Enjoy! Happy holidays to you all, and all the best for the new year. xoxo
Since the release of his book, Surrender, I’ve been thinking about this concept that Bono talks about in so many different ways. In one tale, presented live on the “The Late Show” (see video below) it really struck a chord within me (pun totally intended).
He talked about how he had (and still has) to approach his wife of 40 years within such terms. He spoke of approaching her like this: “Only if you arrive at her fort defenceless, do you have half a chance in challenging her own, almost unbroachable defences”.
I thought that this was utterly beautiful. It could be applied to so much in life, not just your loved one. For me, it’s about being authentic, about being truly and utterly you, to whomever it is you are trying to connect with. It could be your life partner, your parents, your children, your gods, your ancestors, your community.
When approaching the gods, there is no point in putting up a mask, surrounding yourself with defences. They are gods. They see through all that crap. If you choose to open up your soul to a god, then there is no need for games, for duplicity or falsehoods of any kind. There is only you, and the deity.
It’s much the same with your life partner, family, ancestors, even those of your community. Those who think that they are fooling you with guises and masks are only fooling themselves. People are more perceptive than many think. We know when something or someone is “off”, it’s just that often we choose to ignore that instinct.
Authenticity is about surrender. It’s about being utterly human, being utterly you. It’s acknowledging the good and the bad and everything in between. It’s about working towards being the best person you can be, without masks, without disguises.
This doesn’t mean you have to let go of all boundaries. But if you truly want to connect on a soul-deep level, it is about being totally, utterly you. Letting down your defences also allows those to come to your aid. Keep them up, and they keep everything and everyone out.
The concept of surrender, and of defences, is one that I am going to chew over for quite some time this winter. In the stillness and silence of a winter’s day, in the overarching darkness of a long winter’s night, I am taking this to heart and really experiencing what it is to live in this manner. It will will, I think, open up new ways of living and being that before were only imagined.
This winter, I am surrendering.
There are now lots of Pagan books out there, on a huge variety of subjects. Some are new, some are old, some are out of print but still available through second-hand shops and websites. I’ve recently been perusing some older and out of print books on Wicca and Witchcraft, as well as Paganism in general and it’s really hit home just how much one page of a book can make all the difference. In fact, it’s the most important page of any book. And what is that page?
The page at the beginning of a book that has the publishing details on it.
What? Yeup – that’s the bit that I find the most helpful from the start. Why? Because it gives you context. You can find out just when the book was written, so you will see © 2001 Witchy McWitch. These few words give you an idea into the time in which the words were penned, a snapshot in time as to what facts and truths were available, and what were not, and how they were presented. Under that you will see the publishing dates, such as “First published in 2012 by So & So Publishing”. There will be the initial publishing print date, as well as other information to let you know how many printings of this book there has been. If you are buying the book brand new, this reprint information gives you an idea of how popular the book is, as well as the possible opportunities for correction during subsequent print runs by either the author (if they’re still alive) or the publisher (if at all possible).
So why is this important? Well, information changes, history changes as new facts come to light. Knowing just when a book was written will allow for some leniency with regards to what was known at the time, versus what we now know after decades of research. I can forgive a book that is 20+ years old for not having a good history of witchcraft, for example. With even older books I can be more forgiving. The use of terms such as “shaman” and “shamanic”, as another example, can be forgiven because that was the term being used at the time. If the book hasn’t undergone a reprint recently, or has been out of print for a while, then this information just can’t be changed. And this is, at least to this author, a source of anxiety. I don’t know about other authors, but often when you put stuff out there, it’s out there for good and people can forget the context in which it was written.
People change. Facts change. Views of history change. What is politically and socially correct, changes. But old books can’t change. Not unless a new publishing company picks it up, the author is still alive to consult about making the changes, and everyone is happy to go along with it. But so often I will see criticism and horrendous reviews of old books regarding the information contained within. If you look at the book within context, you will know that it is out of date regarding historical accuracy, and then you might be a little more lenient. But instead people slam the old authors, those who many of us from Gen X and previous grew up with. We know that some of the information is wrong, or outdated, if we have the privilege of being able to keep up to date with the latest books and information (and in today’s growing economic crisis here in the UK, and around the world, we know that people have less and less money to spend). Think about it for a minute. If you haven’t been able to buy a new book on an aspect of Paganism in the last decade or so for whatever reason (no money, no time to read it because you’re working two jobs and trying to raise kids, etc.) you won’t have the most up to date information. But people will still criticise you and the books that you have for it, when it is beyond anyone’s control.
(There is a caveat here – some books do just contain information that was made-up at the time, and the author knew it. Or it was just poorly researched when information was quite readily available at the time. I’m thinking of a certain book written in 1990 that states the ancient Irish peoples carved pumpkins. Yeah. We knew better even at that time.)
Books are a luxury. For sure. Not everyone has the ability to do the in-depth research, to keep up to date with the latest information and the world of academia. For some people it just bores the crap out of them. Some people are doers, not readers. We have to take a look at the bigger picture, and stop cancelling authors whose books are out of print, as well as over-criticising people for not keeping up to date with the latest academia. It’s just not possible for some people to do. It’s utterly beyond their control.
I am so lucky that I am able to search around to find these old books, to add to my collection. I am so fortunate that I am able to buy new books with the latest academic research. I understand my white, middle-aged woman privilege here. Which is why I’m not ranting at others online or in person about the material they present, the authors they like, the books that they’ve read or not read (apart from my small caveat above). Because there’s a whole world of circumstances that I cannot possibly understand.
People are throwing out, or at least recycling old books because some of the information in them is out of date, contains bad history or what not. But as I’m re-reading these old books, every time I pick one up I look at the publishing details, to remind myself of the context. I can then be more forgiving. It doesn’t mean that all the material is worthless – it means that we have learned a lot more since this book was written. Now, if it was a brand new book written in the last few years, I might have a different attitude, but again there are variables: is the book self-published? If so, then there aren’t any external editors to say to the author “Look, this claim that you make has been shown to be false, here’s some research for you to look up” or some such. Circumstances matter.
Acknowledging circumstances help us to live more compassionately.
One last thing to think about is that authors, if they have the good fortune to have kept going throughout the decades, will contradict themselves sometimes. This is a good thing, because it is showing growth (sometimes in the wrong direction, it may seem, but it shows that they are still seeking). I released my first Pagan book in 2012, written in 2011. I am most definitely not the same person I was 10+ years ago. I have said things in my older books that I cannot say today, because my life has changed. I mention in one of my old books that I’m vegan, but I haven’t been vegan for a long time now, for various reasons. But someone reading that book will still think I am, or may even criticise me later on when they read a subsequent book and find my position has changed. The history that my older books contain may not stand up to the test of time. But the message, the exercises, the feeling and the passion hopefully will, as long as people understand the context in which it was written.
Words are funny things. They’re like stones, and if you put too much stock in them, hold too many too close to your heart, they will weigh you down. We have to let some of them go, in order to fly. We have to change and adapt with the times, realise that there are circumstances beyond our control, or that we aren’t even aware of while holding a compassionate regard for the past, and an understanding of just how far we have all come.
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
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
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.
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!
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.
I’ve come across the phrase “the Goddess has got a plan” or something similar within the Pagan community, especially when people are trying to sort out why good things happen to bad people, and bad things happen to good people. For me personally, there are a few reasons why this just doesn’t sit right in my own Pagan worldview.
To begin with, I simply don’t believe in predestination. Many people have a simplistic view of “fate”, which seems to preclude the concept of free will. Many things are “fated to happen”, or meeting that person was “just fate”. Sometimes the notion of free will is forgotten in these instances, other times willingly overlooked in order to explain or justify the reason something has happened. Many Pagans, and all Wiccans, believe that we have free will, such as in the Wiccan rede (maxim or “counsel”) “an it harm none, do as ye will” which translates to “do not harm others while you live up to your full potential”. You will is your potential, your spiritual goal, your highest self.
But everyone is on this same ride. We are all going through life together, and someone else’s will may come into your life to challenge, support, annoy, or validate your own experience and your own will. Some would argue that a higher power has a plan for everyone, and that they are in some sort of control over the final destination, which means that there is some sort of control over the everyday experiences that lead to this final destination. This precludes free will, in my opinion.
Some have turned away from deity because of what has happened to them in their lives. They can’t believe that a deity would allow such things to happen to them and/or to the world in general. This is still a belief in pre-destination, and a deity that controls everything like some master puppeteer.
For me, deity is most certainly not this in any shape or form. Deity is the energy of life, of death and of renewal. That is its agenda. This energy may be seen in many different ways, relative to culture, to personal preference, to environment and so on. Different people attribute more associations to this basic agenda, myself included, into a more specified spiritual practice. But overall, the plan is life, death and renewal (or regeneration).
Our relationship with deity is very personal, and can be very specific. But does my Goddess have a plan for entire world? I know that she most certainly has a wish for the world, but it’s not up to her. It’s up to us.
Our free will, our own capability of taking full responsibility for our lives and the lives of others is part of that overall plan of life, death and renewal. It’s the growing up of the human race, the evolution that hopefully will take place sooner rather than later. In a Druidic sense, it is coming to realise that we are part of an environment, and that we need to be a contributing and beneficial part of that ecosystem in order for the whole to thrive (us included). In a Wiccan sense, it would be to do the least amount of harm and to become the best person that you can be in a similar context. In Hedgewitchcraft, it would be to understand and work deeply with the cycles of nature in your own home environment, crafting your life in complete attunement to the world around you, both the seen and the unseen. In all of the above, we are opening ourselves to deity in order to better understand ourselves, and how to live well on this planet.
That, in my opinion, could be the only plan the deities could have for us. Bad things will happen to good people, not because it’s part of deity’s plan, but because there are bad people out there who harm others knowingly or unknowingly. Human ego, greed and fear get in the way of so much that could be accomplished.
Sometimes it’s really hard not to despair when the world seems like such a mess. But we have to put faith in ourselves, in our own actions and be the example we want to see reflected back to us in the world. Working with the wonderful energy of the gods is one way, though not all Pagans are religious. Working with the energy of the land where you live is at the core of all practice, to better understand our place and how we can make it better not just for ourselves, but for all in order to have a sustainable future that follows life, death and renewal, even when not viewed from a religious standpoint.
Your own Will is that which will see you through the most difficult of times. If you align your will to the flow of nature, you will come to understand the true inter-connectedness of all things. And these all have free will, just as you do. It’s learning to meet each other, soul to soul, and work with that energy which in Druidry is often called “awen”. In our relationships with the world we come to better understand the world and really participate in this great, vast cycle within cycles. We will see the good, the bad and the ugly on the way, but we have to realise that not all of that is part of any deity’s plan. It just is, and we can learn to work with it, to condemn when we need to, to be the light we want to see in the world, and to really think long and hard about our own ethics and morality.
That’s my plan, anyway.
How to perform a simple 5-minute mindfulness meditation 🙂