Pulpit Rock is the North point in my Blue Mountains Circle of Eight. A pulpit is a raised place within a church, where a speaker stands. Standing on Pulpit Rock and looking around me I see a church built not by humans but by the earth itself. We call this place the Blue Mountains but actually it’s a plateau, lifted up by volcanic activity around 170 million years ago. Pulpit Rock has nearly 360 degree views of vertical cliff, deep folded valley and curving lines of tree tops. I feel small there, but also expanded, reminded of my capacity for the appreciation of beauty and my connection to this living planet we are all a part of.
I have a postcard on the window frame above my computer. It's an artwork of a small iconic mountain in Northern New South Wales and the road that leads into the town. This is the view you see as you drive into town. The postcard has the words coming home written down the side of it. The sunset sky behind the mountain, the greens leading up to it and at its base, the black road with the white dividing line - they tug at my heart. I have it there to remind me, to let that mountain and that view of home call to me.
But that's not where I live. I haven't lived there for years. I live a thousand kilometers to the south, in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney. Even though I adore Local Magic - both the concept and the living engagement with it - I've hesitated to make a commitment here, to this land. I spent three years living on the edge of the city, next to the ocean and felt a wild belonging to the sea and the air that didn't seem to feel the need to be tied down. But since I've been living on this vast plateau, in the last year, the land has called to me.
We buried my mother in a cemetery ten minutes’ walk away from where she’d lived for the last forty years. It’s a place that’s remained rural as a suburb has grown up around it. There are gum trees on the paddocky, sloping land and white cockatoos fly overhead. It was established 150 years ago and the older headstones had that degree of tilt and benign neglect that soften their relationship with grief and turn them to landmarks of history and intrigue. My brother and I played as children in that cemetery.
Local Magic isn't just dependent on what's around us - it's created by our relationship to what's around us. It mostly doesn't come from books, or even from careful thought or cleverly crafted ritual; it comes from going out and relating to what we find. To hills from which we can see the moon rise; or to streams that can only be glimpsed where they briefly emerge from beneath the concrete that covers them; to local parks or backways; special trees or seasonal events such as seedpods, flocking birds, particular flowers.
I just spent a week at California Reclaiming WitchCamp in the Mendocino Woodlands north of San Francisco teaching Local Magic with Tarin Towers. We taught a form of localised magic that - while we practiced it in the beautiful redwoods - could be picked up, taken home and put down in any environment; suburban, city, desert, farmland or another forest. This is the whole point of Local Magic - it's local to where you are and although the system, or structure can be taught, the content is all dependent on what's there.
In the Blue Mountains, where I live, seasons are very pronounced by the colours around us. We have an interesting mix of native and imported trees and the blend between the two creates bright palates in among the steady grey-greens of eucalypts, tree ferns and native grasses. Earlier, in spring the tea-tree blossoms were so prominent in places it was a sea of white with their pinky-red centres and when they began to give way the gum trees put out sudden new growth; all their tips that danced in the breezes looking red in the sunlight; it felt like I was watching the shift from spring into early summer in that colour change.
I walked in along the front driveway, past the lawn where we had once had an entire Aztec Empire, through the kindergarten section that looks tiny though I remember it as a whole world and round the corner to what I think of as the main part of the school. In the buildings I saw what I would have said I never noticed; hexagonal buildings, open plan classes, exposed beams, different levels. These are the buildings that framed my learning, my engagement with life, ideas and other people. This is the setting in which I learnt to think, to act and to become.
I have a secret garden. Well – it’s not actually mine – and it’s not entirely secret.
Magical places aren’t always accessible – in fact inaccessibility can make them seem more magical – and our places of local magic may even belong to other people. That garden so stuffed full of roses in summer that it spills over the fence, into the air and the senses of everyone passing by; that glimpse of parkland through high, barred gates; rivers that are inaccessible or bush land areas fenced off for regeneration. It’s a different sort of magic, maybe, when we can’t freely come and go; to me it seems a less related magic; I receive something from the place, maybe I am able to offer something but it all happens at a respectful distance. These places may even feel like my allies or teachers, but I feel less that I would have a casual conversation with them, it’s a less intimate relationship, maybe than a place I can freely walk or sit or swim.