This blog post also appears in print with more photos in Sacred Hoop Issue #85.
Central Albuquerque, New Mexico USA. Seen from the sky. Courtesy of Wikipedia.
"Look wide, and look far. Look upon your city. This is your community. These are your people, all of them. The people you know and the people you will never meet. Even the ones you don't like. Good or bad, rich or poor, status and class and family don't matter. Politics don't matter. They're still all your people.
I hope that 2014 finds you and your loved ones well. I don't usually post New Years' resolutions because I find them silly, but to my surprise, this year I actually have one. I'm cutting as much plastic use out of my life as I can. I live in Florida, as y'all know, and it's a peninsula, so even inland, you're never really far from the ocean. And my vaettir care about what goes on there; Florida has been above and under water off and on over time as glaciers have risen and receded. I have white Florida beach sand in my yard, even this far inland. Plastics are polluting our oceans and killing animals.
In recent months, I've been lucky enough to witness some fairly ancient traditions replayed by modern folk in my local community. Rather than taking the cynical, culturally-superior, post-modern 21st-century approach, villagers across Derbyshire have delighted in the creation of Well Dressing ceremonies and presentations.
Well Dressing is thought to be pagan in origin, but now crosses social and faith boundaries in the simple act of creation. An offering is made from natural materials - such as petals, seeds and leaves - ostensibly to celebrate the local community and the various groups within it. But it is known that Well Dressing was also an act of thanks and celebration, to honour the spirit of the Well for providing clean water to that community, allowing it to nourish and thrive.
I sleep in the belly of the mountain: mount Beacon, whom the Native tribes here once called Mattewan. His eyes are old and wise, this great dragon of the mountain, and he has seen eons of human folly tumble past. Once he was the glory of this valley, he and his brothers and sisters; now he is crawled upon by tourists and hikers who don't even bother to learn his true name. he doesn't seem to mind though. I think he likes people. He's friendly and being of mountain etin stock, I can tell you that's not always the case with mountain spirits. I've met mountains, these ancient memory keepers, whose power, ferocity, and grim anger at man has driven me to my knees. They're right to be angry.
Mount Beacon, for all his age, is kind to those who seek him out. He honestly seems to like people. I carry his bundle and when chance arises, as it often does with spiritworkers, I introduce him to other mountain spirits. I give other spiritworkers a token from his bundle to take to their mountains, to facilitate the connection, and they do the same for me in return. We tell our mountains about their kin in far away places. We facilitate the connection. This is what our ancestors did and its time that communication between powers was fostered again.
One of the first things I realized when I started honoring city spirits actively was A) how varied and individual their personalities are and B) there is a protocol for engaging with them, particularly as the relationship is first being established. Now that first point should have been a given for me; after all, as an animist it makes sense: spirits are individuals. I don't know why it came as such surprise to me that talking to New York City was different from talking to Paris who was different again from Venice or Washington or Berlin or Köln but it did. I suspect in my case, it was largely a matter of not having had much facility for sensing city spirits for a very long time and then suddenly finding myself able to engage. There was a real moment of cognitive disconnect to realize how much NYC had taken care of me and watched out after me when I'd been all but oblivious to his presence. Then there was the awareness that sometimes there isn't just one governing spirit in a city. New York City for instance has at least two: a spirit of NYC that I experience as male, and the spirit of Manhattan, a very angry (and justly so) Native spirit that reads to me asfemale. We'll come back to that in a bit. Then of course each borough has its own spirit and each neighborhood within that.It's a general rule of thumb in doing this work that the name of the spirit is the same as the name of the city, the name of the borough spirit is the name of the borough and so on.
This is going to be a two, perhaps three part article series on honoring city spirits--something that's become a significant part of my own practice of late. In fact, having just recently taught a class in honoring the Holy Powers of the Northern Tradition, it struck me powerfully that in the end, so much of it comes back to honoring the ancestors (into which the Gods may, technically fit) and honoring the land. These little epiphanies are amazing--I find myself wanting to smack my forehead and wondering why on earth it took me so long to grasp what seems, in the end, so essential. I can't help chiding myself for not seeing these things sooner! I'm sure we've all been there at one time or another. Anyway, I've been doing quite a bit of work recently with city spirits and I wanted to talk about some of that with you, my readers.