Review of my 2018

What a year it has been! Despite all the depressing and, quite frankly, rage inspiring bollocks from politics around the world, and the growing problem of plastic and climate change around the world, etc., etc., here in this little part of the world, at my home on the edge of the heath near the North Sea, it’s not been a bad year.

Hedge Druid CoverI finished the Big Book of Druidry (as I like to call it) and it was a labour of love. So much work went into that volume, and I hope that it reaches people like The Awen Alone did. I received so many emails from people about The Awen Alone this year, so many wonderful and life-changing stories, and I am so grateful that people took time out of their busy lives to write and share their story.

I also started on another book, veering away from Druidry and into the realms of the Hedge Witch. Stay tuned!

All this writing, combined with an incredible heat wave over this summer, meant that I was much more sedentary that usual, which has resulted in a sluggish body and a few extra pounds that I can feel in my joints. So, this last month I’ve already started to be more active, doing yoga and going for 5k walks as often as I can, and already I can feel my strength returning. I will be teaching intermediate belly dance classes beginning the second week of Jan, so this will also add to my physical activity. I resolve to keep this up over the next year, to be a healthy and as active as I can be, and to enjoy the beauty of nature right outside my doorstep no matter what is on my plate, or whatever the weather.

While writing the new book I’ve felt a shift in my own practice as well. I feel a returning to the path of the witch, where it all started for me 25 years ago at Melange Magique when I was a 19-year old investigating the book shelves of that wonderful shop, in between fussing the cats that freely roamed the aisles and lay upon the counters. With a lot more experience and knowledge behind me, it has given it an entirely new flavour. I have always been a witch, but I had to study to become a Druid. This is the basis for the current work I am writing, which I hope to finish next year.

It’s also led me down side paths that again were explored many years ago, but never fully completed. I’ve felt a call to honour the Germanic and Scandinavian deities that are a part of my heritage, and so my research and practice into the culture, folklore, mythology and more has been re-awakened. While looking at some witchcraft practices for East Anglia to use as examples in my new work, I realised just how similar some of these were to those of north and western Europe, such as the practice of a high seat in seidr. In fact, the art of seidr has intrigued me greatly, and I feel that this will complement my own practice of hedge witchcraft nicely.

Druid College UK logo (194x114)Druid College continues to be successful, and due to a high demand for online courses, next year we are putting Year 1 on hold in order to create an online course. This will consist of video and audio material, a downloadable book and online meetings with others on the course. We hope to have this available by 2020, fingers crossed! Our current Year 2 students are doing so very well, and it is indeed a great pleasure to be working alongside such people. After each weekend session, as soon as I get in the car with Robin, we both say how wonderful the people are that have chosen to work with us, and how blessed we are by those that have chosen to join. They bring so much, and I am eternally grateful that these first four years have been as good as they are, which is to say, brilliant!

There have been a few bumps in the road this year, which have given me lessons of experience to work from in the rest of my life. Having to say goodbye to my 16-year old cat last December was so very hard, to make the decision to end her life rather than have her suffer days or weeks of pain as her chest was filled with water due to congestive heart failure and she had trouble breathing, eating, walking, movement of any sort. That was the first time I had to make that kind of decision, and  although I doubt it will be any easier should there be a next time, and it took a long time for me to get over it even though my baby girl passed quickly and painlessly, I know it was the right thing to do in that situation. I suffered all winter long from having to make that decision, and my new boy Barnabus was a ray of light during that troubled time.

bullying-1As well, I had a difficult experience of another sort, when a peer decided to attack me on social media after I had contacted her to request permission to use two verses of an Irish poem she translated. To this day I still have no idea what set her off, but the vitriol of the attack was shocking, and the attempt to destroy me and everything I do quite mind-boggling. It brought back old pains of bullying when I was a child, and affected me on a physical level as well as mental. I realised this when I was walking down my street to the village shop, and in the middle of the street my heart started pounding and I felt very unsafe, like bullies were just waiting around the corner. I had to remind myself that I was 43 years old and no longer a young teenager, and no one was going to physically hurt me. It opened my eyes to the old scars that never truly heal, and I have learned how to better deal with such experiences. Namely, don’t read posts like that on social media, don’t get involved and don’t read all the uninformed comments either! Let the haters hate, there’s not much I can do about their behaviour anyway. As long as I am physically safe, and emotionally okay with a good support network of family and friends, that is what really matters, not what strange people say.  I’m still working on compassion for people like that though. It’s not easy.

seidr album coverBack to the creative front, I hope to add more to my Bandcamp page over the next year. I started an album called Seidr, which will contain the songs and chants that come to me in my work over the next year. Perhaps there will even be a blog post or two about the practice of seidr, but in the meantime there is an excellent video by Professor Jackson Crawford on the subject. (I have a total nerd crush on this guy!) There are also some good books, such as The Nine World of Seid-Magic by Jenny Blain, and The Norse Shaman by Evelyn Rysdyck. I also hope to record more podcasts for the page and its subscribers, as well as record the audio book for The Hedge Druid’s Craft. The Awen Alone and The Crane Bag are already on there as audiobooks, so do take a look if you’re interested. All of these will be/are available to subscribers, as well as any new material in the coming year, so you really do get your money’s worth!

So, for this winter I shall be investing heavily in hygge, being more physically active, exploring new paths and learning from past experiences. I hope that 2019 will be a good year for you all, and see you all in the New Year!

Love,

Jo. x

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Recent media highlights

My Pagan Portals introductory book, The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices was recently reviewed on Estoeric Moment: you can watch the video review here:

 

Robin Herne and I were approached by The Wild Hunt for our thoughts regarding the new television series, Britannia. While I have not watched the show, I gave some thoughts regarding storytelling at the end of the article, while Robin, who has watched the show, gave his point of view. You can read the article HERE.

Things are really busy here, so no new and thoughtful blog post this week – I hope to have more time next week! x

 

Druid Ritual

Crane Bag Advert 1It’s all 5 star reviews so far! Here’s an excerpt from my latest book, The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices which you can purchase from Amazon, Moon Books, Barnes and Noble and all good book retailers!

What is The Crane Bag?

The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices is a book in the Pagan Portals series that describes the ritual tools and practices found in the Druid tradition. As part of the Pagan Portals series, it is intended as a brief introduction to the subject, allowing the reader to further develop their own path in their own time and in their own fashion.

“The Crane Bag” is a wonderful theme in Celtic mythology, found mostly in the tales of the poet-warrior Fionn Mac Cumhail, who inherited the crane bag from his father. This bag held the special treasures of the land and was made from the skin of a crane who was, in actuality, a woman enchanted into crane form. We can view the myths that surround the crane bag as those of the gifts of sovereignty, bestowed by the goddess upon worthy heroes as is typical of Celtic mythology. The Goddess held great abundance and gifts within her womb, and only those who passed the test and were deemed fit were able to be gifted with this most precious treasure.  As the bestower of sovereignty, the Goddess fades and emerges time and again within the old stories, as does the crane bag, appearing and disappearing from myth when there is need.  The sea god, Manannan, is the original owner of the crane bag and through his love for the goddess gives and takes it back throughout the telling of the tales.

Within the mythology of the crane bag, those who follow the Celtic Druid tradition can come to know a very beneficial tool in their learning, the gifts of which are endless.  Within the crane bag are not only the tools of the Druid, but also a symbolism of the gift of the goddess, of sovereignty.  With the proper use, it can further the Druid in working with the tides of nature, finding their proper place in the grand scheme of things, living in balance, harmony and peace. In ritual use, these tools can guide the Druid to deeper levels of meaning and understanding within the tradition, helping the Druid on her journey throughout life towards integration in a holistic way of being in the world. We are able to find a deep connection, be it with the ancestors, the gods, the spirits of place or the Otherworld. Combined with the tools of the Druid’s craft held within the crane bag, we can learn how to walk the path of the Druid with honour and respect.

What is Ritual?

Ritual consists of a prescribed set of words and actions within a particular context used to bring about a desired outcome. Druid ritual uses words and actions within the context of an earth-based tradition to connect with the landscape, the gods, the ancestors and so on. For the Druid, connection, relationship and integration with the landscape are at the heart of all that she does, whether in ritual or not.  Ritual can be seen as a time set apart from daily life to reconnect the threads that bind us together with the land, with nature.  We take a step back from what is perceived as the mundane and acknowledge the sacred. Ultimately, the Druid strives to perceive the sacred in everything, and ritual helps the Druid to achieve that vision.

Our modern lives are so busy, with work, family, media, technology and more. Ritual helps us to step back from the busyness, into another way of being.  It is a change of consciousness, where we can shift our perception away from a singular view to a more plural view, integrating with the land around us, realising that we are a part of an ecosystem. Ritual is the act in the material world that connects us with a wider reality.  It is an experience, not just a thought.

Ritual is that which helps us ground and centre in the present moment. When we stop, when we take a break to perform a ritual, we become aware of who, where and what we are at a particular point in time. We are rooted in the here and now, awake and aware to all that is happening around us. When we are awake, we are able to find our place in harmony with nature, finding a deep peace both within and without. It gives us an intention, a focus with which to work in the Druid tradition, to reweave the threads of connection.

Ritual also helps us to find stability. When we create rituals to perform repeatedly, we bring that sacred perspective more and more into our everyday life. These rituals needn’t be identical each and every time; what is important is that the ritual is actually done.  It is the experience of ritual that helps us to self-locate. We cannot do that simply by thinking about it; we must act as well. When we have acted out our rituals with some regularity, we may find that our connection to the natural world deepens.  The ancient philosopher Lao Tzu once said:

Watch your thoughts, they become words;

watch your words, they become actions;

watch your actions, they become habits;

watch your habits, they become character;

watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

We as humans are creatures of habit, and indeed these habits define us as people.  A repeated action or behaviour will certainly have an impact on who we are as an individual. By using ritual we can break off from bad habits and thought patterns, for example, and find the sacredness within and all around us. It requires practice, as in the Welsh saying at the beginning of this chapter. We cannot just think about ritual; we must do it.  If we take the time to reconnect with our place in the natural world, over and over again, then we will maintain that connection more and more throughout our lives until they are an example of pure integration and harmony.

Druid ritual is also a celebration.  The eight seasonal festivals of modern Druidry help us to remember what is going on in nature at the present moment. There are many books that cover the eight seasonal festivals, their origins, meanings and ways to celebrate, and so we will not cover that here (see bibliography and suggested reading for more). Rather, we will look at how Druid ritual is set up, from start to finish, using our tools from the crane bag to find our soul map in our own environment.

Ritual is also a tool for transformation. When we have worked with intention and grounded ourselves in the present moment, we cannot help but be transformed as our perception shifts from one perceived reality to another. Through the experience of ritual, we understand that our point of view is not the only one, and that perception shifts with intention. When we broaden our horizons, we cannot help but be transformed.

Re-enchanting the Soul

Work and familial obligations can sometimes weigh us down in a sea of mundane jobs, tasks, and commitments. With Druid ritual, we can re-enchant the soul to bring the magic back into our everyday lives, as we perceive the sacredness of all things. Then, we realise that there is no such thing as the mundane, only the sacred. The division between the two is realised as an illusion, and we are thus able to “travel between the worlds”.

The Druid is always questing for inspiration, or awen. Awen is a Welsh word, sometimes translated as “flowing spirit” or “flowing inspiration”.  Creativity is such a large part of the Druid path, where we are inspired and then inspire others in return. This exchange of inspiration is at the heart of all that we do, in deep relationship with the world around us. When we touch each other soul to soul, where we find intention blending together to work in harmony, then we are inspired. The Druid looks to the natural world around her to gain that inspiration.  She takes her cues from nature as to how to live in the present moment, utterly awake and aware. So inspired, she lives her life as best she can as part of that environment, in tune with all that shares the same space. By doing so, she also inspires others in return.

Simply by getting outside and into “nature”, our awareness shifts. Though nature is something that we are a part of all the time, we often see it as something “out there”, as external to ourselves. When we realise that we are a part of nature, we shift from a self-centred perspective to an integrated one, thereby opening our eyes to the beauty and wonder that lies all around us each and every day. Taking a walk helps us to see the beauty of an oak tree in full leaf, to feel the warm caress of the summer wind, to feel the blessing of the rain or the exhilaration of a snowstorm. We awaken our senses to the world around us simply by being out in it, in nature, away from central heating and electricity, away from cars, phones and computers. Though all these things can be of great benefit, when we re-attune our senses to our “natural” environment, we can also reawaken something that has long lain dormant within our souls. We can re-enchant our lives, re-wilding our souls.  We can return to the very roots of our being. We can find the child-like wonder while looking at an ants’ nest, or listening to the blackbird at dusk.  We no longer become bored or jaded, but rather totally awake to the world around us. Our lives are benefitted from this re-enchantment on every level. This is the awen.

This is also the importance of ritual. When we take the time to re-enchant our souls, we make our lives more magical, more meaningful and more present. We can step outside the realms of 9-5 living.  We enter into a state of intention and enchantment, inspired and inspiring others in return. In this, we find true relationship.

May your path be enchanted with the old tales and the songs of the land!

(Extract from The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices by Joanna van der Hoeven. www.joannavanderhoeven.com).

 

The Crane Bag: Out Soon!

Only two more days until my next book, The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices is out in paperback and for Kindle. This is my fourth book in the Pagan Portals series, which offers an introduction on a specialised subject at a low price and which we think is good value for money. In this book we cover:

Front coverChapter 1 – What is the Crane Bag?

The Story of How the Crane Bag Came to Be

Crane Bag as Soul Map

 

Chapter Two – The Importance of Ritual

What is Ritual?

Re-enchanting the Soul

 

Chapter Three – The Druid’s Tools

The Silver Branch

Staff

The Cup/Bowl or Cauldron

The Drum

Sticks, Stones and other Fetishes

Sickle and/or Knife

Robes

Altars

Fire/Candles

Incense

 

Chapter Four – Druid Ritual Elements

Call for Peace

Casting the Circle/Creating Sacred Space – Preparing the Nemeton

Honouring the Spirits of Place

Honouring the Three Worlds

Honouring the Four Quarters

Honouring the Ancestors

Honouring the Deities

Ritual Action

Prayers and Magic

Offerings, Eisteddfod and Sacrifice

Feast

Closing

 

ChaptCB-Chapter5 (655x1024)er Five – Altered States

Meditation

Drumming

Chant and Song

Sensory Deprivation

Sacred Landscapes and Sitting Out

 

 

You can pre-order your copy now on Amazon by clicking here: The Crane Bag

New free dowload from my Bandcamp page!

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Hiya! Just a quick note to let you all know that there is a new free download on my Bandcamp page. It’s an audio version of a  journeying/meditation from my upcoming book The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices. To receive or stream all material available, please subscribe! New material is added each month. I hope to make The Crane Bag an audiobook as well, as I have done for The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid (available for subscribers only).  May we be the awen!

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.