The heart of my magical practice is working with the land. When we talk about working with the land we often imagine a deeply rooted connection based on a life-time of living and working in the same region. Such connections are invaluable, however they are increasingly rare. Many modern witches and magicians live in urban environments far from their ancestral roots and move several times over the course of their lives.
This is certainly my experience and has led me to develop a series of concepts, methods and practices for initiating and developing relationships with my new locality. Currently I live in a semi-rural part of Northern England, but I have also lived in outback Australia, in leafy suburbia and in a high-rise in the heart of a modern city. Wherever I live, I’ve always found it is possible to establish and maintain relationship with the land.
This will be the first in a series of posts examining the idea of land-work which I hope will offer some practical information. The practices I discuss are rooted in traditions and folklore from various cultures and are respectfully syncretic. However, they have grown and flowered through direct experience. Tradition is a valuable guide, but each land has its own particular ways and if you listen and observe, it will teach you how to work with it.
When we talk about the land from a magical perspective, we are usually interested in the land spirits and the land’s inherent energy or power. From an animist perspective, the land spirits are those resident in a place. In Norse traditions, they are referred to as land wights or Landvættir. In the Roman world, they were honoured as genii loci. They are sometimes referred to as faerie in British folklore, however that term is also used for the dead and the pre-Christian gods. Generally speaking, land spirits are associated with a particular physical place rather than a culture, tribe or family. They are independent of human recognition or interaction and sometimes disinterested or antagonistic to us. That said, they have historically been accorded respect and given offerings. The land also encompasses the spirit-presences of the plants, animals, stones, rivers, springs, mountains and other beings that inhabit it.
Land power is the energetic force present in the land. The English language is rather impoverished when it comes to terms for the life-force, though I’ve heard traditional witches speak of the red serpent, sprowl or the red thread. I believe modern Druids use the word ‘Nwyfre.’ Much like the life-force present in living bodies, the land has its own complex web of energies made up of flora, fauna, funghi and geological phenomena. The land power of chalk downs feels very different to that of iron rich clay. The energy of a forest differs greatly from that of a mountain range or a desert. Connecting to this power is not only useful in one’s own work, but allows us to recognise and respond to changes in the land. It is not difficult to access. As soon as we enter an environment we become a part of it, whether we are conscious of this fact or not. Indeed, the more we immerse ourselves in the land and give up our illusion of separateness, the greater access we have to this power.
Regular and free access to the land is vital to establishing these connections but can be difficult to obtain. Even in rural environments, land access is heavily contested and frequently privatised. Scotland, theoretically, has some of the most extensive rights to roam in the United Kingdom. However, when I first visited I discovered this right was severely hampered by miles of barbed wire. Getting access to the land can be particularly difficult in urban and suburban areas. Sometimes, it is necessary to broaden our idea of what the ‘land’ means. When I lived in the city, the only unpaved land I had easy access to was the river’s edge. I walked along the shore daily and became familiar with the tides, the waterfowl, the moods and currents of the river. The river itself also had a powerful and ancient spirit to whom I made offerings.
In suburbia, I’ve found public parks and undeveloped land offer sites for access. Of course, land doesn’t stop being land because its built over and paved. Cities have their own spirits and energies. Personally, I’m more comfortable with wild or rural landscapes, and most of what I write here concerns working with such environs, but that doesn’t mean that urban land is any less magical. If you likewise need some wildness, then regular journeys to a national park or nature reserve may offer a solution. Returning regularly to the same place, even if it is hours from where you live, is enough to establish a connection, especially if you go alone and give yourself time to fully immerse in the landscape.
Solitude is integral to my work with the land. The reason for this is very simple, when we are with other humans we are enclosed in a bubble of humanity. We filter our experiences through their reactions and the weight of their presence makes it harder to detect more subtle presences. Being alone with the land is itself a deeply magical experience. Even if you don’t have access to remote wild places or live in a city, being unaccompanied will give you a greater awareness of the energies and spirits around you. Gain access to the land, and spend time there alone. This is the cornerstone to all land-based practice.
In future posts I look forward to discussing different types of land spirits, methods for raising land power, eating the land, beating the bounds, the relationship between land and memory, intuitive magic, augury and several methods for developing and deepening a connection with your locality. If you have any questions please leave a comment.