December 30th, 2008

Re-Enchanting the Land

I grew up here in this Helena valley, and so I know the winds, the weather, where the sun goes down and comes up, places in the mountains, etc.

The conventional rhetoric approach to land preservation has limitations. People have their shields up, and sometimes art can get through the filters easier than when people feel someone is trying to change their minds verbally. I have been frustrated over and over trying to do that. I had an art show a year ago or so involving that effort:

Ok, now this may sound nuts, but I hope I can trust you not to peg me as a loony...if not, well I AM an artist so chalk it up as performance art and me being a "kooky artist" LOL. Plus it is part of our old NA ways anyways to recognize sacred places. But what I am trying to see about is bringing BACK spirits to certain places. Sort of like attracting birds with habitat and food. I am trying to find ways through my Native American culture as well as symbolic metalanguage (sometimes called "magic" as in "religion and...") to attempt to "re-enchant" the landscape.

Sort of a spiritual restoration, as when the wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone. I am doing some experiments with an old tree and a nearby hill.

I know about cream/milk being given to nature spirits in old European traditions. The Norse called them landvaettir, the Anglo-Saxons called them wights, the French called them fay. My tribe called such beings who inhabited cliffs and rivers, "wakanda." That meant "something old and mysterious that inhabits a place." Later on Wakanda came to be applied to God. In my Native American path, tobacco is preferred, but they like little bits of anything you are going to eat.

I have two spots I want to see what can happen. A large old tree, boxelder (maple family) on the street by the house here, and a small hill a few blocks away.

The initial steps for a particular feature, tree or site include:
1. personalization- seeing the tree, hill etc. as a Person
2. greeting - as you would someone you know as you pass them in the street
3. feeding/offering - at first tobacco and food (cream/milk)
4. building the relationship through consistency
5. Telling stories- if specific to the site, that is best, but still good if it is a legend/fairy tale that has a special tree, hill etc. as part of the myth

The tree I greet as I pass it, and though it is right on the street, sandwiched between sidewalk, street, and parking lot, it still seems in decent if declining health. Strange mushrooms pop up at its base at times.

The hill I have worked with so far on my walks during October telling ghost stories at night. I talk about how spirits inhabit natural features like the hill here, and it has searched as a watching place since the Indian days, first for game and then for fires in the old town. But I notice as I talk to people about the hill, its history, and the fact that traditional peoples the world over believed in nature spirits, including certain hills that are so inhabited, the hill seemed to "respond" more and more, probably due to the stories, attention being paid by so many people, probably 150 or more over the period of a month.

This time of year, most places "slumber," but not all.

I am careful to make a distinction between places that have retained their traditional roles at sacred places and these kinds of experiments. I would never do this at a place that already has a role in indigenous beliefs, just places that are currently "history-less."

I am not inventing or making up false legends or anything...I am massaging a sleeping limb to see if it will "wake up." Like attracting birds with a feeder, or waking someone up from a coma.

An interesting bit from a British blog, Clothcap:

Undergoing renaissance type rebirth, beliefs other than christian that are lumped together as pagan are at the moment harmless. If they follow past history of being non polital, non expansionist, non obligatory, not taught to developing babies as fact, it will remain so and be lauded except by aggressive non pagans who want no competition. But I suspect having been educated in the methodology of major religions, pagans won't constrain themselves to the old ways.

A rather fun book on pre-christian times is The Religious Practices of the Pre-Christian and Viking Age North, it is online and a quite absorbing read. It gives some insight into the ways of our pre damage society.

It mentions pagan revulsion of the christians. The christians apparently attacked their holy spirits! Imagine what christians would have done had pagans gone about slaughtering angels. You can't make this stuff up.

Quote - page 16/
"The landvættir were inimical to Christianity and it is not hard to see why, with Christianity's attitude that nature, both within man and as a whole was evil and must be overcome and controlled. Christians worked hard to expel landvættir any where they could find them. We saw this from the account of the bishop that expelled one from a rock by pouring holy water on it. Never mind that the spirit did nothing but aid the man who made offerings to it. The landvættir were considered as evil and demonic by the Christians. More than a few stories exist of landvættir being driven from their abodes by Christians. The fanaticism that the Christians went about this business is shown by numerous tales in which bishops would have themselves let down the sides of cliffs on ropes so that they could bless the cliffs where seabirds nested. Accounts say that at these times a voice would call to them, saying 'Wicked folk must have somewhere to live.' Sometimes a skinny arm holding a knife would appear threatening to cut the rope on which the bishop was suspended. In these cases the cliff was left unblessed and was afterwards called the 'Cliff of the Heathen.' (416) On account of this the landvættir were said to have retreated to the most harsh inhospitable lands where few men could be found."