Contemporary witchcraft is a largely pagan affair, spanning across multiple cultures and pantheons. Within the wider scope of pagan witchcraft it's not only the pantheons that are of importance but the stories about those spirits that inspire contemporary practitioners. World mythologies place different emphasis on certain items, rituals, locations, sacred plants, and even heroes. For American contemporary witches these stories are also divorced from the land we live on.
By looking at the stories of classical mythology we can see that they are oftentimes bioregional in nature. A well known example of this is Mt. Olympus, home of the Greek gods, which is a real physical location in Greece. Within Irish literature there is an entire class of writings focused on place names called the Dindsenchas. These pieces describe how mounds, rivers, and other landscape features got their names. The Dindsenchas sometimes indicate which spirits interact with the land there. Throughout world mythology we constantly see holy lakes, sacred trees, and places described as the center of the world.
North America is imbued with its own existing mythologies from the incredibly diverse First Nations People that are here. We do not have to ascribe meaning to these places from a potentially colonialist background. We can however develop a personal mythology, centered on our backgrounds and experiences with the land. Personal mythology is intrinsically tied to folkloric witchcraft. Personal mythology is how we assign spiritual significance to events, locations, objects, or memories within our environment and throughout our experience.
As a folkloric witch I find power in the stories told about places and people, particularly if they are of supernatural subjects. These are added to a rolodex of references that power my witchcraft and shape how I create things like spells or rituals. By creating a personal mythology centered on the land places that I have always held important become mythical and embedded in my memory as an enchanted place.
For me this has always been by happenstance. The whole process may sound like a carefully orchestrated attempt to give meaning to a few swamps I care about, but this is a process that has been going on my entire life- and it’s probably the same for you too. Some lakes have always held more life than others, certain buildings more haunted, specific parks that seemed more magical. We already have personal mythologies about ourselves and our practices, however I’ve found that we don’t always allow ourselves to give these experiences credit.
"If there is not an existing conversation about it, it must not be that important." This is the sentiment I’ve told myself a million times and I’m positive I’m not the only one. Because of our distance from the lands our ancestors are from (by and large) we romanticize distant lands instead of allowing ourselves to re-enchant our own experiences. We are so afraid of Unverified Personal Gnosis that we don’t even allow it to make our experiences significant for ourselves. To avoid sounding too much like a broken record here are some examples of my own personal mythology as it intersects with the land and my own history.
St. Augustine, Florida - The City of Death
I lived in St. Augustine for four years while I completed my undergraduate degree. I lived smack dab in the middle of downtown and was within walking distance of some of the oldest cemeteries in the U.S. For those who are unfamiliar St. Augustine, Florida is the oldest continually occupied European settlement in the United States. St. Augustine is often referred to as “The Oldest City” coming in at 453 years at the time of writing this article. Many of the sites in the city are within my personal mythology (The Castillo de San Marcos, Flagler College, The St. Johns River) however the entire city itself is a place I deeply associate with death.
When I am in the city I am bombarded with the presence of the dead. St. Augustine is where mediumship started to seep into my practice (much to my chagrin). St. Augustine is where I developed a deeper appreciation for ancestral practices. For me this city will forever be a home to the dead, a place to learn from the dead, a pilgrimage to the spirits of death itself. Brick dust collected here packs more of a punch for me. The soil from anywhere within the city allows for a strong base in ancestor bottles. The water from the Fountain of Youth is the same water held within the aquifer for the entire city- so even tap water has history to it.
The Hag of the Sea
Within personal mythology is the concept that locations have certain spirits that don’t tread far past their “territory”. One such spirit for me is The Hag of the Sea or The Woman of the Black Water. There is a small private beach on the Atlantic Coast of Florida that I used to make frequent trips out to. I was diligent on the full moons and made my way out there to sing to the ocean, in hopes that it would sing back. I would dance naked and dive into the water. I would collect water, shells, and sometimes even fish bones that would wash up.
After a few months of going out here on multiple occasions, a spirit made herself known. She was faceless, and didn’t use any actual words to communicate. Up until that point I had only ever experienced spirit communication through direct messages, words that could be easily written down and remembered. The Hag communicated through impulses and emotions. With her there was a wild abandon. I needed to dance with her when she came to me. To drink of her and laugh with her. She was an ecstatic spirit, a goddess in her own right. She never asked for an altar or prayers. She never asked to be called on nor gave me permission to call on her. But she was there when I needed to dance. She was there when I needed healing. She was there when I needed transforming.
I now live on the Gulf Coast, and The Hag does not dwell in these waters. She is there, at night, in the Atlantic. She never once appeared to me on a cloudy night. She is a liminal spirit, who dances on those shores when the full moon is reflecting off her body. She was the deafening wind and the lapping waves. I can travel to her, on those nights, out of my body, and she recognizes me. I visit her from time to time and reminisce under the moon.
Bok Tower - Axis Mundi of Florida
Bok Tower does a lot of things to me. It makes me reflective, calm, and meditative. It forces me (ever so gently) to be in the present. It makes me more attentive to details and truly gives me a sense that I am in the center of the world.
Bok Tower is 205 Ft carillon bell tower in Lake Wales, Florida. The tower itself is a piece of art constructed from marble harvested throughout the U.S. and coquina straight from St. Augustine. The ornate brass door depicts the scenes from Genesis, the Christian creation story. Glazed ceramic mosaics depict scenes from the Garden of Eden and the rear of the tower has a sundial which depicts the Zodiac. The inside of the tower is closed off to most visitors and contains a library, some offices, and most importantly the carillon bells that play often throughout the day.
Obviously this tower is a subject of awe for me. It is also a deeply spiritual place that I have taken to referring to as the Axis Mundi of Florida. The tower is the contested highest point in peninsular Florida (Mt. Dora is constantly fighting for that title) and is located smack dab in Central Florida. The top of the tower also has large statues of Herons looking off into the directions. All of these factors have made the tower a place that immediately call back to the image of the World Tree, from where you can access any world.
I have made fetishes from the soil collected at the base of the tower as well as fallen leaves and twigs that I use to connect me back to this holy place. During my spirit flight work, this tower becomes a place that helps get me to where I need to go. I go back multiple times a year to both walk through my favorite place on Earth, but also to see my family. The tower is conveniently only a 30 minuet drive to my hometown.
Growing Stone, Sunken Gardens in St. Petersburg, Florida
Most personal mythology is unverified personal gnosis, however this little nugget is shared personal gnosis. The Growing Stone is a relatively flat rock found inside of the Sunken Gardens. The gardens themselves are actually made within a sink hole (which I strongly relate to the Underworld) and feature beautiful plants from around the world. The stone has a small sign that tells its story. The gist is that if you sit on the stone you will feel a sense of tranquility and will be blessed with a green thumb.
I went for the first time last year and I have to say that my garden has since flourished. This could also have something to do with the amount of homework I’ve been doing on gardening and the progress I’ve made in caring for my plants, but I like to think the Growing Stone may have given me a little extra help.
Developing a Personal Mythology
You already have a story inside of you. Every lake you ever swam in, every tree you paid special attention to, every trail you’ve hiked has left a mark on you and you on it. Personal mythology is less about creating correspondences and more emphasizing the importance of these experiences to your spirituality. While you can look at a map and start “assigning” meaning to places, I think this kind of defeats the purpose. I do have a few tips that can help organize these things for you, but all-in-all the process is intuitive.
Write down places that have meaning to you
Record the spirits you’ve met in certain locations
Brings friends to these places and see what their reactions are
Go to a new place and record experiences after (not the other way around)
Make frequent pilgrimages (as manageable by ability)
Take small (and low impact) materials from the place you visit
Number six is a big one for anyone that wants to bring a little of that power back home. As witches focused on place, it can seem counterintuitive to “call” on spirits that are not present in the locality. By collecting soil and vials of water you bring that spiritual essence back to your home and bring that power into your space. Depending on your relationship with the spirits of the land this fetish may allow you to contact that spirit over large distances.
The most simple fetish to create is a vial of the soil or water. You can build upon these fetishes by molding clay around it into a form shown to you by the spirits or of an animal that is unique to the area. You could wrap beads around the vial in colors that evoke the place. Depending on the area and if you are able to you may be able to collect seeds, clippings, or roots from the soil. Bird feathers, shells, stones, mosses, lichen, and other curio can be built into any number of unique tools.
The final note I want to make is about being a good guest. In many of these locations we are impeding on the land in some way. There may be rules or even laws surrounding what you can and cannot collect. Follow these rules. Do not bend them for your witchcraft, even if the spirits say you can. A phrase I’ve heard often by other folks who spend time in protected areas such as nature sanctuary’s is “take nothing leave nothing”. In these instances remember that even if you can’t collect soil from the base of an ancient tree, there’s always the gift shop.
Photo taken by Aaron Oberon. All images and content copyright by author Aaron Oberon, 2018. All rights reserved.