The Druid's Garden

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

Reclaiming Our Heritage and Connection With The Land: Herbs, Plants, and Harvests October 1, 2014

Path through the woods

Path through the woods: how many ancestors walked here?

As you might have noticed, my posts on this blog slow down considerably in the months of August – October.  This is because as a single homesteader, I’m quite busy bringing in the harvest canning, drying, and freezing;  preparing my garden for next year’s season; planting garlic and other fall crops; jumping in leaves; drying herbs; and generally enjoying fall, my very favorite of the seasons.  My posts will become more frequent as winter approaches!

 

I’ve been taking a lot of time to reflect this year, because this is the end of my 5th year as a homesteader and I’m coming up on 9 years as a druid–through these experiences, I’m really starting to feel that I am living the wheel of the year much more intimately and that I’m regaining something that my generation (and several generations before me) lost. Today I’d like to posit that many of the activities that I discuss on this blog, from finding wild foods to medicine making and growing and preserving the harvest is as much about reclaiming our human heritage and reconnecting to the land as it is about foraging a sustainable path in an increasingly unsustainable world.  In other words, these activities give us a window both into the work of our ancestors and also to the future.  To do this, I’m going to talk a bit about heritage, and the process of feeling like I am regaining some of mine with these practices.

Grandmothers and Grandfathers: What They Knew and What Went With Them

When I think about the kinds of things that were passed down to me as a child, I think about the time I spent with my grandfather Custer in the forest; where he showed me several edible and medicinal plants, where he taught me to see the tracks in the snow; where we would laugh and play in the forest. I only remember fragments, but I hold onto those dearly. I think about the lessons of my grandmother Driscoll, who would find a shiny penny face up on the road and bring it home and bury it beneath the front paving stones.  Grandmother Driscoll, who made dandelion wine she never drank, who trash picked and made many things from nothing at all–these lessons are all part of my heritage.  But there wasn’t a lot that they passed down; they were all too busy working multiple jobs, raising families, making steel in the mills.

 

My grandmother Custer taught me many songs, songs that her grandmother had taught her. One song she taught me was called “a froggy would a wooin go”;  I didn’t know it when I was a child, but I recently discovered that this song has roots as back as 1558….all those grandmothers passing down the song to their grandchildren. I think about that kind of history–500+ years of grandmothers passing on the song so that I was able to learn it as a child. And I’m glad for that tiny bit of heritage. But I also wonder what my great-great-great-great-great grandmothers knew and how they lived, I wonder what they knew about the kinds of things I’m trying to relearn–knowledge of root and stem and seed.  We have almost no family records, I have no idea of knowing what they knew, how they lived, who they were. Most of all, since I lost all of my grandparents before the age of 15, I wonder what I would have learned if they were still alive, or if I had had a chance to know my great grandparents, or their great grandparents. I wonder what they knew but did not think it relevant to teach in a quickly changing world. I wish, knowing where I am heading now, that I could have conversations with them, learn from them these skills, these ways of living.

 

I will also say, however, that my parents lived quite simply and, while I wouldn’t say they actively passed it down by teaching me the principles, we lived those principles growing up.  Canning and gardening were regular activities in our house. My uncle hunted and brought us venison and turkey.  We ate lots of zucchini from the garden.   I kinda just saw them as hobbies, not realizing their significance till later in my own path.  But I was grateful to have grown up with this framework as I began my own druidic and sustainable practice.

The Ancestral Lands of Western PA

The Ancestral Lands of Western PA

Living Without A Heritage

I remember one day, sometime in the late 1980’s, my Grandmother Driscoll sat with tears in her eyes on the stoop where she buried so many shiny new pennies and she said to me, “Things were different when I was a child, Dana. Even during the depression, things were different.  People needed each other then.  We got on with very little.  We were a lot happier. There is so much I know that we don’t need anymore.”  Then we went inside and ate her homemade mushroom soup and made tiny doll clothes from repurposed fabric.

 

I remember looking back on this memory long after Grandmother had died, after they had all died (many due to the illnesses associated with steel mills and coal mines), thinking that I had literally no heritage. That the traditions and knowledge of my ancestors (primarily Irish, Native American, and German) were completely lost to me.  And truthfully, they pretty much were. Much of my family had come to America at least four or five generations prior to my birth; those who were Native had long since been forced to lose much of their own history or died trying to retain it.  Those that were Irish changed their names and eradicated their cultural practices due to discrimination.  The Germans had fared the best, and in my home region, we still had remnants of “Pennsylvania Dutch” folklore, cooking, and even, as I discovered only recently, a magical tradition called “Braucherei.” For all of my 20’s, however, I felt that I had literally no traditions to keep, no heritage to pass on.  This was, of course, compounded by the fact that I had rejected the religion of my parents (Christianity) and most of their holidays, and while I had tidbits of knowledge and songs from my grandparents, I felt like I was a person living with nothing.

Building New Traditions: Honoring the Land and Living Close to it

Dana and Dad cutting up Chicken of the Woods!

Dana and Dad cutting up Chicken of the Woods Mushrooms!

In the Tarot, the “tower” card represents a crashing down, a clearing of the way, with the opportunity to build anew once the dust settles.  In some ways, I kinda see this whole situation in a generational way: me as the 21st century product of the crumbling dust of the tower. I live in the remnants and shadows of the lost ancestral knowledge about how to live from the land, about how to build communities, about how to interact with each other; I live with the fragments of  traditions that hadn’t been passed on because of a rapidly changing world.

 

Through the work of the last five years, I realized rather recently that I was building something anew where I had perceived this empty wasteland of family heritage and tradition.  I became, thanks to two of my close friends and mentors, obsessed with reading old books full of old knowledge (the 1970’s has much to offer, but previous decades and centuries even more so).  I attended workshops, classes, learned by doing, talked to old wisened elders, learned everything I could (a process that shows no sign of ending anytime soon).  I also looked to my parents and their practices and saw their lifestyle with new appreciation.

 

I realized that I was building a new heritage that I could pass on by rediscovering the past, how others had lived, by studying the plants, by learning to grow and forage for my own food, but also melding those practices with druidry.  Druidry gave me the spiritual framework to understand the work I was doing and to understand and refect upon my practice it in useful and productive ways.  Druidry, with its own spiritual heritage paralleling the rise of the industrial revolution (and in many ways, responding to it) provided me with grounding and daily practices that helped me further understand myself and gave me tools to walk the tightrope between the worlds.

 

The other thing druidry and my sustainable practice was doing for me was helping me pull away from the heavy consumerist haze which had dominated the lives of so many of us growing up in the 80’s, falling into video game addictions in the 90’s and 2000’s (and yes…I was deep in fantasy land for way too long).  It helped me regain my footing, my connection to the land, my sense of self.

 

And now, I am starting to understand the power in returning to the land in whatever way one can–by enjoying the fruits of one’s labor and cultivating close relationships with plants.  By making one’s own medicine to heal oneself.  By being happy that one has built up the calluses needed to do a few hours’ work in the garden.  By not only celebrating the wheel of the year, but understanding from a growth standpoint what happens to the plants after the Fall Equinox comes and joyously waiting the return of the Spring Equinox.  By learning the secrets of the soil.  By just practicing being happy and quiet and not running around like crazy all the time.  There is something so powerful about being even a little independent and self-sufficient.  Its a ton of hard work, yes, but it gives you something meaningful.

 

Dana and Dad after visiting the beehives

Dana and Dad after visiting the beehives

Perhaps the most magical of all is that its not just me that has found this path–my immediate family, too, is transforming and regaining the oak knowledge of our ancestors.  Some of the photos I’ve shared in this post are of us doing various activities that we are discovering together–beekeeping, mushroom hunting, and so on.  My mom was the photographer in all of these images. We have, collectively, worked to rediscover and build a new heritage and tradition for ourselves that allows us to once again live close to the land and all of her inhabitants.  Last year, for example, I taught my parents about mushroom hunting–and they have become serious hunters, and now are teaching me new things.   This year, my sister and I are on parallel paths learning the ancient ways of herbalism and medicine making.  I have seen this same thing occurring in the lives of many other friends’ families–its if we are all waking up to rediscover our relationship to the land and working, as families, to build that knowledge once again.

 

I am so grateful to have found this path–not only does it give me ways of living that help me personally address the larger predicament that we face, but it also reconnects my entire family with the knowledge of our ancestors.  It enriches our lives. Even though the chain of knowledge was broken and many traditions were lost–druidic, sustainable practice can help us build new traditions and “oak knowledge” that we will be able to pass on.

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Traditional Western Herbalism as a Sustainable Druidic Practice July 24, 2014

Because of my ongoing study of Traditional Western Herbalism as a student of the amazingly awesome Michigan herbalist Jim McDonald.    I wanted to take some time today to discuss the potential of herbalism as an essential quality of druid practice.  I hope this post encourages others to also consider learning herbalism for their spiritual work, sustainable work, or both.  It is highly rewarding, with direct, tangible benefits.

Making herbal tinctures from wildcrafted ingredients

Making herbal tinctures from wildcrafted ingredients

Druidry, Sustainability, and Herbalism: A Natural Relationship

I’ve been exploring the relationship of my druidic path to that of my herbal studies, and I’ve come up with a number of ways that they are highly compatible:

 

1. Speaking with the plants, seeking connection with the natural world on the physical and metaphysical levels. Since druidry is a deep path of nature spirituality, following the cycles of the seasons, listening the voices of the spirits of the land, it only makes sense that one kind of oak knowledge we would seek would be that of the plant kingdom.  Herbalists speak in terms druids can understand and that aligns intimately with our tradition; when I open up herbals and I read about how we must listen to our “plant allies” and also work on an intuitive scale with the plants, I know that I’m reading something that can substantially deepen my practice and also improve my health.

 

2.  One branch of druidry, that of Ovate studies, directly connects with plant knowledge, divination, and the healing arts. The realm of the Ovate within the druid tradition is often associated with plants, the natural sciences and healing with said plants (also, often, divination). I see all of these intersecting with the work of an herbalist–an herbalist must know the plants very well, must understand their lessons and their medicine.  This means studying botany and ecology, being able to rightly identify herbs.  But this also has an intuitive side to discern signs and accurately assess someone’s condition in order to select the correct herbs and doses to use. These kinds of intuitive practices can be enhanced by druidic practice, such as discursive meditation, observation of the natural world, and naturalistic studies in the bio-region where the druid resides. Likewise, the practice of herbalism directly enhances a druid’s understanding of the world…when I go out in a field or forest, I know the qualities of the herbs that can help heal. That’s a powerful tool, and one that the ancient druids certainly held.  I honor my spiritual ancestors, and that ancient tradition, by learning the healing teachings of the plants as “oak knowledge” and “ovate knowledge.”

 

3.  The roots of druidry and herbalism are quite similar and work from similar frameworks.  Herbalism is a folk tradition, passed on, adapted and fluid.  Herbalists’ making of knowledge involves a combination of research from aging tomes, material directly passed down through teachers (orally, in the case of my own course), engagement in the natural world.  Each herbalist has her or his own unique approach, and yet herbalism is a framework in which all herbalists interact.  As #2 describes, herbalists also rely heavily on intuition and inner teachers and plant allies.  I find the epistemology of herbalism (that is, their ways of making knowledge and of knowing) extremely compatible with my druid path, where knowledge is constructed and practices are based in similar epistemologies.  That is, as a druid I read old texts and learn about the ancient druids and the revival druids, enjoy the myths and writings of those who came before.  I adapt these teachings and the basic frameworks to my own practice.  I learn from others, from correspondence courses and direct teachers, inner and outer.  I learn as much from nature as I do from anywhere else…..sound similar?  I think so!

 

Bunches of herbs getting ready to hang for drying

Bunches of herbs getting ready to hang for drying

4. There is magic in plants, and herbalists and druids both know it.  Herbalists have developed ways of reaching the magic of plants, ways that benefit druids to learn.  Tincture practices, practices of drying, dosing plants, and the like, can lead not only to greater health benefit for the druid and his/her family, friends, and community, but it can also lead to deeper magical practice.  I think studying the herbal healing arts gives us new and powerful ways of interacting with the plants, ways that maybe aren’t as accessible within the druidic traditions and training.  Likewise, practices rooted in druidic work (such as Greer’s Celtic Golden Dawn system) use spagyrics (or plant alchemy) to create extremely potent medicinal/magical tinctures.  Combining these two systems gives one a huge advantage in understanding the magic of plants on many levels.  I have found that the more one knows the plants….the better for so many reasons.

 

5. Knowing about the plants and their benefit to humanity can help save our lands.  This is perhaps the most pragmatic of the reasons, but in my mind, a critical one.  Druids value the land and seek to protect it, to preserve it, to revere it–especially our wild and unsettled spaces.  We can do that SO much more effectively if we can show others the value and benefit of plants within that landscape.  There’s a huge difference to the argument “don’t cut those tall weeds down, they deserve to live” (which they do, of course) to something like this “Those tall ‘weeds’ you are thinking of cutting down are St. John’s Wort plants. They have substantial medicinal value to you, including as a topical antiseptic and wound healing herb, a mood uplifter, a gentle astringent good for the urinary system, not to mention a great herb for native pollinators. Those other ‘weeds’ over there you are thinking of pulling are milkweed. In addition to being critical for the endangered monarch butterfly, you can eat them at most of their growing stages–shoot, bud, and pod, and they are absolutely delicious.” You get the idea.  The more you know, the more you can teach others, and the more they can then value the landscape around them. You’ve been seeing me use this approach with my blog–my post on dandelion, for example, encourages people to resee this plant as an incredibly useful herb, hopefully encouraging them not to dump weed killer on them or mow them all down before the bees have a chance to gather up pollen.  And honestly, I have found this approach to be invaluable. On a recent research trip with some colleagues, I pointed out numerous useful plants, helped one person with itchy bug bites and encouraged some aromatic relaxants for an upset stomach….all from the surrounding landscape.  Ideally, we want to shift to the point where life is valued for the sake of life, but arguments about nature’s benefits to humans is a good way to begin to cultivate such understandings.

 

6. Herbalism, especially locally-based herbalism, makes you pay attention to the seasons and observe/interact with the wild spaces in new and exciting ways. Since I’m determined to gather, dry, tincture, and make into oils and salves as many herbs as I will need to handle my own minor medicinal needs (outside of catastrophic illness/injury and regular check ups), I’ve been out each week, sometimes multiple times, gathering herbs.  This makes me pay such close attention not only to the passing of the seasons but also where I gather. For example, I’ve been eagerly awaiting goldenrod blooms all summer because I really need their medicine.  But I have to be careful where I gather, because I want my herbs to be clean, energetically excellent, free of chemicals or toxins, etc.  I have found myself, since becoming an herbalist, seeing the landscape in ways I never did before.

 

Herbs drying on a rack!

Herbs drying on a rack!

7. Herbalism can be an earth-centered and sustainable practice.  The more I learn about the modern pharmaceutical industry, the more convinced I am that many modern pharmaceuticals are not only unnecessary and overprescribed, but also unsustainable to our lands, with destructive outcomes for our waterways and the health of all beings on this planet. The environmental impact is staggering–a quick google search will reveal studies on the ecological effects of antibiotic overuse, the detection of pharmaceuticals in the soil, the amount of drugs going into the waterways, the list goes on.  The more that we can take care of our own needs, become resilient within our local communities and our own lives, the less strain we put on the planet as a whole and the less “consumer demand” we generate for destructive manufacturing practices and unnecessary products.  And the less funds go to companies who might do various kinds of evil with those funds.  If I have a bad cold and choose to stay home and treat that cold with herbs that I’ve gathered and grown throughout the year, that’s a heck of a lot more sustainable than driving out to the store and buying plastic bottles full of manufactured medicine that likely come with side effects.  This is especially true if the herbs are safer and better for me.  Using herbs in the place of over-the-counter drugs, like most sustainable practice, requires more work and knowledge, but I fail to see how that’s a bad thing.

 

8.  Herbalism as an empowering practice. When I began practicing druidry eight years ago, I found the practices and study courses to be incredibly empowering.  I had taken my spiritual practice into my own hands, it required my own interpretation and a dedication of my time in ways that spiritual practices of earlier times in my life had not.  I had to seek it out for myself, empower myself to learn and grow, and dedicate myself to the practice of it daily.  Herbalism is much the same thing.  It is an extremely empowering practice, and one that has positively altered my life much in the same vein that druidry did eight years ago. Going out and gathering my herbs, knowing how to treat myself when I get a minor illness, and being able to do it all with what is growing around me–that’s amazingly empowering!

 

Studying herbs and Druid Orders: I also want to mention that while some druid orders include healing material as an integral part of their training programs (usually as part of ovate studies) others cannot due to laws on discussing and teaching any kind of healing material in the US.  This means that taking up herbalism as a personal healing practice may or may not be part of the work you can do in an official capacity in an order’s study program, but that isn’t to say that you can’t learn this and integrate it into your druidic path on your own.

 

In my next post, I’m going to describe ways to begin to be an herbalist, so stay tuned!

 

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.

 

Oak Knowledge: Value of Bardic, Ovate, and Druid Knowledge October 12, 2012

In the ancient celtic world, the word “druid” meant “oak knowledge” or more broadly “deep knowledge” (Cunliffe, 1997). This likely referred to the wide variety of activity that druids participated in and the knowledge they held–the knowledge of the law, of nature, of astronomy, of mathematics, of the bardic arts, of the spirit realm.  I’ve understood this in an abstract way, and have worked to integrate these different aspects of druidry into my life.  This weekend, my recent experiences in officiating my sister’s wedding really reinforced for me the incredible power of “oak knowledge” in action.  I share this story with you to demonstrate how powerful the different kinds of knowledge that we druids embrace can be.  These different aspects of druidry, the bardic arts, the knowledge of the ovates, and the leadership of the druids, can empower us, and can help us grow with the world around us.  This oak knowledge is sacred knowledge, its knowledge of the lands and of the soul.

 

My sister invited me to help plan her wedding and to serve as a co-officiant.  This was my first opportunity to officiate a wedding although I have been ordained through the Ancient Order of Druids in America for about 2.5 years (since finishing my second degree studies with the order).   I didn’t really advertise my ordination widely, but sought the ordination so that if anyone in our grove or area needed such services, they were available (and this is the subject of an upcoming blog post!)

 

The White Pine Grove

The bride and groom, Briel and Jonathan, who are “spiritual but not religious” people, wanted to make the ceremony respectful to multiple faiths.  They also wanted to have both a male and female as officiants for a duality/balance of energy.  Therefore, I co-officiated the wedding with Jonathan’s father, Robin.   Robin and I came from different paths but from a position of mutual respect, and worked in the months leading up to the wedding with Brie and Jonathan to create their ceremony.  I think that even in my interaction with someone of a different faith, druidry, and its emphasis on diversity and embracing difference played a role. The ceremony itself was beautiful, and had various elements brought in from druidry including three deep breaths, the celebration taking place in a sacred grove and in a circle, and rooting their union in water and earth.

 

Most officiants are good at rituals and public ceremonies; they think about how people enter the space, how the ceremony flows,  how to craft the ceremony specifically for the couple, and how to make the day as special as possible. And certainly, my training with the AODA and OBOD and my experiences in writing and running rituals for our grove and the East Coast Gathering has prepared me to do that kind of work.  This is one small part of the “Oak knowledge” that druids provide.  But since I had a co-officiant with more experience in wedding ceremonies than I did, I found my role a bit different and it was due to my training in other areas of druidry.

 

The second kind of “oak knowledge” comes from an understanding of the natural world in terms of ecology, plants, and foraging skills. The wedding was performed in a lovely white pine grove near a lake and a wooded hillside. I had spent some time exploring the grove prior to its selection as the wedding site. After we choose the the grove for the ceremony, I was quick to point out the poison ivy vines growing near the back of the grove.  I taught the wedding party about how to identify a poison ivy vine (by its massive amount of roots attaching to the tree and its leaf pattern).  This way, as we were setting up for the ceremony, nobody would accidentally sit too close to one of the vines.  I also showed the wedding party the bountiful amounts of wintergreen that was growing in vibrant green and red just below the white pine needles on the grove floor.  I harvested big bowlfulls of autumn berry, which were growing bountiful in the region (my cousin, who abides by a raw foods diet and lives in NYC, was particularly appreciative of such knowledge!).  We had autumn berries in salads and in our oatmeal for breakfast. I picked wood sorrel and purslane, which was a bit beyond their season but still tasty, and added them to our salads.  I taught others how to identify these plants, when they

 

Autumn Berries in Abundance!

were in season, and other look-alikes to avoid.   I found a yellow-jacket nest in a field where people were walking and pointed it out so that people could avoid the area and a confrontation with the hornets.  I learned from another forager who came from the groom’s family about making rope from dog’s bane. All of this knowledge, this natural world knowledge, added something unique to the ceremony. All of this knowledge was the “oak knowledge” that we druids have–and I was also able to add to my knowledge through learning about dog’s bane and rope making!

 

In addition to the ecological knowledge, I was able to share with Briel and Jonny information on the magical and spiritual aspects of their chosen location.  We spoke of the white pine as a magical tree, and its benefits.  I told them of the positive energy they brought by choosing to hold their ceremony in an evergreen grove and with a second evergreen plant (wintergreen) below their feet.  From the earth and up into the sky, they had the symbols of eternity and everlasting unions around them.

 

The training in the bardic art of music and the arts represents yet another area of druidic “oak knowledge.”When it was revealed a week before the ceremony that they needed more live music, I brought my panflute, which I have been playing since working on my AODA 2nd degree music spiral and my OBOD bardic grade.  During the ceremony I played two songs.  I also played my flute and the drum during the talent show (eisteddfod!) that we had the evening before the ceremony.  Prior to the ceremony, I crafted their wedding gifts (handmade teas), their guestbook (from recycled and handmade papers), and their wedding invitation painting.  All of these bardic arts also added positive energy to the ceremony!

 

Partridge Berry

My gardening and work in sustainability, which I speak of much on this blog, also found a home in the weekend’s activities.  I canned and brought a number of jars of homemade pasta sauce, which we shared with friends and family.

 

Part of their ceremony involved working with earth and water.  To supplement the energies of their ceremony, I brought sacred waters that came from many different places: the headwaters of a local stream where me and my sister grew up, the headwaters of the Huron river in MI, waters from two great lakes, water from our grove’s Imbloc ritual last year, water from the Delaware Water Gap, and water from Iona, the Island of the Druids.  I’ve been collecting such water for some time, and I hope it brought blessings to them.

 

Finally, when things became stressful and tensions ran high, which is all too common at any intensive weekend like a wedding, I was able to draw upon the druidic value of peace and my own work with daily meditation to smooth over not only my own emotions, but help others in my family.  Silently reciting the druid’s peace prayer and seeking the forest for grounding, I was able to remain calm.

 

When I think back upon this weekend, I realize how much the druidic path, and its multiple foci on the bardic arts, knowledge of the natural world, practice with meditations, ceremonial knowledge, and knowledge of the spiritual and magical world has enriched my own life, and now, enriched the lives of our two newly joined families.  I think this experience was unique in that it showed me just how much seven or so years of dedicated druidic study can offer–not just to the individual who studies, but to the world at large.  And I want to stress–before druidry, I would have been able to offer none of what I was able to offer above.  My story is not a testament to my own creative abilities, its a confirmation of the power of druidry and its dedication to different kinds of knowledge paths.

 

And there’s one more thing I want to say.  When people ask about druidry, as several did, I usually like to talk about what I *do* rather than what I *believe.*  I think this action-based druidry, and introducing my family (including many of  those who were previously unaware of my path) to druidry through action is much more powerful than saying “here’s what I believe.”  I didn’t talk much about druidry last weekend.  But I embodied it.

 

And so, fellow druids and earth-path walkers, embrace the idea of “oak knowledge” and the activity that it can bring.  After seeing its power in such a direct and meaningful way, I really feel that its not just about being good at one aspect of druidry.  Its about having a solid understanding, a generalist knowledge, in all of the aspects of druidry.  This is is useful knowledge, practical knowledge, knowledge of this world and of the ones beyond.  This is oak knowledge.