The Druid's Garden

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

Ecoregional Druidry: Adapting and Localizing Symbolism October 2, 2017

To follow up from two posts a month or so ago on ecoregional druidry and the wheel of the year  and celebrating rituals, observances, and activities, I want to continue thinking about how druids can adapt basic practices of druidry to their local ecosystems.  This is particularly important for those of us in diverse ecosystems around the world: part of nature spirituality is being with nature as she is in your region. Thus far in this series, we’ve explored a druid’s wheel of the year that is seasonally-focused on a local ecosystem as well as the different ways we might celebrate this wheel of the year with rituals, observances, and activities.  Also tied to these spiritual practices are symbolism associated with the elements and directions; framing symbolism that weaves its way into our practices in a variety of different contexts. And so, in this post, we’ll delve into thinking about basic symbolism we use in the druid tradition and how we might adapt that based on an ecoregional approach.

 

What is symbolism? What does it do for us?

Before I get into why we might adapt symbolism and reasons to do so, I want to talk about what symbolism is in its basic form.  Catherine Bell, who did some of the most important scholarly work surrounding ritual in the 20th century, suggested that ritual practices connect people to archtypical or universal acts, attitudes, structures, or functions.  Symbols, within ritual, work like “a language for the primary purpose of communication” (61); in other words, symbols convey meaning to people who use them, and that meaning should be tied to the broader context.

 

The challenge, of course, comes in balancing individual needs and practices with those of the broader community.  This is a choice that each of us have to make–by moving further away from the traditional symbolism, it may be harder to align with larger community values.  If you are a solo practitioner, this may not be an issue for you.  But if you plan on running a grove or attending gatherings, it certainly may be.  Finding ways of developing a shared vision of what your ecoregional druidry looks like is in part, a negotiation with any others you might be practicing with.

 

Traditional Symbolism

Elemental Wheel with Traditional Animal Symbols

Elemental Wheel with Traditional Animal Symbols

The druid revival tradition draws upon symbolism adapted from the sacred animals and trees of the British Isles.  These symbols are typically as follows:

  • North / Great Bear / Earth
  • East / Hawk of May / Air
  • South / White Stag / Fire
  • West / Salmon of Wisdom / Water

In AODA, we add a few more into the mix (for detailed descriptions on these, you can visit this post):

  • Spirit above / Solar Current
  • Spirit below / Telluric Current
  • Spirit within / Lunar Current

You might also choose to expand the four directions to eight, but they don’t typically include animals.  Recently, at the OBOD East Coast Gathering, the Mystic River Grove added other animals: moose, skunk, turkey vulture, and turtle.

  • North East
  • North West
  • South East
  • South West

The traditional associations of the directions are used in all sorts of ritualized ways (both in OBOD and AODA) including in opening rituals and protective workings.  Because they are so pervasive and such an important part of the tradition, I personally believe that resonating deeply with these symbols is critical. So let’s take a look at how we might adapt any one of these symbols and what is gained–and lost–from doing so.  We’ll also explore adding in new symbolism or alternative symbolism.

 

Localizing Ritual Symbolism and Ecology

In the druid tradition, adaptation of the basic symbolism to your local ecoregion is not only common, it is encouraged.  Part of living with the land is drawing upon the animals, plants, and energies present immediately in that land that speak to you.

 

Beautiful Rooster can hold the east!

Beautiful Rooster can hold the east!

Elements and directions. The elements and their directions are specific to the druid path and other Western Esoteric circles. These associations are widely used by many, and in groups, give people some cohesion and consistency. Generally, I think these associations aren’t worth changing in most circumstances, especially if you are planning on working with others, but there is one instance that comes to mind where you might change them. This comes when you have a powerful elemental force in a different location such as a huge body of water in the east, a mountain in the south, and so on.  I have found it is helpful to “feel out” where the strongest force of the element is and use that if you feel that strong pull or are particularly sensitive to it. When I moved to the Great Lakes Region, for example, water was all around me, but I would often accidentally call water in the East because Lake Huron was closest to me and I was connected with the Lady of the Lake. Eventually, I solved the problem by connecting to a lake that was much closer to me (and much smaller) in the west so that I could keep my traditional associations (which I really wanted to do).

 

Animals. Druids in diverse ecosystems may find that the traditional animals may need to be reconsidered.  This is for any number of reasons: perhaps the animals are not found in the ecosystem, perhaps the druid has no connection with the traditional animals, or perhaps the druid doesn’t have a good connection with that animal.  Some choose to use the traditional animal symbols from the druid revival as well as their own additions in the cross quarters (or may have several sets of symbols depending on the location). Again, careful observation of nature, combined with looking for animal signs and seeing what speaks to you, is a useful practice.

 

In my case, even though three of the four animals are present in my ecosystem (hawk, bear, stag), I have substituted the salmon for a rainbow trout, painted turtle, or river otter.  The river otter is a particularly powerful symbol for me here in Western PA because otter was lost to our rivers and only in the last two decades has been reintroduced and is making a comeback–and as a kayaker, I see them regularly on my trips.  This is a powerful symbol of regeneration that I have experienced firsthand and is something I want to draw upon. When I was in Michigan, I had painted turtles and snapping turtles on my property near the sacred space, so they were what I called in the west.

 

On my land in Michigan, I did have hawks, but I didn’t want them too close (as the hawk would come eat my chickens regularly). So rather than calling in that energy, I called the energy of the “Rooster crowing up the sun” in the east, the energy directly on my property.  I would also sometimes call the Raccoon in the north, since the Bears were so rare in that area as it was more heavily populated.  This felt right and powerful; I was honoring the animals that were immediately present in my ecosystem (and trying to keep away predators that would do my flock harm).

 

Bees

Bees

Since I work a lot with AODA’s symbolism that includes the additional three directions, I also gave animals/birds/insects a place in those three directions as well:

  • Spirit below / the great soil web of life (because it sustains all life and is full of billions of living beings)
  • Spirit above / the white heron (because it was a dominant bird in my region and often flew overhead)
  • Spirit within / the bee of inspiration (because I am a beekeeper and love bees!)

 Spend time in the land around you and see what animals resonate with your own path.

 

Localizing Ritual Symbolism and Folk Culture

Another place you might go for symbolism, rituals, activities, and observances is your own family history or regional history. Look to the folk traditions, find the magic inherent in the landscape, and use that as your symbols, words, phrases, things that resonate. Often, small bits of older traditions (folklore, folk songs, even magical traditions) leave echoes upon the landscape and cultural history, tucked away in old bookstores or even within your own family lore. These powerful symbols may find their way to you unexpectedly and be useful as you are thinking about building your own unique path.

 

For me, a barn-sign tradition was a delightful surprise that offered symbolism that resonates both outward upon my landscape but also in my practice. This is now part of my own druid path, as are some of my grandparents’ Pennsylvania Dutch folk magic traditions, like using the Wooly Bear caterpillar to determine the severity and length of winter. In terms of the Barn Signs, after returning to Western PA, a friend and I were taking a drive through the country when I paid closer attention to the decorations on the barns in Somerset, Bedford, and Cambria counties in PA. Many of these barns were over a century old (one had a date of 1889 on it) and featured certain designs. Out in Eastern PA, they have a different kind of magical barn sign, a more widely known “hex signs” and they are colorful with symmetrical images and pictures painted on a round circle. But in Western PA, the tradition seems to be very different: a (usually) red barn with a white symbol that is cut out and applied to the barn. One of the most amazing had two decorative pentacles surrounded by a pentagram: very clearly a magical sign. I’ve worked some of these, as well as the “country” tradition of using the pentacle everywhere on houses, as one of my primary protective symbols.

Magical Barn sign in Somerset County

Magical Barn sign in Somerset County

Magical Barn sign in Somerset County

Magical Barn sign in Somerset County

Moving Beyond Tradition

You don’t need to stick just with animals or directions for symbolism that you can use to tie to your druid practice.  For example, other symbolism tied to the four (or seven) directions might also be useful for you to consider. These might be songs, movements, hand signals, sacred mountains, images, four sacred places, pretty much anything you want that resonates with you.

 

Fresh elderflower

Fresh elderflower

For example, I have a series of healing plants (for healing work) and sacred trees (for my daily practice) that I call regularly when doing daily rituals or other kinds of rituals. These came through developing relationships with the living earth as well as studying herbalism and using my intuition. I have many versions of healing plant correspondences that I’ve developed over the years. A general one of plants that I like and work with a lot for my own healing looks like this (and I absolutely use the 7 directions cause I want to add in more plants!):

  • Earth / Plantain (a wonderful all around healing plant)
  • Air / Stinging Nettle (nervine, tonic)
  • Fire / Goldenrod (anti-inflammatory, among other things)
  • Water / Calamus (water-based root, good for throat and other issues)
  • Above / Elder (immune support, fever)
  • Below / Sassafras (liver tonic)
  • Within / Hawthorn (heart tonic)

One of my versions, specific to cold/flu healing, looks like this:

  • Earth / Reishi mushroom (for immune system support)
  • Air / New England Aster (specific for lungs and air issues)
  • Fire / Bee Balm (for infection fighting)
  • West / Boneset (fever support)
  • Above / Elderflower (for fever support)
  • Below / Burdock (for nutrition for the body)
  • Within / Catnip (for calming)

Sacred Trees or, you could develop a set of symbols based on sacred trees in the Ogham or locally.  One might look like this:

  • Earth / Apple
  • Air / Beech
  • Fire / Cedar
  • Water / Willow
  • Above / White Pine
  • Below / Oak
  • Within / Elder

 

The possibilities for adapting to your local symbolism are endless–it is a joyful process that will put you more in touch with the living earth. I hope that this post has given you some ideas of how you might further adapt your own druid practices to your ecosystem.  I’d love to hear more from you about how you may have done or are thinking about doing of this adaptation work!

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Permaculture Principles for the Inner Landscape (Mind, Spirit, and Heart) October 16, 2016

Patterns in Nature

Patterns in Nature

Let’s start today’s post with a short exercise. Take a look at your hand–look at the patterns of veins under the surface. What does that remind you of in nature? Now, look at the creases on your fingers, again, looking at the patterns of nature.  Turn your hand around and stretch out your fingers, pointing your hand in front of you.  What does that remind you of in nature? Next, make a fist and  keep your arm pointed out. What pattern in nature does your knuckles remind you of? Finally, turn your fist to face you. Take a look at the spiral there, in your fingers. What this exercise shows is that the outer patterns of nature, the patterns we work with in permaculture that I described in my last post in this series, are literally embodied within us. I only just shared a few of nature’s patterns you can find on the human hand: the pattern of the river or leaf (veins), the pattern of the waves/clouds/sand (creases in hand); the pattern of the river delta or branching tree (hand outstretched with fingers apart); the pattern of the mountain range (knuckles); and the sacred Fibonacci spiral (closed fist). Our bodies replicate so many patterns of nature, as we are, after all, part of nature. But we only need to look to our own bodies to remember this important fact.

 

The landscapes of our inner lives are rich and varied. Moving within, our minds are rich landscapes of thought, experience, wisdom; conscious and unconscious realms; these realms allow us access not only to our selves in this life, but our higher selves.  Some of us don’t like to go within our inner worlds, for the fear of darkness or pain we might find there. As we grow older, time creeps up, and more experiences pile on us–things we don’t want or didn’t ask for enter that can weigh us down. But as the ancients understood, and certainly as many magical traditions today explore, the rich landscape of the inner realms knows no bounds and has no limitations–only those we place upon ourselves. It is another landscape, the landscape of our inner lives, and one that very directly reflects outer landscape–the inner and outer worlds are reflections of each other, two parts to the whole.

 

And so, the inner landscape, the landscape of our immediate souls and inner worlds, is well worth considering through the permaculture design principles. Our bodies, and our lives, are a different of landscape from the external one that a permaculture designer would typically explore, but the principles can apply all the same. Today’s post explores some tools for working with our inner landscapes and the possibility of permaculture as a framework for some of the inner work that we can do there. (If you haven’t read my post on design principles, you might want to start there and then return to this one).

 

 

Bee on a sunflower!

Magic of the bee!

Spirit Principles: The Wisdom of the Bee

On the inner landscape, the principle of spirit and the magic of the bee asks us to do the work of transformation. We do not live in perfect bubbles of happiness where everything always goes as planned, and one of the key ways to stay healthy and happy is by learning to transform negative experiences and inner states into growth and healing.

 

Observe, Interact, and Intuit. On the inner landscape, this first principle is critically important. We don’t spend much, if any time, stepping back to fully observe our own patterns, behaviors, thoughts, and feelings because we are typically up close and living those experiences.  Stepping back and simply understanding those patterns is key. I want to clarify here the difference between observation and evaluation (evaluation is covered under “reflect and revise” below). Observation here is simply the act of non-judgmental understanding and acknowledgement. There are many ways to do this, including druid retreat, meditation, deep and open listening of loved ones who know you well, stepping back in an intense moment to re-see a situation, or keeping a journal of our thoughts and feelings (which can help us understand patterns in our lives). Any of these are all observation techniques that can begin to better understand ourselves and our own patterns. Once we have a sense of our own patterns, conscious, subconscious, and unconscious, we are better in a position to do inner landscape work and healing.

 

Reflect and Revise. Stemming from the first principle, the ability to critically reflect on our experiences and patterns and “revise” is tremendously helpful as it facilitates our own transformation, growth, and healing. This is where evaluation comes into play. It might be that we need to re-see painful or difficult experiences in our past and work to transform them. There are lots of ways of doing this, depending on the nature of a painful experience.  For example, I find it helpful is to revisit an old would and explore what good has come of it (for example, I have experienced a number of traumas in my life, and it has really helped me to heal by recognizing the harm/wrong that was done, but also how I was able to transform it and use it to help others in my own life). Reflection and revision also asks us to look at where we, perhaps, wronged others or wronged ourselves and allows us to think about how we can grow to ensure that never happens again. Revision allows us to move forward with the promise of change for the future.  Meditation on these issues is one of the primary tools I use for this work, although I also use the visual arts (and art journaling for healing) when I feel led.

 

Work on Multiple LevelsInner landscape work, like all work, works on multiple levels within our lives. One such level is the relationship between our inner worlds and outer realities: how we manifest inner hurts or joy as our outer realities; also, how inputs from the outer realms become our inner states (see my discussion on waste for one example of this). A second way to consider this principle from an “inner landscape” perspective is that of the conscious, subconscious, and unconscious (which I consider a connection to the higher self).  When we are pained, we are often not only pained consciously, but that pain works deeply within us, causing us to behave in ways that we aren’t always conscious of. Sometimes, we have to work on things consciously for a time, to do some deep inner healing work.  And then our subconscious and unconscious take over, facilitating healing at those multiple levels.  Yet another way to think about this principle is the connections between the mind, body, heart, and spirit–understanding that all of these levels need our attention. This principle asks us to understand that we are multiple-leveled individuals, with multiple kinds of levels, and these levels always present. We can maximize our own growth by attending to them and working with them through healing, reflection, and ritual work.

 

Hawk flying high!

Hawk flying high!

Air Principles: The Wisdom of the Hawk

The air principles on the inner landscape ask us to use our knowledge and logic to work through inner problems before us.  The hawk flies high, and it allows us to gain a new perspective through the application of wisdom.

 

The Problem is the Solution Sometimes, limitations in our thinking prevent us from moving forward. We become stubborn, using words like “can’t” or “impossible.” Some people are defeated before they begin. They go to face a problem believing they will already fail, and they haven’t taken the time to find the solutions through the problems they face.  That, in itself, is a magical act that disempowers them! Or people use words like “I can never change” or “these problems are too big” or “this is how I live” accepting the situation and feeling defeated.  We don’t just hear these on the outer landscape, but we also apply these ways of thinking to our inner worlds.  This is self-defeating talk, and with this talk, the problems really are insurmountable–but they need not be.  There is always way forward, and this principle asks us to turn the problem on its head, look for the solution within that problem, and use this as an opportunity rather than a hurdle. I like to use discursive meditation to work through problems of this nature and see the various perspectives.

 

Mushroom Eyes. One of the unfortunate cultural sicknesses we have at present is what herbalist David Winston calls a “hardening of the mind.” The mind, like the heart, can harden to the point where we become so set in our ways that we can’t see beyond it. We close down, we refuse to see anything other than what we want to see (and for evidence of any of this, I point to the US election at present).  Mushroom eyes asks us to get beyond hardening of the mind by applying multiple lenses and many approaches with which to see the world.  This can mean working to see something from someone else’s point of view, or someone else’s set of experiences. Or to see something with our own lenses removed. It asks us to cultivate an openness and wisdom to see into the heart of issues within and without. This reseeing, through new perspectives, helps guide our inner growth with wisdom and grace. A second way of considering the principle of mushroom eyes for inner work is through the importance of the ternary and ternary thinking within the druid tradition. Western civilization loves binary thinking and often, issues are framed as having only two “sides” when the reality is that three, four, or even dozens of different perspectives may occur. I try to cultivate this practice in my own life by talking to those of diverse perspectives about their experiences, practicing deep listening, and really trying to put myself in other people’s shoes. Speaking to those of different cultural backgrounds and experiences, and even visiting other cultures and places can really help us develop inner mushroom eyes!

 

Design from the Patterns to Details. The hawk flying high asks us to consider our overall goals and patterns, and to use those overall goals and patterns to enact change on a daily or even minute-by-minute detail.  Its not enough to say “I want to change” but rather, we need to set the broad goals that can help us work down to the specifics. Articulating our overall goals, and time frames for those goals, in big terms; seeing how they can weave into the existing patterns of our lives, and then creating a long-term plan are all simple ways to develop inner landscape designs.  There are lots of ways to do this: I like vision boarding, which allows my subconsious and spirit to speak, rather than using my concious mind.  Second, I like setting personal goals for myself–not just what I want to accomplish, but what I want to cultivate (like good listening skills, joy in my life, less tangible things). Setting goals, even for our own inner transformation can help fuel our growth.  For example, if I wanted to work on my own sensitivity to others, I might set that as my larger goal and then set weekly goals of self-monitoring when I am easily upset or offended.  I check in on the progress of my yearly goals during the eight holidays of the year–and set new “yearly” goals for my own growth and development at each winter solstice. 

 

Fire Principles: The Wisdom of the Great Stag

Fire is the embodiment of energy and change; it is the fuel through which we enact transformations on our inner landscapes. The stag in the heat of the chase facilitates our own healing and growth.

 

Catch and Store Energy (Holmgren)On the inner landscape, we should pay attention to our own energy flows and find out how to best harness them–for being masters of our own energy is one way to help us grow. Ultimately, how much energy we have on a daily basis determines everything in our lives: if we can pursue and adapt to our creative gifts, if we are able to meet our goals, how we balance our life and work, how we balance other demands–attending to our energy, and harnessing it for the things we really want to manifest, is key. There are many, many, aspects to this, so I’ll share a few here. First, we need to find out when we can best express our creative gifts or have the right energy to accomplish what we set to accomplish (for example, I like to write creatively during sunrise, and I drafted this post as the sun was peeking through the mountains!). Second, we can also explore ways of balancing our own energy and cultivating the positive aspects of energy in our lives (for this I like the daily protective working of AODA’s Sphere of Protection and OBOD’s light body exercise). Third, I’ve talked at points on this blog about the outer practice of using herbs for healing and support; they can be allies in helping us catch, store, and replenish our own energy. Finally, and most importantly, we need to see how our resources–especially our physical energy–is being replenished. If we are constantly drained and overworked, we are not catching and storing energy for our own growth and work that is most important to us. We need to evaluate our personal lives, work lives, and family lives to see how our energy is being used, and make sure it is in line with our goals (see above, “Design from the patterns to the details.”) A really interesting perspective on life energy and work is found in a book called Your Money or Your Life–it will totally change your relationship with your work!

 

Spiraling Changes (Use small, slow solutions, Holmgren): Spiraling changes also asks us to attend to our energy, but in a different way. This principle suggests that when we make change, we need to make it in a way that is both slow and spiraling; these changes in our inner landscapes are more effective than rash quick ones that can’t be maintained. This principle is about learning to sustain our own energy to  in our inner landscapes and our own healing and growth over the long term.  Spiritual development and inner work on ourselves is a long-term project; think of it like a snail shell where we are every growing, and yet, coming back around to visit things again and again from a deeper perspective.  Keeping momentum going, but momentum you can reasonably sustain, is key here. I’d also mention here the use of small daily reminders and rituals that can keep you on the path of positive change: a five minute daily ritual, even, can offer tremendous growth in your life in the long run.

 

Creatively use and respond to change (Holmgren). When I was in North Dakota some years ago, I went on a trail ride near the Teddy Roosevelt National Park.  The horses had walked this same trail so many times, that at points, the trail was at points 5 or six feet deep and quite dusty–we were literally walking in a deep rut in the desert, made by those horses feet over a period of decades.  This, to me, is a physical representation of a deeper truth:  how we can get stuck in the neural pathways of our own thoughts the more we engage in those thoughts. Change is a constant reminder that we either have to learn to adapt or be like those horses, only seeing the rut that we have inhabited for so long. That we are going to encounter difficulty and that things are going to change is inevitable–how we approach and use that change in our own lives determines so much of not only the immediate outcome, but the long-term growth we are able to have. A key part of this work recognizing change as an opportunity for growth. A good book on this subject is Carol Dweck’s Mindsets.  She describes two mindsets that people can have: growth (where change/challenge is viewed by an individual as an opportunity for growth) and fixed (where change/challenge is viewed by an individual as something to be defensive against).  Its more complicated than that, of course, but these two mindsets surrounding change and challenge really do have tremendous long-term implications for our own growth and development.  Seeing change in a positive light and looking for the good and opportunities even in challenging situations can seriously facilitate our own growth as human beings long term.

 

Being on the water!

Being on the water!

Water Principles: The Wisdom of the Salmon in the Sacred Pool

The Salmon and the element of water focus on interconnections and relationships—this is certainly true of our inner landscapes as much as our outer ones.

 

Integrate rather than Segregate (Holmgren). There are certainly many ways to take integrate rather than segregate. The one I’ll focus on here, however, is one that plagues so many of those in the druid community: the desire to live a whole, authentic, and unified self. So many of us find ourselves in unsupportive environments where we don’t feel we can be unified, and so, we live fragmented lives. We are “druids” in our houses or forests, and “professionals” in our workplaces and “parents” or “children” in our families…and this fragmentation grates on our souls. It takes facing your fears, cultivating the ground slowly, and really considering all aspects, for us to work to integrate our spiritual lives with our physical reality. Part of this means, of course, is finding ways of being open about who we are that allow us to navigate those tricky boundaries; a second part of this means living our principles and living in honor with the land through regenerative and sustainable living practices.  A third part might involve conversations with loved ones about our paths. This work is certainly not easy, but it is worth working towards: the integration and fullness of living who you truly are. I’ll be working on a post just on this topic in the near future!

 

Layered Purposes (Each element performs many functions, Mollison).  Layered purposes suggests, on the inner landscape, that many of the things we do can have more than one purpose. One of the challenges I put before me, for any inner work, is to see if I can find more than one take away or outcome from it: perhaps meditation gives me peace of mind, helps me work through a difficult problem, and reconnects me with nature.  Seeing the purpose, and the multiple purposes, of our daily spiritual practices are certainly useful!

 

Use the Edges and Value the Margins (Holmgren).  When I was taking my permaculture teacher training course this past summer, Lisa DiPiano shared the idea of “pushing your edges.” Each of us has an edge space–this is the space where we move from comfort to discomfort, the space where we don’t quite feel as at home, or the space where we are really in new territory.  Perhaps for our inner landscapes, these are the edges between two parts of ourselves (the “professional” and the “druid”), or the spaces between the “light” and the “darkness” within us, or the other places where we feel less comfortable. It is important to safely explore those edge spaces, as those are the spaces of the most change and growth.  Lisa suggetsed that we all bush just beyond our comfort zone–not so far as to get overwhelmed, but just far enough to know we are experiencing the discomfort that comes from learning and growing. You might think about the edge space like the rings of a tree: a tree grows each year, its bark expanding and another layer of life being added. Each time we push our edges, we are like the rings of that tree, growing stronger and more steady the more we are able to engage those edges and integrate those experiences.

 

Starry heavens

Starry heavens

Earth Principles: Wisdom of the Great Bear of the Starry Heavens

The element of the earth and the great bear focus on the material aspects of our lves; for the inner landscape, we focus on the outcomes and resources that we have.

 

Obtain a Yield (Holmgren). This might seem on the surface like a principle that wouldn’t fit in inner landscape work, but truly, it is one of the most important.  The “fruits” of our efforts–of spiritual practice, of going into nature, of daily meditation, of inner healing work–can be difficult to measure and take stock in because the “yields” are less tangible–but not less real.  I think its important to consider our yields in our own lives: what do we cultivate and bring forth? Happiness? Peace? Creative gifts? Nurturing of others? Calmness of spirit and mind?  One of the ways I like to recognize the fruits of my efforts is to keep regular spiritual journals (a practice I started over a decade ago in my AODA work).  Then, usually at the Spring Equinox, which was the time when I began the druid path, I take time to review one or more of those journals, and to consider my journey ahead.  It is a tremendously useful practice which allows me to see just how far I’ve come and recognize the yields that I’ve gained. And, just as I discussed in the outer principle in my previous post, we need to expand our idea of “yield” to think about the many yields we can have: clarity, peace of mind, joy, creative projects, self expression, depth and understanding, better relationships with loved ones, and more.

 

Waste is a resource (Mollison):  As I’ve written about in past blog posts, we have a lot of waste in our culture, in both our outer lives and in our inner realms. On the inner realms this often includes the wasting of our own time and energy on things that do not help us grow.  I can (and have) written a lot on this subject in the past, so I’ll be brief here. Monitoring our own wasted time (for most, especially with electronic devices) and turning that waste into a resource that we can use is a really important part of our inner landscape work and growth. This is not something you do once but rather is a continual process of self monitoring and adjusting. Limiting time on social media, removing television from our lives, all of these things can help us get back in tune with ourselves and turn waste into a productive resource.

 

Embrace Renewables (Use and value renewables, Holmgren): On the inner landscape, we might think about those things in our lives that renew and replenish (and that renew and replenish us) vs. those things that drain us (temporarily or permanently) and work to embrace renewing activities.  This might mean that we spend time with certain people or we work to bring in certain activities that we enjoy and that bring us energy and peace. We don’t want any “fossil fuels” in our inner landscapes, burning out and polluting the place!  I think the practice of self-care fits here; it is critically important in our own inner and outer work.  If we are not engaging in renewing activities, we will never be able to have enough energy for the inner transformations and healing that we seek.

 

Meditation: One Key to Inner Landscape Work

 

I want to conclude this post by offering a key suggestion for enacting many of the principles above: meditation. Meditation is a practice that can–literally–open up our inner worlds before us.  There are many, many, different practices of meditation, many with different goals.  Most of the meditation I do on inner landscape work is either discursive in nature (a type of focused thought) or inner journeying work.  I find the more culturally dominant “empty mind” meditation or “mindfulness” meditation good for cultivating peace and tranquility, but not good for actually helping me work through various things on the inner landscape.  Now, I need peace in my life and I need to learn to quiet my mind–and these empty mind kind of meditations are really good for that.  But a lot of the work involved in the principles above are about directing your thinking and feeling in particular ways–and this is where I believe discursive meditation really shines.  So if you are going to take up the practice of meditation, understand that there are many different kinds of meditation and that these practices often accomplish very different goals. One meditation style may not yield everything that you need; it is better to have a few different styles available to you for different purposes.

 

Before you can benefit from any of the deeper aspects of meditation, the first step is establishing a regular baseline practice of breathwork and calming the mind.  Some good preliminaries are found here. For those seeking to establish such a daily meditation practice, I would recommend John Michael Greer’s Druidry Handbook or Druid Magic Handbook for more information. The techniques which JMG teaches, including color breathing and the four-fold breath (breathing in for four breaths, pausing for four breaths, breathing out for four breaths, pausing for four breaths) are great introductory ways to open the door of the mind to deeper transformation. Once you’ve established a good practice, you can do some of the more advanced inner landscape work.

 

Conclusion

I hope that you enjoyed this post–I would love feedback on the concept. (As those familiar with permaculture would note that  I am certainly pushing this series, and this post in particular, well beyond the typical uses of permaculture design principles). Blessings!

 

Lessons from the Sacred Element of Water: Seasons, Places, and Spaces November 30, 2013

In the past two years, I have done an intensive study with water as an element. My work with water began at Alban Elfed (the Fall Equinox) in 2011, when I met Thea Worthington, OBOD Modron, at the OBOD East Coast Gathering. During our interactions at the gathering and in our conversations, she gave me some powerful mentoring and suggested to me that I “embrace the chalice.”

With this, and an incredible gift of water from the Well of Danee on Iona, I began what turned out to be a two-year study of water. Since I’ve now felt the call to study a different element for a time, I wanted to share some insights about this journey, my understanding of nature throughout the seasons, and give some suggestions for those who want to engage in advanced, extended study of water. I’ll also note that for those of you who aren’t familiar with the OBOD’s Bardic Training course, the course is a wonderful introduction to studying the elements and is a good first step–I did this work years ago, so I was returning to water for a more intensive study. The work with the elements, a strong part of the druid revival tradition, is never complete–we can continually return to them and gain deeper understanding.

Ice in the Winter Months

Ice in the Winter Months

The Nature of Water

Water is expressed in three states–liquid, solid, and gas. We most often interact with it in the liquid state, but we can see representations of its three-fold nature in many things.  Its the only element that has such a nature, and this allows it to be incredibly adaptable. Its three-fold nature also allows it to interact with all of the other elements–rivers and lakes flow upon the earth, heat transforms water into its three states, and air allows for it to cycle.  One of the most basic ways of studying water is just observing and interacting with it in the natural world (and those of you familiar with permaculture design will recognize the 1st principle of permaculture at play here–observe and interact).

Water is synonymous with life. Without water, we can’t survive more than a few days–because we are, like most life on this planet, made up of mostly water. Life began in the element of water–in the primordial seas on this planet 3.8 billion or so years ago. Its the quest for water–and therefore life–that drives much of our space exploration.Water teaches us the power of adaptability, change, and flow–yet also power, persistence, and destruction. It can be as gentle as it is terrible.

 

The Nature of Water in the Seasons

Water is one of the primary vehicles of change as the wheel of the year turns.  The winter is a time when the water turns to its solid state–lakes freeze over, the water within the ground freezes, and water falls as snow, blanketing everything.  Each snowflake is a world into itself, a unique gift, the Awen of the universe expressed in minute form. The water, in its frozen state, brings about a calmness, a quietude, and a tranquility. As we go into winter, this is the time when we reflect deep within ourselves, when we too find rest. The water requires and demands this rest in its solidity.

When the spring comes, the warm rains fall, helping thaw the earth and bring forth new life. The plants uptake these waters and grow into the summer months, producing their bounty as light returns to the world.  Summer

Life in the Water

Life in the Water

storms–or droughts–mark the passing of the wheel. Humidity rises, mosquitoes come out seeking the water within each of us, the berries burst forth, and the wheel continues to turn.  Into fall, it becomes hotter and dryer, and the vegetables and fruits are harvested.  When we harvest vegetables, we must pay attention to their water content–for losing water is to lose freshness, to lose firmness, and takes much of the taste away.

By the time frosts and cold begin to once again blanket the land, water again is the agent of change. When the first frosts come, the water cells in the plants (especially the sensitive plants, such as many in the nightshade family) crystallize and then burst–this process marks the transition from liquid to solid state, and from fall to winter.  This is why the first and last frost are probably the two most important times to know when gardening–it marks the passage of the season.

 

Communing with the Spirits of Water

One of the ways that I worked with water in the last two years was by visiting many different bodies of water, communing with the spirits, and collecting water (with permission) from each of the sites.

How you find these sites is a matter of good listening and intuition–sometimes I would simply go places and see what I came across.  But I also studied maps to understand bodies of water and flow in my area, and often, I would see a place on the map I knew I needed to visit.

In communing with the spirits, I would bring an offering (bread for the fish and/or tobacco, which works very well for the spirits of this land), open up a sacred space, and then sit in quiet reflection and meditation. I found that communing works best when you are physically in the water or on its surface.  Frozen ponds work just as well as wading in the summer, but your experiences will be radically different due to the changes in the energetics of the seasons–this is something also to pay attention to.

Here’s one such example: for the last two summers, I took the hour or so drive north to Bay City State Recreation area which is on the edge of Lake Huron. I was lead to this spot initially by looking at a map. This turned out to be a perfect place to commune with the Great Lake Huron–there are a series of sandbars that go very far out into the lake and it is quite shallow. You can easily wade 500 feet or more out into the lake–so far that the shore is tiny, and you feel like you are in the middle of the lake, and nobody is anywhere near you. I’d sit in less than a foot of water out there and open up a magical space (using a modified version AODA’s solitary grove opening). And then I would wait and see what happened–and the most amazing things happened, each time I visited. I saw rainbows, butterlfiles, herons, geese, fish, and so many more things. I met the Lady of Lake Huron, who has taught me many things about the nature of water, especially in the Great Lakes region where I live. Seeking out these local water spirits, and working with them, can give you deeper insights into the nature of the element you are working with as well as the surrounding landscape.

 

Water altar

Water altar

Collecting and Honoring Water

My journeys to various watery sites and the gathering water at most of those sites has lead to quite a collection of water–from the Great Lakes Huron and Erie, from the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic, and the Pacific Ocean, from the Delaware Water Gap and various rivers, streams, and sacred pools.  Perhaps the most unique place I collected water was at Penn’s Cave, a water-filled cave in Western PA where you can only access it by boat.  At each location, I would spend time communing with the body of the water and then bring water back with me to put on my altar and continue to work with it.

The water altar is simple–its a series of vials with labels and other watery materials–shells, smooth stones, and the like.  I’ve always kept elemental altars in my home, but this one took on such special meaning with all of the care I put into its construction.

I worked to bring water into my life in other ways as well–I also brought water into my work environment–a small fountain, purchased used at a flea market, sits on my windowsill with my beautiful plants.

 

The Magic of Water: Healing and and Taking Journeys

The magical work of water is wide-ranging and powerful. I practiced water-based divination, where I would spend time just observing the surface of my pond or gazing into a bowl of water.  I also focused on conducting water healing rituals, such as the ritual I posted last year for our grove’s Imbolc celebration (and this one was later performed at the Pan-Druid Beltane, 2013). With each of these experiences, I documented my findings in a “water journal” which has become a source of inspiration–as well as the material for this blog post :).

Water also lends itself well to magical journeys. A while ago, I posted my reflections on the journey to the source of a river–this was one of my exercises that the spirits lead me to do while studying water, and it is a journey well worth doing.  The exercise is simple and yet profound:

1) Find a river or stream that you have a connection with.  If its too large, the journey could take a really long time, as a warning :).  The one I started with flowed through a forest and was about 10 feet across when I started.  It took about 8 hours.

We become the river.

We become the river.

2) Follow that river upstream as it gets smaller and smaller.  At each branch, take the largest branch (or follow your intuition).

3) See where the path leads you, and what insights you have.

My journey was detailed in my previous blog post…but let’s just say, I plan on taking other journeys in the near future along waterways :).

You could also do the opposite–get in a kayak, get in a small stream, and see where the water takes you!

 

Connecting with the Ancient Understandings

There are different kinds of elemental spirits and ways to commune with them–delving into the roots of esoteric wisdom and spiritual teachings in many traditions will likely give you deeper insight. For example, as part of my work with water, I studied and worked with the elemental spirits of the alchemical tradition, the Undines (and writings by Paracelsus or Manly Hall can lead you in this direction.) I started learning spagyrics (plant alchemy) recently as part of my Celtic Golden Dawn training, and these original studies ended up being fruitful in many ways.

In mythology broadly, water, water creatures, and water deities form a central role.  From the Chinese Dragon Kings who lorded over the seas in the four directions to the Scandinavian Fosse Grim, you can learn much about the nature of water in this way.

 

Understanding Water in the World Today

A study of water wouldn’t be complete without research into the challenges that the world faces concerning water. A visit to San Diego a year ago and seeing the strain on water resources and my teaching of a course in research methods with a sustainability theme prompted me to study more about the Colorado River and issues in the Southwest. More locally, I also studied threats to the Great Lakes region, which include oil pipelines, nuclear waste dumps, and Asian carp.  These lessons are important, and can help me meld my spiritual understandings with the nature and lessons of water with action in the world–especially on a local level.

 

Catching and Storing Water

One of the things I have yet to do in the realm of water is to work with it here on this land for the purposes of homesteading and growing food.  In this next year, I am planning on digging a series of swales to store water to nurture my fruit trees and possibly create some zones for growing aquatic foods (such as rice paddies for me and duckweed for the chickens). I also am looking into harvesting rainwater and finding other potable means of water (water became a big issue when I lost power a few weeks ago). These plans will represent, in many ways, the next phase of my study of water–now that I understand it on many levels, I will work with it more in my physical life.  This is part of the beauty of the path of druidry–it can manifest itself in all realms, in all ways–all we need to do is seek the connections.  I will be sure to post details of that work here as the spring comes again! 🙂

Dear blog readers, I would love to hear from you on your experiences and insights into the nature of water!

 

What is a Druidic Garden? October 26, 2010

Filed under: Definitions — Dana @ 1:41 am
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Hello and welcome, friends.

I’m starting this blog to document my path as a druid gardener.  I thought my first post would detail this quest, including what being a druid and a gardener means.

Druidry. When you ask five different druids for a definition of druidry, you’ll likely get five different answers.  Druidry,

by its very nature, resists definition.  It is flexible and fluid, like a moving river.  It is refreshing and stimulating, like the spring breeze.  It is insightful and wise, like the snowflake or frozen countryside. It is inspirational and powerful, like the peak of a mighty volcano.  Druidry is a life path, a spiritual tradition, and, to me, a way of seeing the world.  Druidry asks us to investigate, enjoy, and strengthen our own bond with the natural world.  Druidry sees the land, the animals, the water, the sky–all as sacred.

As a druid, I live my life in a sustainable, ecologically friendly way.  But druidry goes beyond environmentalism–rather, we view the land itself as sacred and worthy of reverence.  These are my definitions of druidry.  Some druids may disagree, or may add or subtract as they see fit.  Druids are pragmatic and adaptable folk–we understand that tolerance is key to our continued harmony and peace.  Our tolerance  is also key to the nature of druidry–like the seasons, we come in many varieties and walk many different paths.  But the one thing that unites all druids is our belief, ultimately, that nature is good and that through healing nature, we heal ourselves.

Strength: A Tree Growing from a Rock

Strength: A Tree Growing from a Rock

The Garden as a Site of Druidic Practice

The druid path encourages us to seek out the natural world and to find spiritual meaning in its embrace.  The garden lends itself very well to the druidic tradition–it is a source of life, balance, growth, and seasonal change. Druidic practice looks at the connection of our lives with the elements (earth, air, fire, and water) and with the flow of Awen (divine inspiration).  We dig our hands into the earth to plant and harvest.  The air brings clouds, storms, and the water falls with the rain.  The sun provides the fire that allows the plants to grow.  We are inspired by the garden’s bounty and growth.

But druidic gardening is more than just growing vegetables.  It asks us to garden in a sustainable, earth-friendly manner.  To consume less, to conserve more.  A druidic garden is one that is at harmony with the land.  To this end, a druidic garden:

  • Is organic and locally sourced, using natural materials such as manure and compost to fertilize and condition the soil (and preferably only coming from a small radius nearby)
  • Is a place of sustainability and embraces the idea of permaculture: sustainable gardening practices encourage us to live with the land, rather than off the land
  • Allows for a reduction in consumptive behaviors currently killing the planet; reduces our dependency on fossil fuels and goods transported by those fuels
  • Reconnects us with the spiritual and healing aspects of the land
  • Is a place to grow spiritually and learn to better respect the process of life
  • Is a place to seek knowledge and to learn about plants, food and seed preservation, the cycle of the seasons and planting, harvesting, and so much more.

I am new to this gardening path.  I grew up with a garden as a child, but the process was never explained in depth.  As a college student, the most I could manage was a few tomato plants in a container.  But here, now, on three fabulous acres of my own land, I will learn, grow, and become a druidic gardener.  And I hope to take you on this journey.