New Weekly Podcast!

_MG_9433I’m starting up a weekly podcast on my Bandcamp page! Every week I aim to discuss an aspect of Druidry and Paganism, which will be available to download or stream through the site. To listen to all the podcasts you will need to be a subscriber, though I will offer one podcast a month for free. By being a subscriber, you will also have full access to the entire back catalogue, including the audio version of bestselling book, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid.

To listen to the first podcast, click here: https://joannavanderhoeven.bandcamp.com/track/the-importance-of-daily-practice

Subscribe now to my Bandcamp page, for weekly podcasts, audiobooks, meditations, music, talks and more. Until January, this will only be £10 for a yearly subscription (a year from the date you joined). After that, the price will be going up, so subscribe now for the best deal!

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Finding the Balance: Wedding Discipline to Devotion

Finding the Balance: Wedding Discipline to Devotion

Our culture of “not good enough” is so rampant, that it can be terribly hard to disassociate oneself from it. I was able to come to terms with the capitalist way of life here in our Western world through Eastern means, specifically through Zen Buddhism. That led to deep meditation, of simply being in the moment, of enjoying the simple things in life while maintaining a deep discipline of distancing myself from the “not good enough life” into one where “it is enough”. This occurred on both a physical and spiritual level. Indeed, it usually does, because the two cannot be separated from each other.

The discipline aspect was hard, at first. I didn’t feel like meditating, like being in the moment. I would do so without any spiritual or religious intent, per se; it was merely to be in the moment, experiencing my body without distraction, noticing my thoughts. As I became more proficient at this, through sheer dogged determination and mule-minded stubborness, the light began to shine through the cracks that had opened up in my mind and in my way of being in the world. I could see that it was all illusion, that what my mind created was illusion, that the way we thought and acted in the world was all based on illusion. At first I was angry at the deception, then I was sad, depressed at the state of the world and not seeing a way through. But through perseverance, I came through the other side. How did I persevere? Again, it was discipline, but this time it was wedded to devotion.

Discipline itself wasn’t enough to get me through. I knew I could do it, and indeed I had. But when I dropped out many things in my life, all the illusory things, I didn’t at the time realise that I had to fill up the hole that they left with something more nourishing. Instead, it left me feeling empty, which at first was an interesting way to be, but then voracious hunger kicks in, when we’re empty, when we need refuelling. Carefully deciding on the path that I wanted to take, in order to find and maintain a sovereign sense of self, I brought devotion into my practice, in order to grasp that deep intention and give meaning to all that I did. After all, isn’t that the meaning of life? To give your life meaning?

And so I devoted myself to the gods of my local landscape, and several other “traditional” gods within the Celtic pantheon, some that I had worked with for decades, others which called to me to come and dance with them, for however long or short a while. And so I did, weaving discipline, daily discipline, with devotion, giving meaning to the work that I did, both for myself and for the wider world. When the hole was filled, through the previous emptying of my mind and soul, it was enough.

This is not a one-off process, however. Every day I am learning just what enough means. We are bombarded each and every day by media trying to create feelings of inadequacy. It brings to mind the Druid maxim: the Truth against the World. I have to hold my truth, against that of the world around me which seeks to distance myself from my truth. I have to work hard to be sovereign of myself. The hard work is worth the effort.

That’s not to say that I don’t have my bad days, that I don’t slip into despair every now and then, of my own failings and that of the world. But when I go outside, listen to the blackbird singing songs of the Otherworld, when I see the herd of deer running through the woods, or the bloated corpse of a fallow deer rotting down into the leafmould; when I see the hawk flying over the treetops, screaming in hunger or joy, or the waves of the sea gently lapping the shingle and whispering secrets of the murky depths, I come back to an awareness of the Mystery. That Mystery is that the world is more than me, that I am a part of a great web, a connecting thread in all that there is, all that ever was, and all that shall ever be. I am the awen, from the depths I sing.

It’s important to remember that human beings are part of nature. Our culture tries to create the illusion of separateness, but when we pull back the veil we see the interconnectedness of all things. The air that I breathe is oxygen created by trees and plankton, grasses and daisies. They in turn take a deep breath of the carbon I expel from my lungs, in one great harmonious intake and outtake of a World Breath. Just breathing can connect us to each other, can remind us of that connection each and every day. That was why the sitting meditation, or zazen of my earlier days, of just focusing and concentrating on breathing was such a great stepping stone in my life. From there, from just sitting and breathing with the world, I came to a sense of connection that led to a life of devotion, where I work to achieve a sovereignty of self in a world that seeks to make me its subject and slave.

We might think that we aren’t equipped to do the daily practice, to help others, much less help ourselves. But we are, if we remember. Re-member: to bring together disparate parts of ourselves. If we remember that connection, the threads of awen that connect each and every life form to each other, then we can work to know that our existence is not just a mere blight on the planet. We have destroyed so much, and we are at a tipping point, for sure. But there is also the great possibility that this is the moment where we all wake up. That humanity undergoes a revolution of its own mind, its hive mind. That we open up to the wonderful magic of possibility. That we are able to use our intelligence, discipline, compassion, empathy and more to make this world a better place. Is this altruism? Not entirely, because we also will benefit greatly from this revolution. We are doing it because we know that we are all connected. We are all related.

For me, wedding discipline to devotion helped to give my life meaning, and to put my feet upon the path towards this revolution. Working with love and compassion, for myself and for the world around me gives my life meaning. Even when I’m not feeling particularly loving, especially towards humanity, I have to remember the potential, the possibility that we can change, that we can reweave our connection to the land. It’s the basis of the work I do at Druid College, to hope to inspire people find their sovereign self, to come to know what enough really is, to work with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place and to really understand on a deep level that we are the land. There is no separation. Lying down upon the mossy ground in my backyard, underneath the beech tree, tiny buds appearing on its ever-expanding canopy year upon year, I look up into the blue sky just beyond the tangled web and know that there is always possibility, that there is always change. Buddhism and Zen teach of impermanence; so too does Druidry, in the natural flow and cycles of the seasons of our lives. When we truly come to understand the nature of impermanence, we come to truly know abundance.

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017

Reblog: Dedication, Devotion and Duty

This is a reblog from my channel at Moon Books:

Spring has sprung, and everything, myself included, seems to be go going throttle.  My garden is awash in a sea of yellow daffodils and forsythia, contrasted by the purples and pinks of grape hyacinths, hellebore and crocuses.  The birds are singing their heart out, the owls are very active at night and the air is tingling with the anticipation of warm summer days to come.

And yet I must remind myself to slow down, to savour the moment, to remember my intention for this year; to take a step back and focus on studying, learning and personal development.  Speaking engagements and workshops are kept to a minimum, and I’ve learned to say “no” in order to keep to my resolution.  My third book for Moon Books, a guide for solitary Druid, is in its proofing stages, and after that is done I shall be able to work on a long neglected fourth project; a pagan fiction centred around Avalon.  My focus is set, my path is determined.

As I walked a turf labyrinth with three lovely sister souls before the spring equinox this year, three words kept thrumming through my veins and in my head as I made my way to the centre.  Dedication. Devotion. Duty.  I felt them vibrate in my very soul, the words reminding me of what it means to be a Druid, even when you’re a Druid that’s taking a year off from ceremonial work and other engagements.

These three things are central to my personal Druidry.  Without them, I cannot rightly call myself a Druid.

Dedication – this word has so many slightly varying meanings and applications.  I am dedicated to my gods, to my path, to the land where I live, to my family and to my community.  The word, dedicate comes from the latin dedicare – to declare, to devote, to indicate and consecrate.  I declare to all my spiritual path in the usage of the word Druid.  I indicate my intentions to follow that path through my words and, more importantly, my actions.  The world to me is consecrate – there is no unsacred place. Through how I live my life; I demonstrate my dedication to being a Druid.  Everything that I do reflects my Druid worldview.  I am utterly dedicated to this life path, feeling it stir my passion and fill me with awen.

In our society today, dedication can seem a bit off-putting.  If someone is dedicated to a cause, they may sometimes appear a bit too outside of the status quo.  It can have connotations of fanaticism (another word that’s meaning has changed since its original latin origin).  If I tell someone that I am dedicated to my gods, whether they are pagan or not, I can get some pretty odd looks. A lot of people may think that when I say this, I am giving over my entire life to another.  This is not the case – this is using the inspiration from the gods, from the land, from the land, sea and sky to guide me to living a harmonious, more holistic life utterly attuned with nature.  If I gave my life over to my gods I would not be able to function.  I have free will. I am dedicated to them and their teachings through the natural cycles, but dedication does not equal submission…

Read the full article HERE

What does it mean to be a Druid today?

acornWhat does it mean to be a Druid in this modern day and age?

Being a Druid today does not mean trying to live in the same manner as our Celtic ancestors did in this land. We simply couldn’t – with our technology and changed world, our religion or spirituality must change. We can still follow the intention of our ancestors of blood, of the land or of tradition.  We can honour the land upon which we live, work to live in tune with the natural cycles of life, and live a life that is filled with honour, integrity and truth.  These latter three haven’t changed much over the course of millennia; they are still pretty much the same as they always were. Honour is living with great respect for yourself and for the world, for living a life filled with integrity and truth. Integrity is having the will to stand for what you believe in, even through the darkest nights of the soul.  It is standing strong though buffeted by high winds; it is living your soul truth.  Truth is living in accordance to the natural principle of life; it is finding your place in life and not working out of the bounds that our own bodies and souls are bound to in this life.  It is living in accordance with the natural world.

The Druids of old lived their religion – it wasn’t just a matter for the weekend, or eight times a year during the festivals.  Today we too can truly live our religion, allowing it to imbue our spirit with the inspiration to live a life that is wholly integrated between the spiritual and the mundane – in fact, the Druid would say that there is no separation, whether she be a Druid from the Iron Age or a Druid today. It is living in service, giving back for that which sustains us. We may not have the status of the Druids of old, which could be of benefit or detriment – power can corrupt, even as it can make the world a better place. Druids today show their power in their service and devotion to the natural world – from being a judge in the law courts to an RSPCA animal rescuer.  Our love of nature, whether bestowed by ancient or modern Druids, guides our way of life and our worldview.

The Druids of old were of the Celtic peoples – yet today one can be called a Druid without any Celtic ancestry.  Within Druidry, we honour the ancestors in a triad – ancestors of blood, of land and of tradition.  Where we may lack in one, we may find inspiration and guidance from the other two.  As far as I am aware, I have no Celtic ancestry in my recent heritage, however living in Britain and following teachers on the Druid path fill out two sides of the triad, providing me with balance.  I learn from studying what the Celtic worldview was like, from politics and culture, art and history, archaeology and more.  This fills in the last gap, which, all things considered, even those people who can claim Celtic descent should fully investigate. For those of Celtic descent living in other places of the world, their blood and tradition help to balance out their work with the spirits of a new land, and so on.

I do not try to reconstruct what the ancients did – that would not make sense in the modern world.  I understand things that the ancestors did not about nature – equally they understood things that I never could.  I use my knowledge, which is ever growing, to help me adapt my religion to better harmonise and be in balance with the world.  I use the Celtic worldview, as stated above, to guide me to live in accordance with the time and space of the here and now.

Druidry is all about relationship, whether ancient or modern.  While the ancient Druids may have tried to placate the gods with offerings or sacrifice, modern Druids may appear to do the same, but not for quite the same reasons.  We can never truly know the reasons why the ancients did what they did, as they did not write it down.  However, today we may offer daily gifts of thanks to the spirits of place in order to establish a relationship with them, to better understand and to show our gratitude. In relationship there is give and take – we seek the balance in all things.  We may howl at the wind in an attempt to understand why we are standing in the rain, soaked to our underwear, and receive the most blessed inspiration in doing so. We may just get wet.

Ancient Druids were the educated class, from what we can gather from the historical accounts by others about Druidry.  Today, Druids seek to sacrifice ignorance and to learn all that we can about our place in the world.  A Druid might be inspired to heal with herbs, and learn all that he can about that path. Another might be a poet or author, and use words to convey the awen bestowed by the gods, the ancestors and the land. Yet another might be a park ranger, working to protect wildlife – the possibilities are endless.  What links them all is in the continuous learning – we can never know everything about anything.  Druids are constantly learning. Even teachers and priests in the community are always learning, and never afraid to do so, for to do otherwise is simply allowing pride and passivity to come in the way of our relationship with the world.

It goes without saying that all Druids have a love and affinity with nature.  This love guides us in all that we do; it is our inspiration, our awen.  To be a Druid today is to live in accordance with nature, honouring nature in all that we do, with dedication and devotion, in service to the land, our gods and the community. In that, it is not so different from what we believe the ancients did!