In Europe’s Neolithic past, long, long ago when human communities were mostly tribes, in the ancient days of our ancestors well before the introduction of any spiritual path we know – or could possibly imagine – earth-centered spiritual practices were customary. Long before religion became Religion, full of dogma, regulations, ceremonial figure-heads, theme parks, and tele ministries, there was simple nature. The first spiritual impulses were born of a people who lived close to the land and who relied on it for survival. They knew the ways of the seasons: the annual promise of the warming days, the long period of growth that followed, the importance of harvest, and the seasons of frost and death. Women knew the ways of the moon, of healing and childbirth. Men knew the movement of the herd animals and the secret ways of the hunter and the hunted. There were no holy books or official doctrines. The divine did not exist in some inaccessible realm. It lived among and through the people. It sang in bird songs, it formed the ocean’s waves, it filled the human body, plants, and animals with life.
Spirituality had its birthplace right here – in the dirt, in the soil, in the struggles and trumps of everyday life. It emerged from human laughter and fear. It was something that pervaded one’s eating, sleeping, eliminating, and reproducing. It governed family and community life, the coming of age, marriages, births, and deaths. Spirituality had little to do with lofty philosophical notions – the things that emerge from thinking – it centered on the hard facts of life. The soft facts of life must have played their part too. Love, tenderness, and compassion are universal human emotions that have long quickened the heart and informed the spirit.
These are the ancient, indigenous roots of the spiritual system that we today call Wicca or Witchcraft. In considering Wicca’s earthly spiritual roots, most likely it will come as no surprise that getting started in this path requires you to settle down into the metaphorical dirt – the experiences of the world itself – and get your hands and feet muddy. You’ll need to taste, touch, smell, hear, see, and experience life and the spiritual energy that infuses all.
Let’s get down and dirty, shall we? Go outside. Find a green patch of grass, a dark, rich, root-buckled swath of dart, a stone formation, or a tree, and touch it. Rub your hands across it. Sit down and feel the weight of your body on the land. Breathe deeply and allow the earth to hold you. This is where you belong. Welcome home.
A Word to the Wise: Are you troubled about traipsing through the chill of the night? Do you get singed in the sun or think an icy downpour is a downer? Wicca is a spiritual tradition that includes many practices that bring the practitioner into direct contact with nature. It seeks to harmonize the Witch with life as it is happening in this very moment. To be a person of magickal power, one embraces the entire array of life’s experiences. When Witches routinely make space in their lives for nature, for life, in the right-here-and-now, it gradually strips away accumulated layers of social, emotional, and psychological conditioning. It frees up the mind, the heart, and spirit. It places the practitioner into direct accord with life, nature, and the direct current of spiritual power. Can you face each moment of life unflinchingly – despite rain, sleet, or hail? Not everyone can go outside no matter the weather conditions. There are always exceptions and accommodations to be made. If your health will be jeopardized by venturing out of doors into inclement weather, by all means try the following exercise: Fill a tray or empty pot with potting soil and rub your hands through it. Bring a handful to your nose and inhale the earth’s rich perfume.
The earth is our birthplace, yet for millions of us, it feels strangely foreign. Most of us busily scurry through our lives taking little notice of the earth. There are several reasons for this. First, many Westerners live in cities, and by and large our societies are no longer based in agrarian culture. Agriculture naturally relies on human attunement to the seasonal cycles, and this is no longer a customary way of life for many people. In contemporary life, agriculture is a job, a career choice. Because we are, for the most part, removed from am immediate and visceral connection with nature, our awareness of how the earth sustains our lives has waned. In addition to this, our contemporary, mainstream religious paths promulgate a central doctrine that characterizes the natural world as inherently flawed, sinful, and wrong. We all grow up with these teachings that infuse everyday life and that consequently shape our world views. As a result, many of us presume nature has no value beyond our ability to exploit it.
Our first steps on the path of Wicca require us to connect to the earth and at least wonder about its inherent value. Could the earth, its seasons, and the natural realm really have value beyond material or monetary advantage? Could it be (as indigenous people across the globe say) “sacred?” What does sacred mean?
In Wicca, the term refers to something that is holy or that has a direct relationship with deity. In pagan spiritual paths like Wicca, practitioners come to a mystical, intuitive understanding that all things are manifestations of an underlying energy or spiritual force.
Each of us must unveil these mysteries for ourselves. The path of the Witch involves this slow process of unveiling the power of the earth, particularly as it manifests in our own lives. This process moves at the pace of the seasons themselves. Like the seasonal turnings, this process does not culminate in abrupt changes. Understanding of the truth of our existence and our connections to all is gradual, like standing in a cool mist that eventually soaks you to the bone.
Exercise: Connecting to Earth
Sit somewhere in a natural setting: on a beach, in a forest, a field, or even in your own backyard. Breathe deeply and close your eyes.
A Word to the Wise: If your health will be compromised by exposure to inclement weather, by all means practice this and other outdoor exercises in an indoor environment.
As you sit, imagine that you have roots that extend from the base of your spine. These roots reach not only down into the earth, but out to everything on it. Imagine that this vast network of roots connects you to humans, animals, plants, objects. Take a moment to feel the pulse of your connection to the great All. Notice where your connection to things and people might be weak and where it feels strong.
Spend ten minutes (or longer, if you can) simply feeling your connection. When you are finished, open your eyes. Consider the following questions:
- In what way was my connection strong?
- What do you suspect is the reason for any strong connections?
- In what way was my connection to things weak?
- What do I suspect is the reason for any weak connections?
- What actions can I take that may strengthen any weak connections?
Spend the rest of the day acting in accord with your heightened awareness to people and things around you.