Druidry for the 21st Century: Druidry in the Anthropocene

Druidry is rooted in relationship and connection with the living earth: the physical landscape and all her plants and creatures, the spirits of nature, the allies of hoof and claw, fin and feather. The land and her spirits are our primary allies and energies with which we work as druids. The question I keep coming back to is this: how do I practice a nature-centered path in a time when nature–those of the hooves, fins, feathers, and claws–are going extinct and dying all around me? How do I practice druidry when everything that I hold sacred and love is under severe threat, and when it is likely that in my lifetime, I will witness a severe ecological collapse in multiple ecosystems.  How do I practice druidry with my “eyes open” to all of this, honor nature in this great extinction event, and still say sane? How do I do this “druid” thing, given these challenges?

A less disruptive path to help preserve an ecosystem
A less disruptive path to help preserve an ecosystem

Druidry in the 21st century is a complex topic, and I’ve been trying to work my way into it in different ways on this blog. I started this by thinking about how druidry offers coping mechanisms for those of us faced with the many challenges of our age: that is druidry offers refuge in dark times. I think it’s critically important to acknowledge that first and foremost, we need self-care to do it well.  While all humans need self-care in these dark times, our spiritual relationship with nature requires it. I followed this up with a post about the future of human civilization (Druidry for the 21st century) and made the argument that one-way druidry may serve the future is through developing and providing paradigms and mindset shifts.  The idea that druidry is the seed of something different; that druidry offers us new paradigms and hope; paradigms to replace the thought processes and civic ideals currently driving post-industrial civilization to the brink of global collapse.  These are two useful responses, but they certainly aren’t the end of this conversation–not by a long shot.  So today’s question is a serious one: What can druids do about what is happening to all of nature now and what will continue to happen in the foreseeable future?

Today, then, I’m going to talk about death.  I’m going to talk about nature and relationships, and I’m going to talk about extinction. Maybe you want to stop reading at the words “death” and “extinction”; these are things we don’t talk about.  These are things our media refuses to cover. These are things overwhelming to even well-meaning people, people who love the land, people like you and me. These are things that bring tears to my eyes when I read them or think about them.  But it is necessary that we honor and acknowledge those parts of nature that are no longer with us; that are dying and may never return because of human indulgence. To avert the eyes is essentially allowing a loved one to suffer alone.  If your grandmother were dying in a hospital, would you ignore her, or would you go visit her? (For more on my idea of “palliative care” and why witnessing is so important, see here and here).  If your sacred companion on the druid path–nature–is suffering and dying, can you really pretend everything is ok? I don’t think I can just go into my woods and do some woo-woo and get healed by nature and call that druidry.  Druidry is not a one-sided relationship.  If we want to gain our strength, wisdom, peace, and healing from nature, we must also offer something in return. I believe that now–in the 21st century, in the Anthropocene, nature needs us just as much as we need her.

The Hard Stuff

So let’s start with the hard stuff. Scientists are clear that the world’s sixth extinction-level event is underway. “Biological annihilation” is the phrase used to describe what is happening–since 1970, at least half of the world’s animals are gone. That means that we had twice as many animals living on this planet in 1970 than we do today. This isn’t some far-off future prediction. It has already happened. It is continuing to happen as you read this. It has happened in the time that you have been present on this earth. Here’s a list of the “recently extinct” species–those who have gone extinct primarily since industrialization. There are many more who are not on this list because they weren’t discovered or documented before going extinct. A 2017 study, examined 27,600 land species and found that all species were showing huge amounts of population loss, even among species of the “lowest concern” with regards to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s guidelines (which sets guidelines for endangered species).  This study suggests that 80% of the traditional territories of land mammals have been eradicated, making way for cities, people, and shopping malls–this is the “biological annihilation” that they speak of.  The study also indicates that this trend will likely increase in the next two decades with the rise in population and continued rising demands on the earth. Another piece of this comes from the work of Bernie Krause, who wrote The Great Animal Orchestra (which I discussed a few years ago on this blog).  Krause’s work focused on recording nature sounds, and he demonstrates that the sounds of nature are simply vanishing, along with the life and species.  These issues are also not limited to vertebrate species–another study, released in October, showed a 75% decline in insects in protected ecological areas in Germany.  The problem isn’t that change is happening; the problem is that it is happening so quickly that natural evolutionary processes (processes that allow species migrations and adaptations) cannot occur.  And so, how do we honor those animals, plants, insects, trees, amphibians, reptiles, and so forth that have passed, many unnoticed?

One more piece here, that I think is critical to consider. All ecosystems have what is called a “carrying capacity.” That is, given the resources available (sunlight, soil, plant matter, water, weather, etc) the land can reasonably sustain so many lives of different kinds: so much insect life, so much plant life, so much animal life, so much human life.  Ecological collapse refers to when an ecosystem suffers a drastically reduced carrying capacity–that is, the ecosystem can no longer support the life it used to because of one or more serious factors.  These factors are usually compounded and may include the loss of a keystone species, general pollution or degradation, deforestation, ocean acidification, over-hunting, you name it.  It’s like a domino effect–sometimes, all it takes is one core species to go.  Climate scientists call this the tipping point–think of it as a chair.  The chair is being held at 45 degrees, and just a fraction more, and it will crash.  It is almost certain that we are heading into a nose dive of ecological collapse.  Ecological collapse doesn’t just affect all of nature–it affects humans too.  So while we should care about even one life, a single species, we also need to be concerned deeply about all life.  This will happen in our lives–how do we spiritually prepare to support nature when it does?

Now, put this in context. While we practice druidry, while we enjoy nature’s benefits and her healing, this is happening. When we are honoring nature, celebrating the wheel of the seasons, this is happening. It happens in every moment of every day. This is part of our reality, as nature-honoring people.  Given that this is the reality, responding to this should also be part of our druid practice.

Exoteric / Outer Works: Refugia

A safe space for all life
A safe space for all life

Druidry is about nature and relationships.  Its about your relationship with nature both exoterically (that is, in the material world) and esoterically (that is, in the world of spirit).  In the case of this information, I think it’s really important that we develop a range of responses, both esoteric and exoteric.  In terms of the outer world, I’ve long advocated on this blog a very wide variety of things that can aid the land in healing, regeneration, and growth.  I think that each of us can do something and that something varies based on our life circumstances.  All of us can attend to our ecological footprint, consumption behaviors, transit, energy use, and all of the usual things.  I think that’s part of just being a druid–living your practice.

To be more specific to the material above, however, I’ll share what I consider to be my key method for responding this kind of extinction-level event: building refugia. Refugia is a concept discussed by E. C Pielou in After the Ice Age: The Return of Life to Glaciated North America. In a nutshell, refugia (also called “fuges”) are small pockets of life that were sheltered from broader changes that destroyed most habitats. Pielou describes specific isolated pockets of life that survived as a sheltered spot, a microclimate, a high point, and so forth, while the rest of the land was covered in ice. When the glaciers receded and left a bare landscape devoid of topsoil or life, it was these refugia that allowed life to spreading outward again, repopulating areas in North America stripped bare by glaciers. Of course, Refugia aren’t limited to North America–they are a worldwide phenomenon, and even our human ancestors, at various points in our history, have used them to survive challenging environmental conditions. In the 21st century, in the time of human-dominated land use, things are not as different as you might think from our glaciated pre-history. For one, the loss of biodiversity and essentially inhospitable landscape can be found in the 40,000,000 acres of lawns currently in cultivation in the US or the 914,527,657 acres of conventional farmland in the US. Many areas that aren’t lawns or farmlands are subject to other kinds of stresses that create inhospitable lands: pollution, resource extraction, deforestation, and so on.  Refugia allow us to create small pockets of biodiversity–which is going to really, really matter in the next 20-30 years.

Refugia are all about individual action.  While no average person has control over what much of what is happening in the world around us, even in the landscape around us locally, we can create refuges for life. Refugia are small spaces of intense biodiversity, critically important during this time of mass extinction and habitat loss. Cultivating refugia allows us to put more of the building blocks back into nature’s hands for the long-term healing of our lands. That is, refugia is that they are little arks of life, that is, little places where biodiversity and life can spring forth once again. A network of refugia created by 21st-century druids may be the difference between extinction and thriving for many diverse species.  What you do can make an incredible difference–it could save a species.  I have written more about how to create a refugia garden here and here!

Esoteric / Inner Works: Honoring the Fallen through Ritual, Shrine, and Sound

Given the state of nature and that we practice a nature-oriented spiritual practice, I think it is necessary to directly honor the massive loss of such life through rituals, shrines, moments of silence, psychopomp work, and other practices.  I would argue that this work should be a regular part of our practices as druids. I’m going to share two ideas here, and next week, I offer a larger set of suggestions on psychopomp work for the animals and the land.

Ringing the Bell/Sounding the Bowl

A simple indoor altar with singing bowl
A simple indoor altar with singing bowl

After reading the Great Animal Orchestra, I thought it would be very appropriate to honor the loss of life through sound.  Since we are missing the sounds of that life, and the world is growing silent (or replaced by human sounds), I wanted to create space in my rituals to honor the loss of life.  There are lots of ways you might do this, here is mine:

Anytime I open a sacred grove to do ritual, I have begun with a simple sound ritual to honor the life that has passed.  I have a small singing bowl, and I go to each of the quarters and ring the bell in each direction.  Sometimes I do this silently, and sometimes I say some simple words, like “honoring those who have passed on in the east.”  I allow the bowl to resonate until it is completely quiet again, and then move on to the next direction.  I’ve found for typical OBOD or AODA grove openings, this is best done just after declaring peace in the quarters.

You don’t have to do this in ritual; you can do it anytime.  I like doing it in ritual because it is in ritual that I’m drawing upon the land and her energies, and I want to honor and acknowledge the suffering of the land before I ask for anything else (that’s why I do it early in the ritual rather than after I’ve called the quarters and established the space).

Honoring the Fallen Shrine

I also maintain two shrines–an indoor shrine and an outdoor shrine–to honor the many lives that have passed.  I often will do my sound ritual above and leave small offerings (like my offering blend).  These shrines are simple–a pile of stones outside on a stump, I add bones and other things as I find them on my walks.  Indoors, I have smudges I make special for this shrine, usually of rosemary (for remembrance), bay laurel (for passage), white cedar (for eternal life), and white pine (for peace) and I burn these regularly.  I sometimes print out pictures of animals or other species and add other things of significance.  Like most things, it is the intention of this shrine that is critical.

Council of All Beings and Other Rituals

At least once a year, if not more frequently, I also like to engage in ritual (group or solo) to directly honor and support the land.  One of my favorite things to do with this comes from the work of Joanna Macy (who has many great ideas for group rituals and group healing and processing of what is happening now).  She has a ritual called the Council of All Beings (the link will take you directly to the ritual).  I like this ritual because it allows us to give voice to those who do not normally have it, and it helps all participants get into a frame of mine that acknowledges and honors other life’s suffering. I think its important to engage with this not only for ourselves, but with others–talking about it, sharing what we do, and working on doing some things together.

I also think that general land healing and blessing ceremonies are useful and important to do regularly and help energetically support the land and her spirits during this time. I wrote a series on land healing; this final post links to all others.

There’s so much more to write and say here, but alas, I think this post is long enough.  Dear readers, I hope you will share some of your own thoughts–how do you answer the many questions I’ve posed in this post?  I would love to hear your ideas and stories.

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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    1. Thank you for the reblog!

  1. Your words resonate with me deeply. These are questions and concerns I have been mulling over a lot lately. I’ve also brought in some Buddhist practices to help my heart know that it can handle the pain and suffering that I see (I’ve still got a long way to go on this one). As a wild food forager and herbalist, I am becoming even more aware of what plants are in my local environment and trying to become a better land steward. Your words encourage me to go deeper in my thoughts and actions. Thank you.

    1. Jennifer, thank you for reading! So much of this for me goes back to my interaction with the land–and as a fellow wild food forager and herbalist, I’ve really had to reconsider how I interact. How I am a force of good, of giving more than I take, of focusing on medicinal and edible plants that are opportunistic species. How sad, I think, that in my adult lifetime I have *never* seen a single wild American ginseng plant, when I remember my grandfather harvesting buckets of them from the mountains when I was a child. Stewardship is what it is all about–we can be the change we need! Blessings, Jennifer!

    1. Thank you for the reblog, Thesseli!

  2. Thank you for this beautiful article ! I applaud you in reminding us to pause in our lives to honor the lives of all living things that have been destroyed at the hands of humankind. The destruction of species is a truth most people do not want to acknowledge let alone create a space to honor this loss. Our culture needs to step into the shadow and face the truths about the destructive lives we lead. In the shadow we can find truth, justice and a space to honor what we as humans have so thoughtless destroyed. Your suggestions in honoring, creating ritual and acknowledging this loss is a spiritual step forward in bringing forth the transition from thoughtless human self absorbed behavior to acknowledging the painful account we soon will be called to settle as a species ourselves. I believe we will either shift or perish. You lead us to take account of this loss and honor the species we have destroyed and need to be accountable for spiritually and physically.

    1. Thank you for reading and your comments, Diana! Yes, this is absolutely shadow work. Necessary, grueling, and yet, also freeing. For me, I’ve found that *not* attending to it and processing my own emotions about it (see blog post in two weeks) makes it even worse. Blessings, Dana.

  3. Dana, thanks for sharing your research and thoughts. Just in my lifetime, armadillos have moved east from southwestern states into Alabama, where many had never seen one. Killdeer (birds) in Tennessee used to be rather common and now are rarely seen. The Internet has provided a means of promoting awareness of environmental concerns. However, awareness and personal action are two different things.

    1. Thanks for reading, Brenda! Yes, we’ve seen a lot of unfortunate changes here as well. Ticks and lyme are probably the biggest one–we have a tick and lyme epidemic, and its all due to climate change. We’ve now got a flock of chickens and guineas, but it really makes going into the woods difficult (its part of why I took up kayaking–I was getting so many ticks with hiking and camping). And that’s just one of many things. Are the Killdeer moving north or are they just diminishing?

  4. […] Druid blogger points out that feeling our non-human ancestral connection during this time of rapid climate […]

  5. […] via Druidry for the 21st Century: Druidry in the Anthropocene — The Druid’s Garden […]

  6. I’m so grateful for this thought and practice work you are putting out there to connect Druidry to issues of living on this Earth today. Putting our spiritual practice into action on the physical and etheric — both — is so very important.

  7. Thank you for the many ideas I can put into practice in my own garden. I am blessed to live in temperate forest and am able to watch so much life, changes, death, rebirth. Going out into my (overgrown) garden now.

    PS I loathe vast lawns, always see a need for trees and more trees.

  8. I loved your post. I agree. This has to be part of our practice. Afterall, we cannot read, make shrines, conduct ritual and call ourselves Druid and then stand and watch as this takes place, regardless of a perceived inevitably. One of your questions I paraphrased. “How do we practice druidry when nature is going extinct around us?” I say, “We fight. We stand up for what is left of nature, in whatever way that is presented to us; whatever way we can. Druidry is not just about groves and shrines and loving what we see in front or around us. It’s not just the nicey nicey fun stuff. It’s not just so we can proudly say we belong to something or some group with a smancey, mysterious name. It’s about being there, where we are needed. It’s about picking up that plastic that crashes into the beaches with every tide. It’s about sorting and counting rubbish from street rubbish traps, to gather statistics to present to governments. Its about suggesting to that teacher she take her students and collect ribbish from a beach or park and use it in an art collage project where they can talk about the environment. It’s about joining conservation groups and reef guardian groups. It’s about encouraging native species by building and growing small habitats for them in our own yards. It’s about learning to sort rubbish properly and reducing waste to landfill, and our dependence on convenient resources. It’s about using our skills and our time, to be there for nature. Not just spiritually, but mentally and physically too. We cannot give up.” Because when we do, another species dies and like your grandmother analogy, I want to be there to hold her hand. I don’t want to be hiding at home with my eyes averted while she dies alone. And this, this is how we know that we have done our jobs as Druids; we are there for her, communing with her as we work for her care. Then we can enjoy the luxury of spiritual practice, conducting ritual and communing for the sake of it. Just do small things. Any small thing. It counts. Sorry I got so passionate.

    1. Yes, I am nodding as I am reading everything here. This is what we can do as druids–and to me, it seems like the only reasonable way forward. Thank you for reading and for your passion, Jodie!

  9. Thank you for these articles, some of the most important writing about modern Druidry I’ve seen. If Druidry is to be a valuable path of living with nature, not just a thought experiment or a fun hobby for the weekend, we need to pay more attention to this, and really live our Druidry in the world. I hadn’t come across the concept of refugia before, but I plan on working my garden into one this Spring!

    1. Thanks Ryan for drawing my attention to this immensely important post and blog.

      I definitely want my garden to be a refugia and will read and act on those posts. My new garden is much bigger than my old one (where I planted flowers for bees) and we were waiting to see what came up initially.

      I will add a bit for wildlife into my (already crowded) ritual opening too. I recently added a land acknowledgment for the fact that the land I have moved to is the ancestral land of the Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee (we moved from the UK to Canada in May 2018).

      1. Thanks Yewtree for reading! Sounds like you have some great plans!

  10. […] about how Druidry can be of value in today’s climate crisis world, with her latest post, Druidry for the 21st Century: Druidry in the Anthropocene. This, and other articles on the site, is some of the most important and useful writing about […]

    1. Thank you for the kind words about the blog–and for the link!

      1. Thank you for your writing, genuinely some of the best Druidry thinking out there.

        1. Thank you for reading, Ryan, and for your kind comments!

  11. Also read the refugia garden post (wonderful 🙂 ) but both links go to the same post

    1. Thanks for the comment and letting me know!

  12. […] Garden offers some actions we can all take in response to mass extinction with her latest post, Druidry for the 21st Century: Druidry in the Anthropocene. I would urge everyone to read and act upon this vitally important […]

    1. Thank you for the link and comments–I appriciate it!

  13. Dana,
    I definitely want to do some rememberance rituals, especially with Beltane the solstice so close. In the past year alone we’ve seen such a loss of our natural world. Honestly, I think accountability is something many need to be introduced to when it comes to wildlife and preservation. Many simply don’t understand how the circle of life works and sadly, it’s not really taught in school. Thank you for this beautiful and heart wrenching article. I’ve begun land healing and introducing permaculture and sustainability in my own walk as a druid. My hope is some of my neighbors or their children will ask why I do what I do.
    I want to learn herbalism and foraging but have no idea where to start.

    1. I think that a lot of people don’t really understand the magnitude of what is going on, how serious it is, and how little time we have.

      I have a few articles on herbalism and foraging on this blog that can help you–including some that are “where to start!” If you use the search, you should be able to find them.

      Here’s a basic one on herbalism: https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/resources-to-learn-the-inner-and-outer-worlds-of-herbalism-plants-books-courses-lore-and-more/

      (there are lots more)

      And here’s a few on foraging:https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/2015/01/18/introduction-to-wildcrafting-and-foraging-part-i-equipment-resources-what-to-learn-and-timing/

      And: https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/2015/01/25/introduction-to-wildcrafting-and-foraging-part-ii-places-to-gather-ethical-harvesting-avoiding-pollution-and-foraging-as-spiritual-practice/

      There are lots more as well! 🙂

      1. Thank you for posting those. I’ve been doing a ton of research about permaculture and herbalism.

  14. […] the concept of “Refugia” discussed in an excellent article on The Druid’s Garden; Druidry for the 21st Century: Druidry in the Anthropocene. Refugia […]

    1. Thanks for sharing the link, Wrycrow!

  15. […] on from the theme of refugia for wildlife, Ryan Cronin has written a great post on making your lawn wildlife-friendly. The title, Leave the […]

  16. […] need to think about climate change and act in response to it. Creating wildlife havens in our gardens, campaigning for climate action, living in a sustainable manner: doing whatever we can to promote […]

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