by Barbara McVeigh
The wise ones, I have been told, ask you to be open to what is given to you, the gifts that come your way. Listen to your heart, as it is more true than the head. I would not have believed this, unless I relinquished all that was previously taught to me and decided to take a step onto this path of openness, curiosity and wonder. And it all came full circle when I was asked to join an Acorn Ceremony, in the spirit of the previous land dwellers, the Indigenous Miwok of Northern California, to recognize my spiritual journey into Druidry was my newfound landscape. The Indigenous Native American ways lead me right back to my own heritage of Irish Indigenous practice.
Each year the Miwok would harvest the acorns from the Black Oaks, Live Oaks and Valley Oaks, each acorn having a different characteristic and value. It was a celebration that lasted for weeks, bringing everyone together, as grudges and differences would be set aside. Children climbed trees, strong men hit branches with large sticks. Women gathered the rich brown nuts from the ground. The harvest would be a staple for the full year, with the average family consuming 3000 pounds of acorns. Some Miwok families held rights to a particular tree, and as historians have written, the tree would be cared for, stewarded and honored. The acorn harvest season also marked the beginning of a new year. I was invited to join an acorn ceremony on November 1 by my employer. I’m a nature educator for children and our school strives to share knowledge of Indigenous people of California. I hold my classes in the meadows, on grassy hills and under the oaks and redwoods of Mount Tamalpais, a California State Park that borders Point Reyes National Seashore, with the Pacific Ocean to the west. The land includes coyotes, bob cats, mountain lions, raccoons, deer and other native life and flora.
We met for the acorn ceremony late morning in a park filled with oak trees. The ceremony was a bit awkward at first, in a way that we really didn’t know what we were doing except for one noble act – our intention was to recreate a ceremony to honor the oak trees and new season, in the spirit of the Miwok who had lived on the land. So, as a collective group, we decided to first share with each other knowledge we had of oak trees, recognizing the many different kinds of oaks, witnessing their unique leaf shapes and acorn varieties and discussing the areas where they grow in California and beyond. We shared acorn recipes – acorn pancakes, mush or bread. We discussed best ideas to leach tannins of the grounded nuts to make into edible flour. We each stood by an oak tree, resting our hands on a trunk to feel the energy from our arms into the trunk, down to the roots and than back up into our feet and into our bodies, creating a visual energy cycle of connection that we ultimately have with all of nature. We brought acorns to process together, and the music of the pestle against the stone mortar created a rhythm of sound much like that of what would have been heard in a Miwok village, knowing we were near an old village where today only a wooden sign marks its history. We stood in circle together recanting gratitude for the season, giving tribute to the gifts of the day – a blue sky, a soft warm wind, a child’s nearby laughter.
The following day I reflected on this Acorn ceremony, and a thought suddenly came to me about the connection of Oak Trees, Miwok and Druids. The ceremony was conducted the same day as Samhain! It was in that moment I gained an appreciation for the connection between the two cultures, the Druids and Miwok Native Americans, as they both honor nature and spirit. The Gaelic year began in November following the festival of An Samhain. “The cold was considered necessary to cleanse the land and prepare it for the new bountiful year ahead.” writes Celtic Life International. And the moon cycles are respected and used to mark time thoughout the year.
The landscape of my journey into Druidry was now no longer just found in books or podcasts, but it was physical around me. It was no longer just an oak tree, but it proved to be a deeply rooted connection into my heritage, my blood and my physical realm opening me up to everything around me in a new way.
The following week I pondered this sitting in a field with my students. We were stewarding the land and pulling up what has been labeled as invasive nonnative broom that is choking the native plants. Piles of it had been stacked ready for the chipper. I had just cut a stalk and flexed it as it’s easily bendable, creating a ring and putting it on a child’s head like a crown. The child ran off laughing and climbed an oak tree. And suddenly a new thought came to me again. How easy one could weave baskets from this plant!Native American baskets are sacred and the best ones were always gifted to others, as generosity was valued as has been written in the well known book by Malcolm Margolis The Ohlone Way. The Ohlone of the San Francisco Bay live just south of the Miwok and share many of the same values and traditions. Margolis writes in the book that when a hunter brought home the food, the best meat always went to the most vulnerable. Respect was valued. Not greed.
I took home the broom stalk and began weaving a basket, or attempted to weave, to more aptly describe. How strange it was to be in California weaving an invasive plant, which, as I learned, is the same plant my ancestors used in Ireland to weave potato baskets! I had just read up on Irish baskets to learn about the revered “potato basket” used to wash and serve potatoes in traditional households. Potatoes are not native to Ireland, they come from The Americas. Was this a symbolic cleansing? A cleansing of the native land here by creating Indigenous art of my native Ireland! I couldn’t help but think otherwise. As I continued to weave a basket, I was doing more – I was weaving a story to connect indigenous ideas, a reverence, and ultimately a basket to honor these indigenous and almost forgotten ideals and craft. I ultimately completed the basket into the shape of a cornucopia for each of the children and their families filled them with nuts, apples, persimmons and leaves, symbolic of abundance, sharing and gratitude.I think of landscape differently now, both externally and internally.
The gifts are all around us, if we stop and look . . . and to feel. I am complete with the oak tree symbolizing my temples and a woven basket symbolizing a cleansing and a creation to honor the value of the heart, a vessel to give. I’m reminded of the words of Navajo Nation Tom B.K. Goldtooth whom I once met. He said to me that those in the Western world are upside down. Information isn’t important, that which is stored in your head and is always changing. The heart comes first. Good relations. Start there.