[This issue, we sit down for an interview with author, Druid, and homesteader, Dana O’Driscoll. Here, she discusses the intersection of her faith and environmental work; her book, Sacred Actions; and her upcoming projects.]
ev0ke: How do you define your personal spiritual practice? Does it have a name, or is it more intuitive and eclectic?
Dana O’Driscoll: I’m a druid and a land healer. This means that I work directly with the land and the spirits of the land, engage in sacred work on the land, including organic gardening, wild tending, and rewilding as part of my spiritual practice. I’m very embedded in my immediate landscape of Western Pennsylvania (USA) and the Allegheny Mountains, and I base my practice in this ecosystem. Because of where I live, one of my primary spiritual practices is land healing. I live in an extraction zone — the land here since colonization has been stripped bare: we’ve had substantial amounts of deforestation, streams polluted with acid mine drainage from old mines, issues surrounding industry and pollution, and now, mountaintop removal and fracking wells. While the forests have largely returned, our land has gone through a lot, and thus, my primary focus as a druid is in working with the land on regenerative practices.
In druidry, I am a member of two druid orders: the Ancient Order of Druids in America and the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. The study courses in these two orders have shaped my practice. I currently serve as the Grand Archdruid in the AODA and am also a Druid grade member of OBOD.
ev0ke: Which Deities, spirits, or other powers are honored in your tradition?
DO: Druidry is a bit different from other traditions in that the only belief that is shared across druids is that “nature is good.” Thus, we all share a deep reverence, love, and respect for the living earth. Beyond that, individuals choose their own path as befitting their practices: some may be animist, polytheist, monotheist, or athiest — and there is a wide diversity in our tradition. Some forms of druidry do require polytheism, but not the one I practice.
I personally am an animist druid. I work with the spirits of nature and of the mountains where I live. This is another way of “wildcrafting” or localizing my druidry.
ev0ke: You recently published Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Sustainable Practices. First, congratulations! Second, what promoted the creation of the book?
DO: A lot of people who pick up a path of nature spirituality have this moment where they are delving deep into nature and then take a look at their everyday actions and realize that their spiritual beliefs don’t necessarily align with the everyday, materialistic, and consumer culture present that we are all forced to take part in. Starting with joining AODA, I was asked to make three “earth path changes” as part of my druid path — finding ways to live more gently and sustainably with the living earth. I took these seriously and began to take up a serious practice of aligning my inner actions with my outer actions — and eventually sacred actions was born. I began learning how to grow my own food, tend animals, engage in wild tending and wild foraging practices, practice herbalism, seek ways of cooking with fire and the sun, learn natural building, get my permaculture certifications …and so much more. The more that I was able to engage in this alignment, the more deep I was able to take my spiritual practice.
I started a blog called The Druid’s Garden and started to writing about these ideas. Eventually I had enough material and created this book.
ev0ke: Sacred Actions is modeled after the Wheel of the Year. Why did you decide to organize it like that? And can you give us an example of what readers will find in, say, the Winter Solstice section?
DO: I think that wheels, cycles, and seasons are an innate part of all of us living on the earth. These cycles were part of life before industrialization, and one way of returning to a nature-focused practice is to honor the cycles of nature. Druidry, Wicca, Heathenry and so many other traditions follow some kind of seasonal cycle. As a druid, we follow the wheel of the year, which includes the solstices, equinoxes, and cross quarters. As I lived this wheel as a druid and as a homesteader, I found that these themes were deeply resonant with daily life. Building this material back into my life made the neopagan wheel of the year more meaningful because it was essentially re-aligning me with the earth and her cycles.
One of the things modern culture lacks is that sense of balance and that cycle. Even in the pandemic we could see this: it didn’t matter what was happening externally, we had to find a way to keep going on with “business as usual.” I think this really speaks to the need in thinking about life in a cycle rather than always-pushing always-working always-on.
ev0ke: Sacred Actions also includes practical advice, such as how to build a solar cooker. How much of this advice is based on your personal experiences? Are there any (hilarious?) stories from your years living on a homestead that you would care to share?
DO: Everything in Sacred Actions is rooted in my personal experience. I don’t believe in teaching something I haven’t done myself. So if its in the book, I’ve done it — either on my own homestead, at other places, or with friends/community.
I do have a funny solar cooker story. My first solar cooker was a “mockup” made of cardboard and some recycled plastic. You basically create a box and paint the box black, cover it in a plastic film, and then use that heat to cook. I was very proud of my little creation and decided I wanted to use it immediately. Except I forgot about the off gassing of the paint. Needless to say, after that, I let it sit out in the sun for two weeks before I used it again!
ev0ke: A number of exercises and rituals are also included in the book. Which of these are the most difficult, but ultimately the most satisfying, to create?
DO: “Sacred Action” is all about living in a way that aligns our inner and outer values; thus, for those practicing earth-based spiritual paths, it is about living in a way that is earth-based. This is extremely difficult in a culture that has been intentionally designed to consume and produce waste. In terms of most difficult, I think a lot of it is mindsets and simply creating lasting changes in your life. I advocate for small, slow solutions — working to integrate one thing and then moving on from there. The rituals are all designed to help you integrate spiritual practice and sustainable living and are hence used to help supplement and extend the spiritual sustainable practices in the book.
ev0ke: You contributed the forward to John Michael Greer’s The Druidry Handbook. In addition to Greer’s text, which other books and resources would you recommend to those interested in learning more about Druidry?
DO: My top recommendation remains The Druidry Handbook. It offers a thorough introduction to nature-based spirituality today. Philip Carr-Gomm has a nice book called What Do Druids Believe? which is a great place to start to provide a broad overview. Penny Billington’s Path of Druidry is another good recommendation. But I would say that the best path to go is to join a druid order and work through their curriculum. The two I recommend are the Ancient Order of Druids in America and the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids.
The truth is, you don’t really need to get books to learn how to be a druid. All you need to do is start spending regular time in nature and opening yourself up to the messages from spirit. That’s how our ancient ancestors did it, and that path is open to any of us, as well. Start learning about the nature outside of your door, and the sacredness and wonder that re-aligning with nature brings. Spend time listening to the voices of the trees, the song of the wind, and the ancient wisdom of the stones. That’s really the best way to go about it, and that’s where nearly all of us start. It isn’t later till we find the term “druidry” and realize that there is a collective shared wisdom and teachings surrounding it.
ev0ke: Ode to the Dandelion is a sweet and informative guide to a much misunderstood plant. How long did it take you to create the illustrations, and what medium did you use? And will there be more titles in the Ode series?
DO: That was a fun project I started a while ago. I’m planning on writing more, but it hasn’t happened yet because I’ve been working on these larger book projects. For most of my printed books, the illustrations are done in black and white — I use a combination of ink, watercolor, and gouache.
For my decks, the Tarot of Trees and the Plant Spirit Oracle, those are done in watercolor.
ev0ke: Where can readers find your work?
As Grand Archdruid in AODA, a lot of my writing and work can also be found in the course materials for that organization. You can find out more about AODA here.
ev0ke: Will you be attending any book fairs, conventions, or other events in the near future, either in person or virtually?
DO: At the moment, everything I plan on attending will be taking place in 2022 due to the pandemic 🙂
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
DO: At present, I’m finalizing my book on spiritual and physical land healing, which I hope to have as my second book release. I’m also finishing the writing and art for my third oracle project, the TreeLore Oracle, which features thirty-five North American sacred trees with a materia medica for those trees examining their historical and modern uses, ecology, and lore. I hope to release the TreeLore Oracle in early 2022!