The modern druid tradition I am part of honours spirits of place. It is a priority in ritual, and we also do it on other occasions – at meetings, in talks, over food. I gather there are parallels with Heathen recognition of land wights, house spirits and the like, with Roman honouring of genius loci, and no doubt there are other traditions too. What I’ve seen of Wicca doesn’t appear to include this – but if you know otherwise please do post a comment and let me know.
I’m planning to do a few articles talking about spirits of place, how we encounter them, and work with them in different scenarios. I’ll drop these in amongst the other posts as and when inspiration strikes.
What is a spirit of place? There are a number of levels to think about. Firstly, what else lives in the space? Everywhere has something – nature has a habit of getting in, especially insects, there will be plant life nearby. There may be birds on the roof, or inside even – like the pigeons I saw in New York’s airport. Rodents get everywhere as well. It’s important to recognise the other living things, and to take a moment to figure out what and where they are. Nature is all around us, not just ‘out there’ somewhere in the wild places.
The next consideration might be the human activity associated with a place, and any resonances that has made over time. A place that has been used repeatedly for a given activity – be that shopping, prayer, or study for example, gains a spirit that derives from that. This is also an issue of ancestors of place – a form of ancestry recognised by many druids.
Then we might consider the unseen entities that occupy the place as well. For those whose paganism is entirely pragmatic and includes no room for ‘supernatural’ elements, this isn’t needed. However, for the majority who see spirit as pervasive there is some sense that more exists than we can readily sense. So, whether or not we ‘know’ that other beings are present, we honour those who are invisible to us.
Some places may also be said to have a unique spirit of their own that is more than just the things living in it. My own feeling is that for all kinds of reasons, some places develop a distinct identity, which becomes a form of awareness, a permeation of the numinous into the every day. Perhaps it is the case that the spirit of some places is just easier to see. Places have moods and atmosphere, they welcome some people and reject others. You might understand the spirit of a place as being a small god, a local deity. You might have a faerie interpretation, or something more based on patterns of energy and focal nodes. Recognition of the spirit is more important than how you make sense of it.
Every place has spirits of place. The side of a busy road is no different from an ancient stone circle in that regard. Spirits are there, although they may be very different in character. Becoming aware of spirits of place is an important part of druidry, because from that recognition comes relationship, which is central to all that we do.