Druidry with no safety net

I am aware that many people recommend having a ‘safe space’ – be that the magical grove in your head or somewhere else you can retreat to for solace, sustenance and security. I have tried it, and I can’t do it. I’ll start by saying that’s probably about me and my relationship with the universe. Safety is not something I inherently feel. I don’t seek it in my own work, because even when I’ve tried, it’s not been a workable option for me.

What I’ve sought instead, is to be able to hold my own boundaries, my own sense of self, and enough inner calm not to crack up. This is not just about dealing with inner landscapes, monsters of the astral planes or imaginary struggles. This is Druidry practiced in self defence when I find myself in difficult situations. Sometimes I do better than others, but the more time I invest in being able to hold myself still, and hold myself together, the better I’ve got at doing just that.

I will admit that in Druidry and Meditation, I was fairly critical of the sacred grove in the head visualisations. On the contemplative druidry facebook group yesterday (yes, you can ask to join) several people mentioned that their inner groves are just as real to them as outer places. I don’t dispute that – I spend much of my working life imagining places such that they become real to me. We can all make vivid and meaningful inner realities, and it is good to explore this.

However, a safe place inside the head is not like an actual grove. You will probably not find dog shit in your inner grove, or litter, or the consequences of vandalism. Real trees are brought down by storms, disease, people who own the land. Having this happen to your special place really, really hurts.

It’s very easy for the things we imagine, to be and do exactly what we want. They will be friendly, gentle, benevolent. They will affirm. They will make us feel good and happy –and these are things we all need. But at the same time, we also need challenges. The grove in your head probably won’t require you to fight tooth and nail to save it from development. And then have to deal with failing. You probably won’t find a dead and dehydrated animal in it. No one else will plant exotic flowers there in memory of a departed granddad. It belongs to you. The world we share, does not, and the world we share offers challenges.

If you can imagine a safe place, and you have a need for one, then go for it. We all have different ways of working, and different needs. But, if the sacred grove inside your head is a fantasy substitute for real life, you are doing yourself a disservice. If you never get actual mud on your actual clothes, if you never sit under real trees and listen to how they really sound… not only are you missing out, but your ability to imagine realistically will be sorely impaired. Do you know what a wood sounds like at night? Or what it’s like in heavy rain? Have you loved a tree enough to be heartbroken when someone else cut it down? Do you know what really lives in trees?

To be a Druid is to be in this world, at least some of the time. Be wary of things that take you away from real life, or that give you easy, feel good stuff of no substance. Be wary of your own romanticising tendencies, and the limitations of your knowledge. Be wary of self indulgence.

In terms of both being safe and feeling well, there is much to be said for sitting under an actual tree, breathing in the tree scent, experiencing the impact of the tree on your body. Real trees are good for you. They are remarkable life forms with an incredible degree of scope to affect your body for the good. Imagining them does not have the same effect.

On the other hand, imaginary trees will not drop branches on your head leaving you shocked and concussed. Only once, mind, but it was memorable. Trees, when you get down to it, are not wholly safe and benevolent all the time, either. Nothing is. Which is why I feel more comfortable not imagining a safety net in the first place.

About Nimue Brown

Druid, author, dreamer, folk enthusiast, parent, polyamourous animist, ant-fash, anti-capitalist, bisexual steampunk. Drinker of coffee, maker of puddings. Exploring life as a Pagan, seeking good and meaningful ways to be, struggling with mental health issues and worried about many things. View all posts by Nimue Brown

7 responses to “Druidry with no safety net

  • Alex Jones

    You raise interesting issues. I think you mentioned to me in the past you are no visual thinker, so perhaps you are unable to appreciate that with visual ability comes the ability to live inside sacred spaces.

    The ancient Celts lived always feet in both worlds. The inability of a pagan, especially Druid to comfortably move between two worlds is a distinct disadvantage.

    There are a number of sacred spots for me around Colchester, a castle, an ancient church, a palace of a Celtic king. I can be in the physical spaces, and also can use visual ability to head into a spiritual place, thus I can exist in two places at once. I can walk down Colchester High Street and be able to walk both in the modern and the ancient world, because through the study of archaeology I know what existed in a given spot and can visualise it.

    If I can lucid dream it will be another awesome addition to my technique to walk the two worlds.

  • Veronica Hammond

    I agree with what Alex says.To be unable to to comfortably move between the two worlds is a distinct disadvantage.

  • Nimue Brown

    There may be some confusion I’ve created between safe and sacred here. I perceive sacred, but I do not perceive sacred to be inherrently safe either. And yeah, in all honesty I have never done anything in meditation which I could say with certainty did not come from my own mind. I have not in any real sense walked between the worlds. Sometimes I lucid dream and sometimes my dreaming feels like a tangible other place, but the rest of the time, I see no more than glimpses of otherworlds, a fleeting sense of the numinous, a hint that there may be more. Years of sporadic questing have not brought it closer, but the sense of it is precious to me. I have no doubt that those druids who are able to step more directly and wilfully into mystery in the way you describe have a vast advantage over me. But, so be it. This is not the path I have at the moment.

  • Athelia Nihtscada Nihtscada

    I completely agree with you on this one. I have never been able to “visualize” pictures in my mind. I cannot create places in my mind where I get the full sensory experience (hearing and feeling, yes, but no sight). Therefore, I have learned that I can traverse between both worlds without having to visualize anything in my head. When I go to my favourite natural spot (Split Rock), I actually do feel the shift between this world and the next. The sounds of the cars on the freeway stops, the air smells different and people do not appear to notice me walking along the same path they are, even though I can see them. Everything feels different and very sacred. (But not always safe, which is part of the thrill for me!)

    I can go just about anywhere and feel that shift from this world to the next. I feel it when I do ritual, when I meditate and when I am contemplative. I do not need to visualize anything at all in order to do it.

    I visited Split Rock the other day for Lughnassadh. The rock is an erratic which was dropped in this valley thousands of years ago and it is split into two. It stands about 15 feet tall. When I go there, I am mindful of the fact that it is not just a place for the neighbourhood kids to play, but also has a very strong energy. In all of my lucid dreams (that’s the only time I ‘see’ anything), this has always been the gateway to the Otherworld. I prepared my mind, made my offerings, and walked through the split stone to find myself in that space where everything feels different. I walked along the paths in that valley and saw a few people walking dogs. I said Hi to all of them but no one responded and it was like they didn’t hear me. None even looked at me. (I wasn’t dressed out of the ordinary because it was a hot day in a public park) This happened about 4 times. I did my “walking ritual” for Lughnassadh, made my offerings and came back through the split stone stating that I was once again in this world. The sounds of cars returned (as well as the smell of exhaust!) and I started walking back toward my car.

    As I walked, I passed 3 people, all of whom greeted me and said hello. There is away to travel between worlds that doesn’t always require visualizing or inner groves.

    I do not have or really need a safe place, I have found. For all that is around me is sacred, challenging, a source of learning, peace, some stress and definitely meaningful! To each his own, of course. We all find the sacred in our own ways. I believe that being a Druid means being in this world, being able to traverse between worlds (or at least stand in the ‘in between’) and maintain a balance. Visiting the Otherworld is not something I do often, for one can overstay their welcome, but it is something I value and cherish when I do.

  • greycatsidhe

    Although I do have an inner grove, I find it does not replace the physical groves I love so dearly. You are right about how much it hurts to find that someone has damaged your sacred place. I told my students at our last meeting that we will not be working with Otherwordly beings right away because we need to focus on the physical realm first. If a Druid does not have a deep respect and understanding for the magic that is all around them in this world, they will not progress in their studies. Forming an inner grove can be very helpful in meditation and trance work, but it should not replace groves in this realm.

  • helgaleena

    Hooray for real trees! They are my favorite teachers.

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