The Druidic Art Of Writing
by Todd Dearing
When I first read, and reading saw the paper dissolve away.
~ Robin Williamson, Five Denials on Merlin’s Grave
Nature is constantly communicating with us, even when we are not paying attention. Our biological processes are attuned to the messages of the environment around and within us. Additionally, when we interact consciously with our environment, we are constantly interpreting what meaning there is for us. Likewise we are ever sending signals and conveying meaning to the world around us. A major focus of Druidry is to develop an awareness and understanding of nature, and to work creatively and magically through this. This focus is presented here in relation to the art of writing.
The Book of Nature
What is this language that nature speaks to us?
Druidry aspires to work closely with nature, understanding its patterns, cycles and ways. Nature itself can be read as a ‘book’ – the Book of Nature. This phrase presents an understanding that allows human intelligence to open to, comprehend, and commune with nature. So often spiritual understanding is passed through the medium of books, the written word, which can certainly bring insight and inspiration, yet it is nature herself who is constantly communicating the ordinary and profound meaning of life and of death to us, directly. Specifically, it is the Ovate, as seer and diviner, who develops and practises ways of reading this perennial meaning.
As humans we often abstract meaning through symbols, one of the most common being letters and from them words and sentences. Another human quality is that of using tools and technologies for practical purposes. Abstraction and technologies have been a major focus of humankind for some time. Yet we can see another form of these two traits in animals as well. It is known that some animals use tools; for example, crows have been known to make usable objects from twigs. Animals also make use of abstraction, such as in paintings made by elephants, or in the communication of apes. Our human qualities are shared and reflected in the animal world, yet in a more primal form.
Reading has been a human constant since the written word began, though was probably also relied upon by prehistoric people in another sense. Our ancestors studied Nature for success in hunting, magic, travel, ritual, healing, and many other aspects of life. When considering symbols in a broader sense, their reading is nothing new to humanity. The ancient Chinese oracle, the I Ching, was said to have been first seen by the culture-hero Fu Xi on the shell of a tortoise. The tracks of animals are read by the hunter. Then there is the art of reading omens; the flight of birds, the shapes of clouds, the wind, the stars, the cries and behaviour of animals, and especially the interpretation of dreams and visions. It is a practical concern of any person reliant on the natural world for their survival to be able to discern its signals and signs. This understanding has developed over time into a sophisticated practical lore of the natural world.
Birds have an interesting relationship with writing, and contain many symbolic connections. The Egyptian ibis-headed god Thoth (also sometimes a baboon-headed god) is the god of writing, science, and magic. Robert Graves wrote of the Celtic connection of cranes to the alphabet, where the god Manannan Mac Lir carries the alphabet of the people of the sea in a bag made of crane skin. The Swan also relates to writing, being a bird symbolising poetry. It is interesting that the ibis, the crane, and the swan are all water birds. It may be that the footprints left upon muddy river banks by such birds inspired the creation of writing. The quill is also traditionally made from a feather; commonly that of the goose, turkey or swan. Different birds are symbols of certain qualities, and so their feathers were used in a quill to invoke their energies in writing.
Looking further into the natural world, the world of plants can be seen and read. The seasons are written in the changes of plants; as they sprout new leaves and shoots, as they grow flowers, seeds, and fruits, and as they shed their leaves. Plants also reveal other conditions of the environment, such as water levels, pollution, disease, and soil conditions. Humans have long used plants to understand and to read the world around them, particularly nomadic people such as the Australian Aboriginals who would move about at times indicated by changes in the plants around them. Plants have their associated symbolism and energetic qualities, which is a particular study interest of Ovates.
The mineral world also has its ways of communicating; through geology, weather patterns, tides, and other natural phenomena. The celestial world can be read through the patterns and movements of the planets, stars and other phenomena. All of Nature is a book to be read. Even the data on computer storage devices is read and written.
It is known from the recorded writings of the Ancient Romans, that the Ancient Druids did not rely on the written word. Yet they were said to study natural history and philosophy; this being true, they were likely highly fluent with reading Nature. From the recorded mythology of the British Isles, it is also clear the Druids had skill in natural magic. Such magic can be understand as a way of writing in the ‘Book of Nature’ – a druidic ability to attune and harmonise with the natural world around them to the point of manifesting its hidden magic towards beneficial changes, such as for healing.
As our druidic journey develops, it involves a deeper communion with nature, and from this communion may lead us towards an interest in natural healing and divination. In this light, divination can be seen as a reading of nature, and healing as a writing of nature. The ability to connect deeply with nature is practised by the Ovate, and communicating this deeper understanding in common human terms is the province of the Bard. In this way, the druidic writer can act as a translator for Nature, expressing meaning in common human writing, or any other art form. The skills of reading and writing in both the wild and the civilised worlds is most needed in current times where so many people feel alienated from our Earth. To work as a writer in both this world and the other, can form a magical practice for writing as a druid.
Nature shows such a perfect beauty, balance, and being, and so the druidic writer can seek this nature in themselves and in their writing; in their script and words and intended meaning and also in their research. In this way, all aspects of writing can become a magical practice. If one is familiar with them, magical symbols such as contained within the Ogham, the Norse runes, the Enochian system, Egyptian hieroglyphics, Alchemical symbols or any other writing system one is versed in, can be worked with in writing practice. The extent of such writing is potentially limitless, and what is presented here is an attempt to provide an entry point for further work.
Writing the Spirit of the Other
Here is a practice that utilises writing as a way of divination, or of healing. For this exercise you will need to choose something to ‘write the spirit of’, be it human made or wild, a place, an event, a person, plant, animal, stone, cloud or other natural phenomena. You may feel drawn to something in particular. Always seek permission first from this other, which may require an inner-world journey when this is not possible in the outer world. Be clear with your intent and resultant actions, and respect the wish of the other. This is an exercise to bring forth the story, perspective and wisdom of the thing written about – to write its spirit.
Hold or touch the subject if possible, and spend some time attuning to it through meditation. Allow yourself to become one with the subject. This can be done in the outer world, or you may wish to make a connection through the inner world of the imagination. If you choose to commune through the inner world, you may like to perform preparatory spiritual practices beforehand to ensure a safe and wholesome space around you. Call forth any powers or deities of protection you are comfortable with to aid in this work. You may also wish to offer prayers to the subject you are connecting with. Take care when connecting with the subject, particularly where energies involved are disruptive or disharmonious.
You may connect only once with your chosen subject, or this practice could become an extended series of practices, where you form a deeper connection with a particular place, animal, plant, event or other subject over a number of sessions. This extended work can be useful where deeper understanding or healing is required. This practice can also be done on your own, or as a group practice with others.
To bring forth the story and wisdom of the subject requires communing, and perhaps communicating, with the subject, and then writing down the energies and experiences of that subject. Allow the energies, images, feelings, and words to flow onto the page through your writing, without the egoic rational mind interfering. Simply let the writing flow, do not censure or correct the work. Read it over after finishing the practice, not during.
Once you feel this exercise is complete, thank the subject and discontinue communion with it. Bring your energy back to your own centre and spend some time feeling your own body, breath, and mind, grounding yourself in your own being. Close the practice in an appropriate and definite way. Following this, take a walk, have some food, and allow yourself to be present in your ordinary self. Then read what you have written and reflect upon it in your own time. You may have further questions to ask the subject in a future communion.
This approach is a divination practice, to discover the wisdom and understanding of another, yet the same technique can be used for healing purposes. For this approach, set the intent to write for the purpose of healing the subject. You may need to read aloud what is written to the subject afterwards, or there may be other ritual or action required based on your writing, or perhaps the act of writing is in itself sufficient healing for the subject.
The Ancestral Tomb of Wisdom
Here is another writing-focused practice, this time to access the wisdom of the Ancestors. Perform any necessary preparatory practices. When you are ready, seek in the inner world of your imagination the Tomb of the Ancestors, the record keeping place for your heritage of ancestral wisdom. Go there and ask permission from the ancestral guardians to enter that place. Spend some time observing the place, understanding it, and meditating there until you are familiar and at peace with the energies present.
Once you feel comfortable with the place, ask permission of the Ancestors to access some wisdom and to bring it back to this world through writing. Be attentive to what comes, and while there, write it down in this world. (To do this requires the ability to act as a bridge between worlds – between the ancestral world and this world. This skill is developed through druidic training. Alternatively you may record it on an audio device.) Don’t judge or censure what comes. Once you have written all that has come to you, thank the Ancestors for their gift. You may wish to give a gift in return if this feels appropriate, and it may be wise to promise to utilise the wisdom gained wisely and nobly – to not be irresponsible with its use. You can also consider whether what you have gained can be shared safely or not – you may wish to discuss this with the Ancestors. If so, call for them and ask if you may converse with them and find answers to your questions. It is important to be respectful, yet also not to give your power and integrity away in such relationships. Once you have finished, leave the Ancestral Tomb and gently return to an awareness of your body and the outer world. Close the practice in a suitable way.
This practice can also be done in the outer world if you have access to an ancestral site, or can be performed with the spiritual ancestors of the British Isles, such as Merlin, Arthur, or with other deities, at the sacred sites related to such beings.
Another approach with this practice is to seek out the wisdom of the Ancestors specifically for the practice of writing – to seek Ancestral wisdom and lore on language, scripts, and stories, and on techniques and methods to develop one’s skill and ability as a writer. In this way you can tap into the heritage of writing experience stored within your own blood and bone.
Reading the Book of Nature
We had walked for some time, weaving our way deeper into the ancient bushland until we found ourselves in a clearing. Sunlight reached through the canopy, brightening the grass and dry leaves upon the earthen floor. The wind was still, while honey-eaters continued chirping around us. And so the elder druid sat down upon an old fallen eucalypt, and I sensed his inward meditation. He then choose his words thoughtfully
‘Here is a sacred site. It is a place of language. I was shown this place by my guide when I was new to the Ovate work so long ago. She was shown it by another druid before that, and the connection continues back among the druids to the early 21st century, when Druidry was gently finding its place in Australia. ‘It teaches the language of place. Each place has its own unique expression, its own dialect if you will. Yet we have discovered through our work here that this place contains a kind of medicine, an energetic aura, which dissolves away inner blockages preventing direct insight into the language of nature. If you spend time here, become familiar with this place – well and truly familiar, which requires patience – you will begin to perceive nature more clearly. This art is known as ‘reading the book of nature’, or more simply ‘divination’.’
He gave silence its place, as I reflected on his words. Leaves and grasses gently swayed as the birds continued their talk, and the atmosphere of the place began to deepen into a silence, almost like a dream.
The old druid spoke again, ‘Let us spend some time in meditation, if you wish to further understand what I have spoken of.’
And so I sat on the leaf covered ground, and allowed my body to relax, attuning to the patterns of my breath. The Sun made its way across the sky, the hours deepening my peace and energy. After some time I realised how clear everything had become. My eyes were open and I noticed something in the shapes of the branches that I had somehow missed. I could see an underlying simplicity to it all, which seemed to express the most intricate patterns. I could sense the nwyfre flowing through these branches, making their shapes according to the ways of nature. I could sense an intelligence through all this, a deliberate intended meaning to be expressed through the form of the branches. This meaning was something far more universal and enduring than any human expression I had known, and yet it was plainly natural, as though I was part of it also. I felt that meaning had opened a part of me, within my consciousness, that was a kind of blueprint or map – a language for a deeper view of our universe.
The old druid again spoke, ‘So you have read something.’
From behind me he rose from his seat, ‘Let us prepare ourselves and then journey home. Remember, we have guests to entertain tonight.’
His smile was excited and loving, showing the child within his aged face. I allowed myself time to become comfortably grounded in my own body, and thanked the spirits of the place.