The Druidry Of Place

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Love of Land. Reverence for Water. Respect for Fire. To me, this is the Druidry of California. It shapes my land and my practice. It’s the bucket under my tap as the water warms for a shower. It’s the ashes from the pipe I tap out into my open palm to be *sure* it’s out when I walk the hills. It’s the feeling of being home the first sight of poppies gave to me after three months in the Pacific Northwest.

Going to the homes of Druidry wasn’t at all what I expected, but it was everything I needed. I thought I was learning the forests the ogham sprang from, but I was gaining a greater appreciation of the trees I grew up under. Never had I realized just how dry my home is. Or how much of our ancient forests still remain. Here, I can stand inside a redwood and feel its great silence. The fact that human habitation here for so long was among the trees rather than in place of them means that much more of the forest remains to experience, and to learn from.

We went to Mendocino this weekend, my seed group and the new seed group that hived from it–was it only a month or so ago? This time, it was my home in Oakland that created the contrast. My bed was hard, but the trails were soft. Trees everywhere, and no one cared what I looked like or what I wore. I could talk to any nonhuman I pleased because there was no one around who thought it strange. Most of all, when I went down into the forest and just opened my ears I could *think*. Birds, the wind, and the rushing sounds of cars almost nonexistent.

I came back with treasures:

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California hazel is all through the understory. The leaves are furry, and each branch lies roughly on a plane which makes it seem to float above the ground. The whole tree is ethereal, as if it had its roots in the Otherworld. perhaps it does. Unlike its more substantial relatives in Britain, it grows as a series of slender poles. It is as if it has coppiced itself. 

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Poison oak is, of course, everywhere. In the old growth, however, it is part of the picture, in balance with the rest of the plant community. It climbs the redwoods like an ornament, startling green against the rough reddish bark.

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A tiny, perfect meadow.

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Yellow Leaf Iris, one of the flowers of the understory.

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The sorrel covers the land, outlining it in floating green.

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I learned a lot this weekend, between the ancient forest and the people I was with. Burls are a redwood’s way of trying to stabilize itself. A living buttress for a cathedral of a tree. This tree is called the Pan Tree, and I’ll bet you can figure out why. One friend taught me about burls, the other taught me what brewer’s droop was, all from the same example. You can’t say this pack ‘o druids lacks scope! 

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Not all the trees are rude, however. This one, like many of the larger ones, has hidden depths. 

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This one has grown into art. 

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As I walked up the path, the redwoods gave way to Douglas Fir.

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This tree is scarred by fire, as the redwoods are. How different the shape it takes from that, however. 

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This was the only running water I saw. There’s a river deep enough to swim in, but that is another adventure for another time. The calm of the forest is still surrounding me, along with the warmth of fires and shared wisdom, and for now that’s all I need.

 

Flower Face and the Owl

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Transformation can be tough.

The way Blodeuedd was treated in myth has always bothered me. Created specifically to be a wife to a boy who was also in a sense created without consent, I saw her as more slave than woman. I hated the magician Gwydion for his lack of awareness and for using his power to create playthings for the amusement of himself and his cronies without a thought for their desires and their basic rights.

This song came out of he time I spent meditating on Blodeuedd and asking her what her side of the story was. I wrote it years ago, but was unable to finish it until I went to my first Druid Camp, Anderida Gorsedd, which revolved around the Fourth Branch of the Mabinogi. There I met Kristoffer Hughes, who was not only kind enough to teach me how to say the names in the story as close to properly as an American can manage, he deepened my understanding of the story to the point where I understood what Blodeuedd had been telling me. And why Gwydion couldn’t be anyone but who he was.

Only part of one verse had to be changed, in the end. The story I was told had been very simple, only Blodeuedd’s creation and her return to where she had come from. It was complete in itself, as she is. When I had asked for the story of her life with Lleu several times, as I considered it the meat of the story, she sang me her answer:

You silly little mortal,
I decide the tale I tell,
I decide the shape of it,
This time it’s mine!

I had to leave it at that, and I did, until last Fall.

One of the things I didn’t understand about the Fourth Branch was that it is all about impulsive action. No one in the story is blameless. Everyone does something dumb, and while everyone ultimately pays for it, they are also transformed into more than they would have been otherwise. Did they learn their lessons? As well as any of us do, I suppose. The story leaves that question to the individuals involved, where it truly belongs.