Living a Charmed Life

While the winds howl outside as winter lets us know that just because we have celebrated Imbolc, it doesn’t yet mean Spring is here, I have taken the last two weeks to rest in solitude. Staying home, organising and having a big clear-out, cleaning and simplifying has been a challenging fortnight. After the big family gatherings and the busy pace of the Yuletide holidays, Imbolc is often a quiet time for reflection. Being thrust into solitude after weeks spent with happy, noisy family members can be quite a shock to the system, but there are lessons to be learned with everything in life.

I give thanks that I have a home, a beautiful home that shelters me from the winter’s rages. As I lie in bed and hear the wind whipping around the house, the rain lashing against the window panes I remember that there are many who do not have this luxury, both human and non-human. As I walk outside in my garden, seeing the snowdrops and the crocus, the daffodils and the hellebore in flower I am reminded of the quiet, elegant beauty that exists even as the torrential storms pass overhead. The white serpent energy is slowly stirring in the ground beneath my feet, connecting all the areas of these sacred isles in a web of existence upon whose threads we can travel, if we dare. The hearth flame is utterly sacred, whether it is candles burning upon the mantlepiece or a cozy fire crackling in the evening. Being utterly awake to all these things reminds me of the constant stream of blessings and the sacredness of everything. There is nothing mundane in this world.

Chanting prayers to Brighid upon rising, giving thanks as the sun shines upon a new day, singing songs to the land as I dig into the earth of my garden, I know that there is no separation between what is sacred and what is not. I have come to realise that reciting little chants and prayers throughout the day helps to remind me of the sacredness of each and every moment, from preparing and eating food to cleaning the floors and windows, to laying myself down each night in the shelter of my home, my husband and cats with me. Inspired by the charms and chants, blessings and prayers found in works such as the Carmina Gadelica has led me to create my own, which is an incredibly fun thing to do in and of itself. But when applied to everyday life, singing my prayers throughout the day I really feel an ever deeper connection to the gods, the ancestors and the spirits of place. I can’t take them for granted anymore.

It brings a whole new meaning to living a charmed life.

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Blessings of Imbolc!

http://www.paintingdreams

Brighid by Wendy Andrew http://www.paintingdreams.co.uk

 

Blessings of Imbolc!

It has been a mild winter here in the UK, and though where I live in Suffolk we haven’t had any floods, the ground is wet and squishy (where it isn’t sandy) and everything is looking forward to a good drying out. The little lawn out back has done its usual shift from grass to moss, and is utterly delightful underfoot (though wet). Deer and pheasants are regular visitors, especially now that food is becoming scarce and we put out birdseed, apples and bread daily. My husband did the RSPB Birdwatch yesterday, and we had a good number of different species to record and submit.

The land is stirring slowly from its light slumber. Last weekend at Druid College we noticed the blackthorn is in flower already, and we had two daffodils over the winter solstice on the south slope of our garden. The buds are on the birch and apple trees, the crocuses are poking through, and colour is slowly returning to the green and brown palette of winter.

As we were out walking yesterday, we felt the sun upon our backs, stronger and warmer than it had been for a long time. The scents from the ground rose to greet our noses with a wonderful sharp, earthy smell. The birdsong is changing, and the badger mums are out in full force foraging to keep their bellies full and provide milk for their young.

It’s a soft time of year, when things happen slowly, unlike the Spring Equinox, when everything seems to happen at lightning speed. We awaken groggy from our slumber, and move with care, taking our time and not rushing anything. This is the goddess Brighid’s time, a deity of infinite patience and understanding, of mindfulness and co-operation.

Tonight I shall be holding vigil after sunset, and on the morrow honouring Her with all that I am. Having spent the last three years getting to know Her better, a shift in our relationship seems nigh, and I eagerly anticipate working with Her guidance and inspiration on an even deeper level. She is the land of Britain itself, the green paddocks and pastures, the brown heathland, the dark forests and wind-swept moors. She is the serpent energy lying just beneath the surface of the earth, stirring it awake with her sinuous movement. She is the holy well and sacred flame. She is inspiration. She is the adder basking in the sun, the ewe and the lamb, the cattle that is so much a part of our history.

I know not what this year holds, but I do know that I walk it with Brighid.

 

I kindle my soul with the flame of Brighid:

Flame of courage, flame of joy.

Blessings of the deep well be upon me:

Drops of awen on my lips, on my work.

May Brighid guide me in my endeavours

This day and every day.

 

I lay myself upon the anvil of Brighid;

May my soul be tempered by experience,

May my heart be strengthened with compassion,

May my thoughts be shaped by love,

May I walk forth anew with the blessings of Brighid,

The Forger and the Flame.

Working with the Gods

Working with the gods in Druidry is perhaps one of the most intense, exhilarating and powerful experiences we can have. Why is this?

To work with the gods, we require utmost honesty and truth. If we are to open our souls to the gods, and see theirs in return, we have to be utterly aware of who and what we are, baring all without the masks of self-protection, negation, pride or any number of human foibles. It comes close to the Wiccan saying of “in perfect love and perfect trust”, yet I would simply change the word “trust” to “honesty” here.

Trusting a god of nature may not always be a wise thing to do. Gods of nature do not always have our best interests at heart. Gods of nature are there to express their soul song, whether that be in the gift of nourishing herbs and berries or the destruction of a hurricane. I don’t necessarily put my trust in an oncoming storm, but I am willing to be utterly open and honest with it. The same could be said of any interaction or relationship. Trust is an odd thing, an investment in the behaviour of others of which we have no control. I’d rather focus on being open and honest in my relationships with the gods, with the humans and other animals around me, with the tree and stone folk. They do not necessarily require my trust, but by working and being truthful and honest, a deeper and more meaningful relationship is established.

Over the last few years I have worked deeply with Brighid. She came to me at Imbolc three years ago, as a goddess of these British Isles. She was the land itself, not a goddess “of the land”. It’s difficult to describe the difference, but in the bones of the earth beneath my feet I see her solid foundation. In the energy that rises and falls with the seasons I see her own tides rising and falling. In the air that moves across this land I feel her breath, sometimes filled with the scents of the sea less than a mile away, sometimes with the rich earthy scent of the heathland. The rain that falls is filled with her blessings, the sun that shines filled with her joy and nourishment. She works to her own cycles, and I must learn to work with her.

She is not always giving, she is not always nourishing. She asks that we stand on our own two feet and have the courage to help ourselves. She blesses my garden with her light, but she does not do it for me – I have to work with that, for sometimes it can be too strong, and I must balance it with the water caught in my rain barrels from her previous storms. I have to learn to dance with her, to follow her rhythms and movements with respect. I have to listen, deeply, to the music that is the great song, the Oran Mòr. From that deep listening comes an understanding and inspiration, the awen that is sought after and the heart of Druidry.

I cannot deceive my gods. Not because they are omnipotent, but rather the relationship wouldn’t work, wouldn’t flow smoothly if I was anything other than open and honest with them, about myself, about my relationship with the world. I wouldn’t be deceiving them, but deceiving myself by trying to hide behind facades. There is no room for growth, for change, unless we make room by letting go of certain things. We must empty our cup for it to be filled.

When we are open and honest with the gods, their wisdom and energy can flood through us, helping us to understand our place in the world, how we can work in the world in balance and harmony. This is an exquisite gift, an exchange of energy that we see reflected in nature all around us, yet which seems so out of reach for us so often. The mere simplicity of it all is what makes it the greatest challenge, for it requires us to throw away all the dross, to change our own mindset and see the world with a new perception that may or may not support our current view. To change our view of the world can turn it upside-down, can shake our foundations down to the ground. However, sometimes this is necessary in order to rebuild a stronger foundation, with clear perception, un-muddied by our habitual thinking.

Years have passed and still I am only beginning to learn this wonderful new dance with my goddess. She is teaching me new steps, new movements, new music. With an open heart I am willing to learn, to give it my best, and above all, to enjoy every single moment of it.

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.

Brighid and the Oran Mòr

This is a reblog from my latest blog post at Moon Books. I hope you enjoy it, and do let me know if you’ve had similar experiences. 🙂

I had meditated and tranced for nearly an hour before my altar, to the sounds of the birds outside and Heloise Pilkington on my cd player. http://www.heloisepilkington.com/index.htm  My cats joined me, sleeping in their respective spots, their purrs vibrating along my spine.  As the incense burned out, I came back to myself, having danced with my goddess, diving in her mysteries and those of my own soul.

I was ready now. Time to go out, to seek her, to seek the awen.  I packed a small bag with more incense and some water and made my way out of the house and onto the heath. Taking my time, walking slowly, I feel more graceful after my time spent at my altar, both within myself and within my goddess. Life goes easier on me.  I ghost through the trees at the edge of the wood, where heath meets beech and oak, and thirty feet away from me are the deer. A vast herd of them, probably about a hundred, lying down basking in the warm spring sunshine.  I smile and make a small wave of my hand as I pass by. They have come to know me, and do not run away, though they stand up – just in case.  I feel their vibrant energy lifting my heart, and my soul runs free with theirs. I leave them where they were, carrying on along the edge, where two environments, where two entities, two souls meet and intertwine. Here is where the potential lies. Here is where power lies.

But I move on, for this is not my chosen spot. There is a very special place to me, again that lies on edges, in a small copse of birch trees on the edge of another part of the heath, where a stream marks the boundaries between woodland, heath and farmer’s fields.  As I step carefully amongst the heather across this beautiful open-access land, I smile at the familiar faces of friends – the oak trees, the sandy soil, the great pines.  Then I see it, my special spot, the birch trees about to burst open their buds, everything hanging in anticipation.  Narcissus flower everywhere underneath the white boles, running down through the patch of woodland that hides the stream from prying eyes.  Spots of yellow, like little suns, laugh and smile as they stretch towards our nearest star.

I walk beneath the birch trees, looking at the fox den and rabbit holes. I find my place, a clear space of ground and here I put down my bag.  Looking around me, there are branches everywhere as the recent winds of springtime have brought many down. I gather some up, together with pieces of flint and quartz that lie upon the mossy earth. I make my circle of sticks and stones, and smile at the thought.

Lighting the incense, I walk around the circle several times, then place it carefully upon a bare patch of earth. I take my bottle of water and allow a thin stream of water to bless this sacred space.  Standing at the four directions I honour them for all that they are. Within the centre I recognise and remind myself of the three worlds: land, sea and sky. I use the ritual gestures that I have created over the years to emphasize my words, to bring them into action.  I breathe in the air, filled with the scents of spring, face the stream and call to my goddess.

“Lady of the sacred flame. Lady of the sacred water. Where fire and water meet is the greatest power. I honour you with all that I am, for all that you are. Lady of healing, lady of transformation, lady of poetry, lady of creativity. Show me your mysteries. I open my soul to you, to hear your song.”

A wave of energy comes towards me, nearly knocking me off my feet.  I balance, and turn around, knowing that there is incense behind me. I move carefully around the incense, walking as if through treacle or dark, sticky molasses. I need to lie down. The Earth is pulling me down, down into her mysteries. Carefully I lower myself to the ground, a pair of hawks overhead crying as they circle, riding the thermals.

I close my eyes. The earth thrums beneath me, the sky singing above me.  I hear it. I hear The Song.

Oran Mòr.

I’ve heard it all my life. I just didn’t have words for it. I didn’t know its name.  A few weeks ago, I heard those two words, Oran Mòr. It all made sense. The song of harmony, of life, of existence.  The sigh of the wind through the pines, overlaid with the cries of the hawk, the soft bass of the earth and the timpany of heartbeats of every creature around me.  They create a wondrous sound, a flowing song that speaks of life, of constant creation, or whirling through time and space. It sings of this blue planet and the stars’ dancing round.  The sound of distant cars are tuned to the wind. Everything is singing.

The song fades, and my eyes begin to open, but I am not yet ready to let it go. I refocus, and tune into it once again.  There is my own melody within the song, and the deer and the fox, the blackbird and the pheasant.  There are the rocks and the slow pulsing of lava beneath the earth’s surface. There are the soft notes of the light clouds overhead and the bright arias of all the stars in the sky hidden by daylight. I let this sound soak into my skin, into my being. Slowly it fades, and I smile as I now know a new secret. I have heard a new song, the song of my goddess, the song of all existence, and it is exquisite.

Slowly I get up, thanking the gods and the spirits of place for their beauty.  I take down my circle, the memory of the Oran Mòr still bright within my soul. I know that it is not something I can yet carry with me all the time – it is still too powerful, too enchanting. I would be off my head if I did.  That wonderful, ecstatic moment is my inspiration, my awen, and my channel to tap into Source.  I know where to plug in now.

Slowly walking back home, I see the horses in the paddocks, a beautiful white horse frolicking with his smaller, dark friend.  He looks at me, his gorgeous long face reminding me of Shadowfax, Gandalf’s horse from Lord of the Rings, descended from a race of noble equines called Mearas. Here is a modern day Mearas, his intelligent eyes looking into my soul, his playful heart and light foot moving joyously over the ground. He trots up and down his paddock, showing off his beautiful gait, where he barely touches the ground. I smile in pure joy. He canters, slides to a stop, and trots back with his friend at his side. His antics bring over the other horses from the other side of the fence. I open my soul to him in friendship, but he is too caught up in Springtime.  I smile and leave them to their games beneath the warm sun, and head home, the memory of the Song still humming deep within my veins.

This is what it means to be alive.

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Moon Books author with three titles released in the Pagan Portals series, including the No.1 Amazon bestseller The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid. She is indebted to author Alison Leigh Lily for bringing those two words, Oran Mòr to her consciousness.

White Spring, Glastonbury

My friends and I spent the Spring Equinox in Glastonbury, visiting the sacred sites and reawakening our senses, honouring our goddesses through pilgrimage, laughter, food, meditation and more.  I love going to Glastonbury, and especially the White Spring, where Brighid make her third and most insistent call to me to follow her down paths of healing and service, using fire and water, inspiration and creativity.

We booked some private ritual time at the “temple” (an old Victorian pumphouse that has been converted into a place of beauty honouring the White Spring) and those of us who were able got into the water – a very cold 10 – 11 degrees Celsius!  I adore this place, and the time I get to spend there.

Brighid’s blessings to you all.

White Spring 1 (6) White Spring 2

Dousing the Fire

Brighid is often known as the goddess of the sacred flame and of the sacred well. It is often said in religions throughout the world that where fire and water meet there is the greatest potential. Exploring her aspects of fire and water are extremely beneficial and here I shall talk a bit about fire; however, perhaps not in its most usual aspect.

We are all familiar with fire as flame, as external energy whether that be a fire in the hearth, the combustion that allows us mechanised transportation or the heat of the sun. What I’ve also been exploring is the fire within, that flame or spark of energy that ignites us to do things, say things, create things. I often think of inspiration in the Druidical “fire in the head” sense, but I also feel fire in the belly and fire in the heart. The fire in the belly is intuitive, instinctive. The fire in the heart is our passion, our love, our capacity for compassion and understanding.

The fire of the heart can take a long time to come into being. In our society, we often feel isolated from each other, even when we are literally living on top of each other in urban high-rise complexes. We learn coping techniques of shutting ourselves off from one another in order to function. We may have been hurt by others in the past and that causes us to dampen our flame of love for the rest of the world.

We also live in a society wherein it seems perfectly acceptable to douse someone’s fire. Think of reality shows, especially those that have “judges” critiquing the participants. Last year I gave up watching Strictly Come Dancing because I was tired of one particular judge being an outright bully, thinking his comments were humorous when they were in reality just plain mean. Putting down, making fun of someone who is simply trying their best to participate in a dance show to raise money for Children in Need is not something I wanted to be a part of. I can donate money directly instead of supporting that kind of behaviour.

We are so influenced by what we watch on television – we cannot deny that we are not. And it frightens me, especially with the amount of television that children are often exposed to these days. It is a rare occurrence, even where I live, to actually see children playing outside despite there being the most gorgeous countryside at their disposal. Whether that is due to parents’ control or other factors I cannot know – all I know is that when I was growing up the streets would be filled with neighbourhood children riding bikes or playing street hockey among other games. Are children nowadays being raised by television and computer games instead?

We live in an extremely competitive society, or so we are told. We feel that we always need the upper hand, the edge on a situation. We are now programmed to work against each other as opposed to with each other. We are trying to beat that other person out in promotion, or to be the best as everyone knows that the top dog is the happiest. We live in a put-down culture where co-operation simply doesn’t exist. We do not know our neighbours.

Living like this provides a perfect divide and conquer technique for those who want to keep us under their control. What we need to do is to reclaim our own power, and that of our own community. Instead of dousing the fire in other people, we need to cheer them on, to work together to make our lives better. It’s happening in small grassroots ways here and there, but not on a massive scale. In my own village, we have a village allotment where people can get together to work on group projects as well as their own. The village shop often acts as a hub for people to interact with each other.

What we need to do is to stop trying to take each other down and instead build each other up. We need to realise that life is not about competition. As a social species, we thrive better when we work together. When we douse the fire in other people’s hearts we are also dousing the fire within our own hearts. Every word, every deed with the intention of dousing another’s fire reduces our own capacity for love and compassion, to make the world a better place. Why on earth would we want to do that?

In her book, The Earth Path author and activist Starhawk talks about this very subject, exploring it at various Witchcamps. A proud supporter of community effort and achievement, of bringing power back to the people, she has worked with the various elements. She tells us of the results of working with fire and dousing another’s energy.

Throughout that week, we went on to reflect on the ways in which we put out each other’s fire. When we recognise subtle energies, we become responsible for the kind of energy we are putting forth in our community. The things we do and say about each other create subtle energetic fields that either support our work and our relationships, or undermine them.

Malicious gossip, backbiting, unsupportive criticism, and mean-spiritedness douse even the stoutest of fire. And because a fire takes energy to build and maintain, such negativity is wasteful of the community’s resources; it’s like use electricity not just to keep the radio on all the time, but to keep it tuned to an irritating and distracting station… when anger festers, when we chew over our grievances like old bones without expressing them directly, when we meet others with sullenness or resentment, we douse not only their fire but our own.”

We need to judge situations in our lives all the time – they key to doing so lies in not being judgemental. We also need to support each other. If you don’t like what someone is doing, if you think it is detrimental to the community, you need to speak to that person directly. If you just don’t like them, then leave them well enough alone. All too often it is easy to attack or undermine someone through subtle means – Facebook and blogs are often used as tools for such behaviour. We can so easily dowse another’s fire through incessant comments or insidious ways online without anyone else apart from the target being the wiser. Let’s stop this behaviour right now. It is within our power.

Let’s cheer each other on, and where we simply cannot let us walk away with respect. Let’s stand up for what we believe in without resorting to maliciousness. Let’s put some good fuel onto the fire of our hearts and that of others and in doing so everything will burn with a cleaner, better focused energy.

Brighid has taught me to look deeply into what is feeding my fire, and how I can feed the fire within others. For that I am utterly thankful.