This land is my home
where the naked mountains caress
and the veins of hills run to the sea.
This land is my home
where I’ll live alone until
my hair grows white
and my bones grow old
then I’ll hang my spirit on tree tops
to provide a cushion of coolness
for children who gather round
Spirit of the Land – Makiutii Tongia
My earliest memory of encountering the spirits of the land, genius loci or the pervading spirit of a place, was my childhood adventures in Canyonlands, Utah. Canyonlands is a wild country of sheer sedimentary rock walls, 4-wheel drive roads, and natural arches. On this day, my family was having lunch in a favorite picnic spot, I looked up to see petroglyphs high above us. We had never seen them before and had been there several times. A feeling of a presence surrounded me that day which was mysterious but not altogether unpleasant. In fact, I enjoyed the overall feel of this place so much, that it influenced my choice of anthropology and geology as majors in college many years later. I wanted to study places which had a strong spirit of place. This experience happened many times to me in Canyonlands.
On another visit, my father was reading an old topo map which said, “Thirteen Faces” in small print along the contour lines of a canyon. None of the forest rangers would tell us what it was so it became a mysterious adventure for my family that year. I can remember pushing through thorny brush and close growing trees whose limbs would smack the person behind you if you weren’t careful. It was like the entire place was keeping us from finding it. We finally came to an overhanging rock wall with the painting of ten warriors painted underneath with the faint remnants of three more. We had stumbled upon a sacred space. It was a profound experience with a real feeling of being watched by the spirits of those who walked those desolate landscapes and were depicted on that rock face. Even now I can still connect to that feeling of discovering “thirteen faces” although it has faded somewhat since I was a child.
If there is one take away from my years developing my own practice, it is to start with connecting to the spirits where you live. The spirits who reside in the open air places, and liminal environments right outside your door. If you are lucky enough to visit a place like Canyonlands, Utah, you will definitely feel the energy of the spirits of the land. Connect with these powers of place and the animals and plants who hold that ecosystem together. Many people want to start with communing with the Gods. While this is a great goal, it is easiest to start with your local environment first. A great way to begin is to make an offering to the spirits of the land first thing in the morning. I begin with a simple incense offering out in my garden. I might say a blessing or just offer the incense and take some time outside. The incense turns my garden into a wonderful smelling place and puts me into a mood of veneration.
Another way to connect to the spirits of the land is to sit quietly in a natural environment and connect to the living and non living things that are a part of that spot. We are normally moving through nature but do not commonly reside for any length in nature. Developing the habit of sitting in nature is a good way to receive messages and connect to that environment. It is common that I come away with thoughts about what my plants need as I sit there. Your garden tends to flourish when you pay attention to it this way.
In my own yard, I like to leave a spot which is a bit wild as well. I don’t pull weeds or do any kind of upkeep in that area. While this sounds a bit on the messy side, it is an amazing area that seems to grow strange new plants, as well as, the seedlings from existing plants. This was a common practice in Europe, hundreds of years ago as people set aside a small plot of land dedicated solely to the faery or earth spirits. It was not permitted to be cultivated, weeded or touched in any way. This practice seems to embody the spirit of the land as these untended tracts seem to have a mind of their own. You’ll be surprised by what appears there.