Confessions of a Dirt Worshipper

Confessions of a Dirt Worshipper

Author:   Diotima Mantineia   
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It
is the source of all art and science. He to whom this emotion is a
stranger, who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as
good as dead; his eyes are closed. 
    – Albert Einstein

In the early 1980s, I was initiated into an arcane order of alchemists who refer to themselves as “soil scientists”; practitioners of a discipline called Agronomy, or the study of crops and soils.  This initiation was marked by the presentation of a Bachelor of Science degree (I requested Spinster of Science, but was turned down), and my entrance into graduate school at the University of Maryland’s Agronomy Department.

I suspect the designation of Alchemist would distress many of the good men and women who taught me the mysteries of this discipline, for they all were all careful, dedicated scientists, who would shy away from anything quite so…well, magical. But anyone who works with the soil for long knows that at some point, science breaks down under the weight of too many variables and unknowns, and gives way to art. The truly successful farmer or grower has, along with scientific knowledge, an instinctive, artistic, often magical relationship with the soil they nurture.

The professor who introduced me to the workings and wonders of the Earth’s mantle communicated his enthusiasm and deep respect for the ways of Nature to his students, and my Pagan soul found magic in both field and laboratory. Science led me to art, art led to magic, and one morning I woke up and realized I had become that bane of conservative Christian Republicans, a bona fide tree-hugging, dirt-worshipping Pagan.

Like most Pagans, I love to be connected, both physically and psychically, with the Earth. Rituals and meditations that allow us to blend our consciousness with that of trees, plants and animals, and honor the changing of the seasons, give Pagans a relationship to the land that few who have not learned this way of being can know. Magical training in visualization and journeying, meditation and trained awareness gives an expanded understanding of the world around us.  Journeys into the world of Spirit open our spirits to the vastness and variety of creation, and assure us of our inalienable place within the world, while reminding us that we will never fully grasp the totality of All That Is. We learn humility and the necessity of right relationship. Rediscovering our connection with the Earth and the Web of Life, we develop ceremonies to reflect that connection and build the appropriate relationships and energetic bonds.

Ritual and the Soil

Many in our community go outdoors as often as they can to do ritual, make magic and/or do spirit journeys and meditations on whatever piece of land they nurture. Even city-bound Pagans usually find a small patch of ground, in a park, or outside the city limits, where they go to connect with Nature, leave offerings both energetic and physical, and thank the land for its bounty. Others find a small bit of land to tend for vegetables and flowers, some visit the wildlands, while some of us are fortunate enough to have some acreage under our care. But whether it is through a flower pot or a working farm, most Pagans make an effort to tend to, bless and connect with the Earth.

What I often find overlooked in Pagan ritual, however, is an awareness of the complex ecosystem of the soil itself. Pagans are more aware of the soil’s value than most people, and Pagan altars frequently are graced with a cauldron full of soil, but the focus seems to be on the plants and animals that live on top of the ground, with little or no attention given to the rich and complex ecosystem that exists under our feet. So before you go out and do your blessings, spirit journeys and other magic in your garden this year, or return to that special place in Nature where you go to reconnect, let me introduce you to some of the beings — mineral, vegetable and animal — that inhabit the soil that makes life on Earth possible. Then we’ll look at how science and magic can meet on the land.

Were you to go and sit in your garden, or somewhere in a forest, or on a grassy plain, and sink your consciousness into the land, your awareness, flowing like water, would burrow under the leaves, mulch or other organic detritus that covers the soil (or should!) and find, in a healthy soil, almost as much empty space as matter. Particles of sand, silt or clay, the three mineral constituents of soil, and particles of organic matter in various stages of decomposition, are surrounded and held together in discrete clumps by both the electrostatic properties of the clay particles and by various glue-like organic substances that result from the process of decomposition or are exuded from the bodies of organisms such as plant roots, fungi, bacteria and earthworms. Unless a soil is badly compacted (by heavy equipment, for instance) these clumps are arranged in a loose structure in which the spaces between may take up as much volume as the clumps themselves. This structure allows gases and water to diffuse through the soil, where they are utilized by plant roots and the many living creatures that make their homes in the earth.

A healthy soil has a thriving population of various critters, from the microscopic — fungi, actinomycetes, bacteria (almost as many in a gram of good soil as there are humans on the Earth), rotifers, protozoa and nematodes — to a wide variety of insects, the occasional reptile, and mammals such as moles and gophers. Some of these organisms feed on dead organic matter, transforming it into carbon dioxide, and breakdown products that feed plants and other organisms. Others feed on living matter, everything from microbes on up serving as a food source for another organism.

The area directly adjacent to plant roots has such a rich and diverse ecosystem it is given its own name: the rhizosphere. Miles of root tips move inexorably through the soil, secreting a gelatinous substance to ease their way, and growing fine root hairs to absorb water. The roots also can exude substances that inhibit or encourage life; some give off chemicals that inhibit growth of nearby plant roots, most form a symbiotic relationship with fungi that nourishes both plant and fungus, and the nitrogen-fixing plants, such as peas and clover, form nodules on their roots containing bacteria that claim nitrogen from the air, transform it at the molecular level, and then feed it to the plant.

This incredibly diverse, complex and sustainable life cycle comes to a crashing halt under current, “factory-farm”, methods of agriculture. The earthworm population is devastated by nitrogenous fertilizers, useful microorganisms and insects are eliminated along with the destructive ones by broad-spectrum pesticides, and the critters that live higher on the food chain decamp as soon as their food source dies off. Because of the reliance on chemical fertilizers, organic matter is not carefully managed, and the soil of the average modern farm becomes almost a dead zone. The dearth of life and organic matter leads to more erosion and fertilizer runoff, filling our waterways with pollution, and with the top layer of soil, which took eons to form.  The prevailing views of the scientific community are only just beginning to catch up with what spiritual stewards of the land have known for centuries: that Mother Nature will work with us, but only if we work with Her. Wholesale destruction of the Web of Life can never, in the long run, result in a higher quality of life for any one part of that Web. Those of us who work and commune with the spirits of nature know this beyond a doubt.

Question Authority

My interest in organic agriculture began even before I started college, when organic methods were still considered pretty far out in left field. Now, when even the most mainstream of scientists must admit that much of what they scorned about organic methods decades ago has turned out to be valid, my interests and investigations have taken me even further afield into the truly alchemical realm of Rudolf Steiner’s biodynamic agriculture, the effect of sound and chanting on plant growth, the effect of magic and intent on plant and soil health, and work with the Devic and Faery realms.  Of course, none of the above methods of working with plants and the soil would be considered scientifically valid – they would, in fact, be looked on as anything from wishful thinking to outright delusion. But the logic behind these methods seemed clear to me once I seriously considered the possibility of a Universe birthed from Consciousness, instead of one in which consciousness arose simply from chance and the laws of physics.

I had not come to this concept of a Consciousness-based reality quickly or easily; in fact, I spent many years attempting to reconcile my interest in science and my interest in religion, metaphysics, magic, and what is commonly known as “the occult” before this connection became clear to me.

Magic does not require an unquestioning belief in anything – quite the opposite.  Questions and careful observance are part of the work, but there is a need to suspend restrictive judgments about what can and cannot be, what is and is not possible, and to allow pure experience to bring the answers to questions that can be answered in no other way.

The basis of most metaphysical, magical and “occult” disciplines lies in the concept of a form of life energy called, variously, chi, prana, orgone, life energy. Mainstream science says this energy doesn’t exist. Those who work with it – who experience it – believe it simply has not yet been measured or quantified. The use of this life energy, and the mind’s direction of it, is the framing of magic. Learning to use it, learning magic, requires an openness to the possibility of the existence of this life energy.

When I began my formal training in Witchcraft in the mid-1980s, I knew I had to find a way to blend my understanding of science with my growing knowledge of magical principles, because I knew instinctively that there must be an underlying basis to reality that tied the two together. I certainly didn’t spurn the Western scientific way of thinking, but I learned that it was only one way of approaching and understanding reality.

Sitting at my altar, or walking in the woods, I worked hard to learn to sense and shape energy, training my mind to focus and shape or diffuse the energy I sensed. I dug deeply into my psyche to discover how my thoughts, beliefs and emotions shape the energy I surround myself with – that energy with which we all meet the world — and how to change and control that energy by working with and changing my thoughts, beliefs and emotions.

I cast spells, and used divinatory techniques. I meditated, studied martial arts, and participated in many rituals, all as part of my magical training. I read voraciously in psychology, science, mythology, magic, philosophy and comparative religion. My life began to change…

The proverbial dark night of the soul came, and, on the other side of it I found myself living my dream. I now felt certain that magic was a valid, useful way of interacting with the world. My life continued to change in the direction of my dreams, as I continued to use applied techniques that seemed to shift reality without any specific, physical effort on my part.  The fact that many would think me at least slightly mad bothered me not at all. My beliefs and interests now made my lifelong interest in organic agriculture seem tame by comparison.

Which still left me looking for the connection I knew was there but could not trace. Finally, the basic dichotomy became clear to me. The primary difference between reductionist scientific thinking and the world of the Witch is that the Witch – like most other religious people – believes that the physical universe is created from consciousness. The reductionists, on the other hand, cling to the increasingly less credible idea that consciousness is nothing but an epiphenomenon of the brain. I realized from all the reading I had been absorbing on modern physics that science, on its bleeding edge, was walking a path towards First Cause that took it closer and closer to an understanding of the primacy of Consciousness.

Most Pagans believe that Consciousness is primary and that the energetic nature of the Universe can be influenced by the human mind, will and emotions. This does not make us “wacky” or unscientific, and the prejudices of mainstream science should not discourage us from approaching the use of our unconventional methods with an attitude of “Does it grow corn?” (or tomatoes, or lilacs, or oak trees). The scientific method is valid in any area of endeavor-the primary difficulty with approaching Reiki healing, sacred geometry or the influence of the Devas through the scientific method is always identifying and controlling for the variables. Replication is basic to the scientific method, and it’s darned hard to replicate something when you don’t know what all the influences are!

So if your intuitive feelings or mystical observations of the natural world lead you to sing to your plants , ask the advice and help of various spirits, or magically transfer and pattern Earth energies , do not feel as though you are being inherently unscientific. I’ve found that Pagans can be reluctant to look for the reasons behind the effects of the magic and rituals we perform. There is a fear that the magic will disappear under the “cold light of science”, and we may find that we are deluding ourselves. But both valid science and valid magic require an unflinching willingness and ability to look for the underlying truth.  While magic may seem to disappear under the scrutiny of a poorly-designed experiment, the true light of science is not a strobe, under which things appear to be other than they are, but is the steady, warm and illuminating light of the Sun.

What we call magic does not disappear in the light of day, and science will eventually expand to encompass and confirm any truth we may find in our mystical explorations, even if the methods of science sometimes fall short in explaining the reasons behind those truths. Real science, and real magic, will expand along with our growing understanding of the nature of reality. Those who try to force reality to fit their fears, prejudices, and pre-conceived notions, whether in magic or science, will find their path both destructive and ultimately futile.

While I am a firm believer in the scientific method, I also know that it can be and regularly is misused, either deliberately or unconsciously, in the service of human greed and fear. Quantum physics is questioning whether or not true objectivity is possible, but any student of human nature knows that, even if possible, it is rarely achieved. The litany of scientific error is long – which, in itself, is not a bad thing. Science is a process, an ongoing investigation, and if we are unwilling to make errors -even spectacular ones – we limit ourselves, for trial and error is at the heart of scientific experimentation. What is problematic in science is the all-too-common unwillingness to change, to admit error, to see past truths as being superseded by more current discoveries, or worse, to see the error, but actively suppress truth for reasons of simple greed and fear.

There is a story, perhaps apocryphal, of an Agronomy professor at a Midwestern university who, speaking to an editor of Acres magazine about the realities of agricultural research said, “Give us a $100,000 grant, and we’ll prove anything you want.” While I persist in thinking that such a level of corruption within academia is not common, nonetheless, it is a fact that much agricultural research is funded by corporate agri-business. Clearly, it is a challenge for a scientist whose livelihood is in the hands of a large corporation to be entirely objective, and the research that supports the continuing use of poisons and petroleum-dependent fertilizers and unregulated genetic manipulation reflects, at best, a blindered view of the agricultural process, at worst, an extraordinary level of venality and corruption, the consequences of which are tragic, and will take generations to overcome.

Science, however, is not solely in the hands of those who have the correct letters after their names. Anyone with a bit of land or even a few pots can learn the basic principles of scientific experimentation and observation, and apply them to various methods and techniques that are regularly ignored or scorned by mainstream science. You can take that piece of land you nurture and learn through careful observation what the land needs to create and maintain the Web of Life. If your experiments are carefully thought out and executed, you will add to a body of general knowledge and experience that can be discussed and built on by yourself and others. Don’t be afraid of doing it “wrong”, or of what you might find out. The gods and spirits are not dead, and investigative science does not have the power to kill them. Just keep an open mind, observant eyes, and good records. If this type of research interests you, learn what you can (see the resources section below) of experimental design, and use it to test any questions that may come to you when you are working with the land, or with the spirits of the land.

An excellent example of this attitude can be found in Sandra Ingerman’s book “Medicine for the Earth”, which details her work with spirits to alleviate water pollution, and the encouraging results of her experiments. Hopefully, the results of these preliminary experiments will encourage some professional scientists to develop more sophisticated research and establish a baseline of data from which we can work to develop replicable methods of spiritual, energetic healing that will help reverse the effects of pollution. Who knows, perhaps they will even be able to find funding for it.

Everyone who can identify with the label “dirt worshipper” has a job they can do to help in reclaiming the Earth. Magical workings, tending whatever spot of Earth you can, and donating time and money to environmental causes are all valid and much needed responses to the current crisis. Whether you are interested in working from a scientific perspective, or prefer to work with the land in an instinctive, magical way (or both!) your attention and energy are needed. Those of us who work with other levels of consciousness, who honor the mysteries of both life and death, must continue to do the work that will strengthen the Web of Life on this planet.

The work begins with honoring and attending to the planet and the land we have been given to care for, observing and understanding the cycles, and the complex and beautifully balanced interactions of the ecosystems around us. It continues by expanding our minds to encompass influences and forces which we may not fully understand.

Standard scientific research and knowledge will play a large part in rebalancing the Earth’s cycles, but standard scientific research cannot account for things it does not know or will not acknowledge. Those of us who work with other levels of consciousness and energy are pioneers. A strength and certainty of vision is needed to do the work that must be done, though it will often be done in the face of scorn and fundamental skepticism. Know that when you do this work, you are not alone.


Web sites:

Natural Resources Conservation Service: “Helping People Understand Soils”

The Rodale Institute

Community Supported Agriculture:

Biodynamic Farming and Gardening Association

Sustainable Agriculture Network



Recommended reading, in no particular order:

The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture by Wendell Berry. ISBN: 0871568772

The Nature and Properties of Soil by Nyle C. Brady and Ray R. Weil. ISBN: 0130167630

The Conscious Universe: The Scientific Truth of Psychic Phenomena by Dean Radin. ISBN: 0062515020

Medicine for the Earth: How to Transform Personal and Environmental Toxins by Sandra Ingerman ISBN: 0609805177

Earth Light: The Ancient Path to Transformation Rediscovering the Wisdom of Celtic & Faery Lore by R.J. Stewart ISBN: 1892137011

The Faery Teachings by Orion Foxwood ISBN: 1-89213-704-5

Secrets of the Soil: New Solutions for Restoring Our Planet by Peter Tompkins and Christopher Bird. ISBN: 1890693243

An Introduction to Scientific Research by E. Bright Wilson ISBN: 0486665453

Witchcraft 101: The Rhythmic Practice Phase (part 3)

Witchcraft 101: The Rhythmic Practice Phase (part 3)
Author: Wren

Since its inception, the Witches’ Voice, has been barraged with email asking the simple question… “How do I become a Witch”? Although, it has never been the mission of the Witches’ Voice to actually teach Witchcraft we find ourselves constantly shocked at the aweful responses the Teenage Witch or new seeker receives from many that “claim” themselves “elders” of the craft. For this we apologize. We will never preach or claim to “have the answer”.There are indeed many paths and many ways, it is our goal to give you the tools to  and what to look out for.

Part #3…

The Rhythmic Practice Phase

How are you doing so far?

The first two lessons should have taken you about six months of study and practice to complete(if you worked at it diligently). You should now also be fairly comfortable doing the basic ritual from the previous lesson. Remember that you actually have to DO the ritual – not just read it, dream about it or visualize it. Get up on your feet, get your tools together, light those candles AND DO IT!

“Effort requires that you either answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’.”

Teachers can always tell if someone who comes to them has done the work. The first time that a student will do a ritual or take part in one with others will clearly show his/her experience or lack of it.

If you have done the work, this does not mean that you will not be nervous your “first time out.” You will! But you will also be amazed at how quickly this nervousness will pass as the ritual progresses. Your spirit and inner child. (Him/her, again?) WILL remember all those practice sessions and soon you’ll be enjoying the whole thing immensely!

Along the way, DO Remember these four little things:

Life is always changing. Nothing stays the same.

To Know you have To Do. Experience requires action.

The quality of each experience – as you draw it forth and do it and live it – becomes the substance of your wisdom.

Yes, there will be a test on this. There is ALWAYS a test on this!

O.K., what’s next?

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters,
compared to what lies within us.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Rhythms of Nature, Rhythms of Life:

The Neo – Pagan Paths that we are discussing – including Wicca and Witchcraft – are called “Earth – based” religions. The rituals and practices follow the seasonal changes of the Earth. Some Paths use the eight holidays of the Wiccan Wheel of Life; some adhere to the more traditional Four Fire Festivals calendar. Some groups have come up with their own cycles according to their belief systems. What calendar will you use?

When you have decided which Holiday calendar that you want to incorporate into your life – lesson, read all that you can about it. Take one Holiday at a time. Look for resources, descriptions and Myths about each Holiday. Think upon each one as both a special event and as a “marker” for the year.

During the Rhythmic Stage, you will explore the year through the cycles of Nature. And yes, this phase DOES last an entire year. There is no other way. You may begin to reach out a bit more during this time – exploring new contacts, taking some classes, attending public events – but the personal exploration of the Rhythmic Cycle of The Holidays should be your primary focus.

Why? It is in this cycle that you will learn much more about yourself and your place in the Universe. Everything that is exists as vibrational energy. Some things have a higher frequency, some a lower one. You will learn to “feel” the vibrational changes around you as the seasons come and go.( An essential skill to have in Magick! )

Do you get a little “spring fever” around April or May? Look at the earth. She is excited about this time of year, too! Buds are swelling on the trees and flower plants are poking their first leaves out of the ground as if to ask, “Is it safe to come out yet”?

Do you feel particularly invigorated in the Fall crisp air? Watch the squirrels run around and dig into the ground to hide their nuts. Hear the bees as they bob from plant to plant racing down the coming frost. “Hurry, hurry, hurry,” seems to rustle the drying leaves from the trees. (I’m sure you get the idea.)

There Are Patterns

“I learn by going where I have to go.” – Theodore Roethke.

Most Pagans have a  or transmigration of the soul. All things in Nature are born (germination), grow, mature, reproduce, and then decline and die. The cycle begins again. This is why reincarnation makes sense to most Pagans. By observing the Rhythmic Cycle, we reflect on this process and we may come to think that it just “seems right”. Not too surprising really. It’s “natural,” isn’t it?

You have a place in this cycle. You probably were not brought up to think in this way. Most aspiring Neo – Pagans weren’t. This year of study will show you not only where you fit into the cycle of Nature, but how your active involvement in these cycles can change your life. When you come to understand and work with the natural rhythms in the world around you, you will understand what it means to be Pagan.

Here are some reasons why “rhythmic learning” – and possibly reincarnation – works:

Effective experiential learning will affect the learner’s cognitive structures (action theories), attitudes and values, perceptions and behavioral patterns.

People will believe more in knowledge they have discovered themselves than in knowledge presented by others.

Learning is more effective when it is an active rather than a passive process.

Acceptance of new action theories, attitudes, and behavioral patterns cannot be brought about by a piecemeal approach.

It takes more than information to change action theories, attitudes, and behavioral patterns.

It takes more than firsthand experience to generate valid knowledge. Besides experience, there needs to be a theoretical system that the experiencer tests out and a personal reflection on the meaning of the experience.

(The above principles come from the work of Kurt Lewin, one of the important founding fathers of social psychology who influenced the development of the Group Dynamics movement in the early 1940’s.)

I’d add a seventh point – Make It Fun!

Hunt down seasonal objects for your altar. Think about colors for cloths and robes. Make a headpiece for each Holiday. Pick a mythic story and follow it throughout the year. Act it out! Dress the part! Dance! Sing! Write a poem! Cook up a recipe! Adopt a “totem” animal for each season. Make a special storage box for each Holiday’s special decorations. (Every Holiday will feel like Yule as you open your Holiday boxes next year. Add more goodies!)

A man of faithful thought may feel in light, among the beasts and fields,
the turning of the wheel.” – Wendell Berry

WHY Are You Doing All This?


Transformation begins from within. Many people turn to a religion – or to magic! – in an attempt to change the things that they perceive to stand in the way of their ‘true happiness.” Many a love spell has been cast more to ease one person’s own inner loneliness than as a real desire for an equal relationship with the object of their current “affections.”

Inner transformational work is difficult, messy and anything but instantaneous. This explains the current nervous searching out of “just the right spell” by many a new seeker to the Craft. Hoping to somehow by – pass the true work involved in developing a magickal way of life, they hope for something in the order of a Hollywood special effect. “Just say the magic words…” and your insecurity problems, heartaches and financial worries are over! Uh – uh…it just doesn’t work like that. Sorry, Mr. Spielberg….

As you work through the year of The Wheel, you will learn a lot about yourself.

Such as:

Respect – Both for the interconnection of all Life and for yourself.

Thought – How you can change your life by changing your thoughts.

Examination – Looking within yourself for answers and solutions.

Release – Letting go of old habits and emotions that no longer work.

Synthesis – How an individual can also be part of a whole.

Creativity – Trusting your intuition to help you make viable choices.

Action – Learning how to act rather than re – act.

Love – Being able to give and receive healthy love.

Strength – Inner courage to overcome circumstances without harm.

Transformation! – The realization that only you can change what is not working in your life. Only you can make your life what you want it to be. And only you – through difficult, messy and lengthy work – can make your magickal Life one of Love, Light and Power!


The outstanding error of learners, in whom it is excusable, and of many teachers,
who teach without wisdom is that they associate Occultism with practices
rather than with PRACTICE. I teach the LIFE of concentration and meditation…”
– P.G. Bowen