Culture and Community: Spirit of Place in Regional Magic

Crystal Blanton —  April 15, 2016 — 5 Comments

The land has its own magic. The whispers of the rolling hills of Northern California speak in a different tongue than that of the long flat lands of lower Alabama. The spirit of place can greatly contribute to the culture, presence and practice of magic in any one regional area.

Northern California [Photo Credit: Nigelpepper / Wikimedia]

Northern California [Photo Credit: Nigelpepper / Wikimedia]

There are different terms, traditions and beliefs that encompass concepts of regional magic or spirit of place. Different cultures relate to it in unique ways; yet there is continued historical significance to the practices of cultures and of people who have a reverence for the specific magic of local lands and regional areas. The spirit of place often refers to physical characteristics of a location, and can also reference attributes that have to do with myths, history, ancestors, spirits, art, stories, communities, superstitions or even collective memories. The energy and associations changes from one regional area to another.

Today, many modern magic practitioners work with regional magic as a part of their normal practice.

The pulse of the land tells many stories. People of many different Pagan, Polytheist, Heathen and earth worshiping traditions tap into the mysteries of place, looking for the soul of the space in which they work. The regional stories of particular areas can be a significant link between spirituality, home, worship, and belonging. These regional differences often contribute to rituals, observances, practices, and cultures all of which, as a result, are very personal to the specific area or a specific group of people.

I became increasingly fascinated with what I refer to as “regional magic” after my own trip down south to the birthplace of my mother. The magic I felt there was unlike anything I experienced at home in California; the magic of the land in Alabama was vastly different. when I touched and worked with the soil in my mother’s hometown, I was able to connect to such a sense of survival, history, culture and intense historical significance. The magic in the land moved me immensely, and I made a point to touch and collect a piece of it throughout the city while I was there. This brought up a lot of questions about my relationship to the land, the way that regional connections impact practice, and how the spirit of a place can connect to us in ways that we cannot always anticipate.

Photo by Crystal Blanton

[Photo Credit: C. Blanton]

How does the spirit of place influence magical practice? I reached out to a few others who have varied traditions and are from different places in order to see what they thought.

Many polytheists of revived religions honor spirits, gods, and other divine beings tied to particular places. I, and many other polytheists, worship Old Man Mississippi, the nymph of Cold Water Springs, and the good spirits of our particular neighborhood. – Cara Schulz

I’m blessed to live in Michigan, home of the Great Lakes. These are the largest group of freshwater lakes on Earth, containing more than a fifth of the world’s surface fresh water. The inland of Michigan contains about 11,000 lakes, 300 rivers and more than 12,000 miles if fresh water trout streams. Michigan is water, and water is a primary sacred medicine in my magical path.

Protecting water is an essential part of the magic I do. There are many threats to Michigan’s fresh water. This sacred resource is threatened by agricultural runoff, large scale factory farming, hydraulic fracturing (fracking)/injection wells and privatized water companies to name a few. I chant songs about the water, offer up prayers with a Pipe, offer my thirst and sweat in the Lodge and put my boots on the ground when it’s time to stand up and be heard. I do all this practical and esoteric magic in the name of water.

I am also blessed to live on the Chippewa River, where the sounds of water and the life it sustains are abundant. Next to the river, a large patch of sweetgrass grows each summer.  Sweetgrass is another sacred medicine to me and it is heavily dependent upon water. Harvesting it to give-away and sell at spiritual gatherings is a yearly ritual that ties me to the people, land and water. Michigan’s bountiful waters have guided my path much like the banks of the river guide the flow of sacred water to the sea. Water connects us all! – Jim Esralian

Chippewa River [Public Domain]

Chippewa River [Public Domain]

We celebrate the Pachamama in Argentina and we do offerings to her such as fruits, grains etc. I think this is one of the reasons why I love connecting with Mother Nature and a great part of my practice has that orientation. For me is important because it connects me with my roots and my ancestors by continuing connecting with the land. When I go back, I usually bring back soil and water to use in my magical work here in USA. The Spirit of the place is very powerful and very different from the spirit of the place I live here. My magic does not seem impacted but the support and the vibrations are different. There is more than one way to lead you to rome so the destination may be the same but the way you get there is different. – Carolina A. Amor

Outside of First Nation’s Spirituality there is not really any kind of regional based magick in my local area, although Canada is quite vast and depending on where one lives, experiences can be quite diverse. Seeing as Manitoba is located in the bible belt of Canada and Winnipeg is primarily land locked (Minneapolis is the closest major centre), magickal practices are slow moving in coming to the area, which is one of the major reasons why serious local magickal practitioners tend to travel.

In my local community you have two choices for regional based magic: First Nation’s Spirituality or the surrounding land itself becomes the source of magick and spiritual inspiration. Being acutely conscious of not wanting to contribute to colonization and mis-appropriation of First Nation’s Spirituality, the land becomes hugely important in my personal practice and in the practice of my working group. Last year, I spent the entire summer building an outdoor temple space with a cairn that acts as a permanent altar and shrine for the local land spirits. While I do have an indoor temple space, the outdoor space allows for a connection to the land and spirits while still being located in a heavily populated core area of Winnipeg. It truly becomes a world between worlds.

Photo of a cairn by Dominique Smith

Photo of a cairn by Dominique Smith

Winnipeg is located where the Assiniboine River flows into the Red River (called The Forks) and for centuries was a major trade centre and Aboriginal meeting place. The land has seen much; is rich with history and energetic presence, in the end, most of the magickal practices here are imports that are superimposed or assimilated into the landscape that creates a patchwork quilt of experiences for the individual practitioner.

The influences of the land  and the events that have occurred in the area have affected everything about my personal magickal practice. It has created a strong need for environmental and anti-racist activism. It has also allowed room for much healing work, which extends to myself personally, to others and to the land. The Winnipeg magickal community is still quite young and still trying to find itself. This unfortunately means that my explanation on regional magick doesn’t come in a nice neat bow. – Dominique Smith

For lack of a better explanation, I am a city priestess. I connect to the energies of land, human history, and geologic/meterological history in densely populated places and use it to weave connective tissue between city and citizens. To me magic happens in several different spheres. But to truly prosper you must do your best to become symbiotic to your environs. This can take a long time and is an imperfect process.

As the connection to a city deepens, it reveals more of its secrets and mysteries. San Francisco is bombastic – wants to show you everything all at once. Minneapolis has trust issues and offers a little bit more at every gesture of curiosity. It isn’t quite the same as land magic as we usually know it because to some degree you accept the environmental damage and try to make it into a greater good rather than trying to heal it into its original form. A little more repurpose and recycle, though reduce still has its place. It also involves seeing all politics as a system of illusions – even my own. To part the veil of the city is to see through its history, to understand its fights, and thus to see its heart. – Diana Rajchel

As an activist, my regional magic is focused on creating societal change. As a nexus point of change for this country, working magic like that allows me to tap right into the core of decision-making in this country. Most witches in DC take our role as stewards of positive change, activism, and healing very seriously because of that.

DC’s spirit of place is very complex and working with it is challenging. Historically, there is much misery connected with this place. All around me I see land that for so long was poisoned with slavery, systemic economic depression, and unfair labor conditions. But it also holds a spirit of hope, opportunity, and democracy. This requires magic-workers here to both hold space for the injustices that continue to occur here while also doing what we can to push the needle towards fairness. This land requires an acknowledgement of history if one is to work with it with any success. – David Salisbury

Photo of Alabama land by Crystal Blanton

Lands of Alabama [Photo Credit: Crystal Blanton]

People all over the world have different associations with the land, and the interpretations of the spirit of place is vast. The spiritual implications of a particular place, how it contributes to practice, and people’s association with regional spirituality is complex and often layered. Working within the elements and needs tied to a region can bring forth a myriad of specific magic and connection that only make sense within the context of its location. Working with the magic of the land to heal from the drought makes a lot of sense in California, where it does not make sense in Minnesota.

Whether in the politics of Washington D.C., the dry lands of California, or the waters of the Great Lakes, the land talks and has many stories to tell. Our connections to where we are planted will help to dictate our response to our communities and how we see our responsibility to local needs. It also helps us to shape who we are, and where we are in our spiritual practice and our personal sense of self.

How does your physical location impact or influence your magic or practice? Thinking about our relationship to regional magic and the spirit of place within our own regional communities can give us critical information about culture, spirits and what influences mold our personal practices.

Crystal Blanton

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Crystal Blanton writes the monthly TWH column "Culture and Community." She is an activist, writer, priestess, mother, wife and social worker in the Bay Area. She has published two books "Bridging the Gap" and "Pain and Faith in a Wiccan World," and was the editor of the anthology "Shades of Faith; Minority Voices in Paganism." She is a writer for the magazine Sage Woman and Patheos' Daughters of Eve blog. She is passionate about the integration of community, spirituality, and healing from our ancestral past, and is an advocate for true diversity and multiculturalism within the Pagan community.
  • Pitch313

    Yes. There is a magical knowing associated with sites, places,regions, watersheds,
    tides, climate, geology, ecology, cityscape. Plenty is magic exists among these particulars.

  • ELNIGMA

    Thanks fo the article! Many US Pagans plan on trips to England, Ireland, etc. to connect with the spiritual, and particularly ancestral energies – and that’s fine, but if they got a balcony or backyard, etc. they got a location to connect to locally, and at least look at the sun and moon. They can connect with that on a regular basis and to set down offerings that won’t harm said environment that they can perfect, clean up, and tend, which if you’re only spending a day at someplace, a person shouldn’t probably leave (and especially not take) anything there. Being respectful in the general rules of travel to historic and nature sites is to “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints”. (If you’re at a store or restaurant that’s different.)
    Politics start local, too no surprises not working spiritually on a local basis also means not getting a lot accomplished. (Nature likes repetition, patterns, with slight changes. ) Even if you live near DC, you aren’t automatically portion to interior DC politics. Frankly, one of the biggest things wrong with DC politics is said politicians generally won’t be accessible except to the already powerful and to wealthy donors and lobbyists. Usually the active, responsive portion is still within the local governments, within one’s own community. May not draw attention, but perhaps still does good. It helps to have personal experience with a situation locally where someone’s stated viewpoint and knowledge is literally their own, and the passion they have about it comes from their own concerns. Even one small change can take lots of time.
    I don’t understand those who say they “aren’t political”. What does that mean? Is there nothing that for them pulls them out of their shells to instead want to talk to somebody to try to change? Are they completely content? 🙂 (I think somebody can be slightly envious and think that sounds boring simultaneously, since any dealings with other people can be frustrating and thorny. hehee)

  • Thank you for this article, Crystal. I found your city wide collection especially interesting. I don’t travel much but I have friends and family who do and I always ask them to bring back a tiny piece of the land where they are traveling to. I have stones, sand, shells, feathers and jars of water from places all over the earth and it is truly amazing how these different objects carry the spirit of their home lands. There can be so much power in just one stone!
    Soon I will be moving from my home in a medium size village to a wilder place in the woods and the difference between these two places is quite amazing. It will change the way I do some of my ceremonies simply because of the more earthy and wild spirits I have encountered there. I am excited to not have so much human vibration present when I work my magick. It feels like a far purer vibration than what I have grown use to. But of course I will be taking some of my present place with me as well so if I want that vibration back all I have to do is take out my little bag of village dirt.

  • Gus diZerega

    Great piece, Crystal, thank you!

    For many years now, before taking a drink I have poured some of the first coffee of the day into my garden, for the spirits of the place. With this renewed attention where I live gradually comes alive. In a life with far too many moves I’ve done it a number of places, and always in time the land responds. Sometimes spectacularly.

    I think another dimension to what we feel in different places is that we are always immersed within the auras/energy fields of other beings, including plants and I think the earth itself. These fields differ from place to place depending on who lives there and whether the network has been disrupted (like in a ploughed field) or is relatively intact.

    I think we will truly have learned to live well on this earth until we have learned to respect and hopefully even experience the intricate subtle networks within which we are immersed, and which help makes us who we are.

    • ELNIGMA

      That coffee offering is great, particularly near acid loving plants! And most folks like coffee 🙂 Speaking of ploughed fields/disturbed earth, Mycogrow soluble mycorrhizae diluted in water, poured from a bucket on said areas help the area heal up faster and importantly, the stuff is cheap per use from fungiperfecta.( I’m not associated with said corp) I just have noticed the difference in resultant fertility locally when this is done. (A person’s not likely to see results right away) it’s a thing. science 🙂