Hello dear readers!
As I mentioned in last month’s newsletter (which you can read here if you missed it), I am the new senior editor at Hierophant Publishing.
One of my first tasks in this role has been to familiarize myself with our catalogue by reading as many Hierophant books as possible (which gives new meaning to the quote, “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.”). And while I eagerly devoured books like The Mastery of Self by don Miguel Ruiz Jr. and Warrior Goddess Training by HeatherAsh Amara, when I saw that Earth Witch: Finding Magic in the Land by Britton Boyd was next on my review list, I must admit I was a little reluctant.
Before reading this book, I would never have thought of myself as a witch.
True, I live deep in the forest of rural Hawaii, in a strange little cabin I built by hand, and can often be seen gathering herbs and mushrooms, a handwoven basket slung over my arm. I spend a suspicious amount of time conversing with trees, stones, and bodies of water, and am partial to candlelight, incense, and dark, windy nights.
But a witch? Never.
Like many of us, I associated that word with my fourth-grade teacher’s Halloween costume, pointy hat and all, or with certain trendy Instagram accounts wherein witchcraft consists of skincare routines and home décor. I’ve never, to my knowledge, cast a spell.
Indeed, witchcraft has always struck me as dizzyingly complex, with its elaborate tables and charts—moon phases, obscure qualities of herbs and gemstones, the proper combinations of ingredients for various workings, etc. If you challenged me to either cast a spell from one of those manuals or change the head gasket on my truck, I’d probably have better luck with the head gasket.
Please let there be no charts, I thought as I downloaded the manuscript onto my e-reader and got down to business.
Snuggled up with a pot of guava leaf tea, rain falling on the metal roof of my cabin, I began to read:
“Magic lives in the soil, in the backwoods, in the bones of the dead, and in seemingly desolate places in nature.”
When I read those words, something in me nodded in recognition. Just that morning, I had dug up a fresh ‘awa root to share with some visitors, the soft and fragrant soil falling away to reveal the pale white lateral. Nearby on the Pali, or hillside, the bones of my neighbors’ Hawaiian ancestors have been resting for hundreds of years, rocks piled carefully to mark the sites. The forest where I’d gone mushroom hunting the day before was lonely and storm-tossed, with many broken branches littering the trail, its towering trees charged with mystery. What was the feeling I experienced when I spent time in these places, if not magic?
A few pages later, I highlighted these words:
“It is only with time and an erotic merging of the land and ourselves over many seasons that we can experience something real and profound.”
I recalled the many times in my life when I moved: from British Columbia to California, California to Washington, Washington to Oregon, Oregon to California, California to Hawaii. With each of these moves, I felt a sharp loss as the land, plants, and animals which had become dear to me were taken away. In each place, I had to undergo a sometimes-difficult process of getting acquainted with new land, new plants, new animals, and new magic. It took many seasons to complete this erotic merging: many seasons of slow and intentional practice before my body was at ease with the coldness of the river or the current of the ocean, my eye adept at spotting the shapes of the herbs in the forest, my tongue familiar with the taste of the berries, my nose quick to identify the scent of wildfire and mugwort, candycap mushrooms and rotting cedar, night-blooming jasmine and wild ginger.
I’ve never felt quite at home in a place until this erotic merging is well underway. Until that point, I feel lonely and disconsolate, excluded from the web of connection which is so central to my well-being.
This was especially true when I first moved to Hawaii. The tropical plants were utterly inscrutable to me; lush and beautiful as it was, the natural world felt like a locked door, and I couldn’t find my way in. Although I lived in the forest, I couldn’t feel the forest. I was a stranger there, and this state of separation was painful to me.
One day, my next-door neighbor came over to visit. She had a question for me. “Do you talk to the land owners?” she said.
“The land owners?” I said, thinking perhaps she had mistaken me for a renter. “No, I bought the land from—”
My neighbor shook her head. “No,” she said, “the land owners. You have to talk to them. Give them offerings. Tell them why you’re here.”
It took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out that when she said land owners, she wasn’t talking about the people whose names were on a title chain down at the county records office. She was referring to the real land owners—the spirits of the ancient, sacred land we were lucky enough to call home. My neighbor explained that the land owners were always watching, always listening; it was important to ask their permission before entering a new part of their domain, and to pre-emptively ask forgiveness for any clumsy mistakes I might make while I was there. It was good to leave gifts for them, too—they were partial to strong liquor—but mostly, it was important to talk to them. To be in relationship with them. It would be both odd and rude to cut through my neighbor’s yard every day and pick fruit from her trees without ever acknowledging her presence; failing to engage with the land owners was just as anti-social.
The next day, I took a walk in the forest. “Hello, land owners,” I said out loud. “My name is Hilary. I honestly don’t understand how I ended up here, but I’d like to do a good job of living in this place. Please teach me how to live here. I’m sorry for all the things I’ve already done wrong.”
I felt something inside me change when I said those words. Some little tendril of connection became established. Suddenly, I wasn’t a stranger anymore. I had introduced myself; no matter how shyly, I had entered the web.
From that point on, the erotic merging I craved began to happen. My ears picked up the many different moods of the stream running along the edge of my land, telling me if the water was high or low. I began to sense when it would rain, moving my laundry inside just seconds before a downpour. When I walked in the forest, edible and medicinal plants made themselves known to me, and I always came home with my basket full of exactly what I needed. I found myself talking to the land owners more and more frequently, pouring out tea for them in the morning, or wine at night. This magic had nothing to do with charts and tables; it was as natural and obvious as talking to my “regular” human neighbors.
As I write this now, another natural and obvious fact is staring me in the face: I’m an earth witch, and have been one all along.
Real magic has little to do with gemstones and magic wands; it’s in the quality of our attention when we move through the natural world, and in our capacity for relationship with neighbors both seen and unseen. I’m grateful to Britton Boyd and her fabulous book for calling these facts to my attention, and reminding me that whether or not we identify with the word “witch,” we can all engage with the magic of nature, give ourselves joyfully to the service of the earth, and walk a path of connection, communion, and reciprocity with all forms of life.
I’ll share more of my journey next month, and until then, I encourage you to find the magic and mystery in the land you call home, wherever that may be.
Senior Editor, Hierophant Publishing
Earth Witch: Finding Magic in the Land by Britton Boyd
Interested in exploring your own magical connection to the sacred land around you? In Earth Witch, author Britton Boyd invites you to seek out the deep and mysterious connections with the earth that lie at the ancestral roots of witchcraft. This book provides those new to witchcraft with foundational practices on which to build an organic spirituality rooted in the natural world, and challenges seasoned witches to renew the ancient relationship with the earth that lies at the heart of their craft. Packed with stories, spells, and rituals, Boyd encourages all of us to live in service to the planet we call home.
Learn more and read two free chapters from the book here.