Intuitive, Spontaneous, and Co-Created Rituals in Nature

Monarda

Last week, I went up the mountain to do some deep land healing. A year had passed since the last time I had gone to this spot for healing, and as per the will of the spirits, I hadn’t returned until that day.  While the last time I was there there was a very specific ritual plan (enacted by myself and a friend) for healing the mountain, this year, I had no plan.  Using my intuition, I packed up some tools.  Going up the mountain, finding my ritual spot from a year ago, and being present there was a very magical experience.  I did another very serious and meaningful ceremony for the mountain.  When I got up there, I realized two things: 1) I was not the main ritualist, but rather a support role for the work of the spirits, and 2) this was a very powerful ritual experience that I could not have planned.  I went back down the mountain and will once again return in a year’s time.  What will next year bring? Who knows!  But mountain magic works on a very slow timescale, so I could be going back for more intuitive rituals for many years to come. In a second example, just this morning I was out in an area doing some gardening and planting.  This was an area of our land that the power company recently came through with their chainsaws.  I had the intuition to grab my flute, and once I was done planting, I picked up my flute, did my sphere of protection, and then played to the land, channeling healing and blessing. This was not planned, it simply felt like the right thing to do!

As these two examples share, one of the things that I’ve been really leaning into in the last few years is a shift from doing very planned, scripted rituals into more spontaneous rituals and ceremonies.  I wanted to write about these today–the philosophy of them and how to do them.  I think that these are especially useful in certain situations including land healing work, blessings for self and others and honoring the spirits of the land.

The Origins of the Structure of Rituals

Nature shrine!

In many neopagan traditions, Druidry being no exception, we have a legacy that comes to us from the Western Occult traditions. Many of these traditions are founded in the magical lodge traditions and in ceremonial magic.  These are very scripted, direct, and precise.  It makes sense–if you are going to put a big group of people together in a room, someone needs a plan.  If you are going to work with powerful entities (which is a lot of what the early ceremonial magical texts sought to do), you better do it in an exacting way.  Many modern neopagan traditions more broadly are inspired by Golden Dawn, which is again, lodge style with very intricately scripted rituals.  These are fantastic, they work, and they are very powerful.  But this was not obviously the only magic being done–it was just what was written down.  And so much of it comes from Masonry, which is not open to my gender.  In some ways, I always wonder how much “ownership” I really have of this tradition, if its very origins and some of its deeper mysteries are not open to me.

I also think back to some of what my grandmother taught me when I was a small child.  She was PA Dutch, and she worked a variety of healing magic in her garden–singing as she harvested or tended the veggies, working wonders in her kitchen, finding shiny pennies (face up only!), and sliding them under the stoop with a quick prayer.  She had to be quiet, as many women were.  I wonder how many of these more intuitive, nature-based rituals weren’t written down, but were passed, just as my grandmother quietly passed them to me.  These were not written down, they did not have fancy lodges, and yet, they also worked.  I also know that while my grandmother was doing her unscripted small moments of ceremony, she was in tune with the plants in her garden and the veggies in her cookpot!

I like to think that based on this dual, I have room in my life for both kinds of rituals and traditions–there is a place for my scripted, very specific ceremonial structures rooted in the traditional approaches, and that’s a big part of the legacy of revival druidry that I practice.  These are especially good if I’m engaged in work within a specific tradition, for groups of people, or for enacting new studies. But there’s also a lot of room for the more intuitive, non-scripted kinds of practices, the kinds my grandmother showed me in her garden. It is this second kind of practice that I turn to, today.

Co-Creating Rituals with Nature

As an animist, I have become particularly interested in exploring how to effectively co-construct rituals with the spirits of nature.  This is true both in setting the goals and intentions for such ceremonies, but also in conducting the actual ritual practices.  As described in my opening mountain ceremony, for example, is that I’m not the only person but am working with a team of spirits (trees, plants, guides, genus loci, spirits of mountains, diety, and so forth) that are working together. The spirits on my ritual team may have a clearer sense of what needs to happen than I do. Or my intuition and subconscious may have a better idea than my conscious mind.  Regardless, I have been doing this long enough that I know that I need to listen and pay attention to the voices of the spirits, my subconscious, and the living earth.

So how does one go about co-creating rituals with nature? In some ways, it is incredibly simple.  Go out in the land with an open heart and an open spirit–just create the time and space. Listen to the voices of nature, and do the ceremonies and practices that they suggest–this may mean leaving an offering for trees, gathering healing waters, creating mandalas, drumming as the sun rises, you name it.  While this description might be enough for experienced ritualists, it is likely not enough for those newer to the path or who are less experienced in intuitive approaches. So let me break it down a bit further:

Protection

Readers of my blog know that I’m a big advocate for daily and personal protection. Intuitive rituals bring a level of risk in that you don’t know what the plan is in advance–so protection is a very good first step.  I have written extensively about protection in the linked post above.  What protection does is allow us to do is know we protected when we engage in this work. This keeps any masquerading or malicious spirits from us, so that we work with the spirits of nature who have our best intentions in mind.

An Open Heart and Spirit

Catnip from the Plant Spirit Oracle -- connecting to spirit
Catnip from the Plant Spirit Oracle — connecting to spirit

A core requirement for this kind of work is being open to the voices of the spirits and the living earth.  Various methods of spirit communication are critical here–use your body-based intuition, your divination tools, and your direct spirit communication approaches. These take a lot of time to develop so if you are newer on this path, it’s ok to practice! But spirit communication is one of the ancestral human gifts that all of us can use with time and practice.

In terms of intentions, sometimes you may have a general intention of the work you need to do (e.g. mountain healing) while other times you might be wide open.  I like to do a mix of both–sometimes I have a specific intention for something I want to do or feel led to do. But sometimes, I just got out on my land or into the broader landscape to which I belong and I’m like, “I’m here, spirits! What do you need from me today!” and see what happens.

Communicate with the spirits as you work, hearing their voices, listening to their wisdom, seeing what they need.

Knowledge and Skills

A lot of co-constructed rituals for me involve using the materials right there on the land rather than bringing a lot of extra stuff.  E.g. if I want elemental representations, I just find a spot on the land that offers those or observe those in nature.  If I need an herb for a specific purpose, there are always plants and trees that may be willing to lend a bit of what I need. There is a joy in simply working with what is already present!

But sometimes, I enjoy having my tools with me and they can enrich a ceremony, and in that case, I also turn to the Crane Bag.

A Crane Bag & Tools

A crane bag is a magical bag where you can put your tools and treasures, and I see the crane bag as a primary working tool for nature-based spiritual practices. I have two crane bags at present–a working land healer’s crane bag, which is the more practical of the two. It has basic ceremonial supplies (healing water, smoke clearing sticks, offering herbs, and a small flute) and also a lot of seeds, nuts, a knife, pruners, a hori-hori (a Japanese gardening tool with a saw, knife, and digger all in one), bags for collecting things, seed balls, fire starting tools, and a notebook. A lot of the tools above are also useful for bushcraft and wildcrafting–a knife may be the only thing I need to procure ritual tools on the land.

I also have a more formal ritual crane bag that contains a complete set of ritual tools to set up a full druid’s altar in the AODA or OBOD tradition: a sickle, altar cloth, elemental bowls and representations, incense, various statuary, divination tools (ogham, tarot, oracles), a rattle, fire-starting tools, colored chalks, and so forth.

If I am going to do an intuitive ritual and have that intention when I go out on the land, I also usually intuit which of these two bags to bring or bring them both.  I may also bring larger instruments, like a flute or a larger drum, something to sit on, etc.  In fact, musical instruments or your other expressive tools (body, movement, dance, etc) are really wonderful for intuitive ceremonies of all kinds.

A Set of Practices

The next piece of this, which you build slowly over time, is to have experience with various kinds of ritual practices that you can draw upon.  I describe many of these in my Land Healing book–mandalas, ogham chanting magic, drumming magic, directing energy, and so on.  Here’s a list to think about (obviously, it’s outside of the scope for me to teach each of these practices here!):

  • A way to raise energy (chanting, drumming, a movement that speeds up, etc)
  • A way to lower energy (again, chanting, drumming, movement that slows down, etc)
  • A way to clear (smoke clearing sticks, vinegar spritz, your voice, etc)
  • Offerings that can be left for the land (I use an herbal blend, but may also use music or acts of service)
  • A way to create a barrier (e.g. stones, sand, colored cornmeal; I do not use salt on the land)
  • A way to bless (elemental representations are my go-to for this, giving a four-element blessings

Notice that this list above could be brought with you or fully wildcrafted from the land or from your own body.  Learning each of these techniques and feeling confident in them then allows you to draw upon them in an intuitive way when you

A Way to Get Comfortable

In addition to everything above, I like to have some way to get comfortable when I’m doing this work. This will depend on where I am, how far I may be going, and what the weather is. Thus, I might carry my ritual sheepskin that I do all of my journeying on, or I might carry a small blanket or even a backpack chair).  I may also have fire-starting tools if it will be cold and I’d like to build a small fire or use that as a focus.

And from there..let the magic begin!

The forest path--a good place to wander!
The forest path–a good place to wander!

The rest is up to you and the spirits.  I love being open to what rituals, practices, and healings may come.  I love being open to seeing where the spirits want to go.  Here are some suggestions:

  1. Set intentions.  Intentions should be very broad at this stage, “Spirits of nature, I am here for you!  Please guide me in any work you wish to do.”
  2. Wander the land.  Just take some time to explore where you are, ideally off the pathways, and see where you are drawn.
  3. Bring joy and happiness.  Enjoy yourself as you wander, see what you find, discover, and experience.
  4. Take time for stillness and quiet.  After your wander, find a place to be still and quiet.  Allow the spirits of the land and voices of nature to speak to you, to hear what they may want.  This may also involve connecting specifically to the Genius Loci (greater land spirit or spirit of a region, of a place) to see what you can do.
  5. Do whatever ceremony you feel led to do. This may include creating mandalas, energy work, meditation, journeying, a magical forest walk, etc.
  6. Come back again if you are asked!

I am not so specific in this part because the whole point of this is to be open and intuitive.  Sometimes, I go out with the intention of doing land healing work and instead, the spirits craft a ceremony for my own healing and blessing.  Other times, I am working to support the land, and still other times both happen together!

I would love to hear from you–how have you co-created ceremonies with the land, the spirits of nature, and the Genius Loci?  What suggestions or tips do you have to 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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5 Comments

  1. Florence Priscilla Poupore

    Dana, so enjoyed this article! Stellar! I am in west Central Texas among Oaks, pecans and mesquites. Most days I visit with an ancient mesquite growing on a vortex whose roots are entwined about a Comanche grandmother, kaku. We have had an extraordinary amount of rain this spring so the broomweed is 18 inches tall making it difficult to see creatures that might be on the ground. I don’t want to manifest a barrier to snakes but stepping on one could be, and has been, detrimental to my good health. Harmony with those that sting, poke requires a different kind of honoring ritual.

    1. Hi Florence,
      Thanks for commenting! I totally agree that we have to craft special kinds of honoring rituals for those that would sting us, harm us, etc. I happen to be covered in Poison Ivy right now (my second worse experience) and the lesson from Sister Ivy is that I haven’t been paying enough attention or slowing down. So part of my current intuitive co-created ritual with her is to sit quietly and observe the green :). A powerful and yet painful lesson!

  2. This was very inspiring! I will have to look into those protection practices. I was wondering as I read your list of items for creating barriers if crushed eggshells would be a suitable option. They have that barrier energy from their role of encasing an egg and the sharp edges would only strengthen that I believe. What do you think?
    Again, thank you for sharing from all your knowledge and experience! Have a blessed day!

    1. Hi Azhyr, yes, eggshells are used as a protective barrier in some traditions! They would also return to the land and nourish the land. I would try it out and see how it works for you? As you crush them in a mortar and pestle you could also sing, chant, and put protective energy into them!

  3. I am very happy to hear that more practitioners are embracing intuitive and “on the fly” practices. I am neurodivergent and I find that trying to pre-plan elaborate rituals is a frustrating experience. I started out in Wicca and Witchcraft before discovering Druidry, but struggled with all of the specifications of the Wiccan/Witchcraft practice. If I have to wait for the right moon cycle, hour, and have all the specific materials and ingredients ready, the ritual will never happen. I also deal with some chronic pain and fatigue too and planning a ritual for a specific time is also an exercise in futility because I am never guaranteed that I will have the energy available when it comes time to do it. What I am trying to do is get together a few different sets of “crane bags” so that I have basic all purpose tools and ingredients ready when I feel the pull from Spirit to connect in. Now I just need to remember to pack them when I leave the house or remember where I put them for at home use. Hahaha!

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