While for some Pagans, the term “Nature Spirits” refers to otherworldly or mythical entities like fairies and dryads, as a naturalist I don’t believe such creatures exist outside of the realms of story and dream. For me, they are representations of the inherent consciousness of nature itself and remind us of our connections to it. The word “spirit” has unfortunate connotations in this context, as it suggests a dualistic metaphysics whereby “inanimate matter” is contrasted with “incorporeal spirit”. This seems to be a hangover of a Christian worldview and is not one that fits in my personal version of Druidry.
However, the word “spirit” comes from the Latin “spiritus”, which originally meant simply “breath” or “life”. Modern animists, such as Emma Restall-Orr and Graham Harvey interpret “spirit” in a different manner, as a “spark” or life-force, similar to the Classical Greek Pagan philosopher Aristotle. Taken in this way, Nature Spirits are all the various living creatures that we interact with and share this world with.
In Norse Paganism, Nature Spirits are often referred to as Landvaettir, or Land Wights. Patricia Lafayllve writes that the word wight is “used to refer to any being at all. Humans are wights…animals are also wights.”
Thus, it can be shown that there is no need to see Landvaettir or Nature Spirits as in any way “supernatural”. The real world is filled with Nature Spirits, who are amazing, evolved, sentient beings who together make up the vast tapestry of life of which we are a part. My pet gerbils, the birds and squirrels in the garden, the vast oak trees, the bugs and spiders, caterpillars and moths, tiny minnows and giant blue whales, elephants and mice and even the microbacteria that live within our bodies and keep us alive, all are Nature Spirits and all deserve to be respected and honoured.
In my personal practice, I tend to refer to these fellow-creatures as “Nature-kin”, partly to avoid the term “spirit”, and partly to reinforce a sense of relatedness, biological and moral kinship, with all life. The Nature-kin remind me that humans are not the centre of the universe, or the pinnacle of creation, but simply another animal, one part of nature in all its majesty and wonder. And this means we have a duty of care, of hospitality, to the rest of nature, and to all our Nature-kin.
Dangler, M. J. The Dedicant Path through the wheel of the year. Garanus, 2010.
Lafayllve, P. M. A practical Heathen’s guide to Asatru. Llewellyn, 2013.
Orr, E.R. The wakeful world: Animism, mind and the self in nature. Moon Books, 2012.