One of the strengths of AODA druidry is our emphasis on developing what Gordon Cooper calls “wildcrafted druidries“–these are druid practices that are localized to our place, rooted in our ecosystems, and designed in conjunction with the world and landscapes immediately around us. Wildcrafted druidries are in line with the recently released seven principles of AODA, principles that include rooting nature at the center of our practice, practicing nature reverence, working with cycles and seasons, and wildcrafting druidry. But taking the first steps into wildcrafting your practice can be a bit overwhelming, and can be complicated by a number of other factors. What if you are a new druid and don’t know much about your ecosystem? What if you are a druid who is traveling a lot or is transient? What if you are a druid who just moved to a new ecosystem after establishing yourself firmly somewhere else? This post will help you get started in building your own wildcrafted druid practice and will cover including using nature as inspiration, localized wheels of the year, pattern literacy, nature and relationship, and finding the uniqueness in the landscape.
Prior to this post, I’ve shared some of my earlier ideas for how you might develop a localized wheel of the year, consider the role of local symbolism, and develop different rituals, observances, and practices in earlier blog posts. The three linked posts come from my own experiences living as a druid in three states: Indiana, Michigan, and now Western Pennsylvania. For today’s post, I am indebted to members of AODA for a recent community call (which we do quarterly along with other online events). In our 1.5 hour discussion, we covered many of the topics that are present in this post–so in this case, I am presenting the ideas of many AODA druids that flowed from our rich conversation. For more on upcoming AODA events that are open to AODA members and friends of the AODA, you can see this announcement.
Nature as Inspiration and for Connection
While the principle of wildcrafting seems fairly universal, in that all druids find some need to wildcraft to varying degrees, there is no set method for beginning to engage in these practices or what they specifically draw upon in their local landscape. The details vary widely based on the ecosystem and the individual druid’s experiences, history, culture, and more. What an individual druid chooses to follow is rooted in both the dominant features of that landscape, what they choose to focus on in the ecosystem, and how they choose to interpret and build a relationship with their landscape. Here are some of the many interpretations:
- Following the path of the sun and light coming in or out of the world (a classic interpretation) and looking for what changes in the landscape may be present at the solstices and equinoxes
- Following clear markers of the season based in plant life: tree blooming, sap flowing, colors changing, tree harvests, dormancy, and more
- Following clear markers of migrating birds and/or the emergence or stages of life for insects (monarchs, robins)
- Following animal patterns and activity (nesting behavior, etc)
- Following weather patterns (e.g. time of fog, monsoon seasons, rainy season, dry season, winter, summer, etc)
- Following patterns of people or other natural shifts in urban settings (e.g. when the tourists leave, patterns of life in your city)
- Recognizing that some places do not have four seasons and working to discover what landscape and weather markers mark your specific seasons
- Drawing upon not only ecological features but also cultural or familial ones (family stories, local myths, local culture)
Transient druids or druids who travel a lot may have a combination of the above, either from different ecosystems that they visited or from a “home base” ecosystem, where they grew up or live for part of the year. There is obviously no one right or wrong way to create your wheel.
Another important issue discussed in our call tied to using nature as inspiration is viewing nature through a lens of connection rather than objectification. When we look at a tree, what do we see? Do we see the tree as an object in the world? Perhaps we see it as lumber for building or as a producer of fruit for eating. But what if, instead, we thought about the interconnected web of relationships that that tree is part of? What is our relationship with that tree? Thus, seeing nature from a position of relationships/connections and not just seeing nature as objects is a useful practice that helped druids build these kinds of deep connections with nature.
Wheel(s) of the Year: Localizing and Adapting
The concept of the wheel of the year is central to druidry. Druids find it useful to mark certain changes in their own ecosystems and celebrate the passage of one season to the next–practices which we’d define in terms of a wheel of the year. But to druids who wildcraft, the wheel of the year should be a reflection of nature’s cycles and seasons, things that are local and representative of the ecosystems that they inhabit. While many traditional wheels of the year assume either a fourfold or eightfold pattern and are based entirely on agricultural holidays in the British Isles and the path of the sun, this system does not map neatly–or at all–onto many other places of the world. The further that one gets from anything resembling UK-like temperate ecosystems, the less useful the traditional wheel of the year is. The disconnection and divergence encourage druids to build their own wheels of the year.
Druids describe widely divergent wheels of the year in different parts of North and South America. Some reported having only two seasons (rainy and dry) while others reported having up to 7 different distinct seasons in their wheel. Wheels of the year might be marked by some of the kinds of events described in the bullet points above: the return of a particular insect to the ecosystem, the migration of birds, the blooming of a flower, first hard frost, the coming of the rains, and so forth. I shared my own take on the wheel of the year here, and also wrote about my adaptation of Imbolc to my local ecosystem and local culture–these are two examples that might be useful to you. Even if you live in an ecosystem that isn’t that divergent from the classical wheel of the year, you still may find that you want to adapt parts of it to your specific experiences, practices, and connections.
From my earlier article on the wheel of the year, here are some practices that you might do to start building your own wheel:
- Nature observations: You might start by observing nature in your area for a full year and then noting: what is changing? What is different? How important are those changes to you?
- Interview the Old Timers and Wise Folks: Talk with the old farmers, wise women, grannies, and grandpaps in the area who have an innate knowledge. Ask them how they know spring has arrived, or that fall is coming, or what they understand to be the seasons. You might be surprised at the level of detail you get!
- Look to local farms and agriculture. Most traditional agricultural customs and products are directly dependent on the local ecosystems. You can learn a lot about important things that happen in your local ecosystem by paying attention to the agricultural wheel of the year and what is done when. If you have the opportunity to do a little planting and harvesting (in a garden or on your balcony) you’ll also attune yourself to these changes.
- Look to local customs and traditions. You might pay attention to regional or local fairs and festivals and/or look at regional calendars to see what the important dates are. Some of these may be contemporary customs from much older traditions (like Groundhog Day) or customs that used to take place but no longer do (like Wassailing in January). Reading about the history of your region, particularly, feasts, celebrations, and traditional activities might give you more insight.
- Consider family observances. Some families develop their own traditions, and some of those might be worth considering. For others, family traditions are often religious and may belong to a religion that you no longer want to associate with, and that’s ok too.
- Consider where the “energy” is. What is this season about? Where is the energy and power in the land at present? What is changing? Observation and interaction will help.
- Speak with the nature spirits. Perhaps the most powerful thing you can do is to connect with the nature spirits or spirits of the land and see what wisdom they have for you (using any number of inner communication or divination methods).
Pattern Literacy: Nature’s Archetypes
All druids seeking to wildcraft and connect deeply with the world around them would benefit from understanding what permaculturist Toby Hemingway called “Pattern literacy”. Patterns are nature’s archetypes; they are the ways that nature repeats itself over and over through broader designs, traits, configurations, features, or events. Each unique thing on this planet is often representing one or larger patterns. Learning pattern literacy is useful for all druids as a way of starting to engage with and develop wildcrafted druidries.
Let’s look at an example of pattern literacy from the plant kingdom to see how this works. The rose (Rosaceae) family is a very large family of plants and includes almost 5000 different species globally–including blackberries, apples, hawthorns, plums, rowans, and much more. Members of the rose family are found on nearly every continent in the world. Rose family plants have a number of common features, including five petals, five sepals, numerous stamens, serrated leaves (often arranged in a spiral pattern). If you know this pattern, then even if you don’t know specific species in the ecosystem you are in, you can still do some broad identification–you can recognize a plant as being in the rose family, even if you don’t’ know the specific species. This information–along with lots more like it, comes from a book called Botany in a Day, which I highly recommend to anyone interested in learning plant patterns.
For those of you who are transient, traveling, or looking to connect to a new ecosystem, pattern literacy offers you a powerful way to form immediate connections in an unfamiliar ecosystem. Connections are formed through relationships, experiences, and knowledge–you can have a relationship with one species and transfer at least part of that connection to similar species in a new area. With pattern literacy, you an learn the broad patterns of nature and then apply them in specific ways to new areas where you are at. Once you can identify the larger patterns, you are not “lost” any longer, you are simply seeing how that familiar archetype manifests specifically in the place you are at. These kinds of immediate connections in an unfamiliar place can give you some “anchoring” in new places.
The best way to discover patterns is to get out in nature, observe, and interact. Reading books and learning more about nature’s common patterns can also help. In addition to Botany in a Day which I mentioned above, you might be interested in looking at Philip Ball’s series from Oxford University Press: Nature’s Patterns: A Tapestry in Three Parts. The three patterns that he covers are: Branches, Shapes, and Flow. Mushroom and plant books also often offer “keys” or key features that repeat over many plant families (e.g. shelf mushrooms, gilled mushrooms, boletes, agarics, etc). These kinds of books are other good sources of information. Learning nature is learning patterns–and pattern literacy is a critical tool for druids.
Recognizing the Uniqueness in the Landscape
Another useful way of wildcrafting your druidry is thinking about what is unique and special about your landscape. These can be natural features, beauty, diversity, insect life–and these unique features can be a land’s journey through history and restoration from adversity, the story of that land. Finding and connecting to these unique features may give you a way of seeing how your land is unique in a very local way. Some landscapes have old-growth trees, others huge cacti, others endless fields of flowers, and still others huge barren mountains with beautiful pigments. Each place is different, special, and unique.
For transient druids, traveling druids, or druids who are new to an ecosystem, recognizing the uniqueness in the landscape has added benefit. It allows you to focus on what is special and best about the landscape you are in rather than focusing on a landscape that you miss (e.g. being able to appreciate the prairie for what it is rather than focusing on the fact that there are few to no trees). Thus, this offers a way of orienting yourself in an unfamiliar environment.
Ready, Set, Wildcraft!
Hopefully, this post combined with my previous writings on this topic can help you develop a connection with your landscape, and thus, find new ways of deepening your wildcrafting practice. Find the cycles, find the patterns, discover what is unique, and discover what changes–all of these suggestions can help you better understand the world around you. If you have any strategies or ideas that weren’t shared here that have helped you wildcraft your druidry and connect with your local landscape, please feel free to share!