“Why is it so quiet?” my son asked. “I don’t know,” I replied in a whisper, without knowing why. My children and I were visiting Seiders Springs, limestone artesian springs that lie along Shoal Creek in Austin, Texas. They’re framed by crowded city streets and two busy medical facilities, one on each bank of Shoal Creek, such that the quiet blanketing the path past the springs was arresting. Water babbled up through limestone to collect in shallow fern-framed pools. While we stood there listening, a couple of hospital workers walked by, chatting in hushed tones, enjoying the soft beauty and respite of natural springs in the heart of a bustling, rapidly-growing city.
My children stopped briefly to wonder at the improbability of water flowing from rock, then took off down the path, past the springs without me. I hastily gathered a handful of rocks and built a short tower on the ground beside one of the limestone pools. It was my way of saying,
I was here, I care, and Thank you.
Then I chased after my children down the path.
In my place-based, Naturalistic Paganism, I relate most often to nature powers. Humans around the world share the old, great powers: the abundance of the Earth, the strength and direction of the Wind, the Sun’s relentless fire. Other powers are younger and local: the bluebonnets that push up through the soil each spring, Central Texas’s many limestone creeks and springs, and even the water that flows through the tap of my own kitchen sink. I am always in relationship with these powers, whether I will it or not. (See the interview of Steven Posch on Penton for his discussion of nature powers and Elder Gods.) My goal as a Pagan is to cultivate mindful relationships with these nature powers. I do not believe that the springs in any sense needed or wanted my offering, but I was different for having made it.
Below are four ways in which I practice devotion to the powers of my place. These practices can be done quickly, discreetly, and economically; they require few materials other than what you find in your environment. None of the practices presuppose devotion to a personified deity; they require only simple wonder and worship of the world or nature itself.
1. Offer collected rainwater. Set a clean container outside when it rains. Use the rainwater you collect to offer libations to the land, whenever you’re out experiencing the weather, woods, waters, and celebrated sites of your place.
2. Make temporary art. Humans make art. It’s one of my favorite ways to offer conscious, human energy back to nature, and making temporary outdoor art can be a meditation on impermanence and change, too. Build rock towers or make mandalas from fallen leaves, while you’re out experiencing the weather, woods, waters, and celebrated sites of your place. The elements will receive and reclaim your work after you leave.
3. Pick up trash. Take an extra bag (and gloves if needed), and pick up trash at the next neighborhood park you visit. Leave the woods, waters, and celebrated sites of your place a little cleaner than they were before your visit.
4. Go outside, and experience the weather, woods, waters, and celebrated sites of your place. What phase is the moon in? Go outside and look, instead of checking your moon phase calendar app. (Takes one to know one.) What birds sing at dawn in your neighborhood? Go outside, and listen. Try to learn a few of their names and songs. What plants are growing, blooming, and dying right now where you are? What are the human persons around you doing? We’re part of nature, too.
It isn’t necessary to pray to an external entity in order to engage deeply with devotional practice. Acts of time, attention, and wonder are among the most precious gifts any of us mortals have to give. The practices above are just a few simple ways in which we can express, I am here, I care, and Thank you. How do you express wonder and gratitude for the world where you are? I’d love to see the list of devotional practices for Naturalistic Pagans grow.
Anna Walther is a wife, mother, writer (seeds.sunriseruby.org), linguist, and student of nursing. She lives in Austin, Texas, where she practices place-based paganism and attends First Unitarian Universalist Church with her family.