Review of my 2018

What a year it has been! Despite all the depressing and, quite frankly, rage inspiring bollocks from politics around the world, and the growing problem of plastic and climate change around the world, etc., etc., here in this little part of the world, at my home on the edge of the heath near the North Sea, it’s not been a bad year.

Hedge Druid CoverI finished the Big Book of Druidry (as I like to call it) and it was a labour of love. So much work went into that volume, and I hope that it reaches people like The Awen Alone did. I received so many emails from people about The Awen Alone this year, so many wonderful and life-changing stories, and I am so grateful that people took time out of their busy lives to write and share their story.

I also started on another book, veering away from Druidry and into the realms of the Hedge Witch. Stay tuned!

All this writing, combined with an incredible heat wave over this summer, meant that I was much more sedentary that usual, which has resulted in a sluggish body and a few extra pounds that I can feel in my joints. So, this last month I’ve already started to be more active, doing yoga and going for 5k walks as often as I can, and already I can feel my strength returning. I will be teaching intermediate belly dance classes beginning the second week of Jan, so this will also add to my physical activity. I resolve to keep this up over the next year, to be a healthy and as active as I can be, and to enjoy the beauty of nature right outside my doorstep no matter what is on my plate, or whatever the weather.

While writing the new book I’ve felt a shift in my own practice as well. I feel a returning to the path of the witch, where it all started for me 25 years ago at Melange Magique when I was a 19-year old investigating the book shelves of that wonderful shop, in between fussing the cats that freely roamed the aisles and lay upon the counters. With a lot more experience and knowledge behind me, it has given it an entirely new flavour. I have always been a witch, but I had to study to become a Druid. This is the basis for the current work I am writing, which I hope to finish next year.

It’s also led me down side paths that again were explored many years ago, but never fully completed. I’ve felt a call to honour the Germanic and Scandinavian deities that are a part of my heritage, and so my research and practice into the culture, folklore, mythology and more has been re-awakened. While looking at some witchcraft practices for East Anglia to use as examples in my new work, I realised just how similar some of these were to those of north and western Europe, such as the practice of a high seat in seidr. In fact, the art of seidr has intrigued me greatly, and I feel that this will complement my own practice of hedge witchcraft nicely.

Druid College UK logo (194x114)Druid College continues to be successful, and due to a high demand for online courses, next year we are putting Year 1 on hold in order to create an online course. This will consist of video and audio material, a downloadable book and online meetings with others on the course. We hope to have this available by 2020, fingers crossed! Our current Year 2 students are doing so very well, and it is indeed a great pleasure to be working alongside such people. After each weekend session, as soon as I get in the car with Robin, we both say how wonderful the people are that have chosen to work with us, and how blessed we are by those that have chosen to join. They bring so much, and I am eternally grateful that these first four years have been as good as they are, which is to say, brilliant!

There have been a few bumps in the road this year, which have given me lessons of experience to work from in the rest of my life. Having to say goodbye to my 16-year old cat last December was so very hard, to make the decision to end her life rather than have her suffer days or weeks of pain as her chest was filled with water due to congestive heart failure and she had trouble breathing, eating, walking, movement of any sort. That was the first time I had to make that kind of decision, and  although I doubt it will be any easier should there be a next time, and it took a long time for me to get over it even though my baby girl passed quickly and painlessly, I know it was the right thing to do in that situation. I suffered all winter long from having to make that decision, and my new boy Barnabus was a ray of light during that troubled time.

bullying-1As well, I had a difficult experience of another sort, when a peer decided to attack me on social media after I had contacted her to request permission to use two verses of an Irish poem she translated. To this day I still have no idea what set her off, but the vitriol of the attack was shocking, and the attempt to destroy me and everything I do quite mind-boggling. It brought back old pains of bullying when I was a child, and affected me on a physical level as well as mental. I realised this when I was walking down my street to the village shop, and in the middle of the street my heart started pounding and I felt very unsafe, like bullies were just waiting around the corner. I had to remind myself that I was 43 years old and no longer a young teenager, and no one was going to physically hurt me. It opened my eyes to the old scars that never truly heal, and I have learned how to better deal with such experiences. Namely, don’t read posts like that on social media, don’t get involved and don’t read all the uninformed comments either! Let the haters hate, there’s not much I can do about their behaviour anyway. As long as I am physically safe, and emotionally okay with a good support network of family and friends, that is what really matters, not what strange people say.  I’m still working on compassion for people like that though. It’s not easy.

seidr album coverBack to the creative front, I hope to add more to my Bandcamp page over the next year. I started an album called Seidr, which will contain the songs and chants that come to me in my work over the next year. Perhaps there will even be a blog post or two about the practice of seidr, but in the meantime there is an excellent video by Professor Jackson Crawford on the subject. (I have a total nerd crush on this guy!) There are also some good books, such as The Nine World of Seid-Magic by Jenny Blain, and The Norse Shaman by Evelyn Rysdyck. I also hope to record more podcasts for the page and its subscribers, as well as record the audio book for The Hedge Druid’s Craft. The Awen Alone and The Crane Bag are already on there as audiobooks, so do take a look if you’re interested. All of these will be/are available to subscribers, as well as any new material in the coming year, so you really do get your money’s worth!

So, for this winter I shall be investing heavily in hygge, being more physically active, exploring new paths and learning from past experiences. I hope that 2019 will be a good year for you all, and see you all in the New Year!

Love,

Jo. x

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Excerpt from my upcoming book, Zen for Druids

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.

Chapter One

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:

  1. That everyone has a Buddha nature: taking refuge in the Buddha
  2. The dharma reflects ultimate truth: taking refuge in the dharma
  3. There is a community (known as sangha in Buddhism): taking refuge in the community

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.

 

Questions

  1. What is it that you currently take refuge in? Does it cause further suffering? If so, what can you do to change?
  2. Think about the concept of everyone having a Buddha nature, or seeing the sacredness of all things. In Druidry and in Animism there is no division, no one thing being holier or more sacred than another. Everything is simply a part of an ecosystem, part of a whole. Where do you place any dividing line within your own life? Is a grain of sand less sacred than a desert? A drop of water to a lake?
  3. What is truth? What do you feel to be your personal truth? Stripped away of ego and conditions, what would your true self feel like?

© Joanna van der Hoeven

 

Happy Anniversary!

It’s been four years today that this blog has been going, and I just wanted to take this opportunity to thank you all for reading, following, commenting, supporting and generally just being lovely!

I received a letter yesterday from a lady in India who runs a school influenced by the teachings of Krishnamurti and many Buddhist concepts.  She also has a great love of Celtic theology and music, and took the time to write to me telling me how much she loved my first book,  Zen Druidry. It’s so wonderful to receive letters like these, and I’m continually both surprised and delighted that so many people have taken the time to get in touch.  I feel really connected to the readers of this blog and my books, and I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your words, your suggestions, your reviews, your letters, your support and more.

And the timing of that letter was brilliant; there is some good news to share as well! It looks very much like a follow-up to my first book, Zen Druidry will be published this year! Taking the ideas from Zen Druidry in the Pagan Portals series by Moon Books (this is a series of books that offer an introduction on  subject in around 100 pages or less), these ideas are further expanded in this new book, as well as offering more ways to blend Zen and Druidry, Eastern and Western traditions to create a holistic worldview based on reverence for the natural world, utterly awake and aware to the present moment.

I’ll keep you all posted on updates, and once again, thank you all so very much!

The Druid and the Stag

After Skyping yesterday with my friend and colleague, Kevin Emmons (who runs Druid College in Maine, USA) and having a great chat on the success of our first weekend of Druid College here in the UK (13 wonderful students, brilliant venue, great co-tutor Robin Herne and foraging expert, David Slate) I finished up some interview questions for The Wild Hunt, looked outside the window and decided I needed to get out into that sunshine. I had been hard at work all day, preparing my Zen Druidry online course and now wanted some fresh air, sun and that wonderful autumn smell that lingers on the sandy heath and under the trees.

I grabbed my staff (still with its ribbon of intention tied around it from our ritual at Druid College on Saturday night) and headed out the door, smiling at the sun, the vast amount of bees and other insects in the flowering ivy at the corner of my road leading onto the bridleway. I walked past the farmer’s field, bare barley stalks shining golden, greenish-yellow grass coming through the dried remains. I greeted the horses in their paddocks and walked out onto the heath, a Buddhist chant in my head.

Desiring to hear the songs of others, I tried to clear the Buddhist chant from my head by listening to the wonder, the symphony of sounds all around me but to no avail – it was simply replaced by another chant, this one a well-known Pagan Goddess chant. I sighed and let it be, trying to not attach to it or to the desire to change it, and simply walked on, paying attention to the light, the colours, the sounds and smells around me as the music flowed through my brain.

As I approached my special spot, a copse of birch trees set in the corner of a heather-filled wide open space, I saw that a large herd of deer had gathered beneath the golden boughs. I stopped and, not wanting to disturb them, sat down where I was beneath an oak tree. I took a couple of deep breaths and bowed low to the herd, to the oak tree, to the heathland. My mind stilled, the chants faded and the brilliance of the Oran Mór entered my soul, that great song of all existence. My heart was filled with joy, my soul resonating with the sound. How long I sat there I am not sure, but a stag calling behind me entered into the song, and I slowly detached from it, knowing that it was time to move on.

As I stood up, I noticed that the herd of deer had silently moved from the birch copse, and were now directly behind me. As I shook out my coat and replaced it over my shoulders, they began to move again, now heading towards the main part of the heath in great running, leaping bounds. I watched them go, letting their beauty and grace fill my soul with delight. As the last few does, meeping to their young left the area, the great stag appeared, his broad antlers heavy upon his head, his thick neck holding his head high and proud. He stopped, knowing that he was being watched, and I waved my hand to let him know who was watching him. He turned his magnificent head towards me, and we looked each other straight in the eye for many long moments.

I raised my staff up high towards him, my intention from the weekend’s ritual ringing through my soul: integration and compassion. I then bowed low to him, honouring him for all that he is with all that I am. We stood there for a few moments longer, looking into each other’s eyes, and I knew that he honoured me as I had honoured him. He then turned and lazily bounded after his does, carrying his rack with ease through the pine and bracken. Tears sprung into my eyes as I watched him leave, and I felt utterly blessed by this soul to soul connection. Let the awen flow.

Reblog: A Guide to Cultivating Compassion

Here is a reblog from Leo’s wonderful site.  Number six is the most difficult, but perhaps the most important.  🙂

A Guide to Cultivating Compassion in Your Life, With 7 Practices

“If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.– Dalai Lama

By Leo Babauta

I believe compassion to be one of the few things we can practice that will bring immediate and long-term happiness to our lives. I’m not talking about the short-term gratification of pleasures like sex, drugs or gambling (though I’m not knocking them), but something that will bring true and lasting happiness. The kind that sticks.

The key to developing compassion in your life is to make it a daily practice.

Meditate upon it in the morning (you can do it while checking email), think about it when you interact with others, and reflect on it at night. In this way, it becomes a part of your life. Or as the Dalai Lama also said, “This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples; no need for complicated philosophy. Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.”

Definition
Let’s use the Wikipedia definition of Compassion:

Compassion is an emotion that is a sense of shared suffering, most often combined with a desire to alleviate or reduce the suffering of another; to show special kindness to those who suffer. Compassion essentially arises through empathy, and is often characterized through actions, wherein a person acting with compassion will seek to aid those they feel compassionate for.

Compassionate acts are generally considered those which take into account the suffering of others and attempt to alleviate that suffering as if it were one’s own. In this sense, the various forms of the Golden Rule are clearly based on the concept of compassion.

Compassion differs from other forms of helpful or humane behavior in that its focus is primarily on the alleviation of suffering.

Benefits
Why develop compassion in your life? Well, there are scientific studies that suggest there are physical benefits to practicing compassion — people who practice it produce 100 percent more DHEA, which is a hormone that counteracts the aging process, and 23 percent less cortisol — the “stress hormone.”

But there are other benefits as well, and these are emotional and spiritual. The main benefit is that it helps you to be more happy, and brings others around you to be more happy. If we agree that it is a common aim of each of us to strive to be happy, then compassion is one of the main tools for achieving that happiness. It is therefore of utmost importance that we cultivate compassion in our lives and practice compassion every day.

How do we do that? This guide contains 7 different practices that you can try out and perhaps incorporate into your every day life.

7 Compassion Practices

  1. Morning ritual. Greet each morning with a ritual. Try this one, suggest by the Dalai Lama: “Today I am fortunate to have woken up, I am alive, I have a precious human life, I am not going to waste it. I am going to use all my energies to develop myself, to expand my heart out to others, to achieve enlightenment for the benefit of all beings, I am going to have kind thoughts towards others, I am not going to get angry or think badly about others, I am going to benefit others as much as I can.” Then, when you’ve done this, try one of the practices below.
  2. Empathy Practice. The first step in cultivating compassion is to develop empathy for your fellow human beings. Many of us believe that we have empathy, and on some level nearly all of us do. But many times we are centered on ourselves (I’m no exception) and we let our sense of empathy get rusty. Try this practice: Imagine that a loved one is suffering. Something terrible has happened to him or her. Now try to imagine the pain they are going through. Imagine the suffering in as much detail as possible. After doing this practice for a couple of weeks, you should try moving on to imagining the suffering of others you know, not just those who are close to you.
  3. Commonalities practice. Instead of recognizing the differences between yourself and others, try to recognize what you have in common. At the root of it all, we are all human beings. We need food, and shelter, and love. We crave attention, and recognition, and affection, and above all, happiness. Reflect on these commonalities you have with every other human being, and ignore the differences. One of my favorite exercises comes from a great article from Ode Magazine — it’s a five-step exercise to try when you meet friends and strangers. Do it discreetly and try to do all the steps with the same person. With your attention geared to the other person, tell yourself:
    1. Step 1: “Just like me, this person is seeking happiness in his/her life.”
    2. Step 2: “Just like me, this person is trying to avoid suffering in his/her life.”
    3. Step 3: “Just like me, this person has known sadness, loneliness and despair.”
    4. Step 4: “Just like me, this person is seeking to fill his/her needs.”
    5. Step 5: “Just like me, this person is learning about life.”
  4. Relief of suffering practice. Once you can empathize with another person, and understand his humanity and suffering, the next step is to want that person to be free from suffering. This is the heart of compassion — actually the definition of it. Try this exercise: Imagine the suffering of a human being you’ve met recently. Now imagine that you are the one going through that suffering. Reflect on how much you would like that suffering to end. Reflect on how happy you would be if another human being desired your suffering to end, and acted upon it. Open your heart to that human being and if you feel even a little that you’d want their suffering to end, reflect on that feeling. That’s the feeling that you want to develop. With constant practice, that feeling can be grown and nurtured.
  5. Act of kindness practice. Now that you’ve gotten good at the 4th practice, take the exercise a step further. Imagine again the suffering of someone you know or met recently. Imagine again that you are that person, and are going through that suffering. Now imagine that another human being would like your suffering to end — perhaps your mother or another loved one. What would you like for that person to do to end your suffering? Now reverse roles: you are the person who desires for the other person’s suffering to end. Imagine that you do something to help ease the suffering, or end it completely. Once you get good at this stage, practice doing something small each day to help end the suffering of others, even in a tiny way. Even a smile, or a kind word, or doing an errand or chore, or just talking about a problem with another person. Practice doing something kind to help ease the suffering of others. When you are good at this, find a way to make it a daily practice, and eventually a throughout-the-day practice.
  6. Those who mistreat us practice. The final stage in these compassion practices is to not only want to ease the suffering of those we love and meet, but even those who mistreat us. When we encounter someone who mistreats us, instead of acting in anger, withdraw. Later, when you are calm and more detached, reflect on that person who mistreated you. Try to imagine the background of that person. Try to imagine what that person was taught as a child. Try to imagine the day or week that person was going through, and what kind of bad things had happened to that person. Try to imagine the mood and state of mind that person was in — the suffering that person must have been going through to mistreat you that way. And understand that their action was not about you, but about what they were going through. Now think some more about the suffering of that poor person, and see if you can imagine trying to stop the suffering of that person. And then reflect that if you mistreated someone, and they acted with kindness and compassion toward you, whether that would make you less likely to mistreat that person the next time, and more likely to be kind to that person. Once you have mastered this practice of reflection, try acting with compassion and understanding the next time a person treats you. Do it in little doses, until you are good at it. Practice makes perfect.
  7. Evening routine. I highly recommend that you take a few minutes before you go to bed to reflect upon your day. Think about the people you met and talked to, and how you treated each other. Think about your goal that you stated this morning, to act with compassion towards others. How well did you do? What could you do better? What did you learn from your experiences today? And if you have time, try one of the above practices and exercises.

These compassionate practices can be done anywhere, any time. At work, at home, on the road, while traveling, while at a store, while at the home of a friend or family member. By sandwiching your day with a morning and evening ritual, you can frame your day properly, in an attitude of trying to practice compassion and develop it within yourself. And with practice, you can begin to do it throughout the day, and throughout your lifetime.

This, above all, with bring happiness to your life and to those around you.

“My message is the practice of compassion, love and kindness. These things are very useful in our daily life, and also for the whole of human society these practices can be very important.” – Dalai Lama

Chakra Cleansing Workshop

Yesterday I gave a chakra cleansing workshop at the Woodbridge Mind Body Spirit Festival. It’s an event that I attend every year, performing with my dance company and giving workshops/talks.  Here is a recording of the workshop if you are interested! x