I have just received my copy of Yours Very Truly : selected letters of Gareth Knight 1969-2010. (This is well worth ordering by the way – scoot on over to Skylight Press). One of the themes throughout Mr Knight’s 40 years of letters is the Land. Much of what he describes relates to the British Land, though he does comment a bit on other soils.
Working with the Land is one of the most essential, yet neglected aspects of many modern traditions of magic and esoteric work. A quick survey of most magical and Golden Dawn sites will deliver up precious little information. Since the Land is the bed and bedrock upon which we live, move and have our being, it is the essential foundation stone of all esoteric work. Being incarnate human beings we are dependant upon the Land for all our lives, from energetic support to our physical bodies which are made up of molecules derived from the Land.
There is so much to this topic it is impossible to even summarise fully. Even trying to organise a taxonomy of Land and Land related beings, such as geni loci, elves, fairies, etc is a task in and by itself. So I am simply going to put down a few personal thoughts and keys for practical action we have found useful over the last 30 years.
As a child in the UK living in the outskirts of towns I had a natural connection to the Land. This is very normal and very healthy. Upon migrating to Australia aged 12, I was thrown into a completely different environment. Coinciding as it did with adolescence, the disconnection with the Australian Land was intense. For several years I was ungrounded and the Australian bush felt like an alien presence, inimical in nature and harsh in presence. DH Lawrence in ‘Kangaroo’ describes well both the harsh feeling and alien push of the Australian landscape and the redeemed connection of beauty once once one we have connected and surrendered to it.
Around 15, I unconsciously began to try and connect with the Land using a variant of what I later learnt to be a traditional technique. I would wander for hours in the local golf course and into the bush beyond. While walking in this strange and alien environment I would fantasize and imaginatively people the bush with elves, faeries and other beings from my British childhood upbringing. A certain set of trees would, in my mind as I created faerie stories, become a meeting spot. A clearing, the remnant of an old battle ground between the Lios Alfar and the Svartalfar. I drew most of my material from Alan Garner and other less known writers, having not yet entered the realm of Tolkien.
Overlaying, walk after walk, an imaginative construct upon the environment is a highly powerful magical technique. One of the finest examples of this technique is in the works of William Blake, who through superimposition of both his own and traditional Christian mythology over the British Isles was able to discern (or co-create) “the spiritual fourfold London eternal” as co-existent with the physical city in shared space-time.
I think I stumbled onto this process as a teenager solely out of a need to connect with the strange and harsh Australian bush. By inwardly populating the bush with more familiar European beings and images, I slowly found the Australian Land less threatening and alien. Of course, at the time I did not know I was following traditional footsteps at all. Later, I was to learn to connect deeply and surrender to the Australian Land itself, without intermediary mythological constructs, but at the time it was a great step forward.
The conscious use of magical imagery to connect with, ground and superimpose a symbolic Landscape or objective inner plane reality into a locale is very potent. Traditionally it is not used by alienated 15 year old boys but by adepts seeking to connect with magical currents and inner plane blessings. A good example is Atlantis. It is quite possible to inwardly build up the image of the Atlantean landscape, complete with the various temples, circles and harbours, and then to superimpose this over a chosen area of Land where we live. In theory, the essence of this process is very simple. In practice, correct dedicated motivation, openness to the inner reality of Atlantis and inner plane contacts, to say nothing of a strong magical skill at wielding images beyond the personal, makes it a lot harder than it sounds.
Such an undertaking is necessarily a work of months or years, involving repeated workings and physical visits to the chosen site while inwardly visiting the corresponding location within Atlantis, or other chosen mythic place. The benefits of such work are more transpersonal than personal, shoring up inner and outer connections between mythic realities and the egregore of the city where it is worked. However, personal benefits do accrue such as deepening in the mystery of the chosen myth, in this case Atlantis.
These types of workings are by no means subjective only. I found this out when a friend of mine reported intrusive visions of Atlantis when simply walking in the area I had sometime before worked this process, something that was unknown to her at the time. The influence such workings have can never really be quantified and it is pointless to try to do so. We really need to practice and let the results work out for themselves. Finally, on this topic, since a crucial aspect of this form of working is partnership with the inner I would not recommend these processes without a genuine and tested inner call. On the other hand, it is quite unlikely that anyone unbalanced or acting on personal whimsy or ego could sustain the amount of work required before positive results occur.
Traditionally each culture had ritualised or mythologised its connection with the Land and in some way or another taught or imbued into individuals how to connect. This is often not the case in countries like Australia where the colonising peoples virtually wiped out the indigenous population. Practices such as forced removal from homelands, families, indenture and militant missionary activities decimated the remaining population’s traditions considerably. We are in a situation then where the immigrant population of Australia is not taught in any way how to connect with the Land and where Aboriginal teachings remain hidden or not readily taught to non-indigenous folk.
As non-indigenous westerners we cannot easily use Aboriginal Land connections anyway; they depend on membership in a culture we cannot partake in. Simply trying to extract Aboriginal ‘religious’ practices or similar for our own ends is impossible, as they are interwoven and interdependent with the entire culture and people itself. I first deeply learnt this as a young librarian attending a talk to librarians on Aboriginal literature and culture. Someone asked our indigenous elder-host if she and her people still celebrated their traditional religion. Our host, replied ‘yes’ and described how they would all sometimes go out into the bush and, maybe hunt a kangaroo and then it would be cooked etc. This reply went on in the same fashion for a while and was not satisfactory to my peers, but all through this simple description of what we westerners would pigeon hole as culinary preparation, there shone through to me a resonance of deep love, Land connection and high spiritual presence. This obviously was aboriginal ‘religion’ despite how it contained nothing of what we consider normal religious forms, and therefore we could not ‘borrow’ or practice it at all.
So, we cannot take from or use Aboriginal motifs and Land connection processes. Fortunately though, the simplest way of connecting to the Land is to be open to it. We are of course formed and nurtured from the Land, and therefore we automatically have links. Quite early on in one of our Orders we made a decision to preface every meeting and ritual with an invitation to the presence of the Land. We never looked back. This simple act, a few simple words and a minute’s openness makes all the difference. The crucial thing here is invitation, not invocation. We open ourselves and our circles, we do not will the connection at all. For those who do not do this, and most groups I know, even Pagan groups, do not, it is well worth adding to your ritual framework. The simple words we use run along the lines of,
We call to the spirits of this Land, this living Land which sustains us in all our lives, this Land where we live, move and have our Being, and open our circle to your presence.
There are of course more formal and elaborate methods of creating openness, such as path-workings and adapted ‘Tree of Life’ meditations as described by Starhawk and others. All of these though rest upon the simple decision to open. Of course, if we open to the Land we open ourselves to being in relationship with the Land. This may then involve an inner call to change our lives, and I am not simply talking about recycling and compost. An inner Land call may direct us, via our conscious participation and acquiescence to work to heal or awaken the inner aspects of the Land. This happens fairly often in my experience and that of students who have chosen to be open to the Land’s call. How it may come about, what we will be asked to do is individual and case specific, but as in any relationship it cannot be one way; we cannot take from the Land, form our lives and bodies from the Land, without giving back to the Land.
Call from the Land
Very early on in my esoteric unfoldment I was called to change the direction of working the circle from northern hemisphere (sun appearing to move clockwise in the sky, hence clockwise workings) to southern hemisphere. At the time I was still involved in a Wiccan coven and found the inner impetus difficult as the Coven leader insisted on working full northern hemisphere to ‘tune into the egregore’ of the tradition. This meant we not only worked clockwise but also worked the Sabbats on the Northern dates. After a Winter Solstice ceremony complete with Yule Log performed on a hot summer night in Perth, I decided enough was enough and made the switch in my personal practice.
Most (I think) Australian pagan groups these days practice Southern Hemisphere, but nearly all Golden Dawn and ceremonial magical folk still move around the circle and attribute the elements as if they were in London. This is fine if done consciously, which mostly it isn’t. And there is no intrinsic barrier to working with the Land and working with a symbolic ceremonial structure. I know a couple of folk who do this, but by and large most GD and magic folk simply ignore the Land.
However, personally I found once the crack was open it just got larger. After working European based festivals in reversed calendar times for a few years, we were called upon to listen deeper and create our own festival cycle based on modern, urban connection with the Land around us. This opening resulted in the formation of a group of people to experiment with connecting to the Land for two years and creating appropriate seasonal celebrations not based on the European Eight Sabbat mould. Eventually this led to the creation of a whole pagan tradition, EarthDreaming, where we celebrated six water/land based festivals in addition to the four solar festivals. Later we discovered the local Nyungar people had recognised six seasons, though we got our dates one month a-kilter, perhaps due to the fact that unlike the Nyungar, our seasonal celebrations were not influenced by the types of food available at the time.
Some of the EarthDreaming material (slightly re-visioned) has been placed on the net by a former member here. The point of all this, is that the Land will provide, speak and inspire if we are open. No matter where we are, the Land has a story to tell. It will come forward in ways appropriate to the people and the group who are listening; there is no need to ‘borrow’ from indigenous traditions.
The Land and the People
Working with the Land in a colonised country also has another side. The Land gives to us, but we cannot ignore the fact that we bring to the Land traditions and religions and ways of being from other Lands. If we are to be fully integrated into the Land, these need to introduced to the Land itself. This is from an inner communication received some time ago.
“The Land is dynamic and alive as a being or spirit, just as its inhabitants, both the seen and the unseen, are. The harbingers of any new mode of thought or spiritual current that seek to proselytize within a land other than the native soil from which it arose, must humbly approach the land and drive the current into the soil, placing the new impetus deep within. This is the mystery shown forth by St Joseph of Arimetha, planting his staff, directing inward the new Christian force into the Holy Isle, linking Christ Himself to our Land, so He may become, as the soil beneath us, our beloved and our bedrock…
If the new religion does not drive itself into the land, it will forever be an alien force and presence. The nature spirits and those known as the Fey or the Kingdom of Faery and even the elementals will withhold their blessings, without whom the life of man is sterile and the foundation of the spiritual life misshapen or weak. The results of such sterility may be seen by examining the spread and disintegration of Christianity within the new Lands such as the Americas, no single denomination having become a wayfarer or shining example…
Just as a foreign religion must link to a new Land, so too must a migrating race. A race forgoing this delving into the depths of the soil will forever be bereft and alien within the Land they call home. They shall be cut off from the deep forces and the Land will constantly be an irritant to such a nation, seeking to expel it as the immune system does a micro-biotic invader. The results produce a race of alienated people without home or hearth within the soul, which becomes brittle and distorted…”
From this perspective, there is still much work to do. For example, very few Christian churches have consciously worked this way. Our culture has a whole certainly has not, seeking more to colonise the Land, remove the Aboriginal inhabitants and utilise the Land via inharmonious farming and mining practices. So, part of my ongoing unfoldment with the Land is the introduction of the our western practice, our ancestry, our religion, our culture to the Land. And vice-versa, inviting the spirit of the Land to be present in Church, at work, in social and cultural events, at this year’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. All of these things are relatively simple, but all required for the harmonious relationship between the Land, the people and our inner traditions.