Every fall, just as the first colors are starting to appear and the weather is starting to turn crisp, I notice the wooly caterpillar (aka wooly bear or wooly worm) appearing in droves on the roads. I’ve come to recognize it as yet another sign from Mother Nature that the seasons are shifting and winter is coming. This week I started to see them again, and began counting them each day on the short 20 minute commute to work. In the space of one week, the count went from a handful the first day to almost 100 by the end of the week. You can’t miss spotting them on the road—they are these fuzzy black and brown creatures about the size of your thumb moving at breakneck pace across the blacktop.
This time, I wanted to know why the caterpillar always seems to have this mass migration across flat surfaces of death and doom (where tires squish and predators feast) as the weather shifts to fall. It turns out nature had another message of timing and change for me.
Wooly bears are known for their folkloric association with the prediction of an easy or hard winter. The bands of their bristly hair, colored in rings of black and brown number around thirteen, with the typical pattern of black on the ends and brown in the middle. It is believed that the bigger the brown portion, the more mild the winter will be. I grew up learning this folkloric knowledge about the wooly bear as do many Americans. In fact, because of this association, the wooly bear caterpillar is one of the most recognized caterpillars in North America.
|Curled into a ball|
They are a caterpillar that comes from (or will become?) the Isabella tiger moth. In the fall, the wooly bear is prowling for a place –a cavity in bark or rocks will do, in order to enter cryostasis to sleep through the long cold months of winter. According to one site, wooly bears can live for 14 years or more!
But perhaps the significance to my contemplation of the wooly bear this fall is yet another lesson of understanding ‘timing’, especially the timing of one’s transformation. Woolies will put off making their cocoons for years, choosing the right time to enter into the transformative process and later emerge as a moth. The Grove has still very much been on my mind, and after listening to the wisdom of the cicada a short time ago, I did reach out to reconnect with them. But attending Nemeton and participating in a Vervain ritual left me with very mixed feelings. On one hand, it was pleasant to see people I hadn’t spoken to in months, and sharing their company again was like slipping on a familiar sweater of comfort.
However, in terms of my spiritual path and the direction it is taking, I was left still feeling unsure about my place with them. The ritual was one I’ve never really connected to in format, though I understand the purpose and intent behind it. It’s about connecting to the sacred gifts—sharing in what each of us has learned from them with the grove, and about giving back to the gifts and the community as a whole. A beautiful concept, but honestly, I’ve always found the ritual’s form a tedious structure. So I was left wondering if the other rituals we do as a Grove would still hold meaning for me or not—did I really want to rejoin the Grove actively again?
The universe doesn’t answer questions like that easily, so I began with a statement of identity: I am a Druid. That hasn’t changed. But what does it mean to me to be a Druid? What enriches my soul and challenges me to grow as a person and connect not only with the sacred but with my fellow human beings?
I sense that my druidic path has changed—I’m not sure exactly into what though I feel called to a more shamanic exploration of the sacred as well as a more solitary path. Had you asked me a few years ago, I couldn’t have imagined life without my Grove—community was everything to me. I lived for rituals with them, for sharing my experiences with them, for listening to theirs, and for our mutual bonds and connections. I was active in pride festivals, retreats, and workshops beyond the Grove as well. As I explored the bardic path after my initiation, I became open to expressing myself via music and poetry, sharing that as well with the public—both pagan and non-pagan alike.
Then something in me short-circuited and everything I thought I had set neatly into place seemed to no longer apply, so I withdrew to reflect and figure things out again. Back to the drawing board, right?
What does Druidry mean to me now? I know that I am an animist. For me spirit (the sacred) inhabits everything and my relationship with the sacred hinges on being open to listen to the world around me. I also know that the ancestors (both mine and of the land I live on and work to connect with) provide me with a sense of place. Through them, I understand where I fit into the cycles of nature and it is through them that I find voice to express the lessons the universe teaches me. I’ve made peace with the concept that I will never be much of a theist. The Gods and goddess still remain a mystery to me in terms of any strong personal connection and understanding and I am ok with that.
Druidry is experiential to me. While ritual form provides structure and consistency, I have come to realize that following a format is really a tool for community. Form allows a diverse group to come together to experience the sacred. When walking a solitary path, ritual becomes an ‘in the moment’ process. I don’t need tools, an altar, and ritual robes to connect to the sacred. It already surrounds me and is part of me. It’s not about creating sacred space and invoking the Triad. I don’t need to call to that which is with me always. It’s about being open to the moment and accepting that ‘it is what it is.” So in the last year of introspection and reflection, I haven't followed any format I had been taught to use. Everything settled to being 'in the moment' and 'speaking from the heart' with the sacred when I wanted to commune. That is the nature of 'experiential' to me and I am content for now to continue pursuing a more solitary path of exploration. For now the communal aspects of Druidry--of leadership, of shared experience, of ritual formats is not something that feeds my soul and I have decided to remain focused on the inward experience. This doesn't mean that I will never emerge from my cocoon. It just means that for now, I have accepted that the time isn't right.