Here’s a question that’s relevant to all of us, no matter where we live:
Can you write about your best advice for communicating with and establishing a good relationship with your local nature spirits, be it in the country or a city?
I thought I had written about this before but I can’t find it, so I suppose I haven’t. Which makes it all the more important to write about now.
Let’s begin with the question of who we’re talking about when we say “nature spirits.” Most of us are familiar with the sun, the moon, the oceans, the land – the large natural forces and features who are not things but persons. Some of them are Gods, or at least, are personified by Gods.
But the question asks about the local nature spirits. These are the spirits of the trees in your back yard, the water in the nearby creek, the birds that live in the trees. They’re the spirits not of “the land” but of the particular piece of land where you live. They’re the spirits who share this little portion of the Earth with you.
And also, they’re not the Fair Folk. The Fair Folk aren’t nature spirits – they’re their own category of beings. You must decide if you want to try to establish good relations with the local Fair Folk or if you simply want to give them their due and leave them alone. Either way I strongly encourage you not to lump them in with nature spirits.
In her chapter in Polytheistic Monasticism, Rebecca Korvo emphasized the need to see what’s there no matter where we are. Nature is there even in the most concrete-and-steel city, everything from the pigeons on the street to the insects in the air to the grass growing in the cracks in the sidewalk. And if the physical embodiments of Nature are there, so are the spirits of Nature.
Now that we know who we’re talking about, let’s talk about how to form and maintain good relationships with them.
Nature spirits are persons
Nature spirits are persons. They’re not human persons, but they are persons nonetheless. That means the basic rules of interpersonal relationships apply. Namely, be respectful and practice good hospitality and reciprocity.
Nature spirits have been around a long time, perhaps as very long-lived individuals or perhaps as shorter-lived individuals with a very long collective consciousness and memory. What that means is that they’ve seen it all – and most of what they’ve seen from humans hasn’t been particularly good. If you step outside and yell “hi, nature spirits – I’m your new neighbor” they’re likely to respond with skepticism and even cynicism – if they bother to respond at all.
Begin with hospitality
Still, the laws of hospitality insist that we introduce ourselves when we move to a new place, or when we’ve been living some place for years and suddenly realize we need to form a relationship with our neighbors.
Those same laws of hospitality tell us not to come empty-handed. Introduce yourself and make offerings at the same time.
That raises the question of what you should offer. Modern Pagan polytheists typically offer food and drink, showing hospitality to our spiritual guests in the same way we show hospitality to our physical guests. Food offerings can be consumed by animals, so if you make food offerings make sure it’s something that birds, squirrels, rabbits, and other animals likely to be found in places where humans reside can safely eat.
As for offerings of drink, we often offer alcoholic drinks, because it’s what our culture says is best – and they’re not called “spirits” for nothing. On the other hand, alcohol is toxic to most living things – including humans, FWIW – so it’s questionable as to whether beer, wine, and whiskey are suitable offering for nature spirits. My suggestion is to start with clean, clear water and then listen when / if they respond.
Consistency: actions, not words
Keep doing this on a regular basis (at least weekly – daily isn’t going too far) whether they respond or they don’t. You’re not being hospitable because you want to get something out of it. You’re being hospitable because it’s the right thing to do. The fact that you’re a Pagan or a witch or a Nature-lover doesn’t mean a thing to them. They’ve seen other people come and go countless times.
You can’t tell them you’re different. You have to show them you’re different.
Words and water are cheap. Actions are costly.
Do you live in a way that demonstrates that you actually care about Nature and nature spirits? Do you care for the land where you live? Do you treat the creatures with whom you share the land with dignity and respect?
This isn’t about some sort of zero carbon footprint environmental purity. Which is not to say that reducing carbon emissions isn’t important – it is – but that’s not what I’m talking about here. I’m talking about using water responsibly, avoiding harmful chemicals on your lawn, and some basic outdoor – and indoor – cleanliness. You may not be able to afford picturesque xeriscaping, but you can keep things neat and clean.
Do this in your own back yard, your own patio, your own window box garden – take care of what you have. And then carry that attitude of respectful neighborliness where ever you go.
Your square mile
Kristoffer Hughes, Head of the Anglesey Druid Order, often talks about “your square mile” – all the many persons and things that live in a one-mile square centered on where you live. For a moment, forget about all the troubles in the world and just concentrate on what’s in your neighborhood, both in the mundane world and in the world of spirit.
Olivia Graves, who calls herself the Witch of Wonderlust, has a very good video on this titled Every Witch Should Be Doing This. I don’t like the title, but the content is excellent, especially the very mundane things we can do to form relationship with the land and the spirits of the land – starting with knowing which plants and animals are living there. You need not become a master naturalist (though some may want to) but you should know the basics about the other persons you’re sharing the land with.
Be persistent and listen
I can’t emphasize this enough: be persistent. Be diligent. Do this religiously.
If you’re a Nature-centered Pagan this is your religion, or at least part of it.
Do it for as long as it takes. If you do, at some point they will recognize you. “This one may be different.” “This one may be worth talking to.”
When they talk, listen.
What are their concerns? What do they appreciate that you’ve been doing? What do they wish you’d do differently? Can you do that? Will you do that?
And if they don’t respond?
Then keep doing it anyway.
Because it’s the right thing to do.