Here’s a link to my most recent interview with Future Primitive Podcasts from last week. I hope you enjoy!
Letting Nature Live Through Us – Click HERE for the full interview.
Here’s a link to my most recent interview with Future Primitive Podcasts from last week. I hope you enjoy!
Letting Nature Live Through Us – Click HERE for the full interview.
This is an extract from my upcoming book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature. It is the follow-up to my introductory book, Zen Druidry, which is part of the Pagan Portals series with Moon Books. This book delves deeper into incorporating Zen philosophy into a Druid tradition, allowing us to find deep integration with nature, flowing along the currents of inspiration, of awen.
The Three Treasures
The Three Treasures (sometimes called The Three Jewels) are what all Buddhists can take refuge in, in order to alleviate suffering. They are:
In today’s society, we often take refuge in that which causes us harm: drugs; alcohol; high fat foods and so on. We take refuge in violent or mind-numbing television shows. We may even take refuge in abusive relationships. All of these do not help to alleviate suffering, but only increase suffering. We need to re-evaluate what it is that we take refuge in. Let us look at the Three Treasures that Buddhists take refuge in, and see how they are reflected in modern Druidry.
Taking refuge in the Buddha: Everyone has a Buddha nature – In this teaching, we see that everyone has the essence of the Buddha within them. This means that everyone can achieve enlightenment. When we recognise the Buddha nature of a stranger, for example, our behaviour and attitude towards them will shift. We will act with more compassion, because we see that which is in ourselves, our own Buddha nature, is also within them. Within Druidry, as mentioned above, the sanctity of all nature is at the heart of its teachings. There is no hierarchy within Druidry; we are aware that we are a part of an ecosystem, part of a planet, part of the universe and part of the whole. Through the wonders of science, we know that we contain star stuff within our blood and bones. When we realise that we are made up of so many different elements, non-human elements, we are able to recognise the greater pattern that makes up life, and our part within it as a strand of the web of creation. We have rivers and oceans within us, for we drink water every day. We have the sun within us, in the food that we eat, the light upon our skin. We realise that the illusion of separation is just that: an illusion. When the boundaries of this illusory divide fall away, we can become fully integrated into the world around us. There is no human and nature, there is only nature.
There is a Zen story that states: “If you see Buddha on the road, kill him!” This means that anything that we conceive as being external to ourselves is only an illusion, for the Buddha is within. The Buddha is our potential to live our lives in our own perfect truth, awake and aware to life all around us, fully participating in life rather than being passengers on the journey. By recognising our own Buddha nature, we see it in others. The sanctity of life and all creation directs us to live our lives accordingly.
Buddha was/is a great teacher. He exists today as he existed thousands of years ago. He is an inspiration to all who honour the Buddhist tradition. In the Buddha we are inspired to great healing, great peace. We can honour our teachers from all traditions that speak to our soul. In Druidry, we work with the ancestors: ancestors of blood, ancestors of place and ancestors of tradition. Buddha can be a great ancestor of tradition – so can the Dalai Lama, or Zen Buddhist monk and activist Thich Nhat Hanh just as much as Taliesen, Boudicca or modern-day writers and Druids such as Emma Restall Orr or Phillip Carr-Gomm.
Taking refuge in the dharma: The dharma reflects ultimate truth – Truth is a tricky word in modern-day society. Yet it is central to both Buddhist and Druid teachings. In Buddhism, we drop the illusion of separateness; we step beyond suffering created by duality and merge into our own truth. Within modern Druidry, there is a saying: “The truth against the world”. The truth is our own self, our true self, without the conditions and restrictions placed upon it by the ego and others. This self works in the world to create peace and harmony, for it is at peace and harmony. The world is that which tries to impose illusions of duality or conditions of existence upon us. We are told that we need this or that in order to be happy. We are told what to eat, wear, what car to drive. We are told that we are superior to others, human and non-human. We often believe that we will be happy in the future, as we set a condition upon our lives for our own happiness. When we drop these conditions and really pay attention to life, we find out what we really need in order to have peace and happiness. When we follow our own nature and listen to the truth within, we are able to find our place in the world. We are better able to hear our own soul’s truth, and that is the truth against the world. We find wisdom in the teachings, in the dharma, and we know that through experience of the teachings we can understand the truth for ourselves. Within Zen Druidry we realise that there is no monopoly on wisdom. By combining the teachings of both Druidry and Zen Buddhism each are complemented and enhanced.
Taking refuge in the dharma, we recognise for ourselves that the real cause of suffering stems from within, as does the real cause of joy and peace. Taking refuge in the teachings of Druidry, we learn about integration with the world, and how to live our lives as a reflection of our love and devotion to the natural world around us. Both lead us to living lives fully awake and aware, lives that are filled with responsibility towards everything that exists on our planet. It guides us to live in harmony and in peace, mindful of sustainability and honour.
Taking refuge in the community: There is a community – In Buddhism, the community (known as the sangha) is there for one to take refuge in, providing support through shared ideals and goals. They are fellow Buddhists, people you meditate with, perhaps even a monastic community. They are like-minded people, on the path to enlightenment, trying to ease suffering. They are people who can help you on the path, and people that may come to you for help.
This community has been taken further in modern Buddhism to incorporate the planet, seeing and knowing that the earth is our home, our community, and therefore we must take better care of it. Within Druidry, the community is our environment. Not just the land upon which we live, but our homes, our workplaces, the Druid community: everything that we are working with in the world. Druidry knows that life is all inter-connected, that we are all parts of a whole. Ecosystems function because everything knows its place in the wider context, fulfilling its role (living its truth) and thereby contributing to the benefit of the whole. We support the community and the community supports us. We can take refuge in this community, knowing on the most basic level that we are all in this together. It engenders a deep respect for the community, for the whole.
There is a Druid community throughout the world, as there is a Buddhist community. It may be difficult to find other Druids in your particular area, however, there are groups and groves, festivals and camps, Orders and organisations you can join in order to connect with other people following the Druid path, to find support in a community, or to support others within the community in a Druid context. Druidry also recognises the community as a whole, on this little rock we call planet Earth, hurtling through time and space.
© Joanna van der Hoeven
For me, Druidry is mostly a solitary path, though I do belong to some Druid Orders and networks, and celebrate the seasons with a small group of friends. But the everyday Druidry, the currents of intention that flow through me and my home, through the landscape where I live, is my main focus. Like learning, I always preferred to do so on my own, rather than working with a group, for I found that my concentration was higher, and I could have a deeper level of experience than I could with the influence of others upon my work. Indeed, personal and private ritual is always more profound than most shared ritual, though there have been a few occasions where, such as at the White Spring in Glastonbury, there has been a mix of private ritual and group celebration with my best friends deep within the cavernous walls that house those sacred waters that have changed my life forever.
Of course, we are never truly solitary creatures, but in this sense I am using the word solitary with regards to other humans. I am never truly solitary, for I am always surrounded by nature and all its creatures every single second of my life. I am always a part of an inter-connected web of existence. Living this connection, weaving the threads of my life to that of my environment and all that exists within it, means that there is no separation, no isolation. Yet, when asked to describe my path, I use the word solitary in the sense that I prefer to find such connection on my own, without other human animals around. Why this should be so is perhaps due to my nature: naturally shy, and sensitive to noise, light, barometric pressure and other phenomena, it is just easier to be “alone” most of the time. My husband is much the same, so it is easy to be around him for most of the time, taking day-long walks with him through the countryside, with little words between us, for there is no need for unnecessary talk; just being with another being in a shared space is enough. We live in a small village near the coast, so it is easy to get away from humanity by just walking out the door and down the bridle paths, or simply stay in and enjoy our beautiful garden visited by all sorts of wildlife, from deer and pheasants to pigeons and blackbirds, and even a family of badgers one time!
The path of the mystic is much the same, a solitary path where personal connection to the divine is the central focus. Some would say that the mystic path is the search for the nature of reality. For me, Druidry is the search for reality within nature, and so the two can walk hand in hand down this forest path. There are many elements of mysticism in my everyday life, where the songs of the land and the power of the gods flow through me, the knowledge from the ancestors deep within my blood and deep within the land upon which I live, rooted in its soil and sharing its stories on the breeze. To hold that connection, day in and day out, to live life fully within the threads of that tapestry is what I aspire to do, each and every moment. Sometimes a thread is dropped, and it requires a deep mindfulness to restore it, but practice helps when we search for those connecting threads, becoming easier with time and patience both with the world and with your own self.
The dissolution of the ego can be seen as at the heart of many Eastern traditions. Druidry teaches us integration, our ego perhaps not dissolving but blending in with that of our own environment. The animism that is a large part of Druidry for many helps us to see the sacredness of all existence, and in doing so we are not seeking annihilation, but integration. We can perhaps dissolve the notions and out-dated perceptions that we have, both about the world and about ourselves, leaving the self to find its own edges and then blending in to the world around us, truly becoming part of an ecosystem where selflessness is not altruistic, but necessary for the survival of the system.
The flowing inspiration, the awen, where soul touches soul and the edges melt away into an integrated way of being, has always been at the heart of Druidry. The three drops of inspiration or wisdom from Cerridwen’s cauldron contain that connection; contain the awen that, with enough practice, is accessible to all. We have to spend time brewing our own cauldron of inspiration, filling it with both knowledge and experience before we can taste the delicious awen upon our lips. Some prefer to do this with others; some prefer to do so alone.
It is easier to quiet the noise of humanity, and of our own minds, when we are alone without distraction. Notice I said “easier” and not “easy”, because again it takes practice. But time spent alone, daily connecting and reweaving the threads that we have dropped can help us create a wonderful, rich tapestry that inspires us to continue in our journey through life, whatever may happen along the way. Though the solitary path might not be for everyone, having these moments of solitude can be a great tool for deep learning, working on your own as well as working within a group, Grove or Order. Sometimes we need to remove ourselves from the world in order to better understand it, and then come back into the fold with a new awareness and integration filled with awen, filled with inspiration.
“The dead fall from awareness only when they are forgotten, so the practising animist acknowledges the ancestors with gratitude and open-heartedness, each and every day – whenever a task is to be done, whenever an old tool is lifted, a skill used, an old pathway walked. When a challenge or an obstacle arises blocking the way, when pain kicks in and weakness overwhelms, it is to the ancestors that the animist turns, and it is in the ancestors that courage is found, generation to generation, hand in hand, words of wisdom heard and experience shared. When crises are overcome, when love is found and joy fills a moment with delight, the ancestors are an integral part of the celebration.”
– Emma Restall Orr, from her essay “Time and the Grave”, from the book This Ancient Heart.
It’s hard to escape the ingrained duality of our culture and mindset in the Western world. For so many hundreds of years we have listened and taken as fact that the mind and body are separate, that the individual is separate from nature. This is a concept that abounds even in Modern Paganism, which in my opinion hinders the way forward for many people who are truly trying to integrate, to live in harmony with the natural world. By creating a divide we are instantly alienated from a world to which we have a natural birthright.
Even some proponents of non-duality still can get caught out on certain issues – take the Otherworld for instance. If we truly believed in an inclusive and shared reality, a shared experience in which there is no subject and object, but instead a collection of subjects in shared experience then we come close to the core of animism. However, many Pagans still believe that when we die, our soul splits from our bodies and goes “somewhere else”: The Otherworld, the Summerlands, etc. What I would posit is that there is no “other”, just as there is no such thing as “away”. I am fully aware that not all Pagans are animists, but for me personally they go hand in hand.
Jason Kirkey touches on this subject in his book, The Salmon in the Spring. He sees the Otherworld as a different mode of perception, more than a physical place that is different to this world. By opening our perception we can see the Otherworld, which really is our world in its full entirety, unhindered by concepts of dualism.
We live in a shared reality, though many choose not to accept this. We are, in each and every second, undergoing a shared experience. There can be no such thing as a solitary experience. We are in contact with the world each and every moment. As I sit here typing, I am experiencing the clack of the keyboard and its plastic keys, the light from the monitor, the air around me, the draft from the window, the light filtering through the cloudy skies, my cat complaining for more food. I am experiencing all these things, and all these things are also experiencing me. In this context, there is no subject/object, for in order for there to be an object there needs to be separate reality and experience entirely isolated from everything else. This is simply not possible – no one lives in a vacuum.
When I am walking to my Tai Chi class in the rain, I am experiencing the rain and the rain is experiencing me. When I am in class, I am experiencing the instructor and other class members, and they are experiencing me. When I place my foot carefully on the floorboards of the hall, I am experiencing the floorboards and the floorboards are experiencing me. As an animist, for me there is no such thing as inanimate objects, or even objects at all – everything is filled with energy in motion, which creates mass and density, and everything is subject to the world around it.
Creating a division, between Us and Them, between animate and inanimate is a huge cause for the troubles we are now experiencing politically, environmentally and socially. When we realise that everything is shared experience, then we automatically work for the benefit of the whole rather than ourselves, for we realise that there is no such thing as just “ourselves”. We are an integral part of the whole, and being integral it only comes as natural that we should live our lives in service to the whole.
This is the main focus of Druidry for me in my personal life. Living a life in service means thinking, acting, living for the whole rather than the self. It’s not done in an altruistic sense, but in a holistic sense. By dropping the illusion of separation I can experience the world on a much deeper level, and have a greater relationship because the illusory barriers and boundaries of dualism have simply disappeared.
In my opinion, Descartes has a lot to answer for.
Here is a taster from my latest blog post at SageWoman – I’ve also got an article coming up in the next print edition of SageWoman magazine, so keep an eye out!
I learned something fascinating this weekend. I learned that as women, when we are in our mother’s womb, we already have all the ovum (eggs) that we will release during our fertile years. So, to put that into context, when my mother was in my grandmother’s womb, I was also there, partly, as one of the eggs that would be fertilised by my father. This link only occurs in women, and it just blew my mind. I was in my grandmother’s womb.
Our lines of ancestry can be glorious and transformational journeys of discovery. Not only in a historical sense, exploring records and genealogy, but also connecting spiritually with our ancestors. As the darkness creeps in and the days get shorter, in the cooling air with the harvest being taken in the fields all around me, my thoughts turn to my ancestors and to the self, releasing into the approaching autumn and finding great comfort and joy in the letting go.
In order to release that sense of self, however, we must first come to know our self.
Exploring who we are, where we came from, what makes us “us” is key to this work. Understanding circumstances, experiences, lines of ancestry can enrich our lives and help us to uncover depths of our own soul that may have previously escaped our notice.
To read more/full article, click HERE.
Sacrifice – it’s one of those “old” words, like honour and duty. Many who have read Roman accounts of the Druids associate the word, sacrifice, with the priest caste of the Celtic people at that particular time. However, the word goes even further back into the beginnings of time for the human animal, when the importance of relationship with nature was everything, when we knew that to disconnect ourselves from the natural world meant death. Today, we must remember this, remember each and every day how much we are a part of the world, how much our everyday actions count, no matter how small. Each day is also an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings that we have. At Lammas, however, just giving thanks doesn’t seem quite enough. When the first crop is harvested, and the land lies stark and naked, shaved and shorn from under the combine harvester, giving thanks and saying words over the field doesn’t feel adequate. This, for me, is where sacrifice comes into play.
It’s hard as the line keeps shifting between giving thanks and the notion of sacrifice. What might be an offering to one person might be seen as a sacrifice to another. I can only speak from my own personal viewpoint, as I may value things differently from my neighbours, my family, and members of my pagan community. So, what is the difference between an offering and a sacrifice?
For me, sacrifice is something of significant value. This is not necessarily a monetary value, but could be something that is cherished, prized, something that is utterly loved and which has a representative value of the threads of connection we hold with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. What is it that I have which I value? What am I willing to give back in return for the flow of awen, that spark where soul touches soul and is inspired? What am I willing to do to achieve that?
When the barley in the field by my house is cut, the energy of the land drastically changes. Between the homes and the heathland there are two arable fields, one which was harvested in the spring for green barley, and one which still has the golden, bowed stalks waiting to be harvested. Acknowledging the change isn’t enough, for when we hear the songs of the ancestors, I feel how important these crops were for them, how important their relationship with the land meant their survival and success. In a field of growing barley, there is potential, a shimmering energy waiting to be harvested. When that field is cut, the potential can be scattered if the land is not honoured. The ancestors knew this, but we have forgotten. Modern farming depletes the soil of essential nutrients that must be replaced, often by less-than-natural means. The barley is cut, and the field then stands, barren and forgotten for weeks, until the farmer and his tractor are ready to plough in the winter or spring crops.
The land isn’t respected, isn’t acknowledged anymore. As an animist, I find this appalling. When the land has been used, has given us so much in a beautiful field of barley, and we don’t even give thanks, much less sacrifice then there is dishonour. As with any relationship, if one side continually gives and gives, and the other continually takes and takes, the balance will shift, the relationship will crumble and great suffering will ensue.
What can I give that will honour the lives that this crop will feed, that will honour the land that grew it, that will honour the ancestors that worked it, that will honour the spirits of place who live there? What will be a significant gift for all we have received?
The sacrifice will change year upon year. What matters most is the importance of the sacrifice to me personally.
Offerings represent a more daily interaction, little gifts and niceties that you would present to any friend that you meet: a cup of tea, a biscuit, some of the fresh-baked bread you just made, or your home-brew mead. Finding out what the local spirits of place would like is as polite as asking your guest how she would like her tea: with or without milk, honey or sugar? When it comes to sacrifice, however, the shift of focus changes to become more introverted rather than extroverted.
I’ve previously in earlier articles described sacrifice as something that is not only of great value, but also as something that can help you “get to the next level”, so to speak. No, we’re not playing at Druids on World of Warcraft, but we are seeking to deepen our relationship with the land. Sacrifice is key in this regard, helping us to go deeper, to give more of ourselves in order to understand more of the land.
Many within the Pagan traditions see the Sun King as offering himself as sacrifice at this time of year, to be cut down as the grain is cut, to be reborn at Yule. Yet are we comfortable allowing the Sun King to do this each and every year, or should we also take our part in the sacrifice, participating rather than simply watching the cycles of life unfold?
And so I will spend the next few weeks walking the land, finding out what I can give, what I can do to deepen my relationship with it, to be an active contributor instead of a passive spectator. Some aspect of my self must be willing to die alongside John Barleycorn in order to understand the cycles of nature. Some sacrifice must be made.