Tag Archives: druid’s magical bag

Permaculture: Design by Nature and the Magic of Intentionality

I’m sure each one of us have had times where we hadn’t through though something, the thing happened, and it took a direction we hadn’t intended it to take. A little bit of forethought could have made all the difference, perhaps turned a failure into a success. My early attempts at gardening were like this–I didn’t have a plan, I put seeds in the ground without knowing how tall or wide the plants got, and then they came up and things went wild quite quickly!  Sometimes, serendipity took over and I had great successes, if I could manage to weave my way through the thicket of tangles to the harvest. Other times, my plants were crowded out or strangled by each other or my harvest only lasted for a short time. What I learned, through permaculture and organic farming courses was this: a well thought out plan maximizes your yields, minimizes your time, and creates beautiful spaces. I started creating plans, working with nature, and suddenly, my gardens greatly improved!


Patterns of nature in a thistle!

Patterns of nature in a thistle!

When people talk about permaculture, they talk about it as a “design system.” One of the definitions of permaculture I work with goes like this: “Permaculture is a design system, rooted in patterns of nature, that helps humans restore and regenerate ecosystems while providing for their own needs.” What does it mean to be a designer? What do we do when we “design?” Why do we care so much about design? And how can design”in a permaculture sense be woven into our other spiritual practices? In this post, we’ll explore the principles of design and  magic of intentionality as two of the cornerstones of the intersection between permaculture, and nature-based spiritual practice.


A lot of us feel really lost and confused with what’s going on in the world.  We feel very reactive rather than proactive.  We feel like we need to keep responding to things coming at us, rather than intentionally addressing, in advance, our own circumstances.  Things move so quickly, stuff happens, and we find ourselves always trying to keep our balance. Its the nature of things, you might even say, its by design–just not our own. As a culture, we focus on problems, not on responses to problems–we are always hearing and focusing on everything that is going wrong.


But, what if we could reverse those scales a bit, and begin by designing our own lives and designing our interactions with the world?  That’s essentially, what a big part of permaculture is about, and why we use the concept of design. The idea of design, of intentionally and thoughtfully planning in advance, can be of great service to all of us. Design gives us power, in the sense that it gives us a plan to address problems we see. If more of us were able to take the energy we invest in problems (reading about them, experiencing them firsthand, etc.) and turn that into designing responses and enacting change, our world would be a very different place!


Design and the Flow of Awen

There are a lot of fields and practices that use design in some way, and if we are going to dig into what permauclture design is and why its useful to us as druids and others on nature-centered paths, let’s start with a few definitions. Merriam Webster Dictionary suggests that to design is to:

  • to plan and fashion artistically or skillfully
  • to plan and make (something) for a specific use or purpose
  • to think of (something, such as a plan) : to plan (something) in your mind
  • to form or conceive in the mind; contrive; plan:
  • to assign in thought or intention; purpose:

From these definitions we get a few key pieces: design includes the practice of planning, in the mind or on paper, for some purpose.  Design is about goals–what we set in advance and bring into being. We use our minds, our creativity, our artistic skill, and the powers of observation to conceive of some kind of plan, which we can then execute and adapt as necessary. Part of this design work is, of course, setting intentions and following through with those intentions.


There’s also, implicit in these definitions of design, that design isn’t simply about planning ahead, but rather, that there is an art to the process.  Creativity, the flowing of awen, must be part of our designs. Designs in permaculture aren’t just simple plans, they are creative responses we can use to better adapt human needs to natural ones.  In this sense, it ties to the entire line of bardic arts–those of working with the hands, with the mind, with the flow of awen to design spaces, places, communities, and more.

Natural Building Inspired by Nature's Patterns and Designs

This flow of awen comes, in permaculture, and in druidry, from the living earth herself.  Patterns in nature teach us patterns we can replicate in our more well-tended spaces.  Principles in nature teach us principles we can encact in our homes and lives.  Nature, then, is the ultimate designer and teacher: all that we can hope to do, and do well, is replicate her understandings.


Design and Magic of Intentionality

Further, in druid practice and other earth-centered spiritual practices, I think we can also tie design directly to the concept of intention in the magical sense of the word.  You often set “intentions” when you begin a ritual–the goals for the ritual, why we gather, why we open the space. Intentions help us direct activity and actions–these are things we want to accomplish. In magical work, we often leave the designs itself to the universe/spirits/diety/etc. We set intentions, raise energy, and send it out. But in permaculture, we take a more focused hand. Designs give us the plans that we need to move forward in collaboration and communion with the living earth.


I’m not saying that inteintionality and design are the same: they are not.  But I am saying that they are related acts, and come from the same place in the heart: the desire to accomplish good in the world, and to enact positive change.


Nature’s Designs

Nature's designs....

Nature’s designs….

The other side to permaculture, of course, is that it is a design system that replicates the many patterns and connections already present in the natural world. Whether you believe in higher hands guiding natural development or simply in evolutionary processes doesn’t really matter–what matters is that nature has an incredible wealth of information to teach us, patterns to show us, if only we are ready to see them.

In Permaculture Design, we use nature’s designs in at least two ways:


Conceptually, we design using principles and patterns in nature.  This means that we try to replicate the natural processes that already occur: designing with ecological succession in mind (I design for 100 years, not 1!), trapping and using existing energy flows, designing polycultures (groups of diverse plants) that support each other, and so on.  When we look to nature as our master designer, what we create is more effective.


Visually, we design using patterns in nature.  A leaf keyhole pattern in a garden means maximized space and beauty; a wave pattern is visually asthetic and offers many edges and margins; a spiral pattern replicates ancient truths.  We visually create designs rooted in nature and that replicate her patterns.


What are the Design Principles?

In the tradition of many hermits, one day in the early 1970’s, Bill Mollison got fed up with society, went into the forest, spent a lot of time observing and simple being present, found wisdom there, and came out with his first draft of the design principles. Of course, as I wrote about in an earlier post on this series, Mollison was giving a new treatment to ancient truths. The design principles are, in essence, those small lessons that nature has taught humanity over and over again, its quite and yet profound way.


I see them a lot like lights and markers along an otherwise dark path—we stumble in the dark, but the light of the principles helps guide our way. But to me, the design principles are more than just “design” principles—they are principles for living and being in the world. I use them from everything from themes for discursive meditation to mantras for daily living—here are three ways they can be used:


Wave Pattern in Garden

Wave Pattern in Garden

Good Decisions. First and foremost, the design principles help us make better, smarter decisions that are earth-centered and earth-honoring. When I’m deciding how to do anything, the principles are there, helping me guide my decision. For example: I’m faced with the prospect of a bunch of leftover food after an event on campus. The design principles offer some simple solutions through “produce no waste” or “waste is a resource.” How then, can I turn this waste into a resource? Take it home, compost it, feed it to a friend’s chickens, and so forth.


Good Design. Of course, beyond immediate life decisions, the design principles offer us much in the way of good design. I’ll be going into the principle of design more in an upcoming post, but in a nutshell, one definition of design is, “purpose, planning, or intention that exists or is thought to exist behind an action, fact, or material object” (Dictionary.com). This is to say, if we use the design principles for good design, we can live our lives and create/inhabit our spaces with intention and forethought in an ethical, nature-centered way.


Meditation Mantras. The third way the design principles work (at least for me) is as mantras for meditation. Deep meditation and reflection upon the nature of the design principles can lead to a more robust understanding not only of how to use them in your life, but in interacting and understanding nature. For example, “use the edges and value the marginal” leads us to understand nature’s patterns but also my own spiritual practices.


Designing the Inner and Outer Realms

What I love so much about permaculture as a system of design is that it can be applied just about anywhere.  Just as the permaculture ethics (which I wrote about in the last post in this series, and in the distant past) can be applied to both inner and outer work, so too, can the entire permaculture design system be applied to both our inner and outer realms.


Here’s what I mean: one permaculture design principle, which we’ll talk more about next week is: observe, interact, and intuit. This principle is exceedingly useful in considering for our outer landscapes, in that we can observe through the seasons to come to an understanding about how to create beautiful and regenerative spaces. We can observe the flows of nature and energy, note the challenges before us, and pay attention to the changing light, heat, and flows to understand the best approach to developing and regenerating this particular piece of land.


Leaf Patterns

Leaf Patterns

But the same principle can be equally effective on the inner landscape: we can step back from ourselves and observe our feelings, our interactions, our inner realms–and this can be deeply useful in our own healing and growth as human beings.  In fact, each of the permaculture principles of design, which I’ll be talking about quite soon in my own druidic way, can function on the outer and the inner–both as a way to design outer functional landscapes of any kind (cities, communities, homes, gardens, farms, campuses, etc) but also work deeply within our inner landscapes.  This series will weave between those two aspects of permaculture as a practice and a system of design.



Design offers us a kind of compass and roadmap for the journey ahead.  It takes the guesswork out of things, and instead, helps us plan carefully and effectively before enacting those plans in a meaningful and ethical way.  Design connects directly to patterns in nature, allowing us to carefully understand and replicate those patterns in our own inner and outer landscapes. As simple as design  is as an idea, the actual practice of design takes a bit more work.  In our next post (next week) we’ll explore the design principles as they weave through the four elements and continue to spiral inwards into understanding the relationship of permaculture and druidry.
PS: After posting this, I learned that yesterday Bill Mollison, one of the founders of Permaculture, passed from his earthly body.  I am delighted to be sharing some of his wisdom with you, and I want to take a moment to honor the work that he has done, and the movement he has created.

The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Working Tool

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!