Re-weaving the Connection Every Day

Reposted from my blog at SageWoman on Witches and Pagans at PaganSquare

A large part of the work at Druid College is teaching our apprentices how to re-weave the connection to the land each and every day. We cover a wide-range of topics in doing so, from conscious consumerism, political and environmental activism, daily and seasonal ritual celebrations and more. Our focus from our last weekend was on daily connection, how we can bring everyday actions into our practice, to make the mundane sacred; indeed, to highlight the fact that there is no such thing as the mundane. It’s only in our perception.

Part of the homework given was to write an essay on how the apprentice can re-weave the connection every day. I thought I would share what I do with them, and you, in the hopes that it may inspire you on your path.

As I work from home, I have the luxury of setting my own schedule. However, I do still remember the days when I worked full-time, and then part-time, and how I simply shifted priorities in order to make it work. I also don’t have any children, although my two furry grrrls do make me wonder sometimes…

I start the day with a prayer. Watching the sun rise, I say the following:

I kindle my soul at the hearthfire of Brighid. Flame of courage, flame of joy, drops of awen be upon my lips, my work. May Brighid guide me in all my endeavours, this day and every day. May the light of illumination be upon me, may the blessings of Brighid flow through me. May her fiery arrow bring forth awen, to shine upon all kith and kin.

I then feed the cats, clean the litter boxes and see that they’re happy. When they’re all settled, I light some incense and go to my little shrine to Brighid in my living room, next to the fireplace. Here, I have a small lantern and a bowl of water filled with water from the White Spring in Glastonbury. I light the candle and then pass my hand over the water and say:

In Brighid’s name I light the flame. Come into the sacred waters, lady of the three strong fires: in the cauldron, in the belly, in the head: Brighid. Lady of the sacred flame, lady of the holy well, lady of poetry, smithcraft and healing, white serpent energy of Albion, I honour you for all that you are with all that I am.

A blessing be upon this hearth and this home, and all who dwell within. A blessing be upon my Lady, a blessing be upon this land. May there be peace in our hearts and minds, and towards all fellow beings. May we be the awen.

I then sit and focus on my breath for nine rounds, then perform the Three Realms working as found in Jhenah Telyndru’s Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery, and Inner Wisdom. This releases any negative or destructive energies within our being and replaces it with the clean, clear energy of the three realms.

I then put on the coffee and have a fruit smoothie for breakfast. I sit down at the dining table and say a quick prayer that I recite before all meals, sometimes out loud, sometimes just in my head.

I give my thanks for this food that I am about to eat. May it lend health, strength and nourishment to me. I give my thanks to the spirits of land, sea and sky. I honour all the times, and all the tides.

After breakfast, I get on with my work, clearing the admin first, and then going to write, create music, do an audio recording for my bandcamp page or do some artwork. I work for about five hours, and then have a late lunch. After lunch, I go outside for a three-mile walk. Sometimes I dance instead of going for a walk, using the 5 Rhythms method. Both walking and dancing help me to gain inspiration needed to solve problems, to connect with the rhythms of nature, or to find the stillness needed outside of my own mind, to be fully present in the moment.

The rest of the afternoon is spent in study and ends with meditation. Then, when the sun sets, I sing a prayer as I watch the sun fall past the horizon:

Hail fair sun the day is done. We take the rest that we have won. Your shining light guides our way. Blessed thanks for this day.

I usually have a cup of herbal tea with me as I watch the sun set. I’ve been using mugwort, chickweed and lady’s mantle from my own garden lately, to help me as I transition through perimenopause. I hold the herbs in my hand before putting them into the teapot, honouring their energy and adding my own to their song.

I then cook a meal for my husband and I, honouring the lovely organic food and all those who brought it to my home. Afterwards, my husband and I spend time together, enjoying each other’s quiet company. I may take a bath in the evening, honouring the clean, hot water that flows from the tap, throwing in some herbs or oil after infusing them with my intention, honouring theirs and bringing them together. I have another cup of herbal tea, made with vervain, which is calming and sacred to Druids both ancient and modern. (Please note: some of the herbs mentioned in this writing should not be used when pregnant. Always seek the advice of a good herbalist.) When it is time for bed, I say a final prayer:

I rest my soul in the arms of Brighid. Lady of peace, lady of healing; blessings of the sacred flame be upon me. Protecting flame, the light in the darkness. May her waters soothe my soul. Lady, watch over me as I sleep, this night and every night. May my love for you guide me in all that I do. May we be the awen.

Different prayers may be recited during the day, or during, before or after meditation. I have created a small book of prayers that I have handwritten, charms and such that correspond to everyday actions. There is a song for Brighid, which I sometimes sing when I am outside at my altar and feel Her moving through me. There is a prayer for greeting the moon, for invoking the spirits of place. I have created a blessing of protection, for when I feel that there is need. I have created a house blessing, to be recited twice a year, at Imbolc and Samhain after I clean the house thoroughly from top to bottom. I have written a chant for Brighid, to bring me into a trance-like state. There are healing charms and more that I have written or researched, said when necessary throughout the day.

In a sense, I have created my own liturgy for my own personal practice. However, this is for me and me alone; created out of elements of my own experience and my own life. I encourage others to create their own, if they so wish. Druidry has no set liturgy as a whole, however, I like the structure that I have created in my own personal practice. I understand that others might find it too restrictive. There are spontaneous prayers and connections recited and felt throughout the day, such as when out on a walk and I see the herds of deer, or the hawk flying overhead, or when I reach my hands down onto the mossy ground of my back garden to feel the energy of the land, or see the approaching storm.

These are the tools that I use each and every day to help me re-weave the connection to the land, to the gods and to the ancestors. At the full and dark moons I do ritual to honour these tides, as well as at the eight seasonal festivals of the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year. It’s been a fun and creative process, creating the daily prayers and rituals over the years, and I encourage anyone to try it. May we be the awen!

Finding the Balance: Wedding Discipline to Devotion

Finding the Balance: Wedding Discipline to Devotion

Our culture of “not good enough” is so rampant, that it can be terribly hard to disassociate oneself from it. I was able to come to terms with the capitalist way of life here in our Western world through Eastern means, specifically through Zen Buddhism. That led to deep meditation, of simply being in the moment, of enjoying the simple things in life while maintaining a deep discipline of distancing myself from the “not good enough life” into one where “it is enough”. This occurred on both a physical and spiritual level. Indeed, it usually does, because the two cannot be separated from each other.

The discipline aspect was hard, at first. I didn’t feel like meditating, like being in the moment. I would do so without any spiritual or religious intent, per se; it was merely to be in the moment, experiencing my body without distraction, noticing my thoughts. As I became more proficient at this, through sheer dogged determination and mule-minded stubborness, the light began to shine through the cracks that had opened up in my mind and in my way of being in the world. I could see that it was all illusion, that what my mind created was illusion, that the way we thought and acted in the world was all based on illusion. At first I was angry at the deception, then I was sad, depressed at the state of the world and not seeing a way through. But through perseverance, I came through the other side. How did I persevere? Again, it was discipline, but this time it was wedded to devotion.

Discipline itself wasn’t enough to get me through. I knew I could do it, and indeed I had. But when I dropped out many things in my life, all the illusory things, I didn’t at the time realise that I had to fill up the hole that they left with something more nourishing. Instead, it left me feeling empty, which at first was an interesting way to be, but then voracious hunger kicks in, when we’re empty, when we need refuelling. Carefully deciding on the path that I wanted to take, in order to find and maintain a sovereign sense of self, I brought devotion into my practice, in order to grasp that deep intention and give meaning to all that I did. After all, isn’t that the meaning of life? To give your life meaning?

And so I devoted myself to the gods of my local landscape, and several other “traditional” gods within the Celtic pantheon, some that I had worked with for decades, others which called to me to come and dance with them, for however long or short a while. And so I did, weaving discipline, daily discipline, with devotion, giving meaning to the work that I did, both for myself and for the wider world. When the hole was filled, through the previous emptying of my mind and soul, it was enough.

This is not a one-off process, however. Every day I am learning just what enough means. We are bombarded each and every day by media trying to create feelings of inadequacy. It brings to mind the Druid maxim: the Truth against the World. I have to hold my truth, against that of the world around me which seeks to distance myself from my truth. I have to work hard to be sovereign of myself. The hard work is worth the effort.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my bad days, that I don’t slip into despair every now and then, of my own failings and that of the world. But when I go outside, listen to the blackbird singing songs of the Otherworld, when I see the herd of deer running through the woods, or the bloated corpse of a fallow deer rotting down into the leafmould; when I see the hawk flying over the treetops, screaming in hunger or joy, or the waves of the sea gently lapping the shingle and whispering secrets of the murky depths, I come back to an awareness of the Mystery. That Mystery is that the world is more than me, that I am a part of a great web, a connecting thread in all that there is, all that ever was, and all that shall ever be. I am the awen, from the depths I sing.

It’s important to remember that human beings are part of nature. Our culture tries to create the illusion of separateness, but when we pull back the veil we see the interconnectedness of all things. The air that I breathe is oxygen created by trees and plankton, grasses and daisies. They in turn take a deep breath of the carbon I expel from my lungs, in one great harmonious intake and outtake of a World Breath. Just breathing can connect us to each other, can remind us of that connection each and every day. That was why the sitting meditation, or zazen of my earlier days, of just focusing and concentrating on breathing was such a great stepping stone in my life. From there, from just sitting and breathing with the world, I came to a sense of connection that led to a life of devotion, where I work to achieve a sovereignty of self in a world that seeks to make me its subject and slave.

We might think that we aren’t equipped to do the daily practice, to help others, much less help ourselves. But we are, if we remember. Re-member: to bring together disparate parts of ourselves. If we remember that connection, the threads of awen that connect each and every life form to each other, then we can work to know that our existence is not just a mere blight on the planet. We have destroyed so much, and we are at a tipping point, for sure. But there is also the great possibility that this is the moment where we all wake up. That humanity undergoes a revolution of its own mind, its hive mind. That we open up to the wonderful magic of possibility. That we are able to use our intelligence, discipline, compassion, empathy and more to make this world a better place. Is this altruism? Not entirely, because we also will benefit greatly from this revolution. We are doing it because we know that we are all connected. We are all related.

For me, wedding discipline to devotion helped to give my life meaning, and to put my feet upon the path towards this revolution. Working with love and compassion, for myself and for the world around me gives my life meaning. Even when I’m not feeling particularly loving, especially towards humanity, I have to remember the potential, the possibility that we can change, that we can reweave our connection to the land. It’s the basis of the work I do at Druid College, to hope to inspire people find their sovereign self, to come to know what enough really is, to work with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place and to really understand on a deep level that we are the land. There is no separation. Lying down upon the mossy ground in my backyard, underneath the beech tree, tiny buds appearing on its ever-expanding canopy year upon year, I look up into the blue sky just beyond the tangled web and know that there is always possibility, that there is always change. Buddhism and Zen teach of impermanence; so too does Druidry, in the natural flow and cycles of the seasons of our lives. When we truly come to understand the nature of impermanence, we come to truly know abundance.

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017

A Druid view of peace, justice and permaculture

Conflict resolution are two words that very much need to be taken into consideration in today’s political, social and economic climate. I would like to add a third word, which is honourable. When we are taking into consideration the bigger picture, the benefit to the whole, changing our perception to a more holistic one, then we are on the path towards honourable conflict resolution. Where each part matters, where each part has value, much akin to the animist’s view of the world wherein all of nature has inherent value, this worldview can help us to provide the solutions necessary in order to solve some deep problems. Too often it is easy to criticise; we often forget we must also offer solutions.

I spoke to my apprentices a couple of weeks ago at one of our Druid College sessions about ethical leadership. Leading on from that discussion, in the next weekend we will be exploring ways in which groups with differing opinions, mindsets, politics and worldviews can still operate co-operatively. Many aspects found within permaculture are a brilliant source of inspiration. Druidry is all about relationship, and relationship is also at the heart of permaculture. Nature works co-operatively in order to provide a functioning homeostasis. Yes, there are brief flashes of competition here and there, but for the most part every aspect of nature works with others in order to survive.

If we look at mycorrhizal fungi, those tiny filaments of connecting threads that run underground, connecting tree to tree in a forest, connecting many other plants and fungi, we see in a microcosm paradigm that everything is connected. Furthermore, there have been studies wherein it was found that through these connecting threads plants could help other plants, working co-operatively instead of competing for the best space and light. Trees that were in the sunlight could and did collect nourishment and nutrients that were then sent to trees in the shade that had little or no access. They did not even have to be of the same species: trees and other plants simply helped each other.

Unless we are hermits, we will have interaction with other humans. What we need to relearn is how to do so in a beneficial way, without falling into modern day society’s obsession with competition. It’s not a dog-eat-dog world out there. Much of patriarchy revolves around this idea of competition, and we need to let that go in order to find more balance in society as a whole. So how do we work with people whose perception is so different from our own? How can be bridge the gap, find the language, work honourably and sustainably with one another?

If we are working with a group, and that group begins falling apart, with bickering or power struggles, we need to look closely at how that situation came about in the first place. If we are in the role of leader, then it is up to us to communicate with all involved, and find out just what is going on, getting different perspectives on the matter. We then need to look at the situation from a different perspective altogether, which is where permaculture can help us to widen our perception further, outside the human element, allowing the authority to come from nature.

If there is a problem in a garden, a proponent of permaculture would look deeply into the issue. If there is a mould or damaging/invading insect in the garden, the solution would not be to just tackle the mould or the bug. Instead, one would look at the conditions that allowed such a thing to occur, looking deeply into the issue without any bias. Only then can more than one solution be offered, and perhaps one that is more effective.

If we relate that to group dynamics, we could be more successful in addressing more than one problem at a time. If there is conflict within the group, we could solve a single problem by kicking out the ones who are perceived to be creating the conflict. But then another person might take their place, doing the same amount of damage. If we took a permaculture perspective, we would also look at the reasons why such a thing was allowed to occur, and the reasons could be many and varied. We may find that if we address the climate and conditions that created the tension in the first place, it would all stop and no one would have to leave. Only when all issues are addressed will there be any honourable conflict resolution.

As a Druid, I take my inspiration and my authority from the nature. Nature is my teacher. Through nature I learn how to function in my environment, and how to take the lessons that I have learned in my own locality and apply or adapt them to any location that I find myself in. Talking to the spirits of place, the ancestors, the gods, I can get a feel for what it is that I owe in return for what I have been given. I can work towards balanced, reciprocal, sustainable and inspired relationship.

That doesn’t mean that there will never be conflict. But when there is, we can see them as challenges and opportunities, to learn more about ourselves and about the world. We don’t have to have everyone like us, and we don’t have to like everyone, but we can learn how to operate in a society where we want or desire very different things. And where honourable conflict resolution is unobtainable, perhaps through continuing abuse or damage to our own well-being in any shape or form, we can learn to extract ourselves from the situation and find a new path forward. Much as when I am walking in the forest, if I see a patch of nettles, I will not walk through them trying to find a relationship with them; I can honour them for what they are, but still avoid them. Some things simply will not work together, no matter how much we would like them to. Acceptance is a large part of permaculture, and of peace of mind.

When we are working in such a manner, we will find peace not only for ourselves, but hopefully for others as well. Justice only arises when we have found some semblance of peace, in ourselves and in the world. Working holistically, honourably, in a desire to be utterly integrated then we truly walk the path of the Druid.

Cover 1For more on finding peace in a world of unrest, you can buy my little e-book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World from Amazon. All royalties from books sales go to charity: The Orangutan Appeal UK and The Woodland Trust.

Druid College has a couple of places left on the Year 1 course starting this October. Please see the website for more details.

BBC Interview, Radio Suffolk

Here is the link to my interview from yesterday with Matt Marvel on the Lesley Dolphin show for BBC Radio Suffolk. I’m on from about 2:00 in 🙂  Available on BBC IPlayer for the next few weeks.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04nzszm

The Joy of Teaching

Well, we’ve just had our first weekend with our Year Two students, and it was brilliant. We have a really diverse and bright group, who bring to the weekends such different experiences. I am truly honoured to know them.

We began with a ritual in the nearby woodland, a lovely deciduous wood with several large ponds. We honoured the work of Year One, and stated our intention for Year Two. We honoured all the teachers in our life, those who inspire us. Robin also spoke a few very moving words to honour Boudica, as our new venue lies very close to the spot purported to be where she fought her last battle. We then wove a web of connection, throwing balls of yarn to each other across the circle, stating what we wish to weave into the year’s work. Word like “joy”, “compassion”, “integrity”, “friendship”, and “honour” were said. We then lifted the web and moved deosil around the circle, chanting and bringing our energy to the web, which will later next week be offered to my Samhain fire.

We had a packed weekend, discussing what it means to live an awakened life, as well as prophecy and seership, divination and the divine. We took the students through a ritual trance induction to the Lowerworld, to meet with their totem animal. There was witty and funny discussion, and the weekend was very much a success. The venue, with its solar panels and air exchange system really met the criteria we have for working in sustainable relationship with the land, and for ancestors yet to come.

We’re very much looking forward to the next weekend!

And, on October 31st we open for our next Year One session which begins in October 2017. This allows time for payment in installments to be made before the course begins. For more information on the Year One programme, please visit the website at www.uk.druidcollege.org.

Druid College Year 1 Applications Opening Soon!

druid college UK logo 2As we prepare to take our Year 2 students through their first weekend of the second year, we are also looking forward to opening up for applications on 31 October for our next Year 1, which begins in October 2017. We are opening for applications earlier this year, a full year in advance, to allow for payment in installments before commencement of the course so that everyone will have an opportunity to apply and if accepted, reserve their place for Year 1.

We had such a brilliant first year, and we are very much looking forward to our second year with some incredible students. We have ritual, trancing, lectures, discussion and more planned for this weekend; it’s going to be jam-packed!

To find our more about Druid College, please visit our website at www.uk.druidcollege.org.

Fire in the Head

Well, the manuscript has been handed in for my next book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature. I’ve just come back from a fabulous weekend of teaching at Druid College. It’s been a busy few weeks, to say the least! Everything is coming together, after the nourishing rains and sunlight, both in the inner worlds and the outer. The bluebells are out in full force, the awen is flowing and the sunlight every growing. Beltane is near.

These past few years I have learned so much about my local environment, having moved from the city to the country back in 2010. Being a country girl at heart, it was like a huge sigh of relief, getting away from the concrete and out into the sweet-smelling air of the rural countryside. I have explored the ancestors of place, finding ancient Celtic settlements, henges and tumuli. I have also discovered that my ancestry, with regards to ethnicity through DNA testing, is 56% British (“native” British people are usually 60%), which was a shock as I had pretty much thought all my ancestry would be Western European, seeing as I could trace my family history back to the Netherlands for at least 250 years. Does this give me a deeper sense of belonging to this land? It does, and it doesn’t. I feel less like a visitor, but then again I have been living here in the UK for nearly twenty years. When does someone become native? Is it justified by a length of time, by ancestry?

For me, I think it comes down to relationship. If I have soul-deep relationship with the land, if I am connected to it on every level, then I am home.

Where I live there are the songs of Celts and Saxons, Normans and Friesians. But it is the songs of the Celts that I find harmony with more than most, and being able to connect to these ancestors through blood, place and tradition brings an even deeper level of understanding to my being. I love living in Boudica country. I love learning more and more about the history, the theology. These have always got my fires burning, all throughout my schooling years as a child into adulthood. Now they feel a bit more solidified, a bit more a part of me than someone else’s stories.

Our teaching at Druid College combines the history and theology of both ancient Celtic and modern-day Druidry. I am blessed to have a co-tutor who is, in my eyes, the leading authority in this area (and many other world religions): Robin Herne. I feel that together we have created something that is truly special, truly unique. I have the most amazing students this year, our inaugural year, who inspire me in a beautiful cycle of awen and creativity.

Everything feels like it is coming together in wonderful synchronicity, in beautiful symbiosis. Flowing with the currents of awen, walking with honour and responsibility, ever inspired by the wonder of existence I simply cannot take anything for granted. The fires of Beltane will soon be lit. The fire in the head simply will not quit.

And so this Beltane I hope to travel out to the local ancient sacred spaces, to spend the night with the ancestors, lighting a fire and sleeping out under the stars, walking between this world and the Otherworld. The fire in my head will not allow me to do otherwise, it seems. The fire in the belly keeps me stoked. The fire in the cauldron brings potential and awen.

And if I’m not back in a hundred years, you’ll know where to find me!

The Song of Wandering Aengus

By William Butler Yeats

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.