One of the questions that people who are yearning for a creative practice or who are starting one often ask–where do you get your ideas? Where do you find your inspiration? How do you have visions of what to create and how do those things come to you? In the druid tradition, one of our three core paths is the path of the bard, and our emphasis is on seeking inspiration, connecting with the flow of awen (inspiration), and experiencing that flow in our lives. But how do we actually do this? In today’s post, I’m going to share an advanced technique that I use often to do just that–spirit journeying to bring forth creative ideas, visions, songs, stories, rituals and more.
One way of deepening your spiritual practices is through art, and vice versa. In the druid tradition, we see creativity as part of the bardic path, and we engage in creative practices as part of spiritual practices. This also means that we spend time weaving these together–using techniques like meditation, ritual, and spirit journeying to deepen our own creative processes and creations. We see a lot of value in doing this work, and all of us do it in our own unique ways. I’ll share my process for some of this today.
Since this is advanced work, I’m going to point to some posts that can help make sense of what I’m saying here if you are new. You should read the four posts I offer on spirit journeying for an overall guide to how to do this practice: Post 1: Preparation, Post 2: Meeting and Working with Your Spirit Guide; Post 3: Visiting your Inner Sacred Grove; and Post 4: Deeper Work. You may also want to explore more on the bardic arts and the philosophy of those in the druid tradition, so I’m listing the full series of Bardic Arts/Sacred Creativity posts here: taking up the path of the bard part 1, part 2, and part 3; cultivating awen in your life, bardic storytelling, bardic arts and the ancestors, creativity and mental health, and visioning the future. I’ll also point readers to my 2019 OBOD Mount Hameus lecture on the bardic arts in the druid tradition. Finally, it is important to recognize that this particular technique is very much a “personal gnosis”–and understanding what that means and how to share it is another important step.
Stories of Magical Creations from Spirit Journeys
To start to explore this idea, I’m going to share three stories from my own practice, then step back and share the general techniques you can build and develop. These practices came from almost 20 years of exploring creativity, the bardic arts, and magic, so I’m really happy to share the results of this long work and see how it works for you! I am sharing practices tied to some of my primary bardic arts (writing, including ritual writing + visual arts/painting). But what I’m sharing here can be adapted to any other creative form.
I use spirit journeying as a way of creative explorations for visual arts through painting of my tarot and oracle decks: the Tarot of Trees and the Plant Spirit Oracle (PSO). The PSO really had me honing this technique through my studies in the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn as outlined in John Michael Greer’s Celtic Golden Dawn book. At all levels of study in DOGD, you visit four sacred groves as you climb the Tree of Life (in this tradition, these are elemental groves). First, you spend time establishing the grove firmly through a series of medications and then, later, you meet a guide and begin walking paths between them. This whole process is called pathworking and Golden Dawn is only one tradition of many that use it. As I began this work, plant spirits met with me–the first few being Chaga (which I did not put in the deck), Black Cohosh, and Ghost Pipe (which ended up in the deck). What I discovered was that any plants I had had some physical contact with in the day would often be one that showed up in the visions–the Chaga showed up after I had brewed up some Chaga tea, and so on. Those early journeys had plants not only teaching me their sacred medicine but also sharing with me a painting that they wanted to see brought into the world. Thus, art became a very important part of the larger magical practices that I was engaging in. I couldn’t move onto the next journey without first painting and honoring the gift that had been given. What I came to understand about this experience is that these plants wanted specific representations of themselves brought into the world–and what I was really doing was manifesting a specific tool for others to connect more deeply with the sacred and healing plants.
In another such example, when I was writing my forthcoming Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches to Healing the Earth (REDFeather, March 2024), I knew I needed rituals and practices to address the large-scale suffering on the planet. I had done a lot of this work, but it was very nuanced and specific to my own practices and relationships with spirits, and I needed something broader that could be used by a wider group of people. This is, of course, is necessary because many of the spiritual traditions to which I belong do not have these kinds of large-scale tools–and we are really only in the process of working out what they would look like (such as through AODA’s Earth Healing rituals, which take place at the solstices and equinoxes). We live in broken traditions and we are learning to pick up the pieces. Thus, in this case, the world of spirit is one of our best tools to supplement both human knowledge lost and a novel set of circumstances for the planet. So I spirit journeyed to the core of the earth and asked the question–what would you like people to do for you in this difficult time? How might we support you? I continued these journeys over the course of six months, gaining rituals and tools that could be better adapted, and then tried them out and had friends try them too. These rituals formed the core of one of the chapters in the new book.
In a third example, earlier this year at the MAGUS Gathering we were doing this rather experimental and crazy telluric energy ritual that was mushroom-themed–our Mushroom Galdr–and as one of the ritual leads, my job was to help my small group 10-15 people connect more deeply to the Amanita Muscaria mushroom. Mushrooms are complex and dangerous to work with. Someone like Amanita Muscaria has been working with humans as a visionary and potent healing mushroom for a very long time–but again, this is knowledge that has been lost. Most modern people assume she is poisonous and deadly when it is obvious she is a teacher mushroom. Thus, after exhausting my reading and research on the subject (including reading this really cool book called Fly Agaric: A Compendium of History, Pharmacology, Mythology, and Exploration) I knew I needed to talk with the mushroom herself. I journeyed to visit the Spirit of Amanita Muscaria and asked her for something I could use to help my small group connect as part of the larger ritual. She gave me a painting as well as a recipe for a visionary salve. I painted the painting, and we used that painting as a launch point for spirit journeying with the group. And I made up a big batch of the salve, which definitely worked to open up our senses to the mycelial kingdom and the visionary power of mushrooms.
In all three of these, you can see some common threads: there are spirits out there, often spirits of nature or the earth herself, who have a lot of wisdom and experiences to share. They want to connect, build relationships, and continue the sacred traditions of teaching humans more about how to be good caretakers and tenders of the land. And because I practice a broken tradition whose core knowledge has been lost, some of that is a process of learning once again from the earth, plant, tree, and mushroom teachers–who have been teaching humans for much longer than we have recorded history.
I will also say that all three of these stories tie to my own life’s work–so the examples I share above are in line with that sacred vision I have for the world as well as my own place in it. Your own experiences may be very different based on where you are, what you seek, what you need in this moment, and why you choose to create. So now let’s step back and look at some general principles you can use to fuel your own spirit journeying towards sacred creation.
Journeying to get Inspiration
The following are general tips you can use as you journey to find your own inspiration: through song, dance, poetry, visual arts, fine crafts, fiberwork, needlecraft, woodwork, or any other creative endeavor. I also find this approach particularly good for ritual writing and creative approaches to ceremony.
Framework. There are lots of ways to journey, and any framework you use will likely yield results. I suggest you use whatever you are most comfortable with, and if you are new, take some time to ease yourself into the process. Find a good teacher of spirit journeying or shamanism, or you can use my posts linked at the beginning to get started.
Foundation. Regardless of what tradition you are working in, make sure you are in a healthy head space, you aren’t too tired or stressed, you have uninterrupted time to do your journey, and you have your creative tools available. You want to give this process your best self and be at the top of your game. Why? Because the spirits and your creative practices deserve the best you, not the you that is tired and worn from the present shit show of human civilization.
Journey. The journey itself is open. It depends on what I am seeking as to where I go–typically, going to my sacred grove is a good place to begin, but that will depend. Sometimes if I’m out in the wild and I get drawn to someone (a plant, mushroom, special spot) I might just meditate right there and do a mini journey. I will say that often these experiences are journeys, you aren’t just going to pop into the spirit world and pop out with the Mona Lisa. Rather, you are going to interact, to learn, to explore and at some point, you’ll get what you came to get–and often a whole lot more.
Intention. Intention in magical work is very important, although the spirits also have their own intentions, and there should be space for both. What I suggest is that you set some general intentions (e.g. I would love to journey to be inspired to write a new song to honor the earth) but also be open to who you meet and what they have to offer you. Trying to “steer the ship” too much on the spirit world is problematic because the whole point of all of this is to be open to what spirits are willing to teach you. But having a general sense of what you want to do is still a good idea.
You can also be completely open–I call this my “blank page” approach. I set my intention as something like, “I’m open to your teachings and any creative inspirations you offer” and that usually will yield some pretty incredible things. In Western cultures, we are often to be very proactive and projective, and this doesn’t always meld well with the spirit world. They have a lot more knowledge, perspective, and general teachings than we do. They hold keys to many things we have lost, and they are ready and willing to share.
Gratitude. It goes without saying–but I will say it anyway–that gratitude, honoring, and respect is a core part of this practice. I have written extensively on gratitude practices and animist philosophy and if this is new to you, I suggest you check it out. A simple thank you is a good start but is insufficient for the relationships you build through this practice. You want to explore cultivating long-term relationships with the spirits you are working with. For some people that may be deities or guides and offering them rituals, offerings, tending a shrine, etc. For animist people like me, that’s plants, mushrooms, trees, and all of the living earth–and that means I’m cultivating and engaging in reciprocal relationships with these beings.
Recording. Once you’ve had your journey, as soon as possible, ideally while you are still in sacred space, record whatever you need to bring this creative gift you’ve been given to life. I usually keep my sketchbook with me–I use these large 8.5″ x 11″ hardbound sketchbooks to put all of my artistic ideas in. I keep that next to me when I spirit journey and then will immediately come out and start sketching or writing up the bullet points or outline of what I need. You can also use a sacred journaling practice for this–writing the info right in your journey. If it’s not too late, I might even start working on the piece immediately. You don’t want to waste the gift by allowing it to fade away in your mind or grow fuzzy.
Honoring the Gift. This final point leads directly from the last one. Recognize that being given creative inspiration is a true gift of spirit. It is not something to squander or not follow up on. It is something to create in the very best way you can with the very best tools and use whatever time you need. The spirits have invested in you, now invest and bring that into the world. The idea of “awen” as a muse here also is relevant–we druids see the flow of Awen as flowing inspiration. This is the muse, the spark, the creative idea–and this is the thing that is so sacred to us. Let that awen flow from you and honor the gift.
Sharing. Ascertain if what you are creating is specific to you and should be kept private by you or if it is something that you can share widely in the world. If you aren’t sure, ask the spirits who gave the idea to you. Or, set this as part of your intention (e.g. I am journeying to receive inspiration for another card in the Plant Spirit Oracle vs. I am journeying to create a piece of poetry for my own private healing).
I hope these practices are helpful to you–I would love to hear how you might use these approaches. This is my first time fully writing this down and while I’ve talked with others about it, I don’t know how relevant or useful it would be to everyone else. So I’d love your thoughts!