My introduction to the practice of utiseta was purely accidental. I didn’t know I was doing it. As a child in rural Wisconsin, I had the freedom to roam the woodlands and prairies that were my home. Many times I would walk into a place, quietly gathering twigs, flowers, berries and anything else I felt was trying to get my attention. These items were placed on the forest floor in designs that seemed to form themselves. When I did this practice my heart was open, and my forest designs felt honoring to the place and to the plants. It was fun and soul nourishing.
As an adult I discovered, these practices from my childhood were designs and symbols from my ancestral lineage. Without having so much idle time to spend in the forests and prairies, I don’t know if there would have been an opportunity for my ancestry to express itself.
As modern people, we don’t spend much time outside. When we do, it is for shorter periods of time, an afternoon or a weekend. Long periods of idle, quiet time outside over a period of years, just don’t happen for most.
What is Utiseta?
Utiseta is the traditional Northern European art of sitting out. This practice has typically been done for long periods of time, on the land for the purpose of interaction, relationship and communication with the land, spirits of the land and beings that live there, like plant spirits.
Relationship with spirits is one of the foundations of Nordic spiritual practice, similar to shamanism. Depending on where you are in Northern Europe, there are a wide range of different traditions associated with utiseta both now and in the past. In the 13th century Old Norse documents, the Sagas and Eddas, utiseta is used to communicate with the dead. That is not what we are talking about here. Utiseta is used to communicate with nature and nature beings and is well known for opening up our non-physical senses.
Since I came to this tradition on my own, and only later learned the names for what I had already been doing, I haven’t been as interested in learning someone else’s rituals. It probably has something to do with being outside of Northern Europe, and allowing for the plant and land spirits of this place to influence me as well as my own ancestry. Do remember, this is in an art. I am sharing some guidelines for utiseta, but the rest is up to you.
Utiseta does require us to first organize ourselves, internally, to be in a state of listening and receiving. Once in this state, we can begin a mediumistic relationship with a plant, or with the land. Those who have a spiritual practice already, even a meditation practice, can achieve a state of listening and receiving fairly easily. Rattles and drums are not used, instead silence is typical or spirit-taught songs may be learned.
Plants, just like every other being, have an energetic signature, a vibration that is uniquely theirs. We can learn and attune to these vibrations through contact with them, physical contact or through inviting the plant spirit to come to us. The more time we spend with each plant, doing utiseta, the more deeply their energetic signature is stored in our personal energetic library.
Doing utiseta work, matures our energetic libraries. When we meet a new being, plant or otherwise, we naturally contrast their energetic signature with our library. We may find a similar energetic signature that can give us more information and help to develop our energetic languaging.
Our close plant relationships come along with us wherever we go. Similar to our animal helping spirits. The more we develop these relationships we can eventually carry their energetic signature as well as ours and can bring this entourage with us wherever we go.
How to do Utiseta
The plants have told me that the utiseta practice needs to come indoors, where we modern people live. They want to be connected with us in the place that we live, since we no longer live outdoors. So this can be a modern practice of “sitting in.” They also tell me the utiseta practice can be done in small amounts of time instead of overnight or for days. The work will still add up to deeper relationships over time. I love how the plants are meeting us where we are at.
I have come up with my own process for utiseta, which may inform your own. My practice has been taught to me though personal relationship with land, plants, trees and other beings of place. Remember utiseta is an art, so make it your own. Here are the four elements of my own utiseta practice.
Before doing this work, do your grounding, cleansing and sovereignty practices first. Be in an internal state of listening and receiving. For me, I make sure to invite my True Self to open and expand into my body.
To start your utiseta, make a dedication. Dedications require you to put some of your energy into what you are about to do. For me this is not the same as an intention. Intentions feel like wishes, not something I am contributing my energy to. I say my dedication, out loud, until I feel like it is true for me.
A simple dedication could be, “I dedicate myself to listening and communicating with the Plant Spirit Mugwort for the next 30 minutes.”
The dedication is mostly for you, to help organize your own energy for what comes next.
Introduce yourself, from the heart. It feels right to me to place my hand over my heart, then I address a plant being by name or description. Next, I say who I am and why I am there.
If I am in the field or the gardens, and am more spontaneous and want to connect with a plant spirit, I say my dedication out loud and use my hands to touch the plant I would like to communicate with. Then I wait. Sometimes communication is immediate, other times it takes a while. I introduce myself. “Hello, its Jean Schneider of the Token Creek Springs and Wispwich Prairie, greeting you, and coming to get to know you better and allowing you to get to know me.” Your introduction may be different from mine. Listen, tell them who you are. Come from a place of curiosity and wonder, without asking the plant to do anything for you.
Introductions and greetings create an opening! Even if you feel you already know a plant, or work with them all the time, introduce yourself anyway and notice what happens. Introductions are respectful and a way to honor the Elder Being status of these plants.
Listening and Offerings
Mostly plants that already work with humans want to get to know us and be in relationship with us. These are herbs, food plants and other plants humans have worked with frequently. Think of the animal helping spirits you work with. Do you give them offerings to work with you? More likely you work with them in bringing their shape and movement into your life, by having objects that represent them and doing travel work with them to know them better. Plants are similar. Plants can also be helping spirits in the same way that we don’t have the physical animals we work with around us, it is their spirit and shapes that are with us.
In my experience, physical offerings are not necessary with plants unless we are asking permission to gather plant materials. If we are gathering materials, always ask permission first and wait to get a “yes” (and honoring it if you get a “no”). Offerings are typical in almost every human tradition I have studied. Part of a ritual that once had meaning and relationship, that now has become a part of a process.
I have a strong, long standing relationship with Mugwort. She has agreed to be an offering plant for me. So, I give Mugwort offerings sometimes for plants (and land too). An offering of Mugwort, from me, is an offering of relationship. Mugwort has claimed me as one of her own, so when I offer Mugwort it has deep meaning.
Don’t give an offering that isn’t meaningful to you. Depending on the Plant Spirit, a gift of your voice might be perfect. A special made song of adoration is very honoring. Plants want to know us and have a relationship with us most of all. Leaving a physical offering doesn’t replace this.
Many times the offering they really want is your time and attention. They want you to listen to them and tell them about you. For utiseta, this is what is required of you, the offering of your time and attention. This is the offering many have left out, using physical offerings in place of relationship.
A plant that gives electrical shocks.
While visiting a friend at her rural property, I was wandering amongst her herb plantings. She had to attend to something in the house, and wasn’t there to answer my question about one of the plants. This tall beauty reminded me of Giant Hyssop. I knew this wasn’t her, the energetic signature was very different. I gently touched the flower spikes within my hands and said, “Hello, beauty, who are you?” Before I had a chance to introduce myself, there were strong jolts of electricity shooting up my arms. Wow. I typically touch plants this way when meeting them, and I do feel their energetic signature come into my body, but I never felt anything this powerful before. This was like sticking a finger in a light socket. There was even a residual sting in my arms. I was shocked, literally. My curiosity grew. While studying the leaves, stems and flowers from a place of deep curiosity I realized I don’t think I had ever seen this plant before. Nothing seemed familiar beyond a distant resemblance to Giant Hyssop. Finally I got around to introducing myself to this plant. I let the plant know I was curious about it. My fascination continued, coming in for more electric shocks and marveling at them. Finally my friend reappeared. I asked her, what is this wonderful plant? I continued by telling her about the electric shocks and how I had never experienced anything like this before. She laughed and said she has been shocked a lot by this one while weeding it out. This was Giant Ragweed. I was stunned, shocked. No way, Giant Ragweed? I am severely allergic to both types of Ragweed and have been since I was a child, each August requiring allergy medication to step outside.
For the first time in my life, I met Giant Ragweed with curiosity and wonder. Why didn’t I immediately recognize this plant? When I leave my botany and taxonomy education behind, I come to meet plants without knowing. When I feel like I already know, my curiosity and wonder become small and narrow. Its something I have had to unlearn, feeling like I already know. When I work with being open to the energetic signature of a plant, forgetting what I thought I knew, an entirely different relationship opens up. A much deeper, more authentic one that is two-sided instead of one.
That August came and went, it was September before I realized I hadn’t been sneezing while outside. Well, I thought it must be a low Ragweed pollen year. I checked the pollen levels for Ragweed and they were a 9 out of 10. This was 3 years ago. I am no longer allergic to Ragweed.
Giant Ragweed inspired a “Plant Spirit Weeds” class, where many of the most weedy plants came to teach a group of us. This group of weeds were those fought by the Department of Natural Resources and farmers. Among those, Giant Ragweed, Teasel and Japanese Knotweed. In this offering, Giant Ragweed continued to be a teacher, initiating people into plants having their own energetic signatures. Somehow Giant Ragweed is able to open up this perception in people.
Utiseta is an ancient practice of the northern European people, that can be used to develop relationship with plants. The more we do this practice, the deeper plant relationships can form. Try out the traditional practice outside, sitting where a plant you would like to get to know grows. Or, try bringing this practice inside, with some plant material to work with and dedication of small or large amounts of time to getting to know a plant. Even though drums and rattles aren’t a part of the traditional practice, you can make them part of yours if this helps you make a connection. Remember, we can develop helping spirit relationships with plants similarly as we do with animals.