Druids revere all nature as sacred–but what happens when you need to weed your garden? What happens when you need to clear a new area for a project where lots of things are growing? Is there a way to clear plants or trees honorably and with reverence? In fact, there certainly is! In today’s post, I’ll walk through some simple suggestions for how to weed and clear plants respectfully and with reverence. This is all part of my philosophy of Sacred Action, or bringing earth-honoring, care-oriented activities into our every day life (if you are interested in this concept, check out my Sacred Actions book!). This is part of what sacred gardening, creating a true Druid’s garden, is all about!
Our big project this year was starting to build an wood-fired, naturally built outdoor kitchen with a maple sap boiler/grill, an earth oven, a small pavilion and set of rocket stoves (this is an ongoing project and I’ll share more about it in upcoming posts). In order to do this, we had to clear a small bit of land. Where we are situating our outdoor kitchen is on the edge of a clearing with a shaded overstory, just as the forest begins. The tentative plan for our earth oven was about 6′ into an area with some brush and small trees. We were hoping to use this spot for the earth oven because sometimes we get bad winds from the fields that are to the south-west of our home, and by locating it slightly in the brush, it would allow us to provide it some additional shielding from the elements. But, this particular spot required me to clear a small 5′ path and about an 7 foot round area in the brush–assuming the spirits of the land and plants agreed. I’ll walk through the general principles using the clearing of my earth oven space as an example.
1. Recognize the agency and sanctity of nature by seeking permission and offering gratitude.
One of the first things to remember is that if we are going to cultivate reciprocal relationships with nature, we must treat nature with respect, reverence and recognize nature’s own agency. This means we do not take from nature without permission (treating her with the same respect you would do any other person. There are different levels of permission: one-time permission and ongoing permission.
Getting permission for anything is twofold: seeking it and allowing the necessary time for negotiation and conversation. Don’t expect to get permission to clear a large area of land 5 minutes before you want to clear it. Seeking permission begins with simply spending time engaging with spirits of the land and explaining what you want to do and why. Explain what you would like to do and how you will do it. See what results from this converation: sometimes you can get a clear go-ahead, while other times, the spirits may want something in response (e.g. clear this area but leave this area to grow wild; build this shrine, use everything that you’ve cleared, etc).
If you are clearing for a permanent space (such as a garden, outdoor kitchen, home, etc) you can seek a blanket permission statement. This means that you have the general permission to create the garden and then keep it as a garden, clearing as necessary.
Two months before starting construction of the earth oven, I began by asking permission. I started by making an offering at the space I wished to clear and speaking aloud what I would like to do, where the boundaries of it were to be, and why. I asked the spirits to think about my request. A week later, I returned to the spot and we started discussing. I came back several times over the course of a few weeks and after that, I received the confirmation that I was permitted to proceed. As part of this negotiation, I was told that each plant species would have something different they would like me to do as I cleared.
2. Setting Boundaries for Activities
As part of your request, make it clear what you plan on doing and how long this agreement lasts. For example, if you are cultivating a garden, make it clear that you would like permission to tend this garden throughout the year and weed any plants that come up in the garden that you haven’t planted, etc. This allows you to set some clear boundaries for the kinds of activities you will engage in over time. You can also set boundaries about other things, such as not using any chemical sprays, etc. The idea here is that you will make a clear agreement with the spirits of the land that you are both satisfied with so that you can proceed.
In the case of our earth oven, I agreed to tend the path and boundaries of our earth oven space and also to cut back some of the surrounding areas if they grew too close to the oven, always asking the plants’ permission. We established where the areas of the other outdoor kitchen were to be before proceeding. I was also asked to build two smalls shrines, one to invite the spirits of the hearth to join us (see the first image in this post) and a hidden shrine to honor the earth elementals.
You also may need to negotiate with specific dominant plant species in an area. For example, in the case of our garden, I’ve made it clear that dandelions are welcome to grow anywhere, but I will be harvesting any within our garden areas for making food or medicine for ourselves and our animals. But, any dandelions that grow outside of the bounds of the garden will be undisturbed (unless I further sought permission to harvest them for a different purpose, which would be a different negotiation).
3. Clear mindfully and listen to the voices of nature as to how to use cleared material.
Once you have permission to clear an area, establish a garden, or weed regularly, the next step is to start clearing it in a way that is reverent and respectful. I like to call this “mindful” clearing. I’m going to clear in a gentle manner, pulling out each plant, checking in with each plant to see how they would like me to proceed (cut you off at the root? Harvest the root? Put you in the compost pile? Feed you to the geese?). Thus, as I clear, I am also engaging in deep connection with the plants and hearing their voices for how to proceed. As I do this, I continue to make offerings, I sing songs, and I raise good energy for the work I am doing.
I work to do as much clearing without the aid of fossil fuels as possible, relying on hand tools, as this allows me to get closer to the individual plants I am clearing. Once in a great while, I do have to use a battery-powered lopper or chainsaw, and I let the spirits of nature know what I am doing before I do anything.
So in the clearing of my earth oven space, I spent about 2 hours clearing the space, while I was in a meditative place. Using movement meditation, I cleared my mind as I cleared down to the soil, making sure that each plant I was clearing had a chance to share what they would like to see happen. I ended up transplanting several wild yams into another section of the forest. The Allegheny Blackberry asked me to take their roots and use them for magic (they have been teaching me their magic for many years now) and to compost their stems and leaves. The small spicebush asked to be potted and given away. The Virginia Creeper had me pull out enough to clear, asking me to make a small wreath of her and then place that wreath on the altar. And so it went with each of the plants in this space, where I listened to their voices and did my best to honor their requests. In the end, I had not only a cleared space but new magical plant knowledge and several roots for my spiritual practices.
I do the same thing in my garden as I am regularly weeding and tending. While I don’t necessarily need steps 1 and 2 each time I got into weed the garden, when I am weeding, I am still listening to the voices of the plants and honoring what they would like me to do with them. I am treating them in reverence and respect, even as I clear them.
Eventually, you may find that even the most dominant weed can be negotiated with to grow elsewhere.
Doing these practices in this way allows you to both hear what the plant spirits may offer you as well as give you a chance to learn some of the uses of common plants in your area. For example, if you are clearing a garden, many garden “weeds” have tremendous herbal and edible uses including lambs quarters, ground ivy, pursuance, dandelion, red clover, chickweed, and wood sorrel, to name a few. If you are pulling out something and you don’t know what it is, take a few minutes to learn and do what you can to make use of that plant for food, medicine, crafts, or spiritual purposes.
4. End in Gratitude
Finalize your work each day in gratitude–gratitude for the land itself, the soil, and any plants or materials that were moved or pulled as part of the work you were doing. Recognize the sacrifice that these plants have made and honor them. You can practice gratitude by making offerings (such as this offering blend), drumming, dancing, doing a land blessing ceremony, or any other number of things.
In the case of my earth oven, the end of the clearing, I again sat with the space and honored it with flute music and offerings. I meditated to see if there were any additional messages, and if not, I continued to work on the project. The next steps in the project were to create a draining gravel foundation to prevent frost heaving, and so when I went back to the site a few days later to start removing soil and subsoil, I made sure to continue to make offerings at the shrine I built and continue to offer gratitude.
As the above explores, the key to honoring nature while also tending spaces, weeding, or clearing land has to do with the approach. Rather than immediately moving into clearing, spend time honoring the spirits of the land first, the physical bodies of the plants to clear, and take your time to make sure you are engaged in reverence and respect. This kind of practice integrates spiritual practice with everyday life in the practice of sacred action, and can certainly deepen our own relationship to our immediate landscapes.