Paganism, Spiritwork

Building Ethical Relationships with the Land

I read a blog by Hecate Demeter recently that I thought asked a very good question at the end: “Do you ever introduce yourself to the land? If you travel and will be somewhere for a few days, do you ever bring an offering to the new land?”

My immediate answer was “Yes, of course I do,” but my very next thought was – “I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone do that at an event who wasn’t doing it with me.” That doesn’t mean people aren’t doing it, of course – doing it privately is much better than attempting to show off to your fellow attendees – but it did make me wonder. How many people actually do this? Do they always do it, or only at witchy/pagan events? Do they do it differently if they’re visiting in different contexts?

And then I reflected on my own practice. I tend to default to the ceremonies and prayers of the indigenous tradition from my mother’s side of the family. Tobacco, a self introduction that includes the place I was born, murmured words of thanks to all friendly spirits. When I’m at witchy or pagan events, or anywhere I’m likely to do magic, I also seek out the Local Fair Folk. As part of my work with the Fairy Queen I serve, I am supposed to check in at the local consulate, in a manner of speaking. However, If I’m somewhere only briefly, or if I’m not on Turtle Island*, my introductions are more likely to be silent and meditative, seeking brief connection and energetic exchange. In general, I consider friendly relations with the local land wights, body-of-water wights, nature spirits, and otherworldly beings to be an important exchange of hospitality.

If there are Dead around, you can try reaching out to them, too, if you can do it in a way that is respectful and not dangerous to you or to them. If they have very different life experiences or spoke very different languages or practiced very different spiritual systems to yours, they may not want to hear from you. That goes double if your bloodline ancestors wronged them or were their enemies. However, knowing who not to bother or ask a favor of is also an important part of getting to know your neighbors! Also it can sometimes be a good idea to leave the Dead – especially the Unquiet Dead – to a witch who specializes in deathwork.

Occasionally Deities/Divinities** may show up as well. One time I was in Puerto Rico talking to the waves on a beach, and a Divine Spirit associated with the sea — in the shape of a Black woman with blue hair — touched my mind, leaving me with a brief experience of divine awe. (I think she was probably Yemaya, but she didn’t give me a name — just the vision, and a sense of welcome.) When they show up, though, they are not usually invitations to a deeper relationship. These brief experiences are the energetic equivalent of getting a friendly wave from a Head of State who is currently in a motorcade that just happened to be going by wherever I am.

Most of Hecate Demeter’s blog series, however, is a call to ground your practice in the place you are, and to build relationships with the land, water, and nature spirits who live nearest to you. She says (and I very much agree) that we don’t need to “re-enchant” anything. The land is still enchanted, still inspirited. What we need to do is to rekindle our relationship where we are, wherever we are Right Now. Lots of modern USian*** people feel like they don’t have roots because as a culture we move around a lot, but population movements have always happened. Even if you’re only going to be around somewhere for six months, it’s still a good idea to get to know your neighbors – corporeal and otherwise.

In my own practice, I try to build conscientious and respectful relationships with the spirits I encounter as I go about my daily life. A lot of those are Otherworldly beings of various types that largely fall into the broad category of “fae”, or they are spirits of specific “objects”, like trees, cars, houses, creeks. But I find that when I reach out to the land itself, there are what feels like layers of spirit, like the layers of a nesting doll. The deeper and larger I go, the harder it is to communicate, though I have had pretty good results with rivers and cities as singular units. For example, I wrote this quarter call that calls upon rivers local to me for use in a group rite I helped lead:

Tonight we create sacred space by grounding ourselves deeply in our natural surroundings.  We live here, in a landscape dominated by the Appalachian mountains to the West, and the Atlantic ocean to our East, beneath the dome of the Sky.  But tonight we call on powers more local, better known to us.

In the North we call to Lady of the mighty Potomac, River of Swans, Lifeblood of this area.  We offer you sweet smelling incense, and soothing herbal waters, if you will stand as Guardian to our ritual tonight.

In the East we call to the Great Lady of the Chesapeake Bay, Grave of a Meteor and Mother of Rivers.  All waters in this area come home to you.  We offer you sweet smelling incense, and soothing herbal waters, if you will stand as Guardian to our ritual tonight.

In the South we call to the Lady of the majestic Rappahannock, River of Tides, Quick-Rising Waters.  We offer you sweet smelling incense, and soothing herbal waters, if you will stand as Guardian to our ritual tonight.

In the West we call to the Lady of the beautiful Shenandoah, River of Spruces, Daughter of the Potomac. We offer you sweet smelling incense, and soothing herbal waters, if you will stand as Guardian to our ritual tonight.

(c) 2019 by the author, Alexandra Nic Bhé Chuille. Please ask for permission before using.

Hecate Demeter says in the second blog that being in relationship with your landbase will make both your spiritual practice and your magic stronger, and I couldn’t agree more. I also find that cultivating relationships with your hyper-local land and neighborly spirits helps a lot with ward maintenance, and some of them may even be willing to enter a sort of agreement that if someone else intrudes into your shared space, they’ll let you know.

The third blog in the series has a few good ideas about how to begin this work, but it’s a bit like any spirit work, really – just go introduce yourself and see what happens. It’s hard to go wrong with a shared drink of water, as long as your water bottle isn’t made of steel. (Most land wights and nature spirits won’t mind that, but the Daoine Sidhe and some of the Huldufolk certainly will!) Use divination or ask for an omen, however it is that you normally talk to spirits. And get to know your land and its inhabitants!


*The continent of North America.

**I have seen Yemaya and others referred to with a distinction made between Deities and Divinities, and as I am both not sure what the distinction is, and also unsure who I was interacting with, I just put both. I occasionally use the term “god-level” for interactions like this, to describe an unknown entity who seems to have the level of power and vastness usually attributed to deities, but who is either someone I cannot identify, or is someone not known in any surviving lore.

*** I use “USian” here as shorthand for “US American”, to differentiate between citizens of the USA versus people who live in the Americas more generally.


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