R is for… Relationship and Reciprocity

I’ve been thinking a lot about relationship, now that I’m preparing to leave Nottingham for my home town of old Londinium. I’ve only been in Nottingham for three years, but it’s been a busy three years. Although I was considering the whole Pagan thing before I got here, this is really where I got properly into it. Forming a relationship with the land here was challenging, being as how I’m Not From Round Here. Forming relationships with people was even trickier. I’m not great with people, and it takes me a long time to trust them. The surprising exception has been my OBOD grove (see this lovely post that a fellow grove member wrote about me this week!), where I felt very accepted almost immediately. Although it was still work for me to learn to trust a group, I did learn how. My initiation last Samhain was a particularly important experience in that process. I had never really understood the point of initiation until it was my turn, and I was struck by how symbolically meaningful it was for me — perhaps especially because my Asperger’s means I need a solid understanding of where I fit into a group, and it’s often hard for me to establish that for myself. I’m leaving a really great group of people behind – I have some wonderful friendships with many members, and I do hope we won’t lose touch. I plan to gate-crash the odd ritual, when I’m in the area, just so they don’t forget me! And I’m going to miss some other wonderful friends here, too.

I’m leaving behind a relationship with the land, as well. Working with the land here was difficult. It felt very resistant to me, a thought that I shared with at least one other local Pagan who knew what I meant. This is a heavily-mined, very industrial area with a complex history. The land feels to me like it’s aware of that, on one level or another. I’ve worked on things to honour the local land, little things that were within my reach, like composting, increasing my recycling, decreasing my consumption of ‘stuff’, picking up litter at sacred sites, and so on, throughout these three years. I have spent a lot of time at the truly wonderful Attenborough Nature Reserve, in particular, where my river goddess Trisantona (the Trent) flows through a reclaimed quarry. That’s the part of this land of Nottinghamshire that I’ve connected with most deeply. This might sound a bit pretentious, but who cares: Like the former quarry, I too am scarred and battered on the surface, and working to reclaim the spirit that flows through me. The river and I met on that level. Then there’s the graveyard where I’ve gone weekly to meditate with Ogham trees and do my ADF ‘nature work’, and the beautiful Wollaton Park with its crows and deer and water birds, and the hills and mountains of the nearby Peak District. Sadly, though, I never really connected with the city spirits of Nottingham – which was a surprise to me, since I think I’m more of an ‘urban druid’ than a countryside one. I could never work out what was at the heart of Nottingham. It feels sort of defensive, like the castle at its centre – a city on a mound, watching for invaders. Maybe I could have worked past that if I’d stayed here longer. Three years is the blink of an eye in the lifetime of a British city, and perhaps to the city I looked like just one more person who was passing through. In many ways, I was.

I think there are two main aspects to my personal druid-ish ethics. One is about the concept of chaos and cosmos, which I’ll come back to when the PBP gets to the letter X (just trust me!) The other aspect of my ethics revolves around the concept of *ghosti. This is a reconstructed Proto-Indo-European word, one that’s at the root of our words ‘guest’ and ‘hospitality’. We don’t have a direct translation in English, but it’s about reciprocity. A gift for a gift; good hospitality (as both as a guest and a host); living in positive relationship. That can relate to the gods, or to other people, or to the land. I think a lot of modern Pagans include this in their ethical code to some degree (although I may be wrong there). As Emma Restall Orr says, “In every group I have assembled to talk of Pagan ethics, after the main sources have been unravelled, the answer becomes clear. It is simple: relationship. Pagans find and craft their ethics through the experience of relationships”[1]. Our collective relationship with the land isn’t great, at the moment. The UK badger cull started recently, in pilot areas around the country. It is unscientific, essentially political, and deeply harmful. Elsewhere, we’re starting to allow fracking, while treating our citizens with dishonour and disdain. If I find the lands around Nottingham hard to reach after a small number of years of mining and heavy industry, how much worse are we about to allow our relationship with the land and its creatures to become?

But at least I can acknowledge and maintain the relationships I’ve tried to build with the land here, very surface-level though those may be. I want to do a few symbolic things to acknowledge the power that my relationship with this land has had on me over the past few years. Although I’m already excited that I’m moving to be near the River Brent (which some scholars connect with Brigantia), I have goodbye offerings for Trisantona, my river goddess, who has been a constant presence while I’ve been here. And then there are the Good Folk in and around my garden – the ones who demanded an outdoor altar, and seemed happy with the rock garden I made for them. I don’t know quite how I’ll say goodbye to them, but it will definitely involve milk, honey and homemade bread. Like most people, I always try to say a decent goodbye to friends – as a very good night in the pub demonstrated earlier this week. But I’ve never really attempted to say goodbye to land spirits before. We’ll have to see how that goes.

Three little land spirits, all in a row... (These ones ARE coming with me!)

Three little land spirits, all in a row… (These ones ARE coming with me!)

[1]Emma Restall Orr (1997). Living With Honour. Ropley, Hants: O Books.

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