Deepening Your Druidry: Braiding Together the Ovate, Druid, and Bardic Paths

Reishi mushroom from the Plant Spirit Oracle offers a vision of healing, growth, and regeneration

In my last post, I offered an overview of the three paths of druidry from both an ancient and modern perspective. The paths are: the path of the bard, emphasizing creativity, personal expression, and community; the path of the ovate, exploring the inner and outer worlds of nature; and the path of the druid, exploring esoteric philosophy and the inner worlds of spirit.  I shared how different modern druids interpret these (as a practice, perspective, journey, and identity) and how to get started on one or more of the paths.  Today, I want to deepen this discussion by talking about the power we have in braiding these paths together and combining them in powerful ways. One of the reasons I am writing this post today is that haven’t seen a discussion of the three paths with an emphasis on doing this braiding.  It isn’t really covered in druid curricula nor in druid books. But the other reason is perhaps I’m in a fairly unique position to do so–having completed three Adept-level projects (bard, ovate, and druid) in AODA taking a total of 9 years has given me a depth of understanding of these paths.  Thus, it has taken a lot of dedicated practice to really understand and enact what I’m sharing here on a conscious and intentional level. So I want to share some of my findings and experiences here.

Reishi mushroom from the Plant Spirit Oracle offers a vision of healing, growth, and regeneration
Reishi mushroom from the Plant Spirit Oracle offers a vision of healing, growth, and regeneration

I will start by sharing that I feel what I’m describing today is a more advanced practice. When you are first learning the tradition and exploring these different paths, it can be less overwhelming to think about them as separate things. You have to have some grasp of each of the paths before you can consider what I’m saying here. So if you are a beginner, feel free to read on, but I suggest you don’t do too much with what I’m sharing until you are a bit further on the path.

But after you’ve been practicing the tradition for a while, and have explored the tradition from multiple angles, read on! What I have found is that you start to intuit, explore, and express the connections between the paths and the divisions between them start falling away. I have personally found that this weaving together of the paths is my most powerful expression of druidry and the place where I feel the most grounded: when I can do whatever it is I am doing using the combined wisdom two or even all three paths.

And I will also share that this is uniquely a thing for modern druids–these paths were inspired by three classes or professions of people in ancient Celtic society, and thus, it is likely that they did not combine paths in this way.  But as we have taken these ancient three professions and adapted them to modern practices, there is more opportunity to experiment with the weaving together of the three paths.

General Principles: Braiding Together

A single strand of rope is thin and flexible but will break under pressure. A double-strand of rope is twice as strong.  A triple strand of rope holds nearly anything.  This is the way that I look at the three paths–they are fine on their own and good to practice, but they are greatly enhanced by weaving knowledge from more than one together. The more you can weave them together, to bring each path to support the other, the stronger and more robust the practice becomes.

But how do you begin to braid the three paths together? Here are some general ideas.  After these ideas, I’ll share some stories of how I’ve done this in my own practices, and some other tips and suggestions.

Firmly establish some regular practices in each of the paths. The first thing to do is obviously to have some core practices in each of the paths, practices that become familiar and comfortable to you.  You can do this on your own or, if you feel led, you can study with a druid order can help, as druid orders can provide structured ways into these paths.  What does this look like?

  • Regular practice of creative expression of some kind, something that you can use not only to express yourself but explore your interactions with the world
  • Regular practice in nature, which may include gardening, hiking, tracking, bushcraft, rewilding, and so on.  It may also focus on you deep diving into one or more areas of nature (mushrooms, astronomy, wild medicine, conservation, etc.)
  • Regular spiritual practices that you have grown comfortable with such as meditation, opening up and closing a sacred space/sacred grove, spirit journeying, divination, prayer, or whatever else speaks to you.
An offering to nature spirits at the end of the season in the annual garden- bridging all three paths through creativity, nature, and ceremony

Seek opportunities to bridge between the paths.  Once you have these regular sets of practices, you can start braiding them together. The general principle here is that even if you are working clearly within one path, you consider opportunities or ways you might bring in more than one path.  If you are in your garden growing vegetables, how might that ovate practice be enhanced by rituals or spirit work from the druid path, or creative practices and self-expression from the bardic path? If you are working on a painting, how might weaving in ritual or finding inspiration in nature deepen the experience?  This can become a very joyful and fun thing to explore and will allow you to deepen your practice in all areas.

Recognize the combining of paths as enhancing the work.   So one of the ways I like to think about these paths is that even if I’m walking or working with a core path of one thing or another, the practice can be enhanced by bringing in knowledge from the other paths.  Here’s what I mean:  if I’m out exploring nature, I might also weave in my druid path–not just observing nature and understanding the physical qualities of a tree, river, or beautiful valley but also leveraging my druid knowledge of the realm of spirits, reciprocation, and honoring.  Thus, my interaction moves from being something physical to something that connects the physical and metaphysical worlds.  I might be further inspired by what I am seeing and feel the need for a bardic expression: pulling out an instrument, a sketchbook, or even beginning to dance.

Reflecting on your experiences. One of the ways I sorted all this out is that I take time to regularly reflect on my experiences–reflecting on things that happen, and things I create, and also re-reading my journals and meditating on larger themes. These kinds of reflections allow us to recognize things that we might be doing that are already bridging the paths and that are intuitive.

Building a richer interaction between nature and everything else.  Obviously, what this is all doing is working to build deeper connections and relationships with everything around you.  I have found that weaving the druid path into my everyday life, even outside of the three paths, really adds something special.  It helps me cultivate a more rich inner life.  And it certainly helps me build connections with the living earth.

Examples in Practice: Gardening, Ritual Writing, and Land Healing

To delve deeper into the discussion, I will start by sharing three stories to help illustrate what I see as some of the connections between the paths, and then follow the stories with some general principles. Some of the connections we make between the paths are quite intuitive–and it is only after the fact when we are reflecting that we realize that we have braided the strands together in a powerful way.

Organic Garden Example: A Druid’s Garden

Mandala Medicine Garden
Mandala Medicine Garden

The first example  I will offer is in the realm of gardening, the namesake of this blog.  A druid’s garden is more than just an organic vegetable garden–it is a place where you can weave all three of the paths together in powerful and beautiful ways.

A garden begins with intention and creativity: how do you want to design the garden? What plants do you want to bring in, in which patterns, and how do you want to support ecological succession?  These questions are both bardic and ovate in nature–asking us to weave knowledge of the natural world with creativity, design, and joy.  From there, a druid approach may include speaking with the genius loci – the spirits of place about where a garden might be located, doing the necessary clearing or preparation of the land, and finally, energetically supporting that garden through magic, ceremony, creating spaces, and other kinds of ritual work.

As a specific example from the Druid’s Garden Homestead, I started to work on the herbal meditation mandala garden here in Western Pennsylvania (USA), about 6 years ago. My overall goals were situated in the three different paths: on the ovate level, the goal was to create a healing garden that would support biodiversity, and insect life and offer plants that we could grow to spread for land healing efforts and to make herbal medicine from.  On the bardic side, it was to design something beautiful and artful, with additional art pieces and a space to reflect and meander.  On the Druid side, it was to be a space for ceremonies for the earth and a place to build deep relationships with the spirits of those plants.

Obviously, the core knowledge needed to create a garden is ovate knowledge–the need to know how to remediate and build the soil, decide what plants go where (based on height, growth habits, etc), and the need to create a functional growing space.  But I had stopped only at ovate knowledge, I wouldn’t have woven in the artistry of building a mandala that can be used for meditation and walking, by adding in mosaic stepping stones and other small shrines (which are all bardic creations).  And I certainly wouldn’t be doing regular rituals in the garden to continue to support the garden, all life that comes to the garden, and the healing seeds and plants that come out of the garden and are either spread across the land or brought into our apothecary!

So this example shows how taking a basic practice–in this case, the core ovate practice of growing an herb garden–and using the druid path to weave in magic and the bardic path to weave in creative expressions, can truely create a “druid’s garden” that is whimsical, magical, and bursting with healing energy and life.

Ritual Writing: Telluric Mushroom Galdr Example

Amanita mushroom in a sunlit glade - this was an image I was given to paint from the Amanita as part of my own pre-ritual work.
Amanita mushroom in a sunlit glade – this was an image I was given to paint from the Amanita as part of my own pre-ritual work and was used as a focus for my Amanita visionary group during the pre-ritual workshop.

In a second example, we can see how a core druid practice of ritual writing can be deeply enhanced by bringing in the other two paths. Earlier this year, a group of four ritualists worked to write and lead one of the main rituals for the MAGUS 2023 gathering, a mushroom-themed telluric ritual.  The point of the ritual was to deeply connect everyone at the gathering to nature’s pathways for healing, transformation, connection, and renewal through the mycelial pathways and energy of the fungi kingdom.  So yes, this was not your average ritual, and we were breaking a lot of new ground.

Six months before the ritual was to take place, we began our process of exploration in the ovate world by exploring and deepening our relationship with fungi. Some of us learned how to grow oyster mushrooms at home, others of us tried new culinary mushrooms or cooked new mushroom-themed dishes, others of us went out hunting mushrooms, and all of us just spent more time with the mycelial kingdom. This was a very ovate-themed exploration: how could we write a ritual about mushrooms if we weren’t immersed in the world of the fungi?

After a month of exploring the mushrooms as Ovates, we shifted into the path of the Druid: we individually connected to the spirits of the fungi kingdom and asked them to help guide us to write the ritual.  And the fungi kingdom came through to us: because we had put in such good time in the ovate path, by the time we did this work, we had the ritual the mushrooms had handed us, and it was exactly what we needed (and more importantly, it worked quite well!).

Finally, we shifted into Bardic mode, thinking about how to arrange the space, decorate our central altar, what props we might need, and more. I painted a graphic of the ritual to give out to all the participants so everyone knew exactly what we were doing (in terms of chanting and movement). As part of my own preparation for leading the “visionary” group, I also worked to journey to get an image for working with my group. Each of us took a small group off to do our own work prior to the main ritual–this involved spirit journeying, creative dance, hunting the mycelia, and also doing the preparations of chanting and connecting to the energies of the fungal kingdom.

When you think of ritual writing, you often think of it from a druid perspective: what is the work we want to do? how do we raise and direct energy?  What frameworks within the tradition do we want to draw upon?  Instead, by situating the ritual with the fungi kingdom first and foremost in terms of the Ovate realm, we invited the mushrooms in as our co-collaborators and co-ritualists. The end result was a very powerful ritual experience for all involved.  I think this is a great example of how bringing the three paths together resulted in a more rich and cohesive experience than if we had only drawn on one path.

Land Healing Example: Braiding the Three Strands

In a final example, I show how sometimes we need to equally weave all three paths to understand and move forward. Land healing is one of my core personal spiritual practices as a druid, from my perspective, braiding the three paths of ovate, bard, and druid together is almost a requirement to do land healing well.  As an ovate, I need to have a deep knowledge of the ecosystem (including what a healthy ecosystem looks like) and a wide range of tools that could be used for physical land healing- regeneration, rewilding, conservation, permaculture, organic pest management, and so forth.  This ovate-based nature knowledge is foundational to understanding or enacting any land healing, including any healing of a more ritual or ceremonial nature.  If I don’t know what is happening on the physical level, my own ritual and energetic practices could be harmful rather than helpful.

Stump with reishi growing!
Stump with reishi growing–this is one of the specific trees that I worked with to plant the Reishi Card from the Plant Spirit Oracle (above).

As a druid, I recognize the occult philosophies concerning the macrocosm and microcosm, the importance of working on the inner as well as the outer, and the need for energetic work.  I realize that there are problems right now that are so large, that the only way an individual can tackle them is ceremonially.  I also realize the need to use a range of divination practices to ascertain the will of the spirits of the land who have been negatively affected. Thus, as a land healer, part of my toolkit firmly rests in the realm of the druid path: a need to know about rituals, how to craft them, how to move energy, esoteric philosophy, divination, and more.

Typically, that’s where you might end–and the synthesis of ovate and druid knowledge in this case would be very useful and productive. Spending time listening to the spirits of the land, hearing their needs, and doing what you can to help heal the earth on a physical and metaphysical level.

But because I am also very dedicated to the bardic arts, I weave these practices in my land healing.  Crafting a healing mandala, for example, is an act of braiding together all three paths. Creating healing artwork that honors someone who has passed is a particularly powerful act of healing–in the Reishi card from the Plant Spirit Oracle (featured above), I honored the hemlocks that had been cut down in the forest and the spirit that I met after they had been cut.  Here’s a photo of that experience here–learning the medicine of the reishi and hemlocks as part of the earth’s ability to heal. And now, anyone who is pulling that card from the Plant Spirit Oracle also meets them and can work with that healing energy.

What I’m describing here is the weaving together of these paths–the wisdom of the ovate, druid, and bardic paths can combine in beautiful ways to allow you to deepen your practices.

Caveats and Why this isn’t taught more?

For one, most modern druid orders, including AODA, present these as separate tracks or courses of study.  While people can combine them and often do, a combination in a curricular sense may make things more confusing. Thus, I think one reason we don’t discuss these three paths has to do with the pragmatic way that our druid orders structure and discuss the curriculum.  That’s not a bad thing–it helps to break things down into manageable chunks and learn things.  The other thing is that a lot of things do weave together in these curriculums but they aren’t always pointed to–so some of the things I’m sharing here are insights that you may need to come to on your own.

But the second reason is that what I’m sharing here does require advanced mastery of any paths that you want to combine.  Not everyone is interested in pursuing all of the paths equally and instead may really dedicate themselves to one or two of the paths.  That’s great as well–and even if you aren’t, say, pursuing a Bardic path (this is the one that often gets left out), you can still do amazing things to weave together the Druid and Ovate Path.

I will also share that these are my thoughts and my experiences, and they may differ from others. I would really love to hear more about how you weave these paths together and any stories that you can share.

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. I admire your mission for Druridry.
    You will like “The Twelve Blessings” in the words of Jesus in London 1958,through the voice Dr.George King for Truth hidden in church doctrine.

    1. Hi Gratzite,thanks for your comment! I appreciate you reading :).

  2. The teacher in me appreciates your clarity of idea and organization of information in your written content. It is easy for me to follow your discussion topics, so thank you! On varying levels, these are my paths, my earthly spiritual immersions, the connection of all life forms, the sacredness, the spirit, the magic. Thank you for all that you do, and thank you for sharing it with us all. i love this community!!

    1. Hi Kelly,
      Thank you for your kind comment! I’m glad you enjoy my writing. My day job is as a writing professor, so I work hard to create clear, well organized, and yet fun to read prose :). Blessings to you on this path and glad you are part of the community!

  3. Your post has really helped me work through something. Firstly, I’m really plaited! I’ve always been discovering and plaiting together knowledge and practices from all three paths.

    Since I discovered your blog, I’ve become more willing to name the journey I’m on as ‘my practice’ and consciously work on ‘deepening my practice’. Inspired by you, I looked into study with a Druid organisation, but here in the UK it seems very linear and hierarchical: Bard, then Ovate, then Druid. This felt like a huge barrier. I’ve felt much conflict about whether I can engage in that way. In that hierarchy, could I hold on to who I am and what I know, and also remain open and humble? Even now, I pause at your caveat about being an advanced practitioner: am I ‘allowed’ to consider myself ‘advanced enough’? To be as plaited as I feel? Who do I think I am?

    Your post has helped me reimagine how I could approach a formal Druidry programme, with each stage as a chance to focus on part of my existing practice without having to unplait. It sounds so obvious to me now! But I think I needed ‘permission’ to think like that.

    Thank you for noticing the gap and addressing this. I love your advocacy and the fresh, relevant direction you are moving in. (I’d join AODA if I could! But I think I should persist and find my native connection if I can.)

    1. Hi N!
      I’m so glad that the post helped you work out the idea of the braid! You are what you feel and what you believe. 🙂

      AODA is open to global members–we have many European members. It is focused on exploring your own locally-rooted druidry and ecosystem–which in your case, would be your native, UK connection :). Here’s our seven core principles!

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