Impressions on the Land: Ancestral Nature Spirits

Impressions on the Land: Ancestral Nature Spirits July 11, 2019

Even as a child, I was fascinated by the natural world. I made friends with a willow tree, the apple tree in our back yard, the creek that ran through our park. My parents thought it was so cute that I ascribed personalities and feelings to these nature spirits. My grandmother taught me to do so.

Like many kids, I was also obsessed with natural history. Books on dinosaurs, giant mammoths, and saber-toothed tigers sat alongside the planets and crystals on my shelves. I read through all the Little House on the Prairie books in weeks, my interest captured by the romantic notion of the wide open plains, the buffalo and wild horses, the land as it was.

Photograph by John Harwood, under Creative Commons license

The wild horses were my first ancestral nature spirit contact. They are gone from here in Nebraska, exterminated nearly 100 years ago, but herds of mustangs still exist in the western US. I would run through the fields near my home as a child, tall grasslands that spoke to me of a never-ending sea of prairie. I felt the spirits of these horses running beside me, wild and free to run the plains. I named a few of them, spending my days talking and running with them. In my experience, they still saw the plains as they were when they were alive.

In middle school, my connection to water expanded, and I began to feel a strong affinity for the ocean. Living in the middle of Nebraska, this was a bit strange. I had always known that millions of years ago, Nebraska was part of a huge inland sea. But it was only then that I began to connect with the spirit of that sea on a more spiritual level.

During the Cretaceous Period, when many lands were covered in dinosaurs and early mammals, the land under my feet was covered in water. It was home to giant sea turtles, and terrifying sea monsters that look as if they could be Jormungandr’s children. At 12, I visited a museum in the Black Hills displaying an Archelon Sea Turtle, the largest sea turtle ever discovered. He fascinated me for years, becoming my link to the ancient oceans of my home. He was my first experience with any kind of journeying, as I lay in bed at night flying through the seas.

Archelon Fossil, photograph by Ghedoghedo, used via Creative Commons license

Recently, I’ve become interested in the three-toed horses that roamed these plains before the last ice age. Many were probably driven to extinction by human hunting, and I am unsure how contact will go when and if I do attempt it. For now, I am enjoying learning about them and the land and ecosystem that sustained them.

With my sporadic experience, I haven’t been able to arrive at any solid conclusions concerning ancestral nature spirits. I can say for certain that some animals, plants, and land spirits maintain a presence in the landscape after their death or destruction. Some do so even after the extinction of their species, for millions of years.

When I worked with the Archelon spirit, it was very much an archetypal sort of being, containing the overall experiences of many Archelons. I first encountered him in South Dakota, but was able to connect with him in Nebraska as well. But the mustangs I knew were very much their own personalities, and were strongly tied to the specific piece of land I lived near at the time. I’m not sure if this was due to their relative ages – millions of years vs a hundred or so – or if it was a quirk of experience on my part.

Western Interior Seaway 75 Million Years Ago, map by Ron Blakely, Colorado Plateau Geosystems. Used via Creative Commons License.

I do know that these spirits have fascinating perspectives to impart. I was young when I experienced them, and knew them mostly as friends and tour guides. The horses imparted to me their love of the prairie, the wind and the endless horizon. Archelon taught me little, but the calming and yet terrifying presence of such a large being in a huge ocean was an experience I will never forget.

When approaching these spirits, my first step was learning about them. Whether through books or museums, there are many ways to encounter what may have lived near you in the past. Extinct species and landscapes that are no longer visible have a disadvantage; you cannot simply go out and experience them. But through learning, we can begin to get a sense of what they were like, much as you would through direct experience. After that, I didn’t find it difficult to approach these spirits when journeying.

About Molly Khan
Molly Khan is a Heathen and mother of five writing from the beautiful midwest prairie, primarily focused on regional cultus and the honor of gods of the natural world. A creator of many divination sets, she formerly acted as the elected Scribe for Prairie Shadow Grove, ADF. She has been Pagan for more than fifteen years, and a self-identifying Heathen for six. Check out her Etsy store SticksandStonesRunes to find runes and other ritual tools, and support inclusive Heathen writing! You can read more about the author here.

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