Whose land (spirit) is it anyway?
I have two wonderful Pagan friends from the USA who are currently living in Scotland. When they arrived a year ago, they told me that they had wanted to come to Britain because “this is where you keep the history.” They were only half joking.
Where I live in Scotland, I'm surrounded by the evidence of 5000 plus years of continuous human habitation. To give you a small sample: across the burn* from my 18th century house, under the earth, is an Iron Age settlement. A mile away is a Roman fort, built around 80CE**. Four miles away are two stone circles, one partly collapsed into the river as it's changed its course over the past 3000 years.
By anyone's standards, it's an old place.
Many of my North American Pagan friends drool over my easy access to ancient monuments, to the weight and depth of pre-Christian tradition embedded in the land here. But the spirits and ancestors of this land are no more mine than they are those friends' – or if they are, it's because I've worked to make them so.
I've only lived here for twelve years, after all, and I have no ancestral connection with this particular place. In fact, I have easily as unsettled and mobile an ancestry as any US citizen. My mother's mother was from the rural Welsh borders, and her father was from a small town in north-east Scotland. My mother's father was a Polish nationalist refugee from the war against Hitler's Reich.
I was born in London, and raised in Birmingham, Britain's second biggest city, and one of its most ethnically diverse. It's a city which grew up in part out of the upheaval of the industrial revolution, when the English countryside was stripped of its people by the combination of work in the cities, and enclosure and appropriation of the common land by wealthy friends of King George III. That same movement of enclosure and appropriation emptied the Scottish Highlands, and sent many Scots on their way to colonise the 'New World'*** of Canada, the USA, Australia and New Zealand.
Like so many modern Pagans around the world – whether we have European, African, Asian, or multiple ancestry – my family's history is one of displacement: partly by choice, partly by force. Perhaps that's why as a religious group we tend to put emphasis on our connection with our ancestors, with our environment, and with the spirits of the land. We are looking for the deep roots which our forebears lost, or which were cut from them.
How do we reconnect those deep roots? Does it matter if we're living in an urban or a rural environment? Is it easier in an 'old' country than in a 'new' one? Why do so many of us seem to be called by deities and traditions which have no connection with the lands either of our forebears or in which we now live?
What do you think and feel? What is your experience?
* 'Burn' is the Scottish name for a wide, shallow, rocky-bottomed stream with high, steep banks, that swells to flooding in heavy rain.
** CE stands for 'Current Era' – equivalent to 'AD' but without the Christian privilege.
*** I am well aware of the existence and vibrancy of the lives, traditions and histories of the peoples for whom those places had been home for tens of thousands of years before Europeans showed up and stole their land.