Toward a Rooted Practice: On Trees, Water, and Practicing in Place

Image courtesy of Alfons Taekema on Unsplash

“Bloom where you are planted.” Maybe you’ve heard this phrase before. It probably originated with the Bishop of Geneva back in the early 1600’s, but it was artist and illustrator Mary Engelbreit who brought it into popular awareness in the last couple of decades. There’s some wisdom behind (or adjacent to) these words that I’d love to explore with you.

We all find ourselves planted somewhere. You may have very deep roots in the soil of that place — generations of ancestors who have lived, loved, worked, died, and are remembered there. Or maybe you have shallow roots in a pot in a travel trailer, always on the move. Even then, your feet touch soil, you drink water, and you are part of the beautiful breathing mechanism of the planet. You are connected to a landscape, even if that landscape changes every time you move.

As globally-connected magical practitioners, we have a world of information and ideas available to us all the time now.  But when I was a “Baby Witch,” the Internet was actually pretty new. There were only a few Witch/Pagan websites. BBSs (bulletin board services) and newsgroups reigned supreme. ICQ was a fantastic new way to ruin your IRL friendships using the brand new medium of real-time text chat. And there was so, so much info-sharing about practices, tools, Deities, herbs, animals, and more from all over the world. 

Some things haven’t changed much in twenty-five years. A good number of magical and spiritual websites are still filled with lists and files of overwhelming volumes of information. I don’t think they are meant to be overwhelming. They are meant to be helpful. But I remember being overwhelmed as a beginner. I saved files for twenty-five years to “read later” that I still haven’t circled back to. (When I have looked recently, I’ll admit, most of them were crap, so I can’t feel bad about that.)

As a folkloric Witch, I am also a traditional Crafter which means (among other things) that I take a traditional, animistic worldview. That is to say, I see the natural world as imbued with Spirit. Trees, stones, animals, bodies of water, weather phenomena — you get the idea. It is important, therefore, for me to seek meaningful relationships with these Spirits. The idea of reciprocal relationship (with Spirits, with the natural world in general, and with community) lies at the heart of most traditional religions and folkways. 

To do this most fully, I’ve tried to embrace the wisdom of blooming where I am planted. In other words, I’ve tried to root my practice in the sacred landscape and rhythms of this place — not some other, supposedly more mystical, more connected one. I am connected here, because here is where I live and love and dream and witch and work. (Repeat after me: “Celtic trees aren’t more scared than Kentucky trees.” They just got better press.)

I moved to Louisville, Kentucky almost five years ago, and I realized that  summer that every time I approached a stand of trees on the highway, I started looking for them. Whenever I was about a quarter mile away, it was like they reminded me they were just ahead. I had the thought, “I don’t even know what those trees are called.” And then when I saw them, I thought, “Catalpa!” (Do I need to tell you that Google Search confirmed their identity?) I started seeing catalpas all over Louisville, and I have made time sitting with them. 

Trees are one of my first ways to connect to Place, to root my practice. Literally, I suppose. I offer this suggestion to you as a good first step, if this is appealing. Trees give so much shape, character, and definition to the sacred landscape of a place. Because my dad was in the military, I lived in five US states and in Germany all before I turned seven. I’ve had the privilege to live in two more states, traveled to a few more countries, and see lots of the US. One super simple truth I can say (that feels more powerful to experience): the Oak trees are so different wherever you are.

Honestly. Meet a Live Oak in South Carolina with its Spanish Moss friends. Sit with it, in its glorious sprawl. Then meet a White Oak in Indiana, straight and tall and not a branch you could reach for at least twenty feet  up. Then meet a Blackjack Oak in Oklahoma, a little scrubby and twisted. Look at their leaves and acorns. Talk to their neighbors, and compare how they share space (or don’t). Yes, they are definitely all Oaks, and they have things in common, but they are breathtakingly different. 

The trees can teach us so much about surviving and thriving and being a good neighbor in the landscape where we live. And it is by meeting Actual Trees (rather than generic Oak in a book about tree lore) that we can know something real about both them and the Place we live. 

My other major point of first contact for rooting my practice tends to be the Water. (Once you put the roots down, you gotta get a drink. Right?)  Is there a river, a lake, (fingers crossed) an ocean nearby? I have to meet that Spirit, too, and introduce myself. There’s a long process for getting to know each other, and a process for engaging in allyship. 

Where you go might be different. Maybe some other part of the sacred landscape will call to you next. Maybe making contact with the genus loci or other spirits of place. Ancestor work, if you haven’t already begun, can be a deeply personal practice that helps you connect to your roots.

We have always been connected to each other — person to person, within communities, as families. Today’s technology makes those connections lightning fast and helps them span the global community. Rooting our magic into the sacred landscape that we find around us can help ground us and give us a sense of stability, security, and foundation from which to work.

[Laurelei Black is an American folkloric Witch, Aphrodite woman, and author.]