Excerpt from “The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices”

Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices. You can pre-order it now from Amazon, and it will out in a few months. May we be the awen!

Journeying

Journeying is another form of meditation often used in Druidry, where the meditator goes on an inner journey. We might be seeking a deeper connection to our ancestors, or to the spirits of place, the gods, the sidhe and other denizens of this world and the Otherworld. There are many tales in Celtic mythology of a hero journeying, usually over water, to gain wisdom and insight into their lives (in Celtic Irish myth known as immrama). Today, we might be seeking allies from this world and the Otherworld to work with in the future. In the following journeying meditation, we will go to find a spirit ally, perhaps an ancestor of tradition, who may be able to guide us in our future work.

Sit in your meditative posture, and take three long, deep breaths to cleanse your mind and body. Allow your thoughts to quieten, and once you are ready begin the following visualisation.

You stand at the edge of a lake, the still water reflecting the sky above. Hanging on a small tree next to you, you see a silver branch, much like the one you own. You reach out and take the branch in your hands, shaking it three times. You then return the branch, and it slowly fades from view. Turning your gaze to the lake, you see a mist begin to form. The mist comes closer to where you are standing on the shoreline. Out of the mist, a small, flat-bottomed boat appears, paddled by two cloaked and hooded figures. Silently the boat approaches the shore, and stops with a soft bump upon the edge of the lake.

One of the figures turns and stands up, reaching out a hand to help you into the boat. You take the hand and step into the vessel, moving to the front where a small bench awaits you. The figures behind you silently push off from shore and paddle the boat into the awaiting mist.

You feel the mist all around you and its cool, soft, damp touch upon your skin. It surrounds you, and you are adrift in this strange sea, where the light has no source, the directions have no meaning. All you can feel is the boat steadily moving forward, through the mist.

Slowly, the mist begins to recede in front of you. The light changes, and you can see a form looming ahead. As the mists fully part, you see before you a beautiful island. Green hillsides dotted with sheep and cattle roam up the banks of a tall tor, a hill that rises out of the landscape. Around the base of the tor you see trees, marching down to the water’s edge. A little ways off to the right you see a small clearing, where a tiny village has been settled in the arms of the forest, the tor standing guard. The boat begins to move towards the village, and soon you see a small landing dock jutting out into the lake. As you approach the dock, a figure moves from the shoreline and onto the platform. Cloaked and hooded like those guiding your boat, the form moves to the end of the wooden dock and awaits you.

Your boat pulls up, and is neatly tied to the dock by your navigators. The figure on the dock extends a hand to you, and you are pulled up onto the platform above the water. You look into the figure’s face, and slowly the figure lifts its hands to the cowl of the robe and pulls down the hood. The figure smiles, a face that is neither old nor young, with eyes full of the ages of wisdom. “Welcome,” she/he says.

From there, you can make many journeys back to that land, to learn from this person. You can visit the village, climb the tor, wander the forests and dive into the lake. With this person as your guide, you can learn the wisdom that they have to offer. When you feel it is time to return back to your body and your time, simply thank your guide, place an offering perhaps at a sacred shrine or in a place of beauty and take the boat back to the shore from where you began the journey. As you step out of the boat, you see the silver branch again in the boughs, and you shake it three times to signal the end of your journey. Then slowly begin to focus once again on breathing in and out through your lungs, returning your mind to the here and now. Listen to the sounds around you, the smells. Wiggle your fingers and your toes, rolls your shoulders and when ready, slowly open your eyes, returning to the present moment.

Re-weaving the Connection Every Day

Reposted from my blog at SageWoman on Witches and Pagans at PaganSquare

A large part of the work at Druid College is teaching our apprentices how to re-weave the connection to the land each and every day. We cover a wide-range of topics in doing so, from conscious consumerism, political and environmental activism, daily and seasonal ritual celebrations and more. Our focus from our last weekend was on daily connection, how we can bring everyday actions into our practice, to make the mundane sacred; indeed, to highlight the fact that there is no such thing as the mundane. It’s only in our perception.

Part of the homework given was to write an essay on how the apprentice can re-weave the connection every day. I thought I would share what I do with them, and you, in the hopes that it may inspire you on your path.

As I work from home, I have the luxury of setting my own schedule. However, I do still remember the days when I worked full-time, and then part-time, and how I simply shifted priorities in order to make it work. I also don’t have any children, although my two furry grrrls do make me wonder sometimes…

I start the day with a prayer. Watching the sun rise, I say the following:

I kindle my soul at the hearthfire of Brighid. Flame of courage, flame of joy, drops of awen be upon my lips, my work. May Brighid guide me in all my endeavours, this day and every day. May the light of illumination be upon me, may the blessings of Brighid flow through me. May her fiery arrow bring forth awen, to shine upon all kith and kin.

I then feed the cats, clean the litter boxes and see that they’re happy. When they’re all settled, I light some incense and go to my little shrine to Brighid in my living room, next to the fireplace. Here, I have a small lantern and a bowl of water filled with water from the White Spring in Glastonbury. I light the candle and then pass my hand over the water and say:

In Brighid’s name I light the flame. Come into the sacred waters, lady of the three strong fires: in the cauldron, in the belly, in the head: Brighid. Lady of the sacred flame, lady of the holy well, lady of poetry, smithcraft and healing, white serpent energy of Albion, I honour you for all that you are with all that I am.

A blessing be upon this hearth and this home, and all who dwell within. A blessing be upon my Lady, a blessing be upon this land. May there be peace in our hearts and minds, and towards all fellow beings. May we be the awen.

I then sit and focus on my breath for nine rounds, then perform the Three Realms working as found in Jhenah Telyndru’s Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery, and Inner Wisdom. This releases any negative or destructive energies within our being and replaces it with the clean, clear energy of the three realms.

I then put on the coffee and have a fruit smoothie for breakfast. I sit down at the dining table and say a quick prayer that I recite before all meals, sometimes out loud, sometimes just in my head.

I give my thanks for this food that I am about to eat. May it lend health, strength and nourishment to me. I give my thanks to the spirits of land, sea and sky. I honour all the times, and all the tides.

After breakfast, I get on with my work, clearing the admin first, and then going to write, create music, do an audio recording for my bandcamp page or do some artwork. I work for about five hours, and then have a late lunch. After lunch, I go outside for a three-mile walk. Sometimes I dance instead of going for a walk, using the 5 Rhythms method. Both walking and dancing help me to gain inspiration needed to solve problems, to connect with the rhythms of nature, or to find the stillness needed outside of my own mind, to be fully present in the moment.

The rest of the afternoon is spent in study and ends with meditation. Then, when the sun sets, I sing a prayer as I watch the sun fall past the horizon:

Hail fair sun the day is done. We take the rest that we have won. Your shining light guides our way. Blessed thanks for this day.

I usually have a cup of herbal tea with me as I watch the sun set. I’ve been using mugwort, chickweed and lady’s mantle from my own garden lately, to help me as I transition through perimenopause. I hold the herbs in my hand before putting them into the teapot, honouring their energy and adding my own to their song.

I then cook a meal for my husband and I, honouring the lovely organic food and all those who brought it to my home. Afterwards, my husband and I spend time together, enjoying each other’s quiet company. I may take a bath in the evening, honouring the clean, hot water that flows from the tap, throwing in some herbs or oil after infusing them with my intention, honouring theirs and bringing them together. I have another cup of herbal tea, made with vervain, which is calming and sacred to Druids both ancient and modern. (Please note: some of the herbs mentioned in this writing should not be used when pregnant. Always seek the advice of a good herbalist.) When it is time for bed, I say a final prayer:

I rest my soul in the arms of Brighid. Lady of peace, lady of healing; blessings of the sacred flame be upon me. Protecting flame, the light in the darkness. May her waters soothe my soul. Lady, watch over me as I sleep, this night and every night. May my love for you guide me in all that I do. May we be the awen.

Different prayers may be recited during the day, or during, before or after meditation. I have created a small book of prayers that I have handwritten, charms and such that correspond to everyday actions. There is a song for Brighid, which I sometimes sing when I am outside at my altar and feel Her moving through me. There is a prayer for greeting the moon, for invoking the spirits of place. I have created a blessing of protection, for when I feel that there is need. I have created a house blessing, to be recited twice a year, at Imbolc and Samhain after I clean the house thoroughly from top to bottom. I have written a chant for Brighid, to bring me into a trance-like state. There are healing charms and more that I have written or researched, said when necessary throughout the day.

In a sense, I have created my own liturgy for my own personal practice. However, this is for me and me alone; created out of elements of my own experience and my own life. I encourage others to create their own, if they so wish. Druidry has no set liturgy as a whole, however, I like the structure that I have created in my own personal practice. I understand that others might find it too restrictive. There are spontaneous prayers and connections recited and felt throughout the day, such as when out on a walk and I see the herds of deer, or the hawk flying overhead, or when I reach my hands down onto the mossy ground of my back garden to feel the energy of the land, or see the approaching storm.

These are the tools that I use each and every day to help me re-weave the connection to the land, to the gods and to the ancestors. At the full and dark moons I do ritual to honour these tides, as well as at the eight seasonal festivals of the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year. It’s been a fun and creative process, creating the daily prayers and rituals over the years, and I encourage anyone to try it. May we be the awen!

The Awen Alone Audiobook is now available!

cover high resThe Awen Alone audiobook is now here! Available through bandcamp, you can download the book, as well as receiving my music album, “Drops of Awen” for only £10. Also included are guided meditations and talks from previous workshops! More material will be added throughout the year. Your £10 yearly subscription allows you access to streaming or downloading all of the material, as well as having access to new material added each month. You can cancel your subscription at any time. Material includes:

The Awen Alone Audiobook
Drops of Awen Music Album
Chakra Talk and Guided Meditation
Talk on being a Modern Druid
Basic Meditation
“Rafting the Currents of Life” Meditation

Finding the Balance: Wedding Discipline to Devotion

Finding the Balance: Wedding Discipline to Devotion

Our culture of “not good enough” is so rampant, that it can be terribly hard to disassociate oneself from it. I was able to come to terms with the capitalist way of life here in our Western world through Eastern means, specifically through Zen Buddhism. That led to deep meditation, of simply being in the moment, of enjoying the simple things in life while maintaining a deep discipline of distancing myself from the “not good enough life” into one where “it is enough”. This occurred on both a physical and spiritual level. Indeed, it usually does, because the two cannot be separated from each other.

The discipline aspect was hard, at first. I didn’t feel like meditating, like being in the moment. I would do so without any spiritual or religious intent, per se; it was merely to be in the moment, experiencing my body without distraction, noticing my thoughts. As I became more proficient at this, through sheer dogged determination and mule-minded stubborness, the light began to shine through the cracks that had opened up in my mind and in my way of being in the world. I could see that it was all illusion, that what my mind created was illusion, that the way we thought and acted in the world was all based on illusion. At first I was angry at the deception, then I was sad, depressed at the state of the world and not seeing a way through. But through perseverance, I came through the other side. How did I persevere? Again, it was discipline, but this time it was wedded to devotion.

Discipline itself wasn’t enough to get me through. I knew I could do it, and indeed I had. But when I dropped out many things in my life, all the illusory things, I didn’t at the time realise that I had to fill up the hole that they left with something more nourishing. Instead, it left me feeling empty, which at first was an interesting way to be, but then voracious hunger kicks in, when we’re empty, when we need refuelling. Carefully deciding on the path that I wanted to take, in order to find and maintain a sovereign sense of self, I brought devotion into my practice, in order to grasp that deep intention and give meaning to all that I did. After all, isn’t that the meaning of life? To give your life meaning?

And so I devoted myself to the gods of my local landscape, and several other “traditional” gods within the Celtic pantheon, some that I had worked with for decades, others which called to me to come and dance with them, for however long or short a while. And so I did, weaving discipline, daily discipline, with devotion, giving meaning to the work that I did, both for myself and for the wider world. When the hole was filled, through the previous emptying of my mind and soul, it was enough.

This is not a one-off process, however. Every day I am learning just what enough means. We are bombarded each and every day by media trying to create feelings of inadequacy. It brings to mind the Druid maxim: the Truth against the World. I have to hold my truth, against that of the world around me which seeks to distance myself from my truth. I have to work hard to be sovereign of myself. The hard work is worth the effort.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my bad days, that I don’t slip into despair every now and then, of my own failings and that of the world. But when I go outside, listen to the blackbird singing songs of the Otherworld, when I see the herd of deer running through the woods, or the bloated corpse of a fallow deer rotting down into the leafmould; when I see the hawk flying over the treetops, screaming in hunger or joy, or the waves of the sea gently lapping the shingle and whispering secrets of the murky depths, I come back to an awareness of the Mystery. That Mystery is that the world is more than me, that I am a part of a great web, a connecting thread in all that there is, all that ever was, and all that shall ever be. I am the awen, from the depths I sing.

It’s important to remember that human beings are part of nature. Our culture tries to create the illusion of separateness, but when we pull back the veil we see the interconnectedness of all things. The air that I breathe is oxygen created by trees and plankton, grasses and daisies. They in turn take a deep breath of the carbon I expel from my lungs, in one great harmonious intake and outtake of a World Breath. Just breathing can connect us to each other, can remind us of that connection each and every day. That was why the sitting meditation, or zazen of my earlier days, of just focusing and concentrating on breathing was such a great stepping stone in my life. From there, from just sitting and breathing with the world, I came to a sense of connection that led to a life of devotion, where I work to achieve a sovereignty of self in a world that seeks to make me its subject and slave.

We might think that we aren’t equipped to do the daily practice, to help others, much less help ourselves. But we are, if we remember. Re-member: to bring together disparate parts of ourselves. If we remember that connection, the threads of awen that connect each and every life form to each other, then we can work to know that our existence is not just a mere blight on the planet. We have destroyed so much, and we are at a tipping point, for sure. But there is also the great possibility that this is the moment where we all wake up. That humanity undergoes a revolution of its own mind, its hive mind. That we open up to the wonderful magic of possibility. That we are able to use our intelligence, discipline, compassion, empathy and more to make this world a better place. Is this altruism? Not entirely, because we also will benefit greatly from this revolution. We are doing it because we know that we are all connected. We are all related.

For me, wedding discipline to devotion helped to give my life meaning, and to put my feet upon the path towards this revolution. Working with love and compassion, for myself and for the world around me gives my life meaning. Even when I’m not feeling particularly loving, especially towards humanity, I have to remember the potential, the possibility that we can change, that we can reweave our connection to the land. It’s the basis of the work I do at Druid College, to hope to inspire people find their sovereign self, to come to know what enough really is, to work with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place and to really understand on a deep level that we are the land. There is no separation. Lying down upon the mossy ground in my backyard, underneath the beech tree, tiny buds appearing on its ever-expanding canopy year upon year, I look up into the blue sky just beyond the tangled web and know that there is always possibility, that there is always change. Buddhism and Zen teach of impermanence; so too does Druidry, in the natural flow and cycles of the seasons of our lives. When we truly come to understand the nature of impermanence, we come to truly know abundance.

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017

The Awen Alone Audiobook

I am currently recording an audiobook of the best-selling The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid. This will be available through BandCamp later this spring, either in its entirety or chapter by chapter, whichever you prefer. There is currently a sample chapter available now, on Prayer that you can listen to and download to all your devices, to take with you anywhere. The marvels of technology!

cover high resClick HERE for more details.

A Druid view of peace, justice and permaculture

Conflict resolution are two words that very much need to be taken into consideration in today’s political, social and economic climate. I would like to add a third word, which is honourable. When we are taking into consideration the bigger picture, the benefit to the whole, changing our perception to a more holistic one, then we are on the path towards honourable conflict resolution. Where each part matters, where each part has value, much akin to the animist’s view of the world wherein all of nature has inherent value, this worldview can help us to provide the solutions necessary in order to solve some deep problems. Too often it is easy to criticise; we often forget we must also offer solutions.

I spoke to my apprentices a couple of weeks ago at one of our Druid College sessions about ethical leadership. Leading on from that discussion, in the next weekend we will be exploring ways in which groups with differing opinions, mindsets, politics and worldviews can still operate co-operatively. Many aspects found within permaculture are a brilliant source of inspiration. Druidry is all about relationship, and relationship is also at the heart of permaculture. Nature works co-operatively in order to provide a functioning homeostasis. Yes, there are brief flashes of competition here and there, but for the most part every aspect of nature works with others in order to survive.

If we look at mycorrhizal fungi, those tiny filaments of connecting threads that run underground, connecting tree to tree in a forest, connecting many other plants and fungi, we see in a microcosm paradigm that everything is connected. Furthermore, there have been studies wherein it was found that through these connecting threads plants could help other plants, working co-operatively instead of competing for the best space and light. Trees that were in the sunlight could and did collect nourishment and nutrients that were then sent to trees in the shade that had little or no access. They did not even have to be of the same species: trees and other plants simply helped each other.

Unless we are hermits, we will have interaction with other humans. What we need to relearn is how to do so in a beneficial way, without falling into modern day society’s obsession with competition. It’s not a dog-eat-dog world out there. Much of patriarchy revolves around this idea of competition, and we need to let that go in order to find more balance in society as a whole. So how do we work with people whose perception is so different from our own? How can be bridge the gap, find the language, work honourably and sustainably with one another?

If we are working with a group, and that group begins falling apart, with bickering or power struggles, we need to look closely at how that situation came about in the first place. If we are in the role of leader, then it is up to us to communicate with all involved, and find out just what is going on, getting different perspectives on the matter. We then need to look at the situation from a different perspective altogether, which is where permaculture can help us to widen our perception further, outside the human element, allowing the authority to come from nature.

If there is a problem in a garden, a proponent of permaculture would look deeply into the issue. If there is a mould or damaging/invading insect in the garden, the solution would not be to just tackle the mould or the bug. Instead, one would look at the conditions that allowed such a thing to occur, looking deeply into the issue without any bias. Only then can more than one solution be offered, and perhaps one that is more effective.

If we relate that to group dynamics, we could be more successful in addressing more than one problem at a time. If there is conflict within the group, we could solve a single problem by kicking out the ones who are perceived to be creating the conflict. But then another person might take their place, doing the same amount of damage. If we took a permaculture perspective, we would also look at the reasons why such a thing was allowed to occur, and the reasons could be many and varied. We may find that if we address the climate and conditions that created the tension in the first place, it would all stop and no one would have to leave. Only when all issues are addressed will there be any honourable conflict resolution.

As a Druid, I take my inspiration and my authority from the nature. Nature is my teacher. Through nature I learn how to function in my environment, and how to take the lessons that I have learned in my own locality and apply or adapt them to any location that I find myself in. Talking to the spirits of place, the ancestors, the gods, I can get a feel for what it is that I owe in return for what I have been given. I can work towards balanced, reciprocal, sustainable and inspired relationship.

That doesn’t mean that there will never be conflict. But when there is, we can see them as challenges and opportunities, to learn more about ourselves and about the world. We don’t have to have everyone like us, and we don’t have to like everyone, but we can learn how to operate in a society where we want or desire very different things. And where honourable conflict resolution is unobtainable, perhaps through continuing abuse or damage to our own well-being in any shape or form, we can learn to extract ourselves from the situation and find a new path forward. Much as when I am walking in the forest, if I see a patch of nettles, I will not walk through them trying to find a relationship with them; I can honour them for what they are, but still avoid them. Some things simply will not work together, no matter how much we would like them to. Acceptance is a large part of permaculture, and of peace of mind.

When we are working in such a manner, we will find peace not only for ourselves, but hopefully for others as well. Justice only arises when we have found some semblance of peace, in ourselves and in the world. Working holistically, honourably, in a desire to be utterly integrated then we truly walk the path of the Druid.

Cover 1For more on finding peace in a world of unrest, you can buy my little e-book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World from Amazon. All royalties from books sales go to charity: The Orangutan Appeal UK and The Woodland Trust.

Druid College has a couple of places left on the Year 1 course starting this October. Please see the website for more details.

BBC Interview, Radio Suffolk

Here is the link to my interview from yesterday with Matt Marvel on the Lesley Dolphin show for BBC Radio Suffolk. I’m on from about 2:00 in 🙂  Available on BBC IPlayer for the next few weeks.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04nzszm