Druids in the Redwoods

A year ago, at Midsummer, I went on a personal, spiritual retreat in the ancient redwood forests of Humboldt County, California. I went for silence, for prayer, for healing. I went to take from the forest — as so many humans regularly do. Loggers take lumber. Tourists take photos. Fishermen take salmon. Spiritual seekers take their ease.  Many of them leave trash in their wake. Few leave evidence of gratitude for the many gifts they receive from the redwood forest.

The Humboldt County Redwoods at Summer Solstice

While hiking through forest, near the Founders Grove, I passed this spot…

The Humboldt County Redwoods — A Splintered, Fallen Giant

…and was struck by a sudden vision, vivid and clear: I was to organize a gathering of Druids in the redwoods, to sing to the trees, to study the ecology, and draw attention to the beauty and power and importance of that place through various works of artistic expression. As Druids, it was our role to begin giving back. To build, and role-model an appropriate reciprocal relationship to that ancient forest, a forest that had been there, giving of itself, for more than 50 million years.

The trees even gave me a song, while I walked among them, which I transcribed upon my return: “Gifts of Awen

And so, I organized. I located a lovely little grouping of cottages at the edge of the redwood forest in which to stay, to enjoy meals, and to host a few workshops. I scouted the area for good places for ecological studies and performing rituals. And I invited Druids from far and wide to attend. I have just returned from our first official Redwoods Gathering, delighted with the entire experience, and wanting to share a bit of our journey.

Six druids (and one young druid in training) attended our inaugural Redwoods Gathering, which began on Friday morning with a guided nature walk through Founders Grove.

Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Francisco’s Guided Nature Walk

As we roamed the forest after Francisco’s talk, our group happened upon the spot where I had originally received my summoning vision. And if anyone was still wondering whether we were truly welcome to celebrate in that forest, or if anyone had a question regarding the most appropriate spot for a Midsummer ritual, the trees themselves offered up the answer — an answer discovered by Thea, as she rounded the very next bend in the path…

Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Discovering the Giant Awen
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Druids receive an invitation from the Giants.

The question remained: now that we knew where we would be celebrating, what would a wildcrafted Midsummer ritual look like? Seasons in the redwood forest are not at all like seasons in other places  on Earth. A lot happens there in autumn and winter and spring, but come summertime, not much happens except for the influx of summer visitors — both humans on summer holiday, and birds chasing the insects that come to escape the dry summer heat. So, our focus became the visitors, and how we might re-enchant the forest for those visitors, on behalf of the forest. We thought about how we might work to change the energy of a popular hiking trail, to encourage people to have more mindful connections with the forest, rather than the disrespectful, flitting, consumption-oriented attitudes typically found among modern tourists, bent on Instagramming themselves with the largest/oldest/tallest trees.

Also, since North, South, East and West have so little meaning in the middle of the redwood forest (which runs along meandering river valleys, and whose landscape varies by distance from the river’s waters and distance from the very rare canopy gaps, sliced open by falling giants), we decided to use a Land/Sea/Sky approach, with liberal application of nature connection meditations, offerings of gratitude, and songs of praise. The energetic nature of rituals is really difficult to convey in mere words, so I will simply share a few images (taken by our Dragon), while we worked our Druid magic.

Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Requesting Permission & Growing Our Roots
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Procession to Re-enchant the Trail
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Greeting & Thanking the Spirits of Place
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Singing to the Trees
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Cleaning the Forest
Redwoods Gathering 2019 – Closing Tree Meditation

Rounding out the weekend were a delightful series of shared meals, BBQs, and marshmallow roasts, games of horseshoes, swimming in the Eel River, workshops on plant communication, and ritual wildcrafting, as well as plenty of time to work on arts and crafts, and simply shoot the breeze with other Druids. Everyone had so much fun, that we decided to do it again, next year! I am already counting the days.

First Indigenous Food Harvest

Our ongoing effort to deeply connect with the land upon which we live began with our ecosystem restoration project, some years back — in which we planted several hundred tiny, one-gallon seedlings of native plants. Over the years, the plants of our Native Garden have established and grown more and more fruitful, feeding native fauna, birds, and insect life. Until now, we reserved the restored area of our property for the service of the wild animals, but finally, the bounty has become so robust, that we felt comfortable harvesting a bit of that bounty for human consumption.

Harvest Season Jamming Ritual (with Recipe):

Step into the Native Garden, saying:

“I enter the sacred grove with reverence;
I enter the sacred grove in peace.”

Walk the land, in a state of receptive meditation, greeting each of the Backyard Kindred, thus:

Hael to you, beloved Oaks,
In greying green, from summer smoke.
Hael to Sagebrush, Lilac, Sage,
All dusty, leafless, wanting rain.
Hael Toyon berries, biding time,
And Coyote Brush’s shining eyes (Aaachoo!).
Hael, blessed Manzanita grove,
Of peeling bark and rusty fruit,
I ask of you a gift of Life,
From which to craft a sweet delight.

Shapeshift into a Bewick’s wren. Using Bewick’s wren’s-eye-view, find the hidden, rust-red berries, camouflaged by rust-red bark, peeling from behind and beneath the leaves. Circle the Manzanitas thrice, picking a few berries from each bush and tree, until you have gathered one heaping cup of manzanita berries.

Return to human form.

Thank the Manzanitas for the blessing of their bounty.
Reciprocate the blessing with a prayer for early rain.

Wash the berries in water, thrice, to get out all the dust and debris.

While the water flows through the berries, meditate upon the seasonal threshold currently upon us — dry, dusty seeds in a dead, drought-deciduous world, awaiting the First Rain to wash away the grime and return the world to vibrant life.

Boil the berries in 1.5 C water, until the dry berries plump themselves up and brew a deep reddish tea. Mash up the water-plumped berries, and boil a few minutes more. Let cool. Strain through a jelly bag, to remove all solids.

Add a splash of clear apple juice, to bring the liquid up to a total of 1-1/6 C. Add 1 Tbsp. no/lo-sugar pectin, 1/8 tsp. salt, and 1/8 tsp. ascorbic acid crystals. Bring to a boil, mixing constantly, to remove all lumps.

Add 1 C sugar, and stir it in well. Continue cooking, stirring constantly, until the mixture returns to a boil. Boil and stir for three additional minutes. Remove from heat.

Pour into two clean, 1/2-pint jelly jars, cap them, and boil in a water-bath canner for 10 minutes.

Thank the Gods for the blessing of manzanita jelly.


The Result:

Two cups of Manzanita Jelly, from berries harvested off of our Arctostaphylos bushes (pictured above), a mixture of three varietals: Howard McMinn, Franciscana, and Densiflora “Sentinel”.

Taste Test:

The jelly is a delicate sweet-orange and pumpkin flavor, with hints of apple blossom.  Delightful!

Rituals for the Vernal Equinox

Here in the central Coast Range Mountains of California, where I live, the Wheel of the Year is quite different from most other places in which Druidry is typically practiced. In order for my personal practice of Druidry to authentically connect with the land, sea, and sky with which I live, it was necessary to rewrite the Wheel of the Year and develop a completely new set of seasonal rituals, which honored our local spirits of place, and the wisdom embodied by the natural seasons and cycles, found here.

The following activities are those which I perform on the day of the Vernal Equinox (or thereabouts), typically at a beautiful coastal location, where we can wade in the warmish-waters of the Pacific Ocean, and enjoy tide-pooling and a picnic on the beach, before the icy upwelling of Summer spoils all the fun.


I/We come to the Sacred Grove today, to celebrate the Vernal Equinox, a time of balance between darkness and light that is shared by all living beings on Earth. It is also a time of dramatic change in weather, all over the world. This shared experience, of perfect balance coupled with rapid change serves to unite all beings of planet Earth, despite our many differences.

Here in the Coast Range mountains of Northern California, spring is the Season of Flowers. As the sun continues its journey northward, toward its summer home, the surface waters of the ocean warm up, and the land warms up, and the green hills come alive with color, as the wildflower season reaches its peak. Skies turn sunny and clear, and blue, as the rainy season begins to fade.

At this moment in time, we in the Coast Range Mountains of California celebrate the unbridled beauty of spring, the explosion of wildflowers blooming on the hills, and the myriad trees and bushes simply dripping with flowers – promising bountiful future harvests: pink-flowering currants, blueberry and manzanita berries, plums and apples, lemon, lime, and orange blossoms, and the wild lilacs, all purple, blue, and white, buzzing with the delighted symphony of thousands of pollenating, nectar-sipping bees.

This is the time to acknowledge and celebrate the unbidden blessings that bring joy to our lives, and as is right and proper in Nature’s gift economy, to share those blessings with others who cross our paths.


Sing “Spring Has Now Unwrapped the Flowers”
(a traditional, 13th Century Beltane carol):


Weave flower garlands and crowns, and distribute them to random passers-by, spreading the unbidden blessings, and joy of the season.

Have each person in attendance describe an unbidden blessing in their life, for which they are grateful for, today.

Host a spring picnic on the beach, complete with wading, rock-scrambling, tide-pooling, and sand-castle building or beach-art activities.

And, even if (as it did this year) the beach excursion gets rained out, you can still celebrate, at home, and get outside a bit, between the raindrops, for sharing smiles…

Rewriting the Wheel of the Year

When I first began celebrating the Wheel of the Year, at Yuletide 1995, I largely followed the Celtic traditions vis-a-vis the stories told and seasonal elements that were celebrated by each holiday. At the time, I was attending graduate school in Pittsburgh, PA, where the climate and weather patterns more closely resembled those of the British Isles. Everything seemed to fit, and our celebrations looked a bit like this:


Then, after graduating, I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. Suddenly, nothing seemed to fit any more. The holidays lost their magic and meaning for me. We just did not seem to have seasons at all, let alone those of the Celtic year, and so I abandonned the holidays, entirely.

It was not until my husband and I began our ecosystem restoration project in 2004, and I started carefully tracking the local climate and weather patterns, and the changes in the local flora, that I came to realize we did have seasons. Big, blatant, vibrant seasons. But nothing in my past experience had given me the tools with which to perceive them.

Overview of the Coast Range Seasons

Here in the coastal mountain range of California (just south of San Francisco), we are technically in the temperate zone, and technically well (enough) watered on non-drought years to qualify as “non-desert,” but the traditional Celtic cycles and symbols of the seasons do not work well for us because of exactly when and how our water arrives, because of the specific nature of our “four seasons,” and because of the very narrow range of temperatures we experience.

Our “winter” (Samhain-Imbolc) begins with the first rains (around Oct/Nov), and marks the time of most green growth in our landscapes. The grasses and wildflowers sprout (but do not yet flower). The evergreen oaks put on a growth spurt and exchange old leaves for new (the new growth is what pushes our leaf-drop, and not a process of hibernation). We very rarely get a bit of light frost, one or two times per “winter” but often none at all. No snow, no ice. Mostly just chilly rains with occasional weeks of 70-degree sunshine. Regular temps between 50-60s in day, and lows of 35-45 at night.

Our “spring”(Imbolc-Beltaine) is typically marked by vibrant flowering of everything that grows. Wildflowers riot on the hills. Temperatures more consistently reach the 60s and 70s in the day, but still in the 40-50 range at night. The rains peter out during this time.

By “summer” (Beltaine-Lammas), most of the native flowers in our area are finished (a few last into June). The rains are over. The land dries out quickly. Shrubs and trees are still deep green — at the start — but they quickly grow dusty and tired, and begin to go drought-deciduous in July. Temperatures, on sunny days, warm to 65-75 during the days with rare forays into the 80s, and lows in 50-60s. But with the arrival of the seasonal upwelling of icy water just off the coast comes the “May Grey” and “June Gloom” of our icy summer fog, which advances and recedes in a weekly cycle.  If you grow food of any kind except native berries and acorns, you are irrigating. And you still need to use row covers to keep much other than peas and “winter greens” growing in these coastal hills. The remains of the moisture in the ground from winter, coupled with slight increases in warmth lead to our oaks pushing their second round of new growth (and leaf drop) for the year. Then, they go drought-dormant as well.

From Lammas-Samhain (our “Autumn”) all deciduous trees lose all their leaves due to lack of water (rather than cold or darkness), Many shrubs do likewise. The hills are dead, dusty, brown. The fogs finally dissipate.  And now, we finally get some real heat.  And wildfires, feeding off the tinder-dry flora.  Wild animals start dying from lack of food and water. Everything waits in breathless anticipation of the return of the winter rains.

So, even though we are northern, temperate, and not a desert, we are still very different from the environments and nature cycles that gave rise to the traditional Celtic “Wheel of the Year.” We are not even truly “Mediterranean” here, as our weather never gets warm enough. Upon this realization, I felt inspired to rewrite the Wheel of the Year, to create new symbols and celebrations, in accordance with the actual seasons where we live.

My new Wheel of the Year (as of January 2018) looks like this:

The solstices and equinoxes have become celebrations of the key ecological markers of the seasons where we live. Yule is still most notable for being the darkest time of the year, and our celebrations focus on cultivating light in the darkness, planting seeds for the new year, and wassailing our fruit trees. Flower Fest is our celebration of the peak of California wildflower season, the arrival of the salad fairies, and the joy of all other unbidden blessings (like brush-rabbits breeding in the Salvia patch). Midsummer focuses on the cyclical waves of fog that roll in, and on the inward journeying, and search for inner wisdom, that the visual and auditory stillness of thick fog encourages. Rain Song is our heart-felt prayer for rain, and re-focuses our attention on emergency preparedness and on providing caring stewardship for all life, in the time of death and dearth that is California’s blistering Wildfire Season.

What is the shape of your Wheel of the Year?

Rituals for the Winter Solstice

Here in the central Coast Range Mountains of California, where I live, the Wheel of the Year is quite different from most other places in which Druidry is typically practiced. In order for my personal practice of Druidry to authentically connect with the land, sea, and sky with which I live, it was necessary to rewrite the Wheel of the Year and develop a completely new set of seasonal rituals, which honored our local spirits of place, and the wisdom embodied by the natural seasons and cycles, found here.

The following activities are those which I perform on the eve of the Winter Solstice. The rituals are begun indoors, at the foot of our Yule Tree, then move into the wet, greening gardens of our home, for the wassailing of the orchard, and the planting of native wildflower seeds in our muddy garden bio-swales. Gortex is the preferred ritual garb for this season!


I/We come to the Sacred Grove tonight, to celebrate the Winter Solstice, time of shortest days and weakest light, when the world around us seems most dark. In the Coast Range Mountains of California, the Winter Solstice is also the time when the Rainy Season reaches its full, majestic power. It brings much-needed water to the parched soils. It fills our lakes and reservoirs. It soaks long-dormant seeds, encouraging them to sprout. It swells the mycorrhizae in the soil, in preparation for next year’s drought. And it encourages the herbs, shrubs, and trees to push new growth, re-greening a world that has for so long been dead.

This is a time of great hope and joy. It is a time to plan and prepare for the learning, growing, and creative work of the new year. And it is time to offer support and encouragement to family and friends of both human and other-than-human-kind, as they prepare for their own seasons of bright new growth and creative expression.

It is also time to recall that the true power of magic is in our ability to control the thoughts and emotions which we allow to rule our minds, and hands, and hearts: ‘Tis the darkness or brightness one carries within that marks our true value to heavenly kin. It is time to choose joy, and rekindle inner light, in the deepest, darkest time of the year.


Light the Yule Tree.

Sing: “Spangle Dangle Glitter” (words and music by Larisa A. White)

If you would like to download a copy of the sheet music, for personal, private, non-commercial use, you may download a copy, here:

Spangle Dangle Glitter (basic lead sheet)

Spangle Dangle Glitter (duet lead sheet)

Spangle Dangle Glitter (sheet music for the full arrangement)

Place gifts for the family at the foot of the Yule Tree.

May these gifts bring joy to my human family.

Place an offering of native wildflower seed in the offering bowl on the altar.

May these gifts bring joy to my other-than-human family.

It is my intention, for myself, in the coming season of light and new growth, to…
(Fill in here with a spoken description of my plans for personal learning, spiritual growth, and creative expression in the coming year.)

Commit these intentions to writing, in ink on paper.
Place the written intentions into the prayer-box on the altar.

So may it be.

Wassail the family orchards.

Sing:  “Coast Range Wassail” (a traditional wassailing tune, with original lyrics by Larisa A. White)

If you would like to download a copy of the sheet music, for personal, private, non-commercial use, you may download a copy, here:

Coast Range Wassail (lead sheet)

Scatter native wildflower seeds in the muddy swales of our native garden.

Return to the foot of the Yule Tree to close.