The Journey Continues…

Well, another weekend of Druid College has come and gone, and it was our final weekend with our Year Two apprentices. We have worked with so much material, as well as so much self-exploration in these last two years, and now each apprentice is declaring their Chair, choosing the work that they will focus on in the coming Year Three.

It has been an honour and a pleasure to work with each and every apprentice through this two year journey, and it is with pride and honour that Robin and I are now guiding them in their journey for their final year. I have learned so much from each apprentice, been inspired by them and the work that they have done, and in doing so am inspired to continue the work that we started back in 2015.

We can learn so much from others, and widen our perspective of the world in so many ways. Being such a solitary creature myself, I often have to force myself out into these sorts of situations, being with other humans when I’d rather be deep in the forest or singing with the wild wind on a hilltop. But these moments of pure awen happen with every soul that we meet, whether it is a bee or a human being. Connecting, soul to soul with others in our journey through life can make the threads of awen shimmer and shine with magic and beauty that inspires us, helps us to continue, to carry on. It’s a give and take, a real and true relationship.

And so, with deepest gratitude and heartfelt admiration I see the apprentices off on their next journey. We will be travelling to Glastonbury on pilgrimage at the very start of Year Three in September, a journey that beings with the self and hopefully will end in utter integration with the world through each person’s unique gift of awen.

I thank you all for the journey, and look forward to continuing it with you.

Zen Druidry Online Course now available!

zen druidryIt’s finally here: the Zen Druidry online course! An extension of my first Pagan Portals book, Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life in Full Awareness, this 75 page online course delves deeper into the subject matter with practical exercises, links to videos and talks, provides questions to help the practitioner develop a broader level of understanding and more. A basic meditation audio file also comes with the course, to help beginners and the more adept alike in furthering their meditation practice. For more information on this course, please email autumnsong@hotmail.co.uk. £40

Excerpt from my upcoming Zen Druidry Online Course

Busy here getting the Zen Druidry online course ready, so apologies for the haphazard posting of late!

Here’s a short excerpt from the upcoming online Zen Druidry course, that delves deeper into the subject matter that was introduced in my first book, Zen Druidry as part of the Pagan Portals introductory books series. This course is quite extensive, with practical exercises, video links, audio files and more. We hope to release it by the Winter Solstice – keep everything crossed!

This excerpt is from the Wheel of the Year section, where each festival is looked at in depth and culminates in practical work that combines the elements of Zen Buddhism and Druidry.

Imbolc

The days are becoming longer, and though the air is still cold, the first signs of Spring emerge.

Extract from Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life with Full Awareness by Joanna van der Hoeven:

At Imbolc we welcome the lengthening days and the first of the flowers, with the snowdrops coming into season. For those that celebrate by the calendar, Imbolc occurs on the 2nd February. I prefer to celebrate when the snowdrops are out, as I find this more in tune with the seasons. This could happen anytime from beginning of January to as late as March, depending on the winter. Imbolc is also the time when the sheep begin to produce milk – ewe’s milk, which is where we get the name Imbolc from. For our ancestors, this was a celebratory time, when cheeses and butter could once again be made to replenish the winter stores. Again, the milking time can occur anytime in February onwards – it’s always a joy to watch the fields and wait to see the new lambs scampering, flipping their ridiculous tails! This is a time for preparing the seeds of what we wish to achieve in the coming year, dreamt up over the long winter nights, but not yet ready to plant – we must still keep these dreams safe. With Zen, we can apply Right Concentration to this time of year, and focus on total immersion in the present moment.

As we have been using Right Mindfulness in the time from the Winter Solstice to the time of Imbolc, we will notice in our environment when the first snowdrops come out, the increasing amount of sunlight each day, the slow warming of the earth. We will feel the energy softly changing, moving from an introspective feel outwards towards the growing light.

The festival of Imbolc is one of gentle joy. Agriculturally our ancestors in the British Isles celebrated the time of lactation, when ewes first began to produce milk. The winter stores could be replenished with fresh milk and cheeses, to last the hungry time through Spring until the land began to offer her bounty once more and awake from her winter’s slumber. Imbolc is also a Fire Festival in the Celtic year, along with Samhain, Beltane and Lughnasad. The goddess Brighid has long been associated with this festival. She is a goddess of fire and water, of healing, poetry, smithcraft and more. This festival became Christianised as Candlemas, again showing the fire aspect of this time. The growing sunlight is reflected through earthly fire and flame. There are many ways to celebrate Imbolc, including household blessings, the making of Bride dolls, Brigid’s crosses, and more.

Become aware of how fire is a central aspect of your life, in all its manifestations. Give thanks when your central heating comes on. Give thanks for the sunlight that keeps our planet from becoming an ice cube hurtling through space. Give thanks for the gas that powers your stove/cooker, allowing you to have a hot meal. Look into a candle’s flame, or a fire in the hearth, and commune with the spirit of fire. Look at how fire is manifested within the body, in energy, emotion and more.

The Druid pays attention to her surroundings. With Right Concentration (sometimes referred to as Right Focus) she can hone her skills in mindfulness. Concentrating on being fully present, little will escape our attention and we will live a more integrated life with the natural world around us. Right Concentration is a skill that can be achieved through daily meditation. We begin with focusing on the breath and the body in meditation, and keeping our concentration centred within. We then move that focus outwards, without losing the concentration that keep us from distractions, from our chattering “monkey mind“.

It is easy to berate ourselves for not having enough concentration in our lives. In fact, when we look at modern-day society, we see that we are being bombarded by things that actually lessen our ability to concentrate for any period of time. We have smart phones that allow us to stop whatever it is we are doing at any given moment (apart from driving, we hope!) and look at/think about something else. We have telephones that ring us when we are at home. We have television shows, sometimes divided into 4-7 minute segments (mostly American shows) with advertising breaks in between. Our attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter simply through the media that we use. Twitter has a 140 character length, and if you can’t communicate what you have to say in that short space then you can’t say it at all. Their Vine app makes looping videos that are only 6.5 seconds long. The list continues.

We have to relearn how to concentrate, how to bring our awareness in directed focus on a subject in order for our minds, bodies and lives to begin to settle once more. As infants, we absorbed information in rapt attention, no matter if it was a light shining overhead or our mother’s voice. Toddlers exploring the world are intensely focused, beginning with their first steps and then on their goal. We begin to lose our abilities to concentrate with the more information we have to hand, thinking that we can absorb it all without actually realising the repercussions it has on our lives. Technology has advanced so much that our human bodies simply aren’t able to cope with the information overload, and we need to take a step back and refocus.

Most of the information we are receiving is not necessary to our daily function. Reading some celebrity’s tweet will not put dinner on the table. Checking replies to our Facebook status will not get our toilets cleaned. If you’ve spent a media-free day a week during the Winter Solstice to Imbolc period, then you probably have realised the benefit of stopping the information overload.

We begin with a simple candle meditation, incorporating the fire aspect of the season and the one-pointed focus required in this meditation. Sit before a candle, and simple watch its flame. When thoughts arise, notice them by saying “lunch” or “meeting” or “cat” and then let it go, returning your focus to the candle’s flame. If you have a family, it might be better to do this meditation either early in the morning or late at night when everyone is in bed. It doesn’t matter how many times you have to bring your focus back to the candle – what matters most is that you do it. Bring your attention and concentration back however many times you need to. Concentration is a skill, and any skill is something which is developed over time. It doesn’t happen in an instant.

Now is the time to take it a step further. Literally.

Walking meditation is a brilliant way draw focus into what we are doing, and help us to integrate with our natural surroundings on the Druid path. We can think of each step we take as kissing the earth, celebrating our love for life on this planet. Walking meditation began as an interlude to zazen, or sitting meditation, to allow the meditator to continue with their meditation while easing their body from a sedentary pose to a moving one, allowing for good circulation and bringing some exercise into the practice.

Walking meditation can be done indoors or outdoors. Zendos (Zen centres) will accommodate both practices in their buildings, but incorporating the Druid path into our spirituality means that we need to engage further with the natural world around us. Remaining indoors has its benefits, enabling us to concentrate better with less distractions, however, we can practice this outdoors with great joy. We can then let this practice become part of our lives to such a great extent that we walk mindfully, aware of our movements wherever we go, whatever we are doing. It requires Right Concentration. Do what you can, whether indoors or out.

Not only will we benefit personally from walking meditation, but the land will benefit as well. If we walk with love and with joy, instead of walking with anger or suffering, the land will also share in this experience. Too often we believe that we are the only beings experiencing, however, we can walk in the rain and experience the rain, knowing that the rain is also experiencing us. Let us make this a good experience.

With the exercise and fresh air, we also release stress and anxiety, as well as developing a practice that allows us to be in the world by silencing our monkey mind and embracing the world as it really is.

If you are lucky enough to have a backyard, these are ideal places to begin. It is out of doors, and relatively quiet, safe and secure. If you don’t have a backyard, you can try a local park that you feel is safe and secure, or a botanical garden, or even a friend’s backyard (with their permission, of course!). If you live deep in the heart of a city and don’t feel that you are able to access public parks with safety on your own, ask a friend or relative to join you. If you have wild stretches of forest or heathland at your doorstep, go for it, but do ensure that someone is aware of where you are going, and what you are doing. Again, take someone along if it makes you feel more at ease. If you have a young family, doing walking meditation with them is a great way to spend time together.

Barefoot walking is a great way to bring focus and attention to each and every step. However, it depends on your circumstances and whether this is a safe thing to do. Broken glass and other debris on city streets are not conducive to good barefoot walking meditation; neither is walking through gorse-laden brush in adder country. Be safe and responsible.

Really notice the feel of movement in your body as you slowly take one step, then another. Engage your whole foot in the step, touching the ground with the heel first, then rolling all the way to the tips of the toes. Be aware of what both feet are doing at the same time. This is surprisingly difficult at first, but it will hone your concentration. Breathe mindfully as if in meditation. Feel the air on your skin, the sunlight or the rain. Notice the light or darkness, the sounds and scents. Do not become lost in these, however; simply notice. Notice without judgement. You can even say to yourself “sunlight”, “dog barking”, “snowdrop”, “icy path” and allow your awareness of everything to keep you going. When you find the mind starting to wander, or you feel you begin to judge something, bring your attention back into your feet and your breath.

Walk as slowly or as quickly as feels comfortable. Most Zen walking meditation is done slowly, but some Zen centres do practice kinhin quickly, to get the blood flowing. As with everything, mindfulness is key. Do this every day if you can, noticing how your environment is changing through the seasons.

Some things to consider from Imbolc to the Spring Equinox are:

  1. Look at how fire manifests in your life. Look at the inner fire within. See how fire can destroy as well as bring nourishment and comfort. Learn how to harness the power of fire responsibly.
  2. Do the candle meditation each day, and then begin walking meditation after you have sufficiently honed your concentration with the candle meditation.
  3. Be kind and gentle with yourself. This is a season which can be difficult, even as it was for our ancestors, who lived through the lean months of Spring until food sources became more abundant.
  4. Do a house-blessing – research various forms or come up with your own.
  5. Prepare the seeds of your intention that you kept safe over Samhain and dreamt over during the Winter Solstice. Find out what they will require to bring them into fruition, but do not plant them just yet. Wait until the sun is a little stronger, the air a little warmer, and life generally a little more forgiving. Learn the value of patience.

Exciting News – Druid College UK is born!

After months of planning and preparation, Druid College UK is born! Working with our sister college in Maine USA, the Druid College is dedicated to Earth-centered spirituality, to the integrity of our natural home, and to the crafting of sacred relationship. In short, The Druid College devotes its presence—and it is its sole intent—to prepare priests of Nature.

Foundations for this life-long journey are established by a three-year, intensive study. Unlike contemporary universities, Druid studies are furthered not only by personal reflection but primarily by ongoing personal connection and spiritual guidance of (i.e., apprenticeship to) a Druid Priest. In the UK as of 2015, those people are Joanna van der Hoeven and Robin Herne.

Being a priest of nature does not mean being an intermediary, but instead living a life in service, crafting a sacred relationship with the land, the ancestors and the gods. It requires service to the community as well as the land, wherein the priest acts as guide, witness or celebrant to a journey or journeys of crafting sacred relationship.

There are many Druid Orders and other pagan and earth-based organizations that offer solid training within their respective traditions. The Druid College is for those who wish to journey further. We wish to work with those who want to be ‘carriers’ of Nature-based spirituality – as compared to ‘followers’. We saw a need for a programme for people who desire to go deeper, for those who wish to be in service, to fill the role of priest for their community and the land they dwell in.

The College accepts as first-year apprentices people of all walks and intent. The focus for the first year is on the fundamentals of Druidry and reweaving our personal connection to Earth and to our ancestors and heritage. Commitment to the full programme is not required in order to join in the first year of training.

Our second year training is reserved for those who desire to continue their journey into the priesthood, to step into the role of priests of Nature, to serve the land and its people. Our programme is one of preparing people to be in service, such as prison ministry, working with the dying, or being a priest of the land, offering healing where there is desecration.

The nature of year three is that of being in the role as priests. We envision this year as one of walking the path and sharing those activities with the staff and other apprentices, learning from each other, acknowledging the work, declaring your “Chair” and manifesting it locally.

The Druid College is not an accredited college and offers no degree programme.

For full information, see the Druid College website HERE.

Programme overview:

Year One of the Apprenticeship

“Reweaving the Broken Connection to the Land”

Year one studies include:

Core principles and teachings of Druidry, Living with Honour, Grounding, Working with the Ancestors, Animism and the Spirits of Place, Listening and Druid meditation, Awen and the cycle of creativity, Working with the Nemeton, Developing Authentic Relationship, Inspiration and the Poetic arts, Storytelling and cultural heritage, The Cycle of Life and the “Wheel of the Year”, Working with the Gods/Deity, Anarchism and the end of Submission, Emotions and “riding the energies”

Year Two of the Apprenticeship

“Training in the Crafts of Shapeshifting, Healing, and in the Arts of Transformation”

Year two studies include:

The Awakened Life; Ritual Trance Induction, Crafting Sacred Ritual; Healing; Prophecy and the Seer; Defining what is meant by Applied Inspiration in Service; Ethical Leadership; Bridge-building as Peacework; Justice and Permaculture; Philosophy; Nature and Relationship to Consumption; Preparations for Declaring your “Chair”

Year Three: Practicum

Declaring your “Chair” and manifesting it locally

Purposeful Sharing in Community

Applied Trancing as Priestly Evolution

Training to Lead Ecstatic Ritual

Two large gatherings of the entire College

Possible ritual of Ordination

The Teenage Druid

Taken from my latest blog post at at Druid Heart on SageWoman’s channel at Witches and Pagans…

10361054_598064806967174_1548976491936707739_nWhen people think of Druids, the image that often comes to mind is not that of a young person, a teenager perhaps. And yet, how many young Druids are there out there, waiting to be recognised? How many teenagers feel the call to live in balance and harmony, with a deep love and respect for the natural world, and a great desire to live with honour and integrity based upon those very same things? Quite a few, I’m sure. I was one of them.

A lot of Druid organisations, groves and orders will not accept members under 18 years of age. This can leave the younger, aspiring Druid twisting in the wind, so to speak. Where should they turn to for information, for advice? Real life teachers are hard to come by. If they are available, many do not wish to teach the under 18s for various reasons. Younger people as well have all sorts of limitations. How can they find the right path for them with their limited means? Finances, access to resources, time – all of these can be very tight for the younger person who also has to deal with the pressures of school, clubs, family obligations and so on.

Most Druids first turn to books to learn more about Druidry. It is a great way to gain a good basic understanding of what Druids do, when they do it and how they go about it. However, they do not actually make the Druid. Books are getting more and more expensive as well, and may not be affordable to the younger person. So what can they do when they can’t afford all the lovely, shiny new books available on the market today?

My advice would be to go to the library. Research, if you have the time after your ordinary school work, to look up everything that you can about the Celts. This may sound more like a history lesson that actually learning Druidry, but the Druid worldview is based upon the Celtic worldview – they cannot be separated. Druidry grew out of Celtic culture and society, therefore to understand Celtic culture and society is to understand, to a certain extent, the world of the Druid.

Most libraries don’t have a great Pagan section. Let’s face it, even today a lot of libraries consider Paganism to still be a part of the “dark arts”, something of the occult. I remember in my local library in Canada, the only books on paganism that were available were two books, one called something like “The Occult” and the second all about Gardnerian Witchcraft. It gave me a tiny flavour of modern Paganism, but still it was far off the mark from what I practice today.

However, though the stock in the library can be scarce when it comes to Pagan, and specifically Druid books, it doesn’t hurt to try and ask them to order it in for you. Often, Druid books have very non-threatening titles which may pass under the radar of even the most vigilant anti-Pagan librarian.

Book learning is just one aspect of learning, however. Information is gained from books, wisdom is gained from doing stuff. Druidry is not a passive way of being. It asks us to be fully present in the moment, connected to nature and the world in order to better understand our place in it, and to live in balance and harmony. That is something that cannot just be thought about. So how does the young Druid go about this aspect of Druid learning?

The very first, and most important thing is just to go outside. Be in nature. Get to know nature, and let it get to know you. Watch the sun rise and set. Watch the moon rise and set. Notice the animals in your area. Record what they are doing – find out all that you can about their behaviour. Learn the names of plants and stones. Feel the rain upon your face. Sit under the light of the full moon. Walk in the forest silently, listening to nature around you. Look up to the sky and learn the names of the constellations. Some of these may be more difficult for the aspiring urban Druid, but you can still persevere.

Learn how to meditate. Again, the library will come in handy for this, and it’s free. There are loads of videos on Youtube on how to meditate – I love Zen meditation, otherwise known as mindfulness meditation. My favourite teacher is Thich Nhat Hanh

Likewise, there are videos on Youtube about Druidry. Even a Beginner’s Guide in several parts. Do a Youtube search on popular Druids, such as Emma Restall Orr or Phillip Carr-Gomm – they will turn up some great stuff. Also, Google articles by the people whose books you can’t afford or obtain – there is a LOT of info available for free on the internet. The Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids have a regular podcast, called Druidcast, which has music, interviews and features every month. The American ADF also have a great podcast. The Druid Network is where I got my start in all things Druid – access to all the articles is free. There are hours upon hours of information there – waiting to be used practically, to be turned into wisdom.

As some point you may want to take some online courses, again if schoolwork allows. A lot of Druid courses cost money, and rightfully so – there are a lot of materials and time that have gone into the preparation of these. However, most teenagers cannot afford the cost of these courses, or do not meet the over 18 requirement. So what to do?

Again, head over to the Druid Network. There are free online courses available there, with no age limit. I particularly recommend Emma Restall Orr’s A Perennial Course in Living Druidry. Robin Herne’s Polytheistic Druidry course is also available. You can even read Emma Restall Orr’s first book, Principles of Druidry, online.

Another piece of advice I would give to the young, aspiring Druid is this: do not become despondent when you find that many, many people base your wisdom upon your age. Especially on internet forums, but almost equally so in real life. So many older people seem to think that wisdom and intelligence is based up on the number of years you have spent upon this planet – this is, in my opinion, complete bollocks. I have known wise children and stupid adults aplenty in my lifetime. Please, please, please do not despair, do not give up. Continue to seek out your Druidry, continue to ask questions, to learn more. If anyone makes you feel stupid for asking, or dismissed you based upon your age, well, quite frankly, they’re not worth knowing.

Keep at it, and do not become discouraged at the lack of training for under 18s. If you love nature, if you feel deep in your blood and bones the rhythms of the earth, the call of the Goddess, the pull of the land, sea and sky within your soul then nothing can stop you starting on your path. Indeed, you have already started.