There are places of power upon the Earth. Sacred places. Haunted places. Places so full of mystic energy that the moment one steps within their demesne, the sense of living, breathing magic fills the awareness like a song of unknown words. Some such places are well known. The pyramids of Giza and Britain’s mighty Stonehenge. The standing stones of France. Ireland’s haunted castles and fey islands. But there are many other power places that are little known, and perhaps all the more magical for it. Lost burial grounds, wild country crossroads and old houses rumored to be haunted are among these. But for me, I find the most enchanted, and most endearing, places to be those at the heart of Nature. Long ago, I spent a summer working at the Grand Canyon. The vast, ancient pine forest growing up along its south rim was full of deer, little gullies and shadowed wonder. I used to hike into its depth, bypassing trails to explore the endless whispering trees, and make my way to the Hopi village to visit friends among the Native Americans. That entire, vast forest whispered secrets and felt like a place of power. I loved it far more than the Canyon itself. And as a child, I grew up in the bayou country of the Cajun folk of Louisiana. There were everywhere sprawling woodlands of huge oaks and hickories, and here and there one might discover an Indian burial mound or a long-lost, abandoned cottage. Such places combined to bring forth an intoxicating magic—probably why Louisiana to this day is famous for its sorcerous history and vodou practitioners.
In the Hollow I have discovered many power places. There is a natural nemeton—a sacred, enchanted natural space—of ancient maples at the very back of our homestead’s own Elfwood. I have often spent time there, observing the wild creatures that share it and pondering the deeper mysteries of life. Things just seem to become clearer there, and I have felt it would be a grand place for magical gatherings such as esbats. One night upon a clear, October full moon–the full moon of Samhain–I spent most of the evening there. The moonlight was so clear and bright it was as if the woodland was lit by a spill of quicksilver contrasting with ebon pools of shadow. The ground beneath the great, old trees seemed to swim with the play of pale light among the breeze-ticked dry leaves. Sometimes my daughters and I see lights in that region of the forest, little candle-flickers like will-o-the-wisps or bright hazes like foxfire, but on this night there was only the resplendent moon and the balmy darkness and the perfect breeze. It was an instant of pure natural magic, a moment of perfectly beautiful clarity in time and space reaching back into the depths of the mind. A fine moment for deep thought and powerful shamanic journeying.
Deeper in the wild lands I have found old growth forests hallowed by magnificent maples and birches so vast a man could not wrap his arms around the trunks. Great, gnarled trees that tower up the mountainside or grow in sequestered valleys. A couple weeks ago, upon a perfect, balmy autumn day, I wandered up the gentle mountainside guarding the Hollow’s western frontier and all the land was of such magnificent old forest. The leaves had long since fallen from the trees and the forest floor was bright with a carpet of red and gold. Here and there I encountered little brooks that flowed like liquid crystal, pooling here, creating shimmering little falls there, and the water washed away the shallow forest loam revealing brook bottoms of glittering marble and quartz. It was as if the forest sang: an ancient song of life and marvel and sheer glorious joyful beauty–a salutation to the Great Spirit behind all life. I knew in this place walked the Green Man, whom I often call He Who Walks Among the Trees, and perhaps the Cailleach—keeper of wild hoofed animals—and perhaps the Lady Brighid and Lugh of the Long Spear themselves. I plan soon to venture back out to that wood, this time to pitch a camp, build a fire, and spend the night in shamanic journeying beneath the silent stars and the swaying, bare boughs, where my only company might be the lingering echo of a horned owl’s call or the cry of clever coyote.
Sensitive persons tend to tune in to such places. They cannot say exactly what it is they have stumbled upon, or even why it is powerful, but they know an old, fine magic is there. Enchantment! Spirit! Lingering mystery as old as time. What is it that makes these locales so special? No one knows, and neither do I, but I can offer an educated guess. Let me take a passage from my newest book, Seasons of the Sacred Earth, and see if I can explain:
Once upon a time the world was a wilderness with small settled enclaves scattered about: a village here and there, each surrounded by its pastures and meadows while vast untamed lands lay beyond. But whether in the village or on the last farm before the wood, the green permeated everything: the lives of farmers raising their crops, the activities of wives at the hearth, the work of local artisans. Balance with the green brought prosperity and happiness to everyone.
But the green also held mystery and sometimes frightening power. It was said that in the hedges faeries danced in dazzling circles, and in far moonlit places maidens walked with horned men. In the wilds were goblins and old gods of every sort and children who wandered too far from home might find themselves lost in fairytales.
In the unspoiled wild of the ancient green world, enchantment flowed free and wild. Folk walked a land filled with magic and little spirits. Shamans, witches and priests helped folk live at peace with them, but the folk were so close to the land’s own natural power every household practiced a bit of this spirit-magic for themselves. Thus, we have fairytales and folklore from everyplace telling of folks’ encounters with wild magic. From the faerie folk of the Gaels to the Megumoowesoo of the Mi’kmaq, from the Inuqun spirits of the subarctic Yup’ik to the kami of Japanese Shinto, the natural world was filled with fey little spirits and great eldritch power. In short, from unspoiled Nature flowed all the essences of enchantment.
We see enchantment arising from Nature in many of our most beloved myths and legends. In the Norse mythology, the nine worlds along with their life and magic, originated with the world tree, Yggdrasil, and one of the most beautiful, magical realms was that of the light elves. From the Celtic myths we receive tales of sacred groves of druids and legends of magical goddesses such as the Cailleach, who looked after winter and deer, and the Green Man who tended Nature’s foliage. In fact, a theme and yearning for natural magic occurs frequently even in the modern myths of our age. In the tale of Snow White (which has virtually nothing to do with the original Grimm’s story of Snow White and her sister, Rose Red) the raven-haired heroine is beloved of wild creatures and seeks respite deep within an enchanted forest full of mystery and is given aid by dwarves, a kind of faerie being. In the hugely popular Lord of the Rings tale, the folk of Middle Earth dwell in a wilderness full of beauty and wonders, and fight ceaselessly against the Orcs who are agents of industry who would destroy the wilderness for greed and gain. Tolkien’s wizard, Radagast the Brown, was a friend of wild creatures and dwelt in the enchanted forest called Mirkwood while the Elves, wisest of beings, delighted in their forests and secluded glens. We see in such modern myths the longing for the enchantment we know instinctively originates with Nature.
Natural power places are good for us, healing for us. Many persons describe feeling “recharged” when they venture into unspoiled Nature. Such places are often equated with cathedrals where one may commune directly with the divine. For my part, I have never liked the comparison of a natural place with a cathedral as a natural place is far more wonderful and beautiful and pure while Man can only attempt to mimic Nature, and a painting or magnificent work of architecture is only a poor reflection of the original wonder. Academics and researchers, such as Mario Beauregard, author of The Spiritual Brain (©2007), recognized that closeness to Nature is one of the essential elements of the Peak Experience—a powerful awareness of timeless, perfect communion with the divine.
Places of power are essential. They not only are bastions of ecological purity, essential to the wellbeing of Earth, but they are places that bring us closer to the mystery and wonder of life and the sublime. Such places are fragile, often targets of human avarice, whether for their timber or the minerals beneath them. Sometimes they are turned into tourist traps (as happened to the Redwoods of California and many of the once hidden, marvelous places of the British and Irish isles). It is imperative to protect them, walk gently amid them, and in the doing grow ourselves. If we do, such places work a unique magic. They renew myth. They rebirth the fairytale. If we strive to live well with them and look after them, they turn us into modern witches and wizards, or Red Riding Hoods and Woodsmen. And if we neglect them, we run the risk of becoming the vile queen, the selfish axeman, the avaricious orc, or—worst of all—the mere mindless peasant, lacking insight and any real, meaningful self-will. Power places work a precious enchantment: they sing a subtle song, and if we listen, we may in them discover and become true to the wild myth within ourselves.