It’s all 5 star reviews so far! Here’s an excerpt from my latest book, The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices which you can purchase from Amazon, Moon Books, Barnes and Noble and all good book retailers!
What is The Crane Bag?
The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices is a book in the Pagan Portals series that describes the ritual tools and practices found in the Druid tradition. As part of the Pagan Portals series, it is intended as a brief introduction to the subject, allowing the reader to further develop their own path in their own time and in their own fashion.
“The Crane Bag” is a wonderful theme in Celtic mythology, found mostly in the tales of the poet-warrior Fionn Mac Cumhail, who inherited the crane bag from his father. This bag held the special treasures of the land and was made from the skin of a crane who was, in actuality, a woman enchanted into crane form. We can view the myths that surround the crane bag as those of the gifts of sovereignty, bestowed by the goddess upon worthy heroes as is typical of Celtic mythology. The Goddess held great abundance and gifts within her womb, and only those who passed the test and were deemed fit were able to be gifted with this most precious treasure. As the bestower of sovereignty, the Goddess fades and emerges time and again within the old stories, as does the crane bag, appearing and disappearing from myth when there is need. The sea god, Manannan, is the original owner of the crane bag and through his love for the goddess gives and takes it back throughout the telling of the tales.
Within the mythology of the crane bag, those who follow the Celtic Druid tradition can come to know a very beneficial tool in their learning, the gifts of which are endless. Within the crane bag are not only the tools of the Druid, but also a symbolism of the gift of the goddess, of sovereignty. With the proper use, it can further the Druid in working with the tides of nature, finding their proper place in the grand scheme of things, living in balance, harmony and peace. In ritual use, these tools can guide the Druid to deeper levels of meaning and understanding within the tradition, helping the Druid on her journey throughout life towards integration in a holistic way of being in the world. We are able to find a deep connection, be it with the ancestors, the gods, the spirits of place or the Otherworld. Combined with the tools of the Druid’s craft held within the crane bag, we can learn how to walk the path of the Druid with honour and respect.
What is Ritual?
Ritual consists of a prescribed set of words and actions within a particular context used to bring about a desired outcome. Druid ritual uses words and actions within the context of an earth-based tradition to connect with the landscape, the gods, the ancestors and so on. For the Druid, connection, relationship and integration with the landscape are at the heart of all that she does, whether in ritual or not. Ritual can be seen as a time set apart from daily life to reconnect the threads that bind us together with the land, with nature. We take a step back from what is perceived as the mundane and acknowledge the sacred. Ultimately, the Druid strives to perceive the sacred in everything, and ritual helps the Druid to achieve that vision.
Our modern lives are so busy, with work, family, media, technology and more. Ritual helps us to step back from the busyness, into another way of being. It is a change of consciousness, where we can shift our perception away from a singular view to a more plural view, integrating with the land around us, realising that we are a part of an ecosystem. Ritual is the act in the material world that connects us with a wider reality. It is an experience, not just a thought.
Ritual is that which helps us ground and centre in the present moment. When we stop, when we take a break to perform a ritual, we become aware of who, where and what we are at a particular point in time. We are rooted in the here and now, awake and aware to all that is happening around us. When we are awake, we are able to find our place in harmony with nature, finding a deep peace both within and without. It gives us an intention, a focus with which to work in the Druid tradition, to reweave the threads of connection.
Ritual also helps us to find stability. When we create rituals to perform repeatedly, we bring that sacred perspective more and more into our everyday life. These rituals needn’t be identical each and every time; what is important is that the ritual is actually done. It is the experience of ritual that helps us to self-locate. We cannot do that simply by thinking about it; we must act as well. When we have acted out our rituals with some regularity, we may find that our connection to the natural world deepens. The ancient philosopher Lao Tzu once said:
Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
We as humans are creatures of habit, and indeed these habits define us as people. A repeated action or behaviour will certainly have an impact on who we are as an individual. By using ritual we can break off from bad habits and thought patterns, for example, and find the sacredness within and all around us. It requires practice, as in the Welsh saying at the beginning of this chapter. We cannot just think about ritual; we must do it. If we take the time to reconnect with our place in the natural world, over and over again, then we will maintain that connection more and more throughout our lives until they are an example of pure integration and harmony.
Druid ritual is also a celebration. The eight seasonal festivals of modern Druidry help us to remember what is going on in nature at the present moment. There are many books that cover the eight seasonal festivals, their origins, meanings and ways to celebrate, and so we will not cover that here (see bibliography and suggested reading for more). Rather, we will look at how Druid ritual is set up, from start to finish, using our tools from the crane bag to find our soul map in our own environment.
Ritual is also a tool for transformation. When we have worked with intention and grounded ourselves in the present moment, we cannot help but be transformed as our perception shifts from one perceived reality to another. Through the experience of ritual, we understand that our point of view is not the only one, and that perception shifts with intention. When we broaden our horizons, we cannot help but be transformed.
Re-enchanting the Soul
Work and familial obligations can sometimes weigh us down in a sea of mundane jobs, tasks, and commitments. With Druid ritual, we can re-enchant the soul to bring the magic back into our everyday lives, as we perceive the sacredness of all things. Then, we realise that there is no such thing as the mundane, only the sacred. The division between the two is realised as an illusion, and we are thus able to “travel between the worlds”.
The Druid is always questing for inspiration, or awen. Awen is a Welsh word, sometimes translated as “flowing spirit” or “flowing inspiration”. Creativity is such a large part of the Druid path, where we are inspired and then inspire others in return. This exchange of inspiration is at the heart of all that we do, in deep relationship with the world around us. When we touch each other soul to soul, where we find intention blending together to work in harmony, then we are inspired. The Druid looks to the natural world around her to gain that inspiration. She takes her cues from nature as to how to live in the present moment, utterly awake and aware. So inspired, she lives her life as best she can as part of that environment, in tune with all that shares the same space. By doing so, she also inspires others in return.
Simply by getting outside and into “nature”, our awareness shifts. Though nature is something that we are a part of all the time, we often see it as something “out there”, as external to ourselves. When we realise that we are a part of nature, we shift from a self-centred perspective to an integrated one, thereby opening our eyes to the beauty and wonder that lies all around us each and every day. Taking a walk helps us to see the beauty of an oak tree in full leaf, to feel the warm caress of the summer wind, to feel the blessing of the rain or the exhilaration of a snowstorm. We awaken our senses to the world around us simply by being out in it, in nature, away from central heating and electricity, away from cars, phones and computers. Though all these things can be of great benefit, when we re-attune our senses to our “natural” environment, we can also reawaken something that has long lain dormant within our souls. We can re-enchant our lives, re-wilding our souls. We can return to the very roots of our being. We can find the child-like wonder while looking at an ants’ nest, or listening to the blackbird at dusk. We no longer become bored or jaded, but rather totally awake to the world around us. Our lives are benefitted from this re-enchantment on every level. This is the awen.
This is also the importance of ritual. When we take the time to re-enchant our souls, we make our lives more magical, more meaningful and more present. We can step outside the realms of 9-5 living. We enter into a state of intention and enchantment, inspired and inspiring others in return. In this, we find true relationship.
May your path be enchanted with the old tales and the songs of the land!
(Extract from The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices by Joanna van der Hoeven. www.joannavanderhoeven.com).
This comment is overdue. Many thanks for ‘The Crane Bag’. I’m finding it helpful and inspiring as I continue to explore (and experience – see, I was paying attention) ritual. Joanna, your many years of study and practice is evident, as is your down-to-earth, gracious style of writing/teaching.
Thank you, Elizabeth, that’s so kind! Awen blessings. xoxo