Capitalism encourages us to think of places in terms of ownership. The laws of ‘the land’ also focus on the rights of the owner, not of the inhabitant. It’s worth noting that in most places, the ownership of land can be traced back to violence and conquest.
When I wrote recently about spirits of place, I touched on the idea of ownership. Having had time to think about this properly, I realise that when I wrote ‘ownership’ what I meant was belonging. Or a kind of ownership that also involved being owned. A depth of relationship with a specific place, or places, that binds you to that place, and that place to you.
If you do ritual regularly at a specific site, you may come to feel that sense of ownership/being owned, and that can make it hard to see other people doing ritual in the same space. This is one of the big problems with choosing to do ritual at famous sites. No one has the right to own Avebury, or Stonehenge, or anywhere else on that kind of scale. As with all relationships, our relationships with places are open to possessiveness and jealousy, and what we feel most keenly may not bring out the best in us.
If you want a relationship with place that is personal, where you own and feel owned – then small and local is the way to go. You probably won’t have to share your grove in the woods with any other ritualists.
To feel belonging is to feel part of a community of place. When we belong, we don’t have to feel rivalry with anything else that also belongs. That includes other people. Any number of beings – seen and unseen – can belong to a place. It’s a more spacious idea than ownership, which capitalism has taught us to see as individual. Belonging does not free us from conflict though – especially if others come in and act like they own the place when they have no real relationship with it.
Belonging takes time and the investment of care and attention. It means getting to know the space and the community of living beings already in it. It means recognising that you are not more important than the other beings that belong to the place. It means not giving yourself instant authority by imagining you know what the land or the spirits of place really want. To belong you have to be a bit more humble, and not invested in putting human activity centre stage. Belonging means not trying to use your relationship with the land and its community as a power base to further your own ends.
Belonging is a subtle, quiet process that takes time. It is not the same as the short term excitement of finding a place resonant or welcoming. It’s what you do in the years after that moment.