One of the reasons there are many Pagan religions – especially ancient Pagan religions – is because different people lived and practiced in different places. We intuitively understand that different people have different ways, but we don’t always understand the impact of different places.
For example, land spirits are not a homogenous category of spirits. The spirits of North Texas are different from the spirits of West Texas, and both are different from the spirits of Tennessee, where I grew up. The spirits who share this little piece of land with me are different from the spirits at Denton UU, where we do public rituals. They’re individuals: if not exactly like us, then close enough that it’s best that we treat them as individuals.
Over time – if we pay attention – we get to know the spirits of the place where we live. I’ve been in my current house for 21 years. When we first moved here, the land spirits were rather reserved. “Here’s another human <sigh>.” Over time – months and years, not days and weeks – I did my best to be hospitable, and to do so consistently. Eventually a relationship was formed, one that is an important part of my daily practice.
But what happens when you move? House spirits will often move with you – land spirits do not. How can we get off to a good start in our new home?
And that brings us to this question:
I’m moving into a new place, and was wondering what kinds of things, as a Pagan, might be good to do to make friends with the various Persons who already live there (plants, animals, spirits/others). I was wondering both in terms of introductions but also ongoing practices. I’ve been on less-than-stellar terms with the Persons living in my current place (some of it my own fault, some of it not) and hope for happier relationships in the place I’m moving to.
Do not begin with cleansing!
Let’s start with what not to do. Don’t rush in fumigating the place with sage and cleansing everything in sight. There are spirits already living in and around your new place – and it was theirs before it was yours. Begin by listening, feeling, sensing. Ideally you should do that before you start moving in – worst case do it immediately afterwards.
What’s there? Who’s there? What do they want? Don’t speak – just listen.
Cleansing a new-to-you house is usually a good and necessary thing, but first make sure you’re not going to offend the very spirits you want to form a relationship with.
The next step is to introduce yourself. Go outside. Say who you are and explain why you’re talking to them. Explain that you’re moving in, that you’re going to be sharing this place with them, and you hope to be good neighbors.
Don’t go empty handed – bring offerings. If you’re not sure what to offer, clean water is always a good choice for land spirits. Other spirits may prefer something stronger.
After you introduce yourself and make offerings, listen. Are they responding? Are they welcoming? Do they have concerns? Listening and then responding to concerns is an important part of any relationship, including our relationships with the spirits of a place.
Speaking to the local spirits is important – most people won’t do even that much. But talk is cheap.
Live in alignment with your values
Treat the land with respect. Keep your place clean and neat. Not some suburban manicured lawn, but free from trash and disrepair. If you can, plant a few flowers or other decorative plants – use native species if at all possible.
Be cautious about “weeding” – a weed is just a plant growing in a place that’s inconvenient to humans. Which is not to say you can’t pull up anything. I have oak trees in my yard. They’re beautiful and I love them, but they drop a lot of acorns, and some of those acorns start to grow. If I left them alone, they’d choke out all the other plants.
And while what you do in your back yard is important, so is what you do in the rest of your life. There is no such thing as “zero impact” but there’s a huge difference between responsible and sustainable ways of living and practices that are wasteful and harmful. Purity is not possible – doing better is.
Pay attention to this-world persons too
It’s important to build relationships with the spirits of the place where you live. It’s also important to form relationships with the embodied persons as well.
Watch the squirrels and birds. Hug the trees. Roll in the grass, dig in the dirt.
Find out where your water comes from, and what you need to do to care for your watershed.
Follow the sun and the moon. Where can you watch the sun rise and set throughout the year in your new place? You probably can’t build a miniature Stonehenge in your back yard, but you can mark where the sun rises and sets at the solstices and equinoxes.
There’s a lot to this, but it isn’t really complicated. Introduce yourself. Be respectful of those who are already there. Build reciprocal relationships. Live a virtuous life.
Good luck on your move. I’ll be doing the same in a few years.
Relationships with different kinds of spirits
Here’s a related question:
In my own work, the Gods have slowly disappeared, giving way to spirits of place and ancestry. This brings up questions about the hierarchy of spirits. Are Gods the superior of, say, the land spirits, and in what sense is that and what does this mean for a practice? After working with Gods, is working with land spirits somehow less? What is your point of view on the ranking in spirit beings? Is there any?
Here’s the short, direct answer: no.
We share this world with many different persons. All of them are beings of inherent worth and dignity. As polytheists, we recognize that some of us are called to worship and work with several Gods, some with a few Gods, and some with only one God.
And some are called – or simply choose – to actively worship no Gods. Maybe no one speaks to them, figuratively or literally. Or maybe they prefer to focus their relationship-building on different kinds of spirits.
This is perfectly acceptable… as though I’m the judge of what kind of spiritual relationships are acceptable and which ones are not. If it works for them – if it works for you – that’s good enough.
Hierarchies of spirits?
I find talking about hierarchies of spirits to be unhelpful.
Clearly there are different categories of spirits. A tree spirit is not a river spirit. An ancestor is not an elemental spirit. A God is not a human spirit.
Beyond that, some spirits are simply more than others. My definition of a God (that I got from someone else but I can’t remember who) is “the mightiest of spirits.” Whatever land spirits are, whatever we are, Gods are more.
But the line between “Gods” and “not-Gods” is pretty vague. Humans are not Gods, but humans can become Gods – apotheosis is real. At what point does someone change from “ancestor” to “God”? Is there a God-making ceremony somewhere in the Otherworld? I don’t think so – the very idea strikes me as humorous.
I prefer to think of spirits as existing on a spectrum from simple to complex and from less powerful to more powerful. But there are no hard boundaries and considerable overlap.
And more importantly, all of them are persons with whom we can form and maintain relationships.