Extract from upcoming book, HEDGE DRUID

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

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.[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] 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).[4]

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.[5] 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”.[6] 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.[7] 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[8], 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).[9] 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.[10] 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.”[11] 

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.[12] 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.

[1] Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999

[2] Ibid.

[3] Herne, R. Old Gods, New Druids, O Books, 2009

[4] Pearson, N. The Devil’s Plantation: East Anglian Lore, Witchcraft and Folk Magic, Troy Books, 2016

[5] Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sutton & Mann, Druid Magic: The Practice of Celtic Wisdom, Llewellyn, 2013

[8] Ibid.

[9] Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999

[10] Ibid.

[11] Herne, R. Old Gods, New Druids, O Books, 2009

[12] Loughlin, A. ” Là Fhèill Brìghde”, online: http://www.tairis.co.uk/festivals/la-fheill-brighde

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Blog Award!

It’s an honour to be included in the Top 75 Witchcraft Blogs and Websites for Witches. (No.27!) You may notice the new badge on this blog in recognition of such 🙂  Many, many thanks for your support. May we be the awen, the inspiration!

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The Dark Night of the Soul

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.

dark night soul

 

Reblog: A Full Moon of Samhain Ritual

Here’s what happened on the full moon of Samhain this year 🙂  To read the original blog post, visit my channel at SageWoman for Witches and Pagans, at PaganSquare.

The candles were lit, the incense smoking, and the bells of the church ringing in the still night air. Friday night is the practice night for the village bell-ringers, and so our ritual was accentuated by their skilful tones. The moon was riding high in a hazy sky, and haloed with an ever-widening ring that spoke of the Otherworld.

We raised our boundary, which was to the whole of the property, and called to the realms of Land, Sea and Sky. We honoured the ancestors at the full moon of Samhain, as well as the spirits of place. We invited the Fair Folk who were in tune with our intention, as they have been a part of our rituals since we began. We sang to the four quarters, and then invoked the gods. We invited all who were harmony with us this Samhain night. This was our first time in invoking the god into our full moon ritual, but it felt right. How right, we were just about to discover.

We honoured the tides of Samhain, the winter months of darkness. We then performed our magical working at the fire, and gathering our clooties: ribbons of intention that we tie to the branches of the apple tree at the bottom of the garden every month. Walking back to the terrace where the bird bath, now a sacred basin of water reflecting the moonlight, served as our vessel as we drew down the moon into the water. The church bells rang in time to our working, and stopped just as we finished. The air was utterly still.

Suddenly, a loud bark sounded from the other side of the hedge, down the track a little ways. A fallow deer stag, wandering the moonlit night. We stopped and turned to the noise, and he barked again, this time a little closer. We looked to each other and smiled, feeling blessed by his presence. Then an enormous bark, just the other side of the cedar boundary, which made us all jump. He was right up against the hedge, near the little hole that the muntjac, fallow deer and badgers made.

And he was trying to come through.

We could hear him brushing against the hedge, wanted to come through the doorway, but his antlers preventing him from doing so. The firelight made the area where the entrance lay shadowed from our sight. Our breath quickening, we looked at each other. The God was here, and he was making himself known. He paced along the back boundary, trying to come through first one hole in one corner, and then the other. He then returned to the middle of the hedge, where the boundary between the civilised and the wild lay, that doorway to the Otherworld that lay in the hedge, and pawed the ground, sniffing the night air, sniffing the scent of the three women gathered around the sacred pool. Gathered around the sacred pool, with hearts beating loudly in their breast.

“A blessing to you, God of Samhain, Lord of the Wildwood. May your journey into darkness be blessed, and we are honoured by your presence,” I whispered softly into the night, tears falling down my cheek.

We heard him still sniffing, and we felt his eyes upon us. The world stood still, and we hardly dared to breathe. Would he change his shape and come through? What would we do if that happened? A hush descended, and we no longer heard him just the other side of the hedge. With hands slightly shaking, we dipped our clooties into the water and walked down to the apple tree, right where he had been sniffing just the other side. As we walked, we sang to let him know we were approaching. “Deep into the earth I go, deep into the earth I go. Hold my hand, brother; hold my hand. Hold my hand, sister; hold my hand”. We bravely tied our ribbons to the branches, knowing that the God stood only a few feet away from us. Stepping back, we finished the chant, and bowed to the apple tree and hedge, bathed in the soft moonlight. Silence reigned. We knew he was no longer there, and we didn’t hear him leave. He simply disappeared through the veil between the worlds.

We made our offering, and gazed into the mirror at the fairy portal shrine I made under the beech tree. We saw things: bonfires on the hills of Tlachtga, owl-faced warriors, deep caverns beneath the earth, the land of the sidhe, and the Mari Lwyd. We circled the fire clockwise three times for blessings, and then ended our rite, breathless and filled with wonder.

May the Lord of the Wildwood bless you all this season, may you find nourishment in the darkness of winter.

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017

Ten little seconds…

Meditation can be done for many different reasons. Some use it to find inner peace, others to help find a focus in their lives and their work, others to increase compassion in their lives and for others. But for the most part, I think an aspect of meditation that is often over-looked is the simple aspect of it being nice to just stop every once in a while, sit down and enjoy the moment.

I use meditation for all the reasons given above, and more. But it’s in the simple pleasure of stopping where perhaps it is of most use. Taking the time to light some candles and incense, get some cushions out and just simply “be” is a great gift that I can give to myself at the end of a busy day or week. As I sit in front of my altar, I allow all the thoughts that are running through my head to make themselves known to me, rather than just being background stress and noise. Eventually, the thoughts slow down, quieten and then comes that exquisite moment when all is still. No more mental gymnastics. No more body twitches, itches or squirming trying to find a comfortable, relaxed position. Everything settles, even if  this feeling lasts for just ten seconds, and it is good. Better than good. The heart opens, the mind and body are one. There is nothing but myself and the world, here and now, sitting, breathing, peaceful.

Having even ten seconds to still the mind, to allow it to take a break from all the thoughts has an enormous effect on you for days afterwards. Taking the time to allow you to set aside the cares and worries, the reminiscing and the to-do lists, the work and the family issues has a profound effect not only on your mind but also on your body. Have you ever just sat on the couch after a busy day, flopped onto the sofa and just stopped for a minute or two? Meditation is the same thing, for your mind and your body, allowing it a moment of rest.

In that deep silence, when that moment is achieved, we can have some profound realisations as well. When we stop the mental chatter, we allow ourselves to refocus on what really matters in our lives. Just a few seconds of that blissful silent state can alter our perception and allow us to put things into perspective. What really matters? Not what the guy said to you in that social media group. Not the office gossip or your infuriating work colleague. We find that spending a little time in the quiet of our homes or meditation space, whether inside or outside, allows us to see that it’s in the joy of being alive right now, and the people that we actually physically share our lives with that really matter. Our family and friends. Our home. Our gardens. Our religion or spirituality. The Earth. Our perspective can get so skewed by what is happening in the world around us. Allowing us to stop and refocus changes everything.

It’s amazing what ten little seconds can achieve.

Cover 1To find out more about meditation, stillness and finding peace, try my little e-book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World.

Escaping…

Right now, I’m in “book jail”, as Jhenah Telyndru so wonderfully describes it: when you are working so hard on a project, and it’s pretty much all that you can think about. I’m currently working on my 7th book, and this one’s a big one for Llewellyn Worldwide.  However, today I thought I would get out and check on the progress of autumn in my area, because before you know it, it will pass you by! Sometimes it’s just nice to do something different creatively, so…

Here are some of the moments, captured on camera.

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A quiet moment in the beech wood…

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A crow going to join his mates…

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This year’s youngling!

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A proud mama…

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The last of the heather…

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A majestic hawk…

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A moment with the Old Oak

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The incredible autumn skies…

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Going for a canter…

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Harvesting the carrots