Discussion of Paganism often centers around what a Pagan is. Terms like “nature-centered” always come up, and occasionally reference to the spirituality of the countryside is spoken. I like to think of Pagans as people of the land. It is a vague term and many people can be considered people of the land without having any particular spiritual belief. I take some pride in the term Pagan. I am a Pagan connected to a piece of land.
I realized recently what a rare relationship I have with land. I have lived on and had an intimate relationship with the same piece of land for thirty eight years. It is not so rare in rural areas where people often reside in the same location for generations. For people who associate their spiritual beliefs with the land, and for Pagans, the opportunity to spend hundreds of hours in total solitude on an individual piece land is uncommon. I am not referring to the casual acts of living, work, and recreation, but time spent in meditation and direct observation of the land, its plants, and creatures.
I confess, much of this time was spent in the acts of fishing and hunting, and preparing for these activities. The time walking, looking, sitting, and directly observing the land is all a part of this. These activities have a directed purpose, which didn’t distract from developing an intimate relationship with the land.
A long term relationship with land teaches you how temporary are the things we think are permanent. My land embraces a river, and rivers are ever changing. I can’t count the number of times this little river has changed its course, each fallen tree or rock diverting the flow from its established path. Fragile stream banks erode away, cliffs collapse, and a spring log jam can start the deposit of a new stream bank. A severe flood can scour out a new deep fishing hole and a large influx of eroded dirt can silt in a beautiful rocky rapids. These changes occur without any relation to what we as humans may want, or what we spiritually wish and pray for as best for the land.
Land changes in its type, spanning the whole range from agriculture, to grassland and meadow, to brushy pasture, and eventually to mixed forest. Human intervention often controls these changes. In my part of the world the land was once all a conifer forest, then it was cleared by humans for settlement. The natural progression is for grassland and meadow to move back to forest. Fire can maintain a meadow, killing the woody plant starts, but fires are often not enough. As soon as human intervention stops, the land rapidly returns to woods.
Most of us are not aware of how many of plant species which fill our world are foreign and invasive. I had a campaign of meadow fires to help bring back a stand of Blue Gentian here. It is a fairly rare and beautiful meadow flower easily overwhelmed with foreign grasses and plants. I have seen a meadow go from grassland to brush and on to a young wood of popple, birch, and pine. A meadow first gathers up prickly ash and stag horn sumac to begin shading the grass out. Then the denser and slower growing ironwood and hop hornbeam pop in wearing dark stockings at their trunk base. The now shady and brushy young woods supports the spread of taller growing birch and popple, and even these eventually give way to maple and ash. The land moves from easy to walk through, to nearly impenetrable with brush, and eventually to a “park like” mature wood, in the span of a lifetime.
These are relationships with change. People of the land receive deep lessons about change, and apply it to their own lives. The feeling of powerlessness in the face of nature and the attitude of “power over” nature come from a severe disconnect that is foreign to landed Pagans. Humans often confuse what is best for us as humans, with what is best for the land.