Book review: The Crane Bag

cranebagJoanna van der Hoeven, The Crane Bag: a Druid’s guide to ritual tools and practices. Moon Books, 2017.

Joanna van der Hoeven is one of my teachers at Druid College UK, but I have been reading her books (and blog) for years previously, and always found them a delight.

The Crane Bag is the book I wish I had when I was first starting out with Druidry, dabbling with different Orders and practices, finding rituals on the internet and making no end of silly mistakes. As with all the books in Moon Books’ excellent Pagan Portals series, The Crane Bag is small, but like its namesake, is packed with useful and practical tools and advice to Druids at any stage on their journey.

If you’re not familiar with the concept of the Crane Bag, Joanna writes:

“The crane bag is a wonderful theme in Celtic mythology, found mostly in the tales of the warrior-poet Fionn Mac Cumhail, who inherited the crane bag from his father. This bag held the special treasures of the land, and was made from the skin of a crane who was, in actuality, a woman enchanted into crane form.”

In modern Druid practice, a crane bag is often a leather bag or pouch that is used to hold a Druid’s ritual tools, such as the ones detailed in this book, including the silver branch, the sickle, the cauldron etc.

In The Crane Bag, Joanna van der Hoeven discusses the commonly used tools of the Druid tradition, providing details of their mythological origins and significance, as well as practical information about how to make and use them. That said, Joanna recognises that “a Druid doesn’t need any tools at all. What matters most in ritual is the intention”. But tools, especially ones we have made ourselves or had made for us by fellow Druids, can help to focus that intention and they become imbued with power and sacredness through use.

The Crane Bag also provides a clear outline of the steps of Druid ritual, not intending to set a prescribed “script” that all Druids must follow, but to give a framework rooted in tradition within which each Druid can work with inspiration to create ritual that is personal, meaningful and organic, in a “shared language that most will understand if they have studied the Druid tradition at any length”. The point of Druid ritual is not the recitation of the right words, but “a time set apart from daily life to reconnect the threads that bind us together with the land, with nature”.

Together with The Awen Alone, also by Joanna van der Hoeven, The Crane Bag provides a pragmatic and down to earth introduction to walking the Druid path, and enough information and inspiration to get out there and get started. I feel that this may become one of my most frequently consulted go-to books for Druid practices and ritual. Now I just need to make my own crane bag!