Excerpt from “The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices”

Here is an excerpt from my upcoming book, The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices. You can pre-order it now from Amazon, and it will out in a few months. May we be the awen!

Journeying

Journeying is another form of meditation often used in Druidry, where the meditator goes on an inner journey. We might be seeking a deeper connection to our ancestors, or to the spirits of place, the gods, the sidhe and other denizens of this world and the Otherworld. There are many tales in Celtic mythology of a hero journeying, usually over water, to gain wisdom and insight into their lives (in Celtic Irish myth known as immrama). Today, we might be seeking allies from this world and the Otherworld to work with in the future. In the following journeying meditation, we will go to find a spirit ally, perhaps an ancestor of tradition, who may be able to guide us in our future work.

Sit in your meditative posture, and take three long, deep breaths to cleanse your mind and body. Allow your thoughts to quieten, and once you are ready begin the following visualisation.

You stand at the edge of a lake, the still water reflecting the sky above. Hanging on a small tree next to you, you see a silver branch, much like the one you own. You reach out and take the branch in your hands, shaking it three times. You then return the branch, and it slowly fades from view. Turning your gaze to the lake, you see a mist begin to form. The mist comes closer to where you are standing on the shoreline. Out of the mist, a small, flat-bottomed boat appears, paddled by two cloaked and hooded figures. Silently the boat approaches the shore, and stops with a soft bump upon the edge of the lake.

One of the figures turns and stands up, reaching out a hand to help you into the boat. You take the hand and step into the vessel, moving to the front where a small bench awaits you. The figures behind you silently push off from shore and paddle the boat into the awaiting mist.

You feel the mist all around you and its cool, soft, damp touch upon your skin. It surrounds you, and you are adrift in this strange sea, where the light has no source, the directions have no meaning. All you can feel is the boat steadily moving forward, through the mist.

Slowly, the mist begins to recede in front of you. The light changes, and you can see a form looming ahead. As the mists fully part, you see before you a beautiful island. Green hillsides dotted with sheep and cattle roam up the banks of a tall tor, a hill that rises out of the landscape. Around the base of the tor you see trees, marching down to the water’s edge. A little ways off to the right you see a small clearing, where a tiny village has been settled in the arms of the forest, the tor standing guard. The boat begins to move towards the village, and soon you see a small landing dock jutting out into the lake. As you approach the dock, a figure moves from the shoreline and onto the platform. Cloaked and hooded like those guiding your boat, the form moves to the end of the wooden dock and awaits you.

Your boat pulls up, and is neatly tied to the dock by your navigators. The figure on the dock extends a hand to you, and you are pulled up onto the platform above the water. You look into the figure’s face, and slowly the figure lifts its hands to the cowl of the robe and pulls down the hood. The figure smiles, a face that is neither old nor young, with eyes full of the ages of wisdom. “Welcome,” she/he says.

From there, you can make many journeys back to that land, to learn from this person. You can visit the village, climb the tor, wander the forests and dive into the lake. With this person as your guide, you can learn the wisdom that they have to offer. When you feel it is time to return back to your body and your time, simply thank your guide, place an offering perhaps at a sacred shrine or in a place of beauty and take the boat back to the shore from where you began the journey. As you step out of the boat, you see the silver branch again in the boughs, and you shake it three times to signal the end of your journey. Then slowly begin to focus once again on breathing in and out through your lungs, returning your mind to the here and now. Listen to the sounds around you, the smells. Wiggle your fingers and your toes, rolls your shoulders and when ready, slowly open your eyes, returning to the present moment.

Re-weaving the Connection Every Day

Reposted from my blog at SageWoman on Witches and Pagans at PaganSquare

A large part of the work at Druid College is teaching our apprentices how to re-weave the connection to the land each and every day. We cover a wide-range of topics in doing so, from conscious consumerism, political and environmental activism, daily and seasonal ritual celebrations and more. Our focus from our last weekend was on daily connection, how we can bring everyday actions into our practice, to make the mundane sacred; indeed, to highlight the fact that there is no such thing as the mundane. It’s only in our perception.

Part of the homework given was to write an essay on how the apprentice can re-weave the connection every day. I thought I would share what I do with them, and you, in the hopes that it may inspire you on your path.

As I work from home, I have the luxury of setting my own schedule. However, I do still remember the days when I worked full-time, and then part-time, and how I simply shifted priorities in order to make it work. I also don’t have any children, although my two furry grrrls do make me wonder sometimes…

I start the day with a prayer. Watching the sun rise, I say the following:

I kindle my soul at the hearthfire of Brighid. Flame of courage, flame of joy, drops of awen be upon my lips, my work. May Brighid guide me in all my endeavours, this day and every day. May the light of illumination be upon me, may the blessings of Brighid flow through me. May her fiery arrow bring forth awen, to shine upon all kith and kin.

I then feed the cats, clean the litter boxes and see that they’re happy. When they’re all settled, I light some incense and go to my little shrine to Brighid in my living room, next to the fireplace. Here, I have a small lantern and a bowl of water filled with water from the White Spring in Glastonbury. I light the candle and then pass my hand over the water and say:

In Brighid’s name I light the flame. Come into the sacred waters, lady of the three strong fires: in the cauldron, in the belly, in the head: Brighid. Lady of the sacred flame, lady of the holy well, lady of poetry, smithcraft and healing, white serpent energy of Albion, I honour you for all that you are with all that I am.

A blessing be upon this hearth and this home, and all who dwell within. A blessing be upon my Lady, a blessing be upon this land. May there be peace in our hearts and minds, and towards all fellow beings. May we be the awen.

I then sit and focus on my breath for nine rounds, then perform the Three Realms working as found in Jhenah Telyndru’s Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery, and Inner Wisdom. This releases any negative or destructive energies within our being and replaces it with the clean, clear energy of the three realms.

I then put on the coffee and have a fruit smoothie for breakfast. I sit down at the dining table and say a quick prayer that I recite before all meals, sometimes out loud, sometimes just in my head.

I give my thanks for this food that I am about to eat. May it lend health, strength and nourishment to me. I give my thanks to the spirits of land, sea and sky. I honour all the times, and all the tides.

After breakfast, I get on with my work, clearing the admin first, and then going to write, create music, do an audio recording for my bandcamp page or do some artwork. I work for about five hours, and then have a late lunch. After lunch, I go outside for a three-mile walk. Sometimes I dance instead of going for a walk, using the 5 Rhythms method. Both walking and dancing help me to gain inspiration needed to solve problems, to connect with the rhythms of nature, or to find the stillness needed outside of my own mind, to be fully present in the moment.

The rest of the afternoon is spent in study and ends with meditation. Then, when the sun sets, I sing a prayer as I watch the sun fall past the horizon:

Hail fair sun the day is done. We take the rest that we have won. Your shining light guides our way. Blessed thanks for this day.

I usually have a cup of herbal tea with me as I watch the sun set. I’ve been using mugwort, chickweed and lady’s mantle from my own garden lately, to help me as I transition through perimenopause. I hold the herbs in my hand before putting them into the teapot, honouring their energy and adding my own to their song.

I then cook a meal for my husband and I, honouring the lovely organic food and all those who brought it to my home. Afterwards, my husband and I spend time together, enjoying each other’s quiet company. I may take a bath in the evening, honouring the clean, hot water that flows from the tap, throwing in some herbs or oil after infusing them with my intention, honouring theirs and bringing them together. I have another cup of herbal tea, made with vervain, which is calming and sacred to Druids both ancient and modern. (Please note: some of the herbs mentioned in this writing should not be used when pregnant. Always seek the advice of a good herbalist.) When it is time for bed, I say a final prayer:

I rest my soul in the arms of Brighid. Lady of peace, lady of healing; blessings of the sacred flame be upon me. Protecting flame, the light in the darkness. May her waters soothe my soul. Lady, watch over me as I sleep, this night and every night. May my love for you guide me in all that I do. May we be the awen.

Different prayers may be recited during the day, or during, before or after meditation. I have created a small book of prayers that I have handwritten, charms and such that correspond to everyday actions. There is a song for Brighid, which I sometimes sing when I am outside at my altar and feel Her moving through me. There is a prayer for greeting the moon, for invoking the spirits of place. I have created a blessing of protection, for when I feel that there is need. I have created a house blessing, to be recited twice a year, at Imbolc and Samhain after I clean the house thoroughly from top to bottom. I have written a chant for Brighid, to bring me into a trance-like state. There are healing charms and more that I have written or researched, said when necessary throughout the day.

In a sense, I have created my own liturgy for my own personal practice. However, this is for me and me alone; created out of elements of my own experience and my own life. I encourage others to create their own, if they so wish. Druidry has no set liturgy as a whole, however, I like the structure that I have created in my own personal practice. I understand that others might find it too restrictive. There are spontaneous prayers and connections recited and felt throughout the day, such as when out on a walk and I see the herds of deer, or the hawk flying overhead, or when I reach my hands down onto the mossy ground of my back garden to feel the energy of the land, or see the approaching storm.

These are the tools that I use each and every day to help me re-weave the connection to the land, to the gods and to the ancestors. At the full and dark moons I do ritual to honour these tides, as well as at the eight seasonal festivals of the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year. It’s been a fun and creative process, creating the daily prayers and rituals over the years, and I encourage anyone to try it. May we be the awen!

The Awen Alone Audiobook is now available!

cover high resThe Awen Alone audiobook is now here! Available through bandcamp, you can download the book, as well as receiving my music album, “Drops of Awen” for only £10. Also included are guided meditations and talks from previous workshops! More material will be added throughout the year. Your £10 yearly subscription allows you access to streaming or downloading all of the material, as well as having access to new material added each month. You can cancel your subscription at any time. Material includes:

The Awen Alone Audiobook
Drops of Awen Music Album
Chakra Talk and Guided Meditation
Talk on being a Modern Druid
Basic Meditation
“Rafting the Currents of Life” Meditation

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

The Awen Alone Audiobook

I am currently recording an audiobook of the best-selling The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid. This will be available through BandCamp later this spring, either in its entirety or chapter by chapter, whichever you prefer. There is currently a sample chapter available now, on Prayer that you can listen to and download to all your devices, to take with you anywhere. The marvels of technology!

cover high resClick HERE for more details.

Revenge of the Druids

This is a reblog from my channel, DruidHeart, at Witches and Pagans for PaganSquare. To read the full article in its original form,  click HERE.

Treat others as you would like to be treated. Such a simple phrase, yet so hard to comply with when we’ve been hurt or wounded in any way. Our first reaction is to hurt back, to wound in return. Yet is this how we would like to be treated? What if the person who hurt you didn’t even know that they had? What if it was completely intentional? Is it then justifiable to perpetuate the cycle of hurt? How do we, as Druids, work with anger and wounding in today’s society? How do we work with honour?

We don’t really know how the ancient Druids worked with the concepts of honour or revenge. We have an account of how the Druids stood on the shores of their sacred isle at Anglesey, just before the Romans invaded, and called down their magic and their might, black-robed women with wild hair brandishing torches and running between the Druid ranks. What those men and women were doing we just don’t know, but we can be fairly certain that they were protecting their land from invaders. Whether or not their magics would have been invoked without provocation is a total unknown, but here we have an example of defence, rather than offense. Boudicca wiped out Colchester and London in retaliation for the rape of her daughters by the Romans. Whether or not that great queen in history was a Druid or not, or advised by them, is debatable.

But that is ancient history. How do we, as Druids today, work with concepts of revenge? How do we deal with people hurting us, with our rights being taken away? How does the word honour factor into our everyday lives?

It’s difficult, especially when we have such a quick means of communication in our world. Emails and opinions can be shared without a second thought. People can comment, cut down, undermine, say whatever they feel like in the virtual realm and not really suffer very many consequences in the real world. Government lie to us outright, and have been caught out in their lies, and still there is no justice. Even the most kind-hearted person begins the feel the anger and rage boiling within, battling with compassion and love for the world that they live in, for the world they would like to see. How can we deal with these emotions? If someone is attacking us, how do we as Druids protect ourselves and yet find justice? How can we ensure that the balance is maintained?

The first idea that we need to let go of is the idea of revenge. We do not need to hurt someone when they’ve hurt us. We would like to, we desire to hurt them in response, but we don’t need to in order to continue in our daily lives. We have to work out the difference between our desires and our needs, as with so many other aspects of our lives. It’s perfectly human to want to hurt someone when they’ve hurt us, or upset us, or someone we love. It’s up to us how we act on those feelings, however. We have to be emotionally responsible.

Pride is an oft maligned trait in the human race. Pride can be the reason many people seek out to hurt others, trying to “save face” or in an attempt to not to face those aspects of themselves that they so dislike, instead waging a war outside of their inner worlds so that they don’t have to own up to their own shadow selves. Yet pride can also be a good thing. Our pride can be part of our self-respect. In this way, pride will not allow others to walk all over us, but neither does it seek to destroy others who don’t agree with us.

As Druids, we work in service: to the gods, to the ancestors and to the community. We know that we have to give back, that we have a responsibility in this world to ensure that the ecosystem in which we live is functioning well. A balanced, diverse, healthy ecosystem is where there is a give and take, and where relationship is the key matter of the discussion. Those relationships must work together, must find a way to honour each other in order to flow smoothly, to be efficient and benefit the whole. It is this whole that concerns us, as Druids, the most. The whole is what we work in service to, rather than the self. When we heal the whole, when we work holistically, then we also benefit the self. It’s not altruism, it just is.

When we are in positions of power, acts of anger and revenge can be even more devastating to the whole. We must learn how to work honourably with our power, out of self-respect and out of respect for the rest of the world. Without all those relationships, whether it is other humans, the bees, the mountains or the rivers, we would simply not exist. We don’t live in a bubble or a vacuum. We need others in order to survive. We must learn to work with others, even if we disagree with them. When others hurt us, we need to ride the currents of emotion and keep the bigger picture to hand, in order to work honourably. We need to let go of our destructive sense of pride and ego, and build on the better aspects of both. We need to work from a strong and balanced sense of self, and yet be able to let that sense of self go into the light of utter integration for the benefit of the whole.

Author, activist and Wiccan Starhawk write in her book The Twelve Wild Swans: A Journey to the Realm of Magic, Healing and Action:

“We let go of vengeance out of love and concern for our larger community. To be a true leader, we must be able to look at each of our acts and say, “How will this affect the community? Is it worth dividing the community for me to be proved right? Would I not be destroying the very source of support and healing that I most need?

“And we relinquish revenge because we hold a vision of healing, for ourselves and for the world. Magic teaches us that the ends do not justify the means. Instead the means themselves shape the ends that follow. We cannot achieve healing through vengeance. We cannot serve a broad vision by being petty and spiteful.”

If we are to be leaders in our community, allowing our actions to speak as loudly, if not more than our words, we need to relinquish forms of revenge and focus instead on healing. We don’t need to make someone look bad, to punish someone, to destroy them or perform character assassinations. We can’t push out people simply because they disagree with us. People will be annoying, will try to pick fights, will be aggressive or antagonistic. We don’t have to respond like for like. If we are to work as Druids in the community, we need to let go of our desire for the above when we are hurt, and instead focus on the need for healing in the community as a whole.

This doesn’t mean that we allow people to walk all over us. Whether it’s an individual, the government, whatever, we can still stand up for what we believe in. We can speak out against injustices, we can march in protest or start a campaign, raising money and supplies to help those in need. When it becomes personal, we can simply ignore it and get on with our lives, doing the work that needs to be done, having compassion both for ourselves and for the person who is antagonising us. We know that the work still needs to be done, and getting distracted because of false pride or ego is not helping the whole. We can work with our feelings of anger and injustice, and then see where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Will this benefit the whole?

It requires us to look deeply at ourselves first and foremost. When we are able to do that, we can begin to work honourably. We see our own failings, and we have compassion for ourselves. We see those same failings reflected in others, and we have compassion for them. We know that we live in an extremely damaged world, and that perpetuating the hurt and anger will only damage it further. We will stand up for what we believe in. We will speak out against bullies and those who would tout their privilege. We will seek political and social reform. We will endeavour to find the balance, to find a fairer system where the term justice actually means something. We will work to nourish and strengthen this planet that we live on, even as it nourishes us. And we will focus on working in relationship with everyone around us, deeply immersed in our own sense of self-respect and honour.

And in doing so, we relinquish the notion of revenge, and instead focus on healing for ourselves and for the world. That is the power of the Druid.

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017

A Love Song.

From the Climate Coalition. Just beautiful.

Click on the “Watch on Vimeo” to see this wonderful video. Superb.


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/202819000″>A Love Song #ShowTheLove</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/closeuponclimate”>The Climate Coalition</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>