The Druid's Garden

Spiritual Journeys in Tending the Land, Permaculture, Wildcrafting, and Regenerative Living

The Druid’s Crane Bag April 21, 2019

A druid’s crane bag is a special bag, a magical bag, that many druids carry with them. Often full of shells, rocks, magical objects, feathers, stones, Ogham staves, representations of the elements, ritual tools, and much more, a crane bag is wonderfully unique to each druid! A few years ago, I shared a post about how to create a crane bag and a description of my bag at the time; today’s post revisits and deepens the treatment of this topic.  In this post, we’ll look at the concept of the crane bag and where it came from, four potential purposes for bags, and some tips and tricks for how to put them together and what they might include.  This is a wonderful part of the druid tradition that anyone, including those walking other paths, can enjoy!

 

My "ritual in a bag" crane bag, designed and created by me!

My “ritual in a bag” crane bag, which I recently completed. 

Crane Bag History and Purpose

The term “Crane bag” comes from Irish mythology.  In this mythos, Manannán mac Lir is a major sea god who is also the guardian of the otherworld.  One of his many treasures is a magical bag, known as a crane bag. As they myths go, he originally crafted the bag from the skin of a crane, hence the name. This wonderful, bottomless bag was full of many treasures: his knife and shirt, the shears of the King of Scotland, the helmet of the King of Lochlainn, the bones of Assal’s swine, a girdle of a great white whale’s back, birds, hounds, and other things.  His bag also contained human language, a powerful tool.  Some versions of the myths also suggest that the Ogham, the Celtic tree alphabet that is still in modern use, was also within the bag. In the myths, the bag’s treasures can be seen in the sea at high tide, but they disappear during low tide. In certain myths, the bag comes into the possession of Irish heroes such as Lug Lámfhota, Liath Luachra, and Fionn mac Cumhaill.

 

In the modern druid tradition, we are inspired by this mythology, and druids often create magical bags of their own.  A crane bag is not a singular thing, but as unique as each druid themselves: thus, the size, shape, and materials contained within the bag are up to an individual druid.  In the remainder of this post, I’ll show you various options for bags, styles, and purposes to help you develop your own crane bag.

 

Planning Your Crane Bag: Crane Bag Purposes and Options

Just as each druid’s path is unique, your crane bag should be an expression of you and your druid path. I think the most important consideration for your crane bag, even before we get into size, composition, or what goes into the bag is your purpose.  In talking with druids, particularly in the OBOD and AODA communities on the East Coast of the US, there seems to be three general purposes for crane bags: the ritual-in-a-bag approach, the power object bag approach, the field approach, or a combination of all three.

 

Some of the many things that can go in your crane bag

Some of the many things that can go in your crane bag

The Ritual-in-a-Bag.  The first approach to a druid’s crane bag is that it is a special bag that can hold all of your ritual tools. These tools, then, come with you wherever you go. For example, one druid I met at a gathering had a larger leather bag.  In this bag, she had her elemental representations, wand, a small sickle, and a small notebook. She indicated that anywhere she went, her tools could go with her, and she could easily break into “spontaneous” ritual with her tools at hand.  She also enjoyed carrying the bag to larger druid gatherings, thus, her tools went with her and also benefited from the energy raised at such gatherings. I have used this approach myself, and offer an example later in this article.

 

The Power Object Bag.  A second approach that seems common is to have a much smaller crane bag, one that is carried on your person frequently, or at all times.  Often, these will be bags small enough to fit in your pocket, around your neck under your clothing, or attached to a belt.  Contained within the bag are objects of spiritual significance to you–sacred stones, shells, sticks, herbs, teeth, bones, or whatever else is personally significant and powerful to you.  Those druids who I have spoken to who use this approach believe that you grow a stronger connection to the objects and bag the more the bag is physically with you. The objects, also, are able to lend you their strength, power, and protection throughout the day as you carry your bag.  A good friend of mine uses this approach; his is a small but ornate belt pouch that is always attached to his belt, and so each day, without fail, his crane bag goes with him.  It is with him when he works, hikes, drives, or whatever else he is doing.

 

The Field Bag. The third approach is creating a crane bag that will aid one out in nature–for this, you usually get not only objects of spiritual significance but also practical significance: land offerings, knives, folding saws, hori hori (an all purpose japanese gardening tool that is great for foraging and herbalism), bags, flint and steel or other fire-starting equipment, paracord, and more.  The philosophy behind this crane bag is that if you are going out in nature, it is useful to be prepared, particularly if you are interested in doing some wild food or medicine foraging, camp out for the evening, bushcraft, or other kinds of wildcrafting.  Thus, when a druid takes this bag with them, they are prepared for anything!

 

The Anything Goes/Combination Bag. The final approach uses a combination of all of the above–perhaps some items of personal significance along with a few ritual tools and a few tools to be out in the field.  My first crane bag, described in detail in my earlier post, uses this method (see all of the contents here). The benefit of this approach is that you end up with a multi-purpose bag that can serve a variety of needs.

 

Creating or Finding Your Crane Bag

My Crane Bag

My First Crane Bag: Repurposed secondhand find!

Today’s crane bags need not be made of crane leather, but can be made of any durable material: leather, hide, skin, linen, wool, cloth, denim, and so on. You can make your bag yourself, you can purchase it secondhand, or you can have someone make it for you. I do believe, in my conversations with many druids about their crane bags, that many prefer to make them, as it lends their own personal energy into the bag.  If you don’t make it yourself, find a special way of personalizing your bag.  For example, my first crane bag, pictured here, was a small denim bag with zippers and pockets that I found at a thrift store.  I personalized it by painting it with acrylics, and I am happy and delighted that the paint has held up for many, many years!

 

The bag can be large or small; however, you will want it large enough that it will fit your purpose and to carry what you would like it to carry (and think also about the future–what you might want to add to your bag at a later date). Depending on the size of your bag, it can be held or connected to a belt, cord, or slung across the shoulders and carried more like a traditional bag, depending on the size.  Most druids carry their crane bags into ritual (and around gatherings, if they attend), many may also carry them into the woods or other natural places, so it should also be something comfortable to take with you, particularly on long journeys or when you travel.

 

 

Items for Your Bag

Any item of spiritual or practical significance can go in your bag.  I encourage you to think about local ingredients, local materials, or those repurposed in other ways.  Many of the things in my bag are gifts from others or things that I found or made. Here’s a list of what I might consider essentials; these go in every crane bag that I have made or carry:

  • A small journal (Moleskine or other small journals work great for this). I never want to be out in the woods or anywhere else without my journal–this allows me to record my thoughts at any time. I especially appreciate this “old technology” as opposed to a cell phone for recording as I don’t think there is anything as disruptive of a sacred experience as pulling out one’s phone.
  • A few handy tools: I like to always take with me a lighter/matches, a knife, and a plastic or cloth bag or two to carry anything I find.  Even in my more “ritual tools” style crane bag, I make sure to have these with me.
  • Offerings.  I don’t go anywhere without offerings. I recently shared how to make a wildcrafted herbal blessing oil and  sacred herbal blend for offerings.  A blessed magic seed ball also makes a great offering. Anything you want to carry with you that you can offer is approrpriate.
  • Elements. As someone working within the context of both OBOD and AODA druidry, I find being able to work with the elements in physical form really helpful.  So I always have, in any bag, representations of each of these. They don’t have to be physical representations (fire, etc) but could be four small stones, woodburned images, and so on.  The sky is the limit!
Once I pull stuff out of my ritual-in-a-bag, I can make a beautiful altar setup for outdoor ritual work.

Once I pull stuff out of my ritual-in-a-bag, I can make a beautiful altar setup for outdoor ritual work.

 

Here is a much larger list that you might consider for including in your crane bag:

  • Rocks and minerals
  • Shells, corals, or sand (in a small bottle)
  • Plants, leaves, twigs, roots or pieces of bark
  • Herbs, oils, infusions, concoctions, tinctures, teas or healing brews
  • Seeds of all kinds
  • Feathers
  • Fur, nails, bones, claws, teeth or other animal parts (only those that are legal to have, of course)
  • Animal, plant, or spirit totems of any kind (for example, the small carved soapstone animals are a nice addition to a crane bag)
  • Divination tools, such as Ogham, runes, or tarot decks
  • Small musical instruments (like an ocarina, small flute, etc)
  • Jewelry or necklaces of significance
  • Tiny journals or books
  • A small altar cloth
  • Bags, jars, and other vessels for holding things (like collecting sacred waters, etc)
  • Ritual tools such as a small candle (a battery-powered candle is convenient when traveling), small sickle, knife, candle, etc.
  • Any other items with a spiritual purpose
  • Quarter stones (four or eight stones you can place at the circle to help hold the space)

 

Example Crane Bags: Druid’s Power Bag and Ritual in a Bag

I have three primary crane bags, one that fits each of the possibilities above.  My earlier post offered an example of an all purpose crane bag, so again, check that post out for photos.  I also have a regular backpack that I dedicate to foraging, but that has some sacred tools (the essentials) that will go with me on longer hikes.   I didn’t take photos of that one, as its not very pretty looking but is rather very functional.  But I did want to share examples of the other two: the druid’s power bag and the Ritual in the Bag crane bag.

 

The first bag is the Druid’s Power bag.  This is a small leather bag I made, and in the photograph, are some *examples* of what you could put in a bag.  I believe that the bag itself and the actual contents of a power bag should never be photographed, or really, even talked about.  This is a bag of sacred objects to you, and if you talk too much about it, you can talk the magic out of it.  So I am not showing you my actual contents, but I think this gives you a good example of what could contain and look like: natural items, small clay and stone statuary, beads, stones, jewelry, etc.  So in this photo we have some things people have given me, stones, stone animals, a bracelet, a ceramic bear, a painted pendant, nuts and seeds, and more.

Potential power bag with objects

Potential power bag with objects

 

The other bag I want to show today is the “ritual in a bag” crane bag. I have been working on this bag for six months, and I’m delighted to have completed it to share with you.  The goal of this bag was simple: I do a lot of ritual work outside, right on my land or in a nearby state park. What was happening is that when I needed tools, I’d put them in a basket from my altar, but the tools were quite heavy and bringing them back up the mountain on my land was a problem, and carrying them into the woods at the state park was even more of a problem (it isn’t fun to carry four large ceramic altar bowls!)  Further, when I have friends that visit, we often go into the woods with sacred intent, and I wanted a bag that I could literally just ‘grab and go’ that offered me everything I needed to do a nice ritual with the bells and whistles. I’ve also been working hard to improve my leather working skills, so this bag was also a challenge to me as a bardic practitioner. Finally, I wanted my sacred plant allies to be with me with the energy of the bag.  I wanted it small enough that I could put it in my foraging bag and still had room for other tools.

Hawthorn and elder each are on a pocket on the front of the bag, behind the flap

Hawthorn and elder each are on a pocket on the front of the bag, behind the flap

The leather bag itself I designed and put together.  I used leather tooling and then a leather acrylic and acrylic sealer on the bag itself, which I hope will last over time (we will see!)  This brought beauty into the bag and helped imbue my own energy with it.  On the bag, I have some of my most sacred plant allies: wild yam (on the edge of the strap), ghost pipe, hawthorn, and elder.  These are all plants I regularly work with and who are local to my ecosystem.

Another shot of the bag

Another shot of the bag

Inside the bag, I have everything that I need for a ritual.  This includes five copper bowls (I purchased these on Etsy from a regional craftsperson; they are great because they are super durable and light).  Four of these are for the elements and the fifth is for offerings or other purposes.  When I’m out in the woods, I usually fill the air bowl with sand or soil, then stick an incense block or cone in it.  The fire bowl gets a little candle (with jar, otherwise it will go out), the water bowl gets some local water, and the earth bowl can be filled with soil, rocks, nuts, sticks, whatever is around.  In the photo, you can also see two little incense containers and also a smoke clearing stick (smudge stick), it has its own little package.  You can also see the small altar cloth (this particular cloth was a gift from a dear friend and mentor, and is a very cherished part of my ritual gear), which rolls up nicely and fits in the bottom of the bag.

Ritual tools in the bag

Ritual tools in the bag

Finally, I have an elemental woodburning with an awen; when I place this on my altar, it reminds me of the four directions (extremely useful for someone like me with dyslexia).

Elemental woodburned piece for remembering the directions!

Here are some other things that show up in my ritual-in-a-bag: my favorite ritual flute, a small knife (used mostly for ritual, but also for herb harvesting), a vial for water (I like to save water from my rituals or from places where I do ritual and add it to a water altar), a lighter, and a journal.

More crane bag tools

More crane bag tools

One of the keys I think to keeping a small crane bag is careful packaging.  I have used a lot of special packaging to keep things together: sewing little bags for the elemental bowls, having a wrap for my tarot deck, having a wrap for my my smoke clearing stick so that it doesn’t flake off everywhere in the bag, and so forth.  One of the bags below contains all of my land offerings.

Packaging helps!

Packaging helps!

 

Even with all of these great tools, which you can carry everywhere, what doesn’t fit in the bag is Acorn!

Acorn is blessing the altar!

Acorn is blessing the altar!

 

I hope that this post helps de-mystify the druid’s crane bag and offers you a number of ideas that you might use in your own druid based, OBOD, AODA, or nature spirituality practice. In the words of John Gilbert, former AODA Archdruid of Air, “Your Druid Crane Bag is the badge of a Druid. Wear it with pride and with honor to yourself and the Druid Craft.”

 

The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Working Tool November 11, 2012

One of the practices that is fairly consistent across different kinds of druidry today is a druid’s crane bag.  Traditionally, a crane bag was made from the skin of a crane, and served as a spiritual working tool for the druid.  Today, druids of many different paths create and carry such bags and use them for a multitude of purposes.

When I wanted to create a crane bag when I first became a druid seven years ago, I didn’t find a lot of clear information out there about how to go about it. I did find some general suggestions from the AODA (Druid’s Crane Bag).  A lot of what I learned in books and from talking to people wasn’t really tips but rather “do what you think is best for you.”  And while that philosophy is very much in the spirit of druidry, its also not all that helpful to someone getting going on their own crane bag if they are just starting out.  Over the years, however, I have worked hard on my crane bag and I’m very pleased with how it has evolved (and where it continues to go).

So in this blog post, I’ll walk through some principles that I used to create my crane bag, and photograph of most of what’s in the bag and how I use it.  I hope that this post will inspire others who are working on their crane bags!

 
1.  Purchased vs. Used vs. Handmade.
I’ve blogged a lot on sustainability and buying things on this blog before, and I want to start by reminding druids that sustainability should be first on our minds.  This means to think about sustainability when you are getting the bag itself as well as acquiring/finding/making stuff to put into your bag.  Just about everything that I have in my bag is either handmade, a gift, or found used.

For the bag itself, I suggest, if at all possible, that you either make your own crane bag or alter an existing bag (which is what I’ve done).  If you are going to buy new, buy it from a local artist, rather than than large scale commercial enterprise.

The first bag I made was from used linen scraps left over from my robes.  I’ve never been much of a seamstress, so while it was a good attempt and looked really cool, the design ended up not so functional and wasn’t well thought out.  I’ve since retired that bag for other purposes.

The second bag, and my current crane bag, was a wonderful denim bag with many pockets that I found at a thrift store.  After purchasing the bag, I decorated it with some shimmery fabric paints (painting a triskele, vines, and an awen) and really personalized it.

I should also mention here that if you are going to be using purchased or used items for magical work, its probably not a bad idea to cleanse them first.  I usually do a simple sunlight/moonlight cleansing or use some sage or other incense especially prepared for that purpose.

My crane bag

My crane bag

 

 

2.  Size matters. Some of my fellow druids have crane bags so large that they can fit all of their working tools in them (including a wand, etc).  The problem with a really large crane bag, however, is that its not very portable.  One of the things I’ve worked hard to do with my own crane bag is to get a small, portable bag, one that I would not mind carrying along on a long hike or taking on a trip. Something that is so easy to grab and go, it doesn’t require any thought.  But I still wanted it large enough and versatile enough to carry what I need.  All of the stuff in the photos below fits in my little crane bag that is 7″ high, 4.5″ thick, and 5″ wide.

I started working on my crane bag quite a few years ago–but because I wanted to keep it small and portable, its taken me a long time to get everything I wanted at the right size.  Over time, however, I’ve collected miniature versions of everything I wanted in it–such as the small candle holder, a 7″ bamboo flute that fits in the bag, plus a tiny bag of white sage I gathered while in North Dakota (which is great for offerings or cleansing).

The bamboo flute is worth talking a bit about here. I work a lot with music in my spiritual work, and I always like to have instruments available to me.   I have a number of larger flutes from a flutemaker, and I actually had him make my 7″ bamboo flute to fit in the bag.  He told me after he made it that its the smallest flute he made, but it plays wonderfully and its just the right size. To personalize it, I also carved it with ogham and vines.

Flute with pouch; white sage; candle holder

Flute with pouch; white sage; candle holder

 

 

3. Flexibility and pragmatism. One of the things I really like about my current crane bag is that, for its size, it has a ton of pockets.  Six different areas hold things, and if I’m on a hike, I can also hang a water bottle from it, attach it to my belt, and even slip my phone and keys into it (rather than carrying a second bag, which nobody wants to do when hiking). One of the other things I tried to do was have things in the bag, especially the pragmatic stuff, that have multiple uses.  So the waterproof match holder you’ll see in a later photo also has a whistle, a mirror, and a compass on it (you can find stuff like this in the survival/camping section of a sporting goods store).  I also was given a multi-tool for Yule one year; its been great because it has a knife and flash light (which comes in handy for night rituals).  And its always a good idea to have some tools available when you will be out an about.

Small multi-tool with flashlight, saw, pliers, knife, etc.

Small multi-tool with flashlight, saw, pliers, knife, etc.

 

 

4. Personalization.  I do think its important that you personalize your crane bag–especially if you are starting with something you haven’t made.  In my bag, I used simple shimmery fabric paints, and it worked well.  You should think about things that speak to you–symbols, colors, etc.  I used to have things hanging off the bag (beads and shells and such) but they just weren’t pragmatic for frequent use, especially when tromping through brush.  So I took them off and left the paint.

 

 

5.  Ritual in a bag. One way the crane bag was described to me was that its a “ritual in a bag.”  And you’ll see that some of the things I have in my crane bag are ritualistic in nature–I have several types of incense, a very small candle holder and candle, and an empty vial for water collecting (not pictured).  But if I’m going off in the woods to do a ritual, I prefer to use mostly what I find there, so I don’t carry representations of all of the elements.  In the bag as another working tool, I also have a stone that was given to me by a friend and fellow druid.  For my own handmade incense (in the little box below) I found an old pill box and I use that to keep it from getting crushed.  I use different kinds of incenses for different purposes, so I like to keep more than one kind with me (in fact, I have four kinds in my crane bag currently).

Incense, matches, a whistle/waterproof match holder and compass

Incense, matches, a whistle/waterproof match holder and compass

The photo in the next section also bears mentioning–one of the things I made for the bag is a grove opening prayer bead mnemonic; this allows me to remember the order and elements of a grove opening (which I do often enough not to forget, but its nice to have handy!)

 

 

6.  Divination systems. One of the very traditional uses of a crane bag were to carry around a druid’s divination system.  In the interests of keeping things light, I carry around a majors-only copy of my tarot of trees.

Tarot of Trees, grove opening mnemonic beads, char cloth, stone, and extra baggies

Tarot of Trees, grove opening mnemonic beads, char cloth, stone, and extra baggies

 

 

6.  Other personal working items. In addition to ritualistic items, I have other items that are worth mentioning.  Two musical instruments (the flute from above) and the ocarnia (its a pendant-style ocarina).  Some acorn caps, and a tiny vial of magickal oil.   I also always carry a few baggies with me (for trash, for picking up interesting stones, etc).

Ocarina necklace, oil vial, and acorn caps

Ocarina necklace, oil vial, and acorn caps

This next photo also shows my small journal and two pens (in case one stops working).  I wouldn’t go anywhere without a journal!

Journal, pens, paracord, and natural bug spray

Journal, pens, paracord, and natural bug spray

 

 

6.  A few survival items. Because I take my bag when I go on hikes, etc, I also do have a few survival items.  In the photos above you’ll see matches (which is also obviously good for lighting incense), a compass, char cloth (which is used to catch a spark for starting fires–I still need to add flint/steel to my bag to go with the char cloth), and paracord (which can be taken apart and used for shelter building, fishing, etc).  And let’s not forget some natural, essential-oil based bug spray, which is always super helpful in August when the mosquitoes want to eat you for dinner.

I really want to stress in closing that portability and functionality seemed to me to be the biggest successes of this crane bag.  I can easily take it where I want to go, take it with me into ritual circles.  It has everything that I might need, and its not too heavy or bulky to be an issue.  I take it on all of my trips, because you never know when you’ll be somewhere and you’ll need it!