Most of you know I moved to Portland from the back of beyond last September. It’s different being a pagan in the city than it was being a pagan in the country. I won’t lie, the adjustment has been difficult–but it’s teaching me a helluva lot about the power of attention.
The bit that leaps out of that definition for me is “the regarding of someone or something as interesting or important”. Attention is not just notice–it’s also regarding the thing we notice as important.
That right there is the beginning of how I’m learning to be a city pagan.
This is one of the walks available to me when I’m at work. I have options on this walk: do I give my attention to the headlights, street and buildings, or to that line of trees raising its arms against the sky? Do I give my attention to the warehouse, or to the wetlands behind the warehouse? And while I definitely want to notice the wild goose poop on the sidewalk so as not to step in it, do I find it important? Or do I give my attention to the hilarity of a gaggle of wild geese stopping traffic with its belligerent refusal to move out of the way of cars?
What I find important–holy, even–is present in the city just like it is in the country. Connecting with it requires my attention–just like it does in the country.
I’ve heard discussions of how one might connect with nature by focusing on the sounds of the city and imagining them as something more wild–cars on the highway as ocean waves or wind in the trees, for example. This is an interesting mental exercise, but for me it isn’t helpful as a way to tune into the sacred. I don’t see my spiritual practice as an escape route from reality–I see it as a way to engage with reality more deeply and fully. The beauty of a spirituality that says rock, tree, flesh are all holy things is that it allows us to be truly present with rock, tree, and flesh. I would rather have a real weed growing from the shoulder of the highway than an imaginary forest. Being a pagan in the city doesn’t work for me if I pretend I’m not in the city.
Instead I pay attention to little details. Pinecones on the sidewalk, the contrast of an evergreen against a gray building, crows on the power lines and squirrels on the dumpster. I notice that no matter how carefully we plan and build, the chaos and dirt and wildness find their way to creep in–maybe because we are animals too, and we’re all a little chaotic, dirty and wild whether we like to admit it or not.
A little bit at a time I get a sense of the spirits here, learning how they differ from the ones in the country. Little by little I feel the way energy works here–even doing reiki is different here. I am different, and I don’t think it’s only the affects of relocation and employment. It’s living in the energy of the city and the suburbs, connecting with different vibrations, communing with other entities.
I’m noticing how the interplay of the human-made and the untamed is littered with incongruous juxtapositions, but at the energetic level these incongruities seem to enhance rather than detract from the intensity of natural magic. Example: I met a Hawthorn tree at the side of the road, and three berries seemed more than enough for my witchy needs. In the country I might have taken more–but that roadside tree was fierce, and those berries were potent little gems. More than three would have been woo-woo overkill. In the city I’m learning about accepting gifts, and about knowing how much is just enough.
And I’m learning about thriving where you find yourself. The positive spin on “wherever you go, there you are”, is knowing wherever I go, I’m still myself. I’m still going to be that girl who trips because she’s watching a bird peck at something on the sidewalk, or who takes an hour to walk a half mile because she can’t stop taking pictures of plants (though I might be a lot more careful about talking out loud to plants now there are people everywhere to catch me at it). I’m still going to be a tree hugging dirt worshipper because the trees and dirt are what capture my attention every time.