Respect. Honor. Reverence. Admiration–these words are often used to describe people, in our lives, afar, or in history that we hold in high regard. But these same words can also be used to describe many druids’ feelings towards the living earth–plants, animals, oceans, rivers, forests, trees, natural wonders, insects, mycelium–the soil web of all life. The world is a wonderous, incredible place, and those of us who follow a path of nature-based and nature-rooted spirituality recognize this. Reverence is having a deep respect for something, and treating it with value and worth. Those of us who are drawn to druidry and nature-based spirituality inherently have reverence to the living earth–it is part of what sets us on this path and encourages us in this direction. But as we deepen our spiritual connection with nature, I believe that our reverence also deepens over time.
In the last month, we’ve explored different ways you can deeply connect with nature–beginning with the overall framework, discussing nature wisdom, nature engagement, and nature reciprocity–we wrap up this series this week by considering the final piece of the framework: nature reverence. Nature reverence is certainly one of the underlying values that people who practice this path share–and a value that is shared more broadly with those engaged in other kinds of nature-oriented practice. This could include anything from herbalism, permaculture, organic farming, wilderness enthusiasts, backpackers, wild food foragers, bushcraft specialists, hikers, etc.
In many ways, everything that I’ve been writing about in this series is a form of honoring nature. When you develop nature wisdom and learn more about your own connection to the living earth, you honor nature. When you learn how nature can offer you so much–and what you can offer in return–you are honoring nature. When you are healing or conserving the land or making offerings, again, you are honoring nature. Today, we’ll explore several additional ways to enage in nature reverence:
Reverence of the natural world can happen through:
Respecting the sanctity of life and the living earth;
Honoring nature through ritual and intentional action;
Communing with the living earth.
If there is one thing that is true of the history of Western Civilization, it has been the disregard through which it has shown just about everything: peoples, cultures, and the living earth. It is this disregard and the cultural values of profit and progress that have led to such disregard for the earth and her diverse peoples. Another problematic western cultural value is individualism–in westernized society, particularly in American society, we are primed to think of ourselves first, and ourselves as individuals with autonomy, disconnected from a larger system. Geert Hofstede demonstrated this through his “cultural values” where he explored the different ways that cultural values impacted organizations, particularly those doing business internationally. This individualism manifests as a kind of socialization that encourages us to think of ourselves first: what can I do that best benefits me?
Any kind of connection to nature is rooted, first and foremost, in respect. Without respect, we cannot have reverence. I believe that part of nature respect is working to re-socialize ourselves and re-orient ourselves to also ask the basic question, “what can I do that best benefits nature/the land?” as a primary category in our minds as opposed to “what benefits me?” I believe that shifting the mind and heart can shift action in the world; and so, if we can bring ourselves into a place of reverence internally, that will help us make decisions on a daily basis that brings that reverence into practice.
Nature Wisdom, Engagement, and Reciprocity: How can we accomplish achieving this deep respect of nature? Time, effort and engagement, are three ways that come to mind. Part of respect comes with interaction and time; the more time we invest in connecting with nature, the more our respect will grow for it. Further, by engaging in connection with nature, we learn to value it; the more we value it and the more we engage, the more we are able to shift our internal socialization and build more rich connections with the earth. In other words, all of these pieces of the framework that I’ve shared work together, ultimately, to build reverence for the living earth. Practicing any part of the framework can help lead to reverence.
Reframing Nature: Another activity that can be helpful here is reconsidering aspects of nature that you don’t like. For example, I have always had bad outbreaks of poison ivy, and never wanted much to do with the plant. In the process of studying herbalism with Jim McDonald, however, he helped open up my eyes to what poison ivy does on a landscape–how it protects wild places, how it teaches us awareness. I did even more research on poison ivy after that and discovered its role in responding to climate change and higher levels of carbon in the atmosphere. By learning about poison ivy, and sitting near her (and yes, continuing to be covered with her all summer long) I learned to respect her. And in this respect, cultivate an entirely new relationship with her, one that is rooted in respect and reverence rather than disregard. This is to say, take something you may not be as comfortable with and learn about it, let it teach you and guide you, and over time, develop a respectful relationship. In a second example when my beehives were destroyed by a bear and my chickens were eaten by hawks, it taught me about honoring the predators.
Learning Anew: Finally, a third activity is to learn about something you have no idea about: the life cycle of an insect, observing the slow opening of a flower, and so on. New experiences and new exposure can lead you to a place of respect and awe. For example, a few years ago I took up the study of sacred geometry, and began learning about the way in which geometry unfolded in the world (and in my own body) such as through the golden spiral, the pentagram, and more. One day I was walking and saw some brambles that had been cut (blackberry), and there, both in each flower and in each stalk, was the pentacle reflected. Since then, I see the pentacle everywhere, and it reminds me of the sacredness of life.
While respecting nature is primarily a mindset you adopt through experience, honoring nature is an activity. I wrote a bit last week about offerings, and rituals as a kind of offering, and I’d like to continue that discussion here today. If we think about the way we honor humans–say, soldiers, guests, or dignitaries, we may offer gifts (offerings), set aside special spaces for them (statuary, memorials, etc), hold special dinners or other kinds of celebrations in their honor. I believe that honoring nature in this way is no different–its not even *how* you do that is important, its simply the practice of doing it. The “how” part of the equation can be tied to a particular tradition (and I’ll share ideas rooted in the druid revival tradition), but as long as it is giving back, and not taking (see reciprocity post), it will likely be appreciated by the land and her spirits. (And yes, I take a very animistic approach to druidry, so these suggestions are also rooted in that perspective).
Honoring Through Ritual: One way to honor the land is through regular rituals. From a certain perspective, every seasonal celebration that uses the wheel of the year, the wheel of the sun (solstices, equinoxes, cross-quarter days) and lunar events (like full moon meditations) is honoring the passing of the time, which is inherently honoring nature. We can do more specific things to honor nature as well, including developing local seasonal celebrations and observances (the first snowfall, etc) or land healing rituals (such as this one we did at MAGUS last year).
Shrines and Sacred Spaces. A second way that we can honor nature is through building and tending of shrines and sacred spaces, both indoors and outdoors, to honor specific aspects of nature. Recently, for example, I was doing in-depth work with the spirit of the black elder tree, and as part of that, I created a shrine inside my art studio and also honored the elder by making offerings. Your shrines or sacred spaces might be bee and butterfly gardens, meditation gardens, stone circles, stone cairns, or other shrines. Again, the intent here is what matters–intent and making sure that the shrine is healing and not damaging to the earth or the ecosystem. This is part of why I like using gardens for this kind of work as much as possible.
Honoring through Sacred Action: Another way in which we can honor the land directly is by mitigating our impact on the earth. I’ve written a lot about the different ways this can happen here on the Druid’s garden blog: through shifting our lifestyle choices, our eating, planting trees, recycling, composting, walking rather than driving, reducing our energy consumption, and much more.
Communing with Nature
A final way of engaging in nature reverence is through communing with nature. Nature can often facilitate deeply spiritual and sacred experiences for us that help us understand not only the land but our place in it. I consider communing to be on a much different and deeper level than simply observing–communing is an intentional act that sets us apart from our regular lives and tied, instead, to the living earth.
Druid Retreat: Doing a druid retreat is a great way to commune with nature and to heal and grow as a human being and spiritual person. Druid retreats can last a day to several weeks or more, depending on your own needs and opportunity. They are quiet times for you to deeply commune with the living earth, focus on your own spirituality, and attend to your relationship with the living earth. More on druid retreats in my two-part series: part 1 and part 2.
Vision Questing / Ritual in Nature. Different traditions do longer rituals in nature differently, and so you might look to your tradition or intuition for ideas. I did a 48 hour vision quest with a group practicing the Sweet Medicine Sundance tradition and it was an incredible experience that was well facilitated and offered me much insight–even six years later, the experience continues to resonate within me. Other opportunities I’ve seen have been initiation or coming of age ceremonies where individuals are sent off into the woods for an evening; or women’s circles that drum into the night deep in the woods. If you don’t have an opportunity to do this with an existing group, consider your own “ritual in nature” over a period of hours or days (and see some of my suggestions for the druid’s retreat, above).
Quiet Moments in Nature: Taking quiet moments in nature is another simple way to commune. Spend a moment watching the passing of a herd of deer, watch the flow of a quiet stream, observe a busy flowering bush full of insects, or to watch the rustle of the leaves in the trees. These quiet moments need to be only a few minutes, but they will allow you to slow down, breathe, and deeply connect with the living earth.
The Druid’s Anchor Spot: Another technique I detailed earlier on this blog is what I call the “druid’s anchor spot”; this is a place where you go, daily if possible, but certainly regularly, to commune with nature. You can simply observe the passing of the seasons, the ways in which the space changes over time and in different weather. You might create a shrine there or do other kinds of ritual activities. It is simply a space for you to be.
Nature reverence is as much a mindset as it is an activity; the deeper we are able to go into our spiritual practice, I believe, the deeper our connection with the living earth is. This certainly isn’t an exhaustive list of the ways that you might practice nature reverence–if any of my readers have additional suggestions or ideas, I would absolutely love to hear them. Thank you for joining me on this month-long journey into connecting deeply with the living earth!