slow down to reflect the natural world around us. Emergence may describe the seed emerging from the earth, but it may also refer to a time in our lives when we break through the situations we have found ourselves in for some time. For spirits of place, they teach us of the specialness of those places and what those locations mean in our lives. For imaginary creatures, they have lessons to teach us as well. After all, an imaginary creature can be a liminal entity as well.
Building Relationships, Building Altars
How do we build a relationship with the Nature Spirits? In addition, where do we build a relationship with them? I think the best place for any kind of devotional is at an altar or shrine. For the Nature Spirits, this altar is best found in nature.
One must be careful to not be too literal. If one wishes to build an altar to wolves, one does not have to build one in a wolves’ den. The idea is to build an altar or shrine to the wolves not among the wolves. While many of us would consider that nature is outside, it is not exclusively outside.
For altars in nature, I think that it is best to build incidental altars, or altars that are not permanent. These are called incidental because they are often made with items found on hand, at or around the location where they are built.
I often look for three things in an incidental altar: a tree, especially one that has an indentation in it which can act as a well, and a fire analog. What exactly is a fire analog? This is something that represents a fire without being an open flame. My favourite choice of items for this is a red stone, like red jasper. Red jasper is red, like the sun, like the fire. Given a tree, an indentation as the well, and a red jasper, the hallows are all present.
For the pantheists in the crowd, everywhere and anywhere is the altar or sacred place.
What if the recognition you wish to bestow doesn’t require the presence of hallows? You may have a tree, a field of flowers, a stump, a rabbit warren, or any of several things which you feel are holy or sacred. I would recommend making offerings to that item and make an offering that is of value to that location. Yet what offerings should one make?
Water is the perfect offering in nature. If any of the objects of your devotion are living creatures, they will appreciate and benefit from water. Should the object of the devotion is water or lives in water, I would recommend an offering that is left at the side of a waterway or body of water. If the entity to which you wish to leave an offering is imaginary, use the imagination to find a perfect offering. In fact, ask the entity what offering it would prefer.
How does one do this? Sit, stand, or lay next to the place where you choose to make an offering. Listen to the world around you. Be still and listen. Close your eyes. After some time, you will feel a rhythm around you, the sounds of the place. Open yourself up as your immerse yourself into the sound and see what impressions come your way. Some may be subtle; some may be very direct and clear. Trust your intuition; trust yourself.
You may find that a good offering is a poem or a prayer. It may be a song or a drawing. It may be something drawn in the dirt. Open your senses so that you can receive impressions from the world around you. Listen and learn. As you spend more time in your sacred place, with your sacred allies, you will come to a greater understanding of them. They will better understand you.
Here In the Middle Realm
Building a Devotional Practice with the Nature Spirits helps us to understand and cherish those who share this middle realm with us. These spirits share the cycles of the year and the dance of the seasons with us, yet sometimes, our cycles may be much longer than the usual annual cycles in our world.
We see the tree, most often, as the symbol of the Nature Spirits. It spans the worlds, with roots that sink deep into the earth, past the Ancestors to the dark waters below, and branches which reach up to the heavens, into the Sky, to touch the Shining Ones. Between the world of the Ancestors below and the realm of the sky and the Shining Ones above, we, in the middle realm, give offerings and thanks.