Putting Nature Back in Witchcraft

Herbs

Note: As I’ve quickly come to find here on Patheos, if you have an idea and don’t write about it immediately, a more eloquent author will come along and write about it first. In this case, fellow blogger Sara Star who recently wrote a wonderful article on how to establish a local Traditional Witchcraft practice. I highly recommend that you go read it!

When I first read her article I was equally enamored and downtrodden. Enamored because the article was lyrical and spoke deeply to my own soul, downtrodden because she had beaten me to the punch and I wasn’t sure what more I could possibly add. Alas, I couldn’t stop thinking about the topic and finally decided to go ahead and contribute my own thoughts on the subject.

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Often times you hear Witchcraft or Wicca described as a nature religion/spirituality/whatever. Witches are seen as individuals who are in tune with the rhythms of nature and work with its forces to manifest change. Yet, despite the emphasis on nature, we don’t often see a lot of Witchcraft actually happening outdoors. Circles are constructed, spells are cast, and Sabbats are celebrated, all in the confines of one’s living room. Certainly this is nothing new,  looking back on the history of Wicca a lot of rituals were done indoors. Take for example Gardner’s Bricketwood Coven who worked inside their Witches’ Cottage. However, I think that it’s fair to say that today, regardless of tradition, many Witches are practicing inside their homes.

I believe the biggest reason for what some have called “Living Room Witchcraft/Wicca” is practicality. Many of us don’t have access to natural landscapes where we can go to have our rituals or work our spells. Even for those of us who do have access to these spaces, you may run into legal issues or you may not feel safe/comfortable practicing there. I love the creek near my apartment, it’s a place that I’ve found to be pulsating with magic. I’d love to go there, light a bonfire, and dance naked under the moon, there are just too many people nearby for that to happen comfortably. I think there is something to be said about the unique power of fear in ritual. Sometimes we become too comfortable and ritual can become monotonous. By stepping out of our comfort zone and into those dark, wild spaces we find ourselves filled with adrenaline and our primal instincts take over. However, if the only thing we can focus on is the fear of someone stumbling across us, how much magic are we really going to be able to make?

Additionally, the weather plays a big role in the matter. Whether it’s because of rain, wind, snow, or high temperatures, sometimes it’s just not possible to do work outside. Where I live we have extremely cold winters (I’m talking forty below). I’ve found that I connect much more with my deities sitting in front of a cozy hearth than I do outside getting frostbite.

Furthermore, I think we often forget the importance of actual land we live on. Sara touched on the fact that for many of us we live far away from where our Craft historically developed. We get caught up in the exotic aura of these far off places that we forget about the inherent magic in our own locale.

For example, within the scope of Traditional Witchcraft, there a lot of people calling themselves “Cornish Witches.” I find this confusing when the Witch in question lives in the United States, doesn’t have any ancestral ties to Cornwall, and/or has never been there. In fact, many of the people I’ve seen taking on this title have only done so after reading Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways by Gemma Gary. Which I find even more confusing considering Gary’s emphasis on connecting to the natural landscape around you and the fact that much of the lore and magic within the book is not strictly limited to Cornwall. Therefore, how can one practice “Cornish Witchcraft,” when what truly makes it Cornish is the land upon which it is practiced?

So with lack of access to natural spaces, safety concerns, weather, and an assortment of other factors (such as mobility issues), I think we can become unwittingly disconnected from nature

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With all this being said one begins to wonder how we can re-establish a connection to our landscape.

Begin by starting a conversation with the spirits of the land. Whether you’re new to the area or have lived there for years, say “hello” to the trees, rocks, plants, animals, and bodies of water. Ask them how they are doing. Is there anything they need or want, such as specific offerings? Even if you live in a city, try and find the hidden nature spirits, who are especially in need some love. When I lived in the city, I formed a great relationship with the two pine trees that grew next to my house. When I moved in I introduced myself and gave them ample offerings to thank them for sharing their space with me. Over time we developed a close friendship and they became the guardians of my house. These spirits are ancient and have many lessons to teach us, if we just open a channel of communication and listen. They can become powerful allies and cherished friends, if we just take the time to listen and give back to them for all they have given us.

Get to know your local flora. Today we have easy access to thousands of different herbs, all it takes is a trip to the store or a few clicks online. This is an awesome advantage of our modern age, however it can lead us to overlook the plants that are already growing around us. I recommend getting out some plant identification books and seeing what you can find! Once you have identified some plants, research their magical properties. From there you can start adding these herbs into your spellwork, swapping out the more exotic ingredients for these local treasures. For example, if I’m working a hex, instead of using black mustard seeds I could use early meadow rue (which grows wildly around here). Not only are you finding useful ingredients for your practice, you are developing your relationship with the land even further. Just make sure that you aren’t breaking any laws when harvesting, that you only take what is needed, and that you leave sufficient offerings.

Herbs

Similar to herbs, we also have easy access to tons of different crystals to use in our practice. Again, this is awesome as these specimens are beautiful and useful, but we often forget about the rocks beneath our feet. They may not be as colorful or polished as what we can get at the Witchy stores but that doesn’t mean they are any less powerful. In fact, I think that they may have even more power as they are in their natural state (not polished) and imbued with the spirit of the land you reside on. It’s pretty easy to find pieces of quartz, and we all know from 101 that quartz is the multi-purpose stone.  Examples of other useful local stones include holed stones for protection, red colored ones for love, and sharp-pointed rocks for hexing.

stones

Get to know the local animals. Just like the land spirits, get to know them. Read up on their habitats, biology,  habits, and magical associations. These creatures can become powerful allies in your magical work. They too have many lessons to teach us, if we only listen and observe. Explore forms of divination that utilize animals such as ornithomancy or scrying with animal skulls.  Incorporate found feathers, bones, shells, and other parts into your spells. I like to make charms out of deer bones and feathers I’ve found while walking through the forest. Be sure to tread lightly on their territory and always give them proper thanks.

bones

Develop your own Wheel of Year. Remember that the Sabbats as they are, are geared towards a European climate. The specific dates and central themes may not translate well to your specific location. For example, at Imbolc we often look for those first signs of Spring. However, where I live it’s still snowing heavily and we have another good two months of winter. If you feel disconnected from a Sabbat, do something about it! As you go through each season, make note of the timing of things. When do the leaves actually begin to fall? If you don’t get snow, what are the signs of winter to look out for? How do the local flora and fauna fluctuate with the changing seasons? Based on these observations, move the dates of the Sabbats to more appropriate times or come up with new ones altogether.

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The landscape around us is extremely important in Witchcraft. To our ancestors, it would have been everything. Yet today we often overlook it, buying herbs online, celebrating Sabbats that don’t make sense to our climate, and calling upon far away lands that we may have no real connection to. There are a lot of reasons behind this, and it’s not to say that we are all lazy Witches. Just that sometimes we need to remember to stop and see the magic that already surrounds us. Whether it’s finding one local plant to incorporate into spells, adopting a local animal as a spirit guide, or simply greeting the trees in the park every morning on the way to work, we can work to reestablish the much needed relationship with our personal landscape.

Source: Putting Nature Back in Witchcraft

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