Green River Witchcraft

Every River has its people.
-John Sams, Swinomish
The Surface of the Water...

Among the communities, towns and districts of South Seattle is a general atmosphere of appreciation for the great wealth of woods and natural wonders that surround us, appreciation for indigenous arts and a desire to see the river restored.  Restoration of indigenous flora, protection of native fauna and ecological health of the soil depends entirely on the health of the Green/Duwamish River and its tributaries.  In Coastal indigenous spirituality, salmon and the health of the salmon is of incredible religious and social importance; the salmon signify the health of the land and the preservation of the people who live there.

The city and the community, both native and non-natives work towards restoring the integrity of the river itself.  Many of those who do so are personally invested in restoration of the indigenous river people as well and their culture from which our local artwork, city names and regional food delicacies are derived.  On a personal level, I feel a bond with rivers. There's no way to love this river and not respect and admire its people, and for me, this is of deeply personal importance, but that's for another time...

On an animistic, shamanic and magical level, the Green River is what I'd call an ideal working garden.  I find literally everything I'd ever need growing indigenous or introduced because of the many realms and their accessibility.  I grew up here after we left California when I was a kid, and I've been initiated in its waters,  I've fed on its roots, I've imbibed the blackberry host and lived on its diet- bled by the thorns. I've danced for the spirits here and bathed in the storm rains.  It has taught me a wealth of spiritual knowledge regarding plant spirit allies.  It's a true garden, a vibrant green thing shrouded in trees and hillsides.  The industrial district and businesses, the residential and train tracks; they don't in anyway diminish the beauty of the the river.  It is exactly the kind of place an urban green witch would thrive; a wave of greenbelt, protected public and private woodlands, stretches of park and some unmanaged wild from the wetlands to the hilltop and back down again to the Sound on the other side.

The Valley of the River, a sacred place, covered in cottonwood and cedars, towering Douglass firs, houses and bramble bushes. The wetlands divide highways, the creeks cut through yards... the woods are never empty.    The magic of this place smells like poplar resin and locust flower and the sticky sap of leaky pines.  The tides of the seasons are like clockwork, a perfect mechanism by which to map the change of herbs and trees and animal migrations.  In the Winter, this place is a hilly death trap packed with ice, silent in the snow.  In spring, the riverbanks bulge, the madrona spill their flowers in thick profusions all around, and the rabbits dance along the roadsides.

This is the land of River gods and plant spirits; its tutelary spirits are the four Winds, the grandmother of the hill/hag of winter and mountains, maid of spring, sun, sky, reed, cedar, raven and salmon.  There are traditions here which are given to us by the indigenous inhabitants after whom much of our art and ecological identity is influenced from.  And there are traditions here brought to us by other cultures, living harmoniously on the land.  There are other witches here, other green workers who rely on the river and the wetlands and woods to provide for our art.  We are all protective of our place, that's why we sink so much time and effort into restoration and habitats. Restoration, wellness, community and spirits are central themes indigenous to the area and adopted by a lot of people here.

As a river and creek convergence zone, greenbelt and hillside leading to the Sound, Tukwila, meaning "land of hazelnuts", is a place of plenty.   It is a liminal space, an in-between with hidden pockets and strange lore, with old traditions and new cultures, it is a place where people move when the city is too much but the wild is too far.  By blending old traditions respectfully learned with our own cultural and spiritual identities, within the framework of the green path, we forge a path all our own.

This is a good place for green witches; sisters of the swamp and tree priests, a place for a verderer to disappear into mossy fern groves, for shamans to speak with the winds.  This is a place of old growth wood and new saplings.   This is a place where medicine meets magic, where the old ways of the new world meet the new magic of the old world.  A balance can be struck, between honoring the traditional taboos of this land and maintaining one's own path.  Preservation is considered a task we all owe this place, and so honoring the traditions of the river and its inhabitants has some value and I wish more of my neighbors took it seriously. My very path along the green way, is shaped by the world of experience around me, and no experience has been more profound than living somewhere so green...

A green witch should reflect the land on which they live.  Where else is our church but the place we occupy?  The natural world in which we work reflects in our gifts and our spirit, in our mannerisms and ideologies.  Everything about this place is green; we built an identity on greenness, restoration, ecological preservation and natural habitats.  We live along a green river, in a greenbelt.  My faith is as green as those murky waters, as green as the hillsides of evergreen trees.

Riverton is just a small CDP in the Tukwila region, but it is home to my magic, and it is the source of the verdant gnosis around me.  This is a place dappled in wetlands and swamps, its hillsides rolling with trees, most available land is utilized as green space, maintained and restored with indigenous plants.  There's a delicate ecology here easily disrupted, and the river becomes the receptacle for both our pleasure and disrespect.  My green work depends on the vitality and health of the river, the woods and the wetlands.  I can't do my work without honoring the garden of this place and the keepers of this garden; the flora and fauna upon which my spirituality relies.

I sum up the traditional and modern spiritual ideals of this area as; personal empowerment, wellness, spirit-allies and restoration.  These four paths share a common thread in animistic and shamanic traditions in Old -world, New-world and Motherland spiritualities.  I think part of following along the occult green path is becoming a steward to the land, someone who tends to their garden and works in the name of green, growing things.  So, initiating through the doorway of the land, like one will do time and time again along the green path, we find ourselves deeper immersed in the spirit of the place we live, in the heart of the wood.  It's the closest thing to god I know of, that connection and caring for the personalities and genius of the different realms and areas where I worship the old gods and my dead.  That's is how I keep my church; how I hold service and sabbat.

It's a romantic notion, the heavy lean towards traditional European expressions of magic; we are inundated in modern occult work with the lore of mandrake and the blessings of henbane... But I'm a mixed-raced American practitioner, born and raised.  My identity lies right here on our soil, where my ancestors lived and died, where they converged and created all that I am.  I don't reflect the Old World or the Motherland.  I reflect the New World and the magic and medicine here.  While I'll always be a daughter of the desert, a California girl down to my golden soul, I've lived in Western Washington the vast majority of my life.  I know this place in and out, and it knows me.  I know every hilltop and valley, every park and trail in my city.  I know South Seattle as my home now, it's my culture and it has shaped my work as an animist and occultist beyond measure.  I take pride in the way we do things here in the shadow of the Mountain, along the rivers of the valley.

What does it mean to be an animist in this place?  It means respecting the indigenous spirits as well as the new spirits of this area.  It means knowing that the medicine and magic of the riverlands can be reflected in practice through honoring the first spirits here, the plant gods of the area and the way of the seasons here.  There is a vast amount of information and lore regarding the identity of this area before it was occupied, and from that lore and preserved traditions, we learn a great deal about honoring our own paths as we honor the land already carved with paths.  It means adapting your green spirituality to the environment and allowing the land to speak to you.  A green witch is a spiritual naturalist with an investment in esoteric herbal philosophies, and I'd say that South Seattle is one hell of a place for a green witch to call her garden.

Where The Rivers Met...

They say Takoma is an old god-mountain.  Sometimes he's Grandfather of the waters, sometimes Grandmother waters.  However the story is told, Takoma, who the colonizers called Mount Rainier is considered the main source of the rivers that populate the valleys, and the many tributaries that flow into Lake Washington and the Puget Sound.  Takoma overshadows the horizon in the South, always looming, a constant reminder of the temperamental nature of nature itself.  That mountain is an old god, chief among all the mountains here, overlooking Cascades and Olympic range alike.

"In the summer, the white water streaming from their slopes is likened to milk pouring from their glacial breasts.  They make fruit ripe, animals pregnant and they call the salmon to spawn."- David M. Buerge, Roots and Branches

From that old mountain flows the icy glacial waters of the White River.  In the early 20th century, the White River underwent major modifications and diversions but still diverts into the Green (Cascade-born) river.  Together they become the Duwamish river which dumps into Elliot Bay.  A lot has changed since the rivers all once converged and made the greater Duwamish, these days it's just called the Green/Duwamish depending on how far South or North you live.  My work with the local river strains has led me to associate black, white, green and red (from the old Cedar River tributary and the Black River, a tributary which is now a wetland) with the magic here, a symbolism reinforced in traditional artwork.  Numerologically, this place corresponds to the number five- a number of ritual importance, and the number four, a number of great significance in coastal lore and in Western occultism; relating to the four winds, divisions of the world, directions and elements.

Though the name is infamous, the Green River and some of the towns and cities it flows through are beautiful and warm.  They aren't some gross cookie-cutter urban sprawl, not yet at least. It's a greenbelt, plentiful in nurseries and protected wetlands and reserves. The Green River meanders and winds and turns under highways and through forts and beside train tracks, becoming the Duwamish waterway, the mouth of which empties into the bay.  It's not a small area, but it isn't exactly vast either.  The river is connected on land by many trails, and the belt is broken up by residence and and industry.  But there is a vibe here (for lack of a better word), an energy and a shared sense of ideals when it comes to maintaining the green.  It's a matter of identity and culture for a lot of us; native and non-native alike.  The river lands are peaceful, despite the rumors, and beautiful, despite the constant fight against industrial pollutants.

Some of the witches who I know in the area are strictly bound to the river and all that it offers, while others stick to the hillsides forests that overlook the valley.  Our area is split into several realms, each with their own spiritual power, pharmakopoeia and legends; the riverside, the wetlands, the valley and the highlands.  The river belongs to salmon and cedar, the wetlands to blue jay and reed, the valley to raccoon and fir, and the highlands to raven, wind and hemlock. Each realm has its own garden, its own animal allies and its own way of working with the land.  The highlands have the best wood working trees, the riverside has the best wild flowers, Riverton Heights produces some of the best fruit bearing trees in the area and the wetlands produces some of the tastiest blackberries. You'll find the most deliciously scented poplars higher up on the hillside where the sun bakes them, but the best patches of butterfly bush are deep in Allentown.

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