A Druid’s garden

garden3

Bird bath with conifers, wild strawberries, pansies and red robin shrub

…or at least one that’s getting there anyway.

If, as I suggested in my last post, cookery is my Bardic art, then gardening surely must be in the green realms of the Ovate?

A recent trip to the garden centre led to a good spruce-up of the garden, including growing some veg (courgettes and runner beans) and herbs (mint, basil, rosemary, thyme, lemongrass, chamomile) in pots for use in the kitchen.

There’s something wonderful about gardening, rolling up your sleeves and getting your hands in the earth, turning over the soil and finding worms and woodlice, watching the daring robins get as close as they can to see what noms the digging has unearthed, popping in a plant and watering it with hope for a good harvest.

The garden centre also yielded several new houseplants, to bring the green indoors too, especially for over the coming winter.

So,  not much to write about in this post, but here are some pics!

tub

Tub of pansies to brighten up the front porch

garden1

courgette, strawberry mint, evening primrose, marigold

garden2

chamomile, lemongrass, thyme

houseplantdruid

houseplant with Druid books

 

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Practical druidry

Some great thoughts on practical Druidry and herbcraft from the Green Hedge Druid.

The Green Hedge Druid

I’ve always been a big fan of using your hands and doing stuff when it comes to spirituality, whatever yours may be. The title of this blogpost is inspired by one of my favourite films, Practical Magic.

13-PRACTICAL-MAGIC

Starring Nicole Kidman and Sandra Bullock, it’s a very VERY 90s film with witchcraft and complicated romance, including a weird possessed-zombie-ex-boyfriend thrown into the mix. But why do I love this film so much? Well, for all its slightly bonkers script writing, I love how practical witchcraft is woven in throughout the film. With Sandra Bullock’s character opening a botanical shop, and her aunts practicing something resembling some form of traditional kitchen witchcraft, the film inspired me a lot. I don’t know enough about traditional witchcraft to be sure but either way, it seems a very practical approach with an emphasis on keeping everything in balance and using resources that you’ve grown/created yourself.

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Cooking and creativity

Close up of a courgette and tomato gratin...Nom!

Close up of a courgette and tomato gratin…Nom!

So as you may know, I’m currently (re)working my way through the Bardic Grade with OBOD, which is the first stage of OBOD’s three-grade Druidry training programme.

As the name suggests, the Bardic course focuses on cultivating creative and artistic expression, often seen through the traditional Bardic arts of poetry, song, storytelling, music etc.

I am not naturally talented in these areas. I am trying to get into a regular practice of learning guitar, and I have occasionally scrawled some poetry, but a Bard I ain’t. Shakespeare, he was a Bard. The Bard in fact. John Keats, William Blake, Tuomas Holopainen, Damh the Bard (clue’s in the name there), these are Bards.

Faced with the disconnect between what it is to be a Bard and my own limitations, I have on more than one occasion got deeply frustrated, thrown my Gwersi across the room and given up.

But…what if being a “Bard” was about more than being a poet or minstrel? What if it was about finding your own creativity, in whatever way that expresses itself? Suddenly, it opens up possibilities.

And I’ve realised something. For me, that creativity is food.

I’ve always loved cooking (apart from one dire period where I got into calorie-counting and food became a dull maths problem, but less said about that the better), but since Druid Camp, I’ve really loved cooking. The food at the cafe there was amazing. Simple, hearty, vegetarian cooking, but so rich and complex at the same time.

I’ve been making a real effort to do more home cooking since then, from scratch with fresh ingredients and it’s been wonderful. From home baked bread to crumbles made from foraged blackberries, to curries, chillis and stir frys, to garlicky scrambled eggs, to courgette gratin with my very own home-grown courgette, I’ve been thoroughly enjoying experimenting with new recipes, trying out new ideas, and having fun creating something new.

Still from "Ratatouille". Image from pluggedin.com

Still from “Ratatouille”. Image from pluggedin.com

In the film Ratatouille (which is wonderful, watch it), chef Gusteau says that cooking is “like music you can taste, like colours you can smell”. Remy, the main character (who is a rat…srsly just watch the film), discovers the wonderful world of combining different flavours to create a whole new symphony of taste.

Watching that film made me think that cooking can be a Bardic pursuit. What is cooking after all but an expression of creative imagination? In the story of Taliesin, the archetypal Bard, the goddess Ceridwen brews a potion to create the Awen, the three drops of inspiration sacred to Druids.

In brewing this potion, Ceridwen follows a recipe she got from the Pheryllt, gathers herbs and ingredients, mixes them in a cauldron (essentially just a large cooking pot) and hires Gwion, a local lad, to stir the broth. Well, this is cooking!

And if something as simple as cooking can bring about the Awen, then surely cooking can be every bit as Bardic, as Druidic, as any other creative art? Perhaps I’ve been too literal, looking just at what the ancient Bards did and trying to follow them instead of looking for the spirit of Bardism, that opening to creativity. I’m no professional chef, but I find being in the kitchen very inspiring.

The Awen flows in different ways for different people I guess. I hope that this helps me get my head around the Bardic course a bit more, and maybe the idea of finding your own Bardic art might be useful for other people who just don’t resonate with the whole poetry and song thing. Whether it’s art, music, gardening, cooking, science, running, theoretical mathematics, whatever you find brings out your creative self, follow that.

By the way, the recipe for the courgette gratin in the picture is from BBC Good Food, and can be found online HERE.

Still from "Ratatouille". Image from pluggedin.com

Still from “Ratatouille”. Image from pluggedin.com

 

Making mead (and bread)

Mead and bread

Mead and bread

One of my favourite parts of Druid Camp was a brilliant mead workshop, complete with tasting and making sessions. I wasn’t able to do the making due to numbers, but I thoroughly enjoyed the tasting (of course) and learned a lot about the process of making mead in the process.

It turns out that mead seems to be surprisingly easy to make, I had expected it to be far more difficult: the sort of thing that requires an alchemist’s lab set up of funny shaped bubbling tubes.But apparently honey and water will naturally ferment if left alone anyway, which probably explains how mead was discovered in the first place!

Mead is often used as a sacred drink in Druid rituals (as well as in other traditions) so I love the idea of making it myself instead of buying it in. A lovely Druid Camp attendee we met shared the recipe from the mead making workshop, and I had to try it out!

The recipe is:

Using a two litre plastic bottle. Fill with one litre of water. Empty a 1lb jar of honey into a measuring jug, rinse out the jar with boiled water and add to honey in the jug. Then top up the jar to 800 ml with more of the boiled water, mix well and add to the cold water in the plastic bottle. Then add half a teaspoon of yeast and plug with an airlock of some kind. You can use a balloon with a pin prick in to let out the carbon dioxide. Leave in a dark place for 6-8 weeks or until the mixture stops fizzing and goes clearer.

For the yeast, I used baker’s yeast, which gives a lower alcohol mead (probably around 11%). For a more potent brew, you can use brewer’s yeast or even champagne yeast.

We also made sourdough bread, which took AGES but was so worth it!

I must say, I’m enjoying this new turn to a practical, hands-on, “hearth and home” expression of Druidry.

Gorse

Gorse, or Onn. My Ogham few from Druid Camp.

Gorse, or Onn. My Ogham few from Druid Camp.

At Druid Camp, everyone at the opening ritual was given a gift of an Ogham few, cut from the wood of one of the Ogham trees and inscribed with its corresponding symbol.

My wife received oak, and I was instantly jealous. I mean, come on…we’re Druids, who wouldn’t want to get oak, right? I, on the other hand, got gorse. A small, prickly, shrubby little thing that clings on to cliffsides at the coast. Hmm…not exactly the proud, tall tree of the forest I was hoping for.

But, it turns out that it kind of suits me, and that gorse has its own lessons to teach.

Gorse (Ulex europaeus), also known as “furze”, is an evergreen shrub related to broom, and adapted to dry conditions. It is extremely thorny, the thorns being modified leaves and shoots. It has small yellow flowers which bloom between January and June, and is often found on open moors or coastal grasslands. The flowers are edible and can be used to make tea or wine, and the foliage is often used as animal fodder. Famously, Winnie-the-Pooh falls into a gorse bush while trying to find honey in A.A. Milne’s story.

In the Ogham, Gorse is called Onn and is associated with the sun, due to its yellow flowers which bloom even in the winter snows. It is a symbol of encouragement and optimism. The small piece of paper that came with my gorse stave associated it with transformation and wisdom.

In the main group ritual at Druid Camp, those of us who had the gorse few crowded around the “travellers” journeying through the Ogham, closing in with our thorns, before crowning each traveller with the crown of wisdom. Gorse can be prickly, but look beyond the thorny exterior you can find wisdom, hope and encouragement on the journey.

In The Druidry Handbook, John Michael Greer refers to gorse as “a few of attraction, combination and possibility”, that can portend “opportunities, though not without potential problems”.

I see gorse as being a difficult plant to deal with, as it fiercely defends itself with its spiky armour, but it also provides food and shelter for many birds and insects. Once you get beyond the thorns, gorse can be protective. Clinging on to clifftops and inhospitable environments, gorse teaches the importance of tenacity and determination, even stubbornness.

And since I’m a short, frequently spiky-tempered and often stubborn bugger, gorse is actually the ideal Ogham tree for me!In spending time with gorse, with Onn, in ritual and meditation, I find that far from being hostile, it is a plant of protection, of hope, and a reminder of the power and wisdom of small things. It is not as grand as the oak, ash or willow, but it is hardy and tough, and can survive things other trees cannot. I’m sure that gorse has many more lessons to teach me, and you know what? Looking back, I’m glad that I got that particular Ogham few.

Gorse. Image from Wildlife Trusts.

Gorse. Image from Wildlife Trusts.

Delicious Druidry

Some blackberries from the harvest, ready for washing.

Some blackberries from the harvest, ready for washing.

One of the things I took away from Druid Camp, mostly thanks to the prompting of my brilliant wife (who has recently rebooted her Druid blog The Green Hedge Druid…go check it out!) is the idea of making Druidry more practical, more grounded in nature and down-to-earth skills of making and crafting. Since I tend to live in my head, this is a great reminder that Druidry is not just an intellectual path, but a gloriously physical one too.

So with that in mind, we set off to our local hedgerows to forage an early crop of blackberries (Rubus fruticosus). After being at first disappointed that so many brambles still had tiny green berries on, a narrow path led to a blackberry bonanza, and after a few cuts and thorns (which Druid writer Penny Billington might describe as a “shamanic experience”) we gathered a goodly sum of rich ripe fruit.

So what to do with them? Make a crumble of course! Handily we had some apples that were just on the turn, so we threw those in as well, along with lots of brown sugar. The crumble top was flour, butter and more brown sugar (there are various recipes online, we used a variant of the one HERE) and then the whole thing baked away in the oven for about 45 minutes.

Blackberries and apples.

Blackberries and apples.

Crumble!

Crumble!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Crumble and custard.

Crumble and custard.

Serve with custard, and NOM!

What does this have to do with Druidry? Well, the way I see it, Druidry is a way of life and these simple acts of getting out into nature, foraging a harvest and bringing it home to make great food can be a way of expressing Druidry in the outer world in a very practical and useful way.

And the experience of knowing when fruit is in season, recognising it in the hedgerows, and seeing all the birds and creatures that also live in those hedges was a great way to reconnect to the life of the land.

Plus, it was delicious, and brought joy to us and our neighbours, and to me that’s what Druidic living is all about!

Druid Camp…it was In-Tents!

druid camp signSorry about the bad pun, but I couldn’t resist!

For the past five days, I have been in a field in the middle of nowhere (actually a lovely spot overlooking the River Severn) with about 300 Druids for Druid Camp 2016!

It was a first time going there for my wife and I and we had no idea what to expect. The ever-brilliant Kris Hughes of the Anglesey Druid Order had told us about the camp via Facebook, and encouraged us to give it a go.

While I have been hovering around the periphery of Druidry for several years now, I had not up to this point ever been to a Druid gathering or experienced Druidry in community, and honestly (as an introvert at the best of times) I was pretty nervous.

But it was amazing! I was originally planning on breaking things down into a blog post per day, because there was simply far too much on to cover in any detail, but I couldn’t do it justice by simply listing events.

There were insightful, erudite and often incredibly funny talks each day from Penny Billington, who spoke about divination ancient and modern (with a bonus Buffy the Vampire Slayer reference), Philip Shallcrass, who utterly skewered the myths about the Ogham being a tree alphabet or calendar, before concluding that it really doesn’t matter, because Druids have been using Ogham that way for centuries and it works, and Kris Hughes who gave a talk that was part timeless wisdom, part comedy stand-up and had the audience in turns of laughter and deep contemplation. I regret having to leave early for a train on Sunday and missing Graham Harvey‘s talk on divination, elephants and elbows, because I had some great chats with him over the camp and would have loved to hear what he had to say.

Each day also had workshops on everything from divination via “found objects” to the music of plants (literally putting electrodes on a plant and feeding the current through a synthesiser so the plant can “sing”), and practical skills such as knitting, leatherwork, baking and my personal favourite, mead-making!

druid camp 2There were Druid rituals every evening, including a beautiful Lammas ritual (which was helpful seeing as I forgot to do a Lammas rite beforehand…bad Druid) with Kris resplendent in a voluminous black cloak in the role of the Reaper. On the first evening, everyone present was given a gift from the Green Man of an Ogham stave from one of the sacred trees of the Druid tradition (I got Gorse, and have already learned quite a bit from the prickly little shrub)…little did we know this was also a way of determining our group in the Community Ritual on the Saturday! Each group took on the role of a different tree and created a mini-drama that came together to tell the journey of the Ogham.

Having only ever experienced Druid ritual in my back garden before, holding hands in circle with lots of other Druids and intoning the Awen was an experience that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. It felt primal and real in a way I haven’t known before.

Evenings then transitioned into entertainment, music, poetry, an Eisteddfod, and the hilarious “Just a Druid Minute” which I can say without hesitation, and which bears repetition, was a very amusing deviation from the usual proceedings. Graham Harvey’s tactic of challenging himself to gain points was inspired, and Penny Billington brought the snark brilliantly!

But above all, what made Druid Camp such a memorable experience, and already makes me look forward to next year, were the people. Going there knowing nobody very well was daunting, but after a day or so, I felt very welcomed and like I was part of an exciting and vibrant community. It was especially wonderful to be able to sit in the cafe or by the campfire and talk to people whose names I only knew from books, and it turns out that Druids are generally a pretty lovely bunch!

So after that, I definitely feel more confident in my own Druidry, and want to get more involved in the Druid world in whatever way I can. When being a solitary Druid can feel isolated, and the Druid/Pagan internet can seem hostile, it’s great that places like Druid Camp exist to remind me that Druidry is about community, friendship and fun. Many thanks to Mark Graham and all the camp organisers and volunteers for their incredible hard work to create such a wonderful space. If you get the chance, I heartily recommend going to Druid Camp next year…I’ll be there!

druid camp 1Note: I totally didn’t take enough photos, mostly because I was too engrossed in what was going on but also because I didn’t want to be the guy snapping pics during a talk or a sacred ritual, so images in this post come from the official Rainbow Druid Camp Facebook page and are used in good faith.