Review of The Spirit of Nature Oracle

spirit of natureThe Spirit of Nature Oracle cards by John Matthews and Will Worthington have been re-released by Eddison Books, much to my delight. This deck of 25 cards brings together the wisdom of the Druid Ogam, and the history and magical influence the Green Man has over humanity’s lives still, even in our modern day and age.

The Ogam is a Celtic “alphabet”, a series of lines drawn over a vertical axis that have many various meanings, depending upon the type of Ogam being used. There were over 250 types of Ogam, such as the famous Tree Ogam, Pool Ogam, King Ogam, Bird Ogam, Dog Ogam, even a Food Ogam! These provided the mnemonics necessary to retain and also express a vast wealth of information in as small a form as possible, not unlike poetry and its distillation of meaning to some carefully chosen words. The Green Man is a figure from out of the mists of time, one that has watched over humanity since its inception and throughout its evolution. Trees have been a very important part of humanity’s existence and success, for within their shaded boughs we found safety and security, as well as food and healing.

Bringing the Ogam and the Green Man together is a wonderful way to provide a holistic tree-based divination system. In our modern society, we are a very visual bunch, and so I believe the popularity of oracle cards has gained because of this in our lives. Our memories are filled with such an abundance of other “stuff” than our ancient ancestors held, and so the training to interpret the various meanings of each Ogam would take more time than most have in order to be successful. By bringing the format into something very visual, we can meditate upon the image and see the meanings held there, both historically and in our own personal gnosis, brought to life in an easy form and media that anyone can use.

We have the brilliant artwork by Will Worthington, who used ancient, traditional methods such as painting with egg tempura-based paints upon wooden panels. Matthews’ knowledge and wisdom shines through the text, providing historical background to the Ogam and the Green Man, both simply and eloquently, as anyone who is familiar with his works can attest to (and I’m a big fan). The divinatory meanings are clear and inspired, and yet personal gnosis is recommended first and foremost by Matthews when drawing a card, for to gaze upon the card before outside influence can reveal some truths about the self that others’ interpretations could not touch upon.

There are some suggestions for drawing the cards, based on one, three or five-card spreads. Using the Tree of Life spread, by placing three cards in reference to the Lower, Middle and Upperworld is truly inspired. It’s an approachable deck, for anyone to use, regardless of religious or spiritual background or preference. The cards can simply be used to meditate upon the season and the cycle that we are currently in, as well as being used for divinatory purposes. I would highly recommend using them both ways!

I am so very pleased that this deck has been re-released, and in such a beautiful format. It comes in a sturdy box, to protect both book and cards from being banged around and makes it useful when travelling. My only criticism would be that it would have been nice for the book to have been in colour as well, to match the cards, but being an author myself I am fully aware of the limitations both in print and in financial terms that this would be subject to, and so would say that the beauty of the cards themselves more than makes up for it. The book is great reference and resource material, and the cards are wonderful pieces of artwork. I highly recommend this deck to anyone who loves trees, nature, Celtic lore and spirituality or who just loves and collects oracle cards!

Harvest for the Soul and Coming Home

It’s good to be home. After a couple of weeks visiting my family back in Canada, with yet another heat wave (40C with the humidity!) I can honestly say that I’m grateful to be back in Suffolk. It feels like autumn has arrived here, as it has back in Canada (the day after I left, it turned to a lovely 21C and the leaves beginning their autumnal splendour) and the change in the air is most welcome.

As always, going back to visit my family brings up contemplations of just what “home” really is. I realised that in 3.5 years, I will have lived in the UK for as long as I have lived in Canada. Over twenty years of eating food grown in this land, drinking water from local bore holes and reservoirs, breathing in the air and connecting with the different flora and fauna relative to this place and this time. It really has shaped me, alongside the people I’ve met and the experiences I have had, and I am both grateful and a touch melancholic when reminiscing about all that I have done and gone through in moving to this new land all those years ago.

This is where I made my lifelong dream come true, to be an author. Never did I ever dream about establishing a Druid College, or a belly dance company, or a host of many other turns my life has taken. It’s been a challenge and a blessing, the twists and turns my life has taken, and for which I am both proud and humbled to have come out the other side. England is not the land of Madam George and roses, as Sinead O’Connor once sang, but it is the place that captured my heart, alongside Wales, Scotland and Ireland.

So I return to my home with a renewed sense of place, of home and indeed, of belonging. Even though I will always carry a thread of being an outsider, with my accent alerting people to the fact that I was not born here, still I feel like this place is home. An immigrant to this country, coming from a long line of immigrants to various countries, I feel a shared connection both to my ancestors as well as to the ancestors of place, which here in the UK are so varied from before history even began. I have a few months now to breathe deeply, to take the time to reconnect, now that my new book for Llewellyn has been sent off and revised. For the rest of the year, I will be taking information in, taking in the sensual and the ecstatic, allowing the awen to flow into me after many long months of being on the other end. Allowing myself to reap the harvest sown earlier on. And so the cycle continues, in and out, flowing and ebbing, as I gather my resources ready for a new round of work come the new year. For the next three months, I will be listening to the words and voices of others, allowing their inspiration to fill me, and see where that takes me.

And in the meantime, I shall walk this land, the sandy soil of heath and woodland beneath my feet, the wind blowing in from the sea and scenting the air, the hearthfires burning both in the little village around me and within my soul.

P.S. Here’s a sneak peek at the cover of my new book, coming out next summer!

Hedge Druid Cover

Book reviews for Morgan Daimler

Hello all! I’ve been a bit late in posting a review for Morgan Daimler’s Travelling the Fairy Path, and so I’m also including my review for her latest Pagan Portals as well, coming out next year: Manannán mac Lir: Meeting the Celtic God of Wave and Wonder.

travelling fairy path coverI’ve loved all of Morgan Daimler’s work, and so when the call went out last year for reviews for her Travelling the Fairy Path, I jumped at the chance! This book is a bit of a departure from others in her series dealing with Fairy Witchcraft, in that this work is more personal, and written in a slightly different style, presenting the material in a more conversational manner. It’s hugely informative, as are all of her books, and touches upon issues that are rarely mentioned in other books in the Neopagan world. Discussing the difference between spirits and fairies, how to work with verified or unverified personal gnosis, looking at the lore from the perspective of poetry and music as well as practical information on glamour, shape shifting and more, this book is a great addition and complement to her other works. There is even an entire compendium of ogham knowledge in the appendices, which is extremely useful. I always look forward to more works from this author, and highly recommend her to everyone in the Pagan community, as well as those interested in all things Celtic. Travelling the Fairy Path is available for pre-order, and will be out end of September.

manannan coverMorgan Daimler’s book on Manannán is a real gem for anyone interested in working with a deity connected to the sea. In a down to earth and easy manner, Daimler presents this god in clear language and with a heartfelt honesty that comes through the words on the page and settles in the heart. Each chapter is a treasure, and we not only cover the Irish aspects of this deity, but also take a look at the Welsh, Manx and Scottish associations, which are all exceedingly helpful. The ritual, meditation and prayer section makes this book truly come alive, as well as the section at the end of each chapter, entitled “Manannan in my life”. Here we see up close and personal how this deity affects the life of the author, and this insight really makes this work stand out. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Daimler’s work, and she is a true asset to the community. This book will be available end of April 2019, but is now available for pre-order.

Rhiannon and the Art of Side-Saddle

jo weddingRiding side-saddle is both easy and difficult. It’s a strange dichotomy of being securely “locked in” and feeling like you’re going to slide out the side at any moment. I took lessons riding side-saddle, and also did some jumping. I even rode down the aisle at my wedding side-saddle!  When I compare this to working with the goddess Rhiannon, I can see how she is often portrayed as riding side-saddle, and I think the fact that she’s wearing skirts is only part of the reason.

If you have a voluminous skirt, it’s quite easy to ride in the normal fashion. Your ankles may be showing and perhaps even your calves (gasp, shock and horror!) but really, it’s quite do-able. But side-saddle just looks more elegant, even though it perhaps fits in with the conformity to “keep your legs together” so as not to be considered a “loose woman” in any shape or form. However, all that nonsense aside, side-saddle is fun and a challenge for any rider, whatever they choose to wear, whatever gender they associate with. My husband tried it, everyone in our Western riding group tried it, just to see what it was like. It’s good to try new things.

Riding side-saddle, you usually have your legs hanging down the left side of the horse. Your left foot is in a stirrup as usual, but your right leg is held above the left and “hooked in” with a curved bar just above the knee. This keeps your right leg in place, though you have to hold your right foot flat against the side of the horse the entire time in order to truly maintain that grip correctly. It’s almost like sitting with one leg crossed over the other, but not quite.

You need to have some flexibility in the spine and torso in order to keep the head, chest and hips facing forward as much as you can, while the legs are over on the left-hand side. It feels really good after a ride to get down and stretch out the other side of your body! It also takes a bit of balance, as it can feel like you are going to slide off the other side of the horse. As mentioned above, keeping the right foot in the correct position helps with this, but that feeling is still there. The emptiness on the right-hand side can be a little daunting, even as you feel fully strapped in with your right leg securely tucked under the leaping head, lower pommel or as it is sometimes known, the leaping horn.

rhiannon oracle

Rhiannon from The Avalonian Oracle, written by Jhenah Telyndru, artwork by Emily Brunner

This delicate balance, of security and instability, finds resonance within me with the stories of the Welsh goddess Rhiannon. She is often portrayed as a horse goddess, riding a white mare from the Otherworld and marrying into the human realms, there to face the trials and tribulations of such. She works to re-establish order, correcting her husband and fixing his gaffs, seeking her lost child, and enduring hardships and injustices while remaining true to herself. She literally carries the mantle of sovereignty, as a horse carries a rider, to take it where it needs most to be, to work in the world in co-operation and in compassion.

It can be a tricky ride. One minute you can feel secure, locked in and riding in the correct posture. Forget that posture for a moment, and then you are insecure, literally, feeling like you are going to slide down any moment. It’s a great teacher in remembering to hold true, figuratively and literally. Be mindful of everything you do, if you want to enjoy this ride. Because the moment you aren’t, you could lose your seat, whether that’s the seat on horseback or the seat of sovereignty, in the soul and in the wider world.

But once you understand the delicate balance, once you come to terms with this new way of being, it’s glorious. It’s elegant. It’s graceful. And I’m not just talking about riding side-saddle. This is what Rhiannon can teach us as well. To find a new way of being, to be in balance and staying true to yourself, being present and knowing that some things need to be endured in order to find the beauty in our lives. To carry the burdens with grace, to stay true to yourself.  Rhiannon is both the horse and the rider, enduring and carrying, guiding and taking the reins of sovereignty unto herself.

rhiannon bookI’ll be working closely with Rhiannon over the next few months, and I look forward to the insights that she brings. If you are interested in this goddess, there is a brilliant book written by Jhenah Telyndru, called Rhiannon: Divine Queen of the Celtic Britons. Jhenah works closely with Rhiannon and other Welsh goddesses in the Sisterhood of Avalon, which she founded in 1995. Do check it out, and all her work, it’s brilliant.

May you ride forth in the present moment, finding your centre and staying true. And remember, when it all comes down to it, horse-riding is merely the art of keeping the horse between you and the ground.

Dealing with Bullying

1902780_825582470792076_380046463_nBullying in any shape or form, whether in person or online, is a very difficult thing to deal with. I’ve had my fair share of it, with trolling on my social media sites and the occasional personal attack/character defamation (mostly from people whom I’ve never even met). This has again happened to me very recently, and thankfully it’s only the second personal attack that I’m aware of using myself as the subject.  It’s a slog to get through it all, and can make you despair at the human race entirely, but I’ve come up with some ways to deal with bullying, which may help you if you ever find yourself in such a situation. If you are in physical danger, please contact the authorities at once. Here are 10 ways you can work through this situation, should you find yourself being bullied in any shape or form.

  1. Don’t take it personally. Though you may be the subject, actually, it’s not about you at all. It’s about them, and their own insecurities, fears and suffering. When you can see that, you can also develop compassion for them. They are not faceless entities, even though they may have piled on you as such. These are real, living human beings, who are someone’s son, daughter, lover, mother, father, brother, sister. They have their own difficulties, their own lives, their own past experiences and suffering. They have some very large misperceptions about you, and that’s all. You are not the cause, but the subject of their misperception and subsequent projections and personal suffering.
  2. Don’t lash out emotionally. Disengage. Hurting someone who has hurt you only prolongs and increases the suffering in the world. Define your boundaries, so that you do not hopefully have to undergo something like this from the person again. If this means blocking someone on social media or email, or avoiding them in public, then do so. If the circles you work or live in don’t allow for a full disengagement, then do what you can to not allow their misperception into your physical space or your mind.
  3. Talk to and find a support network, whether that is your family and/or friends. Don’t encourage people to take sides, and turn it into a “flame war”. Simply find support from them, allow them to remind you of who you are in their eyes, what they mean to you and the difference that you make in their lives. We can often forget this when we are going through bullying, and can easily get sunk into a pit of suffering and wondering, “why me”. Allow these people who are a real part of your life to rekindle your sense of self, and your life’s meaning for them. Then find out what your life’s meaning is for yourself.
  4. Work with gratitude. After you have disengaged and hopefully have found some support, take a moment to remember all the good things in your life. These will usually far outweigh the bad things that are currently happening, which can seem overwhelming at the time (thanks Kris for this one). Take some time to yourself, make a cup of tea, and sit down in a comfortable, cosy room, taking time to remember everything that you can be grateful for: a loving family, good friends, a roof over your head, your snuggly cat, the beautiful sunshine, the nourishing rain, your heroes and heroines, the delicious cup of tea. You can even make a collage with photos of all these things and hang it in a prominent area of your home, to provide you with a visual reminder each and every day.
  5. Talk to respected people in your community. Chances are they’ve gone through something similar. If you poke your head above the parapet, expect to be shot at. So, they may have some good advice to give you on getting through, as they’ve been through it themselves. You don’t even need to give them the full details, just ask for their advice on bullying in general, and how to overcome the horrible feelings that it invokes.
  6. Have compassion for yourself, as well as for everyone involved. Acknowledge your feelings, your sadness, your anger, your despair. Don’t try to push them aside, for they will most likely come back in some shape or form that is totally inappropriate. Sit with your feelings, allow them to move through you, and then you can let them go. Water needs to flow in order to not become stagnant. So too does energy, in my opinion, and energy needs to flow. Emotions are a form of energy, and so let them flow, in a safe and responsible way. Be emotionally responsible for your own feelings, and know what belongs to you, and what does not. When you can let go of what does not belong to you, you are well on the way to your own personal sovereignty.
  7. Everything is impermanent. This is pretty much the first and foremost Buddhist teaching. What you are currently going through may seem like hell, but in a few days, weeks or months, where will this all be? If it helps, remember past difficult times, and how you survived those (without engaging in the suffering from these past experiences – look at it like a scientist would look at data, and make a conclusion based on that). Look to your family tree, and find out how your ancestors struggled, and made it through. Again, your friends may help in this regard as well. Next year, where will all this be? Where will this episode be? Most likely far, far away, remembered as an experience from which you learned how to become more resilient and compassionate.
  8. You are not better than them. Often, the advice given to you can be “you’re so much better than them”. While you may not cause suffering the way that they do, you are not better than anyone else on this planet. As soon as you think this, you have elevated yourself above someone else, which means that you have de-humanised them or turned them into a faceless “other”. We are all in this together. Do not let ego interfere in the process. Remember who you are, without any ego inflation tactics, which are only temporary, and which in the long-run can lead to very poor behaviour on your part.
  9. Integration. This is at the heart of all the Druid teachings for me. Remembering that we are all part of an ecosystem, and that everyone has a role to play. This correlates to the point above. Everyone has something to contribute, and from everyone a lesson can be learned to help us become better in ourselves. Not better than any other person, but better in ourselves so that can positively contribute and make this a truly flourishing, functional ecosystem.
  10. Endurance. Treat it like an athlete treats endurance training. See it as good practice for holding on to your principles. See it as an excellent workout for the mind and the soul. But remember to take breathers when you choose not to engage or think about it. Do not think ‘this is ill fortune’, but ‘to bear this worthily is good fortune’. (Thanks to Katie, and her Stoic studies for this one!)

I hope that this helps, if ever you find yourself in such a situation. If you do, remember that many people have experiences this, and that you are not alone. Get outside, look at the birds flying overhead, the bees in the garden, and notice nature all around you. You are never alone. You are part of something truly beautiful, so do try to focus on that. And have a big, virtual hug from me.

Harvest Blessings

6Blessings of Lammas/Lughnasadh/Gwyl Awst to you. May your harvest be abundant and rewarding, and may we learn from our experience to carry knowledge forward into wisdom.

I have just come back from a four day road-trip with two of my best friends into the heart of the Wiltshire landscape, poking our noses in Somerset to visit Glastonbury and participate in a workshop run by author and activist Starhawk on Sunday as part of the Goddess Conference’s fringe events. To say I am shattered is an understatement; my body has shut down completely, and I am now suffering from a cold as well as my monthly moon-time a week early. When will I ever learn???  Easy does it!

At any rate, it was a magical time, with perhaps the most transformative event being a quiet meditation upon West Kennet Long Barrow. The harvest was in full swing in the landscape all around. Where we came from in Suffolk, the harvest began in early July, as we hadn’t had rain for two months. They were a bit more fortunate down in the south-west, and the harvest timing was more in tune with the Wheel of the Year than over in the East, where everything seems rather disjointed this year.

silbury hillSitting on top of the barrow, I could feel the energy of the land around me, as well as the energy of the ancestors and the barrow itself beneath me. The land’s energy was golden like the sun, flowing and bright. It was a stark contrast to the energy of the barrow, which was dark, cool and quiet. In the landscape, looking out over at Silbury Hill, I could feel the richness of this time of year, and see the ancient priests of the land atop the platform of that great hill, directing the ritual observances for honouring the harvest and the land, beginning at The Sanctuary and flowing all throughout that wonderful temple radiating outwards from Avebury’s henge and circle. Everything was in motion, everything was in full swing.

But beneath me was the silence of death, of deep stillness and quiet. Despite the bus load of tourists that had come and gone while I was meditating, I could still feel that deep sense of rest beneath me. I made my way down and into the barrow itself, stopping at the entrance to honour the ancestors. Deep within the barrow, in the furthest accessible chamber, I stood, honouring the silence of death.

But then the sounds of life came from the entrance, as baby birds chirped in their nest upon the arrival of their parents. Two families of swallows were nesting just above the entrance-way to the tomb, and the cycle of life and death seemed complete, and ever entwined, like beautiful Celtic knotwork or the spirals of the triskele seen upon so many of the neolithic and megalithic structures that abound in these British Isles.

We had just come from Swallowhead Spring, where it was a trickle in the dry landscape. Watercress choked the river Kennet, and the spring itself was dry.

We later moved to The Sanctuary, to experience this wonderful temple. It was like travelling back in time. We also visited the so-called “Moon Temple” that has been discussed in recent editions of Pagan Dawn magazine by geomancer Terence Mead. Sadly, we were unable to actually get close to the temple, as the farmer has moved all his cows, calves and a great big bull into that square kilometre where much of the temple lies. Shame, as we had walked miles and miles to get to it!

At Avebury we planned to hold a small ritual, just the three of us, during the lunar eclipse. We found a quiet corner, well, quiet for a minute or two before an old man tottered towards us as we had begun! It was all very odd, as he came near and then rolled out a blanket to sit upon, and made as if he was going to have a little nap. He stayed for a few minutes, then packed up again and made his way back the way that he had come. All very odd! We wondered if he was really real, and perhaps was, in fact, a spirit of place come to visit…

The eclipse was hidden behind fast moving clouds, and it seemed like the Wild Hunt was out riding early. The main part of the circle and henge had an air of a festival about it, so we kept to the quiet fringes and away from any crowds. As the wind picked up and our tired limbs grew heavy and cold, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.

All in all, it was an interesting trip, deep in the heart of such a sacred landscape. But is has also made me very aware of my own landscape, and how sacred it is to me personally. I won’t be heading back that way for some time now, for I found myself missing my land, my locality, more and more as each day passed. The long six-hour drive home was taxing, and I am so grateful now just to be home, still buzzing from the experience at West Kennet, but rooting my feet firmly into the sandy heathland soil of home.

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The Threefold Law

threefold lawLately I’ve been thinking about this concept, as I am doing a lot of reading and researching at the moment, and keep coming across this concept is a lot of Wicca/Witchcraft books. While I know that there are many traditions in Witchcraft that do not follow this concept, some do, as well as most (if not all) Wiccans, and it’s got the brain going, considering this concept more deeply and not just taking it for granted.

I don’t think I’ve ever really believed in this concept in the way that most believe. In the threefold law, in many, many sources it states that whatever you do will return to you threefold. In a very simplistic sense, if you do good things, good things will happen, and if you do bad things, bad things will happen. Many sources state that this is rule of karma.

karma dilbertI feel that this is a very odd Western misinterpretation of karma, for starters. As well, I know of plenty of instances and people who do good things, who go through the ringer, and plenty of people who do bad things, and don’t seem to suffer any consequences. (Trump, anyone?) Karma is not a system of reward and punishment. As well, the Hermetic principle of like attracting like can work in this instance, but not in the way that most people would believe. It’s not that simplistic. Note that I use the word simplistic, rather than simple, because there is a huge difference, at least in my opinion.  Let me explain.

A lot of magic uses correspondences in order for success, according to the principle of “like attracts like”. This can also work in our daily lives, but it doesn’t mean that doing good things will make good things happen to you, or vice versa. We can’t control reactions to actions on that level. We can try and use magic to persuade a favourable outcome, and when combined with a good ethical stance this would be for the benefit of the whole. But there is a correlation.

I feel that when we do magic, or perform any sort of action whether on the physical or metaphysical level, we affect energy. This for me feels like a more appropriate definition of correspondence. That energy is not only external to us, but will affect us on three levels. Those levels are:

Physical

Mental/Emotional

Spiritual

Let’s take an example of cursing someone. If we curse someone, we must be pretty pissed. That anger will have an effect on us at each of these three levels. We know that emotion, memory and other things can get stored in the body, creating tension, stress, high heart rates and more. As well, when we are angry our mental and emotional levels change, and we become the anger if we are not careful. When we become anger, we have lost our sense of self, our authentic being, and have allowed anger to take control. On a spiritual level, anger does not help us to commune with the world, the ancestors, spirits of place, deity or anything in a deeper level. In fact, it can be a great hindrance to it, as integration is at the heart of most spirituality and religion. In an earth-based tradition such as Wicca, Witchcraft or Druidry, where we believe that deity is immanent, this means that when we are angry and curse someone, we do not recognise the divinity within others. When we curse others, we are, in effect, cursing the gods too.

The popular interpretation of The Threefold Law to me feels more like a reward/punishment system to keep people in line, in an overly simplistic fashion. It requires people not to think too much about all the areas in between the concepts of “good” and “bad”, or even how those concepts are so relative to each person and their own experience. It also doesn’t acknowledge the deeper levels of meaning that can occur if we ponder this “rule” more closely. To me, it just seems too close to a heaven/hell concept, which I find too simplistic to give much attention to. Others may disagree, and I honour their perspective, but it just doesn’t work for me.

suffering mark levineSo, looking more deeply at The Threefold Law, if we do something bad, like cursing someone, then it could be said that on a certain level it comes back to us threefold, but not in the sense that seems to be very popular, ie. do good and good things happen, and vice versa. But if our actions are not honourable, and if we do things to harm other people, we are in turn harming ourselves, our environment, our gods: everything. Harming others causing suffering, both externally and also within in a threefold pattern: we harm our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. We’ve lost that connection to everything else, that sense of integrity and integration.

If we curse someone, we affect ourselves physically by holding on to that anger. That affects us mentally, and if our curse does indeed work, might even lead us down the road to more cursing. This leads to a reinforcement of such behaviour, and also reinforces the anger within us, which will make us physically and mentally suffer more and more. We can often fall into a deep depression by holding onto this anger and feeding it, instead of seeing the positive in the world around us. We will become angry people. This all has an effect on us spiritually as well, for we have denied the existence of deity outside of ourselves. This severely limits our perspective of the world, and just continues an ever increasing downward spiral of behaviour that causes suffering both within and without.

So, the Threefold law can affect us in three different ways, but it’s not as simplistic as some would have you believe. It’s simple, yes, but not simplistic. Let’s not get the two muddled!

And, if in doubt, you can always follow this great maxim: don’t be a jerk.

jerk jude