I am an animist. I believe that everything in the natural world – trees, plants, animals, mountains etc – has a spirit, a soul. I truly believe, and have experienced for myself, that a strong connection with nature will have a profound effect on your witchcraft. It really will.
Building a relationship with nature is a long process, always ongoing and evolving. But it doesn’t have to be difficult.
The deep, dark wild woods, mysterious and magical, have an almost mythic status amongst Pagans. Indeed there is something so alluring about losing oneself beneath the canopy of the forest. However, for the beginner, the best place to start is somewhere close to you, somewhere you can visit daily or weekly. It can be a garden if you have one, or a local patch of trees, whatever. What is important is that you can get there as often as possible.
And besides, as much as we might think or want to believe how a beautiful relationship with some ancient forest would be, quite often the truth is the forest doesn’t want us there.
Get yourself some good identification guides, and familiarise yourself with what grows where you live. Learn the names, myths and legends of the trees and fauna. As the year passes and the wheel turns, watch the changes that occur within your local landscape. Are there birds that arrive at certain times of the year? What species are resident all year round? Make notes if you wish. Are there any patterns you can discern? What creatures are there? Insects too?
It doesn’t matter where you live, town, city or country, there will be nature somewhere near you; she abhors a vacuum. If you can, meditate or just sit quietly beneath a tree then do it. Try and do this everyday or as often as you can.
Become a keeper of your area, a steward if you will. Clean up any rubbish and detritus. Look after it, cherish it and you will be rewarded.
Building a relationship with nature also includes accepting all aspects of her. Nature is nourishing, life giving and beautiful. Nature is also destructive and hard, seemingly cruel sometimes, indifferent ( of course nature is neither cruel or indifferent). I think this aspect of her is sometimes glossed over in modern Paganism, but it is important to recognise that nature is multifaceted and incorporate it into our practise.
I guess I’m saying, that at the least, try not to be a fair weather witch. Make an effort to go out in a storm, in the snow, when it’s wet and windy. Feel the energy of the storm! Try and go out at different times as well (always taking care to be safe – at the very least let someone know where you’re going, particularly if it’s a lonely or secluded space). The woods at night is a very different place than the woods in the day, and in winter than in summer, you get the idea.
I also think that building a respectful relationship with nature extends into your day to day life. Reduce, reuse and recycle, yes, absolutely, but there are other simple things you can do to be kinder to nature. Firstly, be aware of the products you buy, both for your day to day life, and for your witchcraft. Are your cleaning and beauty products tested on animals? Is your meat factory farmed? Are your clothes made by some kid in a sweatshop? Try your best to shop ethically. It is hard, when money is tight, so don’t feel guilty if you do have to shop at cheaper stores, just do what you can!
When it comes to your witchcraft, question whether you need this or that crystal, altar tool, statue, whatever. Question everything! Instead of mass produced tat, cheap resin statues and the like, buy from Pagan crafts people, who having taken the time and effort to ritually create fantastic pieces. These will have much greater power than something that has been mass produced. What will have even greater power is something you’ve crafted yourself. The most powerful altar tools are those which you have found in nature, things like interesting stones and driftwood, and those that you have created for yourself.
Getting to know nature is an adventure, and a good one at that! It’s an exhilarating feeling, to be out in the great outdoors. Feel the spirit of nature, let yourself be free! Feel the wind in your face, the warm kiss of the summer sun, or the cold of deep winter. Experience it all!
In my own practise, I work with the spirits of place, my genius loci, and this is perhaps the greatest gift getting to know nature has bestowed upon me. My genius loci include those whom reside close to my home, and those slightly further afield, but close enough to get to daily or weekly. This relationship has taken time and effort to achieve, and is something that will take time and effort to maintain, but of course, really, it is no effort at all because it is what I want, an integral part of my witchcraft.Whether you want to work with your own genius loci is something that you will have to decide for yourself.
Either way, getting to know nature, working in sync with her, will definitely have a positive impact on your craft.