Pagans talk a great deal about ‘connecting with nature’ and I think it’s something we could afford to consider. Granted, it can be very useful shorthand, but it can also be a way of making what you do superficial. When we treat nature as generic rather than looking at it in specific ways, what we’re most likely to connect with are our own pre-existing ideas about nature. To make real connections, we need more precision.
It’s important to remember that nature is not one single, homogenous thing all moving in the same direction at the same time. Pagans tell a very simple wheel of the year narrative, but many living things don’t go along tidily with it – I’ve been blogging about alternative wheel of the year stories over at Sage Woman blogs for some time now, I think this is important work. If we want real connection, we have to start by not imposing our stories on what we see.
There is a world of practical difference between what you do to connect with a tree, and what you do to connect with a bird, or a fox, or an insect or a hill. The less experienced you are, the more sense it makes to focus on smaller things – it is easier to try and connect with wood when you have first invested time connecting with specific trees and landscape features within it.
Real connection takes time – you can’t go out for half an hour to connect with a wood you’ve never visited before and expect to have a deeply meaningful experience. There’s a lot you need to learn, first. If, as a newbie Pagan you do that and something, or multiple things have clear and powerful messages for you, there’s a very good chance that you are just hearing the voices of your own ego and imagination. Most wild things are not sat round waiting for a human they can tell all the important stuff to. Most landscapes are fairly indifferent to us and building relationship takes time. You need to turn up frequently, at different times of day, in different seasons, and weathers, and pay attention and be open. If after some weeks or months of this you start to get some feelings about a place, you’re probably onto something real.
If you’re getting messages that cast you in an important role, be suspicious. Interrogate yourself and check your own motives. If you get messages that ask you to do things you wanted to do anyway, it may well not be coming from outside of you.
If you want to dedicate to a place, a tree, a creature or some other aspect of the natural world, the most important offering you can make is to look after it. Wild things do not need our incense anything like as much as they need not to be choking themselves on discarded plastic. They do not need our prayers anything like as much as they need us to petition other humans to keep them physically safe.
If you want to make deep connections with ‘nature’ you can only really do this by being specific. Don’t ‘get out into nature’. Go to a particular hill, stream or tree. Watch an individual bird and listen to its song. Spend time with a specific plant. Being outside doesn’t automatically make you connected. If you walk through a landscape, oblivious to its details while telling yourself a story about what a good Pagan you are for connecting with nature, you’ll not see the woods, or the trees.