Reblog: A Full Moon of Samhain Ritual

Here’s what happened on the full moon of Samhain this year 🙂  To read the original blog post, visit my channel at SageWoman for Witches and Pagans, at PaganSquare.

The candles were lit, the incense smoking, and the bells of the church ringing in the still night air. Friday night is the practice night for the village bell-ringers, and so our ritual was accentuated by their skilful tones. The moon was riding high in a hazy sky, and haloed with an ever-widening ring that spoke of the Otherworld.

We raised our boundary, which was to the whole of the property, and called to the realms of Land, Sea and Sky. We honoured the ancestors at the full moon of Samhain, as well as the spirits of place. We invited the Fair Folk who were in tune with our intention, as they have been a part of our rituals since we began. We sang to the four quarters, and then invoked the gods. We invited all who were harmony with us this Samhain night. This was our first time in invoking the god into our full moon ritual, but it felt right. How right, we were just about to discover.

We honoured the tides of Samhain, the winter months of darkness. We then performed our magical working at the fire, and gathering our clooties: ribbons of intention that we tie to the branches of the apple tree at the bottom of the garden every month. Walking back to the terrace where the bird bath, now a sacred basin of water reflecting the moonlight, served as our vessel as we drew down the moon into the water. The church bells rang in time to our working, and stopped just as we finished. The air was utterly still.

Suddenly, a loud bark sounded from the other side of the hedge, down the track a little ways. A fallow deer stag, wandering the moonlit night. We stopped and turned to the noise, and he barked again, this time a little closer. We looked to each other and smiled, feeling blessed by his presence. Then an enormous bark, just the other side of the cedar boundary, which made us all jump. He was right up against the hedge, near the little hole that the muntjac, fallow deer and badgers made.

And he was trying to come through.

We could hear him brushing against the hedge, wanted to come through the doorway, but his antlers preventing him from doing so. The firelight made the area where the entrance lay shadowed from our sight. Our breath quickening, we looked at each other. The God was here, and he was making himself known. He paced along the back boundary, trying to come through first one hole in one corner, and then the other. He then returned to the middle of the hedge, where the boundary between the civilised and the wild lay, that doorway to the Otherworld that lay in the hedge, and pawed the ground, sniffing the night air, sniffing the scent of the three women gathered around the sacred pool. Gathered around the sacred pool, with hearts beating loudly in their breast.

“A blessing to you, God of Samhain, Lord of the Wildwood. May your journey into darkness be blessed, and we are honoured by your presence,” I whispered softly into the night, tears falling down my cheek.

We heard him still sniffing, and we felt his eyes upon us. The world stood still, and we hardly dared to breathe. Would he change his shape and come through? What would we do if that happened? A hush descended, and we no longer heard him just the other side of the hedge. With hands slightly shaking, we dipped our clooties into the water and walked down to the apple tree, right where he had been sniffing just the other side. As we walked, we sang to let him know we were approaching. “Deep into the earth I go, deep into the earth I go. Hold my hand, brother; hold my hand. Hold my hand, sister; hold my hand”. We bravely tied our ribbons to the branches, knowing that the God stood only a few feet away from us. Stepping back, we finished the chant, and bowed to the apple tree and hedge, bathed in the soft moonlight. Silence reigned. We knew he was no longer there, and we didn’t hear him leave. He simply disappeared through the veil between the worlds.

We made our offering, and gazed into the mirror at the fairy portal shrine I made under the beech tree. We saw things: bonfires on the hills of Tlachtga, owl-faced warriors, deep caverns beneath the earth, the land of the sidhe, and the Mari Lwyd. We circled the fire clockwise three times for blessings, and then ended our rite, breathless and filled with wonder.

May the Lord of the Wildwood bless you all this season, may you find nourishment in the darkness of winter.

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017

Advertisements

Glastonbury, June 2015

glasonbury torI spent last weekend in Glastonbury, a beautiful little town where I always go a couple of times each year to refocus and recharge the old batteries on a spiritual pilgrimage. As a Druid, I get inspired by the land around me and my home environment more than anything, but if you want to see outside the box so to speak, there’s nothing better than a pilgrimage to a spot that has great energy and peace.

And so, my friend and I piled into the car and drove down to Somerset, stopping off at Avebury on the way as she had never seen it before. We had lunch at the Lion (a fantastic pumpkin chili burger each) and then walked amongst the stones. After we had completed our first circuit we went and spent some time by the Obelisk, in one of the two inner circles. This is a special spot for me, as it really is a gateway into the past; time moves differently in that circle. Sitting on the ground, placing your hands upon the grass you could feel time shifting and slipping in and out of the present, looking up and seeing what Avebury would have looked like before the houses were built, before the village came. It’s a powerful thing, going in and out of time, but also so wonderful: a reminder that time is not linear, exactly, but an ever ebbing and flowing tide.

After Avebury we headed to Glastonbury, where we had hoped to meet up with some friends and drum up on top of the Tor at sunset. By the time we had settled in and eaten, it had already gone past 9pm and we were just too tired, and had to pass on that little excursion. We went back to the B&B (Pilgrim’s B&B – I highly recommend it) and with a visit from the resident cat we went to sleep, having a big day ahead of us.

The next day we were up early – too early for anything to be open! Shops don’t open until after 10am (some of them opening when they feel like it) and the Goddess Temple was only open from 12 noon. So we wandered around the town, looking in windows and finally visiting them when they opened. There are some really lovely shops there, with good books, items and other pagan goodies (I highly recommend the incense from The Goddess and Green Man – Mists of Avalon and the Golden Sickle are my favourite!). We then went to the Goddess Temple, where we were able to find a little sanctuary from the high street. Clad in the red colours of Beltane still, it was a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Meditation is so easy in that sacred space. I asked one of the temple priests if he could smudge me and he did with some really powerful incense cleansing my spirit with skilful sweeps. Inside the temple there is also a Red Tent, where I always go for a second meditation session and a card reading using the Temple’s own deck of cards they created out of the Nine Morgens of their tradition. I got Freedom, and pondered that for a while in the beauty of the little temple.

We had some lunch and then headed to the White Spring, but it was closed. Sadly, the opening hours state that it is open in the afternoons on the weekends, but it is rather hit or miss as to whether anyone actually comes and opens them. So we then proceeded to Chalice Well, a beautiful space with lush gardens and a light yet at the same time heavy atmosphere of the sacred. So many people from all over the world have been there, and it is amazing to think how many feet have walked these paths, drunk these sacred waters and prayed by the wellhead. I did my usual ritualistic route up to the wellhead at the top of the garden, where a few other people were sitting. As I settled myself, I could see the usual golden glow of healing emanating from the well and flowing out into the gardens. Some young children ran up, and the glow intensified around them. They looked down into the well and then ran off, moving with the swift determination that youngsters do when they must see and be everywhere at once. I smiled, loving their fresh energy and youthful exuberance. Normally I would have been irritated, as I am not particularly maternal, but their energy and that of the well brought a smile of joy to my face. As I sat and basked in that energy I looked around to the others who had gathered around the well head. I realised the deep need for healing that so many had when coming to the Red Spring, whether physical or emotional or both. My heart opened to everyone who had gathered there, wishing them all the healing that they needed, my soul opening in compassion.

After a time I went to sit on the lower slopes of Chalice Hill, where the Chalice Well Gardens overlook the Tor. Meditating there for a bit I was able to send my roots deep into the ground, breathing into them and through them from the deep, dark depths of the soil. My heart was calm, my soul at peace.

We left the gardens and I met an old friend from The Druid Network, who was there with a friend of his. It was so lovely to see him, and even though I had difficulties in the past with his friend, my heart was open to them both – Chalice Well is such a place of healing, I cannot even begin to describe it. We all chatted and laughed, and then we continued onto the Tor while they made their way into the gardens.

As we puffed our way up the steep slope of Glastonbury Tor, the wind whipped our hair and clothes and stung our cheeks. It was windy, even for the Tor, which is always windy. We got to the top, and as always felt the energy whirling around us, pulling us up, down, sideways, inside and out. My friend went and sat on the northern side while I found a little corner out of the wind facing westwards. As I sat I could feel the energy that made this such a special place, a place between the worlds, between the earth and sky with fresh clean water flowing from it into the red and white springs below. It was then that it struck me – freedom. The card that I had drawn from the goddess temple. Freedom was not just physical or creative freedom, but also an emotional freedom. Letting go of hate, letting go of past grudges, we are then free. My spirit soared with the jackdaws that lifted off the grassy slopes of the Tor to ride down into the valley below. The epiphany had struck, not just as an intellectual exercise but as a real life experience, from start to finish in a single day. My heart opened in true compassion on top of the Tor, to everything on this planet, like it never had before and I felt a deep peace settle in my soul that would carry me through my life ahead. I realised that before I had only glimpses of the healing power of compassion, now the light flooded through my being, in perfect freedom.

We went back down to enjoy a nice meal and then relaxed in the B&B. Tomorrow we would finish our shopping and pop into the White Spring on the off chance that it would be open (it wasn’t when we were there). I was saddened that I could not actually visit inside the White Spring, where I had first met my goddess, Brighid, but I could still feel her all around me, as I always do, wherever I am in the world.

Our journey back was quick and painless, and exhausted I climbed into bed next to my husband, my two cats snuggling up as if I had been away for weeks. Going away makes you appreciate all that you have even more, even as it opens up new doors and allows for new experiences. Thank you, Glastonbury, once again, for a beautiful weekend.

Art as meditation

When I really want to be in the moment, when I really desire to let that sense of self slip away and enter into the present, in perfect freedom – I draw.  It’s a wonderful, meditative, creative process.  You stop thinking about the past. You stop thinking about the future. All that matters, for those precious hours, are the lines, the colours the shapes and the shading.  I am no longer there – I am in the drawing. I am in the sun and the wood of the pencils, I am in the rain and cloud of the paper.  There is a real connection, where the thinking self falls away and there is time to just “be”.  Mostly I use sitting meditation for this, but when I really need to go deeper, I draw. Yet, who is this person drawing, colouring?

No idea.

It just is. 🙂

"Avalon in Spring" © Joanna van der Hoeven 2015

“Avalon in Spring” © Joanna van der Hoeven 2015

The Little Pagan Monastery Weekend

945363_640774059272919_940773617_nI don’t think any of us expected the deeply moving and transformative powers that awaited us on our weekend of the Little Pagan Monastery Retreat.

Held over the weekend of 11 – 13 April 2014, we stayed for two nights at Little St Michael’s, the Companions’ Retreat House for Chalice Well and Gardens. I knew that staying and sleeping in such a sacred spot would be the basis for challenging soul work. We had 24 hour access to the gardens, which was a special blessing after hours, when we had it all to ourselves. The chance to meditate, pray and create ritual at the Red Spring was truly unique. It opened our souls to the very special power of the Vale of Avalon, wherein the Goddess was present in everything.

We walked the spiral path up the Tor, feeling the strong energies push and pull us in every direction as the wind whipped around us. We climbed the Tor twice that weekend, the second time to watch the sunrise. The mists of Avalon swirled around us as we may our ascent in the hour before sunrise, and settled over the Somerset levels in thick, low banks of cloud that seemed to shine with their own inner light. The sun rose from behind the far hills, a red-orange disc of flame that filled the soul with such joy it felt like we would burst with it.

A private visit to the White Spring later that day resulted in a very moving ritual, wherein participants immersed themselves in the sacred waters of the large, dark mirror pool. Souls were awakened, energy bursting forth from the dark womb of the waters and new journeys began for everyone.

The days followed a routine of morning, noon and evening prayers and meditation. Together we created a group prayer to be recited at these times.

We give thanks for this day

May awen and peace flow our way

In honour of this land we pray

Some participants had powerful dreams, which was likely to happen in such a sacred power spot. The lodging itself was incredible – a 400 year old building filled with such peaceful energy. We had the meeting room as well, a beautiful open space filled with light where we gathered for discussions and group work. The kitchen and dining room were huge – how many kitchens have a vesica pisces symbol in the floor?

All in all, this weekend was one that I shall remember for the rest of my life. What we learned from this weekend we will take into our lives wherever we may be, and use the wisdom of Avalon to nourish, strengthen and sustain us in all that we do. We prayed that Avalon itself was blessed in return by our love and devotion to the sacred spirits, and we look forward to returning as soon as we can.

The Grail Mysteries

The Grail Mysteries

Reblogged from my channel at SageWoman: My latest blog post for SageWoman… http://www.witchesandpagans.com/SageWoman-Blogs/the-grail-mysteries.html

These past few months I have been delving into Grail stories and mythology, looking for their inner messages and healing stories. I have been working with Jenah Telyndru’s Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery and Inner Wisdom since September, and have just finished reading Jean Shinoda Bolen’s Crossing to Avalon: A Woman’s Midlife Pilgrimage.  There is a lot of resonance and wisdom in both these books, that has opened up my eyes to the Grail stories and also the wisdom of Avalon in ways I never could have dreamt of.

I had always been fascinated by the tales of Arthur and Morgan le Fey since I was a child. Stories of knights riding out on quest, of otherworldly women bestowing kingship, of wizards and wisemen, chivalry and courage and love all held a special place in my heart.  I had always wanted to visit Britain, to see the land that these stories contained – I never thought I would end up living there, but life has its twists and turns.

The Grail Mysteries are utterly fascinating.  What I am currently exploring is the figure of the Grail Maiden, the only one able to handle the blessed object.  Whether she is Pagan or Christian is of little consequence – what matters is that she is the one who is carrying it forth into the world.

The Knights of King Arthur’s court see a vision of the Grail, carried through his Great Hall by a Great Lady – some say Morgan herself, others the Lady of the Lake, or an angel.  This sends them into a frenzied search for the Grail – most of his knights take it upon themselves to find this holy object, winning it for themselves, for salvation or fame, freedom or a connection with the divine feminine. Little is said of the Grail Maiden after this – the attention is all bestowed upon the knights and their quests.

The Grail Maiden appears once again in the tales, when Perceval reaches the Fisher King.  This wounded king is reflected in his kingdom, which is barren wasteland.  Until the King is healed, the land cannot be healed.  What is most interesting is that the Grail is carried through his Court each and every day, and yet he cannot receive its healing properties. Two questions must be asked first in order for the King to be healed – “What ails thee?” and “Whom does the Grail serve?”.  Perceval, in an attempt to appear grand and unaffected, being now a ‘famous Knight of King Arthur’s Court on Quest’, does not question the wound on the King when he sees it, though he does notice it and wonder.  When the Grail is brought through the Court time and again in a repetitive procession throughout dinner, again Perceval ignores it, trying to appear nonchalant. In his refusal to show empathy or compassion, curiosity or care he loses his chance to heal the kingdom and also his chance at the Grail and the Divine Feminine. The Grail and castle disappear the next morning.

So, back to the Grail Maiden – why is it that a woman can only carry this vessel? Many will say that women are natural vessels of the Goddess, and this rings true enough.  In Arthurian tales, women are also the bearers of Sovereignty, also reflected in other tales from the land, such as the Welsh Mabinogian. The vessel is the source of the Divine Feminine, therefore it is fitting that is it borne by a woman. Women bear children, bringing new life into the world (with the help of men, of course). There are certain things that only women can understand through shared stories and life experiences – moon bleedings, bearing children, social and cultural successes and struggles.  The knights on quest are seeking this source of the Divine Feminine, lacking it in their own souls, longing to reach out to the Goddess but unable within the constraints of their religion and their faith.

The quest for the Grail is also an inner quest – it is not all about externally seeking something that is outside our selves. Often the Divine Feminine can be missing from a woman’s life as well.  For reasons too legion to go into here, seeking out a female goddess can be a deep and meaningful way to connect with our own self and, in doing so, other women, humanity and the world at large.

What the knights seems to miss, on the whole, is that the Grail is Woman.  Through honouring Woman as well as Man he can come to bridge the gap, come to know the divine.  It is right there in front of their eyes, but they choose not to see it.  For women, coming to understand our own selves is the forerunner to compassion and empathy not only for our sisters, but everything. In seeing and seeking the Grail within, we can heal our own wounds.  We must also ask ourselves the questions that Perceval did not.

By asking our selves (the separation of the words, instead of writing ourselves is intentional here) “What ails thee?” we take the time to look within, to perhaps explore shadow aspects of ourselves.  Within many Eastern traditions, it is through meditation that we understand our selves better, and also understand and redirect our reactions to the world – ie. instead of simply reacting to an event, we act with intention, with mindfulness and awareness. With the Grail question, we can ask this of our selves as well as others in pretty much any situation, therefore eliminating a reactionary response to a more intentional approach. In doing so, we may just find the healing for our selves and the world that is so needed.

The second Grail question, “Whom does the Grail serve?” invites us to question our intention.  Whether we are experiencing pleasant or unpleasant aspects in our lives, we can ask our selves “who does this serve?”, thereby eliminating that which is no longer necessary, and bringing joy, awe and wonder back into our lives.  With old habits and patterns of behaviour that we wish to be freed from, we can simply ask this question over and over again until we have the answer that is required for spiritual growth.  We can ask this question in every aspect of our lives, from our weekly shopping (in order to make better choices not only for ourselves, but the planet) to our everyday interactions with other people.  If we are making a positive change instead of falling into negative, but comfortable patterns then we are on the road to spiritual progress. Reminding our selves of the Grail questions has been integral to my learning these past few months, becoming a mantra for everyday life.

In a patriarchal culture and society, the loss of the feminine can be devastating, as it was to the knights of the Round Table.  In our quest for wholeness, we can either run around in circles, questing after the Grail through established means, or we can simply look within to gain a better perspective on compassion and the divine, whether it be male or female, or even genderless.  It is the deep exploration within that allows us to bring that knowledge out into the world – we cannot simply spend our lives gazing at our own navels – we must bring the Grail out for the benefit of others. We must offer the gifts of compassion and self-awareness. In this, the Grail Mysteries are best served.

Reblog from SageWoman: The Darkness Within

shadowself

Reblogged from my channel at SageWoman:http://www.witchesandpagans.com/Druid-Heart

The winter solstice is fast upon us, even though technically the shortest night has already been upon us (for a brain-thumping explanation, see http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/12/the-astronomical-hijinks-of-the-shortest-day-of-the-year/282109/).  Thoughts turn inwards at this time of year, when in the darkness we are confronted with our shadow selves, should we choose to face them.  We have the opportunity to learn more of ourselves, and in doing so, better serve not only ourselves but the world.

Performing a meditative journey, I met with my shadow self – that part of your self that you fear, that you loathe, that you don’t understand as well as those things that cause you pain, grief, rage, etc.  This confrontation was very interesting – my shadow self described to me all the things that she thought I was, as well as all the emotions that crippled me. She delighted in telling me them, it seemed – with each utterance she thought she had gained power over me.  The words hit me and reverberated throughout my body – I literally felt them, each and every one.  When she was done I was still standing, though shaky.

I knew that in order to gain some semblance of control, I needed to know her name and so I asked. She refused to tell me, delighting instead in playing games. I finally had enough of it all, and named her myself in words strong and full of intention – “You will not give me your name, and therefore I will name you myself. You are Joanna Alida van der Hoeven.”

She deflated, knowing that I had named her correctly.  “I know who you are,” I said.  “You are all that I fear to be, all that I have been in the past for good or ill and all that I might be in the future.  But you are merely a potential.  The past is gone, and I am not the same person I was then. The future has not happened yet, and so no one dictates that for me. In the present moment, I simply am who I am, free to be who I wish, decried by my words and deeds and actions.” I remembered the words to my favourite film, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and faced my shadow self, stating “You have no power over me”.

The encounter was over, and I had emerged tired but triumphant.  Haunted by some aspects of the past, I have realised that they do not dictate who I am now. The past is there to inform us so that we do not make the same mistakes again.  The past informs the present and the future.  We are not our past, just as we are not our future – we can only be who we are in this present moment.  Our lives are filled with potential for good and bad and we can either let fear dictate our actions and allow past mistakes to re-emerge, or we can accept it; we can own our mistakes and become simply the best people we can be at this moment in time.

I have had a mantra over the last few months, that when I question my motives, or feel fear or grief or rage, happiness or unhappiness, I ask myself this – “Whom does this serve?” Taken straight out of Grail mythology, this question is the one that must be asked upon directly viewing the Grail in order to heal the wounded Fisher King.  These four words contain so much power, and have so many different meanings.  It questions us to look deep within ourselves, but also to the greater world at large.  It deeply explores our intention, which to me is one of the greatest powers one can have both within Druidry and the world.  Intention is at the core of every action we make – but we must look deeply at the intention before we act, if possible, in order to ensure that our actions are honourable.

In the darkness, the shadow self has power.  What we are unaware of deep within our selves can control us in so many ways. We must learn to confront our shadow selves, to acknowledge them, to own our past and our mistakes, our fears and our grief, in order to tumble out towards the light once again, ever repeating this cycle even as the seasons change and the tides turn. The awen lies all around us within nature – all we have to do is open our eyes to see it.

(The journey meditation that I performed was part of a series contained in Jenah Telhyndru’s Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery and Inner Wisdom.)

Blog image is from a quilt taken from The Free Motion Quilting Project: http://freemotionquilting.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/shadow-self-part-2.html