04 February 2011

Spirit of Place

In a previous post, I mentioned the idea that all spaces have and hold memories - memories that include ourselves as well as the before and after us. 

I'm not sure exactly what it is that makes a place sacred. Is it intention? Ritual done again and again? Is it that the place itself is sacred and we stumble into it with spirits thirsty for connection? Or is it as some of my peers have suggested and really, all space is sacred, we just see some places as a little more sacred than others? 

Even as a child, I would feel a difference between places - the quiet of a thicket of young pines had a very different feel to it than the deeper parts of the wood behind my home. The small white church that we traveled to infrequently felt quieter than the larger churches I would love later, and the sense of sacred would feel the most potent to me in the candle lit quiet, hours before others would show up for the midnight mass on Christmas Eve. It was in that quiet that I could feel what I believe now the Spirit of that space singing. 

The places that I found in my travels felt very potent. In Ireland, I found a moss covered rock that I would scramble to and sit on, pausing to breathe and try to listen to the land around me that was constantly humming and thrumming, and yet so much quieter than the home I had left. The tree was both my guide to the rock and what I used to meditate, focusing on the way the light transitioned through branch and leave to the glittering stream. I often left offerings in the trees on the bank and before I left the last time, gifts of lavender, breads, and words adorned the crooks and crannies of the trees on the bank and on my favorite rock. 

Just as these spirits live and infuse the lands around us, the spirit of a home is a very real creature. House wights, brownies, the helpful ones, Lares, Tomte - there is no shortage of stories surrounding these spirits and I never lacked for places where Spirit was in abundance. Even in the newer homes, built from hand and love and with tears as well as joy, those homes were already Present and full with their own personality. When cared for, they rang with laughter and when neglected, things would go missing. Land of course had its own song and the songs varied from Soldiers rock (further down the stream from my rock) and Bantry Bay, to the Burren further north. The songs were as beautiful and haunting and old as the Spirit that moved through each space - home or land or sea. 

I have never found it easy to work with the spirit of my home, in any home. My childhood home was not a particularly pleasant place and I was depressed to discover that after it had burned to the ground it was rebuilt with a new family making the mistakes I remembered being made from my own family. It occurred to me on more than one occasion that perhaps not even flame could clear out those hauntings and that the spirit there needed something else. In homes following I would attempt to connect to a place but feel adrift, later realizing that I wasn't listening to the place but instead trying to impose me and all my me-ness on it. Older now though not necessarily wiser, I try to listen more and leave offerings rather than ... impose and request. 

I think perhaps that the mountains and streams in my wanderings taught me something of patience and of being open. Those same mountains and streams have seen many of us wander through, leaving our mementos and footprints to be washed away and still they remain.  

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