Friday, December 24, 2010

The curious case of American Land spirits

Recently I was involved in a discussion about land spirits. As the discussion progressed it touched on what I feel is a very important issue to us druids living in the Americas. That being, land spirits are more often then not, tied to the land and thus couldn't come to us from Europe, and thus how do we treat with the spirits of this "new" land? The natives of this place have a long and good history of working with the land spirits here. Sadly, in most places, and certainly here on the west coast of the lower 48 the natives are almost completely gone. This is a very sad thing, but not the focus of this post. The question is, can those of us of European descent summon, honor, call, and treat with American land spirits? It was suggested that the spirits here are used to being summoned with certain type of ritual, that being those of the local natives. That the land spirits here have native names, and should only be addressed as such. ok...what if the name is not known, and can't be learned? And what of the idea that they can only be summoned with native American style evocations? Where does this leave the modern druid? Even if I were able to learn, say the dances of the Umpqua Indians to summon the spirit of the Umpqua river, that would most likely be considered cultural appropriation and that's just not P.C.

I have been tumbling these thoughts over in my head for several days now, and here is what I have come up with. First off, spirits are as individual in personality as people are. What might be ok with one spirit won't be ok with another. How do we find out? I vote for good old fashioned trial and Error. Go out there and do what druids do in the way druids do it. If the spirit doesn't like it, I am sure it will let you know, if you bother to listen. Let the spirits be our teacher. I think and feel with but a few exceptions so long as the spirits are approached with offerings, respect and love they are not going to be over critical if you said the right name, pronounced in the correct native dialect or be upset if you didn't dance in the native way. Using a name the spirit is familiar with would be very helpful in treating with it, but not critical. So those druids that are inclined to work with such spirits, I say do your homework and get out there and get to know your spiritual neighbors!


  1. Great topic, great post!

    My comment was too big so here's my link.

  2. Absolutely! I think a lot of pagans get paralyzed when it comes to dealing with land spirits for exactly these reasons - fear of cultural appropriation, and lack of a guidebook, so to speak. But we forget that at some point, every culture and polytheistic tradition was new, and they figured out how to deal with the local spirits the same way as we should now - trial and error, paying attention, learning as you go.

  3. I agree with you, but I have a point for you to think about. I was talking to Rev. Skip Ellison about land spirits once - basically this topic! He believes - as I also do - that some of the spirits our ancestors knew followed us over to America. Just as our ancestors immigrated and brought their traditions, they also brought some stow-away spirits! I think most of these spirits are associated with homes more than nature (like the nissers/gnomes), but I still lump them into the nature spirit category.

    I also believe that, since we share some of the same/similar crops with Europe that the nature spirits associated with them would have similar wants and needs depending on whether they are wild or tame.

  4. Gynwyt Siarad...Are you forgetting something? I am of the belief that the place that we have held many of our local pagan ritual holds the land spirit(s) that you speak about in this post. Maybe, you should visit that place more often.... Oh yeah! You already do!!!

  5. @Grey: I don't disagree with you. However those are not the type of spirits I am talking about. I am focusing on the spirit of a mountain, or river, forest or valley.

    @Phoenix: Though I see the point you are trying to make, I nor anyone else, has activily tried to evoke the spirit of this place. In a few months time I will. As well as that of the local river, and as a general call out to see what comes.

  6. Being an Initiate of Santeria, the way this has been addressed as I understand it is that the spirits adapt to the worshipers. A Druid has methods to communicate with the Spirit, and to discern what they desire. If approached with due reverence they will tell what they need.

  7. Somewhat related, this is why I'm so excited about Robert's American Goetia project.

    And honest-to-god grimore of American-homeland spirits, about time!

  8. This is a topic that has come up time and time again amongst my pagan friends and I is the nature of various spirits of the land and the tutelary gods of Ireland and how these might mutate in another land. No one present had been abroad for ritual to know what evoking Macha or Sinann would be like in another land and we were also forced to recognise that these goddesses and gods weren't just linked to the land they told the story of the land as well. How could we divorce this?

    While most of those assembled recognised energies of a place it was neigh on impossible to think of names for them that were comparable to the Greek elementals; gnomes, salamanders, sylphs and undines. There is much I could write about the complexity of genii loci and migration from Ireland and to Ireland of spirits but it doesn't really reach a conclusion.

    I would be intrigued to learn more about what the experience of American neodruids has been who have worked with Irish gods and whether they found different stories from the spirit's/god's native origins. If yes why and if no then why not? :)