To Honor the Land is to Deal with the Dead

Some friends were having a discussion with Sannion last night and as I was passing through (swamped with preparations for my upcoming trip), he mentioned one of the things they were discussing and it just blew me away. This is so spot on, so powerful, so incredibly profound that I, half way upstairs, stopped dead in my tracks and asked everyone’s permission to write about it here. (Obviously they graciously allowed me to do so, or I wouldn’t be posting this!).

The latest issue of Walking the Worlds discusses the importance of regional cultus to the restoration of our polytheisms. We talk about regional cultus a lot but I don’t think many of us (myself included) ever really stop to parse it out or to figure out how all of the various parts of our praxis are organically (no pun intended, I swear!) connected. Part of regional cultus is venerating the land spirits, what a Norse practitioner might call vaettir. Hand in hand with this goes a certain reverence for the land and the spaces in which we practice, which support our practice, be they cities or forests or anything in between. This is good. I think honoring the land is the third part of a very powerful trine of Gods, ancestors, and land that is foundational to polytheism as a whole. But I don’t think many of us take this any farther. My friends did and I’m still just blown away.

Essentially when you are honoring the land, over and above any individual spirits you may be engaging with, when we just talk about the soil itself, you’re honoring the dead. You cannot engage in regional cultus, you cannot really honor any piece of land, without also recognizing and honoring the dead. Why? This is basic to the way both geology and ancestor practice works. The dead are always with us, underpinning everything we are and everything we do. The Yoruba have a powerful maxim: “we stand on the shoulders of our dead,” or sometimes “we stand on the bones of our dead.” Well, we do. Literally.

What is soil but eons of dead matter? Many of us in the Northern Tradition praise the forces of decay because without decay and rot, without this process of transmutation what would our world be? With the grace of the gods and spirits of decay and rot, we have soil, soil made up of dead bodies, dead animals, dead plants, going all the way back to the beginning. We quite literally walk and live upon the remains of our dead and we are nourished by it physically just as ancestor work nourishes us spiritually. There is nowhere we can walk where the dead are not. There is nothing we can consume, that has not partaken of this blessing of death and decay (unless it is solely processed in a lab and then I don’t want to be consuming it!). All that grows in the soil and everything that devours that which grows in the soil, and all who devour those things…we are all physically nourished by our dead and in time our corporeal matter will fade into the blackness of the soil to nourish those who come after us in turn. I have said before that there is more life in a teaspoon of soil than in the greatest metropolis on earth and that is true, but in the soil itself, there is also more death. The two cannot be sifted apart.

We as polytheists and animists know that we are not apart from the natural world. We are in harmony with it (or strive to be). We are connected to all things that were and are and will be. The detritus of a small dead plant is as much part and parcel of our tapestry of being as those buried in a cemetery to whom we might be related by blood. We are literally made up of the dead. The soil is the stuff of our blood and bone. It’s all interconnected.

About ganglerisgrove

Galina Krasskova has been a Heathen priest since 1995. She holds a Masters in Religious Studies (2009), a Masters in Medieval Studies (2019), has done extensive graduate work in Classics including teaching Latin, Roman History, and Greek and Roman Literature for the better part of a decade, and is currently pursuing a PhD in Theology. She is the managing editor of Walking the Worlds journal and has written over thirty books on Heathenry and Polytheism including "A Modern Guide to Heathenry" and "He is Frenzy: Collected Writings about Odin." In addition to her religious work, she is an accomplished artist who has shown all over the world and she currently runs a prayer card project available at wyrdcuriosities.etsy.com.

Posted on June 28, 2015, in Ancestors and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 10 Comments.

  1. Absolutely! Having my own little piece of land and being an avid gardener has solidified my connection with Jord/Moist Mother Earth. The soil from which our bodies are made and remade is created from death and decay. A tree drops it’s leaves, the bacteria, worms, and fungi “eat” these and leave simpler molecular constructs. And right on top of the roots! We are all intimately woven into this fabric.This cycle is nothing to fear but one to embrace, at least for me it is. I pray each time I add materials to my compost heap and also as I take soil from it to plant new plants in. I remember that I helped in this process and continue to do so as I pick and eat the fruits, as I clear the garden at the end of the season, as it sleeps through the frozen months, and again as it returns to a new season of growth. Great post! Eat your veggies and the ancestors…………for they ARE part of us and we of them.

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  2. Virginia carper

    My Dead includes Confederate and Union soldiers who fought, bled, and died on the land. Then there are the Railroad workers. And now two memorials to those who died in car accidents. When I do my daily walk, I always leave offerings in various places. I see Them as the Lars or Manes of the area.

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  3. Reblogged this on EmberVoices: Listening for the Vanir and commented:
    Yes, this. Especially the dead local to the land! I’m not just talking about visiting the local graveyards, either. How those who have died on the land are respected has a huge effect on our relationships with the land itself. If you live in the Americas, you live, effectively, on stolen land (although depending on your own ancestry, you may be who it was stolen *from*, of course). Heck, I’m pretty sure most of the world can say that to some degree, but not in quite the same way all the lands across the world that were taken by the various European empires during the colonial era. If we don’t acknowledge that, and connect with both the history before that and the results OF that, there are literally layers and layers of land that we’re just ignoring, and that doesn’t work.

    Even just the little things like, when the European humans invaded, so did European plants and animals. Some of those species have naturalized and found balance in their local ecosystems. Some are still doing damage today because they just don’t belong where they are. Even just contemplating what kinds of changes that has brought and will continue bringing to the land is part of this picture. Whole past versions of the local ecosystem have died along with the people. Whole species have died.

    And yes, life feeds on death, it’s an inevitable fact. The land we live on today, right now, would not be what it is without all those layers of death beneath us to grow out of, to stand on.

    We literally can not honor the land and not be honoring the dead, and death itself, just as we can not honor life without honoring death, for they are not opposites, but forever intimately entwined. -E-

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  4. Reblogged this on Drinking From the Cup of Life and commented:
    The dead are always with us. The ground we walk on, the food we eat, often the clothes we wear are all made from dead things. The culture we live in is the will of the ancestral dead, living and moving in the world.

    The land would be there without humanity, or our dead, but we would not be here without the land and its dead.

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  5. I think that this is especially important when one lives in regions of massive brutalities and tragedies having taken place. Human sorrow and the dead of the area surely impacts the cultus of the area and one’s own spiritual life whether we cognitively recognize it or not. When we realize this it really impacts our lives in big ways in how we relate to other living people too.

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  6. Reblogged this on Friends On The Other Side and commented:
    This very thing here. To honor the land is to also honor the dead. My blood, sweat, and tears are my offerings to the land and my crops are the healthiest and most fruitful in the neighborhood.

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  7. Ironically, my Walking the Worlds article is about a specific group of dead people who were (for the most part) literally exhumed and removed from the land where I live. But I absolutely agree that the dead (as a more general category) are everywhere we walk, and with what Ember wrote about stolen land.

    Christopher Bradford, a Palo Mayombe practitioner, has an interesting essay titled “The Sea of the Dead” (http://heavenswithinearth.blogspot.com/2011/12/sea-of-dead.html) where he argues that all magic depends on the dead.

    At the end, he seems to equate the Gods with the most powerful concentrations of dead spirits (which I don’t think is necessarily always the case); what he actually says, though, is that “even they, in all their power, must express themselves in the world through avenue of the dead.”

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  8. I feel that those boundaries between Land-spirit and Ancestor may become blurred over time. My own UPG suggests that spirits are spirits, and while we make different categories, the ones that occupy our flesh are kin to the ones that guard the land and the ones that dwell in beasts and trees. Having been human at one point is a job that some may take, and some may choose to take again, but it seems that for some that’s only a short term or even one time role.

    So yes, those that lie in the earth are of the earth and all that grows from it and are all part of the same dance. We honor them in the roles that they take and for the good work that they do and share. I always assumed that that was why the mound kings were associated with the elves – they lie beneath the earth and join in with the kingdom of its watchers, but have been human and so may understand us better when we call to them.

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  9. Understanding the Dionysian expression of Life-Death-Life (Bios-Thanatos-Bios) is good way to come to terms with this concept. The magic is in translation, as the Greeks have different words for the one English word of “life”.
    Bios means life in the now and also it is eventual decay, you can’t have life without it also simultaneously meaning decay. Thanatos is passive, absolute death. Then back to bios.

    In the totenpass examples there is additions of Truth. Dio. and Orphics.

    It is an expression that truly sums up the eternal cycle of life: of what we are, where we are going and what will come. I find it the most humbling and truthful statement.

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  10. Reblogged this on lilithdivine and commented:
    This is a well-written, thought provoking piece worth the read.

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