Blessings of Imbolc

Bright blessings of the returning light to you all! We’ve been filming this morning, for our Druid College Online Course which we hope will be available next year. Here’s one of my favourite spots…

The Hedge Druid’s Craft, a review

The Hedge Druid’s Craft, a review

Thanks, Bish, for the lovely review! x

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The Hedge Druid’s Craft, by Joanna van der Hoeven

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The subtitle for this Pagan Portals booklet is “an introduction to walking between the worlds of Wicca, Witchcraft and Druidry”, and it forms one part of a larger work of booklets from Moon Books that outline the concepts of many pagan pathways. Released in 2017, this is based on a review copy received at The Druid Network.

The book begins with descriptions of the three traditions JvdH calls on in this work, which would be useful for anyone without any exposure to those traditions. Overall, it seeks to find a roving and inclusive path between Wicca, Witchcraft and Druidry that harnesses the core practices of all three and tailors them for a reader less interested in labels and more interested in connections.

There are elements of the old almanacs I read in my youth, filled with occasional insights into herb lore…

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Interview With Emma Restall Orr

Lovely interview with Emma Restall Orr here! Thank you 🙂

Anima Monday

This week we offer you an interview with Emma Restall Orr.

Photo from Emma’s homepage

This former druid joint chief has been one of the leading forces behind the promotion of animism for decades. Her book The Wakeful World is a highly recommended introduction to animism, that also offers a strong philosophical foundation for this way of looking at the world. (Beware – if you are not a convert already, this book might do just that … as it did for me).

What she shows through her work though, is that animism is much more than a philosophy, but rather a way of life, something which she has most definitely put into practice herself. Evidence of that is her current project, Sun Rising Natural Burial Ground. In this interview she speaks of this project, the connection to our ancestors, and the land that is an inspiration behind it…

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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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Winter Solstice and Ancestral Voices in the Wind

P1010980The Wild Hunt has been riding most evenings here around my home by the North Sea. The wind whips around the house and the rain pelts against the window panes. One night it comes from the north, the next from the south, then the east followed by the west. Each wind brings different scents and different temperatures but all are certainly wild at this time of year. You don’t want to go out in it, that’s for sure.

It’s at this time of year that I feel closest to my ancestors, my blood ancestors from Western Europe and Scandinavia. Their voices and stories are whispered in the dark mornings and early evenings, sometimes howled down my chimney in the evenings and every morning as I sit by my hearth altar, lighting a candle and praying to the gods, the land spirits and the ancestors. They call me to honour them, to know them once again, to say their names. And so each year I do, though this year feels different.

Winter 2This winter I feel called to explore the spiritual traditions of my ancestors in greater depth. Though I’ve lived here in Britain for twenty years, all of my blood relatives come from Western Europe and Scandinavia. DNA testing has revealed some fascinating stories, and the picture is growing of my blood ancestors, changing as more information and DNA is submitted. I’m finding family from all walks of life, from all over Europe, gradually adding to my own family tree as records become electronically available and I am able to fill in the gaps where personal records have gone missing. It’s been a great exploration this year and looks to continue for many years to come.

So for these winter months I shall be exploring fully the pre-Christian religious and spiritual traditions of my ancestors. These are Germanic, Danish, Frisian, Belgian, Norwegian and more, which fall under the modern category of “Heathenry”.  I’ve studied Heathenry for many years, but never developed a full practice; it’s always been more of an academic exercise. And so, this winter I shall bring it to life within my life, honouring the land wights and house wights, the ancestors, the gods and the goddesses. I’ve always had a special place in my heart for the goddess Frigge, the lady of right order, whose nature I feel is close to my own. As well, Skadhi and Ullr I have honoured many times while out snowshoeing and skiing in Canada and Norway. Tyr’s justice and compassion hold great meaning for me, and Freya’s seidr magic speaks of mystery, beckoning me further. It is with these gods that I shall be working over the winter, as well as the tomte and nisse of the household, and the land wights of the heathland and forest where I live. (I have already, obviously, done so in a Druid sense, so I will see if this changes slightly).

Already, I have found many similarities between Druidry and Heathenry. They almost seem to be talking and doing the same thing, just in different languages. The groves they worshipped in, the poetry and art, the warrior and the wise cunning folk, all of these seem to have resonance with each other, but expressed slightly differently. As well, much of the magical lore and tradition found in East Anglia I have found stems from Northern European magic, such as seidr.

It will be exciting to explore these traditions and heritage in practice. It will be interesting to connect to my blood ancestors more fully, exploring and expanding upon my family tree and widening my practice even more. And so, here on the coast of the North Sea, I will call to my ancestors, to the gods and goddesses of the North, to the land wights and house wights and see who answers.

I wish you all a very blessed Yuletide! May the longest night bring you peace, may you find strength and courage in the darkness, and hope in the growing light of the sun.

Winter 1

 

Boundaries Part 2

Continuing on from my previous blog post regarding boundaries, let’s explore a bit further about different kinds of boundaries. I think that this is a very useful practice in modern society, especially if we want to continue to have healthy and open dialogue, to be able to practice freedom of speech and to be able to see from a broader perspective than our own perhaps limited point of view. When we stop listening, we stop understanding.

This was really brought to light recently for me when I heard of the de-platforming of two speakers/presenters/vendors at the upcoming Pantheacon. I was flabbergasted by the reaction of the organisation, decided to research the background of the situation that would lead to such a decision. There wasn’t much to go on, sadly: it was simply a matter of opinion, and an uninformed one for the most part. I really hope that the organisation’s statement doesn’t damage the work of these presenters, because that is just unacceptable. They have, at least, removed the wording that these presenters are “dangerous” from their webpage, which was still up last week. I guess they saw some looming libel laws and changed tack.

At any rate, the real issue is boundaries, and how we can feel safe and free to express ourselves, without damaging others in the process. Indeed, I thought long and hard about even mentioning the above as an example, not wanting to deal with a whole bunch of backlash from the flame war that has erupted on the internet regarding this issue. But then I realised that this kind of thinking isn’t helping anyone, and no one should be afraid to debate an issue with all due respect. We seem to be living in a culture where it is getting more and more difficult to criticise, respectfully and honestly. In a recent Guardian article, this was highlighted by people sabotaging real debate when they mis-label hate speech/hateful conduct. I felt that the real crux of the article was summed up in one sentence: “There would seem to be little one could say on most difficult issues that could not also be construed as hatred.” I think of Jeremy Corbyn and the antisemetism rhetoric and terrorist supporting rhetoric that was hurled at him from the opposing party and taken over by the Tory-owned and operated media. I am now seeing it more recently reflected by the de-platforming of speakers this year at one of the largest Pagan conferences in the world. It seems that it is becoming a weapon to be used against people who are not really the enemy, but who want genuine debate and conversation in order to better understand the situation in general, or who are simply doing their own thing and some people disagree with it.

Are we no longer able to criticise and debate the real, deep issues that affect us as human beings? Why do we feel threatened by this debate? We all understand the power of words, but it is only through words that we can resolve conflict. Perhaps this is due to a backlash from social media, where people have expressed their opinions in less than honourable ways, and people’s defences are up. Hate speech is very real online. Yet I still think that we should be able to criticise ideas and debate issues, no matter how difficult they are, without being labelled as dangerous or worse.

This leads me to emotional boundaries. I’ve spoken about how we all need to understand emotional responsibility, and the importance of compassion in our relationships. Some subjects we are extremely passionate about, because they affect us directly. We can be hugely passionate about an issue, and yet still engage in debate without criminalising the opposing view. In the original blog post that inspired this series regarding boundaries, it was noted what healthy boundaries were, and what they were not.

“According to the book Boundaries and Relationships by Charles Whitfield, M.D:

Healthy boundaries are NOT:

Set for us by others

Hurtful or harmful

Controlling or manipulative

Invasive or dominating

Rigid and immovable

 

Healthy boundaries ARE:

present

appropriate

clear

firm

protective

flexible

receptive

determined by US”

With emotional boundaries, the responsibility for working with others is entirely up to us. Yes, some people transgress the law in doing so, with real hate speech and violent verbal abuse, both online and in person. That is why these things are illegal and need to be dealt with accordingly. However, having others determine what our personal boundaries should be is where the issue really lies. After having done my research on the Pantheacon issue, I knew that I did not want Pantheacon’s opinion any longer, especially as I feel that their mission statement of “setting aside differences of opinion” is in direct conflict with the decision that they took. I don’t think that Witchdoctor Utu’s reason for de-platforming is a valid one (Pantheacon have not provided a reason on their website as of the date of this blog post’s publishing, but if you go to his Facebook page you can get his side of the story: namely, they believed that due to the fact he honoured black ancestors in his tradition, he was guilty of cultural appropriation.) I also don’t think that Max should have been de-platformed and labelled as a trans-exclusionary advocate, and indeed a great opportunity for discussion was missed regarding issues relevant to and debates around trans-gendered people, boundaries and more. (You can see her side of the story on her Facebook page.) It seems that silencing people who you think are wrong is becoming more and more socially acceptable. This is a great tragedy with regards to understanding and compassion.

When we engage in discussion, let’s do so with our passion as inspiration for our words, but also with our heads firmly engaged in honourable debate. There is no need to de-humanise the other, to even make them The Other, the opposition, the enemy. Maybe it’s all my Buddhist practice speaking, but I truly feel that this is an issue that really needs to be looked at in today’s society. We don’t need to destroy someone whose opinion is different from ours. We should be able to express our opinion and, in doing so, may have to listen to the opinion of others whom we disagree with, maybe even loathe. By maintaining good emotional boundaries, we should be able to do so and really be able to engage without de-humanising the other side. It’s up to each and every one of us to engage with others honourably, and with respect. We are all human, we are all thinking and feeling creatures.

Let’s fully engage with emotional responsibility.