A druid’s crane bag is a special bag, a magical bag, that many druids carry with them. Often full of shells, rocks, magical objects, feathers, stones, Ogham staves, representations of the elements, ritual tools, and much more, a crane bag is wonderfully unique to each druid! A few years ago, I shared a post about how to create a crane bag and a description of my bag at the time; today’s post revisits and deepens the treatment of this topic. In this post, we’ll look at the concept of the crane bag and where it came from, four potential purposes for bags, and some tips and tricks for how to put them together and what they might include. This is a wonderful part of the druid tradition that anyone, including those walking other paths, can enjoy!
Crane Bag History and Purpose
The term “Crane bag” comes from Irish mythology. In this mythos, Manannán mac Lir is a major sea god who is also the guardian of the otherworld. One of his many treasures is a magical bag, known as a crane bag. As the myths go, he originally crafted the bag from the skin of a crane, hence the name. This wonderful, bottomless bag was full of many treasures: his knife and shirt, the shears of the King of Scotland, the helmet of the King of Lochlainn, the bones of Assal’s swine, a girdle of a great white whale’s back, birds, hounds, and other things. His bag also contained human language, a powerful tool. Some versions of the myths also suggest that the Ogham, the Celtic tree alphabet that is still in modern use, was also within the bag. In the myths, the bag’s treasures can be seen in the sea at high tide, but they disappear during low tide. In certain myths, the bag comes into the possession of Irish heroes such as Lug Lámfhota, Liath Luachra, and Fionn mac Cumhaill.
In the modern druid tradition, we are inspired by this mythology, and druids often create magical bags of their own. A crane bag is not a singular thing, but as unique as each druid themselves: thus, the size, shape, and materials contained within the bag are up to an individual druid. In the remainder of this post, I’ll show you various options for bags, styles, and purposes to help you develop your own crane bag.
Planning Your Crane Bag: Crane Bag Purposes and Options
Just as each druid’s path is unique, your crane bag should be an expression of you and your druid path. I think the most important consideration for your crane bag, even before we get into size, composition, or what goes into the bag is your purpose. In talking with druids, particularly in the OBOD and AODA communities on the East Coast of the US, there seem to be three general purposes for crane bags: the ritual-in-a-bag approach, the power object bag approach, the field approach, or a combination of all three.
The Ritual-in-a-Bag. The first approach to a druid’s crane bag is that it is a special bag that can hold all of your ritual tools. These tools, then, come with you wherever you go. For example, one druid I met at a gathering had a larger leather bag. In this bag, she had her elemental representations, wand, a small sickle, and a small notebook. She indicated that anywhere she went, her tools could go with her, and she could easily break into a “spontaneous” ritual with her tools at hand. She also enjoyed carrying the bag to larger druid gatherings, thus, her tools went with her and also benefited from the energy raised at such gatherings. I have used this approach myself, and offer an example later in this article.
The Power Object Bag. A second approach that seems common is to have a much smaller crane bag, one that is carried on your person frequently, or at all times. Often, these will be bags small enough to fit in your pocket, around your neck under your clothing, or attached to a belt. Contained within the bag are objects of spiritual significance to you–sacred stones, shells, sticks, herbs, teeth, bones, or whatever else is personally significant and powerful to you. Those druids who I have spoken to who use this approach believe that you grow a stronger connection to the objects and bag the more the bag is physically with you. The objects, also, are able to lend you their strength, power, and protection throughout the day as you carry your bag. A good friend of mine uses this approach; his is a small but ornate belt pouch that is always attached to his belt, and so each day, without fail, his crane bag goes with him. It is with him when he works, hikes, drives, or does whatever else he is doing.
The Field Bag. The third approach is creating a crane bag that will aid one out in nature–for this, you usually get not only objects of spiritual significance but also practical significance: land offerings, knives, folding saws, hori hori (an all-purpose Japanese gardening tool that is great for foraging and herbalism), bags, flint and steel or other fire-starting equipment, paracord, and more. The philosophy behind this crane bag is that if you are going out in nature, it is useful to be prepared, particularly if you are interested in doing some wild food or medicine foraging, camp out for the evening, bushcraft, or other kinds of wildcrafting. Thus, when a druid takes this bag with them, they are prepared for anything!
The Anything Goes/Combination Bag. The final approach uses a combination of all of the above–perhaps some items of personal significance along with a few ritual tools and a few tools to be out in the field. My first crane bag, described in detail in my earlier post, uses this method (see all of the contents here). The benefit of this approach is that you end up with a multi-purpose bag that can serve a variety of needs.
Creating or Finding Your Crane Bag
Today’s crane bags need not be made of crane leather, but can be made of any durable material: leather, hide, skin, linen, wool, cloth, denim, and so on. You can make your bag yourself, you can purchase it secondhand, or you can have someone make it for you. I do believe, in my conversations with many druids about their crane bags, that many prefer to make them, as it lends their own personal energy into the bag. If you don’t make it yourself, find a special way of personalizing your bag. For example, my first crane bag, pictured here, was a small denim bag with zippers and pockets that I found at a thrift store. I personalized it by painting it with acrylics, and I am happy and delighted that the paint has held up for many, many years!
The bag can be large or small; however, you will want it large enough that it will fit your purpose and to carry what you would like it to carry (and think also about the future–what you might want to add to your bag at a later date). Depending on the size of your bag, it can be held or connected to a belt, cord, or slung across the shoulders and carried more like a traditional bag, depending on the size. Most druids carry their crane bags into ritual (and around gatherings, if they attend), many may also carry them into the woods or other natural places, so it should also be something comfortable to take with you, particularly on long journeys or when you travel.
Items for Your Bag
Any item of spiritual or practical significance can go in your bag. I encourage you to think about local ingredients, local materials, or those repurposed in other ways. Many of the things in my bag are gifts from others or things that I found or made. Here’s a list of what I might consider essentials; these go in every crane bag that I have made or carry:
- A small journal (Moleskine or other small journals work great for this). I never want to be out in the woods or anywhere else without my journal–this allows me to record my thoughts at any time. I especially appreciate this “old technology” as opposed to a cell phone for recording as I don’t think there is anything as disruptive of a sacred experience as pulling out one’s phone.
- A few handy tools: I like to always take with me a lighter/matches, a knife, and a plastic or cloth bag or two to carry anything I find. Even in my more “ritual tools” style crane bag, I make sure to have these with me.
- Offerings. I don’t go anywhere without offerings. I recently shared how to make a wildcrafted herbal blessing oil and sacred herbal blend for offerings. A blessed magic seed ball also makes a great offering. Anything you want to carry with you that you can offer is appropriate.
- Elements. As someone working within the context of both OBOD and AODA druidry, I find being able to work with the elements in physical form really helpful. So I always have, in any bag, representations of each of these. They don’t have to be physical representations (fire, etc) but could be four small stones, wood burned images, and so on. The sky is the limit!
Here is a much larger list that you might consider for including in your crane bag:
- Rocks and minerals
- Shells, corals, or sand (in a small bottle)
- Plants, leaves, twigs, roots or pieces of bark
- Herbs, oils, infusions, concoctions, tinctures, teas or healing brews
- Seeds of all kinds
- Fur, nails, bones, claws, teeth or other animal parts (only those that are legal to have, of course)
- Animal, plant, or spirit totems of any kind (for example, the small carved soapstone animals are a nice addition to a crane bag)
- Divination tools, such as Ogham, runes, or tarot decks
- Small musical instruments (like an ocarina, small flute, etc)
- Jewelry or necklaces of significance
- Tiny journals or books
- A small altar cloth
- Bags, jars, and other vessels for holding things (like collecting sacred waters, etc)
- Ritual tools such as a small candle (a battery-powered candle is convenient when traveling), small sickle, knife, candle, etc.
- Any other items with a spiritual purpose
- Quarter stones (four or eight stones you can place at the circle to help hold the space)
Example Crane Bags: Druid’s Power Bag and Ritual in a Bag
I have three primary crane bags, one that fits each of the possibilities above. My earlier post offered an example of an all purpose crane bag, so again, check that post out for photos. I also have a regular backpack that I dedicate to foraging, but that has some sacred tools (the essentials) that will go with me on longer hikes. I didn’t take photos of that one, as its not very pretty looking but is rather very functional. But I did want to share examples of the other two: the druid’s power bag and the Ritual in the Bag crane bag.
The first bag is the Druid’s Power bag. This is a small leather bag I made, and in the photograph, are some *examples* of what you could put in a bag. I believe that the bag itself and the actual contents of a power bag should never be photographed, or really, even talked about. This is a bag of sacred objects to you, and if you talk too much about it, you can talk the magic out of it. So I am not showing you my actual contents, but I think this gives you a good example of what could contain and look like: natural items, small clay and stone statuary, beads, stones, jewelry, etc. So in this photo we have some things people have given me, stones, stone animals, a bracelet, a ceramic bear, a painted pendant, nuts and seeds, and more.
The other bag I want to show today is the “ritual in a bag” crane bag. I have been working on this bag for six months, and I’m delighted to have completed it to share with you. The goal of this bag was simple: I do a lot of ritual work outside, right on my land or in a nearby state park. What was happening is that when I needed tools, I’d put them in a basket from my altar, but the tools were quite heavy and bringing them back up the mountain on my land was a problem, and carrying them into the woods at the state park was even more of a problem (it isn’t fun to carry four large ceramic altar bowls!) Further, when I have friends that visit, we often go into the woods with sacred intent, and I wanted a bag that I could literally just ‘grab and go’ that offered me everything I needed to do a nice ritual with the bells and whistles. I’ve also been working hard to improve my leatherworking skills, so this bag was also a challenge to me as a bardic practitioner. Finally, I wanted my sacred plant allies to be with me with the energy of the bag. I wanted it small enough that I could put it in my foraging bag and still had room for other tools.
The leather bag itself I designed and put together. I used leather tooling and then a leather acrylic and acrylic sealer on the bag itself, which I hope will last over time (we will see!) This brought beauty into the bag and helped imbue my own energy with it. On the bag, I have some of my most sacred plant allies: wild yam (on the edge of the strap), ghost pipe, hawthorn, and elder. These are all plants I regularly work with and who are local to my ecosystem.
Inside the bag, I have everything that I need for a ritual. This includes five copper bowls (I purchased these on Etsy from a regional craftsperson; they are great because they are super durable and light). Four of these are for the elements and the fifth is for offerings or other purposes. When I’m out in the woods, I usually fill the air bowl with sand or soil, then stick an incense block or cone in it. The fire bowl gets a little candle (with jar, otherwise it will go out), the water bowl gets some local water, and the earth bowl can be filled with soil, rocks, nuts, sticks, whatever is around. In the photo, you can also see two little incense containers and also a smoke clearing stick (smudge stick), it has its own little package. You can also see the small altar cloth (this particular cloth was a gift from a dear friend and mentor, and is a very cherished part of my ritual gear), which rolls up nicely and fits in the bottom of the bag.
Finally, I have an elemental woodburning with an awen; when I place this on my altar, it reminds me of the four directions (extremely useful for someone like me with dyslexia).
Here are some other things that show up in my ritual-in-a-bag: my favorite ritual flute, a small knife (used mostly for ritual, but also for herb harvesting), a vial for water (I like to save water from my rituals or from places where I do ritual and add it to a water altar), a lighter, and a journal.
One of the keys I think to keeping a small crane bag is careful packaging. I have used a lot of special packaging to keep things together: sewing little bags for the elemental bowls, having a wrap for my tarot deck, having a wrap for my my smoke clearing stick so that it doesn’t flake off everywhere in the bag, and so forth. One of the bags below contains all of my land offerings.
Even with all of these great tools, which you can carry everywhere, what doesn’t fit in the bag is Acorn!
I hope that this post helps demystify the druid’s crane bag and offers you a number of ideas that you might use in your own druid-based, OBOD, AODA, or nature spirituality practice. In the words of John Gilbert, former AODA Archdruid of Air, “Your Druid Crane Bag is the badge of a Druid. Wear it with pride and with honor to yourself and the Druid Craft.”