The Druid's Garden

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

The Druid’s Prayer for Peace: Shifting from Exploitation to Nurturing as a Spiritual Practice November 10, 2015

Working with the land, in harmony and peace

Working with the land, in harmony and peace

One of the things I’m hoping to do on this blog, in addition to my usual “how to” posts, permaculture, and tree work, is give us a set of working tools and philosophical lenses through which to see and interact in the world.  Today’s post does just this–explores two concepts underlying much of industrial civilization and various reactions to it, and does so with a distinctly druidic lens.

 

In The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, Wendell Berry discusses two approaches to living and inhabiting the world–the practice of exploitation and the practice of nurturing. Berry wrote The Unsettling of America in the 1970’s as a small family farmer’s response to the rise of “Big Ag” and industrialized food systems. The book was truly visionary, and, if read today in 2015, rings even more true than it did in the 1970’s. Berry argues that exploitation and nurturing are are two terms that can describe mindsets and actions in our present industrial society.

 

I find these two concepts particularly useful to help tease out the idea of everyday sacred action through earth-based spiritual practice.  If our goal is to develop a deeper relationship with the land and enact that relationship in every aspect of our lives, then these concepts are useful as a baseline set of principles. So let’s take a look at both of them and their implications for earth-based spiritual practice and sustainable, regenerative living.

 

Nurturing

The nurturer is one whose livelihood, goals, and interactions are as much about healing and care as they are about getting the job done. Idealized by Wendell Berry as a small-scale organic farmer, the nurturer is concerned with the long term health of the land and its people and she makes decisions accordingly. She asks: “what is the carrying capacity of the land? What can be grown and how can it be tended in ways that will allow it to endure?” Berry writes that the nurturer is also concerned with health–not just of her family and their immediate land–but of the broader community and world. Berry suggests that the nurturer isn’t concerned as much with efficiency or profit as with working “as well as possible” and who is concerned with care, health, and quality.

 

Now of course, nurturing can go far beyond just farming or working the land–nurturing can be woven into every aspect of our lives. Permaculture design’s ethical system, as described above, includes people care, earth care, fair share, and self care. Caring for others well-being and health is one way to be a nurturer, and for some, that’s a much more obvious and concrete kind of care. But earth care, which is what I primarily focus on on this blog and in my daily living, is certainly another–and the two are certainly not mutually exclusive.

 

Making chocolate the traditional way in Costa Rica

Making chocolate the traditional way in Costa Rica

In the same way that clothing, food, or anything else can be created in a system that exploits people and the land and takes more than its fair share (see below), it can also be crated in a system that has the ethic of care.  As a great example of this, I visited a chocolate farm in Costa Rica during my trip last year where nurturing (and educating others about that nurturing) was a key focus. This farm had taken waste land, built up a healthy ecosystem, and grew their chocolate in a way that cared for earth and people.

 

 

I think we see these same ethics of care present at nearly every farmer’s market around the country–the idea of growing better food, making better products that people need, and giving people alternatives that aren’t set in a system of exploitation.  We can produce food, clothing, shelter, whatever we need in different ways.  Not all ways are created equal, and not all ways have to exploit the land and its inhabitants in order to make a profit or serve us.  Its not an ethic we think about, but its an ethic with great potential. A lot of what I’ve been posting about in this blog since the beginning focuses on nurturing–not just establishing relationships but taking steps to actively nurture the land as part of spiritual practice.

 

So now that we know how good things CAN be, lets look at the reality of how things are, in many cases.

 

Exploitation

Berry describes exploitation in a general sense, but I’ve found that breaking exploitation into two categories greatly helps parse out these concepts for earth based spiritual practice.

 

Active Exploitation. Exploiters, epitomized by Berry in the image of the strip miner, abuse the land for short-term profits made with as little work or investment as possible. Exploiters are concerned with the land only in how much and how quickly it can be made to produce profits (using words like “efficiency” or “cost savings”; the exploiter often uses quantification and hard data to measure his goals). Exploitative policies aren’t limited to the land: when we think about how workers (especially those in minimum wage jobs) are treated, how animals are treated–the entire mentality and conversation is in the language of exploitation. If you can stomach American politics, look at the language of the debates–they are all framed in terms of economics (America’s current “sacred cow”) and in terms of the “bottom line.” The language of current economics and of politics is not the language of care or nurturing, it is the language of exploitation. This kind of thinking allows children to go hungry, the land to be stripped and poison pumped deep into the earth, and people to close their hearts and minds to others.

 

We can see this exploiter mentality in so much of the United States history–and in most of Western Civilization long before the US was even founded. Here, in PA, exploitation appears in every major economic boom: from strip logging that took place over the last part of the 19th and early 20th century and to present, the coal mining that leaves our rivers and streams toxic and lifeless due to acid mine runoff, the policies that exterminated or forced native peoples to relocate, and the current fracking industry. These actions are concerned with only one thing–the bottom line, the profit, the question of how much can be extracted from the land and its people. I think that exploitation is now so ingrained in our lifestyles, in our society, in our norms, that its not even seen as exploitation. I have started to look for land here, and listings say things like “18 acres, timber sold and to be cut, mineral rights sold” and I see it as the previous owner getting every bit he or she could get before selling the scrap of soil that remains. And this is a practice that is common, everyday, justified and perfectly acceptable.  One of the things I’m doing in this post is talking about these practices for what they are and giving them a name.

 

Passive Exploitation. Passive exploitation is when you are a participant and passive supporter without actually engaging in exploitation yourself.  In our society, that even if we aren’t making active exploitative decisions or the one at the chainsaw, we are still participating in passive exploitation of someone or something, very infrequently with our knowledge. This is where the lines get a bit grayer, but make no mistake–when you purchase a product, you purchase everything that goes along with that product.

 

ustainably raised Cacao for Chocolate Making in Costa Rica

Sustainably raised Cacao for Chocolate Making in Costa Rica

So, let’s look at a few examples. Let’s go back to my example of chocolate. Many mainstream companies that make that chocolate (Hershey, M&M/Mars, Godiva, etc) are exploiting child slaves in order to produce it. Imagine trying to offer that chocolate as an offering (which I wouldn’t suggest); imagine taking that energy of suffering within you.

 

Another example is clothing. You need to wear clothes; you need decent clothes if you are going to keep a good job. But all along the way, exploitation is occurring: the store where workers, often at minimum wage rates are being exploited; the farmers that grew the cotton; the land that suffered pesticides and poison in the act of growing, processing, and dying it; the factory workers who turned that raw cotton into your fabric and then later, your shirt; the people who packaged that shirt and prepared it for shipment (I worked in such a factory once, so I can speak about this experience firsthand), the list goes on and on.

 

Unfortunately, purchasing anything at the typical store opens us up for potential passive support of larger exploitative systems. Exploiters exploit the exploited and the exploited in turn exploit others, and down the chain it goes. And yet, you have to live, you have to eat, you have to work, and thinking about all the exploitation that’s happening for profit, and on your behalf, is overwhelming–read on, friends, and we’ll see how to rectify these issues.

 

Ethics and Eliminating Exploitation

Active exploitation is a problem, yes, but its usually a fairly obvious one that any discerning person can spot, especially if you are attuned and aware to these concepts. Passive exploitation is an entirely different matter–it is designed to be hidden. Thanks to the Internet, fewer things stay hidden these days–its all a matter in looking in the right places and being aware of issues. Exploitation of either variety creates a particular kind of nasty energy; when we purchase a product or support a practice that is exploitative in nature, that energy enters our lives. Think about that mass produced chocolate–you are literally eating the suffering of child slaves if you eat that typical chocolate bar.

 

The questions I have, then, are these: can we live in a system designed and consciously engaged in exploitation at almost every level without ourselves also exploiting others? Are there degrees of exploitation? Does unknowingly participating in exploitation make it less evil? These are tough questions, questions that each of us has to wrestle with ethically.

 

My ethics come out of permaculture design, as mentioned above, and they are simple and direct: people care, earth care, and fair share. For me, ignorance is not bliss–I believe I have an ethical obligation of knowing where a product comes from and how it is produced. This leads me in three directions. First, my ethical system encourages me to avoid even passive exploitation as much as is humanly possible, and knowledge is power, so I keep myself educated, change my consumptive behavior (by reducing it), I endeavor to keep very well informed on the products that typically exploit people or degrade the land (food, clothing, and electronics, for starters) and make sure that if I need to buy something, I’m buying the best thing I can. This practice also involves being hesitant and mindful in my purchasing decisions—I try to avoid “quick” purchases and instead dwell on it, research it, and give it time. This work doesn’t happen overnight–as always, I recommend small, conscious, meaningful, and permanent shifts slowly over time. Take one product you typically buy, research it carefully, make better choices, and rinse and repeat.

 

A second direction I take in response to exploitation of either variety involves stuff like this post–working to educate others consciously and compassionately. A lot of people just don’t know about what they are buying, and if they did, they’d be horrified. But there is no use guilt tripping anyone–we are all living in a very difficult period of time. We do the best we can, and what I try to do is to open up good spaces for conversation and growth.

 

A third direction I am taking is in my immediate community. Communities, as groups, can also respond to this system and the power of a small but committed group is often much greater than the power of a single individual. One of the things I’ve been working toward in my new town over the last four or so months is starting a community owned food co-op–this will allow us, as a community, to have much better control over the products we buy and where they are sourced. Even if we aren’t successful in starting our co-op (I hope we will be), the conversations, group interaction, community education, and establishment of ethical principles is worth its weight in gold. We are meeting tomorrow night, and when I look at our set of principles, I am filled with hope and joy–they are nurturing principles that seek alternatives and a firmly democratic process.

 

Nurturing as a Lifestyle and Spiritual Ethic

Druid's Prayer for Peace Painting (original version)

Druid’s Prayer for Peace Painting (original version)

This is leading me towards suggesting that much of what we can do to live regeneratively and wholly is to think not just about what we do on a daily basis, but what we support–this isn’t a new idea of course, but its one that is still not very mainstream.

 

These two mindsets are not mutually exclusive; Berry argues that each of us the capacity for both mindsets and they are often conflict with one another, especially living in industrialized societies. In my various studies, both magical and rhetorical, I’ve been taught to stay away from binary thinking–binaries can lock us into false pathways, make it seem like only two options exist, when many more do. And while I don’t necessarily see this as a false binary, in the sense that you are either are a nurturer or an exploiter, I think that there are degrees of exploitation vs. nurturing based on each practice, or a continuum that we all sit upon. There’s also degrees of conscientiousness–I may do my best to be a nurturer and support nurturing products and practices (or cut out the consumption all together) but there are times when choices are limited, finances are limited, or other issues are present and I’m forced to buy or participate in a way that I wouldn’t otherwise. Even if that’s the case, there are still things we can do, like writing letters, activism, and encouraging better ethical practices, raising awareness, sharing with others…there’s a lot you can do even if you are forced to purchase something you disagree with due to finances, lack of options, or otherwise.

 

At this point, even if you can’t make any physical changes, I do advocate for putting yourself in a nurturing mindset and beginning to see this as part of a spiritual ethic. The mind is an extremely powerful tool. Seeing ourselves as nurturers helps us be nurturers, even if those changes are slow.  It allows us to be in the right mindset to seize opportunity (like, say, my experiences with the food co-op). I’m not saying we can, or should, passively think this way forever, but its a very powerful start.

 

I also see the concept of the nurturer as one that is really accessible to many, and appealing to many, who follow earth-based spiritual paths. We want to help and heal, and a lot of us just aren’t sure how to start walking down that path. Given this, I’d like to conclude by thinking about the role of the nurturer with a specific modification to a prayer that many druids say–the Druid’s Prayer for Peace. This is a prayer developed by the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids (OBOD); members of the order, including myself, often say this prayer every day. But years ago, I decided that it wasn’t quite working for me because it didn’t fit the permaculture ethical system quite enough and it while it started to embrace the role of nurturer, it didn’t take it far enough. So I made some modifications. The original prayer goes like this:

Deep within the still center of my being
May I find peace.
Silently within the quiet of the grove
May I share peace.
Gently within the greater circle of humankind
May I radiate peace.

My modified version reminds me of importance of peace to all life and cultivating a nurturing mindset:

Deep within the still center of my being
May I find peace.
Silently within the quiet of the grove
May I share peace.
Gently within the greater circle of all life
May I radiate peace.

What I like about this simple everyday prayer, is that it reminds me that my spiritual path, Druidry, is a path of peace, of care, and of nurturing.

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Healing Hands: Replanting and Regenerating the Land as a Spiritual and Sacred Practice August 14, 2015

Acorns

Acorns

A lone man walks through a field of brambles as the sun rises, a small pouch at his side.  This field was old-growth forest before being clear cut a century or more ago; it was then farmland for 50 years before becoming unfarmable wasteland; over the last 15 years, enough soil fertility has returned enough to support the brambles. As the man walks, every so often, he leans down, takes out a small trowel, and pops a nut in the ground–hickory and oak nuts, primarily, but others like butternut, chestnut, and walnut are also sometimes planted. He is a man on a very quiet and very personal mission–and his goal is simple: to return hardwoods to the cleared lands of Western Pennsylvania. Sometimes, he carries roots instead: the roots of goldenseal and ginseng, plants once common here and are now about impossible to find. This man plants trees that he will not likely ever harvest from, he walks lands that others have abandoned, and he donates his time to this simple, meditative practice. Who is this man? This man is my father, and his work is for generations–human and otherwise–beyond himself.

 

The question our role as humans is in the ecosystem and how spiritual practices and permaculture design allows us to better enact that role is an important one.  In this post, I’ll explore the idea of an earth care ethic through active regeneration of the land.

 

Pick up the Garbage and Get Out

I’ve heard many in the druid community say that the best thing you can do for any piece of land is to “pick up the garbage and get the hell out.” And there are certainly times and places where I think this approach is the wisest–the ecosystem is fragile and nature is doing her own healing. Or, this is a good approach if there are people already dedicated to the cause of healing particular parts of land, like state forests or conservation areas, and you haven’t been asked to help in that existing work. But what about everywhere else? What about the lands that aren’t under protected or conservation status? What about lands that lay fallow and are struggling to come back from a lot of abuse? I’m starting to disagree that this “pick up the garbage and get out” is the right approach in every case and in fact, in many cases.

 

"A Pennsylvania Desert" of the late 19th century

“A Pennsylvania Desert” of the late 19th century

I’ll use Western Pennsylvania as an example, and I’m sure readers in other places can think of their own local examples. At one point in Pennsylvania’s history, about 100 years ago, the forests were almost entirely gone (see photo, right). Today’s logging looks harmless by comparison (and is ecologically much more sound, but still extremely disruptive). Trees that were 15 and 20 feet across were cut down during this time, and other resources the land held were also sought, such as coal. Since that time, regrowth (ecological succession) has been successful in some places and the forests that have returned are now mostly protected by being a state forest, wild area, or game lands (although game lands still allow fracking and logging, so I’m skeptical about this “protection”). Other forests never returned, and instead went to farmland, subdivisions, cities, airports, or something else. Even for the forests that managed to return to forest, the logging and clearcutting significantly and permanently alters the what is growing there long-term. Hardwoods like hickory, walnut, chestnut, or oak, especially have had difficulty regrowing because they grow much slower than other trees like black cherry, beech, or birch. Forest herbs on the floor also have difficulty recovering or spreading quickly, especially those who spread slowly by root or rhizome. Much of the land no longer holds the fertility or nutrients needed to support a forest. Other land still hasn’t grown back, and was farmland till the fertility in the soil was removed to the point where little is growing there–only pioneer species working to bring nutrients back into the soil.

 

Ecological Succession is the process of nature regrowing from a damaged state. What it regrows into is largely a matter of the ecosystem and region–around here in Western Pennsylvania, the final state of succession is a forest. In the Great Plains states, it is, as you may suspect, grass plains and savanna. The damaged state could have been caused by a fire, flood or other natural occurrence, but in our era, its predominantly caused by human destruction, as in the case of the forests of Pennsylvania, or more recently, mountaintop removal in West Virginia, or boney dumps in Pennsylvania. Sometimes, ecological succession fails to happen almost entirely, even over a period of decades or centuries, because the land has been too damaged by human activity to begin that healing process (of which I’ll be speaking more about next week).

 

As an example of this can be seen through the chestnut tree. Prior to the chestnut blight of the early 20th century, chestnuts made up anywhere from 5-15% of most forests in Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania decided to cut down *all* of the chestnuts (even non-blighted ones) to try to stop the spread of disease, essentially preventing evolution from happening–the chestnut trees could not evolve blight resistance if they weren’t given a chance to do so. The result is that very, very few chestnuts remain–hence why my father works to plant them.

 

Ecological succession well underway!

Ecological succession well underway!

Approaches to Human Intervention in Ecological Succession

The idea of human intervention on the landscape, in a positive direction, is not one well known in present culture. The conservationist approach, developed as a response to things like the clear-cutting that took place in Pennsylvania a 100 years ago, has done much to help re-introduce and protect forests and wildlife–and for the places that are protected, the protection generally works. I visited the Pennsylvania Wilds (a protected area spanning 1.5 million acres of forests in North-Central PA) two weeks ago and I was amazed to read of the story of conservation there on that land.

 

But I do think that the conservation mindset creates some challenges. The conservation mindset  is rooted in the idea that when white settlers arrived here, they found a pristine landscape, untouched by human hands. The goal of conservation, then, is to get the land back to that state and to not let anyone touch it again (because human touch is seen as problematic, and in most cases today, it is). Every day, I’m thankful that early conservations decided to set aside millions of acres of forests in my home state.  Some conservationist efforts do work towards restoring native ecosystems or at least creating balanced ones. And that’s all good work.

 

But at the same time, the situation is radically different now than in 1492–more species are here and are naturalized, animal species patterns are different (which is critical–see this video of the wolf changing rivers at Yellowstone), and I’m not sure that simple restoration to the way things were and then leaving it alone is always the best approach. I’m also not sure that leaving this regenerative work only in the hands of the “experts” is the best either because it disallows collective responsibility and action. But it certainly is an understandable response, given what has been going on for the last 150 or so years.

 

Another approach, one I have heard expressed in druid retreats and by various practitioners earth-based spiritual traditions is “letting the land alone to heal.” But I don’t think this approach is entirely ethical either. For one, leaving a forest to regrow on its own will never re-introduce species that have been largely lost to our forests, like chestnut, because there aren’t enough of them left to spread. It will never re-introduce ginseng, goldenseal, or ramps, all of which have been over-harvested to critically endangered stats–and all of which are slow-spreading root crops. It won’t address the damage caused by erosion or soil loss–eventually, given a long time, the earth can heal from these things. However, even while ecological succession is slowly occurring on nature’s own timeline, other damages and pressures may be happening, like acid rain, mine runoff, poaching, and more. The two real issues with the idea of “letting the land alone to heal” and that, first and foremost, is that it removes our personal and collective responsibility for the damage that was done. And second, just as humans caused quick destruction, we can also help jump start and guide the healing process more quickly. This kind of work tremendously deepens our spiritual and physical connection with those lands.

 

The Power of Human Touch: Positive Human Intervention, Spiritual Interaction, and Regeneration

White mythology suggests that when settlers came to what was to become the United States and Canada, they found pristine wilderness untouched by human hands. The truth is, the lands such as those that would later make up the USA were never “untouched by human hands” as is commonly thought.  Yet, the nature of the touch was much, much different. In fact, M. Kat Anderson, in a book called Tending the Wild provides a rich body of evidence that Native Americans tended the land extensively to maintain balance and abundance. Anderson learned from the Native elders she was interviewing in California that some native plants have literally evolved with human intervention and they need humans to survive and thrive—this puts an entirely new perspective on the idea of earth care and stewardship.

 

If you think this idea that the land evolved with human touch is a bit radical, consider domesticated vegetables or animals. This idea is really no different than farm animals or even annual vegetables you plant in your garden, who also have evolved with humans and depend on them for protection and nurturing. Anderson’s work breaks down the distinction between what is cultivated and what is wilderness–all lands were tended in some way.

 

One of the things I recently learned from Walker Kirby, a man teaching us at my Permaulculture Design Certificate who was coming out of the work of John Young’s Wilderness Awareness School, was the fact that “wilderness” as a term was quite negative in the native cultures of the northeast USA. Wilderness was it was land that had been abandoned or left untended by its people–and that was a tragic thing. This is such a different view that most humans have in industrialized nations–we have seen so much damage, we just want to leave nature alone and protect the wilderness.  But in creating “wilderness” we are, essentially, abandoning our responsibility to tend that land; its not really different than abandoning elderly relatives, children, or animals in our care.

Planting Hope

Planting Hope

 

The other piece to all of this is, of course, that this damage we currently have is largely human caused. Humans have some substantial Karmic debt that we can work to help payoff by directly taking action. Some humans are still causing active destruction; many more are complicit and passively supporting that destruction passively through their choices, purchases, and inaction. They turn their head and shut their eyes because they do not want to see.  But for those who walk an earth-based spiritual path focused on rebuilding a relationship with nature and those who are awake and alive–we are seeing. We can help make right what was damaged, and by doing so, we rekindle the ancient bond between humanity and the land. Many of our ancestors further participated in this destruction (as their livelihoods, but still, they were participating in it), and we carry the that karmic debt as well.  My grandfathers and great grandfathers worked in the coal mines and the steel mills because those were the jobs available here–and the environmental costs of those mines and mills are still very much present on the landscape of Western Pennsylvania today. Who better than their granddaughter or great granddaughter to go out and help regenerate the lands after the mills and mines closed down but their scars remain? All of us, in some way or another, are directly energetically connected to that damage which we see on the landscape–and all of us can do something, even something small, to work to heal.

 

Anderson’s Tending the Wild gives us a radically different model for what humanity’s relationship with nature can look like. It shows that humans have been active tenders of our landscapes, engaging in regeneration and healing, and co-evolving with nature. I believe it is this same mindset that my father has for bringing in more hardwoods–it is a desire to heal the land. Imagine if there millions and millions of us, all across the lands of this great planet, actively healing the land as part of our spiritual practice. What a difference we could make–in both inner and outer worlds.

 

Overcoming Fear

Many alternative communities, whether they are druids or other healers use some form of energy healing. In the druid traditions that I practice, our seasonal celebrations raise positive energy through ritual and song and send it into the land for a blessing. Energetically, we are doing the work of regeneration–but this invisible line exists that we don’t cross; we often don’t physically do much beyond that. Because we are afraid to do harm. Because we don’t feel we have the knowledge of how to do anything else. What exactly can we do? What exactly should we do?  How do we know we can do it better?  How do we know we won’t cause harm? Where should this work be done?  How should it be done?

 

Part of the fear of interacting with nature, especially in a physically regenerative capacity, I think stems from the fact that we want to do no more harm.  But I would argue that not doing anything is worse than the potential of doing harm in many cases. Anderson writes in her introduction to Tending the Wild, “The elders challenged the notion I had grown up with—that one should respect nature by leaving it alone—by showing me that we learn respect through the demands put on us by the great responsibility of using a plant or animal” (xvi).  The work of physical land healing can bring us the power to heal the land and the responsibility of doing so.

 

The Way Forward toward Land Healing as a Spiritual Practice

As my last few posts on the blog describe, this kind of work directly aligns with the tools and practices of  permauclture design.  Through permaculture, we have many examples of aiding in ecological succession faster and helping nature in this healing process. With careful observation, planning, and knowledge, we can actively help ecological succession along, actively help our lands heal.  This work takes a lot of knowledge, dedication, and commitment–but it is so worth doing and worth doing well.  Through many years of study and practice you’ll have more effective strategies to address larger problems, you can begin now, in this very moment.

 

Regenerate soil!

Regenerate soil!

For those interested in starting the work, perhaps start by enacting the principle of “observe and interact” from permaculture design. Go into the places that are in most need of healing that we can reach. The damaged lands, the degraded soils, those places abandoned by others. Lawns are a good place to start, as are abandoned fields, abandoned lots on your city streets, logged areas. Learn about that land, learn about the soil, look at what is already growing and learn about why it is growing there, don’t be immediately angry if you find out its “invasive” (many “invasive” plants are healers, in their own way) and think about how you might help ecological succession along. And more than anything else, listen and observe, with your inner and outer senses, and see what the land has to tell you.

 

I realize I’ve been doing this work for a very long time (as is evidenced by this early post), but the regenerative work I was doing was almost entirely focused on my homestead.  I knew I was regenerating the land there, doing good healing work. Selling my homestead and being “landless” during this transition to a new state has shifted my eyes to the broader landscape.  I realized that its not just about what I do on a small site, but what I do in many different places and spaces. I think that’s the work this post is trying to do–explore the broader call to heal the land beyond what we generally “own.” Its trying to cast a wide net, seeing the land differently, realizing that all of the land is ours to tend, if not legally so, than certainly, ethically so.

 

I’ll be spending more time in upcoming posts on different ways of approaching how physical land regeneration as a spiritual practice may happen. For now, I wanted to share my thoughts about why–as druids, as people who care, as whoever you are as you are reading this–we could consider this as part of our spiritual and ethical work in the world. Perhaps sit with the idea, like a hot cup of tea made from pioneer plants in a field in need of regeneration, and consider whether you are called to walk this particular path.

 

Introduction to Permaculture: Terminology and The Ethical Triad December 26, 2013

Sustainability means “the capacity to endure.” I use the concept of sustainability broadly in introducing the work that I’m doing as part of my Druidic path—people understand that term, what it means, and are  immediately able to have some idea of where I am coming from. The reason I turn to the concept of sustainability (rather than eco-awareness, green living, environmentally-friendly or other terms) is that sustainability implies a set of actions and an end goal, whereas “green” and “eco” are now mostly associated with a set of products to be purchased. Avoiding consumer-based terms is especially important since the worldview and actions behind consumerism are huge parts of the challenge we face in creating more sustainable futures. In this blog post, I’m going to discuss the terminology and principles that are associated with sustainability, in particular, explore the connections between druidry and permaculture that give us both an ethical system and a set of core ways of interacting with the world.

 

Two Australian designers, Bill Mollison and David Homgren, coined permaculture, or “permanent culture” in 1978. Permaculture is a design theory, a set of principles that we can use to help us design anything from a simple landscape or organic garden, to a building, and to a community of people living and working together. When I first encountered the concept of permaculture through a book called Gaia’s Garden: A Guide to Home-Scale Permaculture by Toby Hemenway (2009), I thought it was one of the most Druidic books I had ever read. This book helped radically shift my view and deepen my own Druidic practice by observing nature, using nature’s forms, recognize the cycle of nature and nurture that cycle in my own life, and so much more.

 

In Permaculture: Principles and Pathways beyond Sustainability, David Holgren (2002) outlines three core tenets for permaculture. These three tenets (which form what I am calling an “ethical triad”) are useful for building more sustainable societies and align closely with much of the ethics and practice of Druidry.

Permaculture Triad for Druidry

Permaculture Triad for Druidry

 

Care for the Earth.  Caring for the earth, including respecting and preserving the earth’s biodiversity, understanding the web of life, and being stewards of the land, are of key importance within permaculture. Within “care for the earth,” we consider things like James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis’ Gaia Hypothesis (reference), a scientific hypotheses that suggests that earth is a whole organized system (isn’t it nice to know that science has finally caught up with 1000’s of years of human spiritual understanding?)

 

As Druids, “care for the earth” is at the core of our practices.  It allows us to care in multiple senses—have reverence and respect for but also engage in direct actions that demonstrate our care. This principle also lends itself well to the divine belief systems of animism, pantheism, earth-based deity, and the earth mother, as well as seeing the earth as spiritually as well as physically connected. I have found that care is certainly a concept worth reflecting and meditating on in our own spiritual and life practices, and its one we’ll come back to in future months.

 

Care for People. Permaculture does, inherently, recognize that people are part of the earth too, and that we have basic needs that must be met, although there are better and worse ways to meet those needs. Care for people also recognizes that we are not set apart from the world, but rather, we are at one with it. This gives us personal responsibility for our actions, and responsibility in taking care of ourselves, our families, our communities/tribes, and our world. Concepts like self-reliance, resilience, making use of what resources already exist also come into play under this ideal.

 

Much of the practices of Druidry—meditation, self reflection, self improvement, building tribes and communities—also about care for people. A sense of “non-material well-being” is critical to care for people according to Holgren (year, p #). The principle of non-material well-being is part of our spiritual tradition—we value the intangibles, the arts, and the things that have little to no material wealth in our current culture, and we also learn to better value ourselves.

 

Set limits and redistribute surplus. Different permaculture authors describe this final principle in various ways; Holgren (year) suggests that we “set limits to consumption and reproduction and redistribute surplus” (p#), and it aligns well with Druidry. First, it affirms that there are limits to what our lands can sustain and that setting limits within our own lives, communities, and broader world is important for sustainable change. To understand more about our world’s limits on a larger scale, I highly recommend the book The Limits to Growth: 30-Year Update (Meadows, Randers, and Meadows, 2004).

 

This third principle also recognizes, however, that the earth is abundant, and with proper care and tending, she can produce so much for us. I’m reminded of the principles of limits and abundance each year in the fall; the hickory tree in my yard produced an abundant harvest of hundreds of pounds of amazing nuts. I could go and pick every last nut, but if I did so, there would be no nuts for the squirrels and chipmunks that depend on hickory as a major food source. I set a limit of gathering nuts to once every other day; this allowed us all to have our share. Permaculture design therefore, focuses on understanding balance—a lesson we Druids are reminded of every solstice or equinox.

 

Redistribution of surplus is not a value understood and enacted in our present culture beyond basic understandings of “charity” work, but it is a principle that is at the core of sustainable societies. Redistribution doesn’t just refer to money, but rather anything that can be recycled and reused in new ways. A forest is a perfect example of a closed redistribution system—nothing at all is wasted in a forest. The trees fall and are host to bacteria and lichens; these break the remains of the tree down into fertile soil; nutrients in that soil is taken up by plants, which are eaten by animals, and who die and are returned to the soil, and so forth. Permaculture design asks us to see everything in our lives, every object, scrap of food waste, and so forth as something that we can redistribute rather than throw away. Nothing truly goes “away” as the earth itself is also a closed system. The druidic principle of the cycle and circle is particularly useful here.

 

Holgren (2002) suggests that redistributing surplus was actually one of the reasons that so many indigenous traditions (including our spiritual ancestors) gave offerings. It was a sign of giving back, of recognizing the harvest and honoring the land, spirits, and gods who allowed that harvest to happen. In my first article, I suggested that one of my offerings was living a sustainable life—this too is a way of redistributing surplus.

Conclusion. These three tenets within permaculture can help us understand and enact more ethical, sustainable living within the world around us. The principles are useful as themes for meditation, as mantras, and as providing us with an earth-centered ethical system. In addition to the three principles, permaculture has twelve principles to help us enact these tenets in sustainable ways, and  I’ll be exploring these over a series of blog posts in the upcoming year.

I would also love to hear from you—how might you be living these principles in your life, either consciously or unconsciously?  How might we extend these practices in various ways into druidry and other earth-based spiritual practices?

 

Sacred Actions, Blending of Inner and Outer, Oak Knowledge, Living Druidry – Insights from my AODA 3rd Degree Process July 4, 2013

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.

 

A Philosophy of Druidry and Sustainability – Embracing Sustainability as Part of Earth-Centered Paths March 5, 2013

This month, I’ll have been walking a forest/druidic path for seven years. This experience includes founding a druid grove, being active in two druid orders, attending multiple druid and larger neo-pagan gatherings,

Sprouting lettuce for spring planting

Sprouting lettuce for spring planting

mentoring others, and so forth. And based on those experiences, I’ve come to see the importance of weaving in magical traditions with more practical action, of embracing sustainability and more earth-centered living as a fundamental part of my druid path. If sustainability is a goal of modern druidry, and if druidry seeks to embrace the idea of earth centeredness, then investigating the idea of being “deeply rooted in the living earth” and “embracing sustainability” is worthy of consideration.  In this post, I’ll talk about some of my own philosophy and experiences in making the shift towards sustainability with the hopes that this information can help others who want to make similar sustainable shifts also do so.

 

For druids, nature is the canvas on which we paint our spirituality. We layer mythology, experiences in the natural world, observations, and engage in esoteric practices that allow us to interact with the land. We revere nature, her spirits, her deities, and we enjoy nothing better than being out in wild spaces communing with nature. As part of this work, of course, druids think about these natural spaces–if the world is a sacred place, how do we conserve it? How do we preserve it?  The task seems so enormous, it can be overwhelming. Can we, as druids, become leaders of sustainability in our communities?  I would say, yes, we can, and we are already starting to do so.  We just need to keep pushing in this direction–and understand what resources we have and what areas we might draw upon to give us a better idea of how “embracing sustainability” can be done.

 

The druidic principles and philosophies, combined with more modern writings on the druid tradition published in the last 60 or so years, provide us an excellent grounding, especially from a spiritual side, to address sustainability.  Yet, we are still left wondering how to operate in the 21st century where we are facing a period unlike any other in human history: where environmental destruction is rampant, industrialization is declining, and humanity is largely turning a blind eye to the effects of our own greed. Where the power to make change, at least on a large-scale level, continues to be concentrated into the hands of those for whom change is not in their best economic interests. So how do we respond as druids? Where might we go for more information?

 

Tracing the roots of today’s Druidry reveals some powerful practices that can help us embrace a sustainability mindset, but also areas where we might need to go beyond our own history for additional guidance. Druidry, at least the Revival Druidry that I practice, draws its inspiration primarily from two sources: ancient Celtic traditions, mythology and teachings and the Druid Revival period in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Ancient Celts never faced the kinds of ecological challenges that we faced today, but they did live rooted in the land in ways that we can embrace. The Druid Revival, the second source of much druidic philosophy today, developed around the same time that industrialization did. The impact of the industrial revolution at the time had yet to be realized–and, I suspect, some of the reason that the druidic tradition grew in the first place was to build community and restore a connection to the land while in such an industrialized and challenging time.  Even so, when reading these early revival works (and the Druid Revival Reader is a great place to understand this history further) the Revival Druids’ primary emphasis was on the esoteric side, specifically in building and creating lodge practices.  These practices are powerful, they give us much in terms of working principles, philosophies, and ethics, but they don’t necessarily tell us directly how to live sustainable lives.  So we have roots of sustainability within these traditions, but not necessarily overt principles–this is where other movements can help guide our path.

 

Since druidry itself does not have an explicit tradition emphasizing sustainability, one way of embracing sustainability is to connect to other nature-based movements that clearly align with our principles and that can teach us the skills to become more sustainable.  And druids do this kind of work often–we draw upon many traditions to create our individual spiritual paths.

 

Some of these other sources of inspiration and tradition can be found in the permaculture and deep ecology movements.  I’ve spent a lot of time on this blog talking about permaculture; when I read Gaia’s Garden: A Home-Scale Guide to Permaculture, I felt it was one of the most druidic books I had ever read. And it didn’t use the word “druid” once; it had no meditation, ritualistic, or other esoteric practices. But what it did resonated with me deeply.  It asked me to observe, to use patterns in nature, and to completely re-see my interaction with the world and to question every interaction with nature that I had (and these were things I was already doing in AODA druidry, just in a slightly different way).  This book, which I read about three years ago, radically shifted my worldview. Other principles, like Deep Ecology, can provide us an ethical frameworks for understanding the world paired with specific actions and techniques for making real change. Deep ecology includes principles like “re-earthing”, which asks us to expand our connection to nature and expand our own idea of identity to closely align with other life.  Philosophical principles, like those espoused by Blackstone’s Philosophy and the Environmental Crisis and other environmental philosophers can also give us some insight. The nice thing is that most of these principles completely align with druidry, but in this case, they are more closely linked to ecological action and present us new resources and ways of deepening our understanding of sustainability. I have found in my own practice that by aligning with these movements, I was able to bring the physical and the spiritual in harmony; I was able to develop a more complete philosophy of living, growing, interacting, and respecting our living world. I’ll be looking at some of these principles in more detail upcoming blog posts this year and continue to further articulate the embracing sustainability druidic philosophy that I am describing here.

 

Growing your own food as a sustainable practice!

Growing your own food as a sustainable practice!

Embracing sustainability as part of druidic practice is obviously compatible with the broader movement of druidry. When we think about common definitions of magic, and ways of working magic, one of the basic principles is that magical practices should also have a physical component. In my own emphasis on sustainable living, I’ve found that the real magic happens when we combine physical action with spiritual approaches.  If I’m doing some spiritual healing of the land, which I find myself often called to do, physical healing of the land in any capacity enriches that magical practice (and this might be something as simple as picking up garbage or throwing a few native seed balls into an abandoned lot).

 

To show how the shift to embracing sustainability can happen, I’ll use myself as a case study, to demonstrate my own evolution in thinking on these issues.  I became a druid about seven years ago.  I had lost my close friend, my Anam Cara, and I had a spiritual awakening and found druidry as part of my grieving process.  I joined the Ancient Order of Druids in America and began working through the 1st degree curriculum. As part of that curriculum, I was asked to make three lifestyle changes to minimize my impact on the living earth, to spend time each week in direct observation and meditation in nature, to celebrate the wheel of the year and the turning seasons, and so forth. I appreciated these connections, and I did these things joyfully. But my emphasis was on more esoteric and spiritual matters–divination, spiritual crafting, embracing the bardic arts, ritual work, etc.  Looking back, I feel like I gave sustainability lip service, I did my part to recycle, visit the farmer’s market, read about ecology, use public transportation and limit my trips, and yet I didn’t really embrace it as a life philosophy.  I was still firmly rooted within consumer culture, critical but not yet very active. The AODA 1st degree Curriculum began that awakening process, it planted the seeds, but it was up to me to continue to push forward.

 

As time passed, my spiritual senses awakened, and I started realizing that I could sense the dissonance between my lifestyle and my spiritual practices.  I could sense, physically and spiritually, the destruction of the land and the lack of respect. It was like I needed several years of incubation before really  coming to an understanding about what my druidry really meant, what my druidry really needed to be. Druidry became not a religion or spiritual practice that I did only once in a while but as something I lived EVERY minute of every day.  And when I made that shift,  I had to change my interaction with the world.  At that point, I worked slowly but determinedly (as permaculture emphasizes small, slow, sustainable solutions) to more fully integrate sustainability as a spiritual practice. This has lead me to radically shifting my eating, my daily living, my hobbies, and in co-founding a local permaculture group to build community and bring others together to share and grow. So for me, druidry, ultimately, is a “this is what I do” religion/spiritual path.  When people ask me about who I am as a druid, I talk about my actions and how they are in harmony with my beliefs.  I try to treat the earth as sacred through every one of my daily actions. I also believe that part of this path leads to reskilling,  spending time with others who are enacting sustainable practices,  learning all that I can,  and teaching anytime I am able.

 

How can we approach this seemingly enormous task of preserving the sacredness of all life and enacting druidry?  I would argue we can do so through embracing sustainability as both a philosophical orientation and a practice of direct action.So if embracing sustainability is something that you are building (or want to build into your own druidic or earth-centered spiritual path), there are a lot of resources out there to get you started. I’ve blogged extensively about sustainability on this blog, for example:  ten tips to get started reducing your impact on the planetbooks to read, ways of seeing/thinking, going localvore, six principles for local eating, and much more!  Meadows, Randers, and Meadows discuss in their closing of The Limits to Growth (30 year update), when they say that they are continually demoralized by trying to enact sustainable change at the national and international levels, but always energized by what was occurring a the local level in smaller communities. (For readers interested in this phenomenon,  John Michael Greer had a great explanation of the governance issues with the disconnect between national decision makers and local community empowerment last month in his Archdruid Report Blog). In fact, I would recommend any of John Michael Greer’s books on peak oil (such as the Long Descent) to educate yourself further on these issues.

 

I’d like to conclude with some questions that might aid us in considering the role of sustainability more fully in druidry.  Can we, as druids, put the preserving of wild spaces at the forefront of our efforts?  Can we, as druids, engage in more substantial discussions about  to minimize our impact on the planet?  Is sustainability one of our core values of druidry?   Should it be?  I think for many it is, but I also wonder if we can do more–if we can embed sustainability more fully into our training program/druid order curricula, if we can more fully discuss it at our gatherings, if we make it a strong presence in our groves, and and if we can have more discussions of sustainability in our blogs and online interactions.

 

Sustainability and change isn’t just about the big events, the government structures, the online petitions. Sustainability is about about each and every action we take, each decision we make, and how we integrate sustainable practices into our daily lives in ways that are meaningful, powerful, and spiritually significant.