The word bushcraft is a fairly modern one, but the craft has been with us since we were still apes climbing the canopy. Bushcraft is not the art of surviving in the wilderness, but rather how to thrive in it, with it and for it. It is the art of becoming one with your surroundings, knowing every plant, its qualities and uses, knowing every animal and living creature and knowing their places in the great whole. Knowing where and when to hunt and gather food, knowing how to make nifty tools with simple ones and what materials to use for every task needed. Bushcraft is using your senses to the fullest. Smelling when fruit and berries are ripe for the picking or whether you have found the right mushroom. Seeing those tiny clues that reveals the path a deer has walked. Listening and knowing the song of birds, knowing if their song is a warning or if they are calling for a mate. Feeling with your hands in murky water to find clams or to even catch a fish. Tasting plants to learn their qualities as for or medicine. Do you now see a connection between bushcraft and shamanism? Most of the knowledge, both bushcraft and shamanism comes from tribal peoples, living that very life. For them there are no differences between shamanism and bushcraft, they are both parts of the same set of knowledge. In our modern society you can happily learn bushcraft while ignoring shamanism, but you can not study shamanism without learning some bushcraft.
What to study and why
Bushcraft is a huge subject and it holds more than one craft, more than one set of knowledge. Of all the knowledge that perhaps holds the greatest value is the knowledge of plants. Not only for food and medicine, but for cordage and textiles, fertiliser, shelter and a wide range of tools. When you make something, food or tool, you want to use the best suited materials, you neet to know the plant, where it grows, when to harvest and how to process. Knowing all the plants around you is like having a huge shopping mall wherever you go, even in a dense city. Yes, you have to do all the hard labour needed to harvest and process, but you will also have a much greater connection with your surroundings, with what you make and what you eat. A natural next stop on what to learn is the knowledge of animals and all the creatures of nature and start with your local fauna. Find out what animals are natural to the habitat around you. Learn their function in the eco-system. Learn to recognise them and the tracks they leave behind. Even in a city you will have more animals near you than you would expect. By learning about animals, their habits and habitats, you will also learn more of their significance in the spirit realms.
Knowledge gets you far, but without actual hands on practice it is next to worthless. The arts and crafts of bushcraft are many and varied and takes a lifetime to master, but the basic techniques are quite easy to grasp. At first glance the crafts seems simple and primitive, but when you practice them you see the complexity of that very same simplicity. Techniques honed through many generations of practice and intimate knowledge of the materials and tools used. So, where to start? Start by learning to use a knife. You’ll need a good strong and sharp knife for this, not to large, not to small. One that fits snugly into your hands. Learn to sharpen it and learn how to make different kinds of cuts in different materials. Every kind of wood has different properties, one cut that works nicely on one kind of wood, might not work on another. This is all best learned by experience.
Learn to use all of your five senses. In our wester culture we mostly use our eyes and ears, but any good bushcrafter uses all hir senses. Train your self to recognise smells, sounds and colours. Touch whatever you are studying, feel its surface and its hardness. For example, when you encounter a new plant, first take a good look at it. Try to memorise the hues of each colour. Tru to memorise how leaves are attached to the stem, how many petals the flowers have, every tiny detail. If you know that this plant is not poisonous to the touch, pick it up and study it more. Smell it and memorise its smell, touch it, squeeze it and memorise the feel of it. Cut it to study the stem. Is it hollow or solid. Does it have a separate outer layer, bark, or not? Are the fibers of the stem long and strong or short and weak? The more thorough you study it the more you will remember. Go sit somewhere close to a lot of trees and listen to the birds. Try to isolate one sound, where it comes from and see if you can spot the bird. Listen to the general mood of all the birdsong around you. Is it calm or alarming, stand up and walk a bit while you listen to how the songs change. Do this every day and you will expand the use of your senses, this will make you see the natural world quite differently.
Learn the how to utilise fire, to light a fire, to find dry firewood, to burn as little wood as possible and at the same time keep the heat at where you want it. Learn how to make different kinds of fireplaces and their uses. Learn to stare into the flames, calming body and mind.
Bushcraft is to be able to do advanced operations with the simplest of tools. If you lack a tool, you make it. Being skilled in bushcraft makes you free, as you have knowledge and a set of skills that you can lean back on, that can save you when in dire needs, that can give you joy in dark times, that takes you back to the roots of humanity. Bushcraft is about using as little energy and effort as possible to achieve any task, it is to be effective in every move. It is to follow the will of the materials you are working with, at the same time as you manifest your own will in what you are making. When making a spoon out of wood, you have to follow the shape and grains of that piece of wood. Every cut you make must lead to the next and every cut done with a different technique. The will of the wood and your will to make a spoon merges and this makes the end result. You can of course completely ignore the grains of the wood and just carve a spoon, but the spoon will probably have flaws, might even break or leak. This goes for every part of bushcraft.
Personally, bushcraft and shamanism are inseparable. For every bit of knowledge I gain of the natural world my bond to it is strengthened. The more I learn the more I understand how everything is connected, how every little part of nature is important for the whole of it to thrive. When I spend time in nature I see old friends all around me. As an added bonus to the knowledge and the pleasures it brings, there are few things that can beat a meal, gathered by your own hands, cooked over an open fire, pure and natural. For me bushcraft is one of many ways to find and understand my own roots. It is one of many ways I show respect and gratitude to my ancestors, specially my late grandfather who set me onto this path in the first place, who taught me the basics of bushcraft and to see the beauty of the natural world. Another great realisation you may get from studying bushcraft is the simplicity of things and the very fact that you need nothing but your own knowledge and wits. The freedom this gives you is more worth than so many things in life. When skilled in bushcraft you can go naked into nature and still thrive.
Where and how to study
There is a vast amount of information on bushcraft. A lot of it is even free and easily accessed online, though the best usually cost. Courses, books, online videos and articles, experimentation and practice, it is all out there. For starters I would recommend a few bushcrafters that I know of and get a lot of knowledge and inspiration from through either books or videos. The first to be mentioned would be Ray Mears. He is a true bushcraft expert, with vast knowledge and experience and he is skilled at teaching these skills. He has written several grat books, like “Essential Bushcraft” and the must have “Wild Food“. His bushcraft tv-shows and documentaries are an excellent source to see his skills in action. His TV-series called “World of Survival” is among my favourites. In this series he visits different indigenous tribesaround the globe. It is a peak into the lifestyle of shamanistic cultures and their vast knowledge of nature. Most of Mr. Mear’s stuff cost money to enjoy and well worth it, but if you are seeking free knowledge you can check out the myriad of blogs and sites. One of my favourites is Paul Kirtley. He has a very nice blog packed with photos and articles on bushcraft. For some exceptionally good craftsmanship you might want to check out Jon’s Bushcraft, a site by Jonathan Ridgeon. He has got nice articles you can read for free and some e-books you can purchase for a reasonable sum. For some great inspiration on how to live a true “primitive” life you should check out the blog by Torjus Gaaren: Living Primitively. This is a person who has taken one huge step further than most people. If you like to learn by watching videos, the videos by Survival Lilly are great and many.
For more knowledge and inspiration check out these bushcrafters:
- Ray Mears
- Les Stroud a.k.a. Survivorman
- Lars Monsen (His site is in Norwegian only, but you can fin a lot of his videos here.)
- Mors Kochanski
- Cody Lundin
- Paul Kirtley
- Jonathan Ridgeon
- Torjus Gaaren
- Survival Lilly
Some of what you may learn: