Bioregionalism at a Glance
Bioregionalism is a philosophy that permeates folkloric witchcraft. At its core, bioregionalism (in terms of witchcraft) is rooting your spiritual practice in the natural world around you. Another way to look at it is defining space by the ecosystem rather than manmade designations.
The concept as a whole isn't new, people have been calling themselves "sea witch" or "swamp witch" for years. However the movement to focus on bioregionalism and emphasize its important in witchcraft is relatively new for some folks. Especially for those who may live divorced from the land. A lot of witches live in cities or townships that feel distant from the natural world. A lot of online resources have been aimed at city witches and urbanites looking to embrace witchcraft. Rural witches may hear some of the core concepts presented in bioregionalism and consider it second nature. You may acknowledge these as things you've done for years with no labels. Still those labels can certainly be helpful when looking for resources.
A crash course approach to beginners bioregionalism is to put away your books on witchcraft for a while. Let's be real, contemporary witchcraft is heavy with books and online sources. For a bioregional practice those things come as secondary informants. Your primary informant should always by the land itself. If you're looking for books to help your practice, try a wild life guide written about your local area. Find books about native plants, ecosystem preservation, history, and urban legends. Most importantly, spend time observing the land.
Don't immediately go out wildcrafting whatever you can get your hands on. Take the time to observe the land, what grows where and how the animals interact with the space. Sketch plants, you don't have to be good at it trust me, then go home and try to identify the plants you drew. Once you've developed a good sense of the place and can reasonably identify non-toxic plants, take the time to do the spirit work.
Communicating with the land comes naturally to some and is hard work for others. The land may be very comfortable with humans. The land may hate humans. There is a lot of navigation that can take place here. You may find trees that love you or lake spirits that want to eat you. Don't rush into anything, take time listening rather than speaking. They have been hear much longer than you have, you are a guest in their home.
Once you've gotten to a place of understanding with these spirits, the course of the relationship begins to diverge from what other practitioners can typically advise. Every bioregion is different and every spirit relationship is unique. What I can do is offer some examples of specific twists that the land has instructed me to do in my spiritual practice.
Most witches and pagans I've met tend to do offerings of food or alcohol and leave them outside for animals to eat or to be soaked into the land. My background in Celtic Reconstructionism makes me hesitant to pour out alcohol on the ground, and that has been doubled-down on by my local land spirits. My spirits have also directed me not to leave food outside as it can create a burden on the land. I also spend a lot of time working on hiking trails, where there tends to be the philosophy of "take nothing, leave nothing" so that any disruption to the environment is minimized.
All of this is very counter to what most pagans, myself included, are familiar with in terms of offerings. Sometimes the land has allowed for me to give some biodegradable offerings like raw fruits but more often than not they prefer that I clean the area. I remove litter and (when I know the area well enough and the caretakers of the land approve of it) pull invasive plants. I listen to the stories of the land, write down their songs, and follow their lead for a bit. Sometimes I sing for them or donate money to the preservation efforts (Yes, some spirits are acutely aware that it takes money to keep the land safe). Most importantly listen to both the land and the caretakers of the land, including the indigenous peoples of the area. A lot of modern pagans have greatly struggled with this, often living on unseated land here in America. Active listening to both spirits and living cultures is very important in developing a bioregional practice.
We love ritual tools. Lets be real, tools make for some of the coolest and most iconic imagery in witchcraft. Wiccan athames are cool as hell. Traditional Witches and their stangs are rad. The folkloric witch is not without their tools. Now, being an in-the-dirt kind of practice typically means less ritual work than better known streams of witchcraft, but tools aren't just used in ritual work. I know plenty of Wiccan's whose athames serve as knives when cutting plant materials* or cords.
Tools made directly from the bioregion can be obvious like using native trees to make wands or stangs. They can be less obvious, like here in the South where Spanish Moss grows rampant I make witch's ladders out of tangled Spanish Moss using duck feathers from the pond outside of my house. Rather than making oils or ointments from expensive retailers I use native or exotic non-invasive plants that grow here. The ritual dagger I use is made from carved gator jaw. Gator teeth are interesting in that they are hallow and stack inside of each other, so I fill gator teeth with herbs to make talismans.
Many spell books on the market call for very specific herbs due to their historical or modern associations with a magical domain. What this often results in is witches going to herb stores, Whole Foods, or local occult shops and shelling out cash for a mason jar half filled with a European plant that you may have never even seen live. Sometimes this is fine, and supermarket herbs are just as magically potent as occult shop herbs. However in a bioregional worldview you can engage the plants that grow locally, often times in your backyard, for the work you need.
Lust work is often associated with roses. Well, I may have a decent green thumb but roses can't live more than a few days with me (I feel like I can put a little blame on Florida weather too). However the lovely Magnolia is a mainstay in my lust work. The scent is subtle and sensual and unlike most flowers the magnolia does not yield nectar. Because of this I find it perfectly suited for lust work.
Curses, an all time favorite subject of mine, are a lot of fun for Florida witches. There are so many things that want to kill you down here or just generally make life miserable. There is one stand out miserable plant though that almost any Floridian will share equal hatred for. Sandspurs. I bet your feet started stingin' as soon as you read that. Sandspurs are these awful little seed pod things that somehow are magnetically attracted to your heels and just lodge themselves right up there with no problems. One incredibly fun book titled Wicked Plants by Amy Stewart calls them sand burrs and makes the claim that Southerners make a wine out of them (219). I've lived in the South my whole life and never heard of this, but it's a fun idea for curse work. My go-to concept though is to make a poppet and fill it part way with Spanish Moss and make a "heart" of sand spurs. Then for added insult, stick some more sand spurs to the outside of the doll.
The area isn't without it’s healing plants of course. Resurrection fern grows throughout the swamps and forests of Florida. The fern makes its home on tree bark and during the dry season looks like dried, dead plants. But as soon as the rains come they unfurl and look just like any fern you'd come across. These plants can be used for any healing work imaginable, but in my experience the spirits place certain limitations on their harvest. I never take more than two sprigs at a time and never when they're wet.
Unverified Personal Gnosis
Bioregional work is specific and very personal. As such anything lacking citation above should be treated as UPG, unverified personal gnosis. The majority of this work is UPG and there is nothing wrong with that. The majority of witchcraft in general is UPG, the problem only arises when we fail to state it as such. There is no single correct way to practice bioregional witchcraft, only you and the spirits can make those distinctions. However there is a certain level of responsibility that you as a human-being should consider during the work. Ask yourself if you need to harvest a plant? What the impact may be on the local animals? Do you know exactly what you plant to do with the harvested material to ensure it does not go to waste? Are there conservation laws in place that prevent taking things from the land? Are there taboos that the First Nations People of that land abide by? Is this something you should also abide by?
Remember that spirits have autonomy and that working with the land is an extensive process. It isn't a complicated one, but it takes time to build relationships. Don't rush things, and consider what you could be doing to improve your listening skills with the land.
Ancient Cypress Tree in the Corkscrew Sanctuary. Photo taken by Aaron Oberon. All images and content copyright by author Aaron Oberon, 2018. All rights reserved.
*I know that technically a knife used by Wiccan's to cut cords is called a Boline but I know very few Wiccan's who actually use one.