[This issue, we sit down with Australian druid and author, Julie Brett. Here, she discusses her personal spiritual practices; her new books on Australian Druidry and nature spirituality; 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?
Julie Brett: I use the words “Australian Druidry” to describe my personal practice. It’s possibly not a perfect definition as what I do often extends outside of what I might call “Druidry”, but it’s a term that helps me to find others who have many of the same interests and inspirations. I would define Druidry as a nature and ancestor-based spirituality inspired by what we know of the ancient Celtic Druids, but it also leads me to learn about various Celtic cultures, mythological traditions, and land-based lore. Australian Druidry puts those interests into the Australian context, with the unique plants, animals, seasons, communities, ancestors, and history of the land also being important to my practice.
ev0ke: Which Deities, spirits, or other powers are honored in your tradition?
JB: This can be a difficult question for Australian Druids. Some of our tradition’s deities or spirits may be seen as tied to particular places, or working with them here may be seen as a kind of spiritual colonialism. There’s a lot to explore in that. Personally I tend to focus on the concept of Spirits of Place – finding that essence of a place in the presence of plants and animals, the turn of the seasons, and the many stories and histories that flow through a place. I also work with the wisdom of the ancestors that are both in me, and in the world around me. I mostly do this through my love of stories, myths, and folklore. I learn about those of my ancestors in the British Isles, as well as learning what is generously offered by our First Nations communities.
There is also the spiritual energy that is important to many modern Druids: inspiration. It is called ‘Awen’ in Welsh and ‘Imbas’ in Irish. This is the flowing spirit of creativity, the ‘sacred breath’ through which Bards speak words of inspired poetry, turning action into art. I love exploring how spirit moves through us and through the land in art, ritual, dance, poetry, and stories.
ev0ke: Your book Belonging to the Earth: Nature Spirituality in a Changing World will be released by Moon Books in March. First, congratulations! Second, how did this book come about? Did you approach Moon Books or did they come to you?
JB: Thank you! We have a wonderful Facebook group for Moon Books authors where we get together and collaborate on ideas for new publications. Early in 2021, Trevor Greenfield put out a call for authors interested in the idea of an Earth Spirit series of books with the brief of looking at the different ways that the nature spirituality community is responding to the climate crisis. In the last few years, I had been on various trips and been involved with community actions that were very relevant to this, so I suggested I write a book called Belonging to the Earth, exploring these stories, along with some interviews to bring in First Nations perspectives. The interviews were particularly important to me as much of what I had been learning about caring for the earth had come from community events organised by First Nations people, and I didn’t want to speak for anyone — it was important that the explanations were in their words and not mine. So, along with those interviews I also told stories of my own experiences in trying to make sense of how we face this crisis as a community. I’m really happy to be sharing it as I feel it’s documenting something that so many of us are experiencing together.
ev0ke: Belonging to the Earth recognizes the problems and difficulties of climate change, but is also — at its heart — hopeful. How? In light of the wildfires and drought of the last few years, how and why are you hopeful?
JB: I think hope comes with opportunities for healing and for solidarity. It also comes from doing what we can in our local communities and sharing the journey together. There are many parts of the book that had me in tears while writing it because of the healing that was happening in me. When we all get together at community events to learn and listen, and work on healing the land together, there is always healing for the people and healing for the community. The changes that occur are always very hopeful.
Making a difference on a local and personal level can bring some very tangible immediate hope, too. Finding ways to make a difference in our own local area, spending time in nature to listen and learn first-hand, coming together in ritual to share our grief and find solidarity, joining community groups like a community garden, sharing stories of hope and creating art that not only expresses how we feel, but can change the hearts and minds and bring healing.
Hope is found when our despair brings us together and we find the solidarity we need to continue to make a difference in whatever way we can — sharing a song, planting a tree, listening to the Elders, dancing, making art, or even … writing a book.
ev0ke: The cover of Belonging to the Earth features a leaf growing on the railing of an old racetrack. For those unfamiliar with the story about Garguree, could you explain it?
JB: Garguree, also known as ‘The Gully,’ has been declared an ‘Aboriginal Place,’ but it’s open to the public like a park. If you go there now, it’s a beautiful small valley thriving with native plants and wildlife.
The Aboriginal communities of the area have a very long connection with the land there. It was an important site before colonisation, but became even more significant when the Burragorang Valley was flooded to create the Warragamba Dam between 1948 and 1960. Many people lived there and were able to continue cultural practices in relative freedom compared to other places.
Sadly in 1957 the community was violently moved off the area to make way for a racetrack, which is still there, winding its way through the gully. They fought for it for many years and thankfully it was returned to the Aboriginal community in 2002. It is on Dharug and Gundungurra Country. Now, the community is working together to restore the native plants and bring habitat for the native animals. It’s a beautiful restoration. But in the process the Aboriginal community decided not to change the racetrack itself. A decision was made to leave the road and railings and let nature slowly reclaim them, so the painting on the book’s front cover is of nature reclaiming the racetrack. A close up of the power of nature to repair the Earth.
I’m very grateful that David King, a Gundungurra man, spoke to me about its history for the book. He is also an instrumental part of the swampcare project that is restoring the area.
ev0ke: The text also includes interviews with a number of Indigenous elders and people who practice a nature-based spirituality. I would imagine that there was more to those interviews than could be included in the final text. Were there some things that you had to leave out? Bits of wisdom or insight, or just humorous moments?
JB: Yes, I could have talked to them for many hours, and sometimes I did. Some of the transcripts from the interviews were nearly 7000 words long so it was very difficult to narrow down what would end up in the book, but I worked with each person on what would be in it, sometimes adding a bit extra on their request and making sure all the details were to their satisfaction. The interviews were pretty casual: in cafes, over the phone or, with Jo, after dance class, so there is often a bit of chat around what was included in the end. Each one was recorded in full and I will be sharing them on my podcast, so you can listen in to hear more.
ev0ke: Journeys, ritual work, and poetry also appear in the pages of Belonging to the Earth. Which of these was the most difficult, but ultimately most rewarding, to write?
JB: That’s an interesting question. I think I find first person storytelling and poetry the easiest, and most rewarding to write. I’ve kept diaries since I was twelve years old, so I write that way quite naturally. They are joyful to write, even if the subject matter is hard. There’s a particular state of mind that comes with both, recalling a memory or a feeling, threading words together in a way that might bring that experience to the reader, describing the emotions, the visions, the difficulties, and the healing. I want to take you there and show you what it was like, not just in terms of facts and figures, but in my heart and mind.
That said, the subject matter has certainly been difficult. I’m not sure which was hardest… the dry rivers and the fish kills, the fires that burned millions of hectares so close to our front door, the air choked with smoke, the earth ringing dry from drought, then, soon after, the floods that took out the trainlines, washed away homes and spoiled the crops, the pandemic, the mouse plague .… These are all difficult to face, but there is certainly reward in facing them, sharing them and finding healing with others. I share my stories and you share yours and we all come to know more about the difficulties we are all facing, then together we work towards making a difference. That’s incredibly rewarding for us all.
ev0ke: You are also the author of Pagan Portals: Australian Druidry. Why a book specific to Druidry in Australia?
JB: Many people here feel an ancestral connection to the stories and traditions of the British Isles, or other parts of Europe that might bring us to Druidry. Modern Druidry is also a very relevant path for people who are passionate about nature and the environment that offers beautiful and healing practices, however the books we often find on Druidry are usually written from a Northern Hemisphere perspective, with plants we don’t recognise, animals we rarely see, and seasons that don’t line up to ours. We live in a land already full of stories, traditions and ancestors, and knowing how to approach these respectfully is important for us too. Australians were already practicing their own style of Druidry before I wrote the book, and they were negotiating ways of doing so that revered the land and it’s stories, histories and spirits, plants, animals and seasons. My book certainly didn’t give all the answers, but asked a lot of questions about how we can explore this further – understanding how the seasonal changes create a unique wheel of the year where we live; asking what the nature of a kangaroo or a gum tree might tell us about existence; questioning the role of bushfires, floods and droughts in our nature-based spiritual tradition. Australian Druidry is in a process of being discovered and sharing that story of our community and inviting readers to join us in the exploration is an important part of what the book is about. Each place is unique and Druidry can be relevant wherever we are as it brings us into relationship with the land beneath our feet.
ev0ke: Where can readers find your work?
JB: My website is www.juliebrett.net, and my podcast is Forest Spirituality with Julie Brett. I am also on Instagram @juliebrettddu, on Facebook www.facebook.com/JulieBrettAuthor and for those interested in Australian Druidry more generally, I’m also often contributing to the discussion in the Druids Down Under Facebook group.
ev0ke: What other projects are you working on?
JB: I’m keeping things fairly simple at the moment. I make jewelry for my website www.forestspiritjewelry.com and for some local shops, I volunteer at the community gardens here and help with swampcare at Garguree, I am learning dance with Jo Clancy who I interviewed for the book, and also learning Morris Dancing in Sydney. I run seasonal circles at the gardens, make blogs and podcasts, and I’m looking after my family, too. When I have chance, I’m reading as many stories as I can, about the local landscape and the lands of my ancestors, and have some more ideas brewing for future writing, too.