Druidry in bad weather

It’s damp out there, and frequently cold. The place I’ve been visiting regularly in the summer is on top of a hill, and windswept. I was up there a few weeks ago, and it was simply too cold and inhospitable to stop for more than a few minutes. I have yet to find a more sheltered place that feels right and would be big enough to take a group.

I’ve been doing winter rituals for years now, working outside in all weathers. The thing about ‘all weathers’ though is that there’s a world of difference between a sheltered spot in a wood, and a totally exposed hilltop. There’s also a lot of difference between working miles from anywhere, and being close to a tea shop and toilet. If it’s cold and wet out there, your wild and edgy Druidry becomes a good deal more viable if you have a nice, warm pub or café to fall back to afterwards.

During most of my life, I’ve lived in sensible places. This meant that going out and getting wet and cold in the name of nature religion was wholly available to me. I could very easily come back to get warm and dry afterwards. During the boat period, getting wet things dry was a big practical issue. Coming back to a cold boat with no fire lit was miserable, and untended fires can and do go out. Doing the whole freezing your arse off to celebrate nature, works a lot better when you have a lot of warm, dry civilization to rely on afterwards. It also makes more sense when that cold, wet immediacy of the season isn’t a regular feature of your life. When connecting to the wheel of the year is a big part of how you get around, you don’t feel the same draw to go out there and make a fuss about it at this time of year.

This has left me repeatedly wondering what our ancient ancestors got up to. The warm weather rituals, Beltain through to Lugnasadh, are attractive and lend themselves to being outside. This time of year, too much outside can kill you. Life would have required our ancient ancestors to do a fair bit of the going out as part of normal existence. They had skins and woollen clothes, not waterproof coats. Once those are saturated, they take some drying, and the ancients did not have airing cupboards. Wet clothing must have been an on-going difficulty at this time of year. Staying as warm and dry as possible, would have mattered.

Of course if you’re celebrating in groves of trees, you will be a lot more sheltered, and that does make a difference. Even so, I don’t think the ancient Druids would have been out in the dark in snowstorms doing their thing. Well, only the mad ones with a death wish.

Both the need, and the feasibility of working outside in the depths of winter, are a direct consequence of modern lifestyles. We can easily get warm and dry, and deal with our clothes, and we all have other clothes to change into at need. We don’t get outside as much, even when the weather is good. And thus it does make a degree of sense to take your modern Druids outside and get them cold and damp to honour the winter, now and then. I suspect our ancestors would have been as bemused by the need, as they would have been startled by the things that make it feasible.

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About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, wife to the most amazing artist -Tom Brown. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. View all posts by Nimue Brown

9 responses to “Druidry in bad weather

  • greycatsidhe

    Great post and I’m finding I agree more and more, especially with your connection to our need to be outside and our modern conveniences. There’s also the continued folk traditions of Imbolc which take place indoors. Who really knows what the Druids would have done around that time of year, but I suspect people would have stayed closer to home, if not in the home.

    With regards to modern Druids, I used to turn my nose up at “fair weather Pagans.” Now I have a baby and, in striving to create a family-friendly community, I see how difficult or inconvenient being outside no matter what can be. Not to mention, I have some grove members with medical problems so too much exposure is not a good thing.

    • Nimue Brown

      It’s not too tricky when they’re small enough to strap to your body, if they are quiet… but toddlers and rituals are a whole other adventure! With the right spaces, and places to retreat to, being out more is fairly viable, but it is indeed a good deal more complex when there are small people in the mix.

  • Sylvia Pearson

    Love this rumination, one I have looked at from many angles(sic) I have been told that the weather back then was more like the south of France. Also I think furs were worn skin out wards so wouldn’t absorb moisture. Apparently the invention of the needle made a great difference to the draughty aspect. Likewise wool didn’t have all it’s lanoline washed out. For me it’s getting out in the first place from the blissful dry, presumably they also had a big fire? We can do what we want, deck the halls ect.

  • Ziixxxitria

    There are a few moments I remember really feeling fulfilled and close to nature, even before I began learning about Druidry. Two of the most memorable happened in rainy weather. I suppose for reference I should mention that I’m studying ecology at a university. I also have to drive several hours to see any snow around here, so our winters are just full of rain.

    The first is volunteering with a couple other people to put up some wood duck nest boxes on a refuge. Midway through the Saturday morning, it came pouring down rain. We were soaked after fifteen minutes, and still had four hours of work to do. We hiked through thick riparian brush to find the exact spots on trees that we thought a mother wood duck might think suitable. It was damp and sticky work; all sorts of things were tangled in my hair. On the very last box I was getting too cold and had to huddle in the car up on the levee road so as to avoid hypothermia (not very proud of that, but safety is paramount in field work). We put up five (just five!) boxes that morning, and I fondly regard it as a great experience.

    There’s something different about picking through trees, trying to look at the landscape alternately through the eyes of a duck and an opportunistic predator (here, mostly a nosy raccoon). It isn’t quite the same as hiking to look at pretty scenery. There wasn’t a path off the road, but there were all sorts of runways for small animals and trails used by larger ones. The rain wasn’t all that enjoyable or miserable either, it was mostly bracing. When we were working hard to lift the box and hammer it into a tree, it was actually pretty refreshing.

    The second experience was more recent. I was on a field trip for my freshwater ecology course where we drove up into the Sierra mountains to take some invertebrate samples and measure the river. It was achingly hard work, hiking to different streams, wading into the water, using nets and depth meters and such. It was stunning in the mountains. This was an area that people sometimes came to fish, but wasn’t used for camping or much else, so everything was very natural. It was great!

    However, about two-thirds in, the rain that had been threatening finally came pouring in. I can’t describe adequately how amazing it felt to be doing my work while soaking wet. It was very satisfying. I was already enjoying the experience, but the rain added a little extra difficulty, and really got me to feel alive. I can’t do it justice, but it is one of the main reasons I choose the career path I do. I love nature not just in the pretty Autumn leaves and Spring flowers, but in all the messy, cold, ugly, mucky, nastiness too.

    I would heavily recommend that everyone take a walk in the rain sometime, and see the natural world in a different light. When it’s stormy or just cold and windy or whatever, you can’t help but be pulled into it. You can’t tune it out, because it’s seeping into your clothes and skin and hair.

    • Nimue Brown

      Thank you for sharing those stories. Last winter was incredibly wet here, such that cycling on the school run left me soaked to the skin on a daily basis (the child had a more substantial coat, and only one way to go each time, he mostly stayed dry). I agree in small doses, the exhilaration of the rain is incredible, but after weeks of getting cold and wet on a daily basis, the mental and physical exhaustion was like nothing else I had ever experienced.

  • kelitomlin

    The tendency to equate ‘real’ ritual and celebration of the Wheel with being outdoors is something I was surrounded by in my early years in the pagan community. A group I worked with for a while would determinedly celebrate outdoors whatever the weather and I clearly remember a Midwinter ritual in which most of our energy was focused on keeping ourselves warm, our fingers attached and slogging through, as opposed to any real awareness or appreciation of the season.

    Those times were often filled with a sense of camaraderie and laughter and community, but I never quite escaped the frustration that I was too affected by the weather to think of anything beyond my immediate physical state. Perhaps that is the beauty of bad weather work; that it forces us to recognise the power that the forces of nature hold over us in the moment?

    I often think of the ancestors approach to the weather etc being far more responsive and pragmatic than ours – because, as you said, they could not shake off its affects so easily! – so perhaps there is hope for the fair-weather follower yet. ;)

    • Nimue Brown

      Nothing makes the advantages of modernity obvious like freezing your bottom off in a field! I think there is a real value to doing that, because we don’t have it in our regular lives. But no, conventionally deep spiritual or magical work just isn’t available when you’re trying to stop your feet going numb.

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