Tag Archives: druidic philosophy

Embracing the Sacred and Understanding the Druidic Garden: Growing and Preserving Your Own Food

Some recently canned foods--this whole cabinet is full!

Some recently canned foods–this whole cabinet is full of hundreds of jars of jam, sauce, and pickles!

When I was a child, I used to read the Laura Ingalls Wilder books.  In her books, Laura spends a lot of time talking about food preservation–slaughtering the pig, making maple sugar, making “head cheese”, sowing crops, cutting hay for the animals, cutting and storing ice in the ice house, threshing wheat, making butter, digging potatoes, and so forth.  This was an incredibly important part of the lives of the Ingalls family. The book about Sam Gribley, who runs away to the mountains to live off the land, My Side of the Mountain is very much the same–although its set in a more modern time, Sam spends most of his time talking about providing for his own needs through foraging and trapping.  And in each of these books, I’m struck by how much of each of the books are devoted to the basic necessities of human survival: food and shelter.  But it wasn’t just that they were preserving food and surviving–it was the manner in which they survived.  When Sam talks about his relationship with the wild strawberries, and the loss when the old woman comes and makes him help her pick them all, he describes a sacred relationship.  When Laura writes about her relationship with their family’s horses, horses the family depended on for plowing and transportation, the relationship is sacred. When Laura’s family asks neighbors for help for building their home, their home becomes rooted in that community.

 

The last few generations of Americans–certainly my own– have typically not lived in a society where we have the knowledge (or, often, desire) to physically provide for our any of our own needs. When I grew up, we occasionally ate venison that my uncle hunted, we ate zucchini and other veggies from the garden when they were available, we ate some of mom’s canned sauce or beans, but most of what we ate we purchased.  The relationship that most of us have with our food was one of an exchange–hard-earned money in exchange for this or that preserved, packaged good. I think my experiences of our home garden were less common than most children who grew up in the 1980’s–this was the real start of “convenience” foods that required very little work or preparation (TV dinners, heavily processed fast foods, etc.). The 1980s, as John Michael Greer reminds us in his newest book Green Wizardry, were the backlash era against the progress/appropriate tech/homesteading movements of the 1970’s, and unfortunately, pushed Americans further down the path of consumption.

 

I, like many of my generation and the generation before and generation after me, have grown up in a time where we depend upon others (often, large agribusiness or corporations) for our food (and clothing, shelter, heat, transportation, and livelihoods).  And while most of us don’t engage in labor-intensive food production, we are also depending upon a system that has removed our sacred relationship with food. We also exchange our time for money in other kinds of work; some of which is much less fulfilling than growing one’s own food. The food we eat is often mass produced with unacceptable ethical standards, from pesticide use to shipping with fossil fuels to genetic manipulation to migrant worker rights violations.  When we eat that food, we eat of all of the energies that produced it.

 

More jars--this is before I've canned apples!

More jars–this is before I’ve canned apples!

The spiritual dimensions of this cannot be understated.  When one is eating food that one has not grown/foraged/slaughtered, one is bringing in unknown energetics and processes into one’s own body.  That food, if it comes from a big grocery chain, is likely 100’s, if not 1000’s of miles removed from the land one inhabits, which creates energetic distance.  Further, one’s relationship with that food is often a constructed image, a brand name product (I’m now reading Chris Hedges’ book, Empire of Illusion, where he talks about the illusion of the image/brand at length).  The sacred relationship with food is lost.

 

I have come to understand that gardening, especially using druidic principles, is all about relationship building; building a sacred relationship with your food. When I grow a pepper in my garden, I have developed a relationship with that plant from the time I planted the seed in February to the early growth of the plant in March while the cold winter continues outside, to the planting and mulching of that plant into my garden in late May.  This relationship continues as I

Ears of corn!

Ears of corn!  The most beautiful sight to behold!

nurture it as it grows into maturity throughout the summer, where flowers and later little green peppers start to emerge.  Finally, I wait for that pepper to ripen in early September.  At that point, I have an eight-month relationship with that plant.  When I eat that pepper, I know where it came from, and just as importantly, I’ve developed an energetic connection with it.  When I can that pepper and turn it into salsa or freeze it for later, I am sustaining that relationship over time.  When I save the seed for next season, the relationship becomes all the stronger.  We are connected; that connection is sacred.  That sacred connection extends and extends to all the land–everything becomes more sacred by the simple act of growing and eating one’s own food.  The connection is rooted in the time, the hard work, and the co-dependence of you and the plant.

 

This isn’t a lesson that I would have ever understood had I not started growing–and preserving–my own food.  This is a lesson that I’ve come to over a long period of time.  I think that people who grow up in a culture where providing for one’s needs is common and where reliance upon the land allows that sacred connection to form from birth.  If you read any stories or myths from Native American tribes, you see this in everything that is written.  But for someone like me, someone who did not grow up in a culture that nurtured that sacred connection, I had to seek this out and discover it on my own.  When the sacred connection occurs, the shift is striking.  I’m amazed and filled with wonder each time I set foot in my garden and watch my plants growing.  I am filled with reverence and respect with each egg I pull out of my chicken coop.   When my tomatoes blighted this year (which I will write about soon), I felt their suffering.

 

As we move into forty or so years of convenience foods, fast foods, and the like, the skills of food procurement (through growing, trapping, hunting) and preservation (through fermentation, canning, drying, smoking) are not practiced by most of our population.  Even for someone like me, who wants to know the skills, learning the old ways requires a lot of resources that aren’t necessarily easy to come by.  I think about my meager skills, and despite years of hard effort and learning everything I can, I’d be unable to provide for all of my needs.  But as I continue to grow, my sacred connection with the land takes on a new meaning.  I am her caretaker, as she is mine.  When I take her fruits into my body, I am nourished and blessed.  This is the most sacred of sacred connections, and it makes you respect the food down to the last bite.

Sacred Actions, Blending of Inner and Outer, Oak Knowledge, Living Druidry – Insights from my AODA 3rd Degree Process

I started the Druid’s Garden blog a little over three years ago.  I started this blog specifically as a way to document my journey while completing my Ancient Order of Druids in America’s 3rd degree program, which was a self-designed program where I proposed and enacted a project focused on investigating the relationship of druidry and sustainability and building more sustainable practices in my local community.  I have now successfully completed my degree!  Despite this, I plan on continuing this blog as a way to keep moving forward with my efforts, as there is so much left to do and learn about.  So in this post, I wanted to share some “take aways” I had in the reflection and completion of my 3rd degree project, which will hopefully help others and generate some conversation.

 

Scarlet Runner Bean in the Garden, Summer 2013

Scarlet Runner Bean in the Garden, Summer 2013

Changing Interactions–Actions as Sacred.

One of the “take aways” from this process was a shift in how I view and interact with the world.  After reading books, attending classes and talks, and really thinking through these issues, I worked to   integrate principles from permaculture and sustainability into my life.  As this progressed, I experienced what can only be called a “paradigm shift” (to use Thomas Kuhn’s term for it). The spiritual perspective that I’ve taken to sustainability allows me to see every action as a spiritual act, with every decision one to enact more sustainable practices or continue as an average American.  This isn’t a binary fallacy, instead, it represents a choice that one must make over and over again, and one that I seem to find myself in often.  Our society encourages certain kinds of behavior, mostly surrounding/encouraging/demanding consumption, and shifting away from that is a continual process with continual choices.  But when we start viewing every action we take as a sacred interaction with the land, and thinking about ourselves as belonging to a greater whole, those actions become easier and easier!

Druidry and Sustainability.

After hosting a few of our permaculture meetups, something magical started happening.  I don’t often come out and say “We had a grove here, I’m a druid” but people started asking—“I saw that you had a stone circle back there…” or “I saw your nature altar in your house, can you tell me about it?” or “You seem to be really spiritual about plants. What’s the deal?” and suddenly, we had all these people who were already interested in sustainability now interested in our grove and in druidry. I spoke to John Michael Greer about this a bit when he visited in April, and I think what is happening is that concepts like Deep Ecology are making their way into the sustainability community because deep work in closeness to the land leads to a spiritual perspective. Although concepts like Deep Ecology are useful in that they provide a spiritual side to sustainability, they also lack the deeper tradition of magical practice, philosophy, and history that Revival Druidry can provide. Since Revival Druidry has several hundred years behind it, and draws upon the western Esoteric traditions that span much longer, it is standing on firm magical ground. Reviving and adapting old traditions (like a Wassail) has been a long-standing practice in revival druidry, and I think we druids have much to offer the sustainability community (and vice versa).

Leek going to seed, Summer 2013

Leek going to seed, Summer 2013

Druids as Keepers of “Oak Knowledge”.

The concept of the druid as a holder of “oak knowledge” draws upon the etymology of the term “druid.” I’ve been contemplating what we mean when we say “oak knowledge” for quite some time through my studies with the AODA.  Knowing even a little about plants, for example, being able to point out poison ivy at a wedding when we are setting up seating areas can save a lot of suffering later. Knowing about herbalism comes in handy when you are working with a group of people for long hours, and you walk outside and find a few sprigs of sage and rosemary to lift the spirits of everyone involved. Or, another recent example, when you are camping and a young person in the group slashes his hand up, knowing a bit about healing herbs (such as plantain) can quickly help seal the wound. I can see why the ancient druids engaged in 20+ years of study….even though I have some knowledge now (certainly much more than I had at the start of my journey with AODA coursework) I have much more to learn.  The idea of being a lifelong student in the pursuit of Oak Knowledge is an appealing one!

The Blending Inner and Outer Worlds.

Sign says it all!

Sign says it all!

While all of this “outer” work I been describing in this blog was going on, I also experienced deep transformation on an inner level. As part of my 3rd degree, I continued the daily magical practice (Sphere of Protection, meditation) and regular other practices (divination, rituals, seasonal celebrations with the grove, reading and study, spiritual mentoring, etc.) that I had developed through my years of study. But these practices changed and melded in new ways. The Sphere of Protection, a daily magical protective practice we use in the AODA, it turns out, is a wonderful way to bless and consecrate a growing space….the panflute I learned to play during my AODA 2nd degree music spiral is great for calming chickens or encouraging seeds to grow. The ritual work I’ve learned (and developed) can be used to help prepare a harvest or for planting new trees. The holidays, the turning wheel of the year, took on much more meaning when I was living so close to it—I started understanding why these festivals took place, their importance, and their power. I found that my spiritual

practices became my sustainability practices, and each melded with the other—deepening both. I really learned to LIVE druidry, and started seeing every action, every interaction as sacred. This is not a new concept for me—its something I discovered quite a bit through my earlier druidic work. But I think the concept has worked on me in a much deeper level.

What Learning Research Teaches Us About Druidry and Integration

My friend and fellow Druid John Beckett  blogged about the importance of integration a few months ago.  I wanted to add to his discussion and elaborate on some of my comments I posted to him.  In a nutshell, his post looked at how compartmentalization (or separating one’s self into different pieces, not all of which is revealed all the time) is a normal practice in our culture.  He argued that seeking integration is a worthwhile goal for druidry, where we can seek to integrate all aspects of ourselves into our druidic path.  I’d like to pursue this idea of integration further, and also bring in some learning theory that might give us tools to think about how to work to integrate ourselves in meaningful ways.

So what is this thing we call integration? What does it look like? How does it work? The concept of integration, at its base, is taking what appear to be disparate parts and unifying them into a cohesive whole.  The term has a long, rich history: integration worked to end racial segregation, integration is also used as a concept in mathematics, psychology, life sciences, and electronics (and in the esoteric traditions, alchemy). So in Druidry, one way of seeing integration is by working to bring your spiritual philosophies in line with your everyday actions and interactions.  For example one way of thinking about integration would be looking at the concepts in the Druid’s Prayer (strength, understanding, knowledge, justice, the love of all existences, etc.) and working to integrate them into daily life in every way.  This concept of integration  is not easy to do by any means.

I want to talk about a set of theories from educational research and writing studies that might help us understand the principle of integration. In my career as a university professor, my primary research emphasis is as a learning researcher–specifically, I examine how people learn and use/adapt their knowledge to diverse circumstances (I study writing, but the concepts can be applied to just about any subject).  This concept is called “transfer of learning” and it continues to be one of the most critical challenges we have in educating people–that they’ll actually use that knowledge in new places. This concept has a lot to do with integration and compartmentalization, but it will take me a while to explain it, so bear with me.

What we find in learning research is that often, when people learn something, they over-contextualize it (or as John might suggest, the compartmentalize it). I see this all the time in my research on college-level student writers–a student will learn how to write a particular genre really well, say, a business proposal.  What the student doesn’t often realize, however, is that the broader skill of writing a proposal is embedded within learning the genre of a business proposal–there are lots of things about proposals, and about good writing in general, that can be learned from this single assignment. The problem, which I and other transfer researchers see time and time again, is that these broader lessons–about proposal writing, about writing in general, about processes and their own skills–aren’t emphasized and are lost to the student.  In other words, the potential for learning and integration is great, but it is often not actualized (and the causes for why this is are numerous).  From the perspective of writing, this is why often after 4+ years of higher education and potentially 100’s of written papers in a variety of genres, students go into their first job and seem like they’ve never learned to write anything at all.  This same thing happens all over the place, where something is learned and compartmentalized, where integration fails to occur, and we are left with fragments rather than a whole.

What does successful integration from a learning perspective look like? The most successful learners are those that are able to assume a certain kind of mindset–a mindset of integration (transfer researchers have different terms for this, including “mindful abstraction” or “metacognition” or the “spirit of transfer”).   The knowledge and experiences are are still there, still occurring, but what really changes is the learner’s relationship and mindset concerning that knowledge. So to go back to the business proposal example–the learner learns about the business proposal either way, but in the first circumstance (where you fail to transfer), the business proposal is compartmentalized and unless he encounters the exact same kind of situation in terms of writing, he’ll not use it again. The worst case scenario of this is when a learner fails to see their learning as useful to future circumstances at all and chooses to consciously forget it entirely (yes, this does happen more than one might think). But in an integrated view, the business proposal knowledge is seen in a broader perspective and is  generalized as it is learned so that it can be applied in a variety of ways; additionally, the learner actively seeks to build connections to other kinds of writing and other areas where the knowledge is useful. Now when that person goes out into the world, that knowledge is at his fingertips rather than buried in a box in a dark corner of his mind (or forgotten entirely). In the end, successful learning is all about integration and mindset.

So how can one achieve the shifts in thinking required for successful learning and integration? Well, making a mindset shift is not an easy process. One of the primary things that comes out of the transfer rsearch is the idea of extensive self-reflection–reflecting as you learn, reflecting on your own habits/processes, and working to actively build those connections.  This reflection can be used to give one a set of tools to adapt knowledge, to integrate knowledge, and to interact with the world.  This might be as simple as stepping back after an event and taking the time to journal or meditate about it, seeing what was done and how things could have been done differently.  It might also be about reflecting during an event or process–taking a moment in the midst of what is happening to ensure you are going in the direction you’d like to go.

So in the end, we learn that integration is rooted in one’s mindset; its about seeing everything as connected to the whole, its about being about to integrate those experiences and beliefs and actions into a single, unified world view rather than a set of disparate compartments. Its about active monitoring of our experiences, thinking about how the pieces fit, and deeply reflecting on those experiences.

Temperance - the integration of elements into perfect harmony

Temperance – the integration of elements into perfect harmony

To step back and apply learning research to druidry, we might look at the tree: trees must do a lot of integration in order to survive.  In the tarot, we have the card of Temperance, which, in some decks (including my tarot deck) is a card about integration–its about bringing the elements into perfect balance and harmony.  If you look at the image of temperance here, you can see that it is the tree itself who is able to bring the waters up from the depths, use the rich nutrients of the land, bring in the carbon dioxide from the air, and transmute the fire of the sun into an integrated whole. This is one way of seeing integration, as bringing together all parts into harmony and balance (and certainly, this is one of the main goals of the OBOD’s Bardic Grade).

Integration, ultimately, is a process, not an end product.  Its a process of being, rather than a state of being.  I can never achieve “integration” and then sit back and relax–it is an ongoing process that requires me to monitor everything I do and constantly seek ways of bringing my spiritual perspective into my daily life. To remind myself about the need and importance of integration, one of the mantras that I’ve developed is the following: “Everything I do, I do as a druid.” This means that every interaction and action, from choosing what I throw away to how I treat someone who has treated me poorly, I do as a druid.  This mantra has helped me make this mindset shift and seek integration.  Of course, there are times I fail in living up to the mantra, but even my failures can be used as experiences for learning and growth.