My Top 5 Book Recommendations for the Beginner Druid

One of the hardest questions when beginning down the path of studying Druidry- or any branch of neopaganism for that matter is “Where do I start?” For the vast majority of us, finding a group to practice and learn with is difficult if not impossible, and so the internet and books are where we end up getting much of our information. What follows are my top five book recommendations for the Druid just starting out on their path.

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5. Living Druidry by Emma Restall Orr: Beautifully written, raw, real and poetic, I could talk about how much I love this book for days. For me, this was one of the books that inspired me to begin my study of Druidry. This book isn’t necessarily a book of basics. It doesn’t lay things out in simple easy-to-follow graphics and sections, but almost feels a little bit more like a memoir with Druidic concepts unfolding naturally as she tells story after story about her own practice. It offers a perspective I find severely lacking in other books on the topic, and if you want a feel for how Druidry can be without diving right into more technical books, this is one I will always recommend.

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4. The Bardic Book of Becoming: an Introduction to Modern Druidry by Ivan McBeth: Again, this book seems as much a memoir as it is a guide to Druidry. A little more structured than Living Druidry is, McBeth breaks down the very basics of modern Druidry and offers thought-provoking questions and activities along the way. The way the book is worded makes it seem as though he was setting it up specifically for The Green Mountain School of Druidry’s learning courses, as he hints at specifics from within the tradition he co-founded. Still, it is a beautifully written and easy read that introduces various elements of the modern Druid practice without being too wordy or dense.

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3. Druidcraft: The Magic of Wicca & Druidry by Phillip Carr-Gomm: For those coming to Druidry from Wicca, or having learned a bit about Wicca, this book makes things seem a little more familiar. The book is structured as though you are living and studying in a forest school. Each chapter contains a bard’s tale, a colloquy between a Druid and their student in this forest school of Druidry, a practical portion, and historical information for further study and understanding. It is creative and for me, gave me a small sense of belonging to a group of Druids without physically being able to join one at the time of reading it.

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2. The Druidry Handbook: Spiritual Practice Rooted in the Living Earth by John Michael Greer: This was one of the first books I read on the topic of Druidry, and it is one I most often refer to. Unlike the other books I’ve listed so far, The Druidry Handbook tends to take on a bit more of a scholarly tone. It too was designed to be an introductory year of study: this time for the Ancient Order of Druids in America. It contains a detailed historical section on the various strands of inspiration that make up modern Druidry. Its teachings are broken up into three triads which cover cosmology, the ogham, the Wheel of the Year, the elements, and more. The practical section of the book is comprised of three “paths” which it recommends one follow and weave into their working practice. I enjoyed the way this book was structured and the fact it was packed full of information and resources without feeling too dense or lofty.

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1. The Earth Path- Grounding your Spirit in the Rhythms of Nature by Starhawk: My number one spot is for a book that is actually not about Druidry at all- at least not in a formal sense. It is a beautiful weaving of story, spirituality, and practical action. It starts with simple practices of grounding, observing nature, learning about one’s local environment, developing intimate and strong relationships with the land and its inhabitants. For me, those things are essential to Druidry before spellwork or ritual can even be a thought. It also contains lessons through the elements and practical applications for both living in harmony as part of our natural world as well as more activism-oriented suggestions. It’s a powerful read that I have come back to several times because I find new little truths each time I read it.

And there you have it! I didn’t choose books that delved too in-depth into the mythology or history associated with Druidry; those are things I think need time and interest and aren’t necessary integral to starting out on a Druid path. I wanted books that introduced Druid philosophy and ideas about relationships with the natural world, creativity, kindness, peace, community, not in-depth scholarly texts about the ancient Druids and what they may/may not have believed.

Happy reading, and forest blessings,
Rachel

The Chase

The Chase

Rapt in ancient forest’s embrace

I yield to hunters who give chase:

Bend my bones to running hare and tarry

me, carry me from there—

 

in jagged teeth, dangling from mighty maw,

‘neath paws—yours now, rightly:

claimed in flesh and lying there prone.

Strip back consciousness from the bone.

 

Heady scent: the blood and the sweat—

The drum beats. The hooves fall. The net

cast, binds me: tremulous in that embrace.

I face my dark, and snap.

 

Tempo changes, and flying o’er the pine

I find me: whole once more.

Valiant crow’s flight thus ended,

back to those pines I descended.

 

Woodsmoke burns the nose, and awake

I see the moonlit branches quake.

The drum beat still thrumming in my bod, I

Gave sigh and silent nod

 

To watching beast beyond the grove’s safe light—

whose might I fled; it chased,

swallowed me, left me bleeding, torn.

So I on bird’s flight was reborn.

The Sacred Hearth: The Importance of Fire in my Path

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I’ve been on a bit of a creative streak the past few days. In addition to a new YouTube video, and a number of Tumblr posts, I’ve been working on a personal digitization of my thirteen years’ worth of study. I’m unfortunately not able to share that particular project because of the number of things not properly sourced in it, but I can share some of the ideas that come from it, and the original writing that goes into it.

This particular post is going to deal with fire and more particularly the hearth fire. Some weeks back, I’d made a post detailing my “must-haves” as far as tools of my practice go. In it, I included the lantern which I hold a space for on my altar in honor of my moon goddess, but I realized that I had failed to include something of equal importance as I was working on my larger grimoire project: my small “hearth” which is represented by a miniature chiminea candle holder and a more literal hearth that I carved out of Sculpey to represent the hearth shrine I have within my sacred inner space.

For centuries the hearth or the need-fire was a central part of the household and community. Fire kept predators at bay. It provided warmth, comfort, and light. It provided the heat necessary to perform the alchemy of cooking or preparing medical remedies. It was a gathering place; a place where music, stories, and wisdom were shared among members of the community. And, to an extent, this is still true today. Who doesn’t feel warm and inexplicably at peace and connected while around a bonfire, sitting beside a fireplace, or while cooking in the kitchen? Our modern hearths are a little different, but their sense of sacred energy remains the same.

For me, a large part of my devotional path with the Wylde Hunt revolves around the hearth. I light a candle in the little chiminea at the beginning of ritual. I bring fire there when I’m sitting down to meditate or study. I offer a spot beside the fire in my sacred space for my gods and guides, to share that peace and warmth, to hear their wisdom, to share my music and poetry with them.

The candle holder in question reminds me also of an oven or a forge, and the power fire has to transform matter. Alchemy takes place in the flames, and food or metal is shaped and fired into something new. So I light my candles there also to bring about that power: of turning knowledge gained into wisdom and practice. To forge ideas and energy into manifested results.

How do you represent fire in your sacred space? Which energies of fire do you honor?

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

What Makes a Witch?

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Over on Tumblr (despite all the mess it now is) some folks have started up a #2019GrimoireChallenge which I am participating in. Since I’ve been having some fun with the prompts, I thought I’d share some of my favorite posts from the project here as well.

Tuesday’s prompt for Week 2 was “Witch, what does it mean to you? What type of witch are you?… Are there certain things you plan to learn as a witch? Certain goals you have?”

A witch, to me, is someone who practices witchcraft in some way: this can be spells and rituals, crystal healing, divination, artwork, devotional poetry, yoga, astrology, essentially the crafts of “The Craft”. A witch doesn’t follow a specific religious or spiritual path- they can be atheists, Christian, Wiccan, polytheists of any sort, whatever. Witches and witchcraft, for my definition of the term aren’t bound necessarily by any specific religious or spiritual paradigm, but rather in the practice of those arts.

I personally identify first as a Druid and Bard. My reasons for this are:

1. “Witch” is often conflated with “Wiccan” and as my religious beliefs and practices are NOT Wiccan, I find it easier to start at Druidry. Druidry is a nature-based spiritual philosophy which may be applied to a number of different sects of Celtic (and Indo-European if you’re a member of the ADF) polytheism as well as other more mainstream religious movements. Druidry is focused upon connection, care and respect for the natural world, and expression of creativity- usually with an emphasis on song and poetry I’ve found. It’s usually very much entwined with Celtic cultural values of hospitality, the sacred landscape, good humor and wit, etc. and as a spiritual philosophy is not as necessarily concerned with the “craft” part of my witchcraft definition.

2. My personal practice is, usually a lot less “witchcraft-y” and more spiritual. I spend a great deal more time wandering the woods, contemplating the universe and meditating than I do crafting spells and reading cards. Therefore to call myself solely a witch feels a bit.. fake.

If I were to define the type of witch I was, I would probably call myself a Druid-Witch, or a Witch of the Wild Hunt. Longtime followers of my blog will have noticed (scattered through here and probably difficult to find because when the hell do I ever actually post personal / original content?) that I work specifically with a version of the Wild Hunt and their horned god leader. For me, this path is first and foremost concerned with nature (particularly storms and the forest), connecting with it, knowing my local environment and its cycles and patterns, etc. On another level, I feel very much called to be a bard for said hunter deity. A lot of my path is made up of composing devotional poetry and artwork, recording the tales I uncover as well as my own adventures and growth. This path includes studying patterns of the stars- not just astrology but the actual dance of the constellations across my own sky. It includes keeping my home, and my altar, as hearth for my familiar spirits to rest and to speak with me. It includes journeying through trancework and meditation with those spirits and gods. But it very very rarely includes ritual, spell work, etc. I do those things, but they aren’t the bulk of what makes up my practice.

Right now, my “witchy” goals include finishing up the OBOD Bardic Grade course, learning palmistry, and taking up Welsh and harp playing as devotional work for my gods. There’s a long way to go, but I’m eager to get started.

Hunters’ Engyln

Over several months, I’ve been playing around with different poetry styles and formats, and so as Winter rears its head, a snow and Wylde Hunt inspired group of englynion for you all to enjoy!

Shrine to the Horned One

Heavy laden with snow, the pines leaning
With ice gleaming—bend in time
To hoofbeats: the seven-tined

Lord of Hunters, he cloaked in feathers comes.
Beating hearts drum—break tethers—
Vanish in mists and heather.

Riders on the icy night winds beckon:
“Heed not reckoning nor sin.
Wildness comes and stirs within!”

Thinking About: My Neo-Paganism

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Today, I was forwarded an article by Sarah Anne Lawless, titled “For Sale: Neopganism ‘As Is'”. It’s a powerful read, and I do recommend you head over and give it a look if you haven’t seen it floating about the good ol’ neopagan / witchy online community already. I won’t expound too much upon the details within the article. This is meant to be a response to it, not a review or criticism of it. In this poignant work of prose, Sarah Anne Lawless calls attention to the misinformation, lack of consistency, and abuse facing the community at-large.

Some of the information presented: about the origins of the religious and spiritual movements I have been / currently am a part of, about some of the abuse within the community, about the incorrect ‘historical’ information that is often given in widely published books on the topic, was not foreign to me. I spent a great deal of time in my under-grad applying my newly-acquired skills of research to that which was near and dear to my heart: my spirituality.  Some of the information was new, and I admit I was a little heart-broken to hear so many stories of abuse and manipulation associated with something that has brought me so much joy, learning, and purpose in life.

With the negativity floating about in the rest of the world and with as entrenched into the neo-pagan community as these issues seem, it feels very easy to become dejected and hopeless. I don’t want to let that get me down; I want to use it as a motivation for change.

My response to this article is not to review it and dissect it, but to acknowledge that there are real problems that I as a young adult within the community, as a blogger, as a person capable of speaking out about these things want to work to change- and must change if I want the neo-pagan community to be a safe place in the future for myself, for my friends, and for the future generations.

I wanted this post to be a promise to myself, to those who follow this blog, and those affected by my actions within the community:

This is a promise that I will be one-hundred percent honest in the historical context of my spiritual traditions. That I will not willing spread mis-information, and work to correct it should I accidentally do so. That my study will be not of just mass-produced books touting appropriation and misinformation as “ancient tradition” but tempered with actual research, and acknowledgement of what I was inspired by and what is of my own creation. I will not stand for blatantly appropriative behavior in the community. We can share and be inspired by one-another without claiming something as our own.

This is a promise that my neo-paganism is centered in nature-centric and animistic beliefs, and that it honors the past without attempting to claim it. It is a promise that sex and sexuality, while natural, are honored and treated appropriately. I will not stand for sexual abuse in our community. I will not stand for manipulation and abuse of any sort within our community.

This is a promise that my blog and the spaces that I hold on the internet are, and will continue to be safe spaces for people regardless of age, sex, gender, race, etc.

This post stands as an acknowledgement that I am not, and never have been perfect. Humans make mistakes. Well-meaning people spread things without realizing the effect. But this is a promise that I will continue to try and do better in the future.

Let’s make our community better. Let’s get back to the things that matter: personal spiritual growth and caring for one another and our world.

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

Tools of the Trade: My Must-Haves

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I want to preface this post by saying that tools and all of the props and decor are not at all necessary for a fulfilling and powerful magical and spiritual practice. What follows are simply my personal beliefs and the tools that have become essential in my own practice. Below are my “must-haves”: the things that I have come to feel are an integral part of how I follow my spiritual path. I won’t include things like candles, herbs, crystals, etc. because they seem a little obvious and

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Drums: I’d been on a hunt for a proper hand drum for ages before finally finding mine in the autumn of 2016. Yes, trance work can be done with chanting, mantras, rattles, etc. I admit that there were things I could have done in the meantime, but found that old baggage about how my voice sounds and personal preferences were holding me back (things I’ve since released). The drum is primal, ancient, earthy. The ability to disappear into the trees and lose myself in a rhythm has been the most cathartic gift to self ever.

img_3048.jpgAthame/Dagger: I began my path with Wicca, in which the Athame, or ritual dagger, holds a great deal of symbolism. My first was actually nothing more than a letter opener, as the Athame is usually not supposed to be sharp. It was something I maintained in my magical arsenal for a long time simply because a) I liked the aesthetic of it, and b) I was the only one in my group of witchy friends who owned one. It was sort of a group-use tool that got brought out for big rituals, but sat on my altar collecting dust otherwise.

A camping trip in 2013, shortly after my journey with the Wylde Hunt had begun really changed the use of the dagger for me. By then, I’d turned 18 and purchased a blade with a bit of an edge to it. Unfortunately, we’d forgotten to pack any form of scissors or utility blade for cutting rope, opening the packages of the food we’d brought, etc. Faced with this dilemma, I came to the conclusion: If a member of the Wylde Hunt was placed in a similar situation, they’d undoubtedly use the blade they had- ritualistic or not.

Ever since the blade has served both purposes for me. It is both there for the ritual symbolism, and a practical tool. Its edge cuts cords and other spell components, primarily. I don’t really do much actual hunting and, thankfully, have never needed to use it for any manner of defensive measures.

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Vessel: Speaking of tools meant mostly for utility purposes: I always keep some manner of bowl/vessel/etc. on my altar. It acts as a containment for water for ritual purposes, acts as a place to put offerings when performing rites indoors, and a safe place for sage bundles and the like when cleansing.

Divination Tools: My spiritual practice began with an interest in divination and it has remained an invaluable tool in my life. Tarot, runes, and a scrying mirror make up the main of my divination practice, though I focus most on tarot. Divination, for me, is both a means for communicating with the divine / universal energies, and recognizing patterns in mundane matters of my life.

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The Lantern: This is the newest tool on the list in terms of its integration into my spiritual practice. After several months of being bombarded in meditations with images of a moon goddess carrying such a lantern, I finally purchased one to place upon the altar. I light this lantern at the beginning of each working and during my study sessions. For me, it is the light of this mysterious goddess guiding me through the dark and murky parts of life. It is a light of guidance, inspiration, hope- an urge to keep going.  It is lit in devotion of the goddess in hopes that her light might show me the way.

And that pretty much concludes my list of “essentials” for my own practice! What sort of tools do you find most important in your practice? What sort of uses do they have? Leave comments below!

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

Thinking About: Personal Deities

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This is a topic I’ve been wanting to take on for some time, but have been unable to find the proper words to do so- perhaps there never really are any. Something I’ve been working on over the past year or so is my relationship with deity. For several years, I’d defined myself and my path by them: “I’m a devotee of Herne the Hunter” or “I worship the Goddess Cerridwen” etc. I spent countless hours reading and re-reading myths, researching, learning, reaching out…

And over time had my own experiences that I then would try to rationalize against the mythologies. “I experienced x, is it y trying to contact me? How do I know?” I see these questions posted all over the online pagan communities- as though you were going to a doctor. List the symptoms, and someone will hopefully be able to tell you what it is you have. List your experiences and maybe someone who’s been practicing and studying longer than you will know the god or goddess who matches.

But when is a raven a messenger of Odin rather than a messenger of Bran or The Morrigan- or none of those at all? What if all signs point to Cerridwen, except this handful of experiences that don’t match anything in the established lore and practice of those already worshiping her? Does it matter? Does it make it less valid? How does one justify it?

What if, as it happened to me in the springtime of last year, you are faced with the divine who is such a myriad of things that she seems not to be able to fit in any one goddess’s body of myth?

Moon Goddess
The goddess in question appeared to me in several dreams and meditations cloaked in the deep blue of the starry night, half her face in shadow the other luminescent and beautiful like the moon. She carried in one hand a staff of birch that held a silvery sickle-moon crescent, and in the other a lantern that cast a cool blue light. She was a guardian of the cauldron, a washer of the ford, a wanderer in the mists, the cold kiss of death, the hands that wove the stars… And though I saw her face echoed in the stories of Morrigan, Cerridwen, Arianrhod, Hel, Artemis… I could not attribute a single one of these goddesses to her.

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For a time, she worried and confused me. Who was she? I wanted to find an answer in a book or a blog post, or some obscure myth in fragment over the tides of history. The more I looked, the more pointless the search became, but still she called to me more than any deity ever had, and I knew I must answer her call.

I moved away from myth and tradition- though they have their place as things to honor, to draw inspiration from, to find guidance in- and started to simply interact with deity in the way it presented itself to me. What I have found is something more deep, profound, and personal than any relationship I’ve ever had. There is a goddess I worship whose name has, perhaps, only been whispered on my lips. She guides me in the darkness.

Horned God

A similar issue had arisen during college with my relationship with the Horned God. There was a darker side to the Hunter that I did not find present in existing myths, and I tried fruitlessly to pinpoint: Is it Herne, or some other being I work with? Now it does not matter. He appears to me dragon scaled or clad in a cloak of feathers, his eyes dark like the soil or the midnight sky, and like the Lady with the Lantern, he has names that only I call him, and my path is all the richer.

I guess what I am saying is that it is perfectly fine to connect with particular gods and goddesses, to reach for them or find inspiration and connection within the stories that exist about them. It’s more than okay to try and follow traditions and old ways and rationalize. But there’s something deep and rich and worth exploring, in not worrying about the who’s and why’s and letting the divine express themselves to you in the ways that they wish.

Blessings of the Forest, Frost, and Moon,
Rachel

 

Thinking About: Samhain

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A small shrine I set up on my altar. On it, are pieces of jewelry from my mom, my grandmother, and great grandmother.

In this corner of Michigan, it feels almost as though Samhain and Autumn itself have been skipped. The weather has gotten incredibly chilly already, and it seems like the leaves have been dropping a bit faster than they used to. With the all of the warnings about the dangerous changes in the climate, I can definitely feel on these frigid blustery days that something is amiss.

But even the spirit of autumn seems absent. It feels like a dreary veil of grey has sort of fallen over the whole ordeal. Where I would usually be preparing for Samhain, I’m filled with a sort of apathy. Perhaps it’s a reaction to the environment. Perhaps with all that is filling my mind between the horrors of United States politics, the climate, and what’s going on in my own personal life, I just don’t have the energy left.

The time between Mabon, which passed with very little feeling for me this year, and Samhain are usually filled with a great deal of creativity and spiritual activity. The Wylde Hunt appears again in the blustery winds and the rolling thunderstorms. But this year it feels stagnant, and murky. It’s hard to feel as connected as I typically do.

However, I’m of the opinion that succumbing to that feeling of despair and hollowness only gives it a further foothold. Today, after several weeks of disuse, I approached my altar, lit some candles, placed some items in its center to honor my ancestors and family. The feelings of autumn might feel missing, but there is still time to reflect; to tend to the decaying and changing happening under the surface; to honor what was, what is, and what shall be; and to reach out and feel that yes, those energies are still there even when we don’t feel them to be present in our lives.

I suspect Samhain will be a quiet one for me this year. There’s much to think about, and much that needs to change- on a global level and a personal level. Last year was about re-attuning to the cycles and finding the rhythm without the old markers for shifts in the seasons. This year has been a lesson in subtlety, and feeling connected even when it feels most difficult to do so.

What are your plans for Samhain? How are you preparing for the darker part of the year, and the changes still ahead?

Forest Blessings,
Rachel

A Lament at Mabon

I’ve found myself feeling very disconnected and aloof lately. What follows is a bit of wax-poetic rambling from earlier this evening as I sat among the trees to enjoy the energies of Mabon, and the rising of the Full Moon.

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“Princess of Cups” from The Druidcraft Tarot, artwork by Will Worthington

Once I knew the language of trees
How each rustling of their leaves
Could mean so much—if only one knew how to listen.

Once I had so much definition in just that one thing:
That I could see their faces and
Read their leafy lips as they blew in the autumn breezes.
And now it seems so foreign…
Have I been so long in this land of fluorescence and brick?
Have I been gone so long that I have forgotten
How sweet the melodies of the forest can be?

Now it fills my heart not with understanding
But with a melancholy longing
For that which once felt so familiar to me, no—
That which still feels familiar—
But only the familiarity of a dream
As though in the very throes of sleeping wonder
I’ve been wrested from it by mundane duty.
Ephemeral on the edges of my consciousness:
Like flickering of faery light,
And distant horns of hunters that roam the evening skies.

In my heart, with each pulsing of the blood that flows through my veins,
I feel it… an echo.
An echo of something deeper—and much more profound and yet:
In my waking consciousness, I cannot quite put finger on that which I have lived before.
The melody haunts my eardrums and yet I cannot quite put to fingertips—
Or lips—the profound tune that catches in the wind and then is gone.

Faintly, my mind’s eye remembers beauty which no photograph, no drawing—
No painstaking sketch could ever come close to imagining.
On the tip of my tongue, the faintest taste of something… something…
Always searching for that which I cannot in waking consciousness grasp.

With each falling leaf,
With each howl on the wind that seems to pierce my very soul…
I want to remember
I want to wake up
Back in the place where trees spoke and moonlight bled between the branches on inky nights…

There were nights when I would run
From phantom figures in the trees,
Where I swear I heard the hoof-beats harrying me along dirt paths…

There were nights, long ago, that seemed to go on forever,
Where the cold dark eyes of a vampire
Haunted me in my sleep,
Where deep and sorrowful melodies pulled me into a sense of ecstasy.

There nights when I could hear the goddess calling me in the mists,
Her silver light a comfort,
A crow to show me the way…

And yet, now…

I cannot feel more than mere glimmers of what had once been
There was a time when I had tasted of Cerridwen’s cauldron—
When I could see the way energy moved through the land—
So apparent to my sight, that I felt one with them.

And now…
I am so trapped in that webbing of wire and artificial light
That I find myself balking at the very notion of sitting in my own yard past sunset.

And yet
Here I am on the verge of dusk,
Staring, trembling, into the forest—
As if on this night of all nights
Something will come to me that will wake me from this madness

On this grassy marshland hill,
Perhaps I’ll find a wonder—or a wound…
Like blessed Pwyll, of Dyfed before me,
Perhaps my lady in white will come riding by to take me back to that place of understanding,
That place of oneness…

Perhaps the dark hunter will blow his horn
And carry me upon his steed and into the western winds.

Or perhaps,
I will have sat here, my heart broken open,
Only to return again tomorrow
To that endless drudgery of everyday life…