The Runes: Thorn

In this blog series, we will go through the runes as they are recorded in the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Rune Poem.

The third rune, Thorn is a tricky one, as its meaning has shifted with the Anglo-Saxon language. In Old Norse, it is connected to thurs, a malevolent entity of raw power. Some accord this entity to the giants found in Old Norse literature. But in Anglo-Saxon, it is thought that the shape of the rune dictated the meaning, and so we have “thorn”.[1] It is believed that the change occurred during the Christian period, and so the younger Norwegian Rune Poem may hold an older vestige of this rune’s meaning.

Alaric Albertsson states that the rune means “hawthorn”.[2] This may be due to the laying of hawthorn hedges in the Anglo-Saxon agricultural world, and taking rest in their shade, albeit carefully. It may connect to the English thyrses in this way (Old Norse thurses) in that the hawthorn, being a tree of liminality especially in Celtic lore (a faery tree) allows beings to travel between the worlds and thus, assail humanity should they so wish. As far as I can tell from my research, this is, however, all conjecture.

Swain Wodening makes the connection between Thorn and the Old Norse god Thor (Thunor in Anglo-Saxon). He states that Thor had connections to many thorny plants such as nettle and thistle, plants which use thorns or spikes to defend themselves, much as Thor was the defender of humanity against the giants.[3] All in all, these are all theories, and you will have to make your own mind up regarding the various possible meanings that surround this rune.

In the Anglo-Saxon or Old English Rune Poem, the verse reads:

Thorn is painfully sharp to any warrior

seizing it is bad, excessively severe

for any person who lays among them.

Thorn relating to a warrior is interesting, in that when I first read this verse, the concept of the Celtic Fianna warriors running through the woods with braided hair as a test came to mind. Should any of their braids catch on branches or thorns as they raced through the forest, they failed their test. Though this is a purely Celtic concept, there are similarities between Celtic and Northern European cultures in aspects of spirituality, artwork, commerce and more. Though this may have nothing to do with the Fianna warriors, it may have something to do with being out in the wildness of nature as a warrior, otherwise why mention it in relation to the flora? This could just be a mix of metaphors from the Old Norse into Anglo-Saxon, where a warrior fought off thyrses or giants, rather than was overly wary of the surrounding plant life. Or maybe it was a caution against the abundance of nettles that can be found all across the UK!

I found out the hard way when I first moved to these lands of the power of nettle, after walking through a field thick with them, not knowing what they were, and coming away with stinging hands and legs. We didn’t have stinging nettles where I grew up in Canada. So, maybe this is a simple warning not to make your camp or sleep near nettles when you are doing your warrior thing!

Another thing that came to mind when I first read the Old English verse is the Christian clergy in the line “excessively severe for any person who lays among them”. Saint Benedict was said to have come across a blackbird (a bird of liminality and the Druids in Celtic lore) which stayed with him for a moment, close to hand, before flying off. After this, Benedict became overcome with carnal thoughts of a woman he had seen once, and in order to shake off these emotions, he threw himself into a patch of nettles and briars. This remedy was so successful, Saint Benedict claims he was never overcome with that sort of temptation again. Severe? Yes, indeed. Excessively severe? I would say so. So perhaps this rune has a relation to Saint Benedict, but perhaps from a more “moderate” Anglo-Saxon Christian viewpoint.

Blackthorn

From my point of view, I view thorn as a cautionary tale, based on my own experience with plants here in the UK which was hard learned. There are many spiky and stingy plants around here, such as hawthorn and nettle, but also blackthorn. Blackthorn has the longest, most vicious spikes of them all, and has a tendency to break off into the skin and then go septic. Unwary foragers, farmers and even horses can fall foul of the blackthorn. An extra element of Christianity comes into play with this as well, for it is said that the crown of thorns that Jesus wore came from the blackthorn.[4]

Whether you’re a warrior or a farmer, a forager or a gardener, being around thorns reminds you of the power of nature. A small plant may cause you great discomfort, a lapse of mindfulness can cause you great injury. Thorn reminds us of this, in that we need to take care, that we need to be aware of our surroundings (and this may again relate to the Old Norse thurs). Thorns can be seen as aggressive when we are on the receiving end, but we must remember that thorns protect a plant. Therefore, Thorn can be used in regards to workings of protection, although some may use it in the form of a curse. It is a good warding rune, to keep people away from you and your possessions. But it must be worked with carefully, lest you feel its sharp sting!

You can easily form the rune with your hands, with your left hand being straight and your right hand forming the sideways “v” shape. You can also stand in trance posture with your right arm at your hip, making the shape of the rune (and also giving off a “go on if you think you’re hard enough vibe).

Thorn is an interesting rune, in that its history is murky and muddied from different cultures. Yet it shows a great merging of understanding that I think is at the heart of Anglo-Saxon culture and tradition. Learn what you can from those around you, from the land itself, and let that inform your life. Take it all in. Use what works. The Anglo-Saxons were practical folk.

And watch out for thorns.


[1] Pollington, S. Rudiments of Runelore, Anglo-Saxon Books, (2011), p.18

[2] Albertsson, A. Wyrdworking: The Path of a Saxon Sorcerer, Llewellyn, (2011), p.98

[3] Wodening, S. Hammer of the Gods: Anglo-Saxon Paganism in Modern Times, Angleseaxisce Ealdriht, (2003) p. 185

[4] Don, M. “What’s Your Poison? Backyard Troublmakers”, The Guardian : https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2003/mar/09/gardens accessed 23 Sept 2020

Happy Equinox!

As we stand at the turning point of the seasons, we welcome this balance point, knowing that tomorrow we will welcome the growing darkness even as we welcomed the light in the spring. For without night there is no day, without spring no summer, without death there is no life. We are all a part of this cycle of manifestation, growth, decay and rejuvenation.

New Video: Turning Seasons, Summer Into Autumn now up!

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported me and my work.

I’ve got a new tier system on my Patreon page, where at the second and third tier you can have your name in the video credits at the end of each video! Also, for the third tier, you get special Behind the Scenes Footage 🙂

Blessings of the changing seasons to you all!

The Importance of Lammas/Lughnasadh

P1050820 (3)I recently read something in a new Wiccan book release that made me sad and a little frustrated. In this work, the author stated that Lammas/Lughnasadh celebrations on the Wheel of the Year in Modern Paganism can feel like an outlier, a festival that for many people is hard to connect to, understand or celebrate. If you do not live in a rural area, why celebrate this festival at all? As such an important festival to our ancestors, we have to realise the importance of this festival not only in this context, but also in the modern day.

Historically, Lammas/Lughnasadh is the celebration of the first harvest, or games/festivals occurring just before the first harvest. It was an opportunity for people in a rural setting to meet others from the surrounding countryside, often from many miles away, in order to make trade deals, marriages and also enjoy games of competition. When your world is quite small as you live and breathe your farm/village life, the chance to get out and meet others is so very important, as I’m sure we all have experienced during the various lockdowns since the COVID pandemic. Imagine if that was your world all year round, and this was your only chance to see people outside of your village.

As well, the taking in of the first crops is something that should be celebrated in any nature-based tradition. Whether you live in an urban setting or not, what happens to the harvest in or near where you live, or in your own country on a wider scale does affect you, even if you are in the heart of a downtown metropolis. If the wheat harvest is bad, you will find bread and other wheat-based products go up. Same for any crop, whether that is apples, onions, potatoes, carrots – you get the idea. Not only does this affect you financially, but it can also affect you physically. If you are not supporting organic and locally produced crops as much as is possible within your capability, then you are effectively saying that nature doesn’t matter, and how we get our food is more important than the overall effect on the environment itself. This sort of thinking has led to genetically modified food, the long-term consumption of which we will only begin to notice in the coming years. The vast industry of monoculture crops requires much more pesticides and fungicides than a diverse or organic crop, as permaculture has shown us time and again. There is strength in diversity, and great weakness in monocultures. This applies not only to agriculture, but to all culture.

Everything is connected. Everything is related. To think that you are separate from something is mere illusion. Just because you might not live in a rural setting, doesn’t mean that what happens there has no effect on your life. The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and how we treat our environment all affects us every second of every day.

Let’s remember this when it comes to Lammas/Lughnasadh; let us remember the interconnectedness of all things, and the sacredness of all things. Let us remember how important this time was for our ancestors, and how important it is still, today, wherever we live. It’s not an abstract concept, especially if we follow a nature-based tradition. It is a real, living, breathing, contributing part of our world, and should be one of the most important festivals in the Wheel of the Year.

To find out more about Lammas/Lughnasadh, I have written about it and the other festivals celebrated in Druidry and much of Modern Paganism in my book, The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Practitioner.

Women in Druidry Online Conference

Hello! It’s my great pleasure and indeed an honour to share with you the details of this upcoming conference, of which I’ll be a panelist. While I’m still recovering from surgery, I won’t be presenting a workshop, but I can still participate in the discussion, and so I’m very much looking forward to it! Here are the details from the website – I hope to see you there!

Women in Druidry

If you were to ask someone to describe an historical Druid, most would overwhelmingly paint a picture of a wise old man with a long grey beard and white flowing robes, but this tells only part of the story.

An elite and learned social caste in ancient Celtic cultures, Druids enjoyed many privileges – such as exemption from taxes and from serving during war – and were accorded a great amount of honor and social power.

They were priests and augurs, teachers and judges, transmitters of history, and holders of sacred memory.

They were educated and deeply respected men, to be sure…

And, they were also women.

As part of an effort to broaden the general understanding and depiction of ancient Druids to include the women who earned this status, as well as to amplify the voices of women who walk a modern-day druidic path, The Coracle and the Sisterhood of Avalon are proud to be hosting the Women in Druidry Conference 2020.

In this first of what we hope will become an annual offering, we have gathered together accomplished women practitioners, leaders, authors, and teachers representing a variety of modern Druidic (and Druid-adjacent) orders and traditions. Together, we will explore Druidic beliefs and traditions, discuss the differences and similarities between these modern pathways, and share some personal experiences and insights about walking a Druidic path as a female practitioner.

This year’s panelists will be:

Danu Forest

Kristal Jenks

Bonnie Lynn Landry

Cerri Lee

Jhenah Telyndru

Joanna van der Hoeven

Our panel discussion will be followed by several workshops, including:

The Faery Faith in Gaelic Folk Magic, presented by Danu Forest

Ritual as a Tool for Magical Archeology, presented by Cerri Lee.

Detailed information about our presenters and their offerings can be found on our website:

Conference and Registration Details

The Women in Druidry Conference will take place on Sunday, 19 July 2020 from 10am to 4:30pm EDT (3:00pm – 9:30 GMT). This online conference will be recorded and audio will be made available to every paid attendee.

Conference admission is open to anyone of any gender or spiritual tradition.

Tickets for the conference are $20.00, with 80 spots available. Should we encounter a greater demand, we will consider expanding the amount of people we can accommodate.

For more information and to register, please visit: https://tinyurl.com/WomenInDruidry2020

Thank you for your interest! We hope you will be able to join us for this exciting event!

The Inverse of the Summit

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White Peaks, Derbyshire, taken on a walking holiday

Most people who enjoy hiking know that getting to the top of a mountain can be difficult. But for those who are experienced, perhaps after about 40 years of climbing those mountains, we begin to understand that it is the descent that is actually the more challenging of the two. Sure, you become breathless as you make your way slowly up the mountainside, sweat on your brow and your legs muscles pumping.  But on the way down, you have to take special care, your balance comes into play, and one wrong move can leave you stranded on that mountainside awaiting rescue.

And it’s this analogy that I’ve come to understand as the integration of those rare moments of epiphany in our lives. Getting to the mountaintop can be the easy part; coming back home can be the more difficult. We got to the top, now we’re on our return journey, tired, but taking the memory and experience with us to internalise. Having the epiphany is easy – integrating it into every day is the more difficult part of the journey. It’s the inverse of the mountain’s peak, and once we’ve traversed this sometimes treacherous way, it’s then that we can find that lovely and level middle ground.

It doesn’t matter whether it was a small realisation or a grand epiphany that you’ve come to in your life; the really important thing is how to integrate it into your soul and your life. You can’t just have it and then forget about it – or, you could, but then what’s the point? The real point is to make it a part of your life, each and every day. To live the realisation, to make it a reality.

And it’s not easy. Our everyday lives can be so busy, and filled with a plethora of tasks and minutiae that can take precedence unless we are careful about how we manage our integration. It’s all good to go on a retreat, to meditate, to do pathworking or journeying work, even spellwork, but then it’s up to us to bring that into our lives as well, and not just let it rest “out there in the universe”. We have to make it manifest, we have to make time and integrate the work. We have to come down that mountain.

And it can seem dull and boring, all the repetitive tasks that we have to do each day, when we’d rather be receiving even more epiphanies. We have to do the dishes, clean the bathroom, cook our meals, teach our kids, feed the cats, mow the lawn, pay the bills, etc. We have to get on with the chores of the day.

P1050224 (2)

My little Kiri cat 🙂

But these elements, numerous as they are, form such a large part of our lives. So why shouldn’t we make them even more special, and give them more significance? Why can’t we internalise our hard work and let that inspiration flow out in everything that we do? It’s all a matter of perspective. On the summit, it’s easy to see all around you, to have that greater perspective. Scooping out the poop in the kitty litter box isn’t nearly as grand.

But that revelatory experience doesn’t have to fade with time. We can carry that in our souls, even when we’re running to the bin with a very stinky scoop of poop. For me, the act of service helps me to continue my revelatory experiences in everything that I do. It’s something that we’ve always taught at Druid College, and something which I’ve expanded even further in my studies and work with the Sisterhood of Avalon. That service, whether it’s working for your community or taking care of your stinky cats can be the thing that connects you to everything else. It is in those moments of interconnection that we realise that we are all a part of a greater tapestry of life, woven from many threads, stronger and even more beautiful when we support each other.

That larger perspective is carried in our hearts and minds, and into everything that we do, from the choices we make each and every day to the way we interact with people every single moment. And it’s not easy. Coming down the mountain there are loose rocks and stones that can trip us up or roll under our feet, causing us to lose our balance, wrench our knee, put our back out. But if we’re careful, if we’re mindful, we can hopefully get back to everyday life intact and in good condition to keep that momentum going. There are the pitfalls of losing our way, losing the daylight, losing the map or compass. But unless we’re really unlucky, most of us will make it back and into our nice, warm homes where we can integrate fully the experience. And it’s keeping that feeling in our hearts as we go about our daily tasks can be equally as challenging. That is the real inverse of the summit.

But once we have achieved that, then we find the level path that allows us a good vantage point, and is much easier to manage as well. We find that balance point in our heart and souls, and the way forward becomes more pleasant. So the next time you reach that mountaintop in your life, find a word that summarises the experience, something that you can recall when you are cleaning a clogged drain, dealing with a difficult neighbour, or sitting in a lonely silence. This is what you can use to make the vision real, to make the intangible, tangible. Manifest this in your life, and then all that work will truly be worth it.

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The valley where I grew up in Quebec, taken from the lovely and level trail of an old disused railway.

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The Awen (Part Two)

This is a continuation from my previous post on the awen, which you can read HERE.

So where does the flowing inspiration of modern Druidry come from then? And what is the difference between awen and the energy that is in all life?

In Welsh, we can trace it back to the 19th century, where aw means flowing or fluidity, and wen is spirit, or a being. We can more easily trace the concept and word back to medieval texts retelling the tale of Ceridwen and Taliesin.

The goddess Ceridwen was brewing a special potion for her son, Afagddu, tended by Gwion Bach. Some of the brew bubbled over and three drops scalded Gwion as he stirred the pot, and he put his thumb into his mouth to ease the soreness, taking in the magic of the brew meant for Afagddu. Ceridwen was enraged, and chased him, eventually eating him and then giving birth to him again. After she gives birth to him, she sets him on a boat and he was discovered alive and well later, and renamed Taliesin for his radiant brow. He becomes the most famous Bard of Britain.

The awen can be seen as being achieved through a deep connection to every aspect of the land, in whatever shape or form.  We can undergo a kind of initiation into the awen much as Gwion Bach did, through the goddess Ceridwen and her special brew. We can drink from the cauldron of inspiration, but with that comes great trials and tribulations that go hand in hand with awareness and enlightenment.

The awen is also related to water and rivers, and not just the liquid brewed in Ceridwen’s cauldron. In the medieval poem “Hostile Confederacy” from the Book of Taliesin, it states:

“The Awen I sing,

From the deep I bring it,

A river while it flows,

I know its extent;

I know when it disappears;

I know when it fills;

I know when it overflows;

I know when it shrinks;

I know what base

There is beneath the sea. [1]

The awen relates to water on so many levels. The flowing spirit of water and the flowing spirit of awen share many similarities. Both are fluid, able to be contained and yet have their own freedom in their inherent sense of being. They follow their own currents, and can be beneficial when used with respect. When we follow the currents of life, the inter-connectedness of all things, we share that flow of awen and then come to know the fathomless depths that it can bring.

We also have the shamanic diviners in the Welsh tradition known as Awenyddion.  There is also awen involved in divination and the quest for relationship with the divine.  The awen is a vast subject that requires much study, but more to the point is requires experience. We can research the similarities between awen and the Hindu aspects of shakti, for example, or the Dao in Chinese philosophy. But we must feel the awen with every atom of our being in order the truly understand it.

But what is the difference between awen and the energy of life, or the life force? I would say that awen is the thread that connects us to that life force. When we connect in good relationship to the world around us, those threads shimmer with awen, with inspiration. We know that we are a part of the web, wholly and utterly connected. When we feel that connection with other beings, soul to soul, and our sense of self lessens, we are inspired by that connection. We then think of ourselves less, and our perception opens out to a wider perspective on the world, one that is more inclusive rather than just our own self-centred point of view. We become a thread in the web.

Awen helps us to see beyond ourselves, and perhaps paradoxically to allow us to see ourselves in everything. The poet Amergin described this beautifully what is now known as the “Song of Amergin”.  When we see that we are a part of a whole, then we are inspired. When we lessen the sense of self, we are able to perceive so much more. When we have expanded our worlds to include everything within it, we become the awen.

I am the wind on the sea;

I am the wave of the sea;

I am the bull of seven battles;

I am the eagle on the rock

I am a flash from the sun;

I am the most beautiful of plants;

I am a strong wild boar;

I am a salmon in the water;

I am a lake in the plain;

I am the word of knowledge;

I am the head of the spear in battle;

I am the god that puts fire in the head;

Who spreads light in the gathering on the hills?

Who can tell the ages of the moon?

Who can tell the place where the sun rests?”[2]

Many Druid rituals begin or end with singing or chanting the awen. When doing so, the word is stretched to three syllables, sounding like ah-oo-wen.  It is a lovely sound, which opens up the heart and soul. Sung/chanted together, or in rounds, it simply flows, as its namesake determines.  Our hearts can open if we let them when chanting or singing the awen.

Yet I am sure that the awen is different for each and every Druid.  The connection, and the resulting expression of that connection, the Druid’s own creativity, can be so vast and diverse.  It is what is so delicious about it; we inhale the awen and exhale our own creativity in song, in dance, in books, in protest marches. The possibilities are endless, as is the awen itself.

We are never born, and we can never die: we are simply manifest for a while in one form, and then we manifest again in another when the conditions are right. For me, this represents reincarnation, the nitty gritty basics of it and the science behind reincarnation. The threads that bind this together are the awen.

[1] Mary Jones, “The Hostile Confederacy” from the Book of Taliesin, The Celtic Literature Collective, accessed January 12, 2018. http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t07.html

[2] Lady Gregory, The Essential Lady Gregory Collection, Google Books, accessed January 13, 2018.  https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=fx0tOGYDZXQC&dq

(This blog post is an extract from my book, The Book of Hedge Druidry:  A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker.)