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.

Edit: I’ve since recorded a follow-up piece to this blog post, and this has now been posted on my Bandcamp page here: joannavanderhoeven.bandcamp.com/track/dismissive-paganism

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!

Zen and the Cello

The world-famous cellist, Pablo Casals, was once asked why he practiced eight hours a day, considering his already incredible skills. His reply? “Because I think I’m beginning to make some progress.”

In meditation, these are words to live by. No matter how many hours, days, weeks or years we’ve spent meditating, each and every day is brand new, with different situations affecting our mind. Just going to sit down and do some zazen (sitting meditation) every day, even if it’s only for ten minutes, is a great act of courage.

Why courage? Because you are taking the time to dedicate to your own mental health, and through helping yourself you are better able to help the world. And it takes courage to help the world, alongside resilience and inner strength.

Every time we sit down to meditate, we are performing an act of devotion. We are devoting ourselves to our practice, and in this case, practice does not make perfect; it makes for continual practice. There is no permanency in life; nothing is the same as it was a moment ago. Everything is in constant change, and sometimes those changes are too miniscule for us to see with our eyes. But it is still there, flowing, changing, moving in a world of impermanence. Even the insight that you may gain while sitting down in meditation is impermanent.

It may come as a flash, that brief moment of enlightenment. But then it’s gone, and we are left to carry that tiny insight with us into the rest of our lives, to help us learn and cultivate new insights. That moment where we realise that all is one, that we are all connected, where our ego drops away and we know; that moment of insight is impermanent, like everything else. You will not forever be at peace once you have gained this insight, nor will you become some enlightened being. What that flash of insight brings is more practice, so that you can understand and cultivate that awareness more and more into your daily life. Practice makes practice.

We might like to think that once we have gained some insight, that we have had some sort of “awakening”. But here’s the thing: when we go to sleep every night we still awaken every morning. We don’t just wake up once and have done with it. We constantly need to go through the cycle of sleep and wakefulness. It is so with our minds as well.

Someone who thinks that they are enlightened, that they know all that they need to know, is perhaps one of the most ignorant people on this planet. I’ve been there. We all have, at some point or other. And then we wake up and realise that it is a continuous process of awakening to our lives and to the world. We learn, we grow, we change each and every day. Sometimes we regress, sometimes we progress, but it is still work of some kind.

I like to think that with age, I have developed some sense of being no more than who I am in the moment, right now, and that’s enough. And as soon as I have that moment, it’s gone, and I’ve changed, we’ve all changed. There is nothing special about gaining this information or insight. It’s just me, it’s just you, it’s just how things are right now at this point in time. And that’s all that we can do. As Martin Luther said, “Here I stand. I can do no other.”

Except maybe to practice the cello.

For more on Zen and especially in relation to Druidry, see my book: Zen for Druids.

Reconnecting

This summer, as I recovered from major surgery, as soon as I was able I stood outside every morning and honoured my Lady and the day. I honoured and praised my Lady with her many associations, and I also used an adapted version of Sigdrifa’s Prayer that I came up with:

Hail to the Day, and Day’s sons

Farewell to Night and Her Daughters

With loving eyes look upon us here

And grant peace to those living here

All to the Gods, Hail to the Ancestors

Hail to the mighty fecund earth

Eloquence and native wit bestow upon us here

And healing hands while we live

But these last few weeks I haven’t said this prayer, and instead simply stood outside and felt the wind upon my skin, listening to the sounds and smelling the air. No words. My life is filled with words, and I guess I needed to stop with the words, for they were empty after a while. I needed to feel, from deep within, reaching for the silence first and then feeling the connection, rather than trying to state it as happening when it wasn’t. Too many words.

And so, now that I have my new seasonal altar set up, I sit and meditate at it every day and call to my Lady in my mind, feeling her inside my heart like a warm amber glow that spreads slowly into my awareness. I reach down with my energy into the earth and call to the earth, whose dark and rich energy comes up with my breath through my spine. I get out into the forest and onto the heath several times a week, with the action of walking as my prayer. And I am often blessed with wonderful sightings of the deer, the low-flying hawk, a falcon, a badger’s den or a robin in full song within arm’s length. Some of these moments I have captured on camera, but they will always reside deep within my heart.

I have changed, since my surgery. I had a hysterectomy at the end of June, due to a uterus full of fibroids and a very large ovarian cyst. I am only now coming to terms with the aftermath: living a mostly pain-free life is wonderful, but there is an emotional tsunami of pain and suffering that looms on the horizon every minute of the day. I call to my Lady to help me, woman to woman, for it seems that all the pain I’ve ever had in my life is now just below the surface of my skin, and the slightest bump sets it loose in a torrent of tears. I want to scream, to sob with abandon, to be held in the arms of my mother. I call to the earth, the Mother of All, and find myself supported on her green and dark bosom.

I found myself leaving all my old pathways of being, I floated for a couple of months, not doing anything except healing. I did not do full moon rituals, though I knew the cycles each and every day. I did a very short blot to Freyr at Lammas. I walked for the autumn equinox. Instead, I meditated, walked the land, and began to find my place within it once more, changed, different.

I felt like I was between the worlds, between a child and a middle-aged woman. I felt separated from myself. My detached self looked down with pity at the sad little girl, at the sad woman dealing with her life’s pain. Perhaps this was my Lady, taking me up to a higher point of view, to see myself from this other perspective, to keep me functioning in day to day business.

Are you having having a bad day? You are not. You are a Bad Bitch. Continue. Is your depression weighing you down? I know. Continue. You can keep going. You can do this. Continue. You are fighter. You are strong. You are smart. And you are wonderfully made. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Keep going. Keep going. Continue.

     – @playcheerleader on Instagram, sent to me very timely by an old friend

I have to let my Lady’s love of life fill my soul again. The earth supports me with warmth and strength, even as she turns colder and falls back into rest. With mind and body numbed from the trauma, I now have to dance in the woods with the elves once again. I remember that time. It was nearly thirty-odd years ago, and more in other lifetimes, but it is still there, they are there, waiting.

My Lady, fill my soul with your golden light, to guide me through the darkest night and find my way back to those woods, and back home to my soul.

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A Pure Moment

Have you ever had a pure moment? A moment when there is nothing to worry about, no future, no past, just this present moment, now?

These past two weeks, I’ve had many of the beautiful moments, out on the heath with the deer. Making the effort, despite the rain, the mud, the cold wind and mist that gets into your bones has paid off in an abundance of these moments. It takes a while, sometimes, for them to happen, as you walk and think and think and walk and lose yourself in your turbulent mind. But then you spot a deer, or the sunlight on a mushroom, or a leaf twirling on a spider’s strand, and suddenly it all stops. You stop. You are caught in the moment, where all thoughts have ceased and you are just held by the beauty of the present moment.

It’s important to have these moments. For they are the reset button of the soul. When I gaze into the eyes of a doe, or a stag, the world falls away and all that matters is right now, this very moment. My troubles are later put into perspective, when thought returns. My body pauses, utterly motionless, in an otherworldly rest. My soul opens, and a true connection is made with the world, without thought, without bias, without prejudice.

No matter where you are, you can have these moments. Watching the sun move across a wall, or the shadows of a tree branch in the moonlight. Standing in the night breeze, listening to the sounds in the darkness all around you. Smelling the scent of woodsmoke on a country road, or hearing the song of a robin in the bush next to you. Stop, and take this moment, a pure moment. Reset your soul. And gaze into the eyes of the universe.

Autumn is here…

Autumn is here, though it’s a bit of a strange autumn. The leaves on the birch trees turned golden a couple of weeks ago, and now most of them have fallen to cover the forest floor in a beautiful golden light. But the oak, the ash and the beech trees are only now just starting to turn, and there’s still a lot of green about. The heather on the heath, which should be a brilliant purple colour, is slowly coming back to life after the rains. It was such a dry summer, that even out in the arid conditions of the heathland, things were dying before they had a chance to come into their own.

But it is definitely autumn, and you can smell it on the wind. That scent is so unmistakeable. It’s hard to describe: it’s a lovely, earthy smell so different from the green scent of summer, or the blossom scent of spring. The winds have ravaged these lands and all others across the country, stripping the trees of their colourful leaves before their time, and branches and fallen trees everywhere. Getting out in between the gales and the heavy rainstorms is a real gamble, so bringing your wet weather gear is essential.

It’s not been an easy year, not just for us humans, but for a lot of nature in this area. Though some species did well during the lockdown, many others have suffered from the lack of rain and a drought for two summers in a row. The hawks have been plentiful, and the deer have managed to keep their numbers up, but the plant life has suffered, and whether there will be enough food to keep them all strong throughout the winter remains to be seen.

And yet, despite all this, my heart sings merely at the thought of autumn. For it is my absolute favourite season, though here in the UK it is far too short. We don’t get the vibrant colours that I grew up with in Canada, but the feeling of nature winding down, of that last pause before dusk, the late afternoon sunlight shining through the clouds, the smell of woodsmoke on the wind – it all fills me with such peace. Gone is the harsh overhead sun, and instead it is dancing, playing through the turning leaves to fall upon the forest floor in dappled light.

The deer are gathering in larger and larger herds, and soon they will be all together out on the heath. The stags have begun to call, and it is the beginning of the deer rut. There are two main players this year, the dark stag who has been King for the last few years, and a new one, dappled and still young, but big and strong. I’m sure there will be some furious matches as they lock antlers in the evening’s failing light.

The foxes have been calling, and visiting us in the night, making their weird cries and strange sounds, or just padding silently down the path in the moonlight. The owls are hooting in the trees, and the pheasants are trumpeting in the night shadows. Hunting season has begun for them, and so we find all those lucky enough to have escaped coming round our way, to find sanctuary amidst the few houses here on the edge of the village.

Autumn is a time to pause, to stop, and to reflect on the bounty that we have collected throughout our labours in the year. Some things may have come to fruition, some may not, and some may still remain dreams, to foster once again through the long winter months until the sun’s strengthening light encourages us to manifest these dreams in the light of day. It is a time for long walks and enjoying the weather, in rain or sunshine. We feel the growing darkness all around us, and we welcome that even as we bask in the last of the golden light. Thoughts are turning inwards, hearts and minds becoming reflective. It is a time to take stock, to see what still needs to be done before the winter’s arrival, and what we need to make it through the cold time of icy frosts and winds from the north.

Take this moment, and enjoy it, for it doesn’t last long. Pause, listen, and learn from nature about the cycles of life, death and regeneration. Find out where you fit in the grand scheme of things, where you stand as a contributing member of your ecosystem. And dance in the light of autumn, feeling its ethereal and brief moments in time deep within your soul.

(Photos taken in Rendlesham Forest, © Joanna van der Hoeven 2020)

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Happy Equinox!

As we stand at the turning point of the seasons, we welcome this balance point, knowing that tomorrow we will welcome the growing darkness even as we welcomed the light in the spring. For without night there is no day, without spring no summer, without death there is no life. We are all a part of this cycle of manifestation, growth, decay and rejuvenation.

New Video: Turning Seasons, Summer Into Autumn now up!

A huge thank you to everyone who has supported me and my work.

I’ve got a new tier system on my Patreon page, where at the second and third tier you can have your name in the video credits at the end of each video! Also, for the third tier, you get special Behind the Scenes Footage 🙂

Blessings of the changing seasons to you all!