Super-Local Polytheism

I have been glad to see in recent years a greater awareness of the concept of local-focus polytheism – that we should be orienting our religious practice to the place in which we live. This can take the form of getting to know the nearby landwights, researching historical figures and events that might warrant spiritual recognition (such as hero cultus, commemorative festivals, etc.), melding religious observances with community celebrations, identifying local aspects of European gods (e.g., several American devotees have met a Buffalo Dionysos), even simply caring for the holy or numinous places in one’s region (cleaning up the riverbank, planting trees, etc.).

I have lived in my current city for 10 years now. I have done all of these things and more here – ironically it was only when I moved across the country that I really started paying attention to my environment, having been more oblivious to it and focused on a romanticized idea of Greece in my earlier years as a Hellenic polytheist. I have applied my polytheistic outlook to my bioregion of Cascadia – with focal points including the Oregon coast, the McKenzie River, the Lava Lands, and as far north as the beaches and rainforests of Washington – and more narrowly to my part of the southern Willamette Valley, and the city of Eugene with its many numinous parks and wooded areas, the river, the buttes, and the magical streets and alleys of downtown.

But recently, the gods and spirits have been nudging me toward what I might call a super-local form of practice. And it’s been somewhat of a revelation for me. After all, a person in ancient times – or even 100 or 200 years ago – would rarely if ever have travelled through their entire bioregion, or even as far as we might go just on a day trip by car. And even today, if I were living in a rural area with my own house and land, I would likely pay much more attention to my property and its immediate vicinity, and the spirits living there, than I would to land several miles away. So I started to apply this principle to my current home in an apartment in the city.

Instead of making longer treks out to the wetlands or the buttes (at least two miles away) whenever I want to connect with local nature spirits, I have been spending more time in the ash wood just down the street from me. Within a very small area, there is a wide variety of wildlife, natural features, and surprisingly vibrant spirits (considering it is bound on all sides by human activity). Each time I visit, and leave offerings, and perform small bits of magic, I bind myself more to that place, and further open the veil between the worlds there, making an already numinous spot even more powerful.

Instead of walking all the way downtown or beyond to seek out the wonderful urban treasures of this city in honor of Hermes, I have been exploring my neighborhood, the parts I never went to, off the beaten path. There is so much history here, and so much of it appropriate to Hermes in some way – the unearthed trolley tracks, the marker for our city’s first college – as well as tons of little hidden gems, like the backyard facing an alley where someone accumulated several antique phone booths all together, or the Little Free Libraries scattered along the streets. And each time, again, that I leave offerings for the god in one of these places, I strengthen that spot as holy.

One interesting experiment They guided me to involved printing out two maps. The first shows the entire city, with a circle drawn about a mile in diameter around my house, then ever-widening concentric circles beyond that. The second enlarges that smallest circle around my house so that more detail is shown, with further circles inserted within, down to the smallest with a diameter representing a few blocks. Then I thought about every place I have felt a strong numinous presence in, every place I have visited multiple times to interact with the spirits, and I marked these places on the maps. It was very interesting to see where they fell, how many were actually miles away from me, and likewise how many were clustered more closely to my home. It also helped me visualize which ones were at the same relative distance.

While I haven’t entirely abandoned those places and spirits that are located in the outer circles, I have been paying much more attention to the ones in that smallest inner circle, and it’s really changing my whole experience of where I live, even when I’m just sitting in my apartment – I can feel the web of connections spreading out in all directions. I have a better sense of my most immediate spiritual landscape. When I walk to work, or to the store, or to the flea market (I walk everywhere, having no car), I note the spiritual significance of all the places I’m passing, think about the rituals I have done there, and I seem to be generally just more aware of the spirits everywhere than I was before.

I encourage others to try out this approach, especially those of you living in urban environments where it can sometimes be challenging to connect with the spirits. Resist the urge to spend all your spiritual energy in the most beautiful, obvious natural places and see what you can discover within just a few blocks of your home. You may be surprised, and whatever spirits you encounter may be quite pleased to be acknowledged. It will also help root you more in the place you actually are, and in the present moment as well, both of which are essential to a strong spiritual foundation.

~ by Dver on June 1, 2016.

10 Responses to “Super-Local Polytheism”

  1. love this. for the past several years i’ve been really focused on snuggling in with the dryads, fae and wights right here on my own property, and the very nearby ones- the trees in the lane, the pond across the lane and so forth. i’ve been so amazed and gratified at how much deeper it’s been than almost any Work i’ve done thus far. very different (and much more accessible) from contact with gods. but very, very wonderful, and very near to my heart.

  2. That map idea is brilliant. I think I’m going to give that a try later this summer.

  3. Thank you for this – I have been thinking about “deep local” urban animism/spirit work a lot recently, having just returned home to my city from a trip abroad in the wilderness. I hadn’t even realized how intensely devoted and comforted I felt by my city until I returned home from such a different environment, and that realization has inspired me to want to learn more about my local spirits and sacred places. Your examples and suggestions are inspiring – I definitely plan to try that map experiment!

  4. Thank you so much for this post! It is so timely and inspirational!!! For the first time in my life I am settled in a rural area with lots of land and so many spirits to meet. The intersection of the “locals” with my Gods in fascinating. Thank you for your ongoing work!!

  5. The map idea is a great one, and something I have been playing with on and off over the past few years. It kind of spawned from my hunting, and the need to track animals and locations. Over time, I started marking as you call them “numinous” spots as well, good places to leave offerings, where I felt the spirits, ect. It kind of developed from that.

    Lots of good stuff here.

    Thank you for posting!

  6. I love the map idea! I’m going to give it a try with my local group and see how it works for us!

  7. I belong to a group that’s starting an ecovillage in Texas. They bought 70 acres to build homes from natural materials (mostly – we do have to meet codes) and use permaculture techniques to create a self-sustaining village. I can’t wait. That will be my super-local spot to keep for the spirits – and dryads and naiads (there’s a pond). I just have to get a job there… sigh. It’s hard to build a house when you aren’t there.

  8. My new cuveen and I have this local intent. For me, it is also hyperlocal, as you describe – last week I declared, “everything I need is in my backyard.” (Well, and maybe across the street.) The other members all live about an hour away, so we can all do “local,” and they can do “hyperlocal.” I’m sharing your post with them. This is important and really rewarding work.

  9. See if that map you are making corresponds to constellations. Also, check out the work that Ana Mendieta was doing in the 1970s with ‘siluetes’.

  10. […] nearly did not make him an offering.  I’m glad I did, because this is exactly the kind of super-local polytheism that I want to be […]

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