Witchcraft and bioregionalism: the growing local spiritual heart

4 thoughts on “Witchcraft and bioregionalism: the growing local spiritual heart”

  1. Great post, Nathan! I am also curious about how spiritual bioregionalism would look like in Florida. I have no great love for the area, but the curiosity remains. 😉

    A while ago, while constructing a “likely” history for a novel series I was working on, I came up with the idea that shamanism, witchcraft, and organized religion were “phases of development” that coincided with the growth of our civilizations, yet could coincide with each other because no matter if you say “British Empire” there are still rural areas living like in the Nth century, so you get witches, and hunter-gatherer tribes somewhere in the colonies. Culture is no uniform, people live in many different ways, so different “styles” of practice remain. Nevertheless, they flow into each other. Shamans worked primarily with spirits and mediated through otherworldly journeys, witches acknowledged greater spirits that seemed part heroic ancestors and part gods, and organized religion (priesthoods) had completely deified these non-human intelligences and worshipped them accordingly.

    Just a few thoughts… I see no conflict with mixing any of those labels and practices. They’re just different power-dynamics between spirits and people, thus prescribing different sets of practices to maintain that relationship.


  2. Nathan- in your article you ask why Chris and I have given the Jersey Devil and Old Mother Leeds the status roles of God and Goddess, much like there is in Wicca, instead of venerating them as land spirits. I just wanted to clarify that for you.

    Given the extreme prevalence of Wicca in modern pagan and witchcraft cultures, it is very easy to fall prey to the idea that whenever there is a female and male figure within a particular tradition, in any type of context, that this immediately indicates they have just been slotted into the positions of Goddess and God for that tradition. This is not the case with Blacktree, as we do not have Gods to begin with. We are a tradition of witchcraft, which we view as a practice, and not as a religion.

    The Jersey Devil and Old Mother Leeds aren’t meant to have taken on the God/Goddess role in our tradition, nor do we work with them in any type of Wiccan worldview context. They are land spirits, the genius loci of our region, and we work with and venerate them as such. We don’t worship them and they do not serve as our connection to the Capital D-divine. They are our ancestors, our brethren, our link to the land itself. Those who have gone before and those who are yet to be.

    Those two particular spirits are also not specifically and definitively the Jersey Devil and Old Mother Leeds, in and of themselves. We don’t worship the Jersey Devil (which is something I’ve been shouting about since all of this began). And we don’t actually believe that Old Mother Leeds herself is our primary ancestor. Those are faces that the spirits wear for us, masks that they occasionally peer out from behind, names that we are able to identify with given the region we currently reside in. If we left New Jersey and the Pine Barrens, we would need to reconnect with the spirits of the land wherever we were living. We would still be witches within the Blacktree tradition, but if we lived in Oregon or Arizona or North Carolina, we would no longer call to the Dragon of the Pines or Mother Leeds. We would still work with the genius loci of the area we were in, but it would no longer wear that mask.

    In the construction of our tradition, which is ongoing and nebulous as all living traditions are, it was impossible to ignore the influence of Chris’ two sculptures, the Witch Queen and the Witch Lord. Their voices were loud and difficult to ignore, but at the same time- we are also still trying to find their places in all of this. Personally, I view them as the faces behind the masks. They are our connection to the Underworld, to the axis mundi, to the Great Between, to the land. I see them not as Gods, I reckon they’re older and more primal than that, but as the very land itself. That’s what a genius loci is, after all.

    All of that being said, this certainly turned out a whole lot longer than what I had originally anticipated! Thank you so much for your kind words, your attention to our appearance on New World Witchery, and your well wishes. I’m not as in the public eye as Chris has been with his pod/video casting, so all of this attention can be a little overwhelming for me at times.


  3. Oh my gosh, a fellow Floridian!

    I got to thinking about regional land spirits for the Land of Flowers after this podcast episode as well! As a denizen of Central Florida, I felt like a lot of the Everglades dwellers were too far off from me, the scrub oak is where my plant allies live.

    But then I got to thinking about trickster figures… and well… Florida Man came to mind. I mean, it seems like a bit of silliness to think of an internet phenomena as a “Land Spirit”, but you have to admit, a lot of those Florida Man headlines read like the titles of Coyote stories, right? Thoughts?


  4. Love the local flavor of this practice. While I appreciate that these practitioners identify as witches working magic rather than religionists doing worship, I think some of the terms used here are a little confusing. Firstly, in many indigenous traditions, the concepts we think of as gods and land spirits are much the same things, and native religion doesn’t inherently involve western-style or monotheistic-style worship of them. This can also be seen in the indigenous Irish tradition in the Irish myths when those called the Tuatha de Danann, informally known variously as both the old gods and the faery folk, go into the hills of the land after the Milesians, the first Gaels beat them in battle, but then the Tuatha de take the vitality of the land and cattle away and the Milesians must go to them and ask for them back so they’ll be able to eat. The Tuatha de promise to do so, so long as the Milesians promise that they and their descendants will acknowledge and honor their doing so by making regular offerings to them of corn and grain, essentially returning surpluses of their staple harvests in thanks, and not desecrate the hills, the sacred sites where these gods/faeries/land spirits live. This outlines the basic relationship between them, which is not one of worship, yet they’ve been called the gods, and are also variously known as the shape of the land, the sea, the sun, cow, horse, etc. through the meanings of their names. So I don’t think what we think of often as gods and religion and worship all have to mean what our dominant monotheist tradition has taught us they must mean, at least not to the point that we have to work hard to reject that language. Secondly, the suggestion that what this blog post is describing is shamanism is confusing because shamanism, a western word and concept itself, is a created term for what is a particular Siberian tribe’s type of healing known as soul-retrieval, which this blog post isn’t describing or referring to at all. It is describing the kind of animistic-polytheistic religion/spirituality (whichever you like) common to many indigenous tribes around the world which essentially functions as the social protocol for the relationships between the human and non-human persons of a given place. I very much resonate with this idea of recognizing, honoring, working with, and living respectfully and mutually-beneficially with local, non-human persons. Hope to see more of this kind of thing developing here in the west. Thanks for sharing this.


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