Nature Awareness Essay

Fern frond. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Fern frond. Image from Wikimedia Commons

Michael J. Dangler writes that “Druidry in general, and ADF Druidry in particular, is not only about scholarship, ritual and magic; it is also about connecting with the land and with the Earth Mother that birthed and sustains us. Druidry cannot be divorced from nature, not should it be”.

The reason I chose Druidry rather than another Pagan path was specifically because of its focus on nature. The Nature Awareness part of the Dedicant Path has been my favourite part of the course, and has become very important for my Druid practice.

I have tried to make time to practice some Nature Awareness each day. Usually this means going for a walk by the river over my lunch break during the week, and a longer walk in the local woods at weekends, as well as spending time putting food out for the garden birds (and squirrels) and observing the wildlife I see around me.

Over the course of the Dedicant Path, I have spent time in nature in this way for a full year, and seen the changes of the seasons from the frosts of winter through the budding of spring, the heat of summer and the golden leaf-fall of autumn. As well as the obvious seasonal changes, I have noticed the change in wildlife as the year turns and migratory birds arrive and leave, hedgehogs go into their winter hibernation and new fluffy chicks hatch in the spring.

This focused Nature Awareness has definitely strengthened my connection to the Earth and the landscape around me with all its other-than-human life. Taking part in activities such as the RSPB’s “Big Wild Sleepout” and “Big Garden Birdwatch” has helped me become much more aware of the diversity of species in my own back garden, and by recording what I spotted, has also contributed to citizen science and conservation efforts.

In practical terms, I recycle around 75-80% of my household waste (including composting all kitchen waste) and have recently switched to Ecotricity, a green energy supplier that uses renewable power for electricity. I cycle everywhere, or get public transport, and I keep a wildlife-friendly garden with overgrown “wilderness” areas, log piles and a meadow lawn to encourage local wildlife.

I am also a member of the Woodland Trust, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, the Marine Conservation Society and the World Wide Fund for Nature.

I have also tried to learn more about nature, and my local area, during this year. I discovered that my rubbish goes to a Mechanical Biological Treatment plant housed around 6 miles away, which mechanically removes some items from the waste and then treats the rest in a huge composting hall.  I learned that my region’s water comes from boreholes drilled into the chalk strata underground, before being treated and sent to taps. Once it is used, waste water goes into the sewers and is pumped to one of over 1,000 water recycling plants throughout the wider region. There it is cleaned, filtered and treated to an Environmental Services Agency standard that makes it safe to drink and re-use. I also found out that I live in one of the major arable agricultural areas of the UK. About half the local farmland is used for growing cereal crops such as wheat and barley, for both human and animal consumption. The rest of the land is divided between sugar beet, potatoes and pulses, all of which are climate-hardy crops that can grow well in the well-drained and often dry soil of the region.

There are other things I would like to do to increase my Nature Awareness and walk more lightly upon the Earth, including buying more local and seasonal food and growing some of my own vegetables and fruit. I would also love to keep chickens and bees in the future too.

References:

Dangler, Michael J. The ADF Dedicant Path Through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010.

RIverside. Image by me.

RIverside. Image by me.

 

 

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Nine Virtues: Hospitality

The Dedicant Handbook, Our Own Druidry, defines hospitality as “Acting as both a gracious host and an appreciative guest, involving benevolence, friendliness, humour and the honouring of a gift for a gift”. The Oxford Dictionary online defines it as “the friendly and generous reception of guests, visitors and strangers”.

Michael J. Dangler points out that the word “hospitality” comes from the same root as both “guest” and “host”: the proto-Indo European word *ghos-ti. The * denotes that the word is reconstructed by linguists and not attested to in literature or archaeology. The word *ghos-ti has been adopted in ADF for the central concept of a reciprocal guest-host relationship. This relationship is central to the format of ADF ritual and ethics.

Hospitality was universally recognised as a virtue in pre-Christian Pagan cultures around the world. In many cases, hospitality was essential for survival, especially for the poor, hungry or those travelling afar. Hospitality, the sharing of food, shelter and comfort, was reciprocal, either directly or via reputation. It was expected that a gift be repaid with a future gift, and people known to be generous and hospitable were much more likely to also receive hospitality when they were in need.

Alyxander Folmer writes that “The ancient Norse and Germanic tribes had a strong ethic of Hospitality, which eventually permeated almost all aspects of those cultures. The idea of Hospitality came to influence their politics and religion just as much as it shaped their day-to-day lives. The concept encompassed personal generosity, reciprocity, and even what we today might term “social justice”. By the end of the Viking Era, this had become a highly ritualized practice and a core part of the their worldview”.

Hospitality depends on being both a generous host and a good guest, knowing not to take too much or over-stay your welcome. The Havamal has several stanzas relating to the virtue of hospitality, including:

Image from Hugin's Heathen Hof.

Image from Hugin’s Heathen Hof.

Hospitality today seems devalued in modern society, especially when it comes to people on the margins such as the homeless and refugees. While I don’t believe we need to open our homes to people we don’t know, the virtue of hospitality should make us think about donating money and food to shelters and food banks, and, on a political level, should make us consider how we treat immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers.

Hospitality also should extend to our relationships with the other-than-human community and with the land itself. Are we being good guests on the Earth, taking only what we need and sharing resources fairly? Are we hospitable to the wildlife with whom we share our space, by feeding the birds and leaving wild areas in our gardens for hedgehogs, snakes and other creatures?

The virtue of hospitality reminds us that we are not isolated individuals, but are constantly in relationship with other people, with nature and with the planet itself. Living this virtue means striving to make those relationships generous, friendly and beneficial.

References:

ADF, Our Own Druidry. ADF Publishing, 2009.

Dangler, Michael J. The Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010.

Folmer, Alyxander. Wyrd Words: Pagan Ethics and Odin’s Rites of Hospitality. 2014 [Online: retrieved from http://www.patheos.com/blogs/agora/2014/07/wyrd-words-pagan-ethics-and-odins-rites-of-hospitality/, 17/01/2016]

 

Third book started: Hearth Culture

Image from goodreads.

Image from goodreads.

As well as reading about Indo-European studies and Modern Paganism, the DP requires you to study one particular “hearth culture”. I decided a while back on exploring the Norse hearth culture for my DP, and so the book I have chosen for this requirement is Gods and Myths of Northen Europe by H.R. Ellis Davidson.

Davidson was an antiquarian and academic writing in the mid-20th century and is noted as having contributed greatly to modern studies of Norse mythology. The book is a survey of the pre-Christian beliefs of Germanic and Scandinavian Pagans, and also provides a detailed account of each of the Norse gods, both the big names and those lesser-known.

While my personal Paganism may be starting to shift from a Norse focus at the moment, I am still fascinated by the myths of the Norse gods and very much looking forward to exploring the historic and social background that led to the development of these old tales.

A full review will appear shortly, I hope!

Home Shrine revisited

Our Own Druidry states that “one of the most traditional ways to begin your relationship with the inner world is to create a personal shrine of worship in your own home. Pagan religion cannot be contained in groves and temples. It is not owned by priestesses and Druids. The reality of Pagan Druidry is found in the hearts of every Pagan who keeps the ways.”

As such, forming a home shrine is an important part of developing a Pagan practice. It gives you a focal point, a daily reminder of your path. It also serves as a fixed location for use in ritual and meditation, a central sacred space, the heart and hearth of the home.

The shrine doesn’t have to be complicated, however. Dangler suggests you can begin, as he did, with “three bowls and a stick”. The central focus of ADF ritual, and of the home shrine is the Triple Hallows: fire, well and tree. The fire can be represented by a candle, the well by a bowl of water and the tree by a houseplant, model tree or even just a twig.

My shrine. Also pictured: my Dedicant Path textbooks. Photo by me

My shrine. Also pictured: my Dedicant Path textbooks. Photo by me

When I first set up my home shrine, it looked like this (see left):

I had three candles for the fire, a small ceramic bowl filled with water and sea-glass for the well, and indeed a stick from the garden as a tree. The pottery mouse is a trinket I’ve had for a very long time, and he represents the nature-kin. Buddha was there because I read about Buddhism and it influenced my thought and practice, particularly with meditation and my ethics. While not a Druid, he fitted my personal practice.

After a while, the shrine was moved to an upstairs room briefly, but was swiftly restored to the living room because it felt like I was shutting it away or compartmentalising my Paganism from my daily life.

Home shrine. Photo by me

Home shrine. Photo by me

The current iteration of my home shrine looks like this (see right):

The three candles and ceramic bowl for the well remain, but the tree has been replaced by a living tree, an ash from the garden that I’m trying to train as a houseplant. I find it much easier to connect with a living tree than merely a representation of one. Buddha has been retired to live on a bookshelf elsewhere, and the shrine now features a small clay statue of Thor that I bought in a village in Norway. He reminds me of that trip, and represents the Norse hearth culture.

On the left I also have a skull carved with Celtic knotwork to represent the ancestors, so now all three Kindreds have a presence on the shrine. Other items include pine cones, feathers, small stones etc. that I gather and change around as the seasons change.

The shrine gets decorated in different ways for different High Days. Here it is for the Summer Solstice, and for the Winter Solstice:

Home shrine set up for the Summer Solstice with mead offering. Photo by me.

Home shrine set up for the Summer Solstice with mead offering. Photo by me.

Home shrine set up for Yule. Image by me

Home shrine set up for Yule. Image by me

It’s still a very simple shrine, but I find the simplicity effective. In future, I would like to add to it with more greenery and perhaps a Cernunnos statue to go alongside Thor, to represent my interest in both Celtic and Norse Paganism.

References:

ADF. Our Own Druidry: An introduction to Ár nDraíocht Féin and the Druid Path. Tucson: ADF Publishing, 2009.

Dangler, M.J. The ADF Dedicant Path through the Wheel of the Year. Garanus, 2010

Personal Paganism: first thoughts

worshipnatureThe Dedicant Path textbooks call this requirement “personal religion” but I have issues with the “r” word and prefer to talk about my Druid practice in terms of spirituality or philosophy, which sort of sets me apart from what ADF are all about.

ADF is based around the concept of “hearth cultures”, various Indo-European forms of Paganism that are all practiced within ADF as a whole. Dedicants are encouraged to choose one hearth culture to explore during their DP work, but this does not mean that you’re locked in to that one culture forever.

For my DP, I began with looking into a Gaulish/Celtic hearth culture, and shifted to a Norse one following an experience I had whilst meditating by a fjord in Norway. While I have loved exploring the Norse hearth, and find it beautiful and fascinating, I am starting to be drawn back towards a more Celtic, Druidic practice these days. I don’t know if I’ll stick with the Norse hearth after finishing the DP, switch to a Celtic focus, or find a way of combining the two. I’ll certainly always have my little Thor statue on my home shrine!

My personal Pagan practice is generally pretty unstructured, apart from formal rituals for the High Days. I greet the sun each morning with a simple greeting:

“Hail to Sunna, bright lady of the morning. Hail to the powers of land, sea and sky. May this day unfold in peace.”

And before sleeping, I greet the moon in similar terms:

“Hail to Mani, silver watcher of the evening. Hail to the powers of land, sea and sky. May this night unfold in peace.”

Most days I do some form of meditation, whether that’s five minutes seated by my home shrine or else walking meditation down by the river on my lunch breaks.

Other than that, there is very little I do that is formally “Pagan” but I feel that I practice my Paganism through day-to-day things like recycling, feeding the birds, composting, reading about science and nature, watching nature documentaries, cooking, walking, cycling etc.

My Paganism is definitely nature-centred rather than religion or deity centric, which makes sense for an agnostic Pantheist type like myself! For me, Paganism isn’t about worshipping ancient gods or performing arcane rituals, it’s about loving the Earth and living a good life.

It’s a simple set of practices, but it’s enough for me at the moment.

Sauntering

Walking is a big part of my own Druid practice, and is an excellent way to slow down and observe the rhythms of nature. As always, Nimue offers a thoughtful and moving look at this simple practice.

Druid Life

In an essay about walking, Thoreau talks about the origin of the word ‘saunter’. He says “going à la sainte terre” means going to the Holy Land, and also offers ‘Sans terre’ – without land – as another interpretation. Both suggesting to him the idea of pilgrimage. The online etymological dictionary – http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=saunter – has it as a word from the 1660s to mean walking about in a leisurely way, and there’s no agreed history to the word aside from that.

However, poetic interpretation is just as interesting and valid as agreed history, and I like the idea that a saunter is in some way connected to the act of pilgrimage. From a Pagan perspective, it works very well indeed.

In a conventional pilgrimage, the journey is as important as the destination, but still the point of the journey is the place, or places you are going to. A person…

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Ethical Druids

One of the joys of Druidry, and Paganism more generally, is the lack of restrictive ethical laws and commandments. This doesn’t mean that Druids and Pagans are unethical, of course, but we draw our ethical framework from other sources: virtues, character, understanding, and of course nature itself.

The Wild Hunt blog recently published an excellent piece as part of its “Exploring Pagan Ethical Codes” series with two modern Druids; the philosopher Brendan Myers and one of my favourite Druid writers and thinkers, Joanna van der Hoeven. My review of Joanna’s book The Awen Alone: walking the path of the solitary Druid can be found here.

Brendan Myers said:

“I’d characterise Druidic ethics as a kind of virtue ethics, that is, a model of ethics where what matters most is the embodiment of a certain character; the lore certainly offers rules and laws to follow but this is much less important than becoming a certain kind of person. Druidic moral character prizes knowledge and philosophy, ecological awareness, as well as a warrior-hero model of honour.”

 

Joanna van der Hoeven commented:

“Dogma is antithetical to Druidry, as it is a religion, spirituality or philosophy that follows nature. As nature is constantly changing, the Druid seeks to find an honourable relationship with the world around her in order work and live better in the world, in harmony with the environment, changing and adapting; always learning. In my work at Druid College UK, we teach a deep reverence for the natural world, and allow that reverence to let us live our lives to the fullest in harmony. We investigate deeply every aspect of our lives, looking at our consumerism, our local environment, what we can do to live in peace with the world and more. When we have a real understanding that we are a part of an ecosystem, we broaden our view from the singular to the plural, and our perspective encompasses the whole.”

 

Read the whole piece at the Wild Hunt!

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