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.

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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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Spring Equinox – Riding the Energies

Tomorrow is the Spring Equinox in the northern hemisphere, the time when the days become longer than the nights, when the sun crosses the celestial equator. It’s a tipping point in the cycle, where new energies come into play. This crossover, this shifting of energies happens over and over again, in a never-ending cycle of the seasons, the play and dance of the sun across our planet’s sphere. How do we work with these energies?

Right now our world is in imbalance, and we see that reflected in everything around us. It can be devastating when one follows an earth-based tradition. The rampant destruction of nature, our capitalistic, over-consumption culture and the degradation of cohesive and compassionate communities is at an all-time high. We are seeing the effects each and every day, on the news and social media, an influx of information 24/7 that our brains aren’t wired to handle, which only leads to more stress and fear.

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As followers of an earth-based tradition, how do we cope with all this? We watch our consumption, we give back, we do the ecologically and socially responsible things. But we still have to cope with the stress, the fear, the despair sometimes. When it all gets too much, what can we do? For me, there are two answers. Watching funny David Bowie interviews (really, that man was not only a genius, but exceptionally funny!) and getting out in nature.

Getting outdoors is perhaps the best medicine we have, if we are able to get outside into the fresh air and sunlight, feeling the wind on our faces or looking at the vast expanse of stars overhead. For those who are not mobile, I know that this can present a problem, and we have to work with this as best we can, even if it is to sit by an open window for five minutes (close the doors to the room so you don’t lose all the heat in your home). If you live in a city, try to get out to a park (if you aren’t in quarantine). Any way you can, try to commune with nature, to refresh those bonds in our hearts and minds, to remind us of the beauty, power and strength that lies all around us, all the time. If you’re lucky enough to live in the countryside, so much the better.

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We can also work for ourselves, to strengthen our hearts and bodies, to connect with nature, our gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place, the fey folk. We can use the inspiration of nature. There is magic all around us, in the water that comes from our taps, in the air that we breathe, in the candle’s flame and in the earth beneath our feet. We can work with these energies to help us physically, mentally and spiritually. We are a creative bunch. There are no limits for the work that we can do with nature all around us. If we use the energies of the Spring Equinox on top of all these other energies, we are making good use of the time and tides of our lives.

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Tap into the energies of the growing light if you live in the northern hemisphere (or the energies of the growing darkness in the southern hemisphere) for your work. Pray, do magic, meditate, commune, establish your own personal connection to these energies. Work with the flow, not against it. Listen to the voices of the gods and goddesses, the ancestors, the Fair Folk. What do they have to tell you about right now? What advice can they give, and what can you do, for yourself and the world around you, to make it a better place? How can you be a better functioning part of your ecosystem? How can you ride the tide of this very special time, to do the work that you need to do?

As a suggestion, in the northern hemisphere, at the equinox we can do work to increase health, compassion, love, holistic living,  and peace using these energies. In the southern hemisphere, we can work with the energies to decrease panic, war, anger, ill-health and so on. It can be difficult to ride these incredible waves of energy at this time of year. Everything is thrown up in the air, and it only settles come the next holiday, whether that be Beltane or Samhain, depending on where you live. That is the time when we begin to see the manifestation of the energies, the reality of the situation. At the equinoxes, the energy is ethereal and wild, like the wind. But we can harness that energy, with a little imagination, courage and determination. We are the practitioners of the magical arts. We are the Dreamweavers and the Shamans, the Druids, the Witches, the Wiccans and everything else. We are the earth itself, she is us and we are Her. We only have to remember that, in order to live in balance and right relationship.

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Let’s use our hearts, our minds, our imagination. Let’s work for the benefit of all. Let’s take care of each other, and be the example that we want to see in the world. Things are difficult for most, yes, but we can help each other. We are not alone, we live with everything else on this planet. Our interconnectedness is what makes us strong, and our forgetfulness of this relationship is our downfall. Do what you can to make your environment strong and healthy, for everyone concerned, human and hon-human. Work your magic, pray by the moon, use the energies of the equinox to bring about change. Remember the Old Ways and the Old Ones, use the brilliance of current technology combined with the magic of herbs and stones. Use the gifts that lie all around us, and give back to the earth and each other. Take great care of each other.

Blessings of the equinox to you all.

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Imbolc Protection Ritual

Snowdrops ButleyThis rite uses what is commonly known as “The Descent of Brighid” from the Carmina Gadelica. This rite specifically calls upon the powers of the goddess Brighid, and cannot be used interchangeably with another goddess. If you honour or work with other deities, you might consider using the poem as an example to write your own spell or charm of protection. Alternatively, you might just leave out all the references to deity. At the end of the poem, we find the term luatha-luis, whose meaning is not wholly clear, and which is open to interpretation. It may mean a fast-acting, possibly poisonous plant. Luis is the rowan or mountain ash, a powerful and magical tree, whose berries are poisonous when raw, but delicious and nutritious when cooked.
You can perform this ritual every Imbolc, especially if you are a follower or would like to honour Brighid. Or you can simply use it as a rite of protection. You can perform this rite after undergoing a purification such as smudging or saining yourself with smoke from mugwort or vervain.
For this ritual, I would strongly encourage the entire formality of designating sacred space. This will lend focus to your intention, as well as inviting the powers of the ancestors, the three realms, the spirits of place and more to your rite. Choose something that symbolises protection for you, a talisman if you will: something strong and durable, something that will “shield” you physically, spiritually and psychically. You can make a shield yourself, using whatever materials you prefer. This doesn’t have to be a full-body protecting hunk of steel, but again can be symbolic; you can make one out of papier maché to keep near your altar, should you so wish. You might wish to use something natural that you can carry with you, such as a stone or crystal, or even say the poem over a pendant bearing the triskele or triquetra symbol, reflecting the triple nature of Brighid. There are many ways you can use this; be creative!

Rite of Protection Using the Shield of Brighid

Set up and designate your sacred space. Once you have done so, sit or stand for a moment and breathe, focusing your intention on what is to come. Visualise a glowing light beginning to emanate from within, centred on your chest. This light reflects the light of the moon, or the light upon water, or the light of a flame. The energy from this light is not hot, but cool, flowing through you and filling you with strength and confidence, as well as compassion and love. Raise your arms to the sky, drawing down the power of the sky and the full moon. Then hold your hands out in front of you, and draw in the power of the sea, and the highest tide. Finally, hold your hands to the ground, and draw the power of the land into yourself, the serpent energy that courses and connects everything to each other. Stand fully upright once more, noting how the light emanating from within you is even brighter now. Take that light within your mind, and form it into a circle or sphere of light around you. Visualise that light encompassing you, shielding you. If you have a talisman to represent the shield, hold this aloft and still visualise the circle around you. Then say the following words, from “The Descent of Brighid” from the Carmina Gadelica, feeling free to adapt or leave out the Christian influence:

Brigit daughter of Dugall the Brown
Son of Aodh son of Art son of Conn
Son of Criara son of Cairbre son of Cas
Son of Cormac son of Cartach son of Conn.

Brigit of the mantles,
Brigit of the peat-heap,
Brigit of the twining hair,
Brigit of the augury.

Brigit of the white feet,

Brigit of calmness,
Brigit of the white palms,
Brigit of the kine.

Brigit, woman-comrade,
Brigit of the peat-heap,
Brigit, woman-helper,
Brigit, woman mild.

Brigit, own tress of Mary,
Brigit, Nurse of Christ, —
Each day and each night
That I say the Descent of Brigit,
I shall not be slain,
I shall not be wounded,
I shall not be put in cell,
I shall not be gashed,
I shall not be torn in sunder,
I shall not be despoiled,
I shall not be down-trodden,
I shall not be made naked,
I shall not be rent,
Nor will Christ
Leave me forgotten.

Nor sun shall burn me,
Nor fire shall burn me.
Nor beam shall burn me.
Nor moon shall burn me.

Nor river shall drown me.
Nor brine shall drown me.
Nor flood shall drown me.
Nor water shall drown me.

Nightmare shall not lie on me,
Black-sleep shall not lie on me.
Spell-sleep shall not lie on me,
‘ Luatha-luis ‘ shall not lie on me.

I am under the keeping
Of my Saint Mary;
My companion beloved
Is Brigit.

Let the words sink into the air around you. Let them suffuse the light that encircles you with their power. When you are ready, draw the circle of light that surrounds you back into yourself, centred on your chest. If you have a special talisman that you’d like to infuse with this energy instead, draw the circle of light that surrounds you into your talisman. When all the light has gone where it should, stand for a moment and see how this makes you feel. You can test the circle of light, by holding up your dominant hand (right if you are right-handed, left if you are left-handed) and immediately bring the circle of light back around your being. See it spring back up with ease, to surround you and protect you. If you are using a talisman, see it coming forth from the talisman. You can call and release this power as you wish, as you need. It is not something to be played with, but something real, an energy being focused around you. You are connecting with the power of Brighid.
When you are satisfied that you have the protection you need, it is time to reciprocate and leave an offering for what you have been given. As the lady of poetry, smithcraft and of healing, an offering related of one or all of these would be suitable.
Close down your ritual, and renew this rite of protection whenever you feel it necessary.

This ritual is an excerpt from my latest work, The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker, published by Llewellyn Worldwide.

(c) Joanna van der Hoeven 2019

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Reflections on 2019

I type this as the sun sets on one of the last days of the year. The mist is rolling in, the sky changing from blue to yellow to pink. The pine trees stand tall, silhouetted against the fading light. A flock of pigeons fly across the thin crescent of the new moon. A hush is descending on the little village, and the candles are lit in my home.

Looking out the window at the hazy purple trees in the distance, their bare branches still in the evening light, I reflect upon the year that has just gone. My dreams have been strange of late, perhaps due to illness, perhaps due to the mental ruminations that winter and the closing of the year bring. I’m tired, physically and mentally. I’m just getting over a nasty cold, and my husband is currently fighting it. The cats are doing well. The family back in Canada are doing well, apart from one tiding of bad news and ill health. But we are strong, we will meet all challenges head-on, staying positive whilst being realistic. I thank my family heartily for teaching me these lessons. I am too easily blown by the wind, feeling it all. Their Dutch practicality is my steady anchor when the storms of emotion hit hard.

So too is this beautiful land where I live, and I give thanks to the trees and the sky, the sea and the heath, the deer and the owls that keep me company day and night. Even as I long for my familial home on a daily basis, this beauty right here, before my eyes in this very moment is what is real. This is what I must engage with, this is what I must feel; otherwise, I am simply a ghost in this landscape.

I am making friends with the muntjac deer who visit me every evening, expecting their peanuts. There are two males, Douglas and the smaller one, Jeffrey. Sometimes Doug’s partner comes with her two children, one a year old faun and one born late this summer. I do not yet know their names. Occasionally, Freya the fallow deer visits, her long legs moving her gracefully across the lawn, her carriage always like a queen. The wren sometimes sits on the picnic table when I am washing the dishes, giving me a wonderful look at his tiny body, so round and soft.

So what has this year brought? It’s been quite a calm and steady year. The first half was filled with the final work and then anticipation over the release of my new book, The Book of Hedge Druidry. Summer and early autumn was filled with promotional work, and hearing the reviews that were coming in. The Book of Hedge Druidry went to No. 1 in its category on Amazon many times over the last six months, for which I was overjoyed. I give my thanks to everyone who has taken the time to write to me personally, or leave a review. So many lovely, wonderful people from across the world have reached out, and it’s so nice to know that there is resonance with the words after you release them out into the world.

A crow flies across the deepening sky, followed by two airplanes high above, their contrails glowing pink before quickly disappearing in the high pressure. So many planes tonight, flying across the southern sky. More and more carbon, going into the air, with cheaper and cheaper flights. I worry for the future, I really do. Taking a deep breath, I ground and remind myself that I am doing all that I can, and to be here in the moment. I know that next summer I will be on a plane myself, for a very special family occasion. I cannot judge without being judgemental.

What other things have happened this year? Well, in late autumn, a creative burst came through in a completely different media than usual. Photography and video has inspired me these last few months, and it’s nice to take a break from the written word. Expressing myself in different mediums has widened my horizons, and made me realise that I am more than just Jo, the Druid.

Six airplanes in my small field of vision, as I look out across the back garden.

Douglas and Jeffrey have arrived, and are eating peanuts.

My cats are sleeping at my feet, happy and content.

My husband is downstairs, watching the hilarious soapbox races on the television.

It is safe to say that my world has grounded itself in reality of late. The dreaming druid is still there, but she is sitting side by side with many others. She is sharing a table with many aspects of my soul, and there is food enough for all to share. The call of my ancestors is still strong, and my heart hearkens to a heathen past while my head remains firmly in the present.

Other things that have happened: I’ve revamped my website and this blog, and opened up an Instagram account. My Youtube channel is going strong.  I also have a Patreon page, where people can support me in the work that I do, for whichever medium I creatively express myself in, day in and day out. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to do so, because for so long my life was filled with simply trying to survive. There were so many ideas in my head that had to be held back because I needed to make a living first and foremost. These last five years have really shifted that way of being, and I am eternally grateful. It feels like I’m opening up, that more and more creativity is coming, in various forms. I have music planned, and art. In the new year, there will be a place on my website where you can order prints of my photography. There is much to come, by the grace of the gods and my own will.

The room is darkening considerably, and I will have to stop writing soon, for the glare will become too strong for my eyes in the candlelit room. I shall take a moment to sit with the candles, and meditate upon what has gone, what currently is, and what may come. I shall be grateful for every moment, every taste that life has to offer, in every spectrum. There may be trouble ahead, there may be smooth sailing. We cannot know for certain, but we can steer the course of lives as best we can. As the peachy sky fades into grey, then indigo and then black, I know that the stars will shine tonight, at least for a little while. And after that? Who can say? I only know that I am thankful for my many blessings.

To everyone who has followed this blog over the year, and some over many years, to everyone who has yet to come into my life, to everyone who has supported me and my work, I give you my heartfelt thanks. I could not have done it without you. There is a relationship right here, though it is often silent, and hidden. But it is here, between you and I, right here in this moment as you read these words. And I honour you for this moment, this shared moment.

May the coming year bring you peace and happiness in the best of times, and strength and courage in the worst. May we all stand shoulder to shoulder, to work with each other to make this world a better place. May we all walk in beauty.

Love, Jo. x

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