Seeking the Spirit of the Land

by Caitlín Matthews ~ We live in a time when many are revisioning their spiritual practice, finding ways to contact ancestral and spiritual presences within their own tradition. The return to our first home in order to heal and remember is not an easy one for we have neglected ancestral teachings, mislaid the wisdom, become…

We live in a time when many are revisioning their spiritual practice, finding ways to contact ancestral and spiritual presences within their own tradition. The return to our first home in order to heal and remember is not an easy one for we have neglected ancestral teachings, mislaid the wisdom, become almost aliens within the landscape of our home.  The switch between being a 21th century urban human being and finding the wisdom of the ancestors and land-spirits is often a dramatic one.  Do we plunge into atavistic behavioural patterns, do we dive into a tradition which derives from another country, do we join a group which follows a traditional and native belief system which might not be quite our cup of tea?

In a welter of responsible revisioning, atavistic discovery and blatant charlatanism, it is often hard to keep a sense of perspective in our spiritual practice. The game of ‘my tradition is more ancient/venerable than thine’ is self-defeating and irrelevant to the real search. After nearly two millennia of being told what to do and how to worship, we are beginning to steer by new/old maps of reference, to find reservoirs of self-reliance and to trust the results of our meditations and mystical experiences. But how do we begin to do this?

One of major preoccupations of people I meet with seems to be related to this very thing: having the courage to branch out, find things for yourself, and then to validate them in everyday life. Many are hung up on whether they are doing things ‘correctly’ or ‘authentically’, preferring to stick to someone else’s criteria or system, rather than to go for it and find a personal way.  When we are seeking a closer communion with the land and its protective spirits, or seeking to rediscover ancestral (but now very fragmented) ways, this kind of caution soon becomes an utter liability: to what or to whom do we go for validation?

The way to authentic knowledge is to make your own connections, through meditation and practice, through recognizing and correlating experiential results, by mapping the inner landscape of non-ordinary reality. 

In this article I would like to outline a method of contacting the spirits of the place where you live. The requirements upon us are simple: we start with a dedication to the spirit of the planet by  the loving perseverance of our quest. This method can be used by anyone, of any background, in any country. It is especially useful for those who have just moved into a district and want to know it better. It does not require a detailed knowledge of any magical system or mythology.

If we truly wish to understand the land in which we live as part of a larger planetary existence and to acknowledge the native traditions of our country, we have got to start with the bit of land upon which we live.  We all know that the places we visit personally are more real to us than those read about in travel guides; that the people we personally encounter in a one-to-one meeting show more of themselves than those looked up in a Who’s Who. Similarly, the spirits of the land will reveal themselves more immediately if we ourselves make the contact. It is not necessary to go away and read many books before approaching  a place on the earth. It is an in-person kind of thing.

The Earth can manifest its spirit in many forms and is not restrained to one manifestation. We must never forget that the Goddess is more than the Earth. Although we speak of Mother Earth, the Divine Feminine encompasses all that is existent, manifesting as space, time, dimension and spirit. Do not forget that other spiritual forms may be present. Indeed, as we go deeper into our quest, we discover that many sacred beings are nested one within the other, with more immediate and familiar faces acting as transmitters of a much larger composite of being.

The spirits of the land may reveal themselves in anthropomorphic ways as male or female, as totemistic or heraldic animals of many kinds, as vegetative or tree-like forms, as titanic land-features of galvanising energy fields.  Examples of these manifestations might be found at any notable location associated with deities or spirits, such as at Tintagel (Arthur, Merlin) or Llyn Tegid (Ceridwen); at White Horse Hill (Epona, Rhiannon); in groves, forests and medieval church masonry country-wide; at Avebury or Ben Bulben in Donegal. We must not also forget the many other spiritual forms which populate the land, including the hidden folk of Faery.  Not being hung up upon named beings at the start is helpful. If your meditations reveal the ‘the Willow Woman’ or ‘the Path-Maker’ or ‘the Warrior of the Hills,’ that is how the spirits of place are showing themselves to you.

The British, Celtic and Saxon deities that are known about today through local lore, inscriptions, archaeological and textual evidence represent a minute proportion of spirits once venerated.  While we can all feel connection with the great presences like the Mabon or Brighid, we can also find our own personal, local connections with the Goddess of the Land and the many attendant spirits which throng the earth.  In this method, you will be contacting the spirit of the place. The Romans called these the genius or juno, (pronounced gayneus and yoono) the male or female spirit of place. But they may also appear in non-gendural and non-anthropomorphic ways also.

Before you start, sit down and draw out a rough map of your location; the boundaries of the map should comprise the area you could reasonably walk or cycle (but not drive) to in any direction from your home. Mark in at least the following areas:

~ the highest place – hill, mountain, high-rise block etc.

~ the nearest body of water – stream, river, lake, sea etc.

~ the nearest area of natural beauty – wood, park, garden etc.

~ the busiest open space where people congregate on a daily basis – market-place, village square etc.

~ the most abused or neglected site – waste-ground, derelict factory site, land-fill site etc.

~ the oldest sacred site under continuous use – stone circle, church etc.

~ the nearest place where the dead are commemorated or buried – cemetery, graveyard, memorial tablet

~ the nearest natural food-producing ground – wheat-field, orchard, cow-pasture etc.

~ the place most frequented by wild (non-domestic) animals

~ the nearest major crossroads

~ other significant sites will occur to you or that may be particular to your location e.g. marsh-land, heavy industry sites, etc.

Your area may not include some not all the above within it. Be aware of any other significant places, buildings, activities which are in your district.

You may well be wondering at the inclusion of sites of human occupation or neglect.  All places upon the earth are holy and are worthy of honour, however abused they may have been, whatever has been built on or over them.  The cross-roads and market- places of our home are also homes of the spirits, not just areas of human assembly or commercialism.  The focal points of exchange between the spirits of the earth and humankind are often at these very spots.  The spirits of natural or sacred sites have other things to teach us, but, in yearning after these to rebalance our civilized life-styles, we must not neglect the spiritual presences which are all about us, even in towns and conurbations.

Visit each of the sites on your map in turn and commune with the spirit/s of that place. At some sites this will both pleasant and instructive; at others, it may be an onerous chore in difficult circumstances.  What are you reaching out for?  Each of these sites has its own resident spirit. Some of these will not be best pleased, especially if the site has been abused. You will find others, especially those that have enjoyed long-term usage, very lively and co-operative.  You will be meeting these, noting what is the function and purpose of each, and finding a new level of communion between yourself and the land on which you live.

At the less-frequented sites, you can sit and meditate, tuning into the spirit of the place, dialoguing with it. Greet the spirit courteously, find out what its needs are, introduce yourself and make your intentions in being there plain; but do more listening than talking.  At the sites which are well-frequented, you will have to be more subtle in your communion. Before you leave, ask if you may gather a minute amount of earth/dust from each of these places without destroying the natural habitat: a finger-nail full is all that’s required. If permission is not granted by the spirit of the place, then ask if there is something else, like a leaf or piece of stone. Permission may be granted only in return for some service which you may render e.g. performing a reconsecration ritual for an abused site. (It goes without saying that it is only common courtesy to clean the site of rubbish before you commence work.) Note down your findings, dating them, and don’t forget any service you have promised to perform.

When you return home that day, meditate or make a shamanic journey to that place, later on. You have visited the ordinary or mundane aspect of the place; now you will visit that spot’s reality in its otherworldly aspect.  You may well be aware of both side of realities of your chosen place when you physically visit it, of course, but we often have a wholly different view when we meditate upon it or shamanically journey to it later.  What does the spirit of that place look like in its otherworldly aspect?  What feelings arise in you when you are in that place – are they different when you meditate?  You can go deeper into communion, by asking the spirit of that place to show you, in meditation or shamanic journey, what is the true nature of the land, what is its history, how may you and others best respect and honour that place? Ask your own established spiritual helpers to accompany you and give you guidance.

Repeat this procedure with each of the sites on your map.  As you do this, so your knowledge of your locale will grow.  When you have visited all the sites, collate your information.  What kinds of spirits inhabit your area?  You will have discovered the ancestral spirits in many places – in graveyards, market-places, sacred sites; you will perhaps encounter the Faery on hill and near water; the spirits of plants, herbs, fruits etc. in food-producing places…. I cannot tell you what you will find, because only you can experience this.

When you have visited all the places on your map, you will have a collection of earth/dust/natural objects. These can now be mixed into a single pot of earth or compost. Now, with your full understanding and purpose, touch this mixture and ask to be shown the nature of the spirits of your home. Enter into meditation, or take a shamanic journey, and see the overview of the map you’ve made and the countryside which you have visited.  See all the spirits of each place coming together in what you regard as the most sacred centre of this area.  What happens?  You may experience a conference of spiritual presences at which you are a representative of incarnate humanity; you may experience the spiritual presences melding together into a single form.  Let be what comes to you.

From your experience, you may wish to incorporate the pot of earth into a terrestial shrine which honours all the places you have visited. Dedicate this shrine to the spirits of the place or to the Divinity or Guadian Spirit of your Area. You may wish to plant seeds in the soil so that it becomes a living shrine.  If you decide to do this, you will have to carefully tend this shrine.   Whatever ritual action you feel is appropriate, you will certainly be led into a deeper communion with the spiritual energies of your area and will probably feel a need to be part of the life of your area in many different ways.  Remember to listen to the spirits you have contacted and to be advized by them and by any established spiritual helpers and guides you already have.  Respect all life-forms and their habitat, even difficult human ones who seem misguided; manipulation is not the name of the game, but co-operation with the guardian spirits of the place.

Naming is important and denotes our respect.  The bald use of names in the hearing of others has never been part of most native traditions; spirits and deities are referred to reverentially and secretly.  Names carry the power and quality of a spirit. You don’t have to utilize well-known names from other traditions or places, but can discover your own names. For example, you might choose to name the spirits of the land whom you’ve encountered by the following:  Lady of the Roads, Nymph of the Waters, Lord of the Forests, Keeper of the Market-place etc. If these titles seem too impersonal, you might wish to meditate and ask for a suitable name which you can use: e.g. a spirit of the stream might wish to be called ‘Reed-Woman’ or ‘Agnetal.’

Do check the folk-lore of the area: what stories, traditions, anecdotes are told of the place you live – the local history section of your library will help?  Network with other practitioners living near you and share results: a mapping of the ‘inner geography’ of your locale may result!  You may discover that certain areas near you are already heavily frequented by folk with the same ideas/beliefs as yourself! Keep visiting the places on your map, checking out how their energies differ at different seasons, moon-phases etc

Be circumspect and respectful of areas that have been abused. The reconsecration of neglected and abused areas can be performed in many ways: ask the spirit of that place what it needs.  If you are asked to leave offerings at a site, make sure that these are not harmful to the habitat and do not interfere with any living being.  There have been altogether too many instances of people implanting crystals and other ‘sacred’ objects around the land.  When in doubt, ask the ancestral spirits what reconsecration procedure is necessary.  Our deep (far) ancestors have a well-developed sense of what is required and how the land is honoured than ourselves who have grown up outside traditional societies where this kind of knowledge is second nature.

Adapt this method in ways which best suit your own abilities, circumstances and inclinations.  If you decide to work in this way, be advised that this is an on-going commitment that won’t go away.  Your personal experience and knowledge of your area will be a greater teacher than any amount of books and regurgitated material.  Respect this experience in others and don’t be so fundamentally insistent on your own knowledge that there is no room for others to explore and experience.

Wherever we make specific otherworldly connections with the earth in a local way, we become interconnected with the deeper planetary whole.  The effect of this practice will bring you into closer communion with the land in which you live, its seasons and different aspects.  You will discern the face of the land in ways that are domestic and undramatic but which bring lasting joy and wonder.  You will also become, in a very special and dedicated way, a guardian of the land, a true soul-friend forever.

May you walk the ancient ways with wisdom!

~ Caitlín Matthews  –  Lammas 2020

Caitlín Matthews is the author of 80 books, including The Lost Book of the Grail, Diary of a Soul Doctor, Singing the Soul Back Home. She teaches internationally on many aspects of ancestral tradition and shamanism. Caitlín is co-founder of FIOS: the Foundation for Inspirational and Oracular Studies, dedicated to the sacred arts that are not usually studied. She has a shamanic practice in Oxford

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