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Creating a Calendar Around Local Ecology: Developing Associations and Themes

So while we have the backbone of our calendar that was generated in the last post, you’ll note that many of these holidays lack any real direction for how to exactly celebrate them or participate in the natural shifts around you. This post and the next are here to help you flesh out your calendar by exploring ideas, themes, and associations you can link up with your holidays.

The backbone we made in the last post is meant to give you a basic framework to build around. From here, we’re going to utilize all of the information we still haven’t touched from the first post to refine what the yearly cycle in your area really looks like to you. It’s one thing to know when your summer starts and ends, or how much snow you get in the winter, but its another to know how these seasons actually play out where you live. Ideally, we will want to incorporate these elements into our yearly celebrations so that we’re genuinely connecting with the region we live in — not just a cardboard cutout that is generalized for ease of use.

Meeting Your Neighbors: Local Landforms

One of the first areas I wanted to start our layering process with is the concept of landforms. Landforms is a pretty generic term that encompasses pretty much every geological feature you’ve ever seen. This includes mountains, rock formations, lakes, valleys, etc. Taking stock of the landforms around you is essentially taking stock of the topography in which you live. Do you happen to live in a valley? on the edge of a valley? Are there any mountains nearby? Do you have any rivers or lakes that influence your area? What does the land look like where you live?

There are a couple of reasons why having this information can be useful, and which of these reasons applies to you will depend on what is most important to your individual practice.

Landforms Define Your Local Weather

First is that your local weather will be heavily influenced by the landforms closest to you. To use an example that is close to my heart, Phoenix, AZ is in the bottom of a valley that lies at the base of the Colorado Plateau. You’d think that since I’m an hour from Phoenix that my weather would be the exact same, but that’s not entirely true. I live on the southern ridge of this valley, on the north face of a series of small mountains. These mountainous landforms change the weather for me pretty dramatically. Being 600 feet higher in elevation means that my temperatures are often a few degrees cooler than Phoenix, and are about 5 degrees cooler than the closest town that is at the base of the mountains, about 20 minutes away.

Which is to say that looking at your local landforms will help to give you a better idea of how the weather works specifically where you’re at. Most of the weather information that you can pull will be from city centers and airports, and not all of us live in those specific locations where the weather data is pulled from. In order to tailor-fit your calendar, it’s best to observe whether landforms could be playing a role in your weather, and how that effects your yearly calendar.

Also keep in mind that man-made objects can also alter your weather, and if these structures are benefiting your weather patterns and systems, they may be worth incorporating into your calendar.

Landforms as Foci of Veneration

The second role that landforms can play in your calendar is to be a focus of veneration or adoration. For example, the mountain range that exists directly to the west and south of where I live often protects us from the worst monsoon storms. I have lived on both sides of what I call the “south ridge,” and I can attest that living south of this ridge means that your power will go out a lot more, and you’re more likely to have your house destroyed from the harsh weather that comes at us from across the dry river bed.

Knowing this means that I could always give thanks and attention to these mountains as we go into the monsoon season. Perhaps acknowledging that these mountains deflect the worst from us, and provide us with some amount of protection and stability in an inherently unstable season.

As another example, if you live near a large body of water, you may find that this body of water keeps your climate more temperate, as large lakes and oceans tend to take the edge off of the hottest and coldest parts of the year. Maybe you really love that your summer is nice and balmy, and would want to give thanks to this body of water for making that happen. This could involve having your celebrations at this body of water, or perhaps engaging in more direct action to protect or preserve it (whether through community action or volunteering to clean up the area, etc.)

From another angle, you may have learned that this large body of water serves as the main source of water for your local area. Knowing this, you may choose to incorporate this vital landform into your holidays, perhaps even creating a holiday that acknowledges your reliance on this water source existing. Some places where this might make sense would be in the springtime, as the snowpack begins to melt and begins to fill all of the waterways below, or to honor it during the summer, when your water supply is likely to be the most taxed for survival.

Nesting Local Ecology into Global Patterns

As you could potentially tell after reading about landforms, it becomes really easy to continue to shift the scope of your weather into a larger and bigger scale. The mountains that protect me come in contact with storm systems that are generated from the equator, and suddenly I’m looking at weather that’s happening in parts of the world I’ve never seen. To me, it helps to be able to place my local weather phenomena onto a larger scale to be able to see where my weather actually comes from, and by extension, to better understand what’s going on when my weather doesn’t behave as it normally does.

To use an example that’s familiar to some of my readership, in ancient Egypt, they knew that the inundation of the Nile was vital to their existence, but they didn’t have a full and solid understanding as to where that water actually came from. They believed it to bubble up out from the Duat in a cavern at the base of the river, but in truth, the answer is a lot more complicated and involves monsoon storms and snow packs in other parts of the continent. So in their frame of reference, you would cajole the deities that oversaw those caverns to ensure that you got enough water for the year. Where as under this model, you might cajole the monsoon rains to fall and the winter storms to bring a decent amount of snow so that there would be enough to fill your river later on.

This is also why I had you look into watershed maps. These maps will inform where your water comes from, and where you should focus your intent if you want to help ensure an appropriate amount of water comes to your area. For example, if you live somewhere whose water source relies on an aquifer being filled by a snow pack in a mountain range a few counties north of you, then it may be worth considering creating some sort of holiday that honors the role these mountains play in your survival.

Creating Associations

Part of fleshing out your calendar is having the ability to make associations between your holidays and the world around you. In this section, we’ll talk about a few ways to develop various associations in your area.

Seasonal Markers

Anything that helps to bring you to a particular time within the year would fall under this category. Put another way, these are the things that help you to notice that something is shifting around you. Usually, this would be seasonal shifts and changes, but it could also encompass other natural phenomena. Some examples of what these could be are:

  • the first flowers that pop up in spring
  • a particular type of wind that indicates that snow is coming
  • migratory animals that are only in your region for brief periods of time throughout a given year
  • the most-available natively-grown food item during your region’s “dead period” (most of you know it as winter)
  • the first things that are edible in spring, or after the “dead period”
  • the first leaves that change color during the fall

If you see it, and it lets you know that stuff around you is changing, it belongs in this category.

You could utilize these markers with the seasons they are associated with. For example, if you’re celebrating the beginning of a season, it might make sense to utilize the things that let you know this season is beginning in your holiday goings on.

Sustainers

The sustainer category is made up of anything that essentially helps to sustain your ecosystem in a particularly large way. These are essentially the keystone species that exist within your area, and would include both fauna and flora. This could also include landforms and larger ecological systems that help maintain the characteristics of your region such as a large reservoir that maintains the potable water for your area, or a particular forest that brings your seasonal rains down to where you live, or even a large tree that shades your porch in the summer.

In many ways, I would argue that this category would qualify as a sort of means of figuring out what is sacred in an area. Keystone species in particular leave a huge impact on the environment around them, so much that they are often used to gauge how healthy an ecological system is. When keystone species are removed from an ecosystem, the ecosystem is almost guaranteed to degrade and suffer until the balance is restored. As such, these species are worth protecting as much as possible, and to me, deserve sacred status where they natively occur.

Given that these species help to maintain the ecology of your region, I would argue that these species (or representations thereof, or potentially things associated with them) could be utilized in any holiday at any season. However, I also think there could be some potency in celebrating certain key times in the life cycle of the species within this category. For example, if there is a tree that is a keystone species, and it bears fruit, it might be worth celebrating when the fruit comes into season.

The Power of Observation

As a final note, we always say in permaculture that the most important skill that you can have is the skill of observation. Every year, I observe my surroundings, and every year, I discover new things. I notice new patterns that emerge, new ideas for holidays, new plant associations that form. By watching the world around you, and taking note of what you experience and when, you open up the possibility to incorporate an ever growing number of associations for your calendar.

For me, the calendar is about actively choosing to participate in the world around me. Sometimes, this means big displays of celebration or ritual. But sometimes, its nothing more than baring witness to what is going on around me. Not everything needs to be elaborate or large, and just by observing and paying attention, you are still participating in the natural patterns that occur around you. When we are not sure, or are lost on how to proceed, observation should be our fallback tool for coming up with new ideas and inspiration.

Hopefully this post has helped you to start thinking about ways you can begin to flesh out meaning and associations with your local natural settings. In the next post, we’ll discuss some ways in which religious practices can begin to be incorporated to your calendar.

 

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Creating a Calendar Around Local Ecology: Creating the Backbone

In my last post, I discussed the various pieces of information that might be useful for creating a region-specific calendar based off of your local ecology. In this post, we’re going to take all of that information and begin to extract the beginnings of a calendar that we can then work with.

How to Utilize Your Weather Info

Your weather information will provide you the backbone of your calendar. Analyzing the information should give you a general idea of what weather happens when in your region. And generally speaking, when weather happens, you have holidays.

The most important thing to get out of all of your weather information is a solid understanding of how your local weather works, and by extension, when your seasons actually occur. Don’t be afraid to move away from our standard, wrote ideas of the standard four seasons that are exactly the same length of time every year. In my experience, there are a lot of small shifts and changes that occur in every region throughout the yearly cycle, and to me, it feels worth honoring these changes as they occur, which might lead you away from a basic four equinoxes and four solstices.

To get this started, I’m going to show you some charts of the weather in Pueblo, CO (a place I chose at random) to illustrate how to parse information out and translate it into holidays or seasons.

In the chart above, you can see that the hottest parts of the year start around June 2, and wind down around Sept 13. You could make this your summer, with a celebration of the average hottest day of the year on July 8. If you wanted, you could also add in another holiday to celebrate the middle of the summer season, which would be around July 22. Your winter season generally starts on November 20 and ends around Feb 24, with the coldest day being on Dec 29. Just like with summer, you could also add in a holiday celebrating the middle of the season if you felt the need. That would then leave your spring to potentially be from Feb 24 to June 2, and your fall to be from Sept 13 to November 20.

To summarize, you now have the following dates/holidays of note for this region so far:

  • June 2: spring end, summer start
  • July 8: hottest day of the year
  • July 22: summer midpoint
  • Sept 13: summer end, fall start
  • Oct 17: fall midpoint
  • November 20: fall end, winter start
  • Dec 29: coldest day of the year
  • Jan 6: winter midpoint
  • Feb 24: winter end, spring begin
  • April 12: spring midpoint

You can use solar maps to determine when you have the most and least amounts of sunlight within a given year, which can be useful for people who happen to have interest in “light and dark” juxtaposition, or have solar-related practices/deities. Now despite the summer being from early June to mid-Sept, the solar map below shows that your sunniest time of the year in Pueblo actually begins on April 29 and ends on July 31. This often occurs out of sync with summer due to cloud cover. So this is less about how much your region of the world is exposed to the sun, but more about how much of that solar energy actually makes it to the ground.

So in this situation, you could create an entire “solar season” that has its own reoccurring rites, or you could potentially just have a singular holiday on June 10, which typically has the most sun out of the year. The same goes for the darkest parts of the year — you could have a season that exists from Nov 3 to Feb 10, and you could have a singular holiday on the darkest day of the year: Dec 20. I will expand on these ideas more in the “Adding Layers” and “Folding in Religion” posts.

Another two seasons to consider adding to your calendar are your rainy and snowy season (if applicable.)

You can see that the full rainy season for Pueblo runs March 16 to October 16, with two peaks in between. Depending on what is most important to you, you could have a holiday at the beginning and/or end of the season, and you could have two days of note for each of the peaks that exist within the rainy season. Since the rain appears to die back at the start of summer, it might also be worth making a nod to the reduced rain in your summer holiday setup.

Snowfall in Pueblo seems to run from October to May, but you could start and end the season at the 0.1″ mark as this website did, which would make the dates December 10 to Feb 15. You also could consider creating an impromptu celebration each year for the first day that it snows, regardless of your yearly averages.

 

And while I’m not sure if someone in Pueblo cares too much about the wind, the windy season for this part of the world runs from November to June. Down in Arizona, the shifting trade winds dictate a lot about how our weather is running, and often marks the changing of the seasons. So for me, wind patterns play a significant role. However, you may find through observation that the winds don’t seem to correlate to anything where you live, and may choose to omit this information.

So after having done this basic analysis, you get the following basic holiday/seasonal structure for Pueblo:

  • April 29: solar season begin
  • May/June: snow disappears (floating holiday)
  • June 2: summer start
  • June 10: brightest day of the year
  • July 8: hottest day of the year
  • July 22: summer midpoint
  • July 31: solar season end
  • Sept 13: summer end, fall start
  • Oct: first day of snow (floating holiday)
  • Oct 16: rainy season end
  • Oct 17: fall midpoint
  • Nov 3: dark season begin
  • November 20: fall end, winter start
  • Dec 10: snow season begin (Alt: Oct 1)
  • Dec 20: darkest day of the year
  • Dec 29: coldest day of the year
  • Jan 6: winter midpoint
  • Feb 15: snow season end (Alt: May 1)
  • Feb 24: winter end, spring begin
  • March 16: rainy season begin
  • April 12: spring midpoint

Of course, you don’t have to utilize every single holiday listed. You could easily just pick a handful to start with, and work your way from there. But if nothing else, this should allow you to see how you can extrapolate any number of natural events that occur seasonally within your region — and then make holidays out of them. Now, these holidays have very little character or specifics to them, and that can be challenging to work with. In the next post, we’ll go over some ways to flesh these holidays out by using other local information that we gathered in step one.

Related Posts:

 

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Creating a Calendar Around Local Ecology: Gathering Information

I think one of the hardest parts of creating your own sort of local cultus is that it can be challenging to figure out how to do things without being appropriative. Most of us are living on lands that were stolen from indigenous people who had their own traditions, religions, and ways of relating to the land/world around them. To cherry-pick and take elements of their traditions as an outsider is an act of violence and theft, and so many of us are left wondering what options might be open to us.

In many instances, people will often look to their own religious traditions for inspiration, but the truth of the matter is that most of us are pulling from traditions that were centered somewhere else. For example, as a Kemetic, I would be pulling from a very specific area in the world with very specific weather patterns and cultural ways of existing in a region. Egypt was known to have a three-season cycle that centered heavily upon the rising and falling of the Nile, because the Nile was really what allowed them to survive how and where they did. And while the three-season model is close to what we have in Arizona, it’s certainly not what most people living in the US have to work with. Which is to say that most of these traditions don’t line up with our daily experience because they’re not tied to our specific region where we live. You know, the region that had its own culture that was forcefully removed so we could be here.

At the end of the day, most of us are still left going “how on earth can I connect the dots between where I live, and my religious practice?”

This series is aimed to help connect those dots — without being appropriative.

Direction; Expectations; What are we even making?

Before I get into the meat and potatoes of how to create this connection, I wanted to first lay some groundwork down that will hopefully help you get the most out of this.

First off, I am attempting to show you a way to gather information about your local region, and utilize that information to create holidays and rituals that form a sort of yearly calendar. At least initially, all of the posts in this series will be very generic in nature, and should be applicable to nearly any religious practice/practitioner. As things progress, if there is any interest in it, I can create more posts that show specific examples of what I’m doing with my local region, as well as how you can tie specific Kemetic ideas to the concepts laid out in this series. So regardless of your religious practice or preference: this should still be useful to you if you’re wanting to create a custom calendar.

This calendar will essentially be used to help you celebrate and participate in the natural, cyclical phenomena that occur where you live. This can also be expanded to encompass local fauna, landforms, and other natural features that exist around you which help to create the natural rhythms that make up the characteristics of your region. This includes suggestions for how to determine what might be considered sacred in your area. I also feel that you could utilize this as a baseline to fold in mythology and deities that exist within the religious structures that many of us are already participating in — hopefully in a way that respects the fact that we’re living on stolen land.

Second, I wanted to set the expectation that this sort of thing is not created in a day. Every year my understanding and knowledge about the region I live in is enriched and expanded. As you get more adept at seeing the patterns and cycles at play within the natural world around you, the more subtle stuff you’ll be able to pick up on, and the more you can branch out your holiday/ritual setup. Your first yearly calendar may only have a few holidays, but as time goes on, you may see other places where you could do more or try new things. This is normal and its fine if it takes a while to get the hang of it. Don’t be afraid to start simple and make it more complex as time progresses.

And finally, if you end up using this information to create your own calendars and rituals based off of your region, please let me know. I’d love for this to be a collaborative effort where we can all build off of each other and create a lot of different ways of celebrating our local regions. Ultimately, if there is enough content, I’ll create a sort of index of posts so that others can view them.

Here is the general outline of how these posts will flow:

Step One: Gathering Information

For me, the first step to creating a local calendar is to gather a whole lot of information about where you live. What kinds of information? Well nothing is technically off limits, but for the sake of ease, I’m going to break this down into two categories: weather patterns, and local plants and fauna.

Weather

So let’s start with weather. I feel like many people will say that this sounds stupidly obvious. Obvious in the sense of “We have four seasons: winter, spring, summer, fall; and they occur at these times of the year. Done!”

But I urge you to dig a little bit deeper than that.

Weather patterns are often way more nuanced and vary across different regions. To give you an example, almost every part of Arizona has something of a three-season cycle, but the specifics of the cycles are still very different depending on where you live. There is a city about two hours south of me called Tucson, and while they have the exact same seasons as Phoenix (where I live,) the specifics of our seasons are super different. Tucson is a lot less hot than us, they get way more rain, you can grow way more in the summer there, and their winters tend to be colder than ours. The only real difference between us is our elevation, and yet our wind patterns and rain patterns are quite different. The more local you can get, the better your results will be.

When examining weather patterns, here is a short list of things I recommend learning about:

  • Temperature patterns: what are you hottest and coldest days/times of the year? At what times throughout the year do your temperatures start to shift?
  • Wind patterns: what direction do storms come from? How about pressure systems?
  • Rain patterns: do you have a rainy or snowy season? When is it? Does your rain or snow typically come from a particular direction or location?
  • Watersheds: how does your local area receive its potable water? Is it from rain sources, or an aquifer? Are there local rivers or other water sources worth honoring or protecting?
  • Global weather patterns: how does your local weather fit into the larger scale of global trade winds and patterns? This is useful for figuring out what is necessary to make the weather happen where you live. It will also highlight how climate change could be changing your weather.

There are lots of places you can look to learn about your weather patterns, but it can sometimes be tricky to find information. My absolute favorite is WeatherSpark.com, because it has really nice graphs. I generally find that Wunderground.com, BestPlaces.net and USClimateData.com are also good places to start, but I don’t know how well these websites will work for non-US locations. So just in case its helpful, here are some key words and phrases I often use:

  • [zip code] weather patterns
  • [zip code] weather history
  • [zip code] annual rainfall
  • [zip code] weather averages
  • [state/province] watershed map
  • [state/province] water resources

A lot of the websites you access will give you daily and weekly weather forecasts, and you can usually find “history” or “annual” tabs within these websites in order to see the bigger picture of how your weather pans out over a year.

Plants and Fauna

When it comes to plants and fauna, these are the sorts of things that I would recommend looking into:

  • Planting patterns: when do you typically plant and harvest where you live? Do you have one big growing season, or multiple smaller growing seasons?
  • Eating patterns: which of your native plants is edible, and could be reintroduced into the diet today? What are the growing and harvesting times for these plants? Are there specialty foods related to your specific region?
  • Natives: what are some of the plants or fauna that are native to the area? Which of these are keystone species? Are any of them endangered?
  • Invasives: are there invasive plant species in your area? how about invasive animals?
  • Local ecosystems and landforms: are there any forests, landforms, or other habitats nearby? Do these habitats (forests, deserts, etc.) influence your local fauna or weather?

Some search terms you could use to look up some of this information:

  • USDA Hardiness Zone [zip code] (I don’t know if non-US places have an equivalent)
  • [state/province] invasive plant species
  • [state/province] native plants, native edible plants
  • [county name] extension office, extension resources
  • [county name] growing calendar

Of course, gathering this information is only part of the solution. You have to figure out what to do with the information that you’ve gathered — which we will cover in the next post (because this post is pretty long as it is).

 

 

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Connecting with Land Spirits: An Alternate View

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.

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Posted by on November 26, 2013 in Land Spirits and Urban Spirit Work

 

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Land Spirits Living in Suburbia Hell

I have spent most of my life living in suburbia hell. You know the setting- tract housing that all looks the same. Tiny little postage stamp yards filled with grass and shrubs. It’s pretty much the standard for Arizona after the housing boom of the late 90’s. Almost everyone lives in tract housing or shoddily built apartments that have paper thin walls.

This is probably also a standard living situation for most Pagans. I know it is for me.

When you live in such a cookie-cutter setting, how does one find the land spirits that are around them? Can you even find local spirits inside of a subdivision?

I believe that the answer is yes, you can. You just have to know where to look.

Luckily for me I have spent 20 plus years in the Valley of the Sun. I’ve driven thousands of miles on this city’s roads and I’ve learned the ins and outs of the land. And I do believe that even here, in even the most suburban portions of this city, land spirits do still hang around and mess with your sprinklers when they’re bored.

They exist within the very streets you drive upon. They get their kicks screwing with the traffic patterns and watching people get angry over it. They show you that they love you by giving you green lights when you need them most.

They exist in the monotonous landscaping that lines our streets and dots our medians. It’s the land spirit that leaves a $5 bill on the sidewalk where you happen to pass every day, or the sneaky little spirit that guzzles up the remains of the soda in the Thirstbuster that got thrown out of a passing truck.

They exist in the reflective surfaces of the windows that make up our office buildings, and they make faces at you when you use the window like a mirror to pick food out of your teeth. They bask by your pools in the summer and topple over your snowmen in the winter (except not in central AZ. We just bask by the pool year round down here).

You can see where they gather the most- around the person’s house with all of the birds outside of it, and you know that the lady with the big flowers out front probably has some spirit that fancies her- because they help to keep the plants growing strong. You can see them mourning when a tree is felled by a storm or when some stupid human decides that that tree is not in an ideal spot and cuts it down for no reason.

They play in fountains that adorn apartment complex entrances and harass your dog as you walk him at ten at night. They play baseball in empty lots in between buildings and stop kids from chasing balls into the street.

They are all around us, and most of us never even realize it.

Every day I walk a stretch of pavement that is about a mile long. Every day I pass by the same gravel, trees, and houses on my way to where I’m going. Every day I can see and learn about how the local spirits are doing purely based off of what I see around me. They leave me little hints on the ground in the form of dropped papers or knickknacks (my astral companions are guilty of this, too). Its almost like divining based off of what I find on the side of the road.

They also leave me goodies that I can use in my practice. This can be in the form of feathers, rocks, critters or random stuff on the ground (mirrors, cordage, spoons, hubcaps).

As I walk, I can see problems with human design affecting the land spirits and lay of the land by watching where traffic buckles and where wildlife tends to get hit. And I always make a point to stop and say a piece to anything I come across that has met its end by the side of the road.

I nod as I walk by a tree that was felled in a storm last year, but hasn’t been cleared away yet. Something still hovers over the corpse of the tree, watching as people golf nearby and traffic rolls along without a care. I often catch a glimpse of the “locals” at the community pool as they stare at their reflection in the blue turquoise of the water.

There is a coyote that sometimes can be seen meandering through the subdivisions of this neighborhood. I always make a note of when I see him- because I feel like its important somehow.

It’s the little things, the little movements of suburbia that give away where the spirits are and whether they are happy or not. A place that has spirit activity usually has some amount of wildlife activity. The plants grow and the traffic isn’t filled with fatalities every other week. You can stand at the end of a subdivision street and look at the houses and watch where your eyes drift. Odds are, where your eyes go- so too do the spirits.

While we often think of them as being only in the wild places like woods with no cell reception, the truth is- they do still hover around us. We just have to open our eyes to them.

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Land Spirits and Urban Spirit Work

 

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When Land Spirits Go Right

Last week I wrote about when a relationship with your land spirits heads south and the problems that can occur with such a situation. For frame of reference, I wanted to write about a peculiar relationship I’ve developed over the years with another set of land spirits and some of the signs that show that my relationship with these spirits has gone right.

San Tan Mountains by Garry Wilmore via Flickr

I grew up in a tiny mountain range in central Arizona called the San Tan mountains. These mountains aren’t anything special, honestly. Compared to the Superstitions to the north and Picacho Peak to the south- almost no one knows that the San Tans exist. They really don’t catch anyone’s attention (until the housing boom in 2004), but they were my home growing up.

When I was younger, there was almost nothing out in the San Tans. We had no running water (we had to drive into town, purchase water, bring it home and hook it up to a pump to get it into our house), we had nothing but dirt roads, and when we moved deeper into the mountains in high school, we didn’t even have mail service. Needless to say, we were out of the way and pretty much off of the map. To pass the time in such a location, I spent most of my days running around the desert looking at stuff. I used to meander through washes and climb up various rock faces. It wasn’t very long before I knew a lot of the landmarks for the area and I felt more and more comfortable walking further from home. In high school, I spent hours outside every week trying to find some peace of mind with my situation.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was effectively bonding with the local land spirits.

I suppose it should have made some sense, for despite all of my adventures on the backroads of the desert, I always managed to escape trouble. I evaded getting cactus in me (unlike in the Superstitions. I can’t set foot over there without getting cholla in me). I managed not to get bit by any snakes. And when flooding occurred in high school, somehow my car managed to plow through the river of a road to safety. However, I never really noticed that me and the land had anything special going on.

Eventually, progress would seep its way into the surrounding lands. I’d watch as my favourite trees would be cut down for homes and acres of land would be cleared for track housing. Luckily for me, as this was happening, my family moved to another part of the Valley so I didn’t have to watch the destruction of my childhood happen in real time. After college ended, I’d move out of the state all together and I wouldn’t be back to the San Tans for a few years after the fact.

Despite that, I still get dreams of the location.

It’s like even after all of these years, me and that location are connected. Whenever I dream of the San Tans, I know that someone is trying to tell me something. Every time I go there in dream space, its like I’ve traveled to an astral version of the location, and I can watch progress occurring on the Other Side as spirits carve out a living for themselves. It’s been very interesting to watch.

Now that I’ve returned to Arizona, I sometimes go out and walk through some of my old favorites (though I now have to shimmy under barbed wire to get there. Yay, “progress”) and connect with the land I grew up with. I think the area has moved on from the trauma ten years ago, especially since the economy halted a lot of the growth out there.

Now that I live closer to the spirits, I get even more dreams about them. I feel them move and whisper when I go to my grandmother’s house. I also listen to her stories of evading problems with local wildlife and I see her picking up pieces of the landscape and leaving them in her house- signs of protection, as though the spirits are telling me that they are keeping an eye on her for me, even though I’m not around much.

To me, this is the result of being tied to a land and its local fauna. These are signs that I’ve somehow managed to connect with some of the spirits that live in the San Tans. And as a result, they help me out from time to time. I don’t know what I did to garner their support over the years, but I am certainly thankful for it. Every time I head out to the desert in the San Tans, it feels like I’m heading out to see an old friend. It’s a feeling that I wish everyone got to experience.

 
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Posted by on November 9, 2013 in Land Spirits and Urban Spirit Work

 

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When Land Spirits Head South

Alternate title: Why land spirits are important

I feel like a lot of modern Pagan practices have an over-emphasis on the gods. Don’t get me wrong, gods are important, but I feel like local spirits and lesser known spirits are undervalued in our modern practices. I wanted to share a story about my own experiences with local land spirits as a way of illustrating why I’ve found that its important to consider them in your practice.

Early last year, I had moved to a new apartment. Usually, when I move, one of the first things I do is set up shop with the local fae or land spirits that live around me. I’m not sure where I picked up the habit of doing this, but its something that I’ve always found that I do. I thought I was lucky with this new apartment- I had two trees right outside of my balcony as well as a water feature that was always running just below my front window. It seemed like this was going to be a great location to work with the fae because of all of the greenery right outside of my house.

And at first, it was pretty good. There were tons of fae around my house. The offerings went over well, my spirituality was doing okay. Things were good.

But then the summer storms hit. I’ve have a very love hate with the monsoon since I moved back to Arizona. You see, the only real thing I love about Arizona are the monsoon storms, and it seems that someone somewhere has seen fit to ensure that I miss every large monsoon storm that occurs since I moved back. However, while I lived in this apartment, I was fortuitous enough to catch three large monsoon storms. And during each storm, I watched one of the trees outside of my house break off until slowly, no trees remained.

I should have noticed then that something was wrong.

Dead Plants by Kelly Sikkema via Flickr

 

Over the course of the rest of my stay at this apartment, my life would slowly stagnate, and in some places- unravel. By the time I moved from that apartment, there were dead birds every 50 feet or so along the road that led to my apartment complex. I also found that a lot of the plant life was suffering in the area, and most notably- my life itself was grinding to a halt in almost all areas.

And lo! As soon as I moved to my new apartment- things cleared up quickly. My job got better, my health and relationships improved- it seems like someone had broken a dam of things within my life. And looking back on it- I believe that land spirits played a role.

You see, I think that land spirits should be considered in every religious practice- regardless of which deities you worship or what path you’re on. This is simply because I have learned that if land spirits aren’t in your favor- they can actively cock block your gods or other entities from helping you. Its kinda like saying that your life is a house, and the gods have left some awesome presents in your mailbox that is at the end of the driveway, but the land spirits lock all of the doors so that you can’t get outside to the mailbox. They can, in my experience, cripple your endeavors to get ahead if they so choose to.

When I first arrived at my apartment, things went alright because we had active land spirits outside and the land was doing well. But when two of the trees snapped in half and one tree was wrongfully cut down (they should have put a series of supports under the tree and allowed it to recover- instead, they opted to just chop the whole thing down. This was the tree closest to my house), I believe that most of the fae and land spirits packed up shop and moved to greener pastures. I also think that its possible that what few land spirits remained were upset because of the state of the land around them- and possibly took it out on the residents still remaining there (despite my efforts to help quell the backlash from the tree being cut down).

Many polytheists and pagans look to the gods first for answers, but sometimes its not within the gods’ capacity to fix something that is off limits to them. When in doubt, sometimes its better to try appealing to something that is closer to home- such as the spirits and entities that live around you. Many times I have found that if you can keep the local fauna happy, in turn you will find that things run smoother for yourself in all areas of life. I’ve also found that my gods can open more doors for me, and my astral partners also have an easier time of things because there aren’t local entities barring my doors from being opened from the outside.

So the next time that you run into problems, perhaps try reaching out to local spirits. I’m sure they’d enjoy the attention.

 
 

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