There are a number of ways you can get started in learning traditional skills. Books for one, that’s how I started, and how most of us who became interested in traditional skills more than 15 years ago had to go about learning things. In addition, there have also been a few periodical publications that have existed over the years– things like Woodsmoke and Bulletin of Primitive Technology. In a more modern form, you can find written directions for many skills and crafts online.
These days, Youtube is ever present. Which is understandable, with a lot of these skills being able to actually SEE what’s happening can be way more advantageous than reading about it. And yes, you can actually learn quite a bit from Youtube if you spend the time to sort through videos. I find it very helpful from time to time. That said, you’ll also find mediocre vidoes out there, try to look for quality information (this holds true for books, websites and everything else too).
Best of all is in person learning, the number of personal workshops or traditional skills (primitive, survival, nature awareness, or folk) schools has exploded over the last decade or so (at least it seems like it to me) and they’ve become increasingly more common. Which is a great thing and it makes it easier to find somewhere to learn. Cost can sometimes be prohibitive though depending on the school.
An alternative route to formalized schools, and one that I really like the format of, is a primitive skills gathering. Most skills gatherings are week long camps with workshops held by various subject matter experts throughout the day with time to interact and socialize with other folks interested in similar skills during the evening. Some are weekend or extended weekend events. Don’t be put off by me calling them primitive skills gatherings, you’ll also find many traditional skills like woodworking, felting, blacksmithing, etc as well as the tanning, friction fire and flintknapping type activities. If you enjoy learning pre-modern skills you’re sure to find a class going on that will interest you!
What I really like about traditional skills gatherings is that you get to decide what you want to learn. You’re exposed to projects you may never have tried, or even thought about, before and you have the opportunity to decide which ones you want to learn. Which stands in contrast to something like, say, a survival school where they decide which skills to teach you and that’s what is covered regardless of whether you have been practicing that particular skill for 20 years and are already proficient.
At any rate, I’ve only been to one gathering (Rabbitstick) and can’t provide you with in person thoughts on all of them, but I wanted to provide a list of gatherings so you can check them out, it’s a great way to learn new skills and I think you’ll enjoy the experience.
*Note: I listed gatherings where the focus is on learning hands-on skills in a workshop style format. There are other festivals that take more of a presentation/exhibition approach, I chose to not include those on this current list. If you know of any other gatherings like the ones listed, please let me know and I’ll include them. Hollowtop was a website of particular help in compiling this list, they had several gatherings I didn’t know about, and list several other events that I didn’t include here, check them out for more information. In addition, there are a couple events that are more bushcraft focused, I don’t know the format for them but they look interesting and I’m sure you’d learn a bunch so I included a few of them on this list. If anyone has been to them and can tell me what they were like I would love to hear from you!
Skills Gatherings in the U.S.A (by month)
Wintercount– wintercountcamp.com, Arizona
Florida Earthskills– floridaearthskills.org Florida
Acorn– acorngathering.com, California
Rivercane Rendezvous– www.primitiveskills.org, South Carolina
Peidmont Earthskills– www.piedmontearthskillsgathering.com North Carolina
Buckeye– buckeyegathering.net, California
Slickrock– www.boss-inc.com/courses/slickrock-gathering Utah
Mid-Atlantic Primitive Skills Gathering– www.ancestralknowledge.org/2017/01/01/maps-meet/, Virginia?
The Sharpening Stone– www.thesharpeningstone.com, Oregon
Between the Rivers– www.betweentheriversgathering.com, Washington
Indiana Earthskills– indianaearthskills.com/index.html, Indiana
Dirt Time Gathering– dirttime.com/dirttime-14, California
Firefly– fireflygathering.org, North Carolina
Saskatoon Circle– www.saskatooncircle.com, Washington
Fire to Fire– www.firetofire.com, Utah
Earth Knack Family Gathering– www.earthknack.com/class-schedule, Colorado
Cattail Gathering– thecattailgathering.com, Connecticut
Elements– www.elementsgathering.com, California
Echoes in Time– echoes-in-time.com, Oregon
Woodsmoke– www.woodsmokeusa.com, Idaho, classic camping (1800’s-1930’s) temporarily on hold
Wilder Waters (aka Dawnland, aka Maine Primitive Gathering)– wilderwaterscommunity.org/gathering, Maine
Puckerbrush Primitive Gathering– prfgca.com/?page_id=563, Maine
Pathfinder Gathering– www.selfrelianceoutfitters.com/products/2020-pathfinder-gathering, Arkansas (from what I saw I’m not sure this is consistant). More bushcraft oriented.
Lake Superior Traditional Ways– traditionalways.org, Wisconsin
Moose Ridge– www.mooseridgewild.com/moose-ridge-gathering, Maine
Reeds and Roots Skillshare– reedsandroots.org, Ohio
Earth Tribe Festival– www.facebook.com/earthtribefest Colorado
Great Lakes Primitives– greatlakesprimitivesgathering.com, Michigan (not sure if this is still active)
Rabbitstick Rendezvous– www.rabbitstick.com, Idaho
Mountaincraft and Music– www.mountaincraft.org, West Virginia
Roots School Rendezvous– rootsvt.com/adults-youth/roots-rendezvous, Vermont
Bois D’Arc Primitive Skills Camp and Knap-in– www.boisdarc.info, Missouri
Uitwaaien– pagathering.com, Pennsylvania (more bushcraft focused)
Groundnut Gathering– leapfrogprograms.weebly.com/groundnut-gathering.html, Massachusetts (small, I only found this one reference)
SkyEarth– wintercountcamp.com/skyearth/about, Texas
Falling Leaves Rendezvous– www.primitiveskills.org, South Carolina
Three Trees Earthways– www.threetreesearthways.org, Wisconsin
International Skills Gatherings
Bushmoot– www.bushmoot.com, February, UK
Avnei Derech (Milestones)– www.avneiderech.com/english, March, Israel
Limina– liminagathering.com, April, British Columbia, Canada
Headwaters Earth Skills– sticksandstoneswildernessschool.com/headwaters, May, Ontario, Canada
Firemaker– www.firemaker.org, July, British Columbia, Canada
Bushcraft Festivalen (Bushcraft Festival)– www.bushcraftfestival.com, August, Sweden
Bushmoot– www.bushmoot.com, August, UK
Rat Root Rendezvous– karamat.com/rendezvous-2019, August, Alberta, Canada
Wilderness Gathering– www.wildernessgathering.co.uk, August, UK
Sheva Avanim– www.avneiderech.com/english, October, Israel
Wild Heart– www.wildheart.life/wild-heart-gathering-for-adults.html, October, NSW Australia
Bushcraft Weekend– https://stichtingbushcraft.nl/english, 2x/year, I couldn’t find dates immediately (it’s rough navigating websites in a language you don’t know). Netherlands