The forest is quiet. The soothing, earthy scent of decaying wood and leaves drifts up from the well-beaten path. We tread softly here, like strangers unsure of ourselves. These woods are familiar to us, practically in our backyard, and yet we feel almost like trespassers. The sunlight dapples through the trees, creating dizzying patterns on the forest floor. I hear a bird chirp in a nearby tree, and suddenly the air is filled with sounds: the cheerful rustle of leaves, the creaking of branches, the chirping of birds and the scurry of squirrels, and underneath it all, as I strain to hear, a deep and almost imperceptible hum.
As we venture further into the wood, the path becomes narrower, rocky and uneven. I grow less sure of my footing and look nervously about me. Just a few steps to either side of us the ground falls away steeply, dense trees on one side and a murky green pond on the other. It is like we are crossing a bridge to another world, and with any misstep we are in peril. I feel a reassuring hand take mine, and Doug guides me further along the trail. We crest a small hill, follow a bend in the path, and suddenly a great tree looms above us. It looks dead, and yet something powerful and unsettling emanates from it. I stare up in reverence and awe. We don’t get closer to the tree – we aren’t welcome. We touch our hands to our hearts, instinctively, to show our respect before moving on. Then we turn, and go down a steep hill into a softly lit grove.
In the middle of the grove stands a large gypsum rock, which I’ve come to call the Fairy Castle. It glitters oddly in the sparse light. Something flickers as I approach it, so quickly I almost don’t take notice. Suddenly I know I am somewhere important, somewhere special. I am in a sacred place and I can feel there is a presence of something greater than myself at the edge of my perception. We begin to unpack our offerings…
Our local landscape is as enchanted as any haunted wood in a fairy tale. Our land is full not only of its own history, but also of its own spirit and sacredness. As pagans, especially those seeking the wisdom of our ancestors, we often dream of sacred sites far away, of ancient myths and gods of other lands. Few of us work directly with the land on a day-to-day basis, and when we do it rarely extends beyond our own backyard gardens. I believe this has rendered many of us – myself included – at times unable or unwilling to engage the spirits and gods in our own landscape. There are many local natural places I find personally and spiritually significant. As the good weather returns, and as the world grows green again, I am excited to visit and re-visit them with my family. Perhaps I can do so again with fellow pagans – other people who may appreciate the spirits of the place, and understand the importance of offerings.
What are some local places you consider special or sacred? Have you ever encountered or experienced the presence of gods or spirits in your natural landscape?
Natasha is a busy new mom, nurse and down-to-earth Pagan living in Dieppe, NB with her family. She also blogs at Planting Seeds.