You’re Not A Real Witch/Druid/Heathen/Whatever

At some point in your pagan spiritual path, you may come across some person or a group of people who tell you that you’re not a real [insert path here] and may even give you “helpful” reasons as to why they have come to this conclusion. And I’m here to tell you that it’s all bollocks.

First off, anyone who has the gall to tell someone else that they’re spiritual path is wrong because it differs from theirs, most likely has some superiority/inferiority/ego issues. It usually takes someone with pretty low self-esteem to try and knock down other people, and with the anonymity that the internet provides, this can be done in large quantities. What we all must remember is that when someone says something like “you’re not a real [insert path here] because you don’t do [insert whatever here]” it is saying a lot more about them, and not a lot about you. It displays their hang-ups, their biases, their issues, not yours.

Some people will confuse their dislike for something and state it as something that is “wrong”. However, simply because someone doesn’t like it doesn’t mean that it is wrong. I *heart* unicorns. Always have, always will. Does this make me less of a witch/druid/heathen/whatever? I don’t wear black, I don’t have a witchy aesthetic per se, I’m not particularly drawn to “dark” magic and I don’t even “look” witchy. I honour different gods from different traditions and follow many different paths. I am a Witch, a Druid, a Heathen, a Zen Buddhist. I don’t limit myself to one “pure” tradition of anything, because I don’t believe that exists. Does this make me any less in the eyes of the pagan public? To some, yes. And that is their problem, not mine.

My path is extremely rich and rewarding. For me. If it inspires others to follow/develop theirs, then I’m so very pleased and filled with gratitude. We need to support each other more, not tear each other down. There’s enough of that nonsense already in the world. Let’s not add to it.

Nature teaches us that diversity is key to a healthy, functioning ecosystem. What fills my cup is constant learning and taking that learning into real experience, which will lead me down many interesting paths. I can be more than one thing at one time, or at all times. I am a sister, a daughter, an aunt, a wife, Mother of Cats, author, singer, dancer, YouTuber, blogger, podcaster, Northern Expsoure fan and more. I am not one thing, nor could I ever be. Plurality is a good thing. It keeps things interesting.

If someone’s path diverges from yours, take time to understand more. Even if you don’t agree with it, it’s not your place to decide what is valid or authentic, and what is not. When we do so, we are seeking to belittle someone, and that is just not cool. Again, it says more about us than it ever will about them.

No one can please everyone, and nor should anyone even try. For when we do so, that’s when we are being inauthentic. That’s when we lose sight of who we are, and who we aspire to be. Our dreams are our own, and we shouldn’t let others tell us whether or not we should seek them out. True sovereignty lies in knowing who you are, what you love, what brings you joy, what makes you the person you are. It is knowing your strengths and weaknesses, your light and your shadow. While others may provide you with inspiration on your path, never, ever let anyone dictate who you should be or what you should do.

Don’t let people “should” all over your life.

You are a real whatever-it-is-that-you-want-to-be. That’s your life, your living it, your path. No one else can walk it for you. Let your own story shine.

New Online Course now available!

I have a new online course available through my Patreon page! This course is called “An Introduction to Freya: Goddess of Life, Sovereignty and Magic” In it we will look at the literature that surrounds this goddess, interpretation of such and perform simple rituals that you can do to connect with this wonderful goddess. We will also have discussion on the monthly lessons, as well as plentiful further resources that you can investigate should you so wish, including online articles and videos! This course runs for four months, starting now, at only $15 (around £11) per month. You can leave at any time, taking with you what you have already learned. Please enroll before 31 August to ensure your place, as no new members for this course will be taken after this date.

All you have to do is join the Introduction to Freya online course tier and then you will have access to this month’s material. I hope to see you there!

http://www.patreon.com/joannavanderhoeven

Joanna van der Hoeven is creating Pagan-related content in writing, videos, music and more | Patreon

New Community Working on Patreon!

I am now making the 13 Lunar Rituals available to ALL patrons on my Patreon page 🙂 Together we can work and discuss as a community our thoughts, feelings, desires, wishes and workings for this coming moon’s cycle. We work from full moon to full moon. I hope to see you there! You can join us for as little as £1 a month. xoxo

Click HERE for more info!

(From last year’s harvest…)

Re-Living, Re-Visioning your Craft

Whether you’ve been practising your spiritual path for 30 years or 3 years, you will need to shake things up every now and again. Nature doesn’t stay the same. Nature changes, each and every day. As I look out my window, things have changed, sometimes minutely, sometimes drastically, but I can see and feel the change. When I’m out and walking the landscape, I see the wider changes happening, beyond my own little hearth and home. By spending time noticing these changes, I become used change, and so I am also able to transform what I need to in my own life.

My spiritual path does not remain an unvarying constant. It is ever shifting, changing, flowing in and out with the seasons and the cycles. With my many, many, many (oh so many, where did the years go?) years of experience that I have in following my own tradition, I can honestly say that no two years have ever been alike. My interests, my environment, my circumstances lead me down different routes that inform and re-energise my current modus operandi. I am not the same person I was twenty years ago, and nor would I want to be.

Anything that is alive, changes. We often forget that in our day to day existence. We often relive past experiences, but these are done and gone; what we need to do is re-live, to truly live once again in the present moment. Accepting change and circumstances and experience that should, hopefully, lead to wisdom.

Some days are harder than others, for sure. Some days our Craft might seem to take a backseat in our lives, as we try to deal with the hardships and grievances, the pain and the struggles that come from being on this planet at this moment in time. But it is always there, waiting for us to tap back into it, to bring it back to life.

What if your rituals no longer bring you joy? Do something different! Instead of casting a circle, invoking the gods, etc. why not simply go out and walk the land? Whether you are in the countryside or in a city, find a place where there are green and growing things, and be out there in it. Sense the energies, the time of year, the season and the cycle. Feel that deep within your soul, feel your soul reflecting this back out into the world. Let this invigorate you, and take you out of your rut. Let the change flow into you.

Now re-charged, take some time for re-visioning. See how you would like your Craft to be, not how it has always been. Make the changes that you desire, try new things. If they don’t work, put them aside and try new ones. Take some time to visualise the person you want to be, and then go out and be that person. It won’t happen without a little time and effort expended into the process.

Be the change.

In a happy and inspiring place 🙂

The Cup of Sovereignty

A few day ago I dreamt that I was handed the Cup of Sovereignty. It was a beautiful silver chalice, my own personal Grail, given to me by someone I couldn’t see, but which had the feel of deity about it, or someone in service to deity. In that cup was my own blood, that which runs through my veins and also my menstrual blood (even though that time is now gone). I took the cup in my hands and felt the power surging through it, the power of my own life and of my own sovereignty.

But what exactly is sovereignty? The word evokes kings and queens, feudal systems and medieval times. Yes indeed, it does relate to that, everything that comes from a state which has a leader with absolute authority. The Cambridge dictionary simply states sovereignty as “the power or authority to rule”. In relation to one’s own personal sovereignty, this definition makes more sense.

We all have the power to be sovereign in ourselves. That power may lie deeply hidden beneath experiences of trauma and loss, grief and sorrow, abuse and family/social dynamics. But is it there, waiting to be accessed and recognised.

Sadly, not all of us have the authority for personal sovereignty, for there are still too many places in the world where your gender, your race or your social background prevents you from using that authority.  And yet, deep down, we might still feel a glimmer of that authority that lies beneath the suffocating shrouds of patriarchy, oppressive religions and more. Deep down, most of us are certain that we have a right to rule our own selves, to be sovereign in our self. Whether or not this is recognised by society around us is another matter.

I know that I come from a place of privilege. But that still doesn’t negate my own experience of personal sovereignty. The deep knowing that I am responsible for my actions, for my life, and that I have the power to change it, helps me to integrate my sovereignty into everything that I do. A sovereign life is a life filled with intention, instead of reaction. A sovereign life is one where you know your own self, the light and the shadow, the good and the bad, and you work with that intentionally in order to be your best self at that moment. A sovereign life is one where you see where you fit in: in your community, your ecosystem, your family, all your relationships. It is where you can contribute for the benefit of all. Because in our own sovereignty, we realise that we must give back.

For me, sovereignty goes hand in hand with service. It may not be that way for everyone, but for me it is an integral part of personal sovereignty. As an author I like to share my ideas with others through the medium of the written word, and in doing so, hopefully inspire people towards their own sovereignty. I don’t have all the answers, despite my dreams. I was given the cup of sovereignty, but what I do with it is my own life’s work. It’s a process, not a destination or an achievement.

Sovereignty might be taking back the power that you have given to someone or something else. It might be understanding how your mind works, and how you can work with that to live the life that you want, to achieve your dreams. It might be simply the power of saying “no” or “yes” to certain things. It might involve independence or community, a spiritual practice or a philosophy/way of life. It might just be acceptance of who you are, where you are and what it is that you are doing, and taking responsibility for all that you are, wherever you are. It might be a combination of these things, and then some.

We must encourage each other on our own personal journeys of sovereignty. Help someone to find their own power. Sovereignty means we must truly understand the notion of power, and the levels of power that we see in the world. The renowned author Starhawk describes three different kinds of power: personal power, power over and power with. We must release all notions of “power over” and work towards strengthening our own personal power, while at the same time working with “power with”. This means that in our own journeys, we will not bring each other down, but instead support each other and encourage each other’s experiences in finding their own power. When we work towards the benefit of the whole, the whole is benefited. When we work for the benefit of the self, the self is indeed benefited, but we must also think about extending that power to the community in whatever way we can.

We may begin with our own journeys into our own power, and eventually once we have established that deeply within our core, we can look outwards in the spirit of encouragement, inspiration and support of others in their own quests for the Grail, the Cup of Sovereignty. Sovereignty is all about the ability to choose. It is the power of choice.

And know that this quest is one that has no beginning and no end, but is simply a process of discernment, refinement, mindfulness and co-operation. We may receive the Cup of Sovereignty, but now we must share it with the rest of the world in whatever form we are able. We must fill it and we must drink from the Cup but, like a meal, it is best shared with others.

New Video: The Tapestry of Life

After my hard drive crashed (and is not repairable) I finally got out again and did some filming this week. I hope you like it!

Freya: A Goddess of Love or Not?

I can’t begin to tell you how many times I have heard that Freya is a goddess of love. Usually, it just ends there. But in my years of working with her, I’ve come to understand so much more about this wonderful goddess, and how she has often been reduced to a misogynistic soundbite. Well, no more.

So, where in the lore does it say that Freya is a goddess of love? Well, in just one small reference, actually. In Gylfaginning, it is said that “She loves poetry, she is good to invoke about love.” [1] That’s pretty much it when it comes to the mention of love.

Freya is a goddess of sexuality, and in relation, fertility and sensuality. Her brother, Freyr, is more about fertility than Freya, in my opinion. Freya is about the sensuous nature of life, of how to live it pleasurably and to its fullest. She does not really concern herself with fertility, per se, though she is sometimes invoked in birthing, which may be due to her role as a lady of life. Her two daughters are called Hnoss (Jewel) and Gersimi (gem). Are these actual daughters or just a kenning for some of the things she loves the most?

Freya’s power is in her own sovereignty. She chooses how to live her life, and will not let anyone tell her otherwise. She takes on lovers as she wills, but then, so do other goddesses and gods in Norse mythology. It’s not uncommon, really. Loki derides many goddesses and tries to tarnish them with the brush of harlot in Lokasenna. Is this simply a Christian gloss created by those who were writing down these myths? This piece of the lore derides pretty much all of the pagan and magical practices of the gods, and makes it a very suspect piece in my view.

Some will say that Freya’s everlasting search for Óðr demonstrates an aspect of her as a goddess of love. But let’s take a closer look at what the word Óðr means. As a noun, it means “agitation, skill in poetry, poetry, intellect”. [2] As an adjective,, it means “furious, mad, terrible and even mentally disordered”[3]. Many believe that Freya and the god Óðin have a relationship, and that is it he that she longs for. But is this just looking at the surface, and not delving any deeper into who Freya actually is and what she represents?

Freya was the one who taught the art of seiðr to the gods. She was the original witch. In the magic of seiðr, we often come across a trance practice of walking between the worlds or calling in the spirits. This work can fall into the category of an ecstatic practice, and therefore could it not be that Freya is seeking the ecstasy that comes with magic, poetry, divination, sexual activity and more? What she longs for is to break free from the bonds of “normality” and shows us just how to do so, to reclaim our own power.

Freya is known by many names, including Mardöll (shining of the sea), Hörn (flax), Gefn (the giving), Sýr (the sow, or to shield/protect) and Vanadis (the woman of the Vanir) among others. She is thought to be the witch, Gullveig, whom the Aesir lusted after so much that it began a war. She is also thought to be Mengelöd, a healing goddess atop Lyfjaberg. She is also known as Val-Freya, the chooser of the dead. For when the valiant warriors die, Freya gets first choice of them to come and live with her in her great hall, Sessrumnir, in Folkvang. Odin gets the leftovers. That’s something the television shows and movies neglect to mention.

A teacher of mine told me that Freya is not a goddess of love, per se, but rather a goddess that loves life.[4] She is life itself. So why has she been reduced to a mere soundbite as a goddess of love, time and time again?

Well, Freya is not the first powerful woman to be belittled and demeaned in such a way. It is rife in our culture and society. At the time of writing this article, the misogyny of the British Parliament is coming into light, with over 50 cases of sexual misconduct by Members of Parliament currently being investigated.[5] Our own Prime Minister as the then editor of The Spectator in 2001 printed a cover page article written by now Cabinet minister Michael Gove that deplores men doing “women’s work” such as changing nappies and housework while the woman maintains the position of wage earner.[6] The article was titled: “”The male eunuch – what the wimpy British can learn from the chauvinism of the French”. In the US, the Supreme Court plans to overturn a case which gives women autonomy over their own bodies with regards to Pro-Choice rights.[7] The patriarchy and the misogyny are not just something of the past, but are here and now affecting women all over the world.

We know that the Prose Edda was written by Snorri Sturluson, an historian, poet and politician. The old ways had passed on two hundred years earlier, and Iceland was firmly in the Christian camp. The Poetic Edda may have been written earlier, but both have roots in an oral tradition of poetry that was passed down from generation to generation. And we know how stories can change when a different storyteller is telling the tale. The sovereign goddesses of the Viking Age and earlier are now labelled as “witches” and “harlots”.  This label has carried on for centuries. Look at Hilary Clinton, labelled “The Wicked Witch of the Left”, or Anne Boleyn even[8]. Women in politics, whether it is with Republicans or Kings, face such slander when they rise to positions of power. It doesn’t just stop at the Middle Ages, oh no. It has carried through to the present day. Women have been objectified for so long, that it is entrenched in the social fabric of the present day. We have MPs watching porn in the Commons.[9] The whore or witch label is still firmly entrenched upon women in order to keep them from their own power. And so it is with Freya. Or at least, it is still being attempted.

But we know differently. We can see beneath the slurs and slanders and the Christian patriarchal gloss that covers her stories. We know that she is an independent and sovereign entity unto herself. She is beholden to no one. She does as she pleases. And she is there for us. The lore tells us that Freya is the closest to humanity – she reaches out to us when we call for her. She is there for us. And just as we need to reinstate the divine feminine in our own societies as we see women’s rights and sovereignty being stripped away in ever-increasing numbers despite progressive movements, we need to take back the stories and the memories of Freya, The Lady. We need to reclaim her as something more than a goddess of love.

Freya is life, the pleasure of it and the quest for sovereignty of the self. Let’s change our current narrative so that it can truly reflect the nature of this great goddess. And in doing so, we might just change the world too.


[1] Gylfaginning 24

[2] Näsström, B. Freya: The Great Goddess of the North, Clock and Rose (2003) p. 63

[3] Ibid

[4] Zindra Andersson.  Courses now held in Sweden and Germany: https://www.hexenkram.at/en/article/der-pfad-der-vlva-jahresausbildung-mit-zindra-andersson-2022-23/812a89fa-51f9-4d19-bacd-9e0974c1d578

[5] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/56-mps-face-sexual-misconduct-claims-znv2m9x8s

[6] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/boris-johnson-michael-gove-sexist-article-male-chauvinism-b2070874.html

[7] https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/roe-v-wade-protest-latest-abortion-overturned-b2071255.html

[8] https://www.theguardian.com/books/2018/apr/07/cursed-from-circe-to-clinton-why-women-are-cast-as-witches

[9] https://www.theguardian.com/politics/live/2022/apr/30/calls-for-neil-parish-to-resign-after-being-named-as-mp-who-watched-porn-in-commons-uk-politics-live

On a Moonlit Night…

A full moon and the spring equinox not two days apart; the energies leave me reeling, literally. My head has been pounding for two days straight, and I just can’t wait for the tides to turn and for the energy to subside, to slide into the more gentle flow rather than being a gushing torrent of turbulence. The light is too bright, sounds are too loud and everything is just too much. But I know it will change. Things always change.

It’s Friday night and I climb into the car and drive down to the beach. Over the farmer’s fields I can see the moon rising, huge and pink in a clear sky. My head has cleared, for the time being – the painkillers have set in. I am excited as I drive down the winding road, alert for owls and hares.

When I get to the car park there are only two other cars there, one leaving. I grab my bag and my drum and make my way across the shingle beach. I haven’t checked the tides, so I don’t know what awaits me or where the shoreline will be tonight. In the last of the evening light I can make out a figure walking in the distance to my right, and a fishing tent with a man moving about it to my left. As the stones of the shingle roll and crunch under my feet, I am glad for the noise, because it means no one can sneak up on me. These are things a woman alone at night usually considers.

As I reach the ridge of the high tide line, I see below me a beach that is not usually there. The tide is right out, and a long peninsula of shingle stretches out into the sea. I have walked on this shingle spit many times, out into the ocean but never have I seen it stretch so far out. My heart beats faster, as I know this will be a very special night.

I slide down the shingle bank, smooth stones rolling about my boots. The fisherman looks on, probably a little puzzled, but I can’t see his face in the growing dark. I reach a sandy beach, which in this area is a rarity. It’s only a small section, and I walk cautiously across it, because what looks like sand in this part of the world can also be mud, which acts like quicksand and to which many a day-tripper has lost their rubber boots as they scamper unwarily across the surface.

I cross the sand and reach the shingle spit. Walking down it, I raise my eyes to the moon now, and am stopped in my tracks. From where I stand, the spit of shingle stretches out into the sea, marking a pathway straight to the moon. It is incredible, and I am utterly enchanted. I want to walk that road, straight off the shingle spit and out into the waves until I reach the moon.

My senses come back to me, and I make my way down the long peninsula of rolling rocks, the waves lapping at either side of me. It’s exciting, being here, where only one set of footprints shows from a previous adventurer on this night. I walk out a little further, almost to the tip of the shingle spit, but not quite. I’ve never walked out this far before, and I don’t know what the tide will be doing. I have a feeling it’s just turning now, and I don’t want to be caught out. So, 50 yards from the end, I stand.  

I am betwixt and between. I am in a place that is not a place, in a time that is not a time. I am utterly between the worlds. I am not on land and I am not at sea. I am surrounded by water with boots firmly on smooth pebbles that roll in and out with the waves. The dark night sky above me is shot through with stars, and the full moon of the spring equinox is rising before me. What a time to be alive.

I take out my drum and start to work with the rhythm of the North Sea. I feel her flowing around me, singing her songs of ebb and flow, of her story of how she came into being. Standing as far out as I am, I understand how the land bridge used to work that carried our ancient Stone Age ancestors across from Europe to this land, before it was cut off by the water. It is still a shallow sea, muddy and roiling and constantly changing, hiding its mysteries beneath the waves.

I drum and sway with the tide. I can see that yes indeed, it is turning. It is now coming in, and I will have to keep my wits about me even as I tumble into ecstasy. My witch blood pounds in my veins, my wild heart soars with the stars above. I call out the goddesses in my life, singing their names, chanting and letting whatever comes to express itself on this night. The wind takes my words and songs away, a gift offered freely to this awesome night. I feel so alive, so utterly free and yet spellbound by the moment. I am the stars in the sky, the moon before me, the waves around me. I am utterly connected, yet without any visible strands that keep me pinned down to just one awareness. This is so exhilarating, so wild, so free. This is pure magic.

I stop drumming and singing and open my arms wide to the sky, drinking it all it. The Fair Folk are all around me, playing in the waves, brushing against my cold skin. I can hear them whispering, feel their light touch upon my hair. Strange sounds are all around me, and I am frightened and not frightened at the same time. This is wyrd.

 I am witch. I am a druid. I am one who walks between the worlds. This is who I am.

This is my Friday night.

I have been to many liminal places many different times, but not like this. This is special. I know that my heart will start to beat a little faster just remembering this night.

My ears are cold. I lower my arms and look around, noticing the tide coming in more and more, for that is what it does, without complaint, without effort, without coercion. I must be more like the tide, I think, as I put my drum away. I say my farewells to the place and all who are with me at the moment, and take a last look at the moon. The pathway to her is now under water, hidden beneath the shining surface of Mardöll, obscured by the grace of Nehalennia, taken with the great mystery. It is time to go.

I make my way back up the shingle spit, narrower than before. The fisherman is still there, and I wonder if my chanting, singing and cries were hear by him or whether they were scooped up by the sea there and then. I scramble up the steep shingle bank from the beach, almost twice my height. I sit for a moment at the top, looking at the little bay that has been created by the ever-shifting of the shingle. Each time I come here it is different; a bay disappears or suddenly appears elsewhere, a lagoon shines in the light, a seal swims close to the shore, geese fly overhead to the marshes, a cormorant makes its way home. Each time it is different. Each time it is magical.

I crunch my way back to the car. As I drive down the winding road, watching out for owls and hares, my headache comes rushing back, pounding in my temples. It lasts for two more days, until the equinox shifts the energies, and finally I am released from the swell. I can breathe in the spring sunshine, the daffodils in my garden bobbing their heads in the warmth, the robin singing, the bees beginning to make their rounds. It’s as if the earth has held its breath, and now it is released.

These changing tides are hard on the old body, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I smell the green grass and moss beneath me, and revel in the blue sky overhead. I give heartfelt thanks for my many blessings, and say a prayer for peace under the late March sunshine.