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  • Hannah McQuilkan

Developing an authentic earth based practice



I have come to believe over my 20 years of spiritual seeking and training that the most powerful thing we can do as individuals and as human beings is to develop an authentic Earth based practice. One that deeply connects us to this planet, the beings we share her with and our ancestors.

Last month I wrote about ‘Why White Shame Will Never Set Us Free’ and I promised a follow up to this that would offer solutions to how we might reclaim our indigenous wisdom as people of European descent. As I expected there was support for this article (its in my Tree Mystic blog if you haven’t read it) and some reactive feelings that its not the time to be focused on our healing as white people but rather we should be focused on saving and supporting those of colour.

I have deeply contemplated this topic since I wrote the article and am still standing at a place where I feel that in order to truly support those of colour who have been at the mercy of the devastating affects of colonisation we must find a way to re-remember and heal our own fragmented past. What I see is that the very framework of our current worldview is so damaging to all human beings, people of colour especially, that it would be a mistake to think that we can help in a truly revolutionary way while our consciousness is seeped in an old paradigm and destructive worldview. We must, if we truly wish to be of service in the world, seek to embody a way of being and seeing that is alignment with those we wish to help.

We must also be careful not to appropriate from other cultures as a substitute for our own deep disconnect from the Earth. Its fine to appreciate another cultures spirituality and perhaps it can be used occasionally with respect to whom it belongs but to use another’s ancient wisdom as a substitute for our own, or even worse in a commercial way is a deep disrespect not only to that culture but it also denies our own cultural wisdom that is waiting to be reclaimed.

I do not have many of the answers and am on my own journey of discovery with all of this. What I have come to see is that the Earth holds the answers. She is our mother after all. Indigenous people have always known this, they still know this and we knew this too once upon a time.

Is it really so important to follow an Earth practice that also aligned to your ancestral heritage? When I first trained as a Forest Therapy Guide I found that the omni-partiality and lack of reference to any culture to be powerful and freeing. I loved that the practice could work for any race, religion or belief. Ironically as my practice deepened I found myself unable to stop the call of my ancient ancestors and the lands that they hail from. It seems to me now that a very real piece was missing from my understanding, that I’m indigenous to this planet and my ancestors have a legacy of tens of thousands of years of Earth worship, connection and understanding. This kind of knowledge does not get wiped out in just a few hundred years, forgotten yes but not obliterated. Its still there in my bones, in your bones, in the Earth herself, in archeological sites, myths and stories.

Shame is an emotion that freezes, it literally stops the ability to move forward. It is useless as far as I can see to making any positive changes in the world. So we must move forward by looking back, however clumsy it might be, to gather the wisdom that was lost long ago and embrace it. We must develop an authentic Earth based practice so we can stand beside our brothers and sisters from all races and truly be able to support their cause, because its our cause too, because we get it, because we have owned it, because we are all in this together.

I want to be clear that you don’t have to be following a particular cultures ways in order to connect to the Earth and develop an authentic nature based practice, you can just connect to the Earth directly by spending time with her. The Earth is non discriminatory, she doesn’t care what race or colour you are. I believe the Earth can feel intention, your intention for wanting to connect but is not concerned with where you or your ancestors come from. I have had some of my most profound nature experiences in Australia and the USA for example. So although you can develop a perfectly adequate nature practice just on your own, its worth remembering that these ancient cultures have been doing Earth worship for tens of thousands of years so we can presume that there is so much knowledge to be shared. Which is why I don’t think its a bad thing to explore many indigenous cultures for inspiration as well, it only becomes a problem when it becomes a substitute for reclaiming our own cultural ties or if we start to take advantage of that wisdom. We also don’t have the ancestral ties going deep back into history like we do to our own culture, so it could be said that it can’t offer you the same level of cellular memory and awakening. In saying all this, the Earth will reveal to you the best path for you and those direct messages from the Earth, the Earth dreaming through you should be trusted and acted upon.



Ecological philosopher Max Oelschlaeger created the following criteria for indigenous beliefs, that are common in all indigenous cultures across our planet both past and present:

– they regard nature as a benevolent mother figure

– they conceive of nature as a living and sacred system

– they infer that the sacred can be manifest in many forms

– they understand that metaphor and symbol are the means of accessing the sacred

– they believe that time is synchronous, folded into an eternal present

– they understand that ritual is essential to maintain the natural order

What I love about this list is it brings the commonality of all indigenous cultures clearly into focus, showing us the unity at its core. Using this criteria as a framework upon which to build your Earth based practice would be a powerful starting point.

The Celtic culture clearly adheres to this criteria and I have chosen to use the Celtic culture as my inspiration and source of Earth wisdom as I descend from the Celtic lands almost entirely, with a small amount of Scandinavian in there as well. It amazes me knowing what I know now, how much we have severed ourselves from this incredible culture who were birthed from very people that built the Neolithic sites of Stonehenge, Avebury and New Grange. A culture than lasted for 2000 years who we can only get a glimpse of from buried remains and fragments of text but still there is much to be learnt and put into practice in the modern world.

Celtic people lived in nature, in forests and groves. Connection to the world around them was essential for their survival. The forests spreading across central Europe at that time was so thick it was said that a squirrel could hop from tree to tree without ever touching the ground. Their year was marked by four seasonal celebrations, that linked into each other and gave the span of time sense and purpose. A simple way to recreate the all encompassing nature immersion of our ancestors is by taking time in nature often as allows to be still and really listen. The foundation of all of this before any conceptual ideas can really make sense, is to simply connect with nature.

Forest Therapy/Bathing is an extremely powerful way to develop this and I can say from experience that it caused a quantum leap in my ability to really commune with the more than human world. So to that end I encourage you to seek out myself or another trained guide near you to support you in this. A simple way to develop your own practice is by finding a nature spot somewhere easily accessible and sitting there for 15-20 minutes at least 4 times weekly over 6 months. While you are there you remove all other distractions such as your phone and simply observe. From this simple practice known as Sit Spot you will gain so much knowledge and will see how much you have overlooked.

Forest Therapy has become the foundation practice in all of my work as I find too often nature themed courses rush to give knowledge first rather than create an experiential framework of connection in which the knowledge can sit.

In my upcoming one day workshop, Celtic Plant and Tree Lore on November 14th in West Auckland we will be taking a look at Celtic Tree worship and using the practice of Forest therapy, coming into a deep communion with nature. To the Celts there was a thin veil between the physical world and the otherworld, the otherworld being home to a host of non-physical beings such as fairies, gods and goddesses, tree spirits and ancestors. This veil got even thinner on certain days of the year such as Samhain and Beltaine. The otherworld was there to be worked with, placated and revered. Trees were of special importance and considered to be sentient beings, the Druids worshipped in tree groves and the ‘Crann Bethadth’ (krawn ba-huh) or Mighty Tree was always left in the centre of a settlement. It was under this tree that decisions were reached as it was believed the tree would hold all that was said and keep people to their word. The land herself was thought of as a Goddess and the King would perform a ritual involving a symbolic marriage to the land with an oath of keeping the land and people safe under his rule.

So some other simple practices to begin your reconnection would be purchasing a moon calendar that has the moon cycles and special days marked. That way you can start to notice these planetary movements and the changes taking place in the natural environment around you. Then you may like to begin to incorporate some ritual to mark these days such as lighting a candle and remembering your ancestors on Samhaim, picking some spring flowers on Beltaine, spending time in meditation on the full moon and new moon, noticing the difference in qualities at these times. You may like to recreate your own sovereignty ritual where you marry the land in a symbolic way, pledging allegiance to love and take care of the planet.

There are so many options. Just be careful what you read online as much of the information regarding Pagan practices has been changed by modern enthusiasts but is still claimed to be authentic, which is fine so long as you recognise that it has been altered. Its impossible to recreate how our ancient ancestors lived and worshipped but my personal preference is to find out as best I can what they did actually do based on archeological and textual evidence and then modernise my practice from there with full awareness.

And so it is to the Earth that I will give the final say. That Great Mother that has given birth to all life since time began. The eternal and essential presence required for this human experience, she who holds the wisdom of this planet since time began, she who holds our ancestors bones and will hold ours too one day. Can you hear the earth dreaming? Will you listen to her gentle guidance and live your life as a prayer to her?

Books and courses you might find useful are as follows:

Sharon Blackies ‘Celtic Spirituality’ online course (https://sharonblackie.net)

New Light on the Ancient Mystery of Avalon by John Mitchell

Pagan Britain by Ronald Hutton

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben

The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible by Charles Eisenstein

The Nature Principle by Richard Louv

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E: treemystics@gmail.com

Ph: 022 6266 420

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© 2020 by Hannah McQuilkan