Connecting with Nature
It is better to go out and experience nature than to constantly sit in and read about it. A ‘sense of place’is paramount to spirituality. There is nothing betterthan to detach yourself from the busy, noisy and crowdedtowns, and lose yourself in the tranquility and the almostsurreal, non-materialism of the landscape. You will find anatural sacred space within the forest, on the hill or close tothe lake. While lost in your landscape, and quoting a dearfriend the late academic and poet Dr Edmund Cusick, youmay well experience the same feeling:
…I still feel essentially lifted up in spirit when I pull up at the head of the Glen, get out and breathe in. It is mountain country, as surely as the Cairngorms is — the absolute sense that this is no longer human territory, but the territory of the wilderness, that the animals, the trees, are the natural inhabitants and that we do not primarily belong there.
(Between Field and Stars, Headland 2008)
When we are in the countryside we too, often, feel the wild otherness of the spirit there, and that we are privileged to be there — but then this is the natural and magical territory of the witch, so we stay.
Connecting with nature is becoming a part of it. It is the need to see yourself as a small part of the whole of nature and it will make all the difference to the way you not just view but see things. See the landscape as Edmund saw it, and observe the absolute sense that it is no longer human territory. Lose yourself in the landscape. See nature as belonging to no one, owned by none, not by the farmer or the landowner, the inhabitant, or the state or country. Nature exists above and beyond the land. Land may be territory but nature is spirit, nature is free, uncontrollable, mutable, wild, serene, terrifying, beautiful, devastating, magnificent, joyful, destructive, and life-giving. Loving nature is accepting the wild along with the serene, the destructive along with the life giving aspects of it.
When we walk in the fields or paddle in the stream we can learn to become a companion to nature. We can adapt ourselves to our surroundings, and become a part of and go with nature. When out in nature employ all your senses. Look around you and see. By see, I mean really look to see what is there. You will be surprised at what you miss when you walk and your mind wanders to everyday matters. Keep your concentration, look at everything, and acknowledge what you see. Look at the texture of the bark or leaves, the different shades of green, the breeze kissing the blades of grass, the trout meandering in the stream, and the squirrel scurrying up the tree trunk. Listen to the tinkling of the water as it musically winds its way down the rocks, or the birds singing, trees whispering or the ocean sighing.
When you touch something, you directly connect with it. Feel the rough bark of the tree, or the velvet of the rose petal. Feel the breath of wind in your hair, or the coldness of the water as you dangle your feet in the stream, or the softness of the grass as you run barefoot in the meadow. Hum, sing or whistle as you join the sounds of nature. Sense the spirit of place, the spirit in the mountain, the spirit in the stream, the spirit in the tree or rock. Over the years, you may have never connected with nature owing to modern demands on your time and person. As a result, you may well have drawn a line between nature and yourself. Therefore, when you travel through the countryside, to the park, or even if you step into your garden, you see it all as something separate, like a theme park you visit and then leave. Try to remove that line that lies between you and the hills, the lakes, rivers and oceans, the trees, the flora and fauna, the rose and the song thrush or at least blur it. Step into the inside instead of on the outside looking in. The exercise below is designed to help you do just that.
Shapeshift into nature by becoming what you see. See the tree and become it by slipping into it so that your legs and feet become the roots, your body the trunk and your head the branches. Feel and hear what is going on inside you, the sap rising, the insects burrowing, the wind swaying your branches and rustling your leaves. Become part of the swan on the lake or river, preen your feathers and swim majestically with the other swans. After a while, slip into the water as a droplet and become part of it, liquidize yourself. After a short time, you are no longer a droplet but a part of a much larger whole, the lake that leads into the river, which leads in to the ocean, which is a part of the earth, in turn a part of the universe.
More on a Sense of Place
A personal ‘sense of place’ is one in which we feel we belong and with which our identity is irrevocably tied. We have a deep attachment and connection to this place. Activities such as playing there as a child, walking or working there as an adult, unite with meaning that we gain from this place. The ‘place’ might be a country, a particular area or landscape, or even a town or village. When we experience a sense of place, we have a sense of coming home and belonging and of being content and we are at our most happy when we are there. Your sense of place may well be within particular landscapes of rivers, lakes, the sea, hills, mountains, valleys, fields and forest. It may well have a connection with your ancestors. Yet it does not have to be in the countryside, but in a park, gardens, or even in the city.
We use all our senses when connecting with our ‘place’. You see the landscape, smell the grass, trees and flora, listen to the running water and the wind rustling through the trees, pick fruit or drink the spring water. You touch the grass or dangle your feet in the stream and feel the rain on your face and during all this your sixth sense or intuition is heightened. We have a physical experience with our ‘place’ but also a spiritual one, for a sense of place is coalesced with spirituality.
Spirit of Place
Part of the feeling of a ‘sense of place’ is an awareness of the ‘spirit of place’. A pagan friend and ex-pat American said that when she arrived in Ireland she no longer felt connected to her previously chosen gods and goddesses, but instead had a growing need to connect with the Celtic gods and goddesses of Ireland and also of the area.
In Ireland, there is a strong sense of spirit in the landscape, the wells, portals, stone circle, raths, lakes, rivers, sea, forest and many other places, and it is easy to understand the need to connect with them. There are many aspects of folklore and mythology connected with certain areas such as counties, mountains, rivers or lakes and many books have been written about them. Folk songs and poems immortalize places and people, which all help to promote a potent sense of the spirit of place. Alternatively (or perhaps additionally), it may well be our connection to our own ancestral spirits that evoke the spirit of place. Needless to say, this is not unique to Ireland. There are many places and other countries such as mainland Europe, the UK, US, Africa and Australia, which have a powerful spirit of place.
‘Spirit of place’ and a ‘sense of place’ are related in that it is difficult to experience one without the other. They go hand in hand — and are an essential part of pagan spirituality. When you experience your sense of place and view the valley, forest, river and hills around your home be aware of your relationship with creation and that you are part of that creation, a single continuity — and therefore have your place in the universe. All is sacred and one. There is no fundamental difference between the earth under your feet and the sacred place or site you visit — your ‘place’ is essentially every bit as important. You will feel the presence of the divine in the landscape of your ‘place’ and find it so much easier to connect out of doors than in.
When visiting your ‘place’ either in actuality or in a visualization exercise, stop for a moment and see if any particular deity or nature spirit calls to you. Perhaps the ancestors are calling to you. Who is connected with this place? When you go to your place, make it a point to find out. Call to the mountains, the river, the meadows, call to the ancestors, the nature spirits and the gods and goddesses that belong there. There is spirit in all things, so at your place touch the rocks, trees, grass and plants (this could be in a garden or park), put your hands in the soil, touch and connect with the earth.
Try to get out for a daily walk, or at least three times a week and feel, see, hear, smell, touch and sense — in other words, directly connect with nature. It is not only spiritual, but therapeutic too.
Excerpt taken from ‘Hedge Witchcraft’ by Harmonia Saille (with permission)
Harmonia Saille is a practising Hedge Witch, she has been a lecturer in Modern Pagan Witchcraft at a UK university and holds workshops on faeries, runes and other subjects both locally and at international spiritual events. Harmonia’s articles have appeared in various spiritual magazines and she is deputy editor of Irish Pagan magazine Brigid’s Fire. She is a mother and grandmother and lives in Ireland. She is the author of Pagan Portals – Hedge Riding and The Spiritual Runes, A Guide to the Ancestral Wisdom.