Reconciling polytheism with Hermetic Principles

I’ve always had a problem with the saying, “All the gods are one God, and all the goddesses are one Goddess.” I think this is because I am a polytheist, and recognise that each god and goddess are whole and separate, and that I also related this saying to a monotheistic sensibility. Having reflected upon the saying further in the last year or so, I can kind of understand the meaning, but still have problems with the wording.

Moving from hard polytheism to monism has been a large part of the work I’ve been doing in the last year. This is not monotheism, which states that there is only one god, but rather more after the fashion of the first Hermetic principle:  “The all is mind; the universe is mental.” Spirit is everything, and life is simply spirit in its most dense and material form. That life force, “the all”, spirit, whatever you wish to call it, is inherent in everything. This also sits very comfortably with my concept of animism. All that exists comes from a consciousness, and this consciousness, for me, is a shared one, inherent in all beings. It is the life force itself.

This life force can be split, and in Wicca and some forms of Witchcraft deity is seen as being split from the One or the All into God and Goddess. This correlates to the fourth principle, the Principle of Polarity: “Everything has its pair of opposites;  Like and unlike are the same; opposites are identical in nature, but different in degree; extremes meet; all truths, are but half-truths; all paradoxes may be reconciled.” This “All”, this life force can be seen to be split, to be polarized, so that we can see all the varying degrees in between the far extreme swings of a pendulum. This helps us to broaden our views, to see better that which is the “All”, the life force, in all its manifestation.

This also relates to the seventh principle, that of gender. “Gender is in everything; Everything has its masculine and feminine principles.” Again this correlates to the above two principles, in that everything is found in the “All”, and that with polarity we can relate to all the varying degrees between the poles.

So when I view the sentiment, “All the gods are one God, all the goddesses are one Goddess”, I can kind of understand where they are coming from, but still think that this is perhaps simply worded a bit clumsily. In this wording, we can easily mistake the idea as disregarding or even dismissive of the ideas of polytheism. Perhaps it could be better worded, in that “all gods are part of the divine masculine thought, and all goddesses are part of the divine feminine thought, and both are part of the All, the life force itself”. Doesn’t roll off the tongue quite so easily, but for me it manages to make it less broad and vague, and possibly less insulting to hard polytheists.

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…

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.

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Book reviews for Morgan Daimler

Hello all! I’ve been a bit late in posting a review for Morgan Daimler’s Travelling the Fairy Path, and so I’m also including my review for her latest Pagan Portals as well, coming out next year: Manannán mac Lir: Meeting the Celtic God of Wave and Wonder.

travelling fairy path coverI’ve loved all of Morgan Daimler’s work, and so when the call went out last year for reviews for her Travelling the Fairy Path, I jumped at the chance! This book is a bit of a departure from others in her series dealing with Fairy Witchcraft, in that this work is more personal, and written in a slightly different style, presenting the material in a more conversational manner. It’s hugely informative, as are all of her books, and touches upon issues that are rarely mentioned in other books in the Neopagan world. Discussing the difference between spirits and fairies, how to work with verified or unverified personal gnosis, looking at the lore from the perspective of poetry and music as well as practical information on glamour, shape shifting and more, this book is a great addition and complement to her other works. There is even an entire compendium of ogham knowledge in the appendices, which is extremely useful. I always look forward to more works from this author, and highly recommend her to everyone in the Pagan community, as well as those interested in all things Celtic. Travelling the Fairy Path is available for pre-order, and will be out end of September.

manannan coverMorgan Daimler’s book on Manannán is a real gem for anyone interested in working with a deity connected to the sea. In a down to earth and easy manner, Daimler presents this god in clear language and with a heartfelt honesty that comes through the words on the page and settles in the heart. Each chapter is a treasure, and we not only cover the Irish aspects of this deity, but also take a look at the Welsh, Manx and Scottish associations, which are all exceedingly helpful. The ritual, meditation and prayer section makes this book truly come alive, as well as the section at the end of each chapter, entitled “Manannan in my life”. Here we see up close and personal how this deity affects the life of the author, and this insight really makes this work stand out. I have thoroughly enjoyed all of Daimler’s work, and she is a true asset to the community. This book will be available end of April 2019, but is now available for pre-order.

Harvest Blessings

6Blessings of Lammas/Lughnasadh/Gwyl Awst to you. May your harvest be abundant and rewarding, and may we learn from our experience to carry knowledge forward into wisdom.

I have just come back from a four day road-trip with two of my best friends into the heart of the Wiltshire landscape, poking our noses in Somerset to visit Glastonbury and participate in a workshop run by author and activist Starhawk on Sunday as part of the Goddess Conference’s fringe events. To say I am shattered is an understatement; my body has shut down completely, and I am now suffering from a cold as well as my monthly moon-time a week early. When will I ever learn???  Easy does it!

At any rate, it was a magical time, with perhaps the most transformative event being a quiet meditation upon West Kennet Long Barrow. The harvest was in full swing in the landscape all around. Where we came from in Suffolk, the harvest began in early July, as we hadn’t had rain for two months. They were a bit more fortunate down in the south-west, and the harvest timing was more in tune with the Wheel of the Year than over in the East, where everything seems rather disjointed this year.

silbury hillSitting on top of the barrow, I could feel the energy of the land around me, as well as the energy of the ancestors and the barrow itself beneath me. The land’s energy was golden like the sun, flowing and bright. It was a stark contrast to the energy of the barrow, which was dark, cool and quiet. In the landscape, looking out over at Silbury Hill, I could feel the richness of this time of year, and see the ancient priests of the land atop the platform of that great hill, directing the ritual observances for honouring the harvest and the land, beginning at The Sanctuary and flowing all throughout that wonderful temple radiating outwards from Avebury’s henge and circle. Everything was in motion, everything was in full swing.

But beneath me was the silence of death, of deep stillness and quiet. Despite the bus load of tourists that had come and gone while I was meditating, I could still feel that deep sense of rest beneath me. I made my way down and into the barrow itself, stopping at the entrance to honour the ancestors. Deep within the barrow, in the furthest accessible chamber, I stood, honouring the silence of death.

But then the sounds of life came from the entrance, as baby birds chirped in their nest upon the arrival of their parents. Two families of swallows were nesting just above the entrance-way to the tomb, and the cycle of life and death seemed complete, and ever entwined, like beautiful Celtic knotwork or the spirals of the triskele seen upon so many of the neolithic and megalithic structures that abound in these British Isles.

We had just come from Swallowhead Spring, where it was a trickle in the dry landscape. Watercress choked the river Kennet, and the spring itself was dry.

We later moved to The Sanctuary, to experience this wonderful temple. It was like travelling back in time. We also visited the so-called “Moon Temple” that has been discussed in recent editions of Pagan Dawn magazine by geomancer Terence Mead. Sadly, we were unable to actually get close to the temple, as the farmer has moved all his cows, calves and a great big bull into that square kilometre where much of the temple lies. Shame, as we had walked miles and miles to get to it!

At Avebury we planned to hold a small ritual, just the three of us, during the lunar eclipse. We found a quiet corner, well, quiet for a minute or two before an old man tottered towards us as we had begun! It was all very odd, as he came near and then rolled out a blanket to sit upon, and made as if he was going to have a little nap. He stayed for a few minutes, then packed up again and made his way back the way that he had come. All very odd! We wondered if he was really real, and perhaps was, in fact, a spirit of place come to visit…

The eclipse was hidden behind fast moving clouds, and it seemed like the Wild Hunt was out riding early. The main part of the circle and henge had an air of a festival about it, so we kept to the quiet fringes and away from any crowds. As the wind picked up and our tired limbs grew heavy and cold, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.

All in all, it was an interesting trip, deep in the heart of such a sacred landscape. But is has also made me very aware of my own landscape, and how sacred it is to me personally. I won’t be heading back that way for some time now, for I found myself missing my land, my locality, more and more as each day passed. The long six-hour drive home was taxing, and I am so grateful now just to be home, still buzzing from the experience at West Kennet, but rooting my feet firmly into the sandy heathland soil of home.

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The Threefold Law

threefold lawLately I’ve been thinking about this concept, as I am doing a lot of reading and researching at the moment, and keep coming across this concept is a lot of Wicca/Witchcraft books. While I know that there are many traditions in Witchcraft that do not follow this concept, some do, as well as most (if not all) Wiccans, and it’s got the brain going, considering this concept more deeply and not just taking it for granted.

I don’t think I’ve ever really believed in this concept in the way that most believe. In the threefold law, in many, many sources it states that whatever you do will return to you threefold. In a very simplistic sense, if you do good things, good things will happen, and if you do bad things, bad things will happen. Many sources state that this is rule of karma.

karma dilbertI feel that this is a very odd Western misinterpretation of karma, for starters. As well, I know of plenty of instances and people who do good things, who go through the ringer, and plenty of people who do bad things, and don’t seem to suffer any consequences. (Trump, anyone?) Karma is not a system of reward and punishment. As well, the Hermetic principle of like attracting like can work in this instance, but not in the way that most people would believe. It’s not that simplistic. Note that I use the word simplistic, rather than simple, because there is a huge difference, at least in my opinion.  Let me explain.

A lot of magic uses correspondences in order for success, according to the principle of “like attracts like”. This can also work in our daily lives, but it doesn’t mean that doing good things will make good things happen to you, or vice versa. We can’t control reactions to actions on that level. We can try and use magic to persuade a favourable outcome, and when combined with a good ethical stance this would be for the benefit of the whole. But there is a correlation.

I feel that when we do magic, or perform any sort of action whether on the physical or metaphysical level, we affect energy. This for me feels like a more appropriate definition of correspondence. That energy is not only external to us, but will affect us on three levels. Those levels are:

Physical

Mental/Emotional

Spiritual

Let’s take an example of cursing someone. If we curse someone, we must be pretty pissed. That anger will have an effect on us at each of these three levels. We know that emotion, memory and other things can get stored in the body, creating tension, stress, high heart rates and more. As well, when we are angry our mental and emotional levels change, and we become the anger if we are not careful. When we become anger, we have lost our sense of self, our authentic being, and have allowed anger to take control. On a spiritual level, anger does not help us to commune with the world, the ancestors, spirits of place, deity or anything in a deeper level. In fact, it can be a great hindrance to it, as integration is at the heart of most spirituality and religion. In an earth-based tradition such as Wicca, Witchcraft or Druidry, where we believe that deity is immanent, this means that when we are angry and curse someone, we do not recognise the divinity within others. When we curse others, we are, in effect, cursing the gods too.

The popular interpretation of The Threefold Law to me feels more like a reward/punishment system to keep people in line, in an overly simplistic fashion. It requires people not to think too much about all the areas in between the concepts of “good” and “bad”, or even how those concepts are so relative to each person and their own experience. It also doesn’t acknowledge the deeper levels of meaning that can occur if we ponder this “rule” more closely. To me, it just seems too close to a heaven/hell concept, which I find too simplistic to give much attention to. Others may disagree, and I honour their perspective, but it just doesn’t work for me.

suffering mark levineSo, looking more deeply at The Threefold Law, if we do something bad, like cursing someone, then it could be said that on a certain level it comes back to us threefold, but not in the sense that seems to be very popular, ie. do good and good things happen, and vice versa. But if our actions are not honourable, and if we do things to harm other people, we are in turn harming ourselves, our environment, our gods: everything. Harming others causing suffering, both externally and also within in a threefold pattern: we harm our physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing. We’ve lost that connection to everything else, that sense of integrity and integration.

If we curse someone, we affect ourselves physically by holding on to that anger. That affects us mentally, and if our curse does indeed work, might even lead us down the road to more cursing. This leads to a reinforcement of such behaviour, and also reinforces the anger within us, which will make us physically and mentally suffer more and more. We can often fall into a deep depression by holding onto this anger and feeding it, instead of seeing the positive in the world around us. We will become angry people. This all has an effect on us spiritually as well, for we have denied the existence of deity outside of ourselves. This severely limits our perspective of the world, and just continues an ever increasing downward spiral of behaviour that causes suffering both within and without.

So, the Threefold law can affect us in three different ways, but it’s not as simplistic as some would have you believe. It’s simple, yes, but not simplistic. Let’s not get the two muddled!

And, if in doubt, you can always follow this great maxim: don’t be a jerk.

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