In Druid rituals, and other Pagan gatherings, we tend to start by inviting other beings in. The powers of the four directions, the three worlds, the spirits of place, ancestors, perhaps our gods. “Hail and welcome” we call out in cheerful unison. I gather other traditions will summon the guardians of the watchtowers and call to other things, welcoming them in or demanding their presence.
I am increasingly uneasy about this.
The elements exist. Earth, air, fire and water are present in this world in any habitable place where you might realistically try and have a ritual. Spirits of place, by their very nature are that which exists in a place. Our ancestors we bring with us, in our DNA. None of these things are absent when we start a ritual. Maybe the gods are absent, but that’s a whole other conversation about the nature of deity that I’d like to skip over for now.
When we walk into a space to do ritual, everything else is already there. We are the incomers. We are the oblivious ones who need to open our awareness, to actually think about the earth beneath our feet and the sky above our heads. What we do when we call to the spirits of place is not, in any real sense, invite them to join us. They were there already. It is their place. What we actually need to be doing, is opening ourselves to being more aware of everything that is not us, and that is not part of our more mundane concerns.
Nature is always with us, in the air we breathe, the materials we use. No matter how deeply we go into human constructs, every last thing humans make, has been constructed from the natural world. We are never away from nature. What we frequently are, is oblivious to it. Therefore when we enter a ritual space, asking nature to show up is utterly ridiculous. What we need to be doing is shifting our own perceptions, and to do that, we need a completely different ritual language.
Modern Paganism has, to a large extent, grown out of magical organisations where the point was very much to try and conjure and control. We’re inherited habits of language and speech from those traditions, and we use them without really looking at what they mean, how they position us in relation to the natural world, and whether they are of much use.
You do not need to summon the spirits of the earth. The earth is there, underneath you, every step of the way. All you need to do is become aware of it. The air is with you, in every breath drawn. The fire of the sun drives all life upon this earth. There is water in your own body, and usually in everything around you, too. These things exist, they do not need summoning. If you postulate ‘spirits of the earth’ as something not universally present in the earth but coming from ‘away’ and needing raising up, make sure at least that you understand how your cosmology works, and why you think the important bits of nature are somewhere else and not immediately available to you. I am suspicious of that thought form, too, it encourages us not to see this world as inherently magical, inherently sacred, but to imagine all spiritual stuff is ‘away’.
Not recognising what is here, in this earth, this air, underpins a lot of human abuses. We need to take the land beneath our feet a lot more seriously as a species, and we would benefit from doing that in our rituals, too.