Honoring a Mentor and Friend

I’ve had the blessing of a few really great mentors in my life, people whose teachings and support are valuable to my development as a person, druid, and human being. Few have been as impactful as Sara Greer. Many of you may have already heard by now about the passing of Sara as earlier this week; John Michael Greer wrote a very eloquent and beautiful post on Ecosophia about her and the news is making its rounds. I wanted to take some time today to reflect on Sara, my experiences with her, and her legacy. I will also share a link to my letter about Sara to the AODA community earlier this week, which shares a bit about her work and legacy in AODA.  This post will be a bit more personal and expansive–a weaving of my own story, Sara’s story, a bit of JMG’s story, and the story of the AODA. I think it’s important that this story is shared, specifically because she was so good at blending in the background that few people really know how much she impacted the modern druid tradition.

So let’s start where the story begins, with AODA’s revitalization. In the early 2000’s, the Ancient Order of Druids in America had only a small handful of elderly members left.  JMG had found a listing for AODA in a book and was attempting to contact them through mail, to no avail.  But then, the Greers came across John Gilbert at a Tarot conference in Portland in 2001—Gilbert was already in his 60’s and was the youngest of a handful of members propping up a variety of old magical orders, including AODA.  JMG and Sara joined, and three months later, JMG found himself as an Archdruid, with Sara following into leadership as the Pendragon and doing the bookkeeping a year later. AODA was formed in 1912, and we’ve gone through many iterations–but if JMG and Sara had not come along, the AODA would have ceased to exist. Sara continued to manage the order’s finances and then moved into the role of Archdruid, eventually taking over all secretarial duties for 5 years. While JMG was the visible head that everyone knew–publishing the Druidry Handbook, recruiting members, working on the order’s rituals, and so forth–Sara as the Archdruid of Water was the backbone of the order, particularly between 2010 – 2015. She meticulously kept the order’s books and records, processed memberships, provided support and mentoring, managed our membership communications, and oversaw the moderation of our online spaces. During that time, she became the founding preceptor of the Gnostic Celtic Church and also created Three Rowans Grove, a grove for mentoring apprentices in AODA. She also published her adept project, Pagan Prayer Beads in 2007 under the pen name Claire Vaughn. (Most of this you can read about in more detail from their interviews in Trilithon vol III here)

One of Sara’s Archdruid Photos from the old AODA website

I joined AODA in early 2007–according to AODA’s member database, I was the 151st member of AODA in its current iteration. I had a series of life events that led me to need to find a spiritual path; I had found AODA’s website through a web search, I liked their open philosophy and flexible spiritual path, and decided to become a member. From my very first interaction with AODA, Sara was always there, patiently dealing with my often basic questions and supporting my spiritual development. In those early days, we had a Yahoo group where many interactions happened (AODA still has a full archive of that Yahoo group, but we had to eventually move away from it in about 2016 as Yahoo was phasing those groups out).

After about 5 or so years of online interaction and me progressing through AODA’s first two degrees, I had the pleasure of meeting both JMG and Sara at the 2012 OBOD East Coast Gathering. By then, we were all familiar with each other from our interactions in AODA, but meeting them was great and we all really connected. They had moved to Cumberland, and my family was in Western Pennsylvania so we began conversing regularly and I arranged to visit them during the holidays. It was a wonderful visit and that started a wonderful friendship. Both JMG and Sara taught me so much–they were fun and quirky, hilarious and yet very tough, always encouraging me to read new books, take up new courses of study, and grow in new ways. We would go eat Chinese food, Sara would play one of her instruments, and I’d take them to some fun places. Sara immediately recognized some of the rather difficult spiritual work I was doing (which directly ties to all of my land healing work) and took me under her wing as a student. And let me tell you, nothing got by Sara. She called me out more than once and put me firmly back in the right direction if I started going astray. She provided energetic support when I needed it, and always offered her love and friendship. In many ways, Sara and I did a lot of parallel work, and she was the first person I would share things with, and she always knew what to do when I encountered challenges. Through both JMG and Sara, I received a first-rate occult and druid education.

About a year or so after I began spending a lot of time with the Greers, I had a major fallout with my in-person druid community. I was deeply hurt by the situation, and I was thinking that I was going to quit druidry altogether. John and Sara were there to pick up the pieces and support me during what was one of the more difficult times in my life. They assured me that I was needed and wanted. Sara sat with me, listening to everything that happened, just holding space for me while I cried and shared. They encouraged me to deepen my volunteering with AODA, which was just what I needed to bounce back from what had happened. I began serving as Chief Editor of Triilthon and then after that, I stepped into the position of Grand Pendragon to serve as Chief Editor overseeing all of AODA’s publications (this is a role I still hold for AODA, along with my duties as Grand Archdruid).

As these years passed, Sara’s health continued to decline. In all of my interactions with Sara, I was struck by how incredibly tough she was. She had major, debilitating health conditions that progressively got worse. Knowing her these many years, but only visiting a few times a year, I saw her health continue to worsen with many of my visits. She kept a very positive attitude about it and continued to do everything she could while she was able to do so. However, it became clear that her health was not allowing her to do everything she used to do, including her work with AODA. AODA was also growing and growing–by 2015, thanks to the success of JMG’s Druidy Handbook and Archdruid Report blog as well as Sara’s continual efforts of keeping the order going, we had about 800 members with more new members signing up each month. Through all of this, Sara gave AODA everything she had to give.

A photo from one of my many visits to JMG and Sara in Cumberland
A photo from one of my many visits to JMG and Sara in Cumberland

Thus, in early 2015, JMG and Sara shared their intentions to step down from AODA and invited me into the Archdruid of Air role, taking over many of the day-to-day operations of AODA from Sara. I was actually pretty surprised they asked. See, I hadn’t planned on being a leader in druid order. I had a demanding career, and I never really saw myself in a role other than being Chief Editor of AODA’s publications, a role to which my professional skillset is particularly well suited. Both JMG and Sara saw more in me and knew I could bring a different kind of energy to AODA, to nurture the order through the next phase of its growth. They were very open to me saying no, but I sat with it for about a month, and then I said yes. On my drive down to Cumberland to receive my Archdruid initiation and do the transfer of duties, I saw a triple rainbow in the sky overlooking valleys in Bedford County, PA. It was a good omen.

When I took over Sara’s AODA duties, I finally understood how incredibly much Sara did in running the order on a daily basis. She was a one-woman powerhouse: as the preceptor of the Gnostic Celtic Church, she supported the spiritual formation of our clergy; as the bookkeeper, she kept meticulous records of our finances and kept our legal non-profit paperwork in order; as the Order’s secretary, she handled all correspondence and membership mailing; as an Archdruid, she moderated our spaces and she led Three Rowans Grove with Lexie Devine to support the development of Apprentices…the list goes on and on. And then she started doing the same work for the Druidical Order of the Golden Dawn, which they founded after JMG released The Celtic Golden Dawn in 2013. She also did similar work for some time for other magical groups and traditions supported by John Gilbert.  In all of this, I don’t really think that Sara was well-recognized for this work, and I don’t necessarily think she wanted to be. Her druid name was “Oakmouse” which was very fitting–just keeping everything going in the background, supporting all of us, keeping things going. And so, with me stepping in to serve as an Archdruid, Sara and John Michael both retired from AODA in 2015, giving Sara time to explore other areas of her creative and spiritual practices.

Beyond druidry, occultism, art history, music, and many other areas, Sara was an outstanding herbalist. She taught me a good deal about what I’d call a druid’s practical herbalism–herbalism that gets the job done, herbalism that is connected intimately with the plants where one lives, herbalism focused on making simple medicines that are extremely effective for everyday problems, and, of course, herbalism connected to spirit. She and JMG also taught me about Cell Salts and more energetic medicines. She was committed to learning the medicines in her yard, the ones that put themselves in her path–I remember such a discussion about the common fleabane (Erigeron philadelphicus) which got her attention because it was growing on the paths in her garden, touching her legs as she passed. That’s how Sara was–Fleabane was speaking, and she was listening. She was always listening–to spirits, to plants, to everything. The art of listening on multiple levels is one of the things she taught me, and it is wisdom for which I am most grateful.

Sara taught me how to make soaps, and when she no longer had the energy to make her own soaps, she passed all of her soapmaking tools onto me. That was the way of it, all too often. She kept teaching me and then passing things on to me as her health continued to decline. She passed on her duties to me in AODA. She passed on many critical spirit teachings that formed the cornerstone of my practice. She passed on her spiritual tools when she could no longer do certain kinds of work. I was grateful but sad to receive these tools, and I cherish and use everything she has given me.

Sometimes it was hard to accept her gifts because those gifts often came with her own practical acceptance that her body was yet again limiting her in new ways. I knew it was important for her to pass those gifts to me, and I continue to do my best to honor all of her gifts, in whatever form. But it was hard to see how often it happened, because every time it did, it likely meant that there was something else she had to set aside or shift due to declining health. It became very clear to me that she was passing more than physical things on, in her own quiet way, she was passing on her legacy. But also, once she was able to pass these things on, she was able to grieve and let go, freeing up that energy and creating some space. This allowed her to have the opportunity to take up some new things, at least for a time, until her health declined yet again. She had such a resilient spirit. She had acceptance and peace about where she was and her physical limitations. She did not fret over it, she just dealt with the situation and worked to make the very best of it.

One of my favorite things she ever gave me was an Apothecary Rose (Rosa gallica) plant. First of all, Sara didn’t have any showy modern roses in her garden–no, she had the most magical and medicinal rose in history. Rosa Gallica is one of the first cultivated rose species–used extensively by the Ancient Greeks and Romans, and for millennia, considered to be the finest medicinal rose in the world. Apothecary Rose is wonderfully fragrant and yet very straightforward–no ornate or showy spirals, just a row or two of bright pink petals. And yet, this very straightforward and practical rose makes the best rose water, the best rose oil, and the best rose tea. Sara’s Apothecary Rose took up a full third of the back wall of the Greer’s garden: with wicked thorns and simple pink flowers, the rose bush stretched further and further each year. When Sara and JMG were getting ready to move to Rhode Island, Sara gave me part of that rose plant for our garden. The Rose plant took root in our herb garden here at the homestead, and now Rose takes up a full third of a large bed–with the same wild display and potent magical energy that Rose had at the Greer’s. As Sara’s Apothecary Rose has quickly spread, I have dug up many of the spreading canes and shared this rose plant with other friends and herbalists–now Sara’s rose is growing in many gardens.

A photo I took last year of herb harvesting in the garden–there are the beautiful apothecary rose petals from Sara’s rose.

Sara was a lot like that rose. Tough and uncompromising, even prickly at times, and yet incredibly nurturing, supportive, and kind. Sara’s teachings and influence spread a lot like the rose plant–now growing in many people’s gardens, continuing to share good medicine. I am so grateful to have known Sara, have been mentored by her, and have the privilege of sharing some of her legacy.

I’ll end this post by sharing an excerpt from my interview with Sara I did for the 2016 edition of AODA’s Trilithon, which you can read in its entirety here (link to PDF, starting on page 19). I think this is an excellent example of Sara’s wisdom of the druid tradition and her insights into connecting with nature.

Dana: Do you have any parting wisdom to share with members of the Order?

Sara: One of the most common misconceptions I encountered as an Archdruid was the idea that to be a Druid, you have to “go back to nature”, and going back to nature involves having to go buy a farm in the country and grow all your own food and live off the grid. Baloney! One of my favorite pieces of wisdom with regard to going back to nature was a quote from the inimitable Orion Foxwood, who at a Pantheacon lecture said something along the lines of “When somebody tells me they’re gonna go back to nature, my response is ‘Honey, who told y’all could leave?!?’” We are part of nature. We are natural beings. We are part of the living world. Everything we do connects to nature one way or another. People talk about buildings as being “unnatural.” Well, there are lots of animals in nature that build structures. Termites come to mind, and lyre birds who build these elaborate grass nests, and there are various other kinds of creatures, prairie dogs and beavers and what have you.

Another thing that I experienced at Pantheacon with R.J. Stewart was when he was giving a lecture and he talked about how people talk about how it’s terrible and unnatural for pagans to gather in a hotel. His response was, approximately, “Where you do think the materials that this hotel was built out of came from? They came from the Earth. Yes, they have been changed, some of them beyond recognition, but they came from the Earth. Let’s start this event today by reminding this building that it is of the Earth, and reminding ourselves that this building is of the Earth. We are not apart from nature just because we are sitting inside a building.” And that’s very important.

It’s also very important to remember that your backyard, and the sky over your house or apartment, and the birds that sit on your windowsill, and the opossums that rummage through your garbage are all part of nature. You’re not away from nature anywhere, ever on the face of this Earth. And I think one of the reasons why so many cities are so ugly and dirty and blighted is because people don’t remember that it’s part of nature, and they don’t care about it, and they don’t try to take care of it. So, remember that nature is everywhere, everything, and don’t create the false dichotomy of what is nature and what is not nature.

You can be a Druid anywhere. You can be a Druid in a one-bedroom apartment in the middle of Manhattan, you can be a Druid in the middle of the Sonoran desert, you can be a Druid on top of Glastonbury Tor, you can be a Druid sitting down in a sushi restaurant in Tokyo – you can be a Druid anywhere because nature is everywhere.

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. Beautiful insightful offering to your friend and mentor. Sorry for you loss, though so good hear of your kinship and shared knowing.

    1. Hello Susan, thank you so much for sharing and reading.

  2. just wanted to wish you healing. she sounds like a wonderful person and an amazing teacher. <3

    1. Thank you Chris. Time will heal, and in the meantime, I better spread some more roses and healing :).

  3. Thank you for this beautiful tribute!

    1. Thank you, Pat! 🙂

  4. Dana, thank you for this beautiful post. You are so lucky to have such a wise and generous sister in spirit. I’m very touched by your story with the sharing and replanting of Sarah’s apothecary rose. I’m eager to read the extended interview and so glad to learn more about this extraordinary woman.

    1. Hi Carin, yes, I feel extremely blessed to have had such a wonderful person in my life for so long. Thank you :).

  5. Bonnie Custer Driscoll

    Beautiful heartfelt memories. I am glad I got to meet Sarah and John.. thank you for honoring her wisdom and legacy.

    1. I’m glad you got to meet them too, Mom :). Thanks for reading and sharing.

  6. Beautiful words and memories

  7. This was so beautiful, Dana, and her passing really made me think. I read JMG’s obituary earlier last week and thought that was beautiful too. But her passing has compelled me to join the AODA. I am 70 years old and I realize that our time on this Earth is short.
    Thank you, Dana, for all that you do. I I would say “my check is in the mail”, but I just PayPaled to the AODA!

    1. Hi Heather, so glad you are joining us in AODA! Sara was an extraordinary person and I’m glad that both JMG and I got to share a bit about her. We will be honored to have you in the Order! 🙂

      1. Thank you, Dana.

  8. What a beautiful tribute.

    Much gratitude to Sara for a life well lived, and for ensuring that these teachings were not lost and were carried on.

  9. Very lovely and heartfelt tribute Dana. Thank you for sharing it.

  10. Lovely and so true. Thank you for posting about Sara’s translation into the absolute elsewhere and the link to JMG’s site, which I’ve rejoined.

    1. Hi Joanna, glad you are reconnected with JMG’s site :). Thank you!

  11. Hi Dana,
    Sara was my first mentor when i joined the AODA. She was wise and kind and wrote me long letters that put my feet on a good path. I am so happy you are tending her rose and propagating it.

    1. Hi Maxine,
      It is nice to hear from you–I was just wondering how you were doing. She did always write the most beautiful letters :). I hope you are doing well!

  12. I feel as if I’ve had the honor to sit with Sara and share a cup of tea and some conversation despite never having had the privilege. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  13. That is a beautiful tribute to a friend. I will have to keep those roses in mind for our garden. Sara must have been special. I only wish I could have met her. My sympathies on your loss.

  14. this is lovely thank you for sharing her memory.

    1. Hi Hawk, thank you and blessings.

  15. I am sorry to hear of Sara’s passing–I just learned of it through the equinox newsletter from the Order. We did not have an easy relationship, but I will definitely keep her in my prayers.

    1. Thank you, Merri-Todd. And blessings to you! 🙂

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