Pagan in Place is a column devoted to place-bound paganism. My goals are active engagement with my environment via meditation, walking outside, ritual, journaling, storytelling, and acts of social and environmental justice. Being pagan in place is about getting out of the house, putting foot to ground, and doing my holy work directly, at the closest creek, at my neighborhood park, at the community garden, and in my own backyard.
The elements, plants, animals, and seasonal patterns that inspire my practice manifest in specific places; therefore I must be grounded in a specific place in order to interact with them. To become rooted in place, Starhawk suggests choosing a “home base” or “secret spot” from which to observe the change of seasons (56-58). She suggests the backyard or a neighborhood park, but any place that is accessible on a daily basis will do. A home base for practice need not be wilderness; cities, with their unique structures, communities of organisms, and seasonal changes, are nature, too. The key part of a home base practice is simply showing up over and over again with a sense of curiosity and wonder. How do air and water flow through the environment? What communities of organisms grow together? What changes over time, and how? What patterns can be perceived? See the “Where You At?” quiz in Chas Clifton’s essay “Nature Religion for Real” for bioregional knowledge questions that could be applied to a home base, too.
When I began Pagan practice, I made my backyard my home base. There I watered the garden, watched my kids play, took scraps to the compost pile, fed the dog, watched birds, and drank coffee with friends. Then one spring I began sitting on the back patio and journaling. I learned to identify birds by their songs: first the screeching bluejays, then the whinnying screech owls, chirping cardinals, yodeling Carolina wrens, and trilling red-bellied woodpeckers. In summer, I noted the time of day when cicadas started beating their strident songs, and I watched cumulus clouds evaporate under the harsh noon sun. Flurries of gold cedar elm leaves began falling in August. Several months later, the red oaks near the back fence burst into crimson after winter’s first freeze. In spring, inland sea oats, a native grass, pushed chartreuse shoots above the soil, and the cycle started over.
As much as anything else, my place-based practice involves looking and listening deeply to the world around me. I meditate, journal, walk outside, pore over field guides, collect local stories, build altars, light candles, cast the circle, and meet with others who do the same. Every now and then, I even pray. But the core of my practice is feeling my feet on the ground, breathing in, breathing out, watching, and listening. Bearing witness.
Less than a mile from my home, a wooded public park is now a second home base for me. A public school was originally intended for the site, but after schools for neighborhood children were built elsewhere, the City of Austin set the land aside for green space. A small web of trails crisscrosses the center, but the core of the twelve-acre park is uncultivated, a place where plant life and death are allowed to unfold as they will, instead of being carefully edited by human hands, as they often are in our home gardens. Neighbors jog, walk dogs, or enjoy the playground there, and at least one Witch visits regularly at dusk to pick up trash, observe nature, and meditate. In winter, around the grove where I sit, male Ashe juniper trees release pollen, and female trees fill out with bright blue berries that blare sharp, dry notes of pine and citrus on my tongue. In spring, poison ivy vines climb live oak trunks, and in summer, agaves flower and die. Snakes, foxes, bats, bees, ants, grasshoppers, cedar waxwings, mockingbirds, robins, and finches hunt for food and mates. Wildflowers and grasses blanket the thin topsoil of open spaces and ripple against the restless breeze. The park lies on karst limestone, and neighborhood myth even has it that the site once contained a cave.
Localized Pagan practice is experiential, Earth-centered, and place-bound. The simple method for developing this practice is to commit to a place and keep showing up with senses engaged. As David Abram notes in Becoming Animal, nothing ever reveals itself entirely to our sensory perception (71). Our sensory experience of a thing depends on the light, angle, distance, and other qualities of our position relative to the thing in place and time. Thus, the places that I choose for home bases, regardless of the number of times I visit them, retain subtlety and invite questions. A birdsong that’s new to my ears. A stone that I had not noticed before. The toad sheltering in the stone’s lee after a rain. And in the cool, clear puddle the rain left behind, the sky’s shifting reflection. When I choose to be fully present in the moment and in place, when I open my awareness wide and listen, look, taste, and touch the world around me, the very land beneath my feet comes alive and takes me as deep into mystery as I ever care to go.
Abram, David. Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology. New York, NY: Vintage Books, 2010. Print.
Clifton, Chas. “Nature Religion for Real.” GNOSIS 48, Summer 1998. http://www.chasclifton.com/papers/forreal.html. Accessed 19 May 2015.
Starhawk. The Earth Path: Grounding Your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2004. Print.
Anna Walther practices place-based paganism in Austin, Texas. Her practice is inspired by the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft and the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Anna’s interests include sacred spaces, ritual art, ecopsychology, biophilia, and environmental ethics. She attends First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin with her husband and children.