I love having a relationship with my local land spirits, but I understand they are not perceived as being as exciting to work with as deities. They are, however, amazing beings who make great allies or terrible enemies.
Land spirits are spirits or beings who live in the land or specific features of a land – such as a much-famed hill or pond or mountain. There are land spirits everywhere, multiple ones most likely. It is possible to have spirits who happen to live in a particular neighborhood, but you might also have a spirit (or spirits) who live in the pond in that neighborhood. There are also household spirits who live in homes and help take care of them. Some people classify household spirits as land spirits as well.
Land spirits show up in many spiritual traditions from the Native American beliefs to European beliefs, Ancient Greek and Egyptian practices through today’s modern Paganism. Some traditions will place more emphasis on honoring land spirits than others, but most of them will advise you to form a relationship with them.
A couple of weeks ago, The Troth held a series of online rituals and talks about the upcoming winter holidays in Norse Paganism. One of them was about Winter Night’s, a Norse Pagan celebration of the end of summer and the beginning of winter. Usually, this holiday focuses on venerating male ancestors (the female ancestors have their own holiday in December), the land spirits, and the elves (often thought of as a type of land spirit with more magic). I was looking for some fresh ideas for my own Winter Night’s ritual and I am very glad I tuned in.
When the land spirits were called in during this online ritual led by the president of The Troth, she made it a point to say that we (those people participating in the ritual) honor the land spirits not just in the forest where it is easy to see nature, but also in the tallest buildings in the city. That was a reminder I needed, and it came at a very opportune time.
A lot of people live in urban areas. Compared to the rest of the country, those urban areas are not that big. But they are packed with people and all the buildings and infrastructure needed to support those larger populations. And nature takes a back seat to developments. This can make it difficult for many Pagans to connect with nature in the city. But it is not impossible.
How Do You Honor the Land Spirits if You Live in a Large City?
There are many types of land spirits, and many names for land spirits across cultures. Since land spirits are a part of nature, it probably is easier to connect with them somewhere green. But they are land spirits, and underneath all the concrete and asphalt is land!
In my experience, some land spirits do not like the intrusion of modernity into their spaces and will leave to find a piece of nature that is less disturbed. But in my personal belief, I believe the spirits around us – whether they are gods or land spirits – have to change with the times to stay relevant. So perhaps there are land spirits who don’t want to live in the cities or suburbs, but at some point they may have to adjust. And then there are obviously those land spirits and beings who have already come to terms with humanity’s need to conquer and are willing to live along side us in our modern neighborhoods.
Regardless of where you live, you can connect with local land spirits if you try. You will find them in the Midwest in farms, or in the South in swamps or in the city in the skyscrapers.
How Do You Find Them?
Is the answer to everything meditation? Probably not but it is a good place to start with most spiritual practices. To find your land spirits, sit quietly and listen for them. Speak to them and let them know you are there to meet them. Tell them you want to build a relationship with them. You can do this in your 9th story studio apartment in NYC or you can do it sitting on the ground in your backyard.
If you live in an urban area and do not have access to a park or local green space, try talking to your home or building. Yes, buildings can have a sentience to them and that can be different than a land spirit, but you can start there and see what happens. Some people might even say that the sentience of the building is just another type of land spirit.
What Do You Do with Them Once You Find Them?
Once you feel like you have made a connection with a land spirit, what do you do next? Well, you date it. Many Pagans will tell you forming a relationship with a spirit, being or deity is like forming a relationship with a human. You begin by putting in effort to form a relationship. Take the time to talk to your land spirit on a regular basis. Tell them you appreciate the work they do protecting the land they inhabit. Thank them for helping with a problem, even if you’re not sure they had anything to do with the resolution. I do not consider this lying. It’s flattery (which goes a long way with some spirits) but it might also plant a seed in their head. Maybe the land spirits did not help restore the internet in your building. But if you thank them for it, the next time there is an internet problem, perhaps the land spirits will intervene or even attempt to prevent the problem. They can learn from us, just as we can learn from them.
A Personal Story of Why I Love My Land Spirits
I have a few good stories about land spirits, but I want to share with you something that happened this summer. We had a series of bad storms move through our area starting at the end of June 2023. The first one was the most devastating to our neighborhood and involved straight line winds – essentially tornado force winds that move along a line of the storm but never develops into the rotation required for a tornado. If you’ve ever experienced straight line winds, they suck and can cause quite a bit of damage.
I was not at home when this storm hit my neighborhood. My husband and I were on the other side of town leading a Midsummer ritual. We knew there was a possibility of a storm. But where we were at, it did little more than sprinkle. However, the closer to home we got, the more damage there was. The power was out on our side of town. Not surprising, it goes out every time it looks like it might rain in the summer. But as I pulled onto our street that was now green it was so plastered with leaves, I knew something was wrong. It’s pitch black outside and I flipped my high beams on as we got closer to the house. And all I could see was tree.
My house does have a lot of trees. More than I care for if I’m being honest. I’ve seen what trees can do to homes and buildings when they come down in a storm. We have a large sweet gum tree in our front yard. During this summer storm, about a third of the tree broke off and fell. In my yard. There were limbs and branches down all over the front from that sweet gum. Our back yard has multiple trees including an oak tree that scares me. There were limbs down everywhere you looked.
But not on my house. Not one stick hit my house or any of the buildings on my property.
As we pull up and park on the street because I can’t find my driveway under the tree limbs, I realize my neighbors are out. They were waiting on us to get home and see what happened since we had received the most damage of anyone on the street. Lucky us. However, we were lucky. My neighbors were then reassured that I was just as weird as they thought I was because instead of crying or panicking, which would have been my response in my younger days, I laughed. There I was, in a little red strappy dress standing in my front yard giggling and yelling “Thank You!” over and over.
My land spirits had protected my home. They could not prevent the trees from breaking or the limbs from falling, but they did guide them to land where they would cause the least amount of harm. I think my gods and ancestor also had a hand in protecting our home that night, but my first thanks went to the land spirits. The next day, I cut a path through all the downed limbs in my backyard and went to the space I like to use for outdoor spiritual work and left an offering to my land spirits.
What Do You Offer Land Spirits?
Land spirits are beings just like everyone else, and they probably have their own likes and dislikes. But I have found it beneficial to offer them milk, honey, bread and water as regular offerings, although not all at once. Usually my land spirits receive milk with honey stirred in it. But you can likely offer them a bit of your dinner, assuming it’s not too processed. My experience with land spirits is that because they are so closely tied to nature, some of them do not care for highly processed food like items. But perhaps some of the land spirits in major cities have developed a taste for it. As you build your relationship with your land spirits, you will learn what they do and do not like.
You can also offer them acts of service, just like you would a deity or ancestor. Clean up the area the land spirit lives in. Pick up trash. Clean out and haul away old junk that’s been dumped there. Sometimes just acknowledging the land spirits, who have likely been ignored for a long time, can go a long way. Talk can be cheap, so just saying thank you to your land spirits may not be enough all the time. But it is a good way to get started. You’ll still have to work at building a relationship for the long term, but we all like to be noticed and appreciated.
What Do Land Spirits Have to do with the Holidays?
In some ancient traditions, as summer moved into winter, our ancestors would make it a point to have a ritual honoring the land spirits and leave offerings. That is the main point of Winter Night’s in Norse Paganism. This was typically done at home with your family, where everyone had a direct interest in the land. So it is not uncommon to honor the land spirits this time of year. The fall and winter are full of holidays, so why shouldn’t there be one for the land?
Many people will find themselves traveling this holiday season. Maybe you aren’t excited about being away from home for the holidays, or you are going to visit family you don’t really like. Or perhaps you are excited about holiday travel. Regardless, we all need a little break from the hustle of the holidays and the drama of families. So go meet the local land spirits. Take a walk if you can, or go sit in the backyard, and see if you can connect with the spirits there. Take some water with you and pour it out as an offering. Let them know you are just visiting but that you wanted to connect with them and the land. If you take multiple trips to the same place, you can start to build a relationship with the land spirits there, if you want to. And even if you’re visiting with family you’d rather not ever see again, you at least have a friend with the local land spirit.
Aside from getting a break from the chaos, working with land spirits can be grounding. You are literally making connections and building relationships with the spirits of the ground. Connecting with those land spirits can give you a moment of respite and help you feel more centered and ready to go back into the fray.
There are many benefits to building a relationship with land spirits, both your local ones and at places you visit. Take a moment to reach out to them and offer them a little gift when you can. Working with land spirits is thought to increase protection for you and your home, as well as increasing your ability to work with the elements, opening yourself to new magicks, and living more in harmony with the earth.
As the holiday season gets underway, don’t forget about the land spirits. Make friends with them before the winter brings us snow and ice. Offer your land spirits a bit of holiday dinner. Say thank you for all the hard work they do that we never notice. Plus they can make a great reason to duck out of trying family gatherings.
Happy holidays! Hail the land spirits!