Slowly the land warms in the early spring sunshine; daffodils and crocus quickly catch up with the hardy white bells of Snowdrops, the pale primrose cling to chalky banks dancing in the delicate sprint time breeze. The moist damp earth of winters dreaming begin to nurture the sublime green shoots of bluebells and hawthorn as the blackthorn lace appears on dark thorned branches, and the birds sing their wake-up call and prepare to mate.
I choose this day, of all the days that have been, to go on my first foraging trip of the year. I start at my altar, at home, making prayers and supplication to the gods that my trip be fruitful, if that was their plan. Walking boots, bag, offerings and knife I head off. A short drive away from my home in Kent I reach my destination. Standing at the edge of the woods I make my offerings of sweet resin and herbs, and from my offering pouch leaves, roots and flowers, to the genus loci, the Spirits of Place, to ask that I may enter to hunt, to forage for the plant folk that I seek.
I’ve trod this path many times before, yet each time it feels like new, the twists and turn of the familiar become the meandering of a stroll into a new country, a new season. The spirits of the trees are greeted, I sing to the bones of ancestors beneath my feet, this ancient site. Soon I’m led by my knowledge of this place and communicating with the spirits, to a wondrous heady stand of Scot Pine trees. My quarry is close; I stop, steady my breath and touch the ground lightly with hand and foot. Where are you? May I harvest you? I give you my offerings and kinship! Stealthily I slip between the tall, straight trunks of Pine, through undergrowth of last year’s bramble and bracken. Knife quietly unsheathed, senses heighten. Suddenly before me, I stop, hold my breath, a tree with the tale-tale signs of resin that has dripped and solidified; this is my prize. At first I caress the tree, I move round and round the trunk, I sing and speak to Pine Spirit before me, knife hidden behind my back, the time is right so then I ask, “May I gather your resin? With open heart, trunk and arms he responds “you may take a little, no higher than your reach!” Slowly I move my knife close the resin and gently, being careful not to remove bark or remove the resin completely from the wound, I chip and slice away, resin falling into my brown paper foraging bag. Possessed by Pine Spirit, desire and lust for resin, I harvest and I harvest, the intoxicating scent fills my body, my skin covered in dry sticky golden power, I taste some on my tongue and breathe it in deeply. Pine Spirit speaks but I vaguely hear, the knife slips and pricks my hand, blood drips onto the bark of tree, Pine Spirit speak again, “that’s enough!” The trance ends and I bow before the tree, I give thanks, more offerings are made and sing to release the connection, but the bond is strong as I witness my blood mingle with the resin on the trunk, I became Pine Spirit fleetingly, they have known me for nearly sixteen years, I have worked to manage their growth and tiny ecosystem, I have taught beneath their branches, I have dreamed and loved here also, Pine Spirit knows me and I know him, today its the first time we became one.
Knowing the spirits of your own land, knowing the trees, plants, rocks, hills, rain is vital and far more important that reaching for some archetypal concept of deity, or mythological hero or some idolised notion of deeply spiritual ancestral folk to whom you have no sacred relationship too. Increasingly whether it is through the analytical view of archaeology or, more importantly, through direct personal spiritual experience the idea that powerful local spirits are indeed the gods you should seek. Paradoxically, the Ancestral Gods are found in local roots, especially if you practice within a tradition often aligned to a deity of that flow of energetic current; that’s for another article sometime!
I can’t advocate enough the need to get out and walk your land, know it, breathe it, lie down upon it and importantly make your offerings of thanks to it. Find those liminal spaces and places; the Yew tree that carries you to the otherworld, the small wooden bridge that takes you over the fast flowing brook, the natural gateway formed by two standing stones or majestic trees, and the gap in the hedge. We leave the urban confines of village, town and city and seek wilderness, its there, depending on where you reside you may have to look or travel harder, but do it, its worth it. Over time your local spirits will get to know you, and if you are luckily enough may start to work with you, directing the type of offerings they like, sharing of energy and stories of life, death, love and land. Our wondrous human brains like to hook onto shape and form to know and see; these spirits may then present themselves to you as a being, a named sentient creature. You may be given a ‘key,’ a symbol and image through which you can easily make your connection to their realm. Sacred relationship is the key here! We no longer need to submit and cower before them, but meeting them as equals, a Priest, Shaman, Druid or Witch. We may fine that we surrender into that relationship and allow our selves to be all consume by it (which is sometimes referred to as shape shifting or possession) so that we become one with the spirit and the sacred union is consummated, the magical mingling of souls that deeply inspires, feeds and nourishes our practice. This takes time, study, commitment and courage, you can’t learn it over night unless you are one of those folk whom things like this seem to naturally happen at will – a blessing and curse indeed!
This sacred land, the wilderness is there, we need to find ourselves amongst it, often! This may be within your garden or window box, this may be on some wild moorland or chalk down, it may be the dandelion forcing it way through a crack in the concrete of your city or town. Form those scared relationships with your local spirits who live with you cheek by jowl.