Druidry in the doing

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It feels like I haven’t written about Druidry in ages. I certainly haven’t been keeping to my self-imposed schedule of twice weekly posts on the 30 Weeks of Druidry and Explorations in Ogham challenges, which I feel guilty and anxious about until I remember that I set the schedule, nobody’s checking in on me, and that means I can change it!

But my blog-silence doesn’t mean that Druidry has fallen by the wayside. Far from it: the main reason I’ve been unable to find the time to sit at a computer and write about Druidry is that I’ve been spending more time doing Druidry, at least doing things that I feel are Druidic anyway.

A quote I saw online (ironically) once said that “internet Paganism is not Paganism” and that’s something worth remembering. Especially as a solitary practicioner away from a local Pagan community, my path can easily become “internet Paganism”, more blogposts than blackbirds, more Facebook than forests.

When all your Druidry is digital, what is there of real, physical, nature? How much can you connect to the gods of land, sea and sky sat on your sofa?

I had another study weekend with Druid College at the end of April, just before Beltane. It was a weekend of personal challenges, facing some fears, and also a weekend of sitting barefoot in a wooded grove of oak and beech, meditating, chanting and singing. Without going into too much detail, something happened. Some small, subtle thing shifted in my subconscious, a tiny brain-hedgehog waking up from hibernation, twitching its whiskers in the warm spring air, sniffing at the scent of blossom and new life.

And so, as softly as a summer breeze, my Druidry (or what I thought of as my Druidry) was blown off course, and all I could do was ride the thermal current, a leaf on the wind. It led me away from the screen and away from books and essays (*cough – sobehindonmyhomeworkandstartingtopanic – cough*) and outdoors. Not to wild rugged romantic places, but to my own back garden, my local paths, the intriguing beauty of the fens.

I’ve been working in the garden more, putting in a pond for frogs and toads, planting wildlife-friendly shrubs, leaving a patch of lawn to become a grass-and-wildflower meadow. As I do so, I notice nature more. The species of trees that make up my mixed hedgerow, the movement of the great old willow, the play of squirrels, the territorial scraps of robins and blackbirds, the rooks who leave their roosts as I leave for work and return home as I’m having dinner in the evening.

I celebrated Beltane (which is, as all Pagan festivals are, a season not just a day), with a small ritual but also by going to a local folk festival and seeing Green Man costumed morris dancers, drinking local beer and cider, and later by cooking over an open fire in the garden. To me, all this is Druidry.

Waking, I greet the sun and the new day. Retiring, I greet the moon and the night. Cooking, I honor the plants I eat. Walking, I try to notice the land and hear its song, not be wrapped up in my own thoughts. Exercising, I strive to honour my own body as part of nature, as a sacred creature to love not to hate. Relaxing with my partner and our pet gerbil, I experience the bliss of connection to another living being.

None of this is particularly mystical, or intellectual, or specifically Pagan. But all of this is Druid. As my Druid teacher, Joanna van der Hoeven put it, “Druidry is loving nature and allowing that love to inspire you to live your life accordingly.”

And you know what? Stepping away from the screen and finding Druidry in the small daily moments has deepened my practice. Knowing about Druidry and actually being Druid are not the same thing, and it’s important sometimes to leave the books and websites and study, and get your hands dirty.

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Potatoes

all-natural-1866415_960_720There is real magic in the real world, and today I experienced some of it.

When we eat, how much do we think about where our food comes from? How much are we aware of the cycle of growth and harvest?

Some months ago, I got some old potatoes that were starting to sprout. I kept them in the kitchen in a box and waited. I waited until they had put out greenish-white tendrils, like tentacles reaching out to probe the strange world of the dark box they were in.

Then I buried them in a large pot, covering them with earth and hope. As shoots began to grow, I covered them up again with more earth, a process known as “earthing up”, until the pot was full. This took weeks. And I waited.

Eventually, sprouts emerged once again, no doubt expecting to be buried, and perhaps surprised to be allowed the freedom to reach for the sun. And I waited.

They grew leggy and started to flower, delicate purple and white blooms that were not showy, but were a sign that the “earlies” were ready. So I dug out the plants, taking care not to damage their roots too much, and to keep the original potato intact, and I harvested the first crop of tiny white new potatoes, each one no bigger than a marble (and lovely with butter and chives).

And then I put the plants back in the pot, earthed them up with compost, and now I am waiting again, for the flowers to finish and the final harvest at the end of summer.

From a mouldy old spud, delicious new life and growth and wonder. There’s nothing quite like growing your own food to connect you to the earth and the cycle of the seasons.

And so much of this process was waiting. I think in our modern society, we have become accustomed to having what we want instantly, at the click of a button or as we drive through a “fast food” joint (it may be fast, but it ain’t food). Growing crops means slowing down, it means care and tending, and it means waiting. You can’t have your potatoes now if they’re not in season.

I think there’s an analogy to be made here to the Druid journey. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of wanting to “be a Druid” now, without appreciating the hard work, time and waiting that goes into the process to become a Druid. And it’s a trap I’ve fallen into myself.  It’s worth taking stock, as I come to the end of the Bardic course with OBOD and look to the next stage in the journey, and realising that nothing in nature happens instantly. The wheel turns and we turn with it.

And, like the potatoes, so much of our growth goes unseen and un-noticed until afterwards. We grow underground, in the deep and silence of the subconscious. Like a potato, Druidry is not (in my opinion) a showy thing. It’s a thing of earth and soil, mud and rain and sunlight, of green growing things.

I’m not a Druid. Not yet, anyway. But I can be a potato.

 

Green Woodpecker

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Sitting at my table at home, I am frequently delighted to hear a sudden, sharp laughter coming from the garden. Looking out, I see a visitor, clad in green with a red hat looking back at me. A gnome? A fairy? Nope, it’s a resident Green Woodpecker who has taken to using the lawn as a food larder.

The European Green Woodpecker (Picus viridis) is a large bird, the largest of the three woodpecker species in Britain. Their laughing call, known as a “Yaffle” (the inspiration for Professor Yaffle from Bagpuss) is incredibly distinctive and once you’ve heard it once, you can’t mistake it for anything else.

The Green Woodpecker is a shy bird, and it’s taken a long time for the one in my garden to come down from the willow tree they usually nest in to the lawn, and then to come ever-closer to the house, so that now I can stand at the window and watch them without them flying away when they spot me.

Perhaps surprisingly for a woodpecker, the Green Woodpecker rarely pecks at trees, preferring instead to use the same “drumming” motion to stick their beak into moist soil, looking for tasty ants. Ants, of which there are many here, are the Green Woodpecker’s favourite food, and they use their long tongue to hoover them up much like an anteater does.

According to folklore, the Green Woodpecker is known as the “rain bird” because their appearance portends rain to come, but in my experience they arrive after rain more often than not, when the ground is softened up and easier to excavate for ants and grubs.

I can’t be sure if the one who visits/lives here is male or female, or if there are in fact two. Green Woodpeckers are monogamous, and I do hear call-and-response calls sometimes so I suspect there’s a breeding pair in the area. Males and females of the species are harder to tell apart than in many other birds, as there is very little sexual dimorphism. Both male and female Green Woodpeckers have yellow, green and red plumage and are around the same size. The only difference is that males have a slightly more pronounced redness in their cap and under the bill.

Now a near-daily visitor, the Green Woodpecker in the garden always brightens my spirits with their laughing call and bright, almost tropical, plumage. It just goes to show that if you make a space for nature, and build a relationship with the wild in your area, even a suburban semi can be a haven for life.

A Druid’s garden

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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!

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Tub of pansies to brighten up the front porch

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courgette, strawberry mint, evening primrose, marigold

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chamomile, lemongrass, thyme

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houseplant with Druid books