It’s very important, especially when working with others, to develop a strong sense of emotional responsibility. By this, I mean that when people disagree with us, or when life throws us a curve ball, we are able to deal with it from a place of centredness and intention, instead of a purely reactive response derived from past hurt and trauma.
People will disagree with us all the time. This is especially true if you put yourself out there, in the public sphere. What we have to learn to do, as Pagans, is to convey our message responsibly, without seeking to increase the suffering that already exists in the world. What do I mean by that? Well, not everything is sweetness and light, and we do have to come to an understanding of our own shadows, of what places exist in our psyche and our souls that carry deep emotional wounds from previous suffering, but not carry that forward and perpetuate suffering, both in ourselves and in others.
We have to be aware of the manipulations that our culture invests in and regurgitates regularly as “fact”, such as “we live in a dog eat dog world” or the idea that there is some ladder we’re all climbing, and we have to beat others to the top. As Pagans, we look to nature for guidance, and when we do we discover an incredibly beautiful web of shared existence, where things are working together. Looking at a healthy ecosystem, we discover and can be inspired by the way that things work, collectively, rather than competitively. I truly believe that we have placed far too human-centric and capitalistic a view on ecology, with such absurd concepts as “the food chain”. When we work together, we are stronger. It’s as simple as that.
Not everyone will want to be part of that worldview, however, so we have to learn how to deal with this in our lives. Some people are so wounded in our society, and in our Pagan community, that it can be completely random or by design that you suffer from such terrible acts as bullying, trolling, undermining, character assassination and more. Many people now think that blowing out someone else’s flame makes theirs burn brighter, when in fact it does not. Social media makes this a great place to do so anonymously. If we are strong and emotionally responsible, we can respond to such horrid behaviour from a place of integrity. We can stand up for ourselves, without trying to destroy the person or persons involved. We may or may not have a resolution in every situation that is satisfactory, but at least we know that we have acted from a place of sovereignty in our own self.
When we are working as priests or priestesses, it is imperative that we own what is ours, and understand what is not. When people project their wounds on to us, we can realise that this is not ours, and that it is their own wounding that is causing this behaviour. We may not be able to change this behaviour, but we also don’t have to take it to heart and let it ruin us emotionally. If we are truly strong, we can send them compassion in various forms, if possible, or we can simply be compassionate with ourselves if the former is too difficult, and know that this is something that we do not own. Likewise, when we react to people’s behaviour, we have to realise that this may be coming from an emotion or experience that is ours, and ours alone, and that we need to deal with this in order to work with integrity.
We also need to keep the ego in check. We have to be careful with notions of power. I’ve always said that being a Druid is a verb; it’s what you do that counts. If you are working as a Druid priest, or a teacher, you must remember to work with power in a way that is filled with honour and integrity. The renowned author and Pagan activist Starhawk coined three different types of power in her work, which are Power Over, Power With and Power from Within. We have to let go of notions of Power Over, and instead work with the other two, for empowering others is really what working in a Pagan priesthood is all about.
We need to inspire others, first and foremost. May we be the awen.
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I’m starting up a weekly podcast on my Bandcamp page! Every week I aim to discuss an aspect of Druidry and Paganism, which will be available to download or stream through the site. To listen to all the podcasts you will need to be a subscriber, though I will offer one podcast a month for free. By being a subscriber, you will also have full access to the entire back catalogue, including the audio version of bestselling book, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid.
To listen to the first podcast, click here: https://joannavanderhoeven.bandcamp.com/track/the-importance-of-daily-practice
Subscribe now to my Bandcamp page, for weekly podcasts, audiobooks, meditations, music, talks and more. Until January, this will only be £10 for a yearly subscription (a year from the date you joined). After that, the price will be going up, so subscribe now for the best deal!
Here is a little extract of the book that I’m currently working on for Llewellyn Worldwide , to be released hopefully late Spring early Summer 2019. It’s a complete guide to being a Hedge Druid, not only as a solitary path, but as one who walks between the worlds.
Magic in Modern Paganism is often seen as the ability to make changes through Will, the will of the mind combining with and focusing the energy of the universe. Druid magic is not that different, and there are several ancient accounts of Druid magic that can be found throughout history. As well, there are the Celtic myths and legends to look to, with tales of the spells, feats, incantations and more of certain characters. Indeed, the Tuatha dé Danann, the gods and goddesses that travelled on the North Wind to make their home in Ireland, were also called the Aes Dana or the Gifted People. They were known for their magical ability, and the first Druid magic worked in Ireland was done by them. In Irish, draíocht translates as both spells and magic, and shares its root with the word draoi, meaning Druid.
Druid magic was used for many different purposes: to curse, to bless, to transform, to repel, to create illusion, provide healing, to divine and to bring harmony. There are as many uses for magic as there are intentions of the individual, and so magic was and still is widely used in the Druid tradition. Magic can be empowering to the individual who has tried everything else and has no other recall in a given situation. Many in Modern Paganism adhere to the Wiccan view of the Threefold Law, which states that what you do comes back to you threefold, for good or ill. Druids don’t believe in this law as such, but as those who are questing integration, to create balance and harmony within an environment, performing malicious magical acts isn’t exactly suiting the purpose. Sometimes things will need to be removed, much like pruning a diseased tree. What is most important is that the whole is taken into consideration, and not just the desires of the individual.
A special caste or group of magical workers in Celtic history were the poets, the fili in Ireland, who has the ability to satirize and in this working, force others to obey their will. They could also praise and elevate an individual in form of blessing. They alongside the Druids also cast curses upon people, including the glam dicin, the curse of all curses. This is a “shout”, so we can assume that it was a curse that was shouted upon someone, usually in threes. Druids were sent by Queen Medb to seize Cuchulainn and to perform the glam dicin, which would cause three pimples representing injury, shame and fault upon his face. Culwech threatens a porter when he is denied entrance to a feast in Arthur’s hall, and tells him that he will give three mortal shouts, loud enough that they will be heard in Cornwall and Ireland. These shouts will cause miscarriages and infertility in all the women. The Roman writer Tacitus records black-robed women who ran amongst the Druids on the shores of Anglesey, brandishing torches and shouting curses with wild hair and screams causing fear in the opposing Roman soldiers. There were also curses to cause an unquenchable thirst, as well as to prevent people from urinating and causing them extreme discomfort. This last curse, strangely enough, seems to have been the most favoured by practitioners of magic here in East Anglia, as well as causing disease in cattle and horses (not surprising, being such an agricultural area).
The power of the spoken word was evidently the most important factor in this kind of magic, and others in the Druid tradition. As a mainly oral tradition, this applied to magic as well. To write a magic spell on something would be akin to setting something in stone, most likely irreversible. Oaths were a very serious matter to the Celts, and often included something along the lines of the land swallowing them, the sky falling upon them and more should they break this oath. There is also something known as a geis, which comes from the same root as the word guth meaning “voice”. This can be seen as a form of curse upon someone, or as an limitation upon one’s life that should they break it, has devastating results, often death. The geis, or a geisa, had repercussions in the material and the spiritual world, which to the Druids were interrelated. The fulfill a geisa meant that order was maintained throughout the cosmos. It was the responsibility of the individual to adhere to or take on a geis, and not simply the result of “fate” as normally viewed in other mythologies. The power of words, of your word once given, was all important. These words could be hurled in satire or curses, sung or chanted for victory or more. The voice, when used in a certain manner, saying certain words, could have very real and life-altering power. We will look at the voice later in the Developing Skills and Technique section of this book.
It was said that Druids could call up mists, or create fog banks to hide themselves from their enemies. The art of illusion or misdirection was not unknown. Deirdre was made invisible by the Druid fostering her, so that no one could see or hear her. Aonghus Og covers Diarmuid’s lover, Grania, with his mantle or cloak, thereby making her invisible so that they can escape their pursuers. A mantle is a cloak, and we can still see the use of the word, “to cloak” meaning to conceal. What’s more, mantle in ornithological terms also means the wings of a bird, and there are instances of Druids and even the Tuatha dé Danann being described as wearing a cloak of feathers. Some of these cloaks enabled the Druids to fly, such as the blind Druid Mog Roith so that he can direct a battle accordingly.
Divination was a form of magic often used by the Druids. The most popular methods were by determining auguries from the flight of birds, or more gruesomely, through the reading of entrails. The Gauls were said to be unsurpassed in this ability, according to Trogue Pompey of the Voscons (Justin, XXIV, 4). Dreams were also important, and combined with sensory deprivation had valuable results. The Irish imbas forosna is a form of sensory deprivation that excludes all light, and the Druid might go into a trance or even a slumber while he sought wisdom, then to be revealed figuratively and literally in the light of day. The transition from darkness to light is what caused the illumination, if you’ll pardon the pun. Speaking of illumination, there is also the tenim laegda, which means “illumination of song”. An offering or sacrifice is made, a song is sung and the querant touched with a wand, while the spellcaster places a thumb in their mouth, similar to when Finn Ma Cumail gained wisdom from the salmon after he sucked the juices from his thumb that spattered from the cauldron. The fingers could also be used in dichetal do chenmaid, used by Irish Christians as well as it did not include sacrifice or any Pagan deities. How exactly dichetal do chenmaid is performed is now lost to the mists of time.
Shape-shifting is a regular occurrence in magical workings in Celtic mythology. Fith may be a derivative of the Irish word for deer, and often we see people being turned into deer, swans, owls, hares, hawks, even a grain of wheat and more in the old tales. There is a lot of medieval accounts of witches being able to turn into hares, and so the magical working of shapeshifting continued. In relation to fith fath, the actual process itself might not be the physical transformation into a creature, but a journeying of the mind and/or spirit in the shape of a creature. One can become a specific creature in order to see a challenge through, though this requires immense mental discipline and a large amount of practice. The more one practices, the better one becomes. However, it’s not just the practical part of the exercise that is important; researching and learning all that you can about the animal in question is imperative in doing this correctly. Otherwise, what you will be doing is having a nice daydream of what it would be like to be this animal, and not a spiritually transformative magical working. As Druids seek integration with the world, becoming another being in the world allows for a different perspective, and enables us to forego our human-centric worldview. As Druid Robin Herne states in his work, Old Gods, New Druids:
“Shape-shifting… and its importance cannot be emphasised enough. It forms the core of our approach to mysticism – transforming one’s consciousness into something that will have a far greater effect later on… Far from rejecting the world, fith-fath sekks to embrace it in all its diversity, seeks to become the bird or beast or tree.”
We also have the tarb-feis, which involves a ritual sacrifice of an animal and then part of its flesh is eaten. In eating the flesh, the Druid can become one with the creature or absorb its magical or physical power. For those who are vegetarian or vegan, I personally don’t see why this can’t be done with herbs and other plants. (Note: Druids today do not sacrifice living animals, though they may rear animals for food just as they grow their own vegetables, as self-sufficiency is growing in the tradition.) We know that the Druids used mugwort in divination, both ingesting and using the smoke to induce a trance-like state. Plants have just as much power, and just as much to teach us, as animals do in their being.
There are many various healing techniques in Celtic culture. Healing wells abound through Britain, Ireland and Europe, and are associated with Celtic deities. Other popular magical acts and items include the brat Bríde was a piece of cloth left out on the evening of Brighid’s holy day of Imbolc, and brought back into the house with the power to heal, as well as to protect and ensure abundance of milk in cows and aid in calving, lambing and foaling. This cloth was not to be washed, otherwise its power would be drained. A brat that was seven years old was especially powerful. Herbs were used in healing, and special charms were recited as the herbs were being collected, as demonstrated by many various charms found in Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica. We will look at herb lore in a separate chapter.
 Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999
 Herne, R. Old Gods, New Druids, O Books, 2009
 Pearson, N. The Devil’s Plantation: East Anglian Lore, Witchcraft and Folk Magic, Troy Books, 2016
 Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999
 Sutton & Mann, Druid Magic: The Practice of Celtic Wisdom, Llewellyn, 2013
 Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999
 Herne, R. Old Gods, New Druids, O Books, 2009
 Loughlin, A. ” Là Fhèill Brìghde”, online: http://www.tairis.co.uk/festivals/la-fheill-brighde
As the nights draw in, and the cold brings us indoors for longer periods of time, the winter months are a good time for reflection. Though we may not need to take stock of our material goods as much as our ancestors did with today’s easier lifestyle, we must pay due diligence to our emotional and spiritual well-being. For the long winter months can be the most difficult for many people, and coupled with the physical stress of lack of sunlight, fresh food and often companionship we often have a trying time ahead. We are laid upon the anvil of Brighid, to be pounded and wrought into something stronger if we are able to see it through.
Taking care of our thoughts and feelings is essential to maintain a balanced equilibrium throughout the winter months. We have to work with emotional responsibility, and take charge of our behaviour rather than letting impulses, reactionary behaviour (which is often improper), and the deluge of other destructive human emotion to rule our world. We have to come to know our shadow side, to come to terms with the good and the bad, and to feed that which will sustain us. We acknowledge the necessity of destruction, but we need not feed it through the long winter months within our souls. We do not ignore negativity, but rather work with it in order to better understand our own sense of self, and in doing so, better understand others in the process. We all have destructive and negative thoughts, but what defines us is whether and how we act upon these thoughts. Sometimes it is necessary to work with destruction, but often we do not seek the way which will cause the least amount of harm. For us Druids, we need to remember the balance of the whole, as we strive towards holistic living and becoming a beneficial and nourishing part of an ecosystem. We have to remember our place within the whole, and take responsibility for the role that we play in our life, and in the lives of others.
There are far too many people who, knowingly or not, vent their emotions, their failures, their worries, anger, stress and more upon others. Let us not be like them, let us not add to the suffering in the world. We have to take a long, deep look at blame: at who we blame for our emotions, our behaviours. Only when we do so, can we begin the on the path to emotional responsibility. Certainly, there will be external factors beyond our control, but essentially the life that we live is up to us to determine, here in the gentler West. We’re not suffering the ravages of war or famine for the most part, though in the UK the rise of poverty is accelerating at an incredible pace under our current Conservative government. Many may suffer from ill health, physical or mental or both. But in working to take the reins and guide our souls towards integration, we must first of all be willing to do so. We must want health, healing and wholeness, for it will not happen without our effort.
We not only have to look at who we are blaming, but also when we blame ourselves for our suffering. That is not to say that we give ourselves a carte blanche, and do not take responsibility for suffering that we have caused, to ourselves and others. Rather, we acknowledge and then move on from there, instead of staying stuck in the well of stagnant waters in our soul.
I’ve had someone blame me for their depression for a blog post that I wrote years ago and then suffered years of bullying and undermining behaviour in a professional capacity as a result. I’ve had a friend stop all communication with me when I provided them information on a disease that they had, which they didn’t like hearing but which I shared because I was worried about their health and their becoming re-infected (they were terribly misinformed, and I referred them to the NHS website). I’ve been ill-treated by my first dance instructor, whose jealousy and competitiveness ruled her emotions and her behaviour towards me. These are but a few examples of things I have gone through that require my own personal emotional responsibility. I cannot control how other people react to life, or to what I do, even though I do my work with the best intention in mind, and keep to a strong code of ethic. These behaviours are lamentable, and I wish that I could help these people in coming to terms with their own suffering, and alleviate the misplaced blame and anger that they have laid upon me, but I cannot. I cannot make others act as I would wish; I can only live the example that I wish to see in the world. I will not perpetuate the destruction or suffering, the anger or the legion of other emotions that are involved.
It’s not all roses and light in my world. I regularly work with my shadow, with anger and vengeance, with pain and suffering in my life, and in the lives of others. How that energy moves in my life is what I work to control, to transform. I work towards not allowing these emotions to cause further destruction around me, though I may use them to bring about certain endings in life situations, and to take stock of where it is that I am investing my time and thoughts. If it isn’t beneficial to the whole, if it isn’t nourishing, then the investment stops, and I seek to work with energies that will sustain both myself and others in my life. That’s not to say that I don’t go through dark periods as I come to terms with things happening in my life, but I know that there is transformation awaiting, if only I have the courage and the will to seek it out.
From the tide of Samhain to the Winter Solstice, I use this period for deep introspection, for reflection and spiritual work that honour the darkness both within and without. I look at where I have laid blame in my life, and where others have blamed me with equanimity. I look at the success and the failure in my life with equal measure. I take stock of what will keep me going through the winter months, emotionally, mentally and spiritually, and then simply do the work necessary. Prayer, meditation, work, ritual; all these are pathways for the soul to come to terms with the self. I can seek further guidance from the ancestors, from the gods, the Fair Folk and the spirits of place. My relationship with these beings is integral to my spiritual path, and this relationship too must be nourished. Giving in return for receiving is essential to any functioning ecosystem, to the integration sought by those on the Druid path.
The world provides us with examples each and every day of how not to be: from world leaders insulting each other over social media, the bad behaviour of colleagues, the trials we endure from friends and family and more. Seek out the darkness within and without, and work with it in order to reclaim the energy that lies in the shadow. For it is in the darkness that the seeds wait for the warmth and light of spring. The darkness is nourishing, if we allow it to be, if we are able to seek the calm and centeredness necessary before transforming the energy into something that will grow and flourish. Take a long, deep look at your own self, and in doing so, come to know your own dark night of the soul.
Note: St John of the Cross, 16th-century, Spanish poet and Roman Catholic, Discalced Carmelite mystic, priest, and Doctor of the Church St. John of the Cross, OCD wrote a poem entitled “The Dark Night of the Soul” in which the human soul sees communion and integration with the divine.