Paying Attention to the Land

Here’s a wonderful post about the Pagan/Witchcraft practice of being in relationship with the local landbase. It’s definitely worth a read, especially because the author lives and practices in an urban area. As I’ve discussed before, most Pagans (come as that term may from the classical Latin for a country-dweller) now live in urban areas. And waiting until the someday when you finally move to that little cabin in the woods to have a deep relationship with your landbase means waiting until then to be a Witch. Kathy Nance does a lovely job of demonstrating how to be in relationship with an urban landbase.

I’ve come to realize that walking and listening and looking around is one of the core components of my own Pagan practice.


[F]or the last few years I’ve been working on becoming something of an amateur naturalist (not to be confused with naturist) — someone who is well-versed in a region’s natural history and can identify a wide variety of plants and animals.

As we all know, energy follows attention. And deep relationship — with a landbase, another person, an art, or a career — requires spending time and paying attention. You can’t just show up on the eight Sabbats and expect to have a deep and meaningful relationship with the land.

Nance’s discussion of how her practice of walking around, looking, and listening helps her to grow closer to her landbase reminded me of Literata‘s recent post about how she developed a relationship to the landbase where she grew up:

Roots are funny things – they grow when you’re not looking. I didn’t realize how much I had internalized of this area, so much that when I go on trance journeys, one of my favorite places to visit is a forest that looks like my idealization of the area across the street. And roots will sometimes hibernate – I can renew my relationship with this landbase easily.

In particular, I went outside to do devotions this morning, and I realized that a lot of my relationship with and awareness of this landbase was formed in those early morning hours of waiting for the school bus because that was one of the few times that I was outside, regularly, and being quiet and even, occasionally, observant. I didn’t know what I was doing, but in some ways, those times were when I first learned to meditate.

Similarly, Sia describes her early training:

“Find a place that speaks to you. Adopt that place. Go there at least once a week. Pick up any trash you find there. Do not disturb the animals, do not remove anything from that place that belongs there. Make it known that you are there as a guardian and as a student. Do this for a year and a day. Take notes. Make sketches. Look at the clouds. Note the changes in weather. Take photos. Record your observations about the animals you encounter, what flowers bloom and when and where they bloom. Find out which birds come and go. Learn the names of the trees. Sit quietly from time to time, and just listen. Do this for four seasons. When you have done that, come back here and we’ll begin.”

And this is why she had so few students. To many, it seemed like too much work. They wanted some spells and some ready-made answers. Most wanted power the easy way. Word to the earthwise: There is no easy way.
. . .

I did what she asked. After a year and a day I went back to her with my journals, sketches, photos and field notes. I thought she would ask me a great many questions. I was ready for this test in a way I hadn’t been since graduate school. She brought us both some tea, and invited me to sit. She looked at my notes, briefly, while I admired her art collection, and petted her cat. Then she looked at me, and said, “So. How did this experience change you?”

That was it. That was her one question.

People who come to study almost any arcane subject — magic, the law, physics, the martial arts — are often discouraged at how ridiculously mundane the initial exercises can be. Just walking around, looking at nature, listening to birds and bugs, getting to know the names of local flora and fauna! That hardly sounds like the exciting, magical knowledge that a Witch would seek.

And, yet, there it is. Witch after Witch after Witch saying, as clearly as they can say, “Go outside and spend time paying attention to your landbase.”

Yesterday was overcast and cooler than predicted (cool is a relative term in Washington, D.C. in July) and I got up early to go to our wonderful local farmers’ market. I count going to the farmers’ market as a part of the same practice that Nance, and Literata, and Sia describe. You walk around, you see what’s in season, you smell the basil and taste the local peaches. The strawberries and early lettuces are gone. The squash and tomatoes and corn are coming in strong. You chat with the people who grow your food (“This squash is great grilled,” one farmer assured me. “This tomato is more acidic,” another advised me, telling the next customer that, “No, the beans are done. The heat got to them.”) And you figure out from what’s available what you’ll serve for dinner.

I came home to wade through a ton of briefs. I worked out on my porch, getting up every thirty minutes or so to move the sprinkler and soak a different part of the garden. When I walked past a daylily that needed deadheading, I pulled off the spent flower and threw in in the compost bin.

At one point, I took off my reading glasses to rest my eyes and looked out across the garden. And there, just a few weeks before Lughnasadh, it was: the click. The moment when I can feel in my own body the turning of The Wheel.

I think that moment comes and my body knows what’s happening because of time spent developing my relationship with the land.

Later that evening I had dinner with a friend and we were talking about paying attention to the land and listening to what it wants. Lately, both of us are finding that the land and land spirits are far less interested in traditional offerings (tobacco, corn meal, rum, incense) than in water. And, so, that is what we’ve been giving it.

Does your practice include paying attention to the land? How do you do it? What do you do?

Picture found here.

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