Review: Sacred Actions Journal by Dana O’Driscoll

Then he [Cormac] sees in the garth a shining fountain, with five streams flowing out of it, and the hosts in turn a-drinking its water. Nine hazels of Buan grow over the well. The purple hazels drop their nuts into the fountain, and the five salmon which are in the fountain sever them and send their husks floating down the streams. Now the sound of the falling of those streams is more melodious than any music that (men) sing.

Stokes, Whitley (ed. and tr.). 1891. “The Irish ordeals, Cormac’s adventure in the Land of Promise, and the decision as to Cormac’s sword”. In: Windisch, Ernst, and Whitley Stokes (eds.), Irische Texte mit Wörterbuch, Vol. 3:1. Leipzig: 213.

Within Revival Druidry, the cultivation of Awen is perhaps the closest thing we have to a sacrament. We sing the Awen into our circles at the beginning of every ritual, and in turn the Awen breathes its inspiration back into us. Sometimes it can feel as if Awen is an uncontrollable lightning strike, blasting its way past any and all barriers to its manifestation. Lightning is, however, notoriously unreliable in its frequency and strike patterns. Perhaps a more functional metaphor for Awen is that of a stream or well, much as described in the above quote. By honing our skills with patience when Awen isn’t necessarily present, we can create a smooth and clear channel along which Awen may flow when it does appear.

As noted previously, 2022 was a quiet year here on the ol’ blog. Much of that extra time was spent reading, writing longhand, and ruminating on various parts of life and practice. Writing is an integral part of the way I practice Druidry and magic–a means of nurturing Awen’s flow, if you will–allowing for both a history of my experience and a means for reflection as time passes. On several (selfish) levels, I wish Dana O’Driscoll’s Sacred Actions Journal had been available during this time. It would have been a most excellent companion during my blogging sabbatical, and will likely serve as a source of inspiration for future posts.

First of all, it’s important to cover what this book isn’t: it isn’t a book that will give you set, pat answers. It isn’t a book that will spoon feed you. It’s a book that demands you bring your own curiosity and engagement. The techniques and questions O’Driscoll presents are all ways of fostering the Awen in one’s life, of helping to weed and water a lush garden of creativity. There is a lot of protein packed into a very short volume, and it deserves to be savored and digested slowly.

Secondly, while I wound’t exactly call this a “sequel” to O’Driscoll’s 2021 Sacred Actions, it certainly should be considered a companion book. It’s possible to engage with the Journal on its own terms, but you will have a much richer experience if you read it in conjunction with Sacred Actions. The Journal follows the same Wheel of the Year structure and themes (starting with the Winter Solstice), but it focuses the reader on reflection.

The simple brilliance of the Journal, however, is the way it leads the reader to weave their own relationship to Awen, without ever mentioning the word directly. It gently guides you from reading to writing, from thinking to doing. Especially for people newer to earth spiritualities, analysis paralysis around how to approach a practice can be profound. People worry about “doing it wrong” to the point where they do nothing–or worse, resent those giving advice because it is not perfectly tailored to a particular background or situation. The writing prompts of the Sacred Actions Journal gently and gracefully short-circuit this tendency. That doesn’t mean that the work is easy by any stretch of the imagination–but it is made as simple and as clear as possible.

And even if you don’t consider yourself a writer, you should seriously think about engaging with the Sacred Actions Journal. O’Driscoll provides between 10 and 15 writing prompts for each High Day. Some are geared towards what one would expect from a spiritual writing exercise: reflection, meditation, deliberate thinking. However, there is also a deeply practical vein present for people who are more focused on action than reflection: figuring out what composting strategy is right for your living situation, or exploring alternative cooking methods. Finally, there is also a selection of suggestions for a sort of meta-analysis of your journaling practice, and suggestions for ways to cultivate it further.

Finally, like they did with Sacred Actions, O’Driscoll and Red Feather continue to produce a book for bibliophiles. Again, O’Driscoll deftly plays the role of both writer and illustrator for the volume, and the Journal’s construction mimics that of its predecessor, with a heavy-duty cardboard cover and sewn binding. The paper itself provides a wonderful surface for all manner of inks–something I definitely appreciate as a user of fountain pens for sure!

As with all “journal style” books, my main gripe is that there are never enough pages or space given for all the thoughts the prompts inspire. In a perfect world, this product would have been sold as a two-pack, the text in one slimmer volume, and a separate, beefy journal in another. Of course, there’s nothing stopping one from having their own dedicated notebook for this work, and that is likely what I’ll end up doing. Obviously, this is a minor quibble and shouldn’t detract from the overall quality of the Journal.

This review began with a quote from Cormac’s adventure in the Otherworld. Eventually, Manannan Mac Lir reveals the nature of the fountain to Cormac: “The fountain which thou sawest, with the five streams out of it, is the Fountain of Knowledge, and the streams are the five senses through the which knowledge is obtained. And no one will have knowledge who drinketh not a draught out of the fountain itself and out of the streams. The folk of many arts are those who drink of them both” (p. 216). No matter where your focus lays, the Sacred Actions Journal provides a clear foundation for reflection, growth, and digestion that will deepen your relationship to both land and your own creative understanding.

Simple. Definitely not easy. Yet definitely worth doing.

O’Driscoll, D. 2022. Sacred Actions Journal: A Wheel of the Year Journal for Sustainable and Spiritual Practices. Atglen, PA: REDFeather Mind, Body, Spirit.

(Full disclosure: I am friends with the author and received a review copy of the book.)

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