The two dimensions of coherent practice

The work I do at HedgeWalking is relevant to anyone who is looking to walk in the world in a way that’s consistent with ways of being and knowing that we think of as indigenous. There are two threads to this work, two dimensions:

Ancestral traditions

All of us can benefit from a grounding in our ancestral traditions. For some of us, of course, it’s not always clear just where those ancestral traditions lie – many of us today are ‘mongrels’, with ancestry from a variety of different places.  If that’s the case for you – if you’re not obviously Celtic, or Scandinavian, for example, then simply choose the ancestral line which draws you most. This isn’t about genetic purity, it’s about finding grounding and a sense of belonging from knowing that you are part of a long line of people who once, for generations, belonged somewhere, and it’s particularly important if your immediate ancestors came only relatively recently to the land where you now live (those of you in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, for example).

Ancestral traditions are great to explore, but ancestral practices – and especially ancestral divinities – really don’t always travel well. Use them for inspiration; don’t try to recreate them. Draw on native mythology for inspiration; love and learn the stories – but always steep your practices and devotions in the place where your feet are planted.

The place where your feet are planted

No matter how much you are drawn to the practices and mythologies of an ancestral country, if your feet are currently planted in a country which is different, it is critically important to develop land-based practices which make sense where you are right now. It is this landscape, and the creatures which inhabit it, that you need to connect with. It is this land’s dreaming that you need to fall into – not some longed-for land across the sea. To do otherwise is to be half-alive. But you can use your knowledge of ancestral traditions to help you connect in the place where you live. For example: if you are of Irish or Scottish descent, you might be drawn to myths and stories of the Cailleach – the Old Woman who made and shaped the world. And if you happen to be visiting Ireland or Scotland, you can indeed acknowledge her in the landscape. But you can’t export her to the New Mexico desert, or the Kansas plains. It makes no sense, because the Cailleach (like all Gaelic divinities) is absolutely immanent in the landscape here. This is the land she made and created; she is a creature of rocky heights and storm-soaked coastlines; she makes no sense elsewhere. But you can use that sense of ancestral belonging to the country of the Cailleach to help you find an ‘Old Woman’ archetype somewhere in the place where you live.

5 Comments on “The two dimensions of coherent practice

  1. Hi there! I loved IWRR, am taking your Rock and Root course, and wanted to understand better how to do this from America–hoping you see and answer comments! My family, originally German, has been in America since the 1700s, and although there is magic of a sort in the Pennsylvania Dutch community we lived in until my parents’ generation (a sort if Bible incantation-based healing), it is so thoroughly Christian that it makes no sense to me. But as appealing as native traditions are, we are still slaughtering indiginous peoples for oil here…so taking yet more from them feels truly cruel? I know you spent time in America during your journey–is there any advice you might have? (The other problem I’m coming up against is how much German lore was killed when Christianity came through–a process, by the way, that my family, choc full of ministers and missionaries as it is, would applaud for “saving the heathens”) I’m finding it hard to walk the line between traditions native to the land and appropriation the true native peoples would despise coming from a white person. Many thanks!!! (Loving The Enchanted Life too!)

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    • Hi Lena – this is not about taking anything from indigenous peoples in America – quite the opposite! It is absolutely about reclaiming our own native traditions so as to stop people feeling that they need to appropriate the traditions of others in the Americas or elsewhere. Christianity trampled on a lot of native lore here, but not all of it. There are threads, and from those threads we can weave a new cloth. Not a copy of anything that went before (that would make no sense) but something that is uniquely ours, today, based on all that we have done and learned – for better or worse – down the centuries.

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    • Lena- you have articulated my dilemma as well. If we are not able to honor say, the Callileach, in the land of Turtle Island because she is not of Turtle Island… then we hope to honor the spirits of the land indigenous to Turtle Island in a way that is not appropriative or showy or weird. I guess for me it involves maintaining a deep respect, honor, and reverence for the people & practices indigenous to Turtle Island… knowing that I’m on this land & interacting with the stories & spirits that are here, not trying to take from them, but respect them. Still not exactly sure how to do that, but supporting indigenous-led efforts here in the land (such as Honor the Earth) & other organizations feels appropriate. I guess I’m saying keeping an attitude of “giving” rather than “taking” feels necessary. I can’t just look to practices of my ancestral lands & ignore the land & stories of the place I am- those stories need honored while I’m here… yet how does one do that in a way that is generous rather than consuming??? That’s the sticky part we are trying to work out I guess???

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      • Lauren – this is a post which articulates a very general response to these questions; the issues of how it might actually be done on the ground are things I tend to address where there is the possibility of more deep discussion, such as in interactive courses and workshops. But what I usually say, in a nutshell, is that understanding the Old Woman in your ‘native’ mythology helps you understand/ find an old woman archetype in the land where your feet are planted. You know what to look for, how to recognise her … it’s actually an opening up to an act of co-creation between you and the land which can be quite magical. There is a section of my new book, The Enchanted Life, which is devoted to this question. I’d love to excerpt it here but my publishers wouldn’t be so happy 🙂

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      • Sharon, listening to the new podcast on your site was helpful, and I look forward to reading The Enchanted Life. I’m looking forward to the act of co-creation as you’ve described it 🙂 I realize this way of being in the world doesn’t come in a neatly wrapped box but can be as messy as it is meaningful. I just so much appreciate the general ideas you presented in this post & it’s inspired me to keep seeking & giving!

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