Local Gods: Portlandia

I imagine that Portlandia wonders sometimes how Athena managed with Athens.

Portland wants desperately to be a city of art and craft, of good food and progressive politics, hip and clever, full of small businesses and neighborhoods that are still full of neighbors, a beautiful city full of art and nature. And it is those things! It is also a city shaped by racism and gentrification, a city that wants artists but where artists can barely afford to live, and a city that fails to live up to its ideals.

Portlandia has been on the city’s seal since 1878. A tall woman bearing a trident, she looks out over the Willamette River and her valley. She is described as the Queen of Commerce and a star shines over her head. I was first drawn to her because of this; I saw her as a relative of my goddess Mara. New to the city and job-hunting, I made offerings that we might find work. Ultimately we ended up in a suburb outside of Portlandia’s domain, but I kept circling back to her and to the city itself.

A bit over thirty years ago, Portland installed a large (second only to the Statue of Liberty) copper statue of Portlandia above the entrance to the then-new Portland building. This depiction of Portlandia does not tower over the river valley, but instead she crouches down, holding her trident out to one side and reaching out to the city inhabitants below. There is an amazing amount of emotion in her face and body, and it was this statue that helped me make that connection with her.

She is the city, and like the city, she wants to be better. She wants to make things better for her inhabitants. She reaches out to help. She offers a hand up. I have gone to her for help finding work and for help finding housing.

I’ve never seen her work alone; it’s always in concert with other local spirits when I get results. I call her with the rivers, with the bridges, with the city ancestors, and with the spirits of smaller parts of the city. The offerings she seems to like best are public praise (Portland is a little bit self-obsessed), taking care of the homeless, and taking care of the city itself. Supporting local artists, local presses and local businesses is good, too. When you can, battle gentrification and racism, and hold the city government accountable.

Do your part to take care of Portland and Portlandia will do her part to take care of you as well.

This post was inspired by Sara Mastros’s American Gods Project; there’s plenty of good stuff worth reading over there.

P is for Portlandia and Spirits of Place


No, not the TV show.

Portlandia is the goddess of the city of Portland. She’s been here since at least 1851, which is a pretty good run for the west coast.

The poem at the statue’s base says that “our breath/ becomes her city.”

The most famous depiction of her, the large statue downtown, shows her reaching out to the people below. This is not just quality sculpture, though – I’ve found this to be very much the spirit of the city. She will make sure you can get by, more than any other city I’ve ever lived in.

I’ve found that Portlandia and the other city spirits are great for metaphysical networking. Making offerings to her, Columbia and the Skidmore Fates for help or asking advice tends to result in “coincidental” results – suddenly turning up job listings or apartments, taking a shortcut that happens to take me past something else I never knew I needed, and so on. The spirits of the place where you live know the city, and they can direct you to the places you need to go.

As you might imagine, the best ways to honor her are to take care of her city and its inhabitants. Get involved in planning events in Portland. Work to help those who need it, or preserve the city’s infrastructure. It doesn’t have to be major – volunteer or pick up litter or whatever works for you.

I think most cities have their own spirits, though I rarely see them personified like Portlandia. It’s worth reaching out to the place where you live. Most cities have a personality and an interest in their inhabitants. The land itself has its own personalities – in our case, there’s the Columbia and the Willamette, there’s Mt. Hood watching over us, there’s dozens of smaller spirits of place attached to the buildings and the parks. Just as your neighbors are a part of your neighborhood whether you hang out with them or not, and it’s not a bad idea to get to know them, it’s also a good idea to get to know the spirits of the place you’re living. Whether you’re putting down roots or just taking a break, knowing where you are is the first step in knowing where you’re going.

Gauge Check, Meditation Monday, etc

trees in Forest Park
trees in Forest Park

I’m running late so I’m kind of doubling up here. I didn’t do any fancy meditation this week anyway, just snatches here and there. I like to use my hands when I’m playing with energy manipulation so I’m working on finding gestures that bring my energy down and use them when I need to calm down. I’m hoping I can train myself to calm down just by doing the gestures? I guess we’ll see.

Other things I did this weekend… Druid Party was on Sunday. There were some new folks there, and we did our first nature hike. There was discussion of identifying and using indigenous plants, which was pretty useful. All my plant identification skills are from scout camp on the east coast, so not terribly helpful here.We did this in Forest Park, which is, like Washington Park, amazing and gorgeous and reachable by public transportation.

Hail Portlandia, Lady of Effective Public Transportation! Hail Portlandia, Who Is Both Wildness and Urbanization!

I also took a soldering class at a local craft store this weekend. As has become tradition for me at this point, the first piece I made was an offering to Ilmarinen, and went on his altar when I got home. Actually, it was a good weekend for metalwork – we went to a community yard sale on Saturday and I got four obviously well-loved and cared-for hammers (two ball peen and two cross peen) for a ridiculously low price. The older fellow selling them asked me if I was going to use them, so I suspect he didn’t really want to let them go.

Most of my soldering experience is electronic, and applying silver to copper tape to make jewelry is definitely a new one on me. It was fun, though, and the act of soldering is actually really calming for me. I spent a bunch of the class explaining things to the older woman next to me, which was probably the only thing keeping it from counting as my weekly meditative session.

I do think I’m seeing benefits from the regular meditation, though I’m hesitant to write about it as always for fear of jynxing it. My baseline level of anxiety seems lower, and I’m more aware when it flares up. I noticed that last week when, well, it flared up. Not going to bother with details except to say it was driving-related and stupid but nobody got hurt. I almost immediately wanted to go back out again because I didn’t want to give the anxiety time to settle.

So I guess the summary version is that I’m doing pretty good, all things considered.

History and Place

There’s a discussion going on in one of the ADF mailing lists about honoring the spirits of a place and how that can intersect with the beliefs and practices of Native American tribes that currently or formerly live and worship in the area. It’s an interesting discussion, though somewhat lacking in perspective because of the closed nature of the group it’s taking place in.

I think it’s important to at least make an effort to research the mythology of the area where you live if you’re trying to form a relationship with the land. After all, some of the land spirits are going to be the same ones that others have worshiped for a long time. The Columbia River was here long before white folks showed up, and I do my best to honor that.

At the same time, I’m not Chinook or Kalapuya or anything even close. I can try to reach out to local spirits and gods, but I’ll be honest… I’d be hesitant to write in-depth about working with gods known to the local tribes, even if I did have a relationship with them. Native mythology is still widely ignored or misunderstood, and I wouldn’t want to risk contributing to that. (Virtually every website I’ve seen that talks about Quileute mythology, for example, has a nice bold note that there are no Cold Ones in Quileute myth and can everyone please shut up about Twilight already. Because people read things and they believe it.)

There is definitely a point where you can go too far. Attempting to recreate Native American rituals in any way is probably crossing it if you haven’t actually been trained in that kind of thing. And I think we all know a plastic shaman when we see one at this point and know not to touch that shit with a ten foot pole.

My goal, in the long run, is to build a religious practice that’s intensely local: working with the Columbia and the Willamette rivers, with Portlandia and the Skidmore Fates, with the bridges and the nearby mountains and the Pacific Ocean and on and on. While some of these spirits are obviously considerably younger by deity standards, some of them have been here for a very long time and to ignore that is to do them, and my relationship with them, a disservice.