Connecting with nature

For many people who come to Paganism as adults, connecting with nature is very much part of the point, and also a key part of the work to be done. If you’ve woken up from insulated, urban living and realised you do not have any familiarity with the seasons, the agricultural year or what the trees are doing, that re-connecting can be the essence of Paganism. The Wheel of the Year festivals become important markers as you learn your way around the seasons, and may be the one reliable time you get out ‘into nature’ to experience it firsthand.

Having spent a while running assorted gatherings, I’ve seen a lot of this. People for whom time under trees was not normal. People whose lives had not allowed them to spend time wandering in urban parks getting to know the songbirds. Folk for whom the agricultural year was an arcane mystery, needing considerable grappling to get to grips with. We are, as a culture, sorely disconnected from the soil, from food production and from the natural world. Only on the occasion of severe weather do we reliably notice what’s going on out there.

As you get to grips with the basics, you start realising how much more there is to know. Specialism starts to develop, moving into tree lore or herb lore, perhaps, getting to know the exact habits of a certain river, exploring the creatures that live in a valley, learning the paths of a wood. We start to see the trees as individuals, small birds become species, genders, and distinct from each other. Generic leafy things become medicines, poisons and snacks.

This kind of work can keep you occupied for years. There is so much cerebral work to do, so much to learn that you can study for the rest of your life and never run short of new things to find out about. Learning about nature, so as to engage with it deeply and work with it harmoniously, are undoubtedly key parts of what Druidry means for a great many people. It is possible to overthink, though. To become unable to see the harmonious beauty of the wood because you are too busy making a note of individual species and their properties.

Not all learning happens in the head. Our current education system focuses on abstract thought as the pinnacle of human achievement, and it encourages us to understand learning as a mind process. Learning is being able to take things apart and name the bits in this system. It is all about function and utility and being able to say why, how, and what. Sometimes also who and when, depending on subject. There are other kinds of learning that we do not have a language for. It is not head learning, it does not lead to some intellectual revelation. It is the knowledge in the body that comes from sitting on a hill all night, or swimming in the sea. It is knowing what it feels like to hear a blackbird singing at twilight, and all that other emotional and sensory knowledge that comes to us simply by being and doing. The knowledge of being alive and present. It may, or may not teach you how to do stuff. There may or may not be philosophical aspects to it. I suspect it doesn’t matter.

I think we need both. We need the intellectual learning that brings us into rational relationship with the natural world. We need the experiential learning that brings us into emotional relationship with the natural world, and often the two go together very well. Do the book study to the exclusion of personal engagement, and you’ll know a lot, but it might not mean much to you. Focus on the purely experiential and you’ll have limited scope to express it, and you may miss connections and insights because you don’t know what you’re seeing.

As an example, I saw swans in flight on Christmas morning. They were lovely. Had I not known that the timing and the wind direction meant they must have been winter migrants, I would have missed the wonder of their flying thousands of miles to be there, and the emotive impact of realising that I was seeing them at the end of their long journey. Up until then, the migration had been more of a book-knowledge for me, I’d never seen a swan doing it, and therefore did not know how beautiful it is to see one ending its journey as the day begins.

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

5 responses to “Connecting with nature

  • locksley2010

    Wonderful, inspirational and true.

  • Neal Pepperell

    I always love reading your words Nimue.

  • ohnwentsya

    Reblogged this on Spirit In Action and commented:
    Thank you for posting this!
     I always felt like paganism was a way to (finally!!) connect a little with humans. Because they were venturing a little ways into my world, and no longer seemed like complete and total aliens to me.  

    Everyone is a unique being formed by their own unique genetic inheritance and individual experience but it seems to me that Aspie’s are even more completely their own unique world than neurotypical individuals who seem much more able to connect and clump like blood cells into group formations. 

    I don’t know how it is for other Aspie’s but I grew up much more connected,  even embedded in nature and the wild than in any human culture or society.   

    Science tho it can certainly be useful, has often worked from a lamentable tendency to isolate things, to create boxes, niches, categories and hierarchies rather than understanding a being -whether mouse, muon or mountain-it is content to label and categorize. 

    The dense information our human senses receive as functional cells in the body of Gaia is so concentrated our language and categories are simply unable to dissect and contain it all so the non-rational,  intuitive,  flowing side of the brain is in charge of this constantly updating avalanche of data. 

    Even tho I exceeded Shakespeare’s vocabulary before I left elementary school, I’ve always found language inadequate.  I live in that other realm where the song of the wind and the sea, the stories told by the rustling of birds wings, the cracking of ice and the dance of sunlight through trees are an endless untranslatable conversation. 

    As a child my closest friends were more likely to be made of wind or bark and leaves, more likely to be covered in fur, feathers or scales than denim, cotton and polyester. 

    I grew ever more bewildered by humans as I discovered that most of them not only took little notice of the cacophony of life all around them but they did not *feel* the life in all things and so did not respect it.

    To most the lives around them weren’t “real” so trampling a flower, killing a tree in their yard, clearcutting a forest,  “euthanizing” ten thousand “unwanted” cats and dogs or factory farms torturing millions of chickens, pigs and cows were all the same unremarkable everyday life. 

    I began to feel very much like a person who wakes up in a nightmare.  

    To the majority winds, lightning, forests, storms,  wildlife,  *nature* were not amazing,  beautiful friends but unknown,  out of control and frightening. 

    And people wonder why many autistic children don’t talk (who later prove they can). If you woke up in a dream full of half alive, murderous, apparently crazy people what would you do?!

    So when I encountered pagans and decolonized  ndns outside of my family I was, I think understandably,  amazed and grateful. 

    They, born into zombie culture,  wanted to be fully alive. They felt the life around them and were reaching for understanding and connection with it.

    Learning nature on all levels imho is an essential part of being alive. Even Anastasia who has a highly Christianized worldview spends large portions of the Ringing Cedars series explaining how to reconnect with the land and living beings all around us. 

    I believe colonization is heavily rooted in trauma-in using trauma to program and control people and the root trauma it began with was the deadening of our inborn,  inherent connection to all life and to the land of which we are each a living part.

    Separation from ourselves,  our ancestors and the land was no accident and neither was the loathsome Cartesian duality that tells us we must approach all learning from a position of separation,  categorization and hierarchy. 

    It is all simply a way to cripple and control. 

    I have not had the pleasure of meeting many druids in person, and only a few online. But the author of this blog consistently exhibits a quality I have long associated with the master druids-teachers like Ross Nichols. 

    Her writing is deceptively simple and straightforward. She appears to be stating her observations, describing her experience but the words contain a spiral structure of layered ideas that inspire thought, contemplation and understanding long after you finish reading the relatively brief essay/post.

    I am delighted by her ability to inspire. I try to type a brief intro to reblog her ideas and end up with a whole post of my own.(I usually don’t feel well enough to write posts so mostly reblog interesting things I hope others will see)

    With apologies to Nimue for rambling on-here’s her post:-)

  • lornasmithers

    The intertwining of intellectual and experiential- the way learning facts and lore of trees, plants, wildlife etc. intertwines with and deepens the experience and vice versa is one of the things I really like about Druidry.

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