“Walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters, finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord.” –Rebecca Solnit in Wanderlust: A History of Walking
As an animistic pagan, my most sacred practice involves neither cauldron nor athame, although I own both. My most sacred practice is walking daily through my neighborhood with my dog, Poe.
Because I walk with Poe, I know–from bodily experience, not from faith nor from reason–that the moon was full two nights ago and that Orion is still visible in the night sky. I know that the days are lengthening, and that the first of this season’s mountain laurel blooms opened early this year, around February 6th:
Yesterday I noticed agarita, anemone, spiderwort, and redbud in bloom, tended by bees. Because I walk with Poe, I witness the trees through the seasons. Right now new leaves are unfurling on Arizona ash trees, but elm, pecan, and deciduous oaks have yet to leaf out.
Because I walk with Poe, I know where screech owls and herons tend to nest in our neighborhood, and I’ll be among the first to notice when the bats return next month.
Because I walk with Poe, I meet human neighbors with whom I don’t have much in common and probably wouldn’t talk to otherwise. Mr. Hunter comes first to mind. He’s an older neighbor in his 80s who hosts a weekly Bible study in his home. His wife self-publishes Christian fiction. During the last election, they put up a yard sign for Ted Cruz; my family put up a sign for Beto. Our worldviews and lifestyles stand poles apart, but I enjoy seeing Mr. Hunter, whenever Poe and I meet him during a walk. Mr. Hunter scritches Poe’s ears. We talk about the weather, animals, gardening, my family and work, and his great-grandchildren. Our conversations lack even a trace of bitterness. I find instead that they’re flavored by very old, very pagan values of hospitality and reciprocity. Our meetings feel deeply sacred.
These are fair-weather days for walking in Central Texas–spring is easily our most pleasurable season–but important to note that sacred walking is not a fair-weather practice. I submit to winter and walk on cold days, with every arrector pili muscle contracted and every hair on end. I submit to the sun’s strength in summer, when the only safe and salubrious times of day to walk are before 10 a.m. and after dark. I know the direction of the wind and the temperature of the air each day because my skin knows.
I experience a sense of place and belonging, when Poe and I walk through our neighborhood. I’m grounded, connected, and relating with intention to the human and more-than-human world around me. I’m aware that the very real world of spirits is here, right now, and not somewhere else, far away. This is it!, to borrow a Zen Buddhist proverb. To experience this world as radically alive, all I have to do is keep walking and pay attention.
Anna Walther Anna is an everyday animist and UU Pagan whose spiritual interests include healing, the creative process, sacred place, gardening and foraging, poetry, mythology, and Reclaiming Witchcraft. She facilitates the Pagan Alliance at First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin. Anna’s work also appears on TejasWeb.org, JustThis, the journal of the Austin Zen Center, and her blog Wildseed Within.