Last updated on November 19, 2018
Druid tools continue to fascinate us in the modern day. And why not?
Most of them are mysterious-seeming compared with the tools we use now. And there’s that whole mystique about nothing ever being written down about how to use them. That leaves most of their function to speculation and maybe even a little romanticism about their reasons for being.
It’s magic. What’s not to speculate about, right?
Druid Tools – The Crane Bag
The Crane Bag is something we can read about in legend, so there are some stories about them. Not wholly in the realm of possibility if you take them literally, but there are some descriptions.
So the story goes, the god of the sea, Manannán, appears to have made the original Crane Bag out of the skin of a crane and it contained certain treasures. Legend lists these as: Manannán’s shirt and knife; the belt and hook of the smith, the god Goibniu; the shears of the king of Alban; the helmet of the king of Locklann; a belt of the skin of a great whale; and the bones of Asal’s pig brought to Ireland by the three sons of Tuireann. Oh, and Manannán’s own house.
I think we can all agree, that’s some pretty fantastical contents. Let’s call it symbolic, since, y’know, logic. The old texts aren’t very clear, but there’s a passage that suggests the contents were secret, which contradicts the other legends since the treasures within it were noted. This is the trouble with legends. They’re not always so clear on the details, but that’s only because they’re trying to tell us something important, instead.
Historical Crane Bag – what’s the symbolism?
A Crane Bag was said to be made out of the skin of a crane and hold the “treasures”. But what does this mean? Symbolically speaking, the Crane Bag isn’t a bag to hold things. The concept is actually closer to the Irish version of the Grail. According to legend, it appears and disappears, shifts guardianship and even shifts worlds – from sea to land, from god to hero. The crane is associated with death and rebirth and the labyrinth path between the worlds. So when you think on that, basically, the concept encompasses all the realms and planes and really becomes a representation for the interconnectedness of everything and the unity and harmony between all things in one.
The reason why writing became so revered and feared, as were those who could use writing, is represented in the Crane Bag. We associate letters and the alphabet with the crane, so this is a clue to the poetic wisdom the “bag” contains. Poetic wisdom? Druids were the poet-warriors and their poetry meant divination by word in verse. Poetry in that sense becomes the sacred inspiration and the channel to truth and wisdom.
The “treasures” within the bag are actually the symbols of the 5 Forfeda (forhedha) of the Ogham alphabet.
What this really means then, is the Crane Bag of legend is not a bag at all. Instead, it’s the Ogham alphabet itself. And the alphabet is the “treasures”, so the avenue or the “way” we divine sacred inspiration (which we refer to as the Awen) where lies the truth of the harmony between all things.
The Modern Crane Bag – how do we use it now?
One of the great things about Druidry is that it evolves and allows room for growth and freedom of expression within a wide, inclusive range. This means, while we honour the past, we allow those ideas to evolve, so they continue having meaning in our lives in the now. The Crane Bag is an example of that.
In modern Druid practice, while we understand what it means as a focus concept, we do now use the Crane Bag as a means to hold spiritual objects or tools. Think roughly along the lines of an indigenous holy man’s medicine bag. I think there’s some definite correlations we can draw there around the contents being the very personal, spiritual tools that a shaman or mage works with. In alignment with tradition and to honour the past, many Druids use one to hold their Ogham sticks as that feels the correct use for them. But really? There’s no one way to use a Crane Bag.
In some of the modern Druid orders like the OBOD (The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids), AODA (the American branch of the Ancient and Archaeological Order of Druids) or the BDO (The British Druid Order), somewhere in their course studies, they have students go through the exercise of creating or acquiring and dedicating a Crane Bag. Modern Crane Bags vary in size, depending on the portability needed and how many things someone feels they need to carry. Someone who attends a lot of ceremonies may have one large enough to hold a wand, flute, a small candle and holder and a twist of sage among other things along with their preferred divination system like tarot cards or a scrying bowl.
Always ready to go
I take my Crane Bag with me just about everywhere. What’s in it? Sorry. Can’t tell you or I’ll have to kill you. 😉 Just kidding.
For my own, while I didn’t make it myself, I supported a fair trade artisan who did. When I saw it, it spoke to me and I knew it was exactly what I needed. It’s now beat all to hell through use, but just getting worn-in nicely, in my opinion. It tells a story with its character.
My Crane Bag is the size of a small messenger bag and holds some personal spiritual talismans, a few stones and crystals that help me focus, a couple of acorns, a feather, some shells and a few odds and ends. Because I like to strike out into unpopulated spaces, I’m practical, so also carry a Swiss army knife, compass, always a notebook and a couple of pens and pencils and a pencil sharpener since words are my system of divination. The best part? There’s still enough room for my keys and wallet. I’m prepared wherever I go and don’t need to take anything else. This leaves my hands free, so I can touch trees and stones and whatever else draws me.
Some people carry a field kit. Some an “adventure” bag. Modern Druids carry a Crane Bag. Not so mysterious when you know what it is.
[**Medicine man’s bag image file appears via Wellcome Images, a website operated by Wellcome Trust, a global charitable foundation based in the United Kingdom, (c) Creative Commons Attribution https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/]
For a more colourful demonstration of some of these Druid tools in action, check out my book, The Seer. This historical sword fantasy about a Druid in the fictional realm of Edenshire in 4th-century Britain is available at Amazon!
Check out all the articles in this series on Traditional Druid Tools!