Hope

Hope can be a double-edged sword. It can lift our hearts, rally us towards a cause, or it can lead us to the depths of despair when it dies. I’ve often wondered whether it is better to have hope or not, whether hope is a carrot dangling in front of us, or whether it is that very real need to invest our emotions into the belief that we can change our world. Back in 2012, I wrote about the Zen approach, in a piece entitled “No Hope“. The words that I wrote four years ago still resonate strongly within me, even as my relationship to hope has changed.

When we are at our lowest, we might still have some hope that things will get better. This hope may be the only thing that gets us through those long, dark nights of the soul. Then again, that hope may be what is preventing us from achieving things in our own right. Hope may cause complacency. If we work without hope, without expectation, then we may be even more motivated to make a positive change in the world in our own right, for the benefit of all.

With hope comes expectation. When we have expectations, we can be thrown against the rocks of frustration, anxiety, anger and despair when those expectations are not met, when things do not go the way that we would like them to. We want people to behave the way we think they should, for the benefit of all. We want our politicians to think of the people that they represent instead of their own agendas. We want colleagues to pull their own weight, spouses and partners to be there for us, children to love us. When things don’t go according to our plans, or according to our expectations, we might crash and burn. We might dive into darkness at seeing a new President-elect, we might look at the environment and realise that perhaps we have simply gone too far, and there is no remedy for what we have done. When this happens, we can lose momentum, we can get stuck. Hope might be the thing that brings us out of this stagnation, or it might leave us altogether, so that we are in an even worse state than before.

So how do we work with hope? I’ve found it useful in the last couple of years to work with Hope as a god. I’ve worked with Time in the same context, and it has been illuminating for me in so many ways. Working with the gods, we learn to create a relationship with them, one that is nurturing for all involved. There is a give and take, a sustainable and reciprocal feeling to it that means that we cannot rely on them to do everything for us, and vice versa. It is in mutual respect where we meet, where we realise that we are part of an ecosystem, and where we need to strengthen the bonds of relationship so that it functions for mutual benefit. We learn from permaculture that diversity is key, that edges are where things happen. We learn to work with both, and in doing so can make this planet a better place. If we give up Hope in this context, if we give up Hope as deity, then there will be a very real feeling of bereavement in our lives; we will be bereft. That relationship will be gone, and when it is gone then to whom do we relate?

Others would say that this might be preferable, and in giving up Hope as deity we then become more self-reliant. But self-reliance is a myth. We are all co-dependent upon everything else on this planet. We do not exist in a vacuum. We need others in order to exist, let alone thrive. We are not separate. Without the innumerable other factors in our lives, beings seen and unseen, we simply could not be. I think that this is why I believe in the gods. The gods are all about relationship, about relating to our world through a means which is personal to each and every being. This is why I’m starting to work with Hope on a new level, when it seems perhaps that all hope is lost. Otherwise, I fear I might spiral into apathy, or depression. If I work with Hope, if I talk to Her and connect those threads of sustainable relationship, then I might be inspired to solve a problem, mend something that is broken, reweave the threads of connection in the best way that I can.

Hope can be the spark of inspiration, the awen that sings to us in the dead of night when all seems lost. Hope can also be a force that keeps us from changing our lives for the better, hoping someone else, someone more powerful or intelligent will do it for us. But when we work with Hope as deity, then things begin to change. Hope will not save us from ourselves. But Hope may inspire us to do better, to be better, to be the change that we wish to see in the world.

Or so one can only Hope.

Druid College, Year 1 this October!

HF2We’re getting all geared up for Year One this October at Druid College UK!

In Year One We will be looking at core principles and teachings of Druidry, Living with Honour, Rooting in the Earth, 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”.

Your tutors are me (Joanna van der Hoeven) and Robin Herne, and there are still places available: for more information visit www.uk.druidcollege.org

Reblog: Immanence and Transcendence

Here is a lovely reblog from a fellow wanderer down the forest path and friend.  Her words are beautiful, moving, and resonate deeply within my blood and bones…

I have been pondering these two words in relation to spiritual beliefs and religious practise for some time off and on, now and then, here and there. As these things happen they came back to me as I was bent over cleaning out the cats’ litter trays late last week.

I have ruminated about the nature of earth based and book based belief systems. I have pondered upon the impact on the peoples from earth based and book based religions with regards to migration. I have wondered how to frame an understanding of immanence and transcendence that works for me and in my religious and spiritual life as a Druid…

To read the full article, click HERE.

Reblog: Druidry, Animism and The Meaning of Life

This post is a reblog extract from my channel at SageWoman. To read the full article, click HERE.

For many people, myself included, Druidry and Animism go hand in hand. Since the Age of Enlightenment and perhaps even further back in history (perhaps with coming of Christianity) Animism has gotten the reputation of being somehow backward, a superstitious and childish view of the world wherein everything is “alive”. This belief is completely biased in that it is totally from a human-centric point of view; those who believe it to be silly would say that believing a stone has a soul is absolutely ridiculous. This point of view is a projection of our human perspective, of what is alive and what isn’t, what is ensouled and what isn’t. It doesn’t take into consideration differences in the metaphysical. This perspective is often derogatory of Animism, yet it fails to actually understand just what Animism actually means, and what living with an Animistic perspective can bring to human consciousness.

In my opinion, we are in great debt to author Emma Restall Orr for exploring Animism in her two books, Living With Honour and The Wakeful World. In both, she goes into just what it means to be an Animist, putting aside the childish perspective and engaging with the concept in a very rational and yet spiritual manner. I remember when I first saw her speak at Witchfest in Croydon many years ago, when she shouted from the stage that the moon was “just a big f*cking rock in the sky!” (which it is). Believing that the moon is deity is perhaps a childish view of the moon, however, seeing the deity within the rock is closer to the mark, dependent upon your concept of deity. In her two latest books, defining the often used words in Animism of soul and spirit, she shows the interconnectedness of all things in contexts of philosophy, spirituality and science.

This interconnectedness is reflected in many, if not most religions and spiritualities throughout the world. Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh uses the term “interbeing”, even founding The Order of Interbeing, a way to live your life fully aware of the interconnections of all things. We cannot exist without each other – we are fully co-existing together. In a piece of paper, there is the sun, the tree, the rain, the wind, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, stars, clouds, loggers, factory workers, their ancestors, the ancestors of place, the foods that they ate – the list goes on forever. Since the beginning of time, if there ever was a beginning, we all come from the same source, if there is a source. We are all star-stuff.

Continued… to read the full article, click HERE.

 

Reblog: Paganism, Anthropomorphisation and Anthropocentricity

Reblog from my channel, Druid Heart,  at SageWoman, on Witches and Pagans

Gender roles can easily become too prominent within modern Paganism. In Wicca, the Great Rite is often enacted between High Priest and Priestess, symbolically or physically. Within Druidry, the focus is often on the product of the union, as opposed to the union itself. Where my spirituality differs is in the releasing of gender roles, and developing an exquisite and often ecstatic relationship with the rest of world. It is in that relationship, where soul touches soul, in the process of creating something wonderful which is first and foremost. It is not the union nor the product, but the constant act of creating and creativity, seen in the world around me that is at the heart of everything I do.

So much within nature is not defined by gender – scientifically or socially speaking. There isn’t always a male/female coupling in the natural world – there exists gender neutral or genderless beings, hermaphrodites and homosexuality throughout. Too much focus can be placed on a male/female union, or ritual, wherein we essentially become defined based upon what plumbing we are born with. For me, it is far too restrictive.

Some of my deities are gendered, some aren’t – I am inspired and learning from Brighde at the moment, but then there is also the deity of the heathland and forest where I live. This local deity has no gender – it simply is. It is everything, therefore how can it be gendered? The clouds – are they gendered? What of the sun and moon – so often gendered within Paganism (and of different genders, depending upon the tradition). Why do we feel the need to engender such entities?

To read the full article, click HERE

Animism Today

P1040954 (1024x768)What does it mean to be an animist in today’s world? Druid Emma Restall Orr describes animism as that which acknowledges the inherent value in all things.  This description, for me, is the best offered so far.

Many people can see animism as a throw-back to times when people were not so intelligent; the cavemen who believed in spirits imbuing inanimate objects. What I would offer is a redefinition of inanimate for, in my worldview, nothing could be inanimate.

How is this so? Well, I’m not a physicist however I’m pretty sure that everything is composed of atoms that are constantly moving (atomic theory).  Ancient philosopher Heraclitus theorised this yonks ago, claiming that everything is in a state of flux. Therefore, how could anything be inanimate? Most people, when considering the word inanimate, seem to think of things that don’t move, that aren’t “alive”.

So how does the dictionary define inanimate? There are a few: 1.not animate; lifeless. 2.spiritless; sluggish; dull. Synonyms: inorganic, vegetable, mineral; inert, dead. 2. inactive, dormant, torpid. Considering these descriptions, we must also consider the word “alive”. Oxford English dictionary describes it as 1.(of a person, animal, or plant) living, not dead; 2. continuing in existence or use.  Not very helpful, is it? Animate is something that is not lifeless, and alive is something that is not dead. So what is dead then?

I could go on.  Is the desk that my computer on dead? When did it cease to live? It is still in existence and continuing in existence and use, as the OED states something that is alive does.  The only change has been in the form of the matter. When someone dies, they change through the processes of decay, returning to the earth.  So have they truly died, or merely changed form?

If we cannot define what is alive and what is dead, what is animate and what is inanimate, then in essence everything should be treated equally.  With such loose terms we cannot and should not push aside what we do not fully comprehend.  Yet every single day millions of people do so, declaring that something is merely a tool, a resource, something to be used for their personal benefit.  The inherent value in something is in relation to its usefulness. Again, usefulness is such a broad and subjective term.

If the oceans are merely a resource, if a chicken is only a resource, then it loses its inherent value in the fact of it simply being.  We can then abuse it to our own purpose – mostly selfishness and greed.  We are able to pollute the seas because we no longer respect them. We cage hens and kill them once their usefulness in egg-production is up, or dairy cows when they have “dried up”.  They no longer have any value.

Animism honours each and every thing for what it is, whether it is bird or bee, human or cat, tree or rock, mountain or lake.  Each thing is made up of millions of other things. Each individual thing on this planet contains parts of other things.  Not only is everything inherent in its own being and value, but everything is interconnected.

Everything is made up of nothing – the essential building blocks of everything is nothing, if we go deeper in physics.  In this, we are all connected. We are all made up of things that are constantly in motion – energy always moving and creating different forms that we recognise as sibling, house, lorry.  For me, this blows my mind.

So does this mean that I need to bow down and worship the lorry that takes away our recycling?  Well, no, not really, though it’s an interesting concept.  Many pagans who also are animists have an apprehension or dislike for bowing down to anyone – but that is a separate issue. I have no problem in bowing to my gods.  We then have to define what constitutes deity. Again, I digress.

Recognising the inherent value of everything does not mean worshipping it. So, in seeing that the blackbird is energy taken form as a black-feathered bird with glorious song, I can see its inherent beauty and value.  But what of things we do not consider to be beautiful? I would posit that as beauty is so subjective, there can again be no limits on value.  Is a virus beautiful? For me personally, I think it is a remarkable thing. For someone who is dying from one, they may not see it in such a light.

Animism today is not walking around believing that the Moon is a goddess (though it may be for some, to each their own). It sees the inherent value of the moon and acknowledges it. We can honour as deity what the moon does to our planet, to ourselves. We can attach godlike qualities to these phenomena, creating a relationship with it through seeing them as archetypes.  We can lose the whole archetype consideration altogether and think of gods as things that can kill. Deity has far too many definitions and is again so subjective. It can be hard to have a relationship with something as vast as a mountain, so we create gods that we can relate to on a human level. It is difficult to have a relationship with an abstract, such as love, or anger. We relate to these as gods when we see the value of them and how they affect our lives.  The thunderstorm is simply a thunderstorm, yet it is also a wondrous coming together of energies that can change our lives forever.

In Druidry, we often hear the term “the song”. This is a poetic phrase to mean the energy and quality of a certain thing, whether it is the song of the wind through the leaves, or of the cat hunting in the backyard. It is the coming together of energies creating something that has its own inherent value simply by its matter of being. In animism, the song is what defines something as different from other things.

Through animism today, we can learn to create better relationships with the world around us. We learn of compassion and understanding, of differences and similarities.  We learn a new sense of gratitude and wonder. In my opinion, these things are not childlike or primitive, but the essential parts of being an evolved being.

This blog post is my contribution to The Animists Carnival: http://lifthrasirsuccess.wordpress.com/animist-blog-carnival/

(This month, blog Eaarth Animist is the host)

Honour in Druidry

The gods in Druidry, for those Druids who believe in the gods, are vast.  They may be ancestral deities out of myth and legend, the stories of the people from an area that may be carried through time, over oceans and continents and held within the blood of the tribe. They may be gods of wind and rain, of thunder and sunshine and the growing of crops.  They may be from a pantheon of gods local to the area, or from thousands of miles away.  With such a diverse range of gods, and what it is to be a god in Druidry, how can we celebrate together, or even separately as a tradition under the single banner of Druidry?

I purport that it is with honour that we acknowledge the similarities and differences within the tradition, that which is holding it all together. But what then is honour?

As a noun, honour has several meanings*:

1.            personal integrity; allegiance to moral principles

2.            a. fame or glory

b. a person or thing that wins this for another: he is an honour to the school

3.            ( often plural ) great respect, regard, esteem, etc, or an outward sign of this

4.            ( often plural ) high or noble rank

5.            a privilege or pleasure: it is an honour to serve you

Let’s being with number one – personal integrity and allegiance to moral principles.  Within Druidry, it is widely understood that one does not need to have gods in order to have a moral and ethical code.  Druids take their inspiration from the natural world around them, and whether or not they see certain aspects of nature as deity is irrelevant – it is quite possible to be an ethical Druid, or an ethical anything, without a belief in god.  What is most meaningful in this, however, is maintaining your personal integrity, your moral principles, without trampling over those of others. So, while an atheist Druid might disagree with a Pagan Druid on the existence of gods, having personal integrity means that you don’t stomp all over someone else’s belief, or lack of belief.

Number two, fame or glory, is an odd wording in my opinion – I would classify it more as an asset rather than fame or glory.  However, in Celtic and indeed in religions the world over, one’s  reputation is of utmost importance, and perhaps in this context it would work.  By walking our walk, instead of just talking out talk, in Druidry we know that honour means accepting the diversity of nature, and human nature, which includes religion and philosophy.  What we need to also acknowledge are the assets of others, famous or not.  A Druid quietly standing by a fracking site in peaceful protest is just as important as a well-reknowned poet, or author, or activist Druid that is more publicly known.  It also implies that those in supposed positions of power should think more on the repercussions of their actions, and how they conduct themselves publicly, though I would like to say that this should apply to each and every individual on the planet.

Great respect, regard and self-esteem tends to overlap with my points for number two, especially with regards to walking our walk.

Number four doesn’t really apply to Druidry, but in our own human nature and society, we still often revert to ranking systems in order to classify people, much as some of us absolutely hate it. We have Chief Executives in companies, and High Judges in the legal system.  We have so-called and often self-styled Arch Druids and High Priests and Priestesses in some Pagan traditions.  Often there is debate in Druidry over who is even entitled to call themselves a Druid, some believing that this is only an accolade offered to those who have studied for a certain length of time.  I personally don’t subscribe to this notion, but there are many who do, who state that one can follow the path of Druidry, without being a Druid per se.  This often follows a set of grades that those who follow Druidry study, being that of Bard, Ovate and Druid. It is sometimes, in error, also seen as hierarchal grades in which to achieve status.  After spending many years in primary and secondary school systems and indeed, in many other aspects of our society, you can see how many come to this conclusion – you need to get this grade in order to progress to this grade, etc.  However, in Druidry many Druids (and note that here I mean all those who follow the path of Druidry) don’t give a tinker’s dam about rank, and treat everyone equally.  This again has its roots in honour, and in honouring someone for who they are innately, as opposed to honouring a rank.

Number five, a privilege or pleasure, is a most interesting description. In my Druidry, serving the gods and the community ranks highly.  Indeed, it is an honour to call oneself a Druid, as it is an honour to serve that which inspires me – nature.  It is also an honour to share that inspiration with the community, with a deep respect for the tradition and for each other.

Honour is also a verb – and again there are many descriptions:

* to hold in respect or esteem

* to show courteous behaviour towards

* to worship

* to confer a distinction upon

* to accept and then pay when due (a cheque, draft, etc)

* to keep (one’s promise); fulfil (a previous agreement)

* to bow or curtsy to (one’s dancing partner)

Again, many of these overlap with the noun descriptives. However, there are some that hold a particular resonance with me, and are perhaps more poignant as a verb than as a noun.  To show courteous behaviour towards another is quite important, as a) it is just a nicer way to deal with the world at large, and b) it implies a certain respect for other souls who are sharing this planet with us, whether they are human or non-human.  I show equal courteous behaviour to a tree as I would a relative, or a person on the bus – in my mind they are all souls sharing this journey of life. Whilst I maintain boundaries in dealing with people, and indeed, those who refuse act with similar courtesy are then relegated to the outer bounds of my interaction, there is still a basic understanding of human and non-human functioning and a shared existence.

Equating the word honour with the word worship is quite a tricky one. Many atheists would balk at it, with good cause.  Many Druids, even those who have a relationship with the gods do not like the term “worship”, as it implies a subservience, at least in today’s society.  Its roots in Old English stem from weorthscipe, the worth of something to the person.  This perhaps is more meaningful. The gods are worthy of my praise, of my attention, and so I worship deity.  This is not however, universally held within the tradition, and can cause problems, most of which are linguistically based.

So, when dealing with the concept of honour, we begin to see how this can create a cohesive bonding in such a varied landscape of paths that all fall under the banner of Druidry.  For many, it also comes down to an awareness of the spirit of everything – each thing’s own inherent consciousness, and each thing’s own inherent value, often known as animism.  When we realise the worth of something, and not in a financial or in a resource sort of way, but its own inherent worth, we then act with honour in our relationship to it.  So, a political Druid who often gets media attention through their behaviour and who you often may roll your eyes at, has his or her own inherent worth.  A wasp that is trying to get in your nice cold pint of beer has its own inherent worth.  Even the troll who is trying to get a rise out of you on an internet social media forum has its own inherent worth.

In seeing the inherent worth in everything, something even more accepting than tolerance is gained – it is more akin perhaps to an immersion with everything around you, rather than a passive acceptance.  The acknowledgement is participatory, instead of passive.  Druids, when celebrating together, can acknowledge the beauty and diversity, rather than simply tolerate each other’s beliefs.  It is much more meaningful that way, much more poignant.  Nature does not tolerate diversity, nature IS diversity.

Therefore, Druids too are diversity.

*taken from dictionary.com