It took me a long time to realize it, but I’ve been working with land spirits since I was a kid. I think a lot of people who spend time outside are inadvertently working with land spirits and don’t even realize it. I’ve seen a fair amount of guides that discuss how to get to know land spirits via leaving offerings and such, but I wanted to explore an alternative method to learning about your local land spirits that doesn’t involve a single offering or shrine of any kind.
I can sum it up in one sentence: Go outside.
And when I say go outside, I don’t necessarily mean go outside once a month and sit in your front yard. I mean go outside a couple times per week and get off of your property (unless you’re lucky enough to have a few hundred acres) and pay attention while you’re doing it. It is amazing what you can learn about a land when you go out daily and watch the clouds and feel the weather change and notice how the wind blows in certain directions during certain times of the year.
You can only get to know your land spirits by going out and engaging the land that you live on and the environment that surrounds you.
This isn’t any entirely new concept. Blacker discusses in The Catalpa Bow about how many groups of Japanese will go and hike up various holy mountains as a means to connect with the local Kami- and the same goes for us. If you really want to learn about your local fauna, go outside and spend time with them.
This works for city dwellers, too. For example, I used to drive about an hour and a half one way to school every single day. I learned very quickly what patterns the freeway took. I learned about how our freeway system in Phoenix had cycles and patterns the same way that a person might have. You learn the timing of the lights on certain streets. You learn how certain streets get more traffic than others and how certain streets seem to always be temperamental with traffic. In a way, this is learning the “lay of the land”. That, to me, is the point behind working with land spirits- you learn the feel and energy that the landscape has. You essentially learn to work with the land, and in effect, become synched with it- you become one with it (I know, it sounds cliche).
So what are some things you can do to connect with the land around you?
Beyond going outside, here are some methods that I’ve used to connect with the land that I live in that you can try out where you live. Some of these things don’t require going outside, and some of these items can be done while driving around town. Feel free to experiment and see how they work for you.
Pay attention to the weather
This goes beyond knowing that we have four seasons (which Arizona actually doesn’t have). This is knowing about how the weather works in your location and how that can effect your living situation. Allow me to use AZ as an example.
I know that the optimal walking season in central Arizona is going to be late October through early April. Anytime outside of this range there will be an increased risk for running into snakes and other dangerous critters as well as having issues with heat stroke. I know that in the winter, our storms come from the Northwest and that in the summer, our monsoons tend to come from the South. Additionally, I can tell you that a monsoon will likely take one of two routes- it will skirt around the Eastern rim of the Valley and soak the entirety of Globe (and miss the Valley almost entirely) or the storm will likely run up the I-10 corridor into the Valley.
I can tell you that it gets humid in late June and will stay humid until late August. I can tell you that the weather will get hippy dippy in mid-September until November and that you won’t likely see consistent temperatures again until it’s almost Thanksgiving. I know that the weather will normally get all weird again come February and that the coldest times of the year only last between the middle of December until the end of January.
This comes from living here for 20 years. This comes from paying attention to the patterns that I see in the sky and taking notice of how the weather works. I can look at the clouds in the sky and tell you if the weather man is accurate or not. I can watch a monsoon storm forming and tell you if it’s going to hit us or not because I’ve paid attention over the past two decades.
Pay attention to traffic
The freeway system in Phoenix is fickle, but predictable. I have no clue if other freeways are or not- but ours certainly is. The freeway will be fairly tame for a couple weeks, and then all of a sudden we’ll have a couple of really bad accidents all in a row and the freeway will be a smattering of black and red for a couple of days straight. I don’t know why it works this way, but I’ve shared this theory of the freeway having monthlies with a few other commuters I know and we’ve all noticed the same trend.
So when the first major freeway shutdown occurs, I know that I need to anticipate leaving early or being late for the next week. I also know I need to drive safer during this time because its likely that the freeway is going to be grumpy for the next week or so.
This can also work for surface streets. Knowing where streets tend to buckle down and gridlock vs. which streets have smooth sailing. Certain areas in the Valley are known for bad accidents- and so you know to be careful while driving in those areas, etc.
Pay attention to the vegetation
I mentioned in my post about land spirits heading south that vegetation can be a huge indication of things going wrong. I’ve learned to keep an eye on the status of plant life when I walk to work every day. Monsoon time is particularly bad for Arizona because the harsh winds have a bad habit of knocking down hoards of trees in a matter of 20 minutes. When I notice this occurring, I always am sure to say some prayers for the location. If I see that an area is repeatedly hit, I start to look deeper to see if there is something bigger going on.
If you notice that vegetation is heading south (and its not from, say, the summer sun killing things off, or winter killing things off), it could be an indication of a larger problem.
Pay attention to the fauna
I think one of the reasons I do well with my current location is because I’ve built up a reputation around here for helping birds. I have the misfortune of working inside of a glass building. Because its reflective, many birds meet their deaths by flying straight into the glass. Unlike many of my coworkers, I will dispose of birds that have landed on the building’s balconies and any birds that are still alive, I will scoop up and take them to the local “bird doctor”. Helping out local wildlife can help you to connect with the land. It can also indicate if there are other problems being caused by other people. A good example of this would be other people poisoning local wildlife (such as pigeons or coyotes- both are common out here). If you can catch the trend or pattern, you might be able to do something about it. You can also notice migration patterns of the local wildlife which easily ties back into knowing the weather patterns and patterns of the land.
Give back to the land
I feel like a lot of people’s first reactions to land spirits is to leave out food and drink offerings to the spirits. However, I believe that one of the best things you can do is to actually actively give back to the land. What I mean by this is that you do actions that benefit the land around you. For example, you could pick up garbage along the road, plant trees, water grass, maintain pretty landscaping. While giving up food offerings is a nice sentiment, I do believe that getting out and actually doing something more physical for the land can go further.
Tied to the land is also the community. The connection between people and their land/community is reciprocal, and taking care of one another benefits the land which in turn benefits us. Helping one another to make the community look and feel nicer will lead to the land being more nourished, and therefore the spirits that inhabit the land to be more nourished. As they say, everything is connected.
What does any of this have to do with being friendly with land spirits?
I believe that learning the nuances of the land around you is paramount in forming a relationship with the local spirits. To me, stepping outside once or twice a month to leave offerings and doing nothing more is the equivalent to making your kids dinner and leaving them to eat alone at the dinner table. You are sustaining your children with meals, but you’re not taking the time to talk to them and get to know what they like or dislike, or who their friends are. When you move beyond simply giving offerings every so often and move into learning the patterns and motions of the land/environment around you, you’re learning about how the spirits behave and act. You’re showing that you’re trying to learn more about the spirits around you as they manifest through the local environment. The more you can learn about how your surroundings work and behave, the easier it’ll be to know when the local spirits are irritated and then how to calm them back down again. It’s the difference between “Everyone knows that women like chocolate and red roses, so I’ll get her that” and “I know that she loves Snickers and pink carnations, so I’ll get her that”. The more you get to know the specifics of your local spirits, the deeper your relationship can go.