The Most Important Page of Any Book

The Most Important Page of Any Book

There are now lots of Pagan books out there, on a huge variety of subjects. Some are new, some are old, some are out of print but still available through second-hand shops and websites. I’ve recently been perusing some older and out of print books on Wicca and Witchcraft, as well as Paganism in general and it’s really hit home just how much one page of a book can make all the difference. In fact, it’s the most important page of any book. And what is that page?

The page at the beginning of a book that has the publishing details on it.

What? Yeup – that’s the bit that I find the most helpful from the start. Why? Because it gives you context. You can find out just when the book was written, so you will see © 2001 Witchy McWitch. These few words give you an idea into the time in which the words were penned, a snapshot in time as to what facts and truths were available, and what were not, and how they were presented. Under that you will see the publishing dates, such as “First published in 2012 by So & So Publishing”. There will be the initial publishing print date, as well as other information to let you know how many printings of this book there has been.  If you are buying the book brand new, this reprint information gives you an idea of how popular the book is, as well as the possible opportunities for correction during subsequent print runs by either the author (if they’re still alive) or the publisher (if at all possible).

So why is this important? Well, information changes, history changes as new facts come to light. Knowing just when a book was written will allow for some leniency with regards to what was known at the time, versus what we now know after decades of research. I can forgive a book that is 20+ years old for not having a good history of witchcraft, for example. With even older books I can be more forgiving. The use of terms such as “shaman” and “shamanic”, as another example, can be forgiven because that was the term being used at the time. If the book hasn’t undergone a reprint recently, or has been out of print for a while, then this information just can’t be changed. And this is, at least to this author, a source of anxiety. I don’t know about other authors, but often when you put stuff out there, it’s out there for good and people can forget the context in which it was written.

People change. Facts change. Views of history change. What is politically and socially correct, changes. But old books can’t change. Not unless a new publishing company picks it up, the author is still alive to consult about making the changes, and everyone is happy to go along with it. But so often I will see criticism and horrendous reviews of old books regarding the information contained within. If you look at the book within context, you will know that it is out of date regarding historical accuracy, and then you might be a little more lenient. But instead people slam the old authors, those who many of us from Gen X and previous grew up with. We know that some of the information is wrong, or outdated, if we have the privilege of being able to keep up to date with the latest books and information (and in today’s growing economic crisis here in the UK, and around the world, we know that people have less and less money to spend). Think about it for a minute. If you haven’t been able to buy a new book on an aspect of Paganism in the last decade or so for whatever reason (no money, no time to read it because you’re working two jobs and trying to raise kids, etc.) you won’t have the most up to date information. But people will still criticise you and the books that you have for it, when it is beyond anyone’s control.

(There is a caveat here – some books do just contain information that was made-up at the time, and the author knew it. Or it was just poorly researched when information was quite readily available at the time. I’m thinking of a certain book written in 1990 that states the ancient Irish peoples carved pumpkins. Yeah. We knew better even at that time.)

Books are a luxury. For sure. Not everyone has the ability to do the in-depth research, to keep up to date with the latest information and the world of academia. For some people it just bores the crap out of them. Some people are doers, not readers. We have to take a look at the bigger picture, and stop cancelling authors whose books are out of print, as well as over-criticising people for not keeping up to date with the latest academia. It’s just not possible for some people to do. It’s utterly beyond their control.

I am so lucky that I am able to search around to find these old books, to add to my collection. I am so fortunate that I am able to buy new books with the latest academic research. I understand my white, middle-aged woman privilege here. Which is why I’m not ranting at others online or in person about the material they present, the authors they like, the books that they’ve read or not read (apart from my small caveat above). Because there’s a whole world of circumstances that I cannot possibly understand.

People are throwing out, or at least recycling old books because some of the information in them is out of date, contains bad history or what not. But as I’m re-reading these old books, every time I pick one up I look at the publishing details, to remind myself of the context. I can then be more forgiving. It doesn’t mean that all the material is worthless – it means that we have learned a lot more since this book was written. Now, if it was a brand new book written in the last few years, I might have a different attitude, but again there are variables: is the book self-published? If so, then there aren’t any external editors to say to the author “Look, this claim that you make has been shown to be false, here’s some research for you to look up” or some such. Circumstances matter.

Acknowledging circumstances help us to live more compassionately.

One last thing to think about is that authors, if they have the good fortune to have kept going throughout the decades, will contradict themselves sometimes. This is a good thing, because it is showing growth (sometimes in the wrong direction, it may seem, but it shows that they are still seeking). I released my first Pagan book in 2012, written in 2011. I am most definitely not the same person I was 10+ years ago. I have said things in my older books that I cannot say today, because my life has changed. I mention in one of my old books that I’m vegan, but I haven’t been vegan for a long time now, for various reasons. But someone reading that book will still think I am, or may even criticise me later on when they read a subsequent book and find my position has changed. The history that my older books contain may not stand up to the test of time. But the message, the exercises, the feeling and the passion hopefully will, as long as people understand the context in which it was written.

Words are funny things. They’re like stones, and if you put too much stock in them, hold too many too close to your heart, they will weigh you down. We have to let some of them go, in order to fly. We have to change and adapt with the times, realise that there are circumstances beyond our control, or that we aren’t even aware of while holding a compassionate regard for the past, and an understanding of just how far we have all come.

You’re Not A Real Witch/Druid/Heathen/Whatever

At some point in your pagan spiritual path, you may come across some person or a group of people who tell you that you’re not a real [insert path here] and may even give you “helpful” reasons as to why they have come to this conclusion. And I’m here to tell you that it’s all bollocks.

First off, anyone who has the gall to tell someone else that they’re spiritual path is wrong because it differs from theirs, most likely has some superiority/inferiority/ego issues. It usually takes someone with pretty low self-esteem to try and knock down other people, and with the anonymity that the internet provides, this can be done in large quantities. What we all must remember is that when someone says something like “you’re not a real [insert path here] because you don’t do [insert whatever here]” it is saying a lot more about them, and not a lot about you. It displays their hang-ups, their biases, their issues, not yours.

Some people will confuse their dislike for something and state it as something that is “wrong”. However, simply because someone doesn’t like it doesn’t mean that it is wrong. I *heart* unicorns. Always have, always will. Does this make me less of a witch/druid/heathen/whatever? I don’t wear black, I don’t have a witchy aesthetic per se, I’m not particularly drawn to “dark” magic and I don’t even “look” witchy. I honour different gods from different traditions and follow many different paths. I am a Witch, a Druid, a Heathen, a Zen Buddhist. I don’t limit myself to one “pure” tradition of anything, because I don’t believe that exists. Does this make me any less in the eyes of the pagan public? To some, yes. And that is their problem, not mine.

My path is extremely rich and rewarding. For me. If it inspires others to follow/develop theirs, then I’m so very pleased and filled with gratitude. We need to support each other more, not tear each other down. There’s enough of that nonsense already in the world. Let’s not add to it.

Nature teaches us that diversity is key to a healthy, functioning ecosystem. What fills my cup is constant learning and taking that learning into real experience, which will lead me down many interesting paths. I can be more than one thing at one time, or at all times. I am a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a wife, Mother of Cats, author, singer, dancer, YouTuber, blogger, podcaster, Northern Expsoure fan and more. I am not one thing, nor could I ever be. Plurality is a good thing. It keeps things interesting.

If someone’s path diverges from yours, take time to understand more. Even if you don’t agree with it, it’s not your place to decide what is valid or authentic, and what is not. When we do so, we are seeking to belittle someone, and that is just not cool. Again, it says more about us than it ever will about them.

No one can please everyone, and nor should anyone even try. For when we do so, that’s when we are being inauthentic. That’s when we lose sight of who we are, and who we aspire to be. Our dreams are our own, and we shouldn’t let others tell us whether or not we should seek them out. True sovereignty lies in knowing who you are, what you love, what brings you joy, what makes you the person you are. It is knowing your strengths and weaknesses, your light and your shadow. While others may provide you with inspiration on your path, never, ever let anyone dictate who you should be or what you should do.

Don’t let people “should” all over your life.

You are a real whatever-it-is-that-you-want-to-be. That’s your life, your living it, your path. No one else can walk it for you. Let your own story shine.

Edit: I’ve since recorded a follow-up piece to this blog post, and this has now been posted on my Bandcamp page here: joannavanderhoeven.bandcamp.com/track/dismissive-paganism

New Online Course now available!

I have a new online course available through my Patreon page! This course is called “An Introduction to Freya: Goddess of Life, Sovereignty and Magic” In it we will look at the literature that surrounds this goddess, interpretation of such and perform simple rituals that you can do to connect with this wonderful goddess. We will also have discussion on the monthly lessons, as well as plentiful further resources that you can investigate should you so wish, including online articles and videos! This course runs for four months, starting now, at only $15 (around £11) per month. You can leave at any time, taking with you what you have already learned. Please enroll before 31 August to ensure your place, as no new members for this course will be taken after this date.

All you have to do is join the Introduction to Freya online course tier and then you will have access to this month’s material. I hope to see you there!

http://www.patreon.com/joannavanderhoeven

Joanna van der Hoeven is creating Pagan-related content in writing, videos, music and more | Patreon

New Video: The Tapestry of Life

After my hard drive crashed (and is not repairable) I finally got out again and did some filming this week. I hope you like it!

Freya: A Goddess of Love or Not?

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard that Freya is a goddess of love. Usually, it just ends there. But in my years of working with her, I’ve come to understand so much more about this wonderful goddess, and how she has often been reduced to a misogynistic soundbite. Well, no more.

So, where in the lore does it say that Freya is a goddess of love? Well, in just one small reference, actually. In Gylfaginning, it is said that “She loves poetry, she is good to invoke about love.” [1] That’s pretty much it when it comes to the mention of love.

Freya is a goddess of sexuality, and in relation, fertility and sensuality. Her brother, Freyr, is more about fertility than Freya, in my opinion. Freya is about the sensuous nature of life, of how to live it pleasurably and to its fullest. She does not really concern herself with fertility, per se, though she is sometimes invoked in birthing, which may be due to her role as a lady of life. Her two daughters are called Hnoss (Jewel) and Gersimi (gem). Are these actual daughters or just a kenning for some of the things she loves the most?

Freya’s power is in her own sovereignty. She chooses how to live her life, and will not let anyone tell her otherwise. She takes on lovers as she wills, but then, so do other goddesses and gods in Norse mythology. It’s not uncommon, really. Loki derides many goddesses and tries to tarnish them with the brush of harlot in Lokasenna. Is this simply a Christian gloss created by those who were writing down these myths? This piece of the lore derides pretty much all of the pagan and magical practices of the gods, and makes it a very suspect piece in my view.

Some will say that Freya’s everlasting search for Óðr demonstrates an aspect of her as a goddess of love. But let’s take a closer look at what the word Óðr means. As a noun, it means “agitation, skill in poetry, poetry, intellect”. [2] As an adjective,, it means “furious, mad, terrible and even mentally disordered”[3]. Many believe that Freya and the god Óðin have a relationship, and that is it he that she longs for. But is this just looking at the surface, and not delving any deeper into who Freya actually is and what she represents?

Freya was the one who taught the art of seiðr to the gods. She was the original witch. In the magic of seiðr, we often come across a trance practice of walking between the worlds or calling in the spirits. This work can fall into the category of an ecstatic practice, and therefore could it not be that Freya is seeking the ecstasy that comes with magic, poetry, divination, sexual activity and more? What she longs for is to break free from the bonds of “normality” and shows us just how to do so, to reclaim our own power.

Freya is known by many names, including Mardöll (shining of the sea), Hörn (flax), Gefn (the giving), Sýr (the sow, or to shield/protect) and Vanadis (the woman of the Vanir) among others. She is thought to be the witch, Gullveig, whom the Aesir lusted after so much that it began a war. She is also thought to be Mengelöd, a healing goddess atop Lyfjaberg. She is also known as Val-Freya, the chooser of the dead. For when the valiant warriors die, Freya gets first choice of them to come and live with her in her great hall, Sessrumnir, in Folkvang. Odin gets the leftovers. That’s something the television shows and movies neglect to mention.

A teacher of mine told me that Freya is not a goddess of love, per se, but rather a goddess that loves life.[4] She is life itself. So why has she been reduced to a mere soundbite as a goddess of love, time and time again?

Well, Freya is not the first powerful woman to be belittled and demeaned in such a way. It is rife in our culture and society. At the time of writing this article, the misogyny of the British Parliament is coming into light, with over 50 cases of sexual misconduct by Members of Parliament currently being investigated.[5] Our own Prime Minister as the then editor of The Spectator in 2001 printed a cover page article written by now Cabinet minister Michael Gove that deplores men doing “women’s work” such as changing nappies and housework while the woman maintains the position of wage earner.[6] The article was titled: “”The male eunuch – what the wimpy British can learn from the chauvinism of the French”. In the US, the Supreme Court plans to overturn a case which gives women autonomy over their own bodies with regards to Pro-Choice rights.[7] The patriarchy and the misogyny are not just something of the past, but are here and now affecting women all over the world.

We know that the Prose Edda was written by Snorri Sturluson, an historian, poet and politician. The old ways had passed on two hundred years earlier, and Iceland was firmly in the Christian camp. The Poetic Edda may have been written earlier, but both have roots in an oral tradition of poetry that was passed down from generation to generation. And we know how stories can change when a different storyteller is telling the tale. The sovereign goddesses of the Viking Age and earlier are now labelled as “witches” and “harlots”.  This label has carried on for centuries. Look at Hilary Clinton, labelled “The Wicked Witch of the Left”, or Anne Boleyn even[8]. Women in politics, whether it is with Republicans or Kings, face such slander when they rise to positions of power. It doesn’t just stop at the Middle Ages, oh no. It has carried through to the present day. Women have been objectified for so long, that it is entrenched in the social fabric of the present day. We have MPs watching porn in the Commons.[9] The whore or witch label is still firmly entrenched upon women in order to keep them from their own power. And so it is with Freya. Or at least, it is still being attempted.

But we know differently. We can see beneath the slurs and slanders and the Christian patriarchal gloss that covers her stories. We know that she is an independent and sovereign entity unto herself. She is beholden to no one. She does as she pleases. And she is there for us. The lore tells us that Freya is the closest to humanity – she reaches out to us when we call for her. She is there for us. And just as we need to reinstate the divine feminine in our own societies as we see women’s rights and sovereignty being stripped away in ever-increasing numbers despite progressive movements, we need to take back the stories and the memories of Freya, The Lady. We need to reclaim her as something more than a goddess of love.

Freya is life, the pleasure of it and the quest for sovereignty of the self. Let’s change our current narrative so that it can truly reflect the nature of this great goddess. And in doing so, we might just change the world too.


[1] Gylfaginning 24

[2] Näsström, B. Freya: The Great Goddess of the North, Clock and Rose (2003) p. 63

[3] Ibid

[4] Zindra Andersson.  Courses now held in Sweden and Germany: https://www.hexenkram.at/en/article/der-pfad-der-vlva-jahresausbildung-mit-zindra-andersson-2022-23/812a89fa-51f9-4d19-bacd-9e0974c1d578

[5] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/56-mps-face-sexual-misconduct-claims-znv2m9x8s

[6] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-michael-gove-sexist-article-male-chauvinism-b2070874.html

[7] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/roe-v-wade-protest-latest-abortion-overturned-b2071255.html

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/07/cursed-from-circe-to-clinton-why-women-are-cast-as-witches

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2022/apr/30/calls-for-neil-parish-to-resign-after-being-named-as-mp-who-watched-porn-in-commons-uk-politics-live

On a Moonlit Night…

A full moon and the spring equinox not two days apart; the energies leave me reeling, literally. My head has been pounding for two days straight, and I just can’t wait for the tides to turn and for the energy to subside, to slide into the more gentle flow rather than being a gushing torrent of turbulence. The light is too bright, sounds are too loud and everything is just too much. But I know it will change. Things always change.

It’s Friday night and I climb into the car and drive down to the beach. Over the farmer’s fields I can see the moon rising, huge and pink in a clear sky. My head has cleared, for the time being – the painkillers have set in. I am excited as I drive down the winding road, alert for owls and hares.

When I get to the car park there are only two other cars there, one leaving. I grab my bag and my drum and make my way across the shingle beach. I haven’t checked the tides, so I don’t know what awaits me or where the shoreline will be tonight. In the last of the evening light I can make out a figure walking in the distance to my right, and a fishing tent with a man moving about it to my left. As the stones of the shingle roll and crunch under my feet, I am glad for the noise, because it means no one can sneak up on me. These are things a woman alone at night usually considers.

As I reach the ridge of the high tide line, I see below me a beach that is not usually there. The tide is right out, and a long peninsula of shingle stretches out into the sea. I have walked on this shingle spit many times, out into the ocean but never have I seen it stretch so far out. My heart beats faster, as I know this will be a very special night.

I slide down the shingle bank, smooth stones rolling about my boots. The fisherman looks on, probably a little puzzled, but I can’t see his face in the growing dark. I reach a sandy beach, which in this area is a rarity. It’s only a small section, and I walk cautiously across it, because what looks like sand in this part of the world can also be mud, which acts like quicksand and to which many a day-tripper has lost their rubber boots as they scamper unwarily across the surface.

I cross the sand and reach the shingle spit. Walking down it, I raise my eyes to the moon now, and am stopped in my tracks. From where I stand, the spit of shingle stretches out into the sea, marking a pathway straight to the moon. It is incredible, and I am utterly enchanted. I want to walk that road, straight off the shingle spit and out into the waves until I reach the moon.

My senses come back to me, and I make my way down the long peninsula of rolling rocks, the waves lapping at either side of me. It’s exciting, being here, where only one set of footprints shows from a previous adventurer on this night. I walk out a little further, almost to the tip of the shingle spit, but not quite. I’ve never walked out this far before, and I don’t know what the tide will be doing. I have a feeling it’s just turning now, and I don’t want to be caught out. So, 50 yards from the end, I stand.  

I am betwixt and between. I am in a place that is not a place, in a time that is not a time. I am utterly between the worlds. I am not on land and I am not at sea. I am surrounded by water with boots firmly on smooth pebbles that roll in and out with the waves. The dark night sky above me is shot through with stars, and the full moon of the spring equinox is rising before me. What a time to be alive.

I take out my drum and start to work with the rhythm of the North Sea. I feel her flowing around me, singing her songs of ebb and flow, of her story of how she came into being. Standing as far out as I am, I understand how the land bridge used to work that carried our ancient Stone Age ancestors across from Europe to this land, before it was cut off by the water. It is still a shallow sea, muddy and roiling and constantly changing, hiding its mysteries beneath the waves.

I drum and sway with the tide. I can see that yes indeed, it is turning. It is now coming in, and I will have to keep my wits about me even as I tumble into ecstasy. My witch blood pounds in my veins, my wild heart soars with the stars above. I call out the goddesses in my life, singing their names, chanting and letting whatever comes to express itself on this night. The wind takes my words and songs away, a gift offered freely to this awesome night. I feel so alive, so utterly free and yet spellbound by the moment. I am the stars in the sky, the moon before me, the waves around me. I am utterly connected, yet without any visible strands that keep me pinned down to just one awareness. This is so exhilarating, so wild, so free. This is pure magic.

I stop drumming and singing and open my arms wide to the sky, drinking it all it. The Fair Folk are all around me, playing in the waves, brushing against my cold skin. I can hear them whispering, feel their light touch upon my hair. Strange sounds are all around me, and I am frightened and not frightened at the same time. This is wyrd.

 I am witch. I am a druid. I am one who walks between the worlds. This is who I am.

This is my Friday night.

I have been to many liminal places many different times, but not like this. This is special. I know that my heart will start to beat a little faster just remembering this night.

My ears are cold. I lower my arms and look around, noticing the tide coming in more and more, for that is what it does, without complaint, without effort, without coercion. I must be more like the tide, I think, as I put my drum away. I say my farewells to the place and all who are with me at the moment, and take a last look at the moon. The pathway to her is now under water, hidden beneath the shining surface of Mardöll, obscured by the grace of Nehalennia, taken with the great mystery. It is time to go.

I make my way back up the shingle spit, narrower than before. The fisherman is still there, and I wonder if my chanting, singing and cries were hear by him or whether they were scooped up by the sea there and then. I scramble up the steep shingle bank from the beach, almost twice my height. I sit for a moment at the top, looking at the little bay that has been created by the ever-shifting of the shingle. Each time I come here it is different; a bay disappears or suddenly appears elsewhere, a lagoon shines in the light, a seal swims close to the shore, geese fly overhead to the marshes, a cormorant makes its way home. Each time it is different. Each time it is magical.

I crunch my way back to the car. As I drive down the winding road, watching out for owls and hares, my headache comes rushing back, pounding in my temples. It lasts for two more days, until the equinox shifts the energies, and finally I am released from the swell. I can breathe in the spring sunshine, the daffodils in my garden bobbing their heads in the warmth, the robin singing, the bees beginning to make their rounds. It’s as if the earth has held its breath, and now it is released.

These changing tides are hard on the old body, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I smell the green grass and moss beneath me, and revel in the blue sky overhead. I give heartfelt thanks for my many blessings, and say a prayer for peace under the late March sunshine.