This post is part of a Strategic Sorcery Blog Hop. You can click the links below (and at the bottom) to find the previous, master link list, and the next post in this series of posts with various views, ideas and approaches on the topic of the magic and/or spirits of place.
Every place is someplace, right? And if you’re an animist, like myself, then you probably hold to the idea that spirits are actual beings, not just figments of your imagination or “psychological constructs.” They’re external from the self – something out there that surrounds us and may often need to be “dealt with” or “appeased,” in some way.
What are Spirits of Place?
Spirits of place are exactly that: spirits, in a place. So, obviously, it’s a term that encompasses a broad range of spirits and/or spirit types. But for my own intents and purposes, I classify Spirits of Place in two categories.
- Nature Spirits. I think of these as spirits of plants, trees, rocks, etc, in the area – what I generally refer to as “The Fey.”
- Spirits of the Dead, which I generally think of as dead people or animals who are attached to a building or the land upon which it stands (not necessarily attached to the people living in the building or on the land).
Cultures around the world often spoke about (what I’m calling) nature spirits or The Fey. This latter is generally Irish in origin. Pre-Christian Native American Tribes might’ve thought of them as Gnomes – or what we Americans typically consider to be Gnomes (remember the show David, the Gnome?). Other lands may have viewed them as primarily malevolent entities. Some think that the Bwca (Booka) in Wales, is a small, shaggy man dressed in tattered brown clothing. According to Brian Froud in Faeries, the Bwca will lose his temper, pinch people while they sleep, and otherwise torment the household if he believes he’s been mistreated. That’s one example of what I would consider “nature spirits,” as spirits of place.
There were times when I’d visit my great-grandmother as a youth. We’d have supper with her – usually her famous chicken-n-dumplins. No matter how full you get – no matter how much your “eyes was bigger than yer belly” – you didn’t throw away leftovers. Either you kept it for later, or you’d be told, “Et, boy! Don’t ye throw them away! You give the piskies their due!” Meaning: take it outside, dump it at the tree in the back yard, and give a smile to the wee folk, or the pixies/faeries/fey.
I’ll even go one step further and say that I think of some deities as “spirits of place.”
Here’s an example of that. I met someone once whose family, each Spring Equinox, pulled out a small statue of a horned god and placed it in the weeded area in back of their house. This person’s family would then offer milk and honey (sometimes homemade cookies or pastries) in a bowl to this statue and leave it out overnight. In the morning, they would retrieve the bowl and the statue, bathe the statue, and then wrap it up in a white silken cloth and store it safely until the following Fall Equinox, when they would pull it out and again proceed the same way. Twice a year, they fed the entity and bathed it, and then put it to “sleep” until the next required equinox. The family claimed this entity dwelled in their land, and that propitiating it ensured them wealth and good health throughout the year.
How I Work with Spirits of Place
The Coven I run is taught “The Red Meal,” which is fairly typical and is done as private practice, as a separate rite all its own. Not all the most important spirits are at Covenstead, after all, so taking care of your “home” spirits is just as important.
You take some ground flour or cornmeal and make a circle of it at the base of a tree, or a rock, or some special place around your home. You knock three times at each quarter around this small circle. And three times in the center. This act awakens The Fey and alerts them to come hear you (if you need to speak with them) and to receive Their offerings. You can place a bit of food in the center of the circle, if you like – sweets are best, the Fey love some sugar! – and then pour a bit of red wine over the food item. If you use homemade bread or white or yellow cake, it makes it look fairly bloody, which is why we call it The Red Meal. The visual aesthetic of it makes it a replacement for animal or human sacrifices to the Fey.
Most of the time, when I do this in private, I do this with a slice of store-bought bread sprinkled with sugar. Or, I may use a piece of white or yellow cake. But mostly, it’s just bread. I have given them a bowl of milk and honey, as well, which they seem to adore most. Also, at times, I will use an American Pale Ale beer or a Nut Brown beer, in lieu of wine. The Fey aren’t opposed to the beer, as it’s a bit more in line with what they might typically be thought of to drink, anyhow (Fey being Irish, and all). But when I really needed something extra badly, I offered a nice medium-rare beef sirloin steak, which I’d purchased and cooked myself. I knifed it during the offering procedure for effect. I think it was probably three days and nights before I received a phone call that confirmed the results I needed so badly.
Relationship, Relationship, Relationship
It helps to build relationships! And indeed, that’s really what all of this offering to spirits is about, no?
When you move/leave/vacate, the spirits of that place do not go with you. (Unless, of course, you invite them, which I really don’t recommend, because they may come into conflict with the new spirits of place.) When you move to a new place, no matter how far away, you’re going to have to build relationships with the spirits of the new place. I’d recommend giving a farewell offering to the spirits of the old place, and a friendly greeting offering to the spirits of the new. Every. Single. Time.
Another good tip: don’t start, promise something “regularly” and then stop. The Fey really don’t take kindly to folks they felt lied to them. So if you do make the promise of weekly, bi-weekly offerings or what-not, keep up with your schedule. I, personally, do not make promises of when I’m going to get them another offering. I haven’t even made promises of giving them anything regularly. In truth: I don’t want to set up the expectation that they’ll be getting something weekly or whatever because if I’m out-of-town a week for any reason, I don’t want them to suddenly wreak havoc in my life for having broken such a promise. And wreak havoc, they may! Do it when you think about, without making promises of regularity. And if you heed your intuition, you’ll instinctively know when you may want to go ahead and give something else or something more.
You’ll notice that I mentioned above that, when you alert the Fey, you’re alerting them to come receive their offerings – and just in case you need to speak with them. Well … often, I speak with the Fey when I don’t need anything. I just say something like, “Hey, friends, haven’t been by in a bit and thought I’d bring you something yummy. Enjoy!” Then I leave my offering and be on my merry way. Other times, I might sit and have a chat after I’ve made my offerings – chat about what I’m feeling about work or how I feel about book sales or what’s happening on my general magical experiment front. Other times, I might actually have a need. And then I bring them something a little more special than usual and ask for it. Don’t mince your words – don’t be coy about it. The Fey aren’t too big on shady, guarded motivations. Just be up front and honest with them and they’re likely to do the work for you without you having to do much of anything but this initial offering. And they are powerful allies to have, indeed, so do your best to stay on their good side.
If you’re an animist like myself, nature spirits are external and spirits of place are no exception. They can quickly become friends and allies, and they are great ones to have. Just don’t cross them and you should be in a good place. Every place is someplace, right?