Celtic Wisdoms in the Australian Landscape

Misty winter morning in the Celtic grove at Djanbung Gardens
Misty winter morning in the Celtic grove at Djanbung Gardens

The earth remembers…

echoes from the dawn of time

the earth remembers everything….

The task of the druid as a guardian of memory was to know the land…

its shape and form, its cycles and patterns

the movement of air and water

the rhythms of seasons, of sun, moon and stars

the plants, animals and all living things

the mountains and rocks and movement of soil

the crops and the crafts that support us

the process of creation, destruction and regeneration

the wheel and web of life

At the heart of paganism lies an earth-based spirituality driven by our common need to belong to the earth, to understand and work with the complexity of nature and to explore a definition of self within the context of society, the world and universe around us, that we are a part of.  This very human aspiration is universal in place and time, we find similar core values at the heart of many traditional and indigenous cultures around the world and throughout known history.

Every culture defines itself within the framework of its local ecology, climate and resource base to serve the needs of survival, which is the ultimate aim that drives all living beings. In many respects it is the diversity of nature and natural environments which has given rise to the diversity of human culture, its creative and spiritual expression. Through the symbols, myths, art, craft, song, dance and ceremonies of each unique culture one finds common threads and themes, spirals and patterns which embody information about natural phenomena and human survival as well as cosmology and our interconnection with the seen and unseen worlds.

Over the past half century, disillusion with the dominant paradigms of contemporary ‘western’ society, of mainstream and fundamental religious dogmas, of materialistic hedonism, of our separation from nature and each other, has increased. Since the 1960s the search to fill our cultural-spiritual vacuum has given rise to an unprecedented global exploration of teachings and philosophies; Indian gurus, American shamanism, Taoism, Zen and Tibetan Buddhism, Sufism, Feng Shui, Geomancy, all manner of political as well as spiritual ‘isms’, plus a plethora of ‘New Age’ myths and practices.

This journey of exploration has enriched our picture of the world and our understanding of humanity and it’s diversity and contributed to global awareness or consciousness.  For some the driving force may be an urge to reconnect with the spiritual heritage of past lives and incarnations in various cultures and time frames. This exploration into diverse philosophies and religions and increased awareness of other cultures has been paralleled with a renewed interest and revival of our ‘present life’ cultural heritage – a curiosity to know more about our own ancient or indigenous cultural heritage. The neo-pagan revival could be viewed as a part of this global and personal phenomena.

As Australian pagans with an Anglo-Celtic heritage our challenge is to translate this rich cultural and spiritual context to nature’s patterns, rhythms and cycles in a landscape, ecology and hemisphere quite foreign to that of our European ancestors. It is about reconciling our sense of self and culture together with our sense of place here in Australia.

To celebrate Beltane in May, the Aussie autumn, or Samhain in November, our springtime, has little practical meaning or nature-inspired significance for anyone living in Australia. It can be possibly justified from the perspective of acknowledging the calendar dates of Northern Hemisphere pagans but falls short of any real connection with the seasonal cycles and rhythms of nature that we live with here in the southern hemisphere. A thoughtless mimicry of Northern Hemisphere rituals runs risk of becoming a meaningless dogma and futile exercise that will fall well short of giving us any real spiritual or practical connection with the Earth, as expressed in this land and climate.

Over the past several decades I have sought to unravel the essence of my European Celtic heritage and translate it to Nature’s rhythms and patterns in the Australian landscape and climate.  As a gardener for over 30 years, permaculture teacher for nearly 30 years, and as a free spirit exploring the relationship of self to the Earth and beyond since my teens, it has been a natural progression to integrate this working knowledge of nature’s seasons and cycles within the spiritual framework of my Celtic heritage.

My parents and three of my grandparents are Australian born and I have given birth to two children in this land. I have a powerful sense of the ancient time-line of the Australian landscape, it’s guardian spirits have visited me in dreams and the aging Law-keeper of the Bundjalung has welcomed me to the country where I now live and given my place a name and totem. I feel blessed to know some of the dreamtime stories of the mountains, river and sacred sites that surround me.

This is my place, I belong to this land and landscape and welcome the seasons, the rhythm and pulse of the cyclic turning of the wheel as it brings the heat and frosts, the winds and rains, the birds and the animals and the flux of herbs, flowers and fruits throughout the year. Yet I am not an Aboriginal of this country, my ancestors came from Ireland, Wales, England and Germany, so my relationship with the land where I live and with my cultural sense of self can really only evolve as a natural integration of the two: an Anglo- Celtic Australian reconciliation.

In the 1970’s I spent nearly four years in Northern Europe, living in Bavaria, South Germany and traveling throughout Europe; England, Wales, Scandinavia, Austria, France and Spain. During this time I started to garden and spent many hours exploring forest and meadow to gather wild herbs for food and medicine and edible fungi. I met with an old traditional village ‘Krauter Frau’ (herb woman) and old farmer’s wives who freely shared their knowledge with me, a stranger and foreigner. I treasure this intimate experience of the climate, ecology and folklore of my ancestors, which enriches my understanding of the cultural spirituality and relationship to the seasons, cycles and patterns of nature embodied in the Celtic and Germanic traditions. This has provided a valuable perspective and framework for transposing some of this heritage to the southern hemisphere and the Australian landscape and climates.

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