Oak– The Shaman Tree

OK, I know I am not supposed to use the term shaman outside of a Tlingit context, however– no other word in my native or ancestral languages readily comes to mind to describe the impressions and I experiences I want to share, so I humbly beg their pardon for borrowing their term to better express myself.  I hope they won’t mind overmuch as I struggle to wordify my momentary engagement with the numinous, and I hope, dear readers, that you are all willing to bear with me.

Oak is the only deciduous tree I am aware of that holds onto its dead leaves through the winter, and does not actively release them until the growth of the new season’s spring leaves push them out.  Unless they are blown away, they are present throughout the fall, winter, and early spring.  Among the deciduous trees, this tree has a voice all through the year as the winds rustle its leaves.  These are the shaman tree’s rattle.  This rattle can call back disassociated, disconnected parts of oneself, and realign them.  This is how I engage with the power that is Oak as the shaman tree.

Today on my morning walk I encountered two oak trees whose leaves had not yet been blown completely off, being semi-protected in a corner built around them by houses, fences, and a schoolyard.  As the wind is blowing today, I heard their rattle hiss in the breeze, and felt invited by this sound, as I so often do, to stand beneath the tree, my back to its trunk, hands behind me resting gently upon it, with eyes closed.  Breathing deeply, I listened to the voice of the oak, and let its sound shake apart my corporeal boundaries until they dissolved, and my essence melted into the tree itself.

Immediately I felt the land give out from under me as my consciousness slid down into its  dark, damp roots in the land, where I rested awhile. Gradually, I felt the damp wear off as I became conscious of a great heat emanating from the deep earth– its fiery core.  I felt the tree gaining sustenance and vital energy from this heat, and as it warmed, my consciousness began to rise up in the tree with its sap.  I felt energized and buoyant, rising like a balloon.

In the heart of the tree, in its center trunk, I felt its solid presence in its ecosystem, and its expansiveness as it gave to its community what it had to offer, sharing its energy with its neighbors in the myriad ways in which it does.  I felt myself full of energy, and began to spin, feeling this energy radiating from me to nourish the life all around.  In this I sensed a giving and a caring, what moves from the heart, and the many unique ways in which we might all use our energies to give to, and care for those around us.

As I spun, I began to rise again, and found myself in the treetop, kissing the sky, and being kissed by the shining sun.  Here, I felt very distanced from both my earthly body which I’d strongly felt in the roots, and my personality which I felt strongly in the trunk/heart of the tree.  Here, I felt these elements of me fall away, and felt like pure spirit, eating light as the tree’s leaves do.  I basked in this light, drank it, ate it, communed with it, breathing it in, breathing it out.  This is the light that made all the other experiences possible, my very life possible, as tree and/or human.  The power of this light filled me as I marveled at its generosity and ability, its love and hospitality.  I floated in wonderment and tranquility, becoming light itself.

Then, as a human might suddenly feel full from enjoying a good meal, I suddenly felt instead like a container of light, full in the belly from this bright feast.  I was not able to continue, as I could not eat another bite; there was no more room to take any more in.  With this sudden return of corporeality, and this feeling of satiated fullness, I sank slowly back into the tree trunk, feeling my feet under me, and the resonant pulse of the tree echoing within me.  Though I had been here in the trunk before, I was changed now– illuminated, enlightened– transformed.  With a new perspective I had a new sense of identity and what I had to offer, an enlarged sense of what being-ness suggests and demontrates, what belonging-ness denotes and implies, and what giving-ness and caring-ness inspire and encompass.

Sitting with and eating light can show us all, tree person, human person, and perhaps animal peoples, how we are in constant relationship with each other in layering ecosystems of region, planet, and spirit, whether or not we recognize and nourish these relationships.  But when we understand this interweaving of being-ness, personhood, and neighborhood into conscious community, we will have gifts to offer all life, both personally and collectively, through our own, and cooperative destinies, and that the offering of these gifts to nourish life is also our destiny, as well as our hospitality, generosity, and ultimately, maturity.  It is the realization of what it is to be an earthling in community with other earthlings, where we each are planted.

In this way, the shaman that is Oak tree heals me, aligns me, reminds me, and inspires me.  I engage with her as Brìde, the tree of her church, and the tree of her father an Daghda’s druidic wisdom.  All three of my inner cauldrons were tipped and filled, and I was renewed through my multiple momentary experiences of Brìde as oak, fiery core of the earth, giving and caring heart, greening of land and leaves, ever-giving sun, brightness of light, alignment and healing, illumination and wisdom, connection and relationship, inspiration and guidance.

As St. Columba once proclaimed Jesus his druid, so I proclaim Brìde my shaman, as well as my druid, my foster-mother, my constant companion, and my maker of song.

This is how I engaged with Oak today, shaman tree with her shaman’s rattle, as healer, light-eater, and illuminatress.



The Role of the Modern Druid

Contemplating how the spirituality of druidism and the role of the druid is changeable and meaningful in today’s world is a worthy endeavor in bringing ancestral wisdom into our present lives for the benefit of all life.

Nature is Sacred

Druidry is a religion, it is a spirituality, it is a way. But more importantly it is a relationship – a relationship with Nature, with the Universe. In this post I want to look again at Druidry – how there are differences and similarities between the ancient Druids and those today, but also how both are based on a relationship with the world around us. A modern Druid author named Greywind writes in his book, The Voice Within The Wind, about nine roles of a Druid. By using the lens of the Bard/ Ovate/ Druid distinctions, we can look at those nine roles and see what a modern day Druid might be like, especially from a naturalistic perspective.


Ancient Druids were made up of three groups. The first of these was the Bard. In Greywinds book, he identifies two strands of Druidism that could be said to be the roles…

View original post 1,149 more words


In Irish ancestral tradition, the tribal chieftain’s rule was legitimized only when he had wed the Goddess of Sovereignty, who could disapprove of and reject his rule should he forget to exhibit hospitality and justice in all he did.  She displayed her rejection through famine, drought, storms, and rapine- withdrawing her protection, leaving the people open to predatory attacks by other clans.  Sovereignty, through famine drought, and storm, was and is the Land Herself, and the institution of the Sacred Marriage of Sovereignty Queen and Tribal Chieftain, who represented the tribe collectively, created a sacred bond between the people and the land.

Sovereignty means to rule, and surely the land rules our lives completely, and we are not in charge.  The land is our home, is our mother as place of birth and one who provides sustenance and nourishment, and we are Her children, along with all our relations with whom we live in our homeland.  She is ruler and provider, great queen.  She gives Her blessings freely and seemingly inexhaustibly to all, yet we must also be mindful of our harvests and uses so as to not deplete or pollute her stores, as they support the lives of all our relations.  In this, She teaches us both the hospitality of freely giving, and taking care of others, and the justice of ensuring a healthy, sufficient supply for all beings.

To be in right relationship with Sovereignty, with the Land then, is to practice Her hospitality and justice, just as our ancestral chieftains were obliged to, as our ancestral tribespeople had done, and as this relationship undergirds the maintenance of all life, it is therefore the most vital and sacred relationship a people can have- their relationship with the Land.  Our Sovereignty queens support us all and require our allegiance and cooperation to be able to continue doing so, for all beings, through all time.  This relationship is a sacred responsibility, and one each of us can incorporate into our lives and seek to build on through all of our days.

This is an ancestral relationship which desperately needs to be revived for our people in our world today.  We have forgotten our responsibilities, and it is time to remember.

Long live the Queen.


Ancestors in the modern western world are thought of as those persons who contributed to our genetic make-up, from whom we descend, in a linear fashion.  In many tribal cultures though, the idea is expanded to include other-than-human persons, as well as human persons, for so many of them truly contribute to creating who we are today.  Further, the concept of ancestors begins with one’s parents, so includes the living as well as the dearly departed.  Ancestors means family, and so the concept of relations.  Gaelic folk tradition embraces this expansion by noting in the lore of some families and clans that they descend in part from faeries, selkies, or gods who are equated with various Powers of the living world.  In Druidry, Ancestors of Spirit are also acknowledged and honored, those from whose spiritual tradition we spiritually descend, whose teachings we study and live by.  The ancestors and relations are many, and hence are the sources of blessings.

Contemplating all the persons and Powers which contribute to my being, I count among my Relations all my ancestors of blood family lineage; my ancestors of spirit within Druidic and Brigidine Flametending traditions, including Brìde Herself, as my spiritual foster-mother; the land of Cascadia who nourishes and sustains me, where I was born and live; Grian the Sun, whose light makes my very life possible; the Queen of the Night, the Moon, whose light and power guide my womanly tides; the Plant, Tree, Animal, Bird, and Fish Persons who nourish and sustain me daily with their lives; the Wind and Water Persons who nourish and sing to me; the Tree Persons who teach me their songs; the Herb Persons who feed and heal me with their medicines; and the Green Fire and the Oran Mór which nourish and feed my soul and spirit, every moment of every day and night.

Blessings of health, protection, and wisdom flow from the Ancestors, and for these I am deeply grateful.  Belonging also flows from the Ancestors and Relations– we are family, we are connected, we live amongst each other, mindful of each other, supporting and caring for each other, providing context for each other. They are my home, they are my companions, they are my guides, they are my teachers, they are my Makers of Song.  Moran taing, agus slàinte mhath.


As druids today are inspired by druids of the past in their contemporary druidic practices, the primary focus of druidic study centers on esoteric and metaphysical concepts and engagements, since historical druids functioned variously as priests, poets, and seers.  As a part of Celtic tribal society, their role was not the role of either the farmer or the warrior, but those roles were vital to the communities of which they were part.  The druidic rites helped bless the planting and the reaping, the hunting and the fishing, and the maintenance of sacred relationships with land and sea, cattle and deer.

These sacred relationships were the foundation of the ancestral Celtic way of life, and were maintained both through sacred rites, and practical livingways.  While prayers were said and offerings were made, wild spaces were respected, animal hunts and plant gatherings were designed to not deplete their supplies, cattle were grazed in rotating fields, and crops were similarly raised in rotating fields, to allow the land to recover between uses.  Fields enriched by cattle dung were used next for planting, and where communities lived near the sea, seaweed was gathered annually to replenish the growing fields.  Communities didn’t grow beyond the land’s capacity to support itself, and technologies were internally implemented in ways which supported the land and people.  All of this was evident up through modern times in Highland Scotland at the turn of the 20th century.

While prayers, rites, and offering speak one language to the Powers, which accords Them great honor and offers them thanks, thoughtful practical lifestyles speak another language, which not only express honor, but respect, recognizing the agency and sovereignty of Land, Sea, and Sky, and their myriad beings, by engaging with Them in mutually-beneficial ways which supported the well-being of all involved parties, and also protected the very life-support systems upon which all beings depended.  When a people lived in such a way, their prayers, rites, and offerings were consistent with their livelihood.

But what of druidic practice today?  While we continue with prayers, rites, offerings, meditations, and magic, our modern western lifestyles no longer convey our respect to the Powers, demonstrate that we honor their agency and sovereignty, that we are thankful for Their blessings, or that we consciously strive to live in mutually-beneficial harmony and balance with Them.  Our lifestyles instead convey that They are objects to be used at our pleasure, heedless of depletion, suffering, and abuse, that we do not value Their agency and sovereignty or Their freedom to live according to Their own needs and purposes.  If this is what our lifestyles and livelihoods convey, how effective then can we really expect our prayers, rites, and offerings to be?  And how genuine and meaningful can our relationships with Them really be?  Truly, how much can we honestly expect Then to be moved to continue offering us Their blessings when we are so thoughtless and ungrateful?  It is not only our rites which must reciprocate blessings and respect, but our daily and ongoing livelihoods.  We are trapped in a dualistic way of thinking which erroneously teaches that so long as our intent and prayers are pure, we shall be blessed, and our practical livelihoods are therefore of no consequence.  This is not how our ancestors lived, though.  This dualism is a modern invention, and it is dangerous in how it allows us to desecrate the life-support systems relied upon by all beings and the feel we may be absolved of responsibility if we just offer up the right gifts to the gods.

Shouldn’t our livelihoods and spiritual practices align with and support each other, affirming the same values?

Towards this end, I suggest Permaculture.  While druids were not farmers in the past, our world of western development and values today requires us to each contribute to the necessary healing these things have harmed, which means working to recover some degree, indeed any degree of our livelihoods, so that we may return them to ways of integrity.  Cartesian duality has disrupted and polluted our relationships with the Land and its beings, and our priorities in livelihood.  Permaculture is a system of growing and raising food which works interdependently with all incorporated parties, including lay of the land, exposure to sun, soil nutrients, crops grown, and animals raised, so that all elements feed and support each other in a complete system which eventually comes to be largely self-supporting.  These same ideas can be applied to community-building with people as well.  Permaculture is called a design science, but unlike other forms of modern science, it is grounded in a set of ethics which undergird all it expresses, which are Care for the Land, Care for the People, and Return surplus gains to the Land and People for their ongoing support.  These values are clearly consistent with modern druidic values often espoused today!  Permaculture can express itself in different ways in different places with different circumstances and needs; there is no system to be locked into, but a creative process offering many creative options and opportunities to meet as many needs as possible.  Druids have long valued creativity and the creative process.  Challenges and problems are revisioned to become solutions.  All beings are cared for, and life-support systems are respected and protected.  Whole towns and communities could be revisioned and lived through a Permaculture lens, yet so might neighborhoods and streets employing its various techniques.  In fact, Permaculture founder Bill Mollison extolled his students to begin right outside their back door, improving relations, functions, and benefits one step at a time, in ever-growing circles around one’s center.  Proceeding in this way, through these values, and its many practical techniques, we could change our livelihoods individually and communally so that they once again reflect the same values our druidic spirituality imparts.

In addition to the three permaculture ethics, there are twelve principles by which the permaculture process is practiced, which each offer their own lessons can be appreciated and applied in ways which extend beyond gardening, into really whole life design.  Permaculture co-founder David Holmgren is credited with authoring these Principles.  You can read a list and brief description of them here:  http://www.patternliteracy.com/resources/ethics-and-principles  To read Holmgren’s more in-depth exploration of the Ethics and Principles, check out this link, which visually displays them in a flower mandala of symbols of each:  http://permacultureprinciples.com/principles/

So, what would it mean to realign our daily livelihoods with our druidic values and rites?  How would this improve our relationships with the Powers and the many beings with whom we share our lands?  How would this improve our druidry?  How would this improve our lifestyles?  How would this impact our future generations?

I want to express gratitude to both Bill Mollison and David Holmgren for crafting Permaculture and bringing to the world; to the indigenous peoples and their wisdoms which largely influenced these men and who still remain today as viable guides to holistic and honorable livelihoods and lifestyles; and to our ancestors and their wisdoms which remain today recorded in historical and cultural studies- may we hear their voices and be open to their guidance.  Moran taing, agus slàinte mhath.

The Green Fire and the Oran Mór

The two forces of vital life energy I am connecting with currently can be described as the Green Fire and the Oran Mór.

The Green Fire is the vital flame of life which animates all beings of land, sea, and sky.  It burns brightly beneath the breast of the land goddess, feeding and supporting life in its eternal burning.  It could be seen as a metaphor for the fiery core at the center of our planet.  I connect with it consciously during each of my offices, visualizing its form, and sensing its energy rise up from the land, through my legs, and into my being, like sap made of light, feeding and nourishing me and all life.  Its abode is the Otherworld, home to the fae folk, some of whom work to support the Green Fire.  From the Otherworld, its light and heat and vitality shines into and warms our own, endowing all life with many blessings.

The Green Fire makes up a part of the Oran Mór, which translates from the Gaidhlig as the Great Song.  The Irish hero Fionn mac Cumhal asked his warriors of the Fenian fighters once what their favorite music was.  Some replied the calling of the wolf, others the lowing of the cattle, still others the sing-song of the river in summer.  Fionn replied, when asked by his men in turn, “the music of what happens.”  This is how I engage with the Oran Mór, as the music of what is happening in the moment in which I am tuning into it.  It is the essence of all beings around me being and living and creating and developing, each contributing their notes to the Great Song being composed and sung collectively, moment by moment.  While tuning in to the Green Fire, I also tune in to the Oran Mór, feeling the Fire burning beneath, and rising up through me, and the Oran Mór thrumming and swirling all about me, knowing that I too am adding my own note to this Great Song, through my expression of my dán, my destiny lived out.  As we are each contributing our own notes in each moment, the Oran Mór is a song of constant cosmic creation, in waves of creativity, as each being in the world contributes to its ongoing generation.

Imbas, Inspiration

In Druidry, there is a reverence for, and a special attention put on Inspiration, called Imbas in the Irish and Awen in the Welsh.  All Imbas is seen as divine, gifted from the gods, one of whom may serve as a particular muse.  It can come as a lightening flash, a gentle realization, or a deep knowing.  Within those moments we are open to knowledge, wisdom, and profound guidance.  Such moments then shape our actions, our decisions, our creations. Through our creations, we then participate in the ongoing creation of the world, bringing new things to form, as all living persons do.  The soul and the gods unite, and production, or reproduction occurs, birthing new beings, ideas, forms, behaviors, or lifeways.  It is the vital dance of life which perpetuates itself through myriad lenses and processes.

Seeing that all living persons, human and otherwise, participate in this ongoing creation opens up the idea that human persons may not be the only persons who receive and respond to Imbas.  When trees unfurl their leaves, gathering light, are they inspired?  It is typical to call this instinct, if even to assign such an animalistic term to plant life is considered proper, as though it were unthinking or unconsidered behavior.  Animals are said to respond to instinct when building dens or nests, flying or hunting, mating or rearing young.  How does this look instead if considered Imbas, inspiration?  Plants and animals alike feel and respond to natural rhythms, as we humans do– spring is universally said to be the season of mating for us all.  One might say something about spring inspires us all.  As Daghda strums his harp, changing the seasons with the changing light on the land, we might say His song, Grian’s (Sun goddess) light, and Flaithas’ (Sovereignty, Land goddess) turning inspire all earthly beings.  The gods make their songs, and we in turn are inspired to make our own.  Tree songs are evident in leaves and flowers, animal songs in mating calls and dances, human songs in poetry and seduction.

Consider rising sap as an inspired song, animal nations caring for their own as inspired action, photosynthesis as the poetry of the plant nations.  Animal and plant behaviors can in turn inspire us, to be busy as a beaver, relaxed as a vegetable, strong as the oak.  Humans can in turn inspire plant and animal behaviors, from gentling a wild kitten to breeding and crafting domesticated corn from a wild plant.  We all interact, we build relationships, receive inspiration from each other, and join in the ongoing creation of our shared world.

Consider sunlight as Imbas, inspiring green life to rise from the land, animals to roam and seek sustenance, and humans to mow lawns and swim rivers.  Consider moonlight as Imbas, inspiring the tides of the sea to rise and reach in greeting.  Consider the tides as Imbas which inspire fish to surface in regular rhythms. Sun, Moon, Land, and Sea all responding to inspiration, and in turn inspiring all beings who open themselves to receive inspiration.

Consider stars inspired to forge heat and light in their cores, growing to vast shapes, exploding from their own force, and creating fields in which new stars and planets are birthed, or collapsing into themselves to create living pulsars singing their own songs, or living black holes, eating light.

All beings are living persons, receiving inspiration from one another, and offering it amongst each other, in unending turns.  Perhaps this is a fundamental aspect of belonging and participation in one’s community of living persons- to receive and offer inspiration, mutually and interdependently.  Our relations are then those who inspire us, and those in turn whom we inspire.  Shared Imbas binds us in place and time, defining our relationship.