The Druid's Garden

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

Druidry for the 21st Century: Druidry in the Anthropocene February 17, 2019

Druidry is rooted in relationship and connection with the living earth: the physical landscape and all her plants and creatures, the spirits of nature, the allies of hoof and claw, fin and feather. The land and her spirits are our primary allies and energies with which we work as druids. The question I keep coming back to is this: how do I practice a nature-centered path in a time when nature–those of the hooves, fins, feathers, and claws–are going extinct and dying all around me? How do I practice druidry when everything that I hold sacred and love  is under severe threat, and when it is likely that in my lifetime, I will witness severe ecological collapse in multiple ecosystems.  How do I practice druidry with my “eyes open” to all of this, and honor nature in this great extinction event, and still say sane? How do I do this “druid” thing, given these challenges?

 

A less disruptive path to help preserve an ecosystem

A less disruptive path to help preserve an ecosystem

Druidry in the 21st century is a complex topic, and I’ve been trying to work my way into it in different ways on this blog. I started this by thinking about how druidry offers coping mechanisms for those of us faced with the many challenges of our age: that is druidry offers refuge in dark times. I think it’s critically important to acknowledge that first and foremost, we need self care to do it well.  While all humans need self care in these dark times, our spiritual relationship with nature requires it. I followed this up with a post about the future of human civilization (Druidry for the 21st century) and made the argument that one way druidry may serve the future is through developing and providing paradigms and mindset shifts.  The idea that druidry is the seed of something different; that druidry offers us new paradigms and hope; paradigms to replace the thought processes and civic ideals currently driving post-industrial civilization to the brink of global collapse.  These are two useful responses, but they certainly aren’t the end of this conversation–not by a long shot.  So today’s question is a serious one: What can druids do about what is happening to all of nature now and what will continue to happen in the foreseeable future?

 

Today, then, I’m going to talk about death.  I’m going to talk about nature and relationship, and I’m going to talk about extinction. Maybe you want to stop reading at the words “death” and “extinction”; these are things we don’t talk about.  These are things our media refuses to cover. These are things overwhelming to even well meaning people, people who love the land, people like you and me. These are things that bring tears to my eyes when I read them or think about them.  But it is necessary that we honor and acknowledge those parts of nature that are no longer with us; that are dying and may never return because of human indulgence. To avert the eyes is essentially allowing a loved one to suffer alone.  If your grandmother were dying in a hospital, would you ignore her, or would you go visit her? (For more on my idea of “palliative care” and why witnessing is so important, see here and here).  If your sacred companion on the druid path–nature–is suffering and dying, can you really pretend everything is ok? I don’t think I can just go into my woods and do some woo-woo and get healed by nature and call that druidry.  Druidry is not a one-sided relationship.  If we want to gain our strength, wisdom, peace, and healing from nature, we must also offer something in return. I believe that now–in the 21st century, in the Anthropocene, nature needs us just as much as we need her.

 

The Hard Stuff

So let’s start with the hard stuff. Scientists are clear that the world’s sixth extinction-level event is underway. “Biological annihilation” is the phrase used to describe what is happening–since 1970, at least half of the world’s animals are gone. That means that we had twice as many animals living on this planet in 1970 than we do today. This isn’t some far-off future prediction. It has already happened. It is continuing to happen as you read this. It has happened in the time that you have been present on this earth. Here’s a list of the “recently extinct” species–those who have gone extinct primarily since industrialization. There are many more who are not on this list because they weren’t discovered or documented before going extinct. A 2017 study, examined 27,600 land species and found that all species were showing huge amounts of population loss, even among species of the “lowest concern” with regards to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s guidelines (which sets guidelines for endangered species).  This study suggests that 80% the traditional territories of land mammals have been eradicated, making way for cities, people and shopping malls–this is the “biological annihilation” that they speak of.  The study also indicates that this trend will likely increase in the next two decades with the rise in population and continued rising demands on the earth. Another piece of this comes from the work of Bernie Krause, who wrote The Great Animal Orchestra (which I discussed a few years ago on this blog).  Krause’s work focused on recording nature sounds, and he demonstrates that the sounds of nature are simply vanishing, along with the life and species.  These issues are also not limited to vertebrate species–another study, released in October, showed a 75% decline in insects in protected ecological areas in Germany.  The problem isn’t that change is happening; the problem is that it is happening so quickly that natural evolutionary processes (processes that allow species migrations and adaptations) cannot occur.  And so, how do we honor those animals, plants, insects, trees, amphibians, reptiles and so forth that have passed, many unnoticed?

 

One more piece here, that I think is critical to consider. All ecosystems have what is called a “carrying capacity.” That is, given the resources available (sunlight, soil, plant matter, water, weather, etc) the land can reasonably sustain so many lives of different kinds: so much insect life, so much plant life, so much animal life, so much human life.  Ecological collapse refers to when an ecosystem suffers a drastically reduced carrying capacity–that is, the ecosystem can no longer support the life it used to because of one or more serious factors.  These factors are usually compounded and may include the loss of a keystone species, general pollution or degradation, deforestation, ocean acidification, over-hunting, you name it.  Its like a domino effect–sometimes, all it takes is one core species to go.  Climate scientists call this the tipping point–think of it like a chair.  The chair is being held at 45 degrees, and just a fraction more, and it will crash.  It is almost certain that we are heading into a nose dive of ecological collapse.  Ecological collapse doesn’t just affect all of nature–it affects humans too.  So while we should care about even one life, a single species, we also need to be concerned deeply for all life.  This will happen in our lives–how do we spiritually prepare to support nature when it does?

 

Now, put this in context. While we practice druidry, while we enjoy nature’s benefits and her healing, this is happening. When we are honoring nature, celebrating the wheel of the seasons, this is happening. Its happening in every moment of every day. This is part of our reality, as nature-honoring people.  Given that this is the reality, responding to this should also be part of our druid practice.

 

Exoteric / Outer Works: Refugia

A safe space for all life

A safe space for all life

Druidry is about nature and relationship.  Its about your relationship with nature both exoterically (that is, in the material world) and esoterically (that is, in the world of spirit).  In the case of this information, I think it’s really important that we develop a range of responses, both esoteric and exoteric.  In terms of the outer world, I’ve long advocated on this blog a very wide variety of things that can aid the land in healing, regeneration, and growth.  I think that each of us can do something, and that something varies based on our life circumstances.  All of us can attend to our ecological footprint, consumption behaviors, transit, energy use, and all of the usual things.  I think that’s part of just being a druid–living your practice.

 

To be more specific to the material above, however, I’ll share what I consider to be my key method for responding this kind of extinction level event: building refugia. Refugia is a concept discussed by E. C Pielou in After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America. In a nutshell, refugia (also called “fuges”) are small pockets of life that were sheltered from broader changes that destroyed most habitats. Pielou describes specific isolated pockets of life that survived as a sheltered spot, a microclimate, a high point, and so forth, while the rest of the land was covered in ice. When the glaciers receded and left a bare landscape devoid of topsoil or life, it was these refugia that allowed life to spread outward again, repopulating areas in North America stripped bare by glaciers. Of course, Refugia aren’t limited to North America–they are a worldwide phenomenon, and even our human ancestors, at various points in our history, have used them to survive challenging environmental conditions. In the 21st century, in the time of human-dominated land use, things are not as different as you might think from our glaciated pre-history. For one, the loss of biodiversity and essentially inhospitable landscape can be found in the 40,000,000 acres of lawns currently in cultivation in the US or the 914,527,657 acres of conventional farmland in the US. Many areas that aren’t lawns or farmlands are subject to other kinds of stresses that create inhospitable lands: pollution, resource extraction, deforestation, and so on.  Refugia allow us to create small pockets of biodiversity–which is going to really, really matter in the next 20-30 years.

 

Refugia are all about individual action.  While no average person has control over what much of what is happening in the world around us, even in the landscape around us locally, we can create refuges for life. Refugia are small spaces of intense biodiversity, critically important during this time of mass extinction and habitat loss. Cultivating refugia allows us to put more of the building blocks back into nature’s hands for the long-term healing of our lands. That is, refugia is that they are little arks of life, that is, little places where biodiversity and life can spring forth once again. A network of refugia created by 21st century druids may be the difference between extinction and thriving for many diverse species.  What you do can make an incredible difference–it could save a species.  I have written more about how to create a refugia garden here and here!

 

Esoteric / Inner Works: Honoring the Fallen through Ritual, Shrine, and Sound

Given the state of nature and that we practice a nature-oriented spiritual practice, I think it is necessary to directly honor the massive loss of such life through rituals, shrines, moments of silence, psychopomp work, and other practices.  I would argue that this work should be a regular part of our practices as druids. I’m going to share two ideas here, and next week, I offer a larger set of suggestions on psycopomp work for the animals and the land.

 

Ringing the Bell/Sounding the Bowl

After reading the Great Animal Orchestra, I thought it would be very appropriate to honor the loss of life through sound.  Since we are missing the sounds of that life, and the world is growing silent (or replaced by human sounds), I wanted to create space in my rituals to honor the loss of life.  There are lots of ways you might do this, here is mine:

 

A simple indoor altar with singing bowl

A simple indoor altar with singing bowl

Anytime I open a sacred grove to do ritual, I have begun with a simple sound ritual to honor the life that has passed.  I have a small singing bowl, and I go to each of the quarters and ring the bell in each direction.  Sometimes I do this silently, and sometimes I say some simple words, like “honoring those who have passed on in the east.”  I allow the bowl to resonate until it is completely quiet again, and then move on to the next direction.  I’ve found for typical OBOD or AODA grove openings, this is best done just after declaring peace in the quarters.

 

You don’t have to do this in ritual; you can do it anytime.  I like doing it in ritual because it is in ritual that I’m drawing upon the land and her energies, and I want to honor and acknowledge the suffering of the land before I ask for anything else (that’s why I do it early in the ritual rather than after I’ve called the quarters and established the space).

 

Honoring the Fallen Shrine

I also maintain two shrines–an indoor shrine and an outdoor shrine–to honor the many lives that have passed.  I often will do my sound ritual above and leave small offerings (like my offering blend).  These shrines are simple–a pile of stones outside on a stump, I add bones and other things as I find them on my walks.  Indoors, I have smudges I make special for this shrine, usually of rosemary (for remembrance), bay laurel (for passage), white cedar (for eternal life), and white pine (for peace) and I burn these regularly.  I sometimes print out pictures of animals or other species, and add other things of significance.  Like most things, it is the intention of this shrine that is critical.

 

Council of All Beings and Other Rituals

At least once a year, if not more frequently, I also like to engage in ritual (group or solo) to directly honor and support the land.  One of my favorite things to do with this comes from the work of Joanna Macy (who has many great ideas for group rituals and group healing and processing of what is happening now).  She has a ritual called the Council of All Beings (the link will take you directly to the ritual).  I like this ritual because it allows us to give voice to those who do not normally have it, and it helps all participants get into a frame of mine that acknowledges and honors other life’s suffering. I think its important to engage with this not only for ourselves, but with others–talking about it, sharing what we do, and working on doing some things together.

 

I also think that general land healing and blessing ceremonies are useful and important to do regularly and help energetically support the land and her spirits during this time. I wrote a series on land healing; this final post links to all others.

 

There’s so much more to write and say here, but alas, I think this post is long enough.  Dear readers, I hope you will share some of your own thoughts–how do you answer the many questions I’ve posed in this post?  I would love to hear your ideas and stories.

 

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!

 

A Journey to the Source of a River – A Metaphor for Sustainable Action January 21, 2013

I wanted to spend some time in my blog describing a journey I took last summer to see “the source” of a river.  My work with the OBOD Druid grade initiated this journey, and it lead me to important insights about our world and how to create meaningful change in it.

 

The little crick

The little crick

Behind my parent’s house, in the forest to which I belong, is a creek (not quite a river, and not quite a stream). As children, we called it the “big crick”, and we spent much time on its banks, watching it flow over rocks, moss, and between hemlocks, beeches, and maple trees.  This creek was located in the  Appalachian mountains in West-Central PA, and unfortunately, the forest has been logged repeatedly, damaging the land in numerous ways.  And yet, damaged, logged, and repeatedly violated, the spirit of the land is strong and has much to teach.

 

I set out on a journey to find “the source” of this river. I had a vision of what the source of the river looked like—it was tranquil with moss-covered stones. I had no idea how long it would take me, but I planned for being out the whole day and took food, drink, and a friend along for company. It ended up being about a 10 mile hike through the forest—and not just any forest, but forest that had been logged and otherwise terribly mistreated, so the going was slow. I went deeper into the forest than I ever had before, following the river.  I saw a rare flower, which I discussed briefly in an earlier blog post. Each time it branched, I took the largest of the branches, continuing to work my way up the river, watching the river grow smaller. When I finally found the source of the river, of the largest branch, it was exactly as my inner vision had showed me—three branching streams, with the largest beginning in a spring with moss-covered stones. I sat there in meditation, and there, I had a meaningful vision. This was the message of my vision, and I know its something that I need to share with others:

 

When you follow a river to its source, follow the water’s path upstream and take the largest of the tributaries each time the river splits. This gives you a unique perspective, in that you can witness how the river, at its current size, is built of smaller tributaries.  These tributaries, some permanent springs and other rain gullies and other seasonal contributors, aren’t just part of the river—they are the river.  If you follow the river to its source, you will learn that each river starts off as a tiny stream or freshwater spring; the river only later grows larger as other tributaries feed into it. Each one of us is that stream; each one of us has the potential of that spring that starts the river off.  It is only through the power of others, flowing together in unison, that we can be a river. The strength of a great river cannot be ignored—it shapes the landscape around it and brings significant change. We must unite, have a shared vision, and be that river.

 

The “Big Crick” is otherwise known as “Otto Run” and is located in Western Pennsylvania behind my parent’s home. This river has particular significance in expanding the general metaphor, so I’ll describe it here. Otto Run flows into the Little Conemaugh, which is a river of historical importance in my region’s history. The Little Conemaugh was once dammed up in the 1800’s, and in 1889 after severe rains and equally severe mismanagement of the dam, the dam burst and the resulting wave of water killed almost 3000 people in Johnstown, PA.  This in itself has many lessons to teach us, including the importance of working with nature, rather than trying to tame her and bend her to one’s own will; she may resist such taming and break free.

 

The Little Conemaugh flows into the Conemaugh which flows into the Allegheny, which meets in Pittsburgh, PA with the Monogahela to form the Ohio. The Ohio leads right into the Mississippi river, one of the largest and most important rivers in the USA. Each of these rivers, with their many tributaries, creates the mighty Mississippi.  And as our recent series of floods in 2011 and droughts in 2012 have demonstrated, despite the best efforts of many humans, the Mississippi cannot be tamed.  This too, is a lesson for us.  In these difficult times of struggle and environmental challenges, we must look to the lesson that the river teaches us.  Each of us is that tributary, and by flowing in unison, we become as strong as the Mississippi.  And nobody can stop the Mississippi.

 

So friends, remember the lesson of the river.  United, we are strong.  United, we can change this world into a better, more sustainable place.