It always perplexes me when I see Pagans expressing the idea that we should aspire to live in the moment with no reference to the past or the future. Or even when it’s offered as a temporary goal for meditation. To be Pagan is to connect with nature, and when you do that, every moment – surely? – is held in the context of the wheel of the year. It makes even less sense when considered in terms of the landscape.
History is always present in a landscape, whether it is immediately visible or not. The underlying geology is part of the history of the planet itself. The soil is made up from the remains of those who have lived here before, layered beneath your feet, often holding bones, objects and memories amongst the broken down organic matter.
If you honour the ancestors, it makes no sense to focus only on the present. It does however make a great deal of sense to be alert to the ways in which the ancestors of a place are always with us in that place. Their actions, their living and dying are part of what makes a place how it now is. We might not see every influence, but it’s good to look for them and to honour the way in which their lives shape the present moment.
What we do in the present moment has consequences for the future. Being too focused on the present can allow us to ignore the future – and given how destructive our species is, this is irresponsible at best. What we do to our landscape today informs what will survive there in years to come. We have a responsibility to consider the future whenever we interact with the land.
Landscape isn’t just pretty bits of nature, either. You live and work in a landscape, even if there is a lot of tarmac involved. Perceiving the landscape in our urban environments often requires bringing a sense of history with us.
It is always good to be present to what is around us. It’s also important to remember that a landscape is not something that exists only in the present moment. The existence of a landscape is due to its history, to layers of rock and soil built up over time, to human actions, and non-human actions. The landscape holds the past, making it present to us. The land is time made solid. If we ignore that aspect of the land itself in the desire to be ‘purely in the moment’ we miss important aspects of existence.