Reblog: A Full Moon of Samhain Ritual

Here’s what happened on the full moon of Samhain this year 🙂  To read the original blog post, visit my channel at SageWoman for Witches and Pagans, at PaganSquare.

The candles were lit, the incense smoking, and the bells of the church ringing in the still night air. Friday night is the practice night for the village bell-ringers, and so our ritual was accentuated by their skilful tones. The moon was riding high in a hazy sky, and haloed with an ever-widening ring that spoke of the Otherworld.

We raised our boundary, which was to the whole of the property, and called to the realms of Land, Sea and Sky. We honoured the ancestors at the full moon of Samhain, as well as the spirits of place. We invited the Fair Folk who were in tune with our intention, as they have been a part of our rituals since we began. We sang to the four quarters, and then invoked the gods. We invited all who were harmony with us this Samhain night. This was our first time in invoking the god into our full moon ritual, but it felt right. How right, we were just about to discover.

We honoured the tides of Samhain, the winter months of darkness. We then performed our magical working at the fire, and gathering our clooties: ribbons of intention that we tie to the branches of the apple tree at the bottom of the garden every month. Walking back to the terrace where the bird bath, now a sacred basin of water reflecting the moonlight, served as our vessel as we drew down the moon into the water. The church bells rang in time to our working, and stopped just as we finished. The air was utterly still.

Suddenly, a loud bark sounded from the other side of the hedge, down the track a little ways. A fallow deer stag, wandering the moonlit night. We stopped and turned to the noise, and he barked again, this time a little closer. We looked to each other and smiled, feeling blessed by his presence. Then an enormous bark, just the other side of the cedar boundary, which made us all jump. He was right up against the hedge, near the little hole that the muntjac, fallow deer and badgers made.

And he was trying to come through.

We could hear him brushing against the hedge, wanted to come through the doorway, but his antlers preventing him from doing so. The firelight made the area where the entrance lay shadowed from our sight. Our breath quickening, we looked at each other. The God was here, and he was making himself known. He paced along the back boundary, trying to come through first one hole in one corner, and then the other. He then returned to the middle of the hedge, where the boundary between the civilised and the wild lay, that doorway to the Otherworld that lay in the hedge, and pawed the ground, sniffing the night air, sniffing the scent of the three women gathered around the sacred pool. Gathered around the sacred pool, with hearts beating loudly in their breast.

“A blessing to you, God of Samhain, Lord of the Wildwood. May your journey into darkness be blessed, and we are honoured by your presence,” I whispered softly into the night, tears falling down my cheek.

We heard him still sniffing, and we felt his eyes upon us. The world stood still, and we hardly dared to breathe. Would he change his shape and come through? What would we do if that happened? A hush descended, and we no longer heard him just the other side of the hedge. With hands slightly shaking, we dipped our clooties into the water and walked down to the apple tree, right where he had been sniffing just the other side. As we walked, we sang to let him know we were approaching. “Deep into the earth I go, deep into the earth I go. Hold my hand, brother; hold my hand. Hold my hand, sister; hold my hand”. We bravely tied our ribbons to the branches, knowing that the God stood only a few feet away from us. Stepping back, we finished the chant, and bowed to the apple tree and hedge, bathed in the soft moonlight. Silence reigned. We knew he was no longer there, and we didn’t hear him leave. He simply disappeared through the veil between the worlds.

We made our offering, and gazed into the mirror at the fairy portal shrine I made under the beech tree. We saw things: bonfires on the hills of Tlachtga, owl-faced warriors, deep caverns beneath the earth, the land of the sidhe, and the Mari Lwyd. We circled the fire clockwise three times for blessings, and then ended our rite, breathless and filled with wonder.

May the Lord of the Wildwood bless you all this season, may you find nourishment in the darkness of winter.

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017

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Reblog: Lughnasadh and the State of Grace

Here is a reblog of my post on SageWoman’s channel at Pagan Square. Blessings of the first harvest to you all! (To see the full original post, click HERE.)

_MG_9378 Lughnasadh is upon us, and the farmers are anxiously looking to the skies for a few clear hours when they can harvest their crops of wheat in my area. It has been a hot, dry summer, and of course, just when the harvest is due to come in we get changeable weather with rain showers every day; not ideal when you need to gather in a crop like wheat totally dry, or else it will rot. So just like our ancestors, we look up and hope and pray for some dry weather, and for the farmers, that they’ve rented the combine harvesters on the best day for it, and not when it’s going to dump it down halfway through their work.

Things are unpredictable in life. It’s just something that we have to accept. With a little grace, we can face the problems and triumphs, the highs and the lows with equanimity. Grace is a word that is little used today, but one which I think is important, and one that I’ve been trying to live each and every day.

It’s not easy, to live with grace. Acceptance does not come easily when things don’t go your way, or when people don’t behave the way you think they should, or the weather turns unexpectedly, or you suddenly find out that you need a root canal, but hey, that’s a good thing, at least they can save the tooth and not have to extract it. (Yes, I’m undergoing quite a bit of dentistry this past month, having cracked a tooth at Gatwick airport on my way to a three-week visit to my family in Canada last month. Not ideal.)

So how do we deal with life’s upsets with grace? By being open to change, to what comes, and not to dwell too much on how we think things should be. Because however much we think we know what’s best, or that we have total control over a situation, the simple fact is that we just don’t; we are viewing life through a single lens of perception, and we have absolutely no control over external influences in our lives. Living as we do alongside myriad other beings, we have some control (I would hope) over ourselves and our reactions and intentions, but very little when it comes to others. And this is a good thing.

Grace is all about working with the concept of freedom and acceptance.

People are free to do what they will, so long as they are not breaking laws or harming others. Live and let live. We as individuals fall into that category, and when we can allow others to be themselves, whether they’re rude and obnoxious, lovely and charming, or everything in between then we are living with grace. We focus on our own self, but without becoming self-obsessed. We are awake and aware to all aspects of ourselves, from the light and the shadow, from the conscious and what lies hidden beneath layers and layers of past experience and trauma.

Grace is often equated with beauty and elegance of form, and when we decide to allow life to happen as it happens, we find that we actually do move through it with less struggle, with less flailing. That doesn’t mean that we will suffer any less, but that we deal with the suffering and the struggle in a manner that is calm, peaceful and accepting. This isn’t easy to do in the slightest. It takes a lot of practice, and is not something that happens overnight. Grace is also synonymous with favour, and we may just find that when we are more accepting of what life throws our way, our luck may change, or at least our perception of it, and we are able to move through the currents with more ease. We are going with the flow of the tide, not against it.

So this harvest season, I am going to remind myself (often) of that single word: grace. When I am flailing, when I am struggling, when I am angry or upset, when I am in the dentist’s chair again next week, I am going to stop, take a moment, see the beauty, feel the pain, and accept. And then I am going to work if I can to change it, and if I can’t then so be it. Just as the wheat in the field awaits a dry, sunny day for harvesting, so too can I work with patience and the tides and times of life, for nature is not in any hurry, and yet all things get done.

Rescuing the Druid

Reblog from my channel at SageWoman

We all have our ups and downs in life, and these can certainly vary dependent upon many factors: genetics, environment, disposition, culture, upbringing and more. The Druid faces the same challenges as many others do in their journey through life; being a Druid is no different in what the world throws at you.

What is different is how you deal with what comes your way. That doesn’t mean as a Druid you won’t suffer from depression, or heartbreak, grief or anxiety. But the methods that we use to face these challenges helps us to understand ourselves, and each other, a little better, and learn where we fit in the holistic scheme of things.

I’ve faced many challenges in my life, and still continue to do so on a daily basis. One challenge that I faced over this winter was my love and enthusiasm for dance had gone. For the last six months, I was seriously considering quitting dancing altogether. For over a year the question of my love for it had been rolling around in my brain. Over the winter holiday period, I was this close to giving it up completely. In fact, I had made up my mind that upon my return to England, I would inform my dance class.

And then I heard a song. A beautiful song, played on the harp by a talented Canadian harpist, Sharlene Wallace. My mother had the television on a “New Age” radio station, and I was reading in the living room, with one ear on the music. I heard a song, and liked it, looking up a the screen and seeing the artist’s name and the album it was from. I went online to find out more, and bought the album.

Sitting in my room later, after purchasing and downloading the album, I watched the snow fall outside the window and let the music enter into my soul, enchanting my being. And then one particular song came on, “Habanera Gris”.

This song instantly ignited my love and passion for dance once again. Hearing, it, I could see how movement would flow through the melody, how it could be expressed through dance. It was beautiful, haunting, soothing and simple. I HAD to dance to this song.

And so, when I returned home to England after visiting my family in Canada, I began choreographing a dance to this song. The ladies in my dance class loved the music, and though at first it was challenging (as it was quite different from other things we had done before) we soon fell into the rhythm and now it is one of our best-loved dances.

And to top it all off, we performed it this past May Day weekend for the first time. We put the video up on YouTube, and today I was absolutely delighted to be contacted by the composer of “Habanera Gris”, Alfredo Rolando Ortiz, who said: “”Thank you for dancing to my composition HABANERA GRIS. I love to see the many interpretations of my music by musicians and dancers. I hope you will continue enjoying my music for a very long time.”

It was an honour to have him comment on our video, and I shared the fact that I had nearly given up on my dancing before I heard his song.

When we are at our lowest, as Druids, we need to go and seek out the awen, the inspiration. Listen to music. Go for a walk in nature and allow nature to inspire you. Look deeply into nature. Go and look at art, or better yet, create your own. Be inspired by others, because often when we are at our lowest, it is because we need that re-injection, that re-fuelling of inspiration. Often we have given out all we have to give, and not replenished it appropriately.

The cycle of Awen is one of give and take, of inspiring others and being inspired in return. It’s beautiful. Thank you, Alfredo Rolando Ortiz. Thank you so very, very much.

Reblog: Wild Things

This is a reblog of today’s post from my channel at SageWoman Magazine’s section of Witches and Pagans. To read the full article, click HERE.

Wild Things

I had an email this morning from a reader thanking me for my book, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid, which is always a lovely thing to hear – do write to authors you like and support them! – and who also had some very good questions, apprehensions and fears about walking the wilds of Maryland, USA, safely and as a Druid, in cougar and bear country.

I used to live in North Vancouver, and took precautions every time I went out into the wild. I always had a hunting knife, not only for defence, but also in case I got lost, needed to make a fire, etc. What sort of Pagan goes into cougar and bear-infested woods armed? A smart one! Not that we would want to use any weapons, but that we know that nature is not necessarily always working for the sole purpose of being kind to humanity. Nature has its own modus operandi, as we know, for we too are a part of that nature.

What I would recommend to anyone anxious about going out into the wilds, is to keep walking the same paths, get to know the area intimately, cougars, bears and all. Go prepared. Go armed, if you need to, and as per the laws of your country, state, province or county. Know how to use that weapon properly, and be aware of all the safety precautions necessary to carry such a thing responsibly. Our own claws and fangs have become pretty poor weapons of self-defence. And so we developed new ones.

Become a part of that landscape, not just a “tourist” but someone who is there every day, just as the birds and beetles are. The reader really wanted to meditate out in the wilds, but felt a great apprehension in doing so, quite rightly. The best thing would be to take someone with you, especially if you want to meditate in cougar country. Having someone watch over you is a very good idea. I would imagine that if you can’t get someone to come with you, then making a fire would keep many wild beasts away, but this isn’t a failsafe method. Meditation is also not always something that detaches you from the world; you can try to meditate with your eyes open, awake and aware to everything around you. That is, indeed, a very Zen form of meditation! Or try a form of walking, wakeful meditation, where you are not so much of a “sitting duck”, so to speak. The pagan author Starhawk in her book The Earth Path talks of walking out in nature with an open awareness, which is again another form of meditation that isn’t a detachment from the world, but rather integration with it.

Wild animals can always surprise us, by sheer accident and not necessarily by stalking us as a snack. For example, snakes always surprise me when I’m out walking. First glance always makes me jump! I live in adder country, here in the UK, and the adder is probably our most dangerous animal (being the only poisonous snake, and is usually stepped on by accident by people wearing flip-flops while walking out on the heathland – sigh). But when I encounter one, I simply take a couple of steps back, smile to myself and the snake, and find another way around. I look where I’m walking, awake and aware to any sunny spots on the path where they might be basking. I also wear good, sturdy hiking boots. I’m sure the snake felt exactly the same shock and surprise when a human nearly stepped on her, and is appreciative of the space that I gave her afterwards! They are such beautiful creatures…

Continued HERE

Reblog: Lammas, Don’t Fear the Reaper

This is a reblog from my channel at SageWoman for Witches and Pagans at PaganSquare. To read the full article, click HERE.

The grain harvest is being collected in the fields around my home. The usually still and silent evening air is filled with the sound of combine harvesters, accentuated every now and then with the hoot of a tawny owl. Lammas is upon us.

Standing on a footpath that divides two large fields, one side filled with barley just reaped, the other with wheat standing pale golden in the sun, I raise my hands to the blue sky and give my thanks for all that nourishes us. I walk a ways into the cut field, the harsh stubs of barley amid the dry, sandy earth and place my hands upon the soil. Thank you for your blessing, may the land be nourished even as it nourishes us. Hail and thanks be to the goddess. I then move to stand on the edge of the wheat field, allowing its song of potential to flow through me. I brush the bent heads filled with seed and say another prayer of thanks.

This is a wonderful time of year, when the songs of the ancestors flow through the rural heartlands of Britain. Though the way we harvest is different, still there is that cycle of growth, of planting and harvesting. After the long hot days of midsummer, the lengthening evenings are welcome, bringing cooler air. Though the dog days may still lie ahead of us, there is something different in the air at this time of year. The scents have changed, the leaves are dark green and heavy, the foliage beginning to choke out and fall back.

I love this time of year. The birds have fledged, and the muntjac deer are at the end of their mating season. The stag barks occasionally for his hind on the other side of the hedge, and this year’s badger family come to visit every night to eat the fallen birdseed from our table and the peanuts that we put out. The sidhe are active at their special spots, over by the burial mound as they are at each of the fire festivals. It is a time of celebration, though there is still much work to be done…

Continue to the full article HERE

New video series – Druid Ritual Tools

This is the first in a new series of videos on Druid Ritual Tools for my video blog channel at YouTube.  I hope you enjoy, and subscribe to the channel to keep up to date on all the latest videos!

Reblog: Anarchy and the End of Submission

Here is a reblog of my latest post on my channel at SageWoman Magazine for Witches and Pagans. To see the original post, clicke HERE.

Following an earth-based tradition such as Druidry is wonderfully empowering, and also beneficent to the whole, if we move beyond our self-centredness and work towards a life in service to our environment, the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. With such a tradition, there is no requirement for a belief in anything. There is no supernatural. There is only nature, glorious nature, right in front of our eyes. What we see, what we interpret with our senses, requires no belief, only a willingness to experience, to learn, to think and to create truly deep, inspiring relationships.

This sort of tradition, this sort of thinking, means that Druidry is different for each individual. What that also means is that we accept the experience of others within the tradition, and there is no right or wrong, per se, only interpretation and experience. There is no liturgy within Druidry. Yet we find it rooted in a landscape and in a culture, to which we can honour and learn from while making it work for us in an individual sense. Coming from a standpoint of no agreed standpoint, this can seem confusing and bewildering to some in the Druid tradition, and a source of great freedom for others.

The gods in Druidry are the gods of nature, both the natural world and of human nature (and beyond). They are forces of nature that without due respect, can kill, injure or destroy. Love, lust, rain, storm, wind, sun, snow, ice, war, birth, death: all of these are gods. Yet they are not gods to whom we bow down in some religious hierarchy. The gods of nature are those that we work with, together, in order to function properly in an ecosystem. There is no hierarchy in nature either; the concept of a food chain is a purely human invention to make humans feel superior, and therefore able to exploit, all life forms beneath them. The shark that swims with you in the ocean has another point of view on this so-called food chain. So does the flesh-eating virus, or the wildfire.

If we believe in some hierarchy, then we need to submit to an authority. The Druid knows that there is no authority in some uber-being above us. There are only the forces of nature that we work with, that we create relationship with, which we try to understand so that we may move through life in greater awareness and with more ease. If we submit to the forces of nature, we will perish. If we submit to the ocean, as my teacher Bobcat used to say, we will drown. There is no room for this sort of attitude within Druidry. It’s all about relationship.

Do the gods care for us? I have no idea. I’ve argued the case on both sides, and come to realise this year that I just don’t know anymore. And in that not knowing is glorious freedom. All I do know is that the rain falls, the sun shines, the moon orbit around the earth and pulls the seas with its circuit. Do any of these care? Does it matter if they do, or if they don’t? If it doesn’t matter, if we don’t need them to care, then we can just get on with the basic act of living. If we need them to care, then are we are searching for something outside of ourselves, for some sort of assurance that everything will be alright? As if seeking some form of parental nourishment, we may want someone to hold us, to take our hand, to fight the bad things and take them away. Or are we simply working with another force that has a holistic worldview, one that we aspire to, and seeks to work with us to create such a world? To give it yet another perspective, we might also want an authority to tell us what to do. In this regard, at least, the Druid knows differently.

We might pray or talk to the gods in order to try to understand a situation, but we know that they aren’t going to solve all our problems for us. We might work with the powers of earth, air, fire and water, or the realms of land, sea and sky to find out how we can re-enchant our lives with deeper meaning, but in the end how we live our lives is where the real magic and power of transformation lies, not with some external authority. Even if there is a benevolent source or deity watching after us, who cares about humanity, we can still do all that we can to make our own lives better with our own skills and experience first and foremost. We cannot leave it all up to some external force outside ourselves, for in doing so we release all sense of accountability and responsibility for our actions. We certainly don’t need more of that in the world today.

Anarchy is often seen as chaos, as a lack of organisation or structure. When we apply it to deep relationship with the world around us, however, the very basis of that relationship transforms the word into liberation from illusion. No longer are we held back by believing in a superior force, whether it is deity, the government or your boss at work. Instead, through real relationship we see how we work and live with these to create an ecosystem that is hopefully functional and sustainable. We do not seek authority in anything, but co-operation. Nature is our greatest teacher, and one to be respected, but not something to submit to in any sense.

We have to look to our own self-governance, governance of our very own self. We have to take personal responsibility for our actions, our thoughts, our words and our deeds. When we become aware of these things, we can then extend that self-governance to see how we can work in our own ecosystems without a hierarchal sense of authority, without judgement or power struggles. But we must first come to be at ease with our selves, to loosen the constraints of our own egos before we take it out into the wider world. Otherwise everything will still be about an assumed power, or level of authority that is not/cannot be questioned. We must question everything, first about ourselves, our beliefs, our attitudes, our lives and then about the rest of the world. In this, we become active members of an ecosystem, rather than passive passengers simply along for the ride. We work in co-operation with all other beings, for the benefit of the whole.

Anarchy requires us to think.

We may require or be in a position of leadership from time to time, and we understand that leadership is not equated to hierarchy. The flock of starlings move together, seeming as one, based upon the actions of one individual starling, dancing their mesmerising dance across the sky, showing off their skill, practicing their acrobatics against predation, revelling in the joy of being alive. The flock of geese is led by an individual at the front of the formation, but this position of leadership is always changing, allowing rest and an opportunity for others to take the lead. Where one goose becomes ill or injured, others will drop out of the flock to stay behind with it, until it either recovers or dies, and then re-join the flock as soon as it can. This is leadership without hierarchy, without authority. It is doing what needs to be done, without the games of power and control.

We know that not all sources of perceived power in this world share the same moral or ethical framework as we do. But if we take personal responsibility for our own selves, we can work for change and transformation on a personal and fundamental level over which we have absolute control. I will reiterate: personal responsibility. Not as a nation, not as a race, not as a species. We cannot dictate to others one way to do things, that our way is right, but rather accept responsibility for our own individual actions, our own time on this planet. We cannot simply follow unquestioningly what others say and do, think or behave, because we are intelligent, free-thinking individuals. There is no one way to do things, no one authority that we must submit to, no “one size fits all”. We honour the soul of every creature that we meet, and in doing so we also deeply learn the real value of co-operation, being active rather than passive. We learn to listen, to work with others, the art of compassion. We understand that cultural and societal influences may differ with regards to ethics and morality, and all that we can do is to work on being the best that we can personally be, living our truth and letting that be the example that needs to be set in the world today. Over that, and that only, do we have control.

Therein lies the true power of anarchy, and the end of submission.