I leave for the UK soon. I decide to walk down in the valley, seeing if the old horse trails are still there, even though the horses are long gone. It’s a beautiful, sunny autumn day, the sun is hot and the breeze is cool. The milkweeds are releasing their seeds, the goldenrod drying in the sun. The leaves on the maple, birch, ash and poplar are changing into their autumn splendour. It’s utterly magical. The liminality of this time shines bright, and the veil between the worlds thins as we shift into another energy.
I walk slowly down into the valley. I say a blessing for the place, and touch the earth. I continue down through the trees out into the open space. I see a young woman with long blond hair down in the centre of the valley, and I smile. She’s walking slowly, just like I am, soaking it all in. Noticing the small things as well as the grandeur of the larger spirit of place. I say hello as we pass, she heading the way I came and I moving down towards the reeds, seeking the ridge where the horses used to shelter from the sun.
The paths are still there along the ridge, and where horses once keep the trail open it is now mountain bikers on the weekends. Regardless, I am glad that the trails are still there and that others are appreciating them, albeit in a slightly different way.
I walk along the ridge, the light shining through the pines and the birch trees with a soft, ethereal light. To either side of me the ground falls away sharply. This is a special place, a liminal place, which once only I and the horses knew. I walk up the hill along the ridge, and come out on top of the world. Well, my own little world from when I was growing up.
As a teenager, I would come out to this hilltop and sit, looking out over the forest and hills that I roamed, into the distance where the sun and moon rose over the mountain. I stood there and took it all in, and then saw the young woman once again, walking up along the trails that I used to walk, coming towards me from the other direction. It was like I was passing by my own self from thirty years ago. She sat down in the spot that I always used to sit, and gazed out over the mountains resplendent in hues of red, copper, orange and green. I had wanted to sit there and think, to become part of this land once again, but then I realised that my time here has come and gone. Now it is her time, and after her there will be others, roaming these hills in quiet solitude, discovering who they truly are and what matters most to them. Nature is always changing, and I must change with it.
I walk up to her and excuse my interruption. She smiles, and I ask if I can take her picture. I tell her that she reminds me of myself from thirty years ago, and she agrees with a grin. I know that grin. I take her picture, and thank her from the bottom of my heart. As I walk away down the path she walked in on, I silently bless her and the land and ask that future generations take good care of this very special place.
I am crying now, the tears releasing years of pent up energy and worry, of longing and hiraeth for this special place. But I know that it will be safe, that there are others who are seeing the beauty and who walk its paths in honour and in wonder. I know that the magic is still very much alive.
I wipe the tears and walk down the hillsides, back to the main path. I have come full circle, and met my own self in autumn’s light. The tides of time had shifted, and we came together for a reason. And I know that in autumn’s light, we count our blessings.
I have a lovely book which I’m re-reading, about empowering the wild woman within, manifesting her in all her glory. This book is filled with beautiful poetry and great exercises, written from the heart from a Woman Most Wild. And yet – and yet…
It’s one of many books about female empowerment that talks about working with the energy that originates in your womb space. While this book does state that you can do this even without a womb, it still annoys me, going against the grain of my very feminine soul. Like so many others talking about energetic womb space, many in the Pagan community with feminist goals are still being held back by a woman’s reproductive organs. At least, that’s just my opinion. I’m sure many will disagree.
Maiden, Mother, Crone. Right there, we have the Divine Feminine in a nutshell for so many Pagan paths, and yet it is one that is defined by a woman’s reproductive cycle. We are told that we can feel Her in our own womb spaces, whether we still have them or not. She is defined by her womb that birthed the universe. Is the Divine Masculine defined by his phallus? The Cerne Abbus Giant might say so, but his club is a lot bigger.
Even when I still had a womb, before the hysterectomy that gave me my life back after 30 years of living with fibroids and cysts, even then I never connected to the Divine Feminine through womb energy. I knew from a very early age that I would never birth any children physically. I never wanted to. My dolls were my friends, not children I wanted to raise. Even my Cabbage Patch dolls that I wanted so much (because everyone else had one), even then, after the first day I was tired of taking care of them as children, and they immediately “grew up” to become companions. I have never wanted children in my life. A day spent with someone who has young children reinforces this each and every time. I’m too sensitive, I like quiet and peace and being able to have the freedom to do whatever I wish or need to do at any given moment. My womb was never going to be used for what it was meant for.
Before anyone goes all “Lousie Hay” on me, I will stipulate that I firmly do not believe that my desire to not have children caused my condition. I am a staunch believer that genetics, diet, lifestyle and good/bad luck are the reasons for medical conditions. I think that if we begin to believe otherwise, we are instilling a process of blame and shame for medical conditions. Yes, the body and mind are one, and do affect the other to a certain degree, but I believe that this is taken way too far in many people’s opinions that have absolutely no basis in scientific fact. I am a very practical Pagan. I am happy to dance with the faeries in the moonlight and have a great interest in herbal medicine, but I also feel very strongly about getting all my vaccines and using the benefits that modern medicine can provide. Others may feel differently, and I respect their opinion, though I might not share them.
My womb is like my appendix. It’s a part of me, but if it isn’t working properly, it’s better to have it out. All my life I had painful periods, and was only diagnosed as the womb was being cut out of my body and the real extent of the damage from my condition became known. How much of my life was lived in pain I can only attest to now, because I am free from that pain. It’s like having a whole new life. Sure, I’ve got other problems – don’t we all – and I still ache with arthritis and manage my asthma as best I can. But I’ve got my life back. My womb space caused me nothing but pain since puberty. That’s not something I’m going to celebrate. Like an ancestor who caused you pain, you can acknowledge that they were a part of your life, but you don’t have to celebrate them.
Besides, I am more than my womb.
My womb does not make me a woman. It does not make me what or who I am today, nor did it ever define me in the past. I am more than my womb. I don’t and never have fit into the Maiden Mother Crone categories. I am me, a part of everything and beholden to no one thing.
Was I a “girly girl”? Yes, and no. Labels never really stuck very well on me. As a child I loved dresses and princesses and unicorns. I also loved knocking the ball out of the park when it was my turn at bat on the baseball ground. I played hockey with the boys at lunchtime at elementary school, and I figure skated by myself in the evenings at the outdoor rink. I adore belly dance and the wonderful costumes, but I wear jeans and shirts or leggings for the most part in the rest of my life. The Divine Feminine roared through my veins, but I also heeded the rallying cry of the Divine Male and everything in between. Baseball isn’t masculine, and unicorns aren’t feminine. These are just “tools” we use to put everything into neat little boxes, just like the terms Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine.
I have loved The Goddess all my life. It began when I was very young, and had a book about Greek myths. Artemis and Atalanta, these two ladies were my inspiration, my guiding force. Artemis, the eternal maiden, strong and free, what a role model. Running through the forests, standing under the moonlight, beholden to no one. That was The Goddess for me, and still is today, though in many other forms alongside this one. I have always loved independent female deity: Brighid, Freya, Morrigan, Andraste. Give me these ladies over an Earth Mother any day.
Some of these ladies are extremely sexual and sensual. Good for them, and good for me and all women! I’ve always embraced my sexuality and sensuality. Combined with the intimacy of a good, strong relationship there really isn’t anything better. But did I feel Their energy in my womb centre? Nope. Not once. Where did I feel Them? In my heart. Always, in my heart. That energetic centre swells just thinking about these ladies, just as it does when I think about whatever it means to be in the Divine Feminine category. Same for the Divine Masculine category. My power lies in my heart chakra, not my womb space. My love for this planet comes straight out of my chest, filling my soul with a brilliant light that guides me through the darkest of nights.
So each time I read a passage in a book, or attend a workshop that mentions moving into my womb space, I just have to grin and bear it, and shift the energy up higher, to where it belongs: in my heart. I am not my womb space, and no woman should be defined by that, whether they have them or not. Perhaps if we drop the labels we give to divinity, and forego Divine Feminine and Divine Masculine, then we will truly see that the energy really does emanate from the heart for both, or All, instead of from Their, and our, reproductive bits.
We are star-stuff, as is everything. You can’t define something like that with any more clarity. Or by their physiology. You just have to accept it, and love from that wonderful energy centre that we all have: our hearts.
I’m just working now on a new video. Actually, I’m redoing an old video, on hedgewitchcraft and hedge riding. My previous video was shot using an old camera, and the voice editing and mixing was very, very basic. In the last three years since I made that video, I’ve learned so much in the editing side of making videos.
Filming is just one aspect. Getting the right shot takes time. You have to be aware of the weather (it’s been so windy here for over a month, that I haven’t been able to get the drone out). You have to get to your location. You have to hope the tech works as it should, and that all batteries needed are fully charged. You have to know how to use the tech – for me, that meant learning how to fly and operate the drone, getting my pilot’s license and figuring out how to take the data off the card and onto my laptop.
Then, this year, I learned how to use Adobe Elements video editor, which I’m still learning new things on every time I make a movie. It would be so nice to be able to take a course in this, to really get to know how everything works, but I’ve got other jobs that pay the bills and time is short.
Then there is the audio. Recording it on my Zoom recorder (a little handheld device, not the face-time thingy). Getting the raw data onto my laptop and then using Audacity to edit it. Mixing tracks, getting a clear sound – I’m still learning here as well. Then there is choosing the music. I use Epidemic Sound, a site where for a subscription you can download license-free music to use for social media. It has really good stuff on there that I just download for pleasure too! But when editing, I have to make sure that the music works with the visual image, and that the sound levels are in balance.
It’s all very technical, and the learning curve has been steep. But I feel I’m getting there. I’m not as good as some of my favourite YouTubers in the art of video creation, but I’m learning from them. I watch their videos with an eye not only to content, but to how they edit. I see what equipment they are using (which I’ll never be able to afford, at least not for five years or more when I can either get it second-hand or discounted) and how they are using the equipment. It’s taught me so much about how to make a video.
It’s a long, long way from my college days, where we learned how to make films using Super 8 and you had to physically cut and splice the ribbon together.
It’s wonderful that technology allows me to create in a different way. Writing will always be my first love, and my soul’s calling. But being able to express myself in video, in painting, in creating music and poetry, in dance and in singing – this is a true blessing. And one which I owe a deep debt of gratitude to my supporters.
To everyone who has bought one of my books, or my art prints, supported me on my blog and on Patreon. If it weren’t for Patreon, I wouldn’t be able to make videos, or to take time off from writing to express myself in other ways, such as painting. Patreon has been a lifeline to so many artistic types, and I am truly grateful to be able to connect with my supporters in this fashion. Writing, making videos, painting, photography – all these artistic pursuits no longer pay the bills in today’s society. Not unless you are really, really lucky. But with a platform that helps artists connect with their supporters, you can make a real difference in someone’s life. I support other artists on Patreon, knowing that what they do makes the world a better place. Even though it’s been a learning curve, it’s also been a light in the darkness 🙂
Thank you to everyone here at Down the Forest Path, for continuing on this journey with me. I hope to walk it with you for many years to come.
Spent some time on the heath yesterday, which was lovely as I hadn’t been able to get out all week. And got some really nice shots of the white hind too! Prints of her will be made available on my website soon…
I thought I’d share with you some of my favourite eco-friendly products that I use on a regular basis. I have been buying these kinds of products for years now, and through lots of trial and error, have found which ones really do work, and which ones don’t (at least for me). So, here are my shining stars in the sustainable living category for your bathroom cabinet! Note: I have not been paid to endorse these products by any means, this is a genuine post in which I just want to share some little gems!)
First off, I have got to mention Balmond’s Rosehip Scar Oil. I got this when I was ready to start treating my scar after the hysterectomy last summer. I was advised by the nurse who took out my clips after the surgery to use a specific oil on the scar to treat it, but when I looked up the ingredients it was a petroleum-based product, which is not something I wanted to put on my skin. So, I searched around and found Balmond’s scar oil, and wow – did it deliver! This oil contains rosehips, lavender and palmarosa, which gives it a lovely scent. It is all natural, gentle and works not only to treat scars, but as a facial moisturiser, for stretchmarks, uneven skin tone or fragile skin. It is rich in vitamin A, C, E and essential fatty acids. The main oils are grapeseed oil, rosehip oil, sunflower oil, calendula oil, chamomile oil, and lavender and palmarosa oil. Some, but not all of the ingredients, are organic.
I used this oil on my scar (and still do) and it has faded much quicker than if I hadn’t treated it. My brother-in-law had abdominal surgery last year as well, and we have compared scars. This oil has really helped in healing the skin, as well as keeping the rest of my tummy lovely and soft. I thought, this works so well on the skin for my belly, let’s try using it on my face. I have always avoided oils on my face, because it tends to clog my pores. Not this one. A few drops is enough to do your whole face at night (don’t use during the day, as the oils can increase your skin’s sensitivity to the sun) and when you wake up in the morning, your skin will look refreshed and lovely (at least, mine did). I can’t recommend this oil enough. I use it on my hands at night as well. It seems expensive, at around £18 a bottle, but the bottle lasts 4 – 6 months, depending on how much skin you want to treat with it. I thought it was extremely good value for money, and I’ll continue to use this oil long after my scar has been fully healed. It comes in a glass bottle, with a glass dropper. Sadly the top of the dropper is plastic, but I’m willing to make that concession.
The next stellar product is Kutis natural deodorant. I have spent YEARS searching for a natural deodorant that actually works, and the best that I found for a long time was the solid deodorant from Lush. This still left me a bit swiffy on the hottest summer days, or after a workout, and so I still shopped around. I found Kutis two years ago, and I’ve never looked back. This deodorant really lasts, through two of the hottest summers I have ever known, through kickboxing workouts and belly dance performances – you name it, this product delivers. It has several lovely scent combinations, and my favourites are the citrus ones and the lavender and geranium. The main ingredient is arrowroot powder, coconut oil and sodium bicarbonate. This product contains lot of ingredients that are organic as well, but not all. It comes in a cardboard tube, which is fully home compostable.
I love my lip balms, especially tinted lip balms. I found Nirvana last year. The lip tint, not the spiritual state. This is an organic, vegan lip tint in a home compostable cardboard tube. I’m not sure about the label being compostable however; I may have to write to them to ask. This lip tint comes in several different colours, but I used the Velvet one all last year. I also used it as a cheek tint too, and it was pretty good, though sometimes it can get a bit oily on very hot days.
Another lip and cheek tint I found recently is Fat and the Moon. They call their product a lip and cheek stain, but it doesn’t stain at all – it is, in fact, a tint. I would have preferred a stain, for its lasting power, but this doesn’t have it, sadly. It is, however, a lovely tint, but you will have to keep re-applying it, not only to your lips but I also needed a refresher for the cheeks halfway through the day. It gives a lovely natural colour and contains all organic ingredients, though it is not vegan as its base is beeswax. I used to use Burt’s Bees All Aglow for a lip and cheek tint, but the plastic packaging put me off. As soon as Burt gets their act together on the packaging, I’ll be looking into them again.
Finally, let’s talk hair. I have spent YEARS looking for a natural, solid shampoo and conditioner that was SLS free. Everything that I tried (apart from Lush) left my hair a sticky awful mess. Lush works, but contains SLS. Then, at the beginning of this year, I found Ethique, who now distribute from the UK (they are an Australian company). I bought their hair sampler package and their facial sampler. Everything in them was lovely, but I highly recommend their St Clements shampoo for oily hair (mine’s not that oily, but it gives it a good clean) followed by Wonderbar conditioner (again for oily hair, but it works great on my “normal” hair. The full size bars last a long time, and the conditioner bar is a lot smaller than the shampoo bar. Don’t let that fool you. I’m almost finished the shampoo bar, but still have half of the conditioner left! The conditioner works best if you work it through the hair from root to tip, and then brush it all the way through. You also use less conditioner by doing so. The products from Ethique are not cheap – in fact, they’re a bit eye-watering in price, but they are the only ones that I have used that actually work, are eco-friendly, compostable packaging and really good quality.
Do you have a favourite beauty/bathroom product? Let us know in the comments, please!
So, in January I painted a picture called After the Storm. And in February I got what I had painted! Storm Darcy hit us pretty hard here on the east coast of England, but it left us with a week of beauty.
For some Pagans, asthma can really affect their personal practice. It can get in the way of so many things that you want to do, and overall be a real challenge to your way of life. I have weather-triggered asthma, as well as seasonal asthma from tree pollen in the spring and early summer. This means that many of my own personal practices had to be adapted in order for me to still be able to do all the things that I love. Here are some of my tips and tricks for getting through the difficult times when your condition is acting up. Please note, I am not a doctor, I am just passing on some advice that my own doctors have provided, alongside tried and tested methods that work for me.
First off – take your medication. If you’ve been prescribed inhalers, take them. For seasonal asthma, my GP has also recommended in addition to the inhalers, take an antihistamine every day, such as Piriteze. I take mine at night, just before bed. If you know when you asthma will start to kick in, ie. roughly which month, start taking the antihistamine a few weeks before so it’s really in your system when it all kicks off.
Second – look into supplementary herbal remedies from a qualified herbalist. I use the Love Your Lungs and the Allergeze formula from Nature’s Pharmacy. Melanie Cardwell is a licensed herbal practitioner who has worked with Druid College for many years. She also offers really good herbal courses and workshops. Let your herbalist know which medications you are on, and also consult your doctor too on the herbal remedies you wish to take.
A big tip for seasonal asthma – keep the windows closed if pollen is a trigger. You can open them at night when pollen levels are lower, to air out the house. I also used screens on my windows, initially to keep out the mozzies, moths and horseflies from my home in the country, but which I’ve found also keeps out the larger particles of pollen. At the end of every autumn, I take down the screens to wash them and put them away for the winter, and I’m amazed at the amount of pollen on them, luckily on them and not in the house! I bought flexiscreens that attach to windows using Velcro strips around the window edges. These are great because you can just throw them in the washing machine when you need to.
As well, wear a mask outside. These days, people won’t look at you funnily if you wear a mask. Years ago, I wore a bandana around my mouth and nose when I was working outside, to keep the pollen out of my lungs. This enabled me to do what I needed to do. In the evenings I could do rituals outside without a mask, for the most part. Some days were better than others. If a thunderstorm was coming, I had to grin and bear it – and use my reliever inhaler.
There are also a couple of yoga poses that open up your chest, such as supported fish pose. I prefer the supported version of this pose, because I find the traditional pose throws out my lower back. Using pillows and blocks to get into a comfortable position, I can lie there for about a minute and just concentrate on opening and expanding my chest and airways.
Getting an air purifier has also really helped. We bought ours second-hand, and put in a new filter. It didn’t cost us very much, but has really helped, especially overnight in high pollen seasons. It has a night setting, which doesn’t make as much noise as the normal setting. We also have a de-humidifier, which can be used during winter and through low pressure systems that bring a lot of rain and thunderstorms, which for many is also a trigger.
I’ve had to be meticulous about cleaning the house as well. Dusting, to remove any airborne particles has been my mission these last few years. I dust and vacuum every week, and twice a year I do a big clean in the spring and autumn, getting into all the nooks and crannies, under sofas and behind beds, etc. I’ve also found a wonderful tool for cleaning inside the radiators. It’s a long brush that really gets down inside them and pulls all the dust and other stuff that can get trapped inside, only to be released every time the heating comes on. The first time you use this, expect a lot of dust, so wear a mask! I also have the vacuum cleaner nozzle right by the brush head, so that when it’s pulled out, it catches the dust before it spreads to the rest of the room. Kind of like that suction thing that’s used while the dentist works on your teeth.
I’ve had to give up using incense, which was a real blow. I adore incense. I bought handmade incense from my favourite store in Montreal for many years, and also loose incense from StarChild in Glastonbury. Gorgeous, gorgeous scents. However, incense releases too many particles in the smoke, and triggers attacks in me, so I have had to give them up. Sometimes I might use it outside during ritual, if I’m sure I won’t be inhaling it, but even then that’s now becoming a rare thing for me, and I prefer just to enjoy the scents of nature. I can’t do saining or smudging anymore either with smoke, so I use different methods of purification, such as water (from the tap, rainwater, salted water or moonwater that I’ve made by leaving water outside overnight under the full moon, sometimes with a quartz crystal in it to add power to it), deep breathing, allowing the breeze to clear and cleanse me, the sunlight or moonlight, or energy drawn up from the earth and down from the stars.
To scent the home, usually I just have a window open when it’s possible to get some fresh air inside. In winter, this is lovely, as I don’t have to worry about pollen. I can open the windows while I’m making the bed, just to get a few minutes of air into the bedroom. If I want a particular scent, I can use an essential oil. Not in an oil burner, however, as this again triggers my asthma, as the water particles from the steam and the oil attached to them get into my lungs and cause it to tighten. Instead, I take five to ten drops of an essential oil and place them on an organic cotton ball or pad, or even a wadded up tissue or loo roll, and then hide it in a pretty bowl somewhere in the room. For extra oomph, I can place the container on a radiator, where the scent will disperse without the steam that triggers my asthma. For some, this may not work, as scent can be a trigger, so you will have to really know what sets you off and what doesn’t in order to be safe. My favourite oils to use are geranium for the living areas, and patchouli for the bedroom. I use little brass cauldrons that I found at antique fairs and shops, and these are dotted around my house. I also have one on my altar, for when I am working inside. I like to use lavender at my indoor space, as it brings peace and the cats seem to enjoy it.
Candles – you will have to be careful which ones to use, if you can use them at all. I’ve found that all petroleum-based paraffin candles aren’t good for me (or anyone, really) and so I use soy or beeswax candles. Beeswax is expensive, and so I use soy candles from reputable and sustainable sources. You will have to do your homework to find a good soy candle maker/distributor in your area. These give off less smoke and particles than the usual paraffin candles, and so aren’t so much a trigger for me. I air out the room afterwards too.
I haven’t found that changing my diet has had any effect on my asthma, but for some that has worked. I’d advise talking to your GP and herbal specialist about this, as they might have advice to share with you and be able to work with your needs. As always though, everyone should eat their fruits and vegetables!
Meditation also helps to lessen the effect of stress-related asthma. Stress can be a big trigger, and so the more you are at peace with yourself and the world, the less you will suffer, not only from asthma but from a whole host of ills. Meditation also helps you to get in touch with yourself, and the more you know about yourself, the better off you will be able to take care of yourself, and others.
I hope that this blog post has been of help to some of you out there who suffer from asthma, with some tips and tricks to living your fullest Pagan life without triggering attacks. If you have any advice that works for you, please do feel free to leave it in the comments section below. First and foremost, talk to your doctor about your condition, and if it hasn’t been diagnosed, get one as quick as you can. What some people might think is asthma could be a heart condition, and so you really do need to get it checked out immediately.
New prints now up for sale on my website! And free delivery for all print formats until 31 December 2020 on UK orders only (offer not applicable for deliveries outside the UK). This one is “Magical Forest” http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com/Photo-Prints.php