If you have not yet done so, please go and read Peter Grey’s life-altering essay “Rewilding Witchcraft” before continuing with my piece. The co-owner of Scarlet Imprint has much to say that desperately needs to be heard by the magical community. I will sit here and wait and sip my tea while you do so. Then come back and I’ll pour a mug for you and we’ll talk.

we are doomed. The earth and nature are not doomed. We are doomed, we humans. If we want to be honest with ourselves about the future of life on earth then we must be on the side of nature and not on the side of humanity. We have made the earth uninhabitable for ourselves, but nature will survive and notice our decline and demise as much as a the ocean notices one boat sinking into its depths. Green vines will swallow our cities of concrete and metal, trees will uproot parking lots and highways, animals will nest in our abandoned houses, the roofs of our temples will collapse letting in sunlight and starlight… and nature will not care, nature will not laugh, nature will not cry.

Our witchcraft, nay, our very being must become more wild, more intuitive, and more accepting of nature’s amorality and our inevitable demise if we are to make any difference at all. If we are to preserve what we’ve left behind of the earth in our destructive wake, and if we are to survive in any number as a species, we must rewild ourselves and learn how to live outside of civilization. We must lose our faiths, our religions, our meaningless attachment to nitpicketity details only we as individuals and not a whole care about. We who are importers of foreign magics and alien gods. We must become a different kind of witch. Something that needs no definitions, no boundaries, and no expectations. Something more primal and raw than our current incarnation. Something small, something just outside your door…

Local food, local beer, local products… the locavore movement invades the Pacific Northwest like an organic cotton-wearing hippie invades a farmer’s market with the best of intentions, but whose naïveté fails to see that paying more for something local will make absolutely no difference on the environment or the decline of our civilization (this is coming from someone who shops at farmer’s markets and buys local). What we need instead is local knowledge, local medicine, and local witchcraft. What do your local spirits care about you and your family’s survival? You who have never spoken to them or left them an offering? You who doesn’t know their names, powers, or dwelling places. They have no vested interest in you. They will dwell in the trees growing over our mass grave one day and not weep for us… after all, wasn’t it our ancestors who clear cut the forests that were their homes when we came to this land? Wasn’t it our ancestors who polluted their rivers and oceans and fished all their food until it couldn’t be renewed? Why would these spirits teach us their magic and medicine? One would have to put in a lot of hard work to simply get their attention, and years of it for them to start trusting and helping one local spirit worker, let alone all of us.

What did the ancient  magicians, shamans, sorcerers, and witches do to gain the favour of the spirits? The literally went wild. Off they would go into the uncivilized world of nature without any comforts, without any companions. They would learn to hunt and forage for food, how to clothe themselves only with what nature provided, how to make tools, how to follow the migrations of animals, and learn how to predict the weather and the seasons. So wild they would become that speech, manners, and morals would be forgotten. When they would return home five to ten years later, they would be unrecognizable: feral, dangerous, mad. Accounts in Ireland even speak rumours of cannibalism. It would take a long time to bring them back to civilization and they were never fully comfortable in it again, living on the outskirts of town. But their people believed their madness was worth it for the knowledge they brought back; for these wild men, these woodwoses, were now encyclopedias and intermediaries of the genius loci – the local spirits of nature. And they were invaluable to the people’s survival.

What is the ancient purpose of a witch or shaman? To be an intermediary between the spirits and humanity. To be translator, negotiator, salve, and warrior if need be. In rewilding witchcraft, this is what we must learn, this is what we must become. We must be able to commune with the spirits of nature; of animals, insects, plants, waters, forests, mountains, plains, deserts, elemental forces, and also with the dead. In order to commune with the spirits we must become them, we must live with them, we must speak to them even if they do not answer back for years whether due to our untrained ears or their chosen silence. Wherever you live, you must allow yourself to be absorbed into the very land itself, immersed in the genius loci until their secrets and wisdom pour into you. We must become village witches, regional witches, shamans who speak for the spirits where we live.

I live in the Pacific Northwest. I live between ocean and mountain. My corner of the world is full of spirits both benevolent and malevolent, great and small, named and unnamed. Some have no equal anywhere else in the world, some uncannily resemble foreign spirits or spirits found in too many cultures to count. In Russia, Old Woman is Baba Yaga. In the highlands and islands of Scotland she is the Cailleach Bheur. In the Pacific Northwest she is Asin, Monster-Woman-of-the-Woods, or Basket Woman. They are all very different, and yet they are the same. They protect the forest,  they are wild, they are the land, and though they eat people (especially children) they are also initiators of spirit workers who are brave or foolish enough to seek them out. The world of spirits is often a paradox and linear thinking is of little use. I have said it many times. If you live in the Pacific Northwest, you must go into the wild unknown over and over and over if you want to learn how to speak to spirits and learn their magics. The same goes if you live elsewhere.

Let us journey into the wild…

Hear the rain softly falling on the leaves and the louder drops rolling down the branches to drip onto the ground. Smell the air as each drop falls releasing the musky, earthy scent of centuries upon centuries of a humus composed of decaying cedar trees and plant leaves.  See the thick mosses carpeting the forest floor and the bark of wizened old hazel and maple trees. See the fungi covering dead stumps, climbing up vast tree trunks and spreading its invisible mycelium network beneath their roots. See their colours ranging from purple and pink to brightest yellow and orange, to unassuming browns and the nefarious red-capped toadstools with white spots.

Tilt your head back and look up into the canopy of trees: Cedar, Fir, Alder, Poplar, and Big Leaf Maples so tall you cannot see where their branches end. They must touch the roof of the sky itself. See in their branches the dark shapes of crows cawing their messages and prophecies in a cacophonous symphony. Be silent and you may hear the croak of a raven,the cry of an eagle, the hoot of an owl, the rustling of a black bear through the deep woods. Be still and you may see a wild hare, a white-tailed deer, or a serpent slithering back to its hole in the earth.

Climb a hill or a tree and see the vast mountain ranges around you with their summer snow-dusted peaks and you will know the world when it was young. Look below the saw-toothed mountains and you will see the raging rivers, the snaking fingers of streams and waterfalls running down mountain sides, and the outlines of inlets – waters reaching inland from the great pouring sea. Follow the rivers and inlets back to the source where all water flows: the Pacific Ocean. Here its vastness is dotted with lush green islands of solitary hills and mountains hidden by mists and fog. They are an otherworld all of their own.

What do you see in the waters between the chains of these wild hilly islands? A massive grey whale and closer still, orcas, their skin shining black and white with proud upright fins cutting through the salt water. Deeper still the ocean conceals its mysteries: giant squid that would crush your bones as easily as the frame of a wooden boat, neon jellyfish full of stings and fire, and colourful red and green salmon fattening in the sea before their homeward journeys back to the rivers of their births. You travel back to the sea shore and find it covered with barnacles, mussels, clams, crawling crabs, and the odd stranded purple starfish. On the rocks nearby you see a family of black-eyed seals sunbathing on a rock, furry body upon furry body, happy and fat after a feast of fish.

You stand on the shore and remember you drank from the mountain springs, you ate the forbidden berries bursting with tart juices, you sucked the flavour out of roots, you filled your mouth with catkins and bitter green leaves, and you stuffed the flesh of fish, hare, and bird with mushrooms and tender fir tips and roasted them over a fire on lonely hungry nights under the stars. You ate and ate until your skin turned green with leaves and moss, your blood turned to sap, flowers spilled out of your mouth, roots sprouted from the soles of your feet, fur grew down your back and feathers from your finger tips.  You are what you eat and you ate the wild — shape-shifted into it.

You look up and see you are in a sacred places where land, sea, and vast sky are all present. You have unknowingly stepped into the spirit world and into the ancient past. You touch your head and waist and find them wreathed in delicately needled hemlock branches. You touch your face and find it painted. You touch your shoulders and find them cloaked in familiar feathers. You touch your neck and find it draped in necklaces of teeth, claws, bones, and magical roots of native species.

Dig a small hole in the wet sand with your hands, feel its coolness and leave an offering; small stones and spring water from the mountains, wild flowers from a meadow, a sprig of cedar, a bundle of feathers, a perfect clam shell, and berries you foraged along your journey. You stand over your offering and drum and sing, calling the spirits and the act being an offering in and of itself. When you are spent you thank the spirits for all they have revealed to you; how the land is connected and interdependent, how powerful and important each feature, element, and creature is. Then you start the long journey home knowing you are wild again.


WANT MORE?

Apocalyptic Witchcraft by Peter Grey

Becoming Animal: An Earthly Cosmology by David Abram

Journey into Bioregional Herbalism by Kiva Rose

The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram

Unlearn, Rewild by Miles Olson

Wild Earth, Wild Soul by Bill Pfeiffer

Join the discussion 15 Comments

  • Pamela says:

    That is one delicious blog post!

    I think perhaps in everyone there is a deep rooted desire to return to the wild. There is a sense of great peace in such an image :)

  • Gabriel says:

    so mote it be

  • Simeon Ayres says:

    Great power to all your wise words Sarah Anne Lawless, Great power indeed .Thankyou.

  • Pete says:

    … another nice blog post… although I questain that the locovore movement would have no environmental impact, or perhaps this reflects locale, and I suggest rather than following it with an “instead” we need to follow it with an “as well”… if we as a human race are going to survive ourselves we will certainly need a change to our culture as a whole in all areas of how we mass consume and it’s impact there upon…

    • I agree with Pete, I think “as well” is more feasible. As much as I like the idea of running wild humanity as a race is not generally much for such radical changes and to survive we must incorporate ideas not simply get radicalize our lifestyle. I mean I know I’d be pretty upset if I didn’t have access to oranges one of the few types of fruit I can eat because I live in Canada. The ancient can also be a way to access the immediate and so I don’t that should be discounted.
      All the best,
      Sarah

  • Sarah— This is so exquisite and brilliant. Thank you for writing such wild and important words here. You echo my sentiments precisely about our own fate, about this wild earth we live on— she does not need us to save her, as people so patronizingly will say. She will save herself in due time, thank you very much, and what a sadness in my heart that she will not miss us; not unless we do our best to sing to her and dance and offer and speak, not in a self-serving way (as in the constant interpretation of animal and plant signs as symbols solely left behind for us to read into our own lives, instead of the markers into the Wild that is the world, that makes us humble and small and inextricably part of this life) but in a self-erasing way, so that for a moment we might remember we are hitched into this web, and that the psyche does not dwell within us at all, but in the greater land. Gah! I ramble; just wanted to extend my thanks & admiration for this piece of writing! It is not often that I stumble upon writings that twine this very wild, very ecologically informed and passionate perspective with the old magic of northern European witchcraft and myth, and so I’m especially thrilled. xx, Sylvia

  • Angel says:

    Beautiful and fascinating. I truly hope the movement towards a future in which we survive grows faster as our emissions and impact tip the turning point.

  • Thank you, from a fellow Pacific Norwesterner! I note that while I hate driving through the cities as I often must to reach the ‘wild’ places…once I am there, I sink into it like rain in the moss. My heart, if not my aging body, follow the many rainwater rills down the hillsides to form streams that form rivers that race out onto the sands of the Olympic beaches. I rest against the seastacks there, calling the solidity of the ancient rock into my own bones; I stand in the surging tide and let the ocean leach from me the toxins of life’s bitterness. I drink water off the leaves and needles of the trees and smile at a salamander passing.

    And then, fortified, I can return to my suburb – once rural – and continue my life amidst the unconscious.

  • C. E. Coburn says:

    I never know what to do with information like this. It moves me to a state immobile. I want nothing more than to weep and retreat to the forests. And yet, it saddens me more to know that the illusions of poverty and private property keep me from doing so.

  • toad wurzel says:

    Thank you- I love your writings, you hit the mark once again. A few nights ago I was trying to explain to my children what summer nights were like when I was a child. They were wide eyed and open mouthed as I described the sky full of stars and the air between thick with fire flies. They sat wishing they could listen to coyotes and chorus frogs sing all night and the screams of screech owls and the haunting “hoos” of the great horned owls that have sadly fallen almost silent over the last ten years. I explained to them how encroaching civilization and industrial agriculture was to blame, and how much more so we are guilty because we know better but still live a lifestyle that is dependant on modern evils. We as witches, animists and what have you must shift our mental programming in a very drastic way to honestly face this inevitable catastrophe hand in hand with the spirits we tell ourselves we serve.

  • Riezen says:

    “Humanity will not survive unless we turn back to a more Nature based way of living.” Edgar Cayce

    That quote immediately popped into my head when I started reading your blog.

    Eating and buying local makes me feel like I have a bit more control over what I put into my body. I would rather have the fresh milk from the dairy just down the road than the watered down version in the grocery store. I do this not with the thought of environmental impact but for selfish reasons. Because I like the way food and drink make me feel that was grown in the soil and nourished from the grass that are right under my feet.

    I practice with total impunity.

  • Riezen says:

    Just read the rewilding piece by P. Grey. He certainly does paint a grim picture, one that began long before any of us were born. I know individually I cannot personally change mankinds irreverent rape of Mother Earth, I will however continue to do my small part that does not buy into the over-shopping, over-spending, over-medicating, polluting, arm-chair internet fantasy life and lack of self love which leads to all that is destructive, within and without, called modern life.

  • Seda says:

    There are many witches who are doing this work in the Western parts of North America and in the Pacific Northwest, Great Basin, and Columbia Plateau there are those who are rewilding. We are learning how to feed that which feeds us and give life to the wild who gives life to us. And it is a struggle to deal with private property, national forest, bureau of land management. We have had to face legal prosecution, we have faced being reviled and ostracized wherever we show our true faces. But what are we witches for if not to face this great genocide and story of oppression and war? We are rewilding witches and we believe rewilding is what the old spirits of witchcraft are truly asking us to do. Finisia Medrano has been a teacher to many and she has a face that is more public. However, there are many others who stay low in the deeper wild places and wait for others to join us as we face the devastation of our current apocalypse. Don’t be afraid to reach out and find us. If you truly want to be a wild witch, nothing will stop you.

  • I only found your blog a few weeks ago and some how missed this one.
    It speaks to me in the dark green places of my heart. I have always been as wild as possible, eating wild and/or local and making regular journeys into the wild places nearby. I can see a future where we, the wild ones, are the only people left for we know how to live with the wild, how to nurture and be nurtured by Her. I believe that She will keep us, those of us who talk to her, give her our attention and honor her with the gifts of our hands and lives, and seek to understand Her ways.We are her real children…and we know it. We feel it in the deepest parts of our beings. And I tend to believe that if the whole human race would disappear She would miss us, her wild children, the ones who have snuggled up to Her in wilderness, slept on Her green, played in her mists. We are not pimples and cankers and boils on Her body, we are Her hands, feet, breasts and heart. We are a part of Her body not simply living upon Her like a parasite. She can feel our love as a mother feels the love of her child and being a mother I understand that kind of love.
    Let’s hope I’m right.

  • Hi Sarah. Profound words you write, Great Spirit talks through you. That’s the wild call of witches!