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.

Walking with the Ancestors

New video now up on my YouTube channel!

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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The Song of Autumn

This is my favourite season, and I’ve created a video to try and capture that moment. I’ve been filming all last week, and also making music as featured on the video. More details in the video’s information on YouTube 🙂

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!

The Inverse of the Summit

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White Peaks, Derbyshire, taken on a walking holiday

Most people who enjoy hiking know that getting to the top of a mountain can be difficult. But for those who are experienced, perhaps after about 40 years of climbing those mountains, we begin to understand that it is the descent that is actually the more challenging of the two. Sure, you become breathless as you make your way slowly up the mountainside, sweat on your brow and your legs muscles pumping.  But on the way down, you have to take special care, your balance comes into play, and one wrong move can leave you stranded on that mountainside awaiting rescue.

And it’s this analogy that I’ve come to understand as the integration of those rare moments of epiphany in our lives. Getting to the mountaintop can be the easy part; coming back home can be the more difficult. We got to the top, now we’re on our return journey, tired, but taking the memory and experience with us to internalise. Having the epiphany is easy – integrating it into every day is the more difficult part of the journey. It’s the inverse of the mountain’s peak, and once we’ve traversed this sometimes treacherous way, it’s then that we can find that lovely and level middle ground.

It doesn’t matter whether it was a small realisation or a grand epiphany that you’ve come to in your life; the really important thing is how to integrate it into your soul and your life. You can’t just have it and then forget about it – or, you could, but then what’s the point? The real point is to make it a part of your life, each and every day. To live the realisation, to make it a reality.

And it’s not easy. Our everyday lives can be so busy, and filled with a plethora of tasks and minutiae that can take precedence unless we are careful about how we manage our integration. It’s all good to go on a retreat, to meditate, to do pathworking or journeying work, even spellwork, but then it’s up to us to bring that into our lives as well, and not just let it rest “out there in the universe”. We have to make it manifest, we have to make time and integrate the work. We have to come down that mountain.

And it can seem dull and boring, all the repetitive tasks that we have to do each day, when we’d rather be receiving even more epiphanies. We have to do the dishes, clean the bathroom, cook our meals, teach our kids, feed the cats, mow the lawn, pay the bills, etc. We have to get on with the chores of the day.

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My little Kiri cat 🙂

But these elements, numerous as they are, form such a large part of our lives. So why shouldn’t we make them even more special, and give them more significance? Why can’t we internalise our hard work and let that inspiration flow out in everything that we do? It’s all a matter of perspective. On the summit, it’s easy to see all around you, to have that greater perspective. Scooping out the poop in the kitty litter box isn’t nearly as grand.

But that revelatory experience doesn’t have to fade with time. We can carry that in our souls, even when we’re running to the bin with a very stinky scoop of poop. For me, the act of service helps me to continue my revelatory experiences in everything that I do. It’s something that we’ve always taught at Druid College, and something which I’ve expanded even further in my studies and work with the Sisterhood of Avalon. That service, whether it’s working for your community or taking care of your stinky cats can be the thing that connects you to everything else. It is in those moments of interconnection that we realise that we are all a part of a greater tapestry of life, woven from many threads, stronger and even more beautiful when we support each other.

That larger perspective is carried in our hearts and minds, and into everything that we do, from the choices we make each and every day to the way we interact with people every single moment. And it’s not easy. Coming down the mountain there are loose rocks and stones that can trip us up or roll under our feet, causing us to lose our balance, wrench our knee, put our back out. But if we’re careful, if we’re mindful, we can hopefully get back to everyday life intact and in good condition to keep that momentum going. There are the pitfalls of losing our way, losing the daylight, losing the map or compass. But unless we’re really unlucky, most of us will make it back and into our nice, warm homes where we can integrate fully the experience. And it’s keeping that feeling in our hearts as we go about our daily tasks can be equally as challenging. That is the real inverse of the summit.

But once we have achieved that, then we find the level path that allows us a good vantage point, and is much easier to manage as well. We find that balance point in our heart and souls, and the way forward becomes more pleasant. So the next time you reach that mountaintop in your life, find a word that summarises the experience, something that you can recall when you are cleaning a clogged drain, dealing with a difficult neighbour, or sitting in a lonely silence. This is what you can use to make the vision real, to make the intangible, tangible. Manifest this in your life, and then all that work will truly be worth it.

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The valley where I grew up in Quebec, taken from the lovely and level trail of an old disused railway.

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Reflections on 2019

I type this as the sun sets on one of the last days of the year. The mist is rolling in, the sky changing from blue to yellow to pink. The pine trees stand tall, silhouetted against the fading light. A flock of pigeons fly across the thin crescent of the new moon. A hush is descending on the little village, and the candles are lit in my home.

Looking out the window at the hazy purple trees in the distance, their bare branches still in the evening light, I reflect upon the year that has just gone. My dreams have been strange of late, perhaps due to illness, perhaps due to the mental ruminations that winter and the closing of the year bring. I’m tired, physically and mentally. I’m just getting over a nasty cold, and my husband is currently fighting it. The cats are doing well. The family back in Canada are doing well, apart from one tiding of bad news and ill health. But we are strong, we will meet all challenges head-on, staying positive whilst being realistic. I thank my family heartily for teaching me these lessons. I am too easily blown by the wind, feeling it all. Their Dutch practicality is my steady anchor when the storms of emotion hit hard.

So too is this beautiful land where I live, and I give thanks to the trees and the sky, the sea and the heath, the deer and the owls that keep me company day and night. Even as I long for my familial home on a daily basis, this beauty right here, before my eyes in this very moment is what is real. This is what I must engage with, this is what I must feel; otherwise, I am simply a ghost in this landscape.

I am making friends with the muntjac deer who visit me every evening, expecting their peanuts. There are two males, Douglas and the smaller one, Jeffrey. Sometimes Doug’s partner comes with her two children, one a year old faun and one born late this summer. I do not yet know their names. Occasionally, Freya the fallow deer visits, her long legs moving her gracefully across the lawn, her carriage always like a queen. The wren sometimes sits on the picnic table when I am washing the dishes, giving me a wonderful look at his tiny body, so round and soft.

So what has this year brought? It’s been quite a calm and steady year. The first half was filled with the final work and then anticipation over the release of my new book, The Book of Hedge Druidry. Summer and early autumn was filled with promotional work, and hearing the reviews that were coming in. The Book of Hedge Druidry went to No. 1 in its category on Amazon many times over the last six months, for which I was overjoyed. I give my thanks to everyone who has taken the time to write to me personally, or leave a review. So many lovely, wonderful people from across the world have reached out, and it’s so nice to know that there is resonance with the words after you release them out into the world.

A crow flies across the deepening sky, followed by two airplanes high above, their contrails glowing pink before quickly disappearing in the high pressure. So many planes tonight, flying across the southern sky. More and more carbon, going into the air, with cheaper and cheaper flights. I worry for the future, I really do. Taking a deep breath, I ground and remind myself that I am doing all that I can, and to be here in the moment. I know that next summer I will be on a plane myself, for a very special family occasion. I cannot judge without being judgemental.

What other things have happened this year? Well, in late autumn, a creative burst came through in a completely different media than usual. Photography and video has inspired me these last few months, and it’s nice to take a break from the written word. Expressing myself in different mediums has widened my horizons, and made me realise that I am more than just Jo, the Druid.

Six airplanes in my small field of vision, as I look out across the back garden.

Douglas and Jeffrey have arrived, and are eating peanuts.

My cats are sleeping at my feet, happy and content.

My husband is downstairs, watching the hilarious soapbox races on the television.

It is safe to say that my world has grounded itself in reality of late. The dreaming druid is still there, but she is sitting side by side with many others. She is sharing a table with many aspects of my soul, and there is food enough for all to share. The call of my ancestors is still strong, and my heart hearkens to a heathen past while my head remains firmly in the present.

Other things that have happened: I’ve revamped my website and this blog, and opened up an Instagram account. My Youtube channel is going strong.  I also have a Patreon page, where people can support me in the work that I do, for whichever medium I creatively express myself in, day in and day out. I am so grateful that I have the opportunity to do so, because for so long my life was filled with simply trying to survive. There were so many ideas in my head that had to be held back because I needed to make a living first and foremost. These last five years have really shifted that way of being, and I am eternally grateful. It feels like I’m opening up, that more and more creativity is coming, in various forms. I have music planned, and art. In the new year, there will be a place on my website where you can order prints of my photography. There is much to come, by the grace of the gods and my own will.

The room is darkening considerably, and I will have to stop writing soon, for the glare will become too strong for my eyes in the candlelit room. I shall take a moment to sit with the candles, and meditate upon what has gone, what currently is, and what may come. I shall be grateful for every moment, every taste that life has to offer, in every spectrum. There may be trouble ahead, there may be smooth sailing. We cannot know for certain, but we can steer the course of lives as best we can. As the peachy sky fades into grey, then indigo and then black, I know that the stars will shine tonight, at least for a little while. And after that? Who can say? I only know that I am thankful for my many blessings.

To everyone who has followed this blog over the year, and some over many years, to everyone who has yet to come into my life, to everyone who has supported me and my work, I give you my heartfelt thanks. I could not have done it without you. There is a relationship right here, though it is often silent, and hidden. But it is here, between you and I, right here in this moment as you read these words. And I honour you for this moment, this shared moment.

May the coming year bring you peace and happiness in the best of times, and strength and courage in the worst. May we all stand shoulder to shoulder, to work with each other to make this world a better place. May we all walk in beauty.

Love, Jo. x

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Happy Winter Solstice!

This morning my Facebook feed was filled with lots of lovely people wishing everyone a happy winter solstice. So nice! And yet, there were just as many people correcting them, stating the the actual astronomical time is tomorrow, etc, etc. Let’s all just relax a little bit, and celebrate whenever we can, wherever we can, and however we can without the need to tell people that they’re doing it wrong.

So happy Winter Solstice for today, tomorrow and Monday!