Moving a Bioregional Practice
When you root your spiritual relationships in the ground you live on there can be a very real and very bittersweet experiences when you have to move. Sometimes there can be a sense of helplessness, of thinking “I invested so much into this land and now I’m leaving it all behind and have to start all over again”. That thought has a lot of truth to it in that as a bioregional animist you will have to create new relationships with spirits in your new home. However that thought is wrong in regard to your practice. In this article I want to present how moving can be a powerful, and still bittersweet, experience in bioregional animism. (As always my bias is that I am a witch in addition to being an animist so I will occasionally use the terms almost interchangeably. The following information however is applicable to all animists regardless of religious or spiritual inclinations.)
Most spirits in my experience want the same things we do. Companionship, strong ties to each other, and a peaceful day to day life (afterlife?). So when you are leaving a place you have dedicated your practice to, take the time to say goodbye. Just like with the friends, coworkers, and casual acquaintances you’ve made during your time there. If you wouldn’t up and leave without a word to the people in your life, don’t do it to your spirits either. Give them warning, let them process whatever feelings they may have, and make sure you finalize any outstanding debts you have to them.
Staying in Touch
During the process of saying goodbye, you may find that some spirits give you ways to continue working with them despite the distance. They may give you a name they answer to, an object that can act as a tether, or even ask you to create a spirit home for them so they can travel with you. Hell, some spirits may just tag along for their own reasons. Having spirits tag along isn’t always great for you, so make sure you actually like these spirits when they follow you.
This is where things get tricky. I’ll start by saying that “practice” is a very broad term and I mean it to include ritual actions, specific charms you may use, tools, and even spells. For a more concrete example I’ll use spirit contact. When I lived in Maryland growing up it was easy to get the spirits attention and I used a simple spoken charm that alerted the spirits to my presence before working. In Central Florida, the spirits of the land didn’t give a shit about what I had to say and wouldn’t react to the spoken charm. So I sat and waited for them to talk to me. After a few trips out to a specific hill (which are extremely rare throughout Florida) I had a spirit tell me that if I wanted to get their attention I needed to clap three times. Oddly specific, but it worked.
Other parts of my practice like divination, spirit flight, and creating ritual space were virtually unchanged. Those practices transferred over with no issues. My advice is that if you find something in your practice is no longer working in a new location, ask the local spirits for direction. If you have a tool made from a plant that is native in Maryland but invasive in Florida, the Florida spirits may react very differently to its use. Maybe the ocean loves your singing, but the dessert prefers your silent contemplation.
I think its important to say, you don’t have to throw away those older practices just because they aren’t working in that current locale. Whose to say you won’t go back to your old stomping ground? Your old ways will pick right back up as long as you hold them close to you. If you’re an animistic witch you are a liminal creature, and this is a kind of between state. A bit of your heart left in that old land, and a growing fondness for the land you are currently on. You can hold both of those experiences inside of yourself at the same time.
Greeting the New Spirits
When you come to this new place, let it know that you are there. Tell the land spirits that you are coming from somewhere else and that you are a worker of the land. Be honest, tell the spirits you want to eventually give them offerings of greeting and that you want to develop a relationship with them. Allow your familiars and ancestors to spend time gathering information for you. Don’t leave offerings right away, wait until you know what the land wants. Take note of spirits who are interested in you, and the spirits that want nothing to do with you. Stay honest and if you make promises make sure you keep them. Side note: I almost never explicitly “promise” anything to spirits except those that are already imbedded in my practice. ‘Cause lord have mercy spirits can hold a grudge if you don’t deliver.
Do not try and force these relationships. If you feel a hollow homesickness for your old land, give that feeling the respect it deserves. Don’t try and replace that feeling with this new land. Don’t compare the two. I can only speak for myself, but I can almost assure you that the homesickness will never go away. When you have bonded with the land, you leave some of yourself behind. That’s not just magical folks, that’s all of us. Humans rely on the land and universally come to miss our homes, even if they aren’t great.
Put your state name in a search engine with terms like “Medicinal plants of Alabama”, “Native animals of Oregon”, “folklore of Maine”. Rely on academic sources as much as possible, there’s a lot of nonsense out there. Go to a local bookstore and find the section about your area. You’ll find ghost stories, bird guides, edible plant book, and local history. You don’t have to buy them right away, just read through them. Make sure they’re actually reputable and if they have valuable info buy them up.
Creating New Practices
To reiterate: if your methods have been working you, you may not need to create anything new. Sometimes things will constrain you in ways they had not before, or you may experience new freedom you previously were not able to express. While living near the beach I could easily dance, holler, and call out to the spirits of the sea. When I lived with a small swamp in my backyard I was able to go out at night and sing to the spirits, but had to stay relatively quiet so I wouldn’t wake up my neighbors. Living where I do now, the only access to my working swamp is during the day, and often with plenty of other people around. I’ve learned how to contain my trance experiences so that I don’t have to dance and holler to call the spirits or receive visions. I love dancing, but it just isn’t possible in this place. Without moving to new places I would have probably never really developed a reliable method of non-ecstatic trance work. I never really had to before so why would I? Now I use that technique constantly because I also live in an apartment, where I can’t exactly stomp around at 3:00am trying to speak to the dead.
A lot of these approaches and adaptations are basically second nature, but sometimes writing it all out can help put things into perspective. Witchcraft is not a stagnant thing and neither are witches. Sometimes we can be happy about the changes: for instance the swamp I work in now is much larger and I have a much deeper relationship with these spirits. Sometimes we aren’t so happy with the changes: I have cultivated a much less ecstatic tradition for myself here because I need to access trance without stomping around. In the end though this is all growth and gives you a more versatile approach to practice. It emphasizes how different craft is not just because of new spirits but because you are entering into a new localized tradition in its own right.
I feel deeply nostalgic writing this because all I can think about is the forest in Maryland that I used to practice in. The deep greens, deer everywhere, creeks that I can traipse through without fear of alligators. I love that place and hold it so close to my heart. There are still spirits from that place that I can meet, there are still practices from the forest that have carried on down here to my swamps. But I can miss that place and still love where I am. You’re allowed to hold conflicting feelings about any aspect of your craft. Go out, meet new spirits, respect your roots, and keep on witchin’.
All images and content copyright by author Aaron Oberon, 2018. All rights reserved.
Picture taken by author. View at the Naples Botanical Gardens (2018).