As you know I jaunt between the wilds of Capel Curig in north Wales, that place of rugged grey-green mountains and valleys, and the urban sprawl that is London. And, I love both in equal measure but for different reasons.
There is a school of thought that the land chooses us. Not just those wilderness areas where some might live or we might visit sometimes or holiday there, or plan to visit, but wherever we find ourselves, and right now I have the city in mind, as that is where I am. Carl Jung called this notion of the land choosing us, as the spiritus loci.
’The soil of every country holds…mystery. We have an unconscious reflection of this in the psyche.’ Carl Jung
We affect the land just by being there, as well as changing it, physically, in various ways; the land affects us in a myriad of ways, and some of those are inner changes, whether we’re aware of them or not. There is a natural symbiosis, connectedness that ancient tribes and celts, druids and others knew.
Spiritus loci is ‘felt’ when we know a place well or are ‘at home’ there. Sometimes we might feel ‘not at home’ in a place or it might take some ‘work’ to settle, and in these cases the spirit loci is at work – the energy and connectedness of the land reaching out to us to include us even today, if we’re aware.
There is an old story of an Irish saint, called Gobnait who lived in the sixth century and was aware of the energy and power of the land, the earth.
When she was a young lady she fled her family, who lived in County Clare, because of a feud, and sought out refuge in Inis Óirr. She spent some time there, deep in her thoughts, and realised she had an inner disquiet about the place. Shortly after this an angel appeared to her and told her to leave that place because it was ‘not the place of her resurrection’.
The angel instructed Gobnait to look for a place where she would see nine white deer grazing, and that would be her ‘place of resurrection’. Gobnait travelled about Ireland. At one place she saw only three deer grazing and so moved on. Then she came across six white deer grazing, but remembered the angel’s words and moved on. It was only when she came to Ballyvourney that she saw nine white deer grazing, and knew that that was her special ‘place of resurrection’. And, there she stayed and became a beekeeper. In ancient times the soul was thought to be able to leave the body as an insect, either a bee or a butterfly.
Bees have long been important in Ireland and were part of the ancient laws called the Bech Bretha or Bee Judgements.
Many accounts exist of how St Gobnait prevented raiders from carrying off cattle, as on their approach she would let loose the bees from her hives, and they would attack the raiders, forcing them to flee.
St Gobnait is, to this day, the patron saint of beekeepers, and there is a statue of her near the site of the community she founded at Ballyvourney, showing her in nun’s habit standing on a skep, a beehive surrounded by bees.
For Gobnait to see an angel and to be instructed to find her ‘place of resurrection’ fits in with her theology, but it is interesting to look beyond outward appearances and dig deeper. Angels can be one person’s interpretation for divine or cosmic forces at work and revealing themselves, and you and I in those circumstances might have seen something completely different. And, the ‘place of resurrection’ might be the place where you and I ‘come alive’ and feel ‘at home’, feel at one with the land?
Wes Jackson, an American writer called it ‘becoming native, and Martin Heidegger said rootlessness is responsible for much of the anxiety that many suffer from, and that what is needed is for people to learn to ‘dwell’ on this earth again. Maybe that was Gobnait’s idea of her ‘place of resurrection’, and ‘dwelling’ on this earth is a word that many more would use?
‘We cast a shadow on something wherever we stand, and it is no good moving from place to place to save things; because the shadow always follows. Choose a place where you won’t do harm – yes, choose a place where you won’t do very much harm, and stand in it for all you are worth, facing the sunshine.’ E M Forster
Our ‘place of resurrection’ or ‘dwelling’ place might be exactly where we are now, and if it doesn’t feel like it, then perhaps we are being called to discover the spiritus loci or the genii loci and to work in conjunction with them to ‘grow’ into the place.