Shapeshifting into the Land: The Sacredness of Place

My partner and I have always had a close connection to Mother Earth.  So when we had the opportunity, the two of us plus our rescue felines moved to 18 acres on top of what is left of the Uwharrie Mountains in North Carolina, USA. The mountains are millions of years old, so old in fact they have been worn down due to erosion and other environmental factors. These mountains were the ancestral lands of the indigenous Uwharrie Nation and also saw much death and destruction during the American Civil War.  Over time the land was not just neglected environmentally, but also spiritually. It needed clearing on many levels and also needed to be reminded it was a good and beautiful place where life could still thrive… botanical, animal and human.

While the drive was beautiful, when you got back to the house – set 1/3 of a mile up this hill and off the main road – our new land was a different story.  Most was still forested, but the 2-3 cleared acres were a different story.  The two images on the right below show behind the house (top) and the front “yard” between the house and the woods.  It’s a good thing we knew we could bring the land back to life and beauty!

First we set about adding some very needed permaculture infrastructure called a dry creek bed to deal with erosion and add some interest and beauty.  Then we wanted to make an offering to the ancestors and to the land  – respect and beauty – in the way of some initial altars here and there, including a Fairy for elemental energy who would eventually become the Guardian of the Garden.

Then we began to lay the first ground for a garden – both for food for us and medicinal plants to become a teaching garden.  It was very slow going initially as the soil was very depleted and not friendly to growing things.  With lots of work, truckloads of good compost and even more love, we finally succeeded in having food for us, nesting places and catnip for kitties and LOTS of medicinal plants, plus some cutting flowers.  All the plants were also bee and butterfly friendly!  The garden would also become my classroom when I opened my botanical medicine/wise woman herbalism classes and apprenticeship.

The first few years I spent my time trying to learn the land and connect to those spots of strong energy – both positive and negative.   One day, after we put our first garden in and I began teaching plant medicine on the land,  I met an old indigenous couple who’d lived in the time of the Uwharrie Nation and whose space was in the woods close to the garden.  They told me they were really pleased with what we were doing for the land and they were happy for the first time in years… happy that we were bringing their ancestral land back to its beauty and purpose. The area where we placed the teaching garden was magical and very sacred and plants and students both thrived.

They also told me I needed to go to the most western border of our land to meet the Civil War soldier who was the guardian of that Western quandrant of our land. West… where the sun sets and the place of death. Initially it felt like a sad place, but over the years and through conversations with him and other land guardians, all of this land became a sanctuary and a place of peace.

Finally we set about creating beauty in the front of our house which was nothing but dry, cracked, red dirt from the front door to the neglected woods.  The front was just as neglected as the back, though thankfully smaller.  Each day we did a little and each shift was both a teaching and a spiritual experience.  We decided to call this area the Sacred Grove and it’s only about 20-30 steps from my front door into this sanctuary.

The first summer we were here I put a swing next to this huge old Grandmother Oak that dominates the Grove.  I tried to put the swing in front of her so I could see the opening I call her portal, but the energy was so strong it made me dizzy.  So I opted to sit next to her side.  For almost 15 years now I’ve sat in this space, by the side of the Great Grandmother and under her huge arms, overlooking beautiful altars that elicit so many incredible memories.  What I learned from her and this land and its inhabitants – both of this realm and that of Spirit –  is how much Nature loves beauty, compassion and connection… how much She loves it when humans take the time to connect to her and get to know her and the energy and stories of the land.

Every morning, weather permitting, I begin my day on my swing next to the Grandmother Oak and the Elementals around me. In this area of the Grove, we now have a Buddha statue, Fairy statues, an Ancestor Altar, our Kitty Memorial garden and a N,S.E,W Directional statute (oriented to North), along with Tibetan Prayer Flags. The energy is very sacred, peaceful and often filled with the frivolity of our felines. Over these 15 years, there have been as many as 13 at one point and now 8 – all rescues – plus the 10 that now reside in the memorial garden.  Many have come to us over these years and all were welcome.  Bastet is alive and well in this realm and sent our magical Merlin on bottom right.  Merlin was only with us for 7 years, but he quickly became a huge  force in our lives. He was then and continues to be, our primary Guardian both in this plane and that of Spirit.  I frequently still see him around and call on him whenever I need assistance of any kind.  He’s not just a kitty guardian, but mine as well.

As for the other altars around this property, there are the original natural altars we first created plus seasonal ones that I tend and change as the energy directs. Nature loves beauty and the sacred and we have lots of conversations about everything.

We’ve  spent these years planting things that are both beautiful and useful to the animals… birds, insects, deer, opossums, raccoons, and various resident turtles who especially like living under our fig tree in the summer.  We even have wilder animals that walk and fly through this space including a variety of snakes, coyotes, foxes, hawks and owls and even the occasional wandering pig, chicken and horse. We’ve also invested our time and energy into healing the land and learning her stories.  Perhaps most importantly, we’ve spent time in conversation with Her, listening to what she needs.

My mornings on the swing always brought conversations with whomever was around, but a few years back, over the course of a few months, an actual prayer developed from these conversations.  I now begin each day with this prayer, inside or out, though I much prefer outside. This is my intentional verbal connection, though in truth the connection developed and continues through actually working with the plant devas, elementals, land guardians and spirits of the land as well as all the animals who allow us to share this space with them.  Besides our conversations, Mother Earth especially likes direct connection so I put my hands in the dirt and walk barefoot on her body.  I also periodically create a temporary altar somewhere in the Grove out of found objects such as this milky quartz and pairs of double acorns.


This ritual of connection takes anywhere from a quick 5 minutes to an hour depending on the energies of the day.

~Morning Prayer

Good morning Grandmothers and Grandfathers (the Ancestors)
Good morning Tree Beings
Good morning Wind Spirit
Good morning to all the winged ones (I usually say a special hello to those currently around me)
Good morning to all the animals (I usually name those I see on my land or I consider my allies)
Good morning to the Fairies, the Plant Devas and Elementals
Good morning to the Spirits of Light that walk this land and to the Land Guardians
Deep Gratitude for allowing me and my family to share this space with you
Good morning Great Mother Goddess. You who births all, sustains all and at the end of our time hold us in your arms
Good morning Mother Sun, thank you for the light of this day
Good morning Mother Moon, thank you for your cycles that guide me
Good morning to my Angels, my Spirit Guides and Guardians and my Animal Guides and Guardians (If I need something special from these entities, I name it here)
Good morning to my painting muse and my writing muse, thank you for the inspiration and guidance you always provide
Thank you again Great Mother for always being with me
May I use the energies of this day toward the manifestation of my soul’s highest expression
Blessings on this day
And so it is.

For almost 15 years I’ve called this land home.  It is sheltered and fed me, but more importantly it has taught me about connection with our Mother and all her children – both those who walk the land today and those who walk in spirit.  I am forever changed.

May you find yourself shapeshifting into the land herself and creating your own sacredness of place and remembering…

oh woman

remember who you are


it is the whole earth*

~Shapeshifting into the Land:  The Sacredness of Place – All Words and Images by
Arlene Bailey ©2020
*Excerpt from “The Blanket Around Her” by Joy Harjo in If Women Rose Rooted
by Sharon Blackie ©2016





Author: The Sacred Wild

Artist, Writer

11 thoughts on “Shapeshifting into the Land: The Sacredness of Place”

  1. Arlene,

    You may know I work Saturday afternoons at a bookstore in Sylva. City Lights Bookstore.

    Today we had an author present het debut self published book, Candace Hardin Littlejohn. Oracle is her first in a series book.

    She publishes and gives away a Publication called Bohemian Renaissance. It is a 501c(3). kandisays, Facebook: The Adventures of Dorothy Jarrod 404 402 0506

    Candace is looking for art work?, Writings, short stories, poetry.

    She lives in Hayesville. NC now.

    I thought of you right away and getting you and your artistry known. I would love to see you become well known for all you do.

    I showed her some of your pictures which she liked. She asked me to give you her information and to contact her if you are interested in contributing to the magazine. She gives credit to all contributors and has advertisers.

    Love to you RuthAnne


  2. Loved this post and your land is beautiful all the work that has been put in has really paid off. Your story of rebuilding the land reminds me so much of Collette’s story of Beltaine Cottage ( You are so inspiring, I recently moved into the house my son purchased this past June and the land isn’t as grand as yours but the potential is there, the garden has been neglected but there is some traces of where there was a garden and I plan to build the garden so that I can produce food and also have a place for nature to thrive. Living in Florida there are several challenges many heat related and planting before the rainy season I’m up for the challenge.


    1. Thank you so much for your beautiful words. I love the story of Beltaine Cottage and follow her journey on FB. No matter the size of the land, t’s amazing what one can accomplish when deep in relationship with Her. Have you read If Women Rose Rooted by Sharon Blackie? It talks a lot about how to connect to the spirits of place. For me, that was the secret. Once the land knew she was loved, when the animals and guardians knew they were wanted and respected, everything – including us – flourished. I live in NC and, while not quite like FL, our climate challenges are similar. I know you can do this!! Blessings ❤


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