The Awen (Part Two)

This is a continuation from my previous post on the awen, which you can read HERE.

So where does the flowing inspiration of modern Druidry come from then? And what is the difference between awen and the energy that is in all life?

In Welsh, we can trace it back to the 19th century, where aw means flowing or fluidity, and wen is spirit, or a being. We can more easily trace the concept and word back to medieval texts retelling the tale of Ceridwen and Taliesin.

The goddess Ceridwen was brewing a special potion for her son, Afagddu, tended by Gwion Bach. Some of the brew bubbled over and three drops scalded Gwion as he stirred the pot, and he put his thumb into his mouth to ease the soreness, taking in the magic of the brew meant for Afagddu. Ceridwen was enraged, and chased him, eventually eating him and then giving birth to him again. After she gives birth to him, she sets him on a boat and he was discovered alive and well later, and renamed Taliesin for his radiant brow. He becomes the most famous Bard of Britain.

The awen can be seen as being achieved through a deep connection to every aspect of the land, in whatever shape or form.  We can undergo a kind of initiation into the awen much as Gwion Bach did, through the goddess Ceridwen and her special brew. We can drink from the cauldron of inspiration, but with that comes great trials and tribulations that go hand in hand with awareness and enlightenment.

The awen is also related to water and rivers, and not just the liquid brewed in Ceridwen’s cauldron. In the medieval poem “Hostile Confederacy” from the Book of Taliesin, it states:

“The Awen I sing,

From the deep I bring it,

A river while it flows,

I know its extent;

I know when it disappears;

I know when it fills;

I know when it overflows;

I know when it shrinks;

I know what base

There is beneath the sea. [1]

The awen relates to water on so many levels. The flowing spirit of water and the flowing spirit of awen share many similarities. Both are fluid, able to be contained and yet have their own freedom in their inherent sense of being. They follow their own currents, and can be beneficial when used with respect. When we follow the currents of life, the inter-connectedness of all things, we share that flow of awen and then come to know the fathomless depths that it can bring.

We also have the shamanic diviners in the Welsh tradition known as Awenyddion.  There is also awen involved in divination and the quest for relationship with the divine.  The awen is a vast subject that requires much study, but more to the point is requires experience. We can research the similarities between awen and the Hindu aspects of shakti, for example, or the Dao in Chinese philosophy. But we must feel the awen with every atom of our being in order the truly understand it.

But what is the difference between awen and the energy of life, or the life force? I would say that awen is the thread that connects us to that life force. When we connect in good relationship to the world around us, those threads shimmer with awen, with inspiration. We know that we are a part of the web, wholly and utterly connected. When we feel that connection with other beings, soul to soul, and our sense of self lessens, we are inspired by that connection. We then think of ourselves less, and our perception opens out to a wider perspective on the world, one that is more inclusive rather than just our own self-centred point of view. We become a thread in the web.

Awen helps us to see beyond ourselves, and perhaps paradoxically to allow us to see ourselves in everything. The poet Amergin described this beautifully what is now known as the “Song of Amergin”.  When we see that we are a part of a whole, then we are inspired. When we lessen the sense of self, we are able to perceive so much more. When we have expanded our worlds to include everything within it, we become the awen.

I am the wind on the sea;

I am the wave of the sea;

I am the bull of seven battles;

I am the eagle on the rock

I am a flash from the sun;

I am the most beautiful of plants;

I am a strong wild boar;

I am a salmon in the water;

I am a lake in the plain;

I am the word of knowledge;

I am the head of the spear in battle;

I am the god that puts fire in the head;

Who spreads light in the gathering on the hills?

Who can tell the ages of the moon?

Who can tell the place where the sun rests?”[2]

Many Druid rituals begin or end with singing or chanting the awen. When doing so, the word is stretched to three syllables, sounding like ah-oo-wen.  It is a lovely sound, which opens up the heart and soul. Sung/chanted together, or in rounds, it simply flows, as its namesake determines.  Our hearts can open if we let them when chanting or singing the awen.

Yet I am sure that the awen is different for each and every Druid.  The connection, and the resulting expression of that connection, the Druid’s own creativity, can be so vast and diverse.  It is what is so delicious about it; we inhale the awen and exhale our own creativity in song, in dance, in books, in protest marches. The possibilities are endless, as is the awen itself.

We are never born, and we can never die: we are simply manifest for a while in one form, and then we manifest again in another when the conditions are right. For me, this represents reincarnation, the nitty gritty basics of it and the science behind reincarnation. The threads that bind this together are the awen.

[1] Mary Jones, “The Hostile Confederacy” from the Book of Taliesin, The Celtic Literature Collective, accessed January 12, 2018. http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/t07.html

[2] Lady Gregory, The Essential Lady Gregory Collection, Google Books, accessed January 13, 2018.  https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=fx0tOGYDZXQC&dq

(This blog post is an extract from my book, The Book of Hedge Druidry:  A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker.)

The Awen (Part One)

The Awen

awenThe awen symbol is based on an original design by the 18th-19th century Druid revivalist, Iolo Morganwg. It consists of three lines falling to the right, centre and left. Modern Druidry incorporates the original source point of three dots, which can either be seen as points of light or drops from the cauldron of the goddess Ceridwen. The awen symbol represents, among other things, the triple nature of the Druid path, incorporating the paths of Bard, Ovate and Druid. It is not an ancient symbol, but a modern Druid symbol, used widely by Druids the world over, regardless of their opinion on Iolo and his work.

The first recorded reference to Awen occurs in Nennius’ Historia Brittonum, a Latin text of circa 796 CE.  “Talhearn Tad Awen won renown in poetry” is where we first see the word, and it tells us that Talhearn is the ‘father of Awen” in this instance. Sadly, this source tells us nothing more about Talhearn as being the “father of awen”, but perhaps later research may discover more clues about this reference.

A common translation of the Welsh word awen is “flowing inspiration” or “flowing poetry/poetic insight”. Awake to our own energy, and stretching out towards the energy of nature around us, we begin to see just what is the awen.  It is an opening of one’s self, of one’s spirit or soul, in order to truly and very deeply see and connect to all life around us.  When we are open, we can receive that divine gift, the inspiration that flows, whether it is from deity, nature, or whatever it is that you choose to focus on.

For awen to exist, there must be relationship.  We cannot be inspired unless we are open, and we cannot be open unless we have established a relationship, whether that is with the thunder, the blackbird or a god.  It is cyclical in nature; we open and give of ourselves and in doing so we receive, and vice versa.  Letting go, releasing into that flow of awen allows it to flow ever more freely, and we find ourselves inspired not only in fits and bursts of enlightenment or inspiration, but all the time, carrying that essence of connection and wonder with us at all times.  There is, of course, a line to be drawn, for we can’t be off our heads in ecstatic relationship with everything all the time. As with all language, a literal translation can be far too limiting.  It’s good to have a context and some sort of description to relate the concept, but when confined to literalism we get stuck and are unable to see the bigger picture. Awen does mean flowing inspiration, but what is inspiration?

A really good idea, a bolt from the blue is one interpretation. However, there are many others.  Inspiration is not just something that happens to us. It is something that we can cultivate, in true relationship. We are not subject to the whims of inspiration, but rather can access that inspiration on a daily basis through deep relationship. Indeed, awen is all about relationship, more than it being “a really good idea”. When we literally translate awen into inspiration, we can lose that context of relationship. With good relationship, we will have good ideas.

When soul touches soul, there is an energy; a source of inspiration.  When we are aware of our soul interacting with other souls, we can harness that inspiration and see it in everything that we do. It doesn’t just happen every now and then, like a bolt out of the blue, but rather is in everything that we do. It requires a willingness for deep relationship, and a desire to be mindful in all our relationships.

This may sound a lot like Eastern philosophy; being very mindful. Mindfulness has become a large part of many Eastern philosophies, but I am sure that it has been around as long as human self-awareness has been around. Indeed, it may have been a large part of ancient Druidry, now lost to the mists of time. Taking inspiration from Eastern traditions with regards to our way of thinking is not much different to reading the works of Nietzsche or Plato. There is no monopoly on wisdom.

Mindfulness relates to awen in that when we are aware of our relationship to the world, when we see how we fit in the world then we can work in harmony with the world. We become an integral and integrated part of an ecosystem, where we know that everything that we do matters to the system in its entirety. The discipline gained from such mindfulness as practiced in the Eastern traditions and philosophies can be a great teacher in expanding our minds and helping us to learn more about ourselves. That also goes for other religions and philosophies as well. I’m sure the ancient Druids, just as much as Modern Druids today, loved reading about world religions and discussing philosophy.

There is a lot of talk about cultural misappropriation, however, in modern Paganism and it’s something that needs to be carefully considered. We do have to be aware of when we are taking something from another culture without its proper context and permission. Nevertheless, with religions or traditions such as Buddhism, for example, the Buddha said that enlightenment was for anyone to achieve, available to all, regardless of where they came from, whatever their background.  It’s why we see so many different forms of Buddha being represented in sculpture. We have fat Buddhas from China, giant slim standing Buddhas in India, reclining Buddhas in Burma, sitting Buddhas carved straight out of the rock temples in Sri Lanka, elegant bronze-plated Buddhas in Japan and so on. In each country the Buddha looks different, as Buddha is within each and every person as well as having been a person in his own right. There is even a female Buddha known as Tara in Vajrayana Buddhism.

You will find that Druidry has much in common with many other Earth-based religions the world over, as well as many philosophies, both ancient and modern. We can be inspired by these and let them help us to change our perception, our way of seeing the world, from a self-centred point of view to a more holistic worldview, from a less human-centred perspective to one that is more integrated. In that, we are living the awen.

Awen is that spark set off by interaction, by integration.  We do not exist in a bubble. We are surrounded by the world at all times, by the seen and the unseen.  When we live integrated, we see the meaning that each relationship has, and that inspires us to live our lives accordingly. That inspiration is the heart and soul of Druidry.

Inspiration: to inspire, from the Latin inspirare, the act of breathing.

Indeed, it has many connotations to the breath and breathing. Awen can connect us to the world through the very act of breathing. All living things breathe in some form on this planet. The human species shares this breath, breathing in the oxygen created on this planet and exhaling it into the twilight. The air that we breathe has been recycled by plants and creatures for billions of years. The breath is the gateway to the ancestors, and to a deep understanding of the nature of awen.  Awen is also shared inspiration, for we share this planet with everything else on it. Everything that we do has an impact, every breath we take, every action that we make. Breath links us to everything else.

When we remember that deep connection to everything else, we cannot help but be inspired. And we hope to inspire in return, much as our own exhalation is valuable to trees and plants who take in the carbon dioxide, turning it to oxygen for our own breath. Inspiration and expiration, inhalation and exhalation are all words for the act of breathing. Remembering the shared breath of the world, we come home to ourselves and rediscover the wonder and awe of existence. Then, we are truly inspired.

More about the awen in Part Two, coming up…

(This blog post is an extract from my book, The Book of Hedge Druidry:  A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker.)

Audio version on The Book of Hedge Druidry Now Available!

Hello everyone! This is just a quick note to say that the audio/audible version of my latest book, The Book of Hedge Druidry, is now available! I’m very pleased with how this turned out – have a listen to the sample, and see what you think 🙂

Samhain: A Time That is Not A Time

cropped-p1020148.jpgMagic lies thick in the air all around at this time of year. The scent of woodsmoke and fallen leaves tingles our noses, and we just know that a shift is happening. A big shift. Not the gentle flowing of early summer to midsummer and then to Lammas; no, this is something quite different. While the sun may still be warm, the nights have turned colder and longer, and it’s very noticeable. Each evening, the sun sets further south along the horizon, seeming to run towards that direction with abandon, leaving the lazy, hazy summer nights and bunking down quickly to escape the frosts. The moon now takes over, shining brightly for many more hours in the night sky. The focus has changed, and a new time is upon us.

I love this time of year. At Samhain, we lie between the thresholds of the year. We are in an in-between time, after the death of the God and awaiting his rebirth at the Winter Solstice. We, like the God, are between the worlds, in a place that is not a place, in a time that is not a time. Not quite winter, most definitely not still autumn, we wander in the darkness.

P1010567 (2)Why do I love this time of year? For many, it’s difficult, saying goodbye to the summer months and embracing winter. But this embracing is, indeed, what I adore. Just as I love seeing the first leaves peeping out among the spring blossom, heralding Beltane and the summer months, so too do I take great joy in the winding down of things, of welcoming the coming winter and all the wisdom that it has to bring. Sure, like many, after a few months it becomes more difficult, dealing with the long dark nights and sometimes dreary days. But it is in winter that we know what we are made of, and provides the perfect time to delve within, to find that authentic self and nurture it to bring it forth into the daylight once again.

45050223_10160974698305203_2042672860996042752_oThen there are the childhood memories, of Hallowe’en back in Canada, of that special night of all nights. It was the highlight of the year for me, even overshadowing Christmas. For on this night, every child could be what they wanted to be, and had the shadowy streets under the moonlight all to themselves, satisfying their sweet tooths and daring each other to go up to that scary old house. It was a time of magic, of fantasy, where anything was possible. And it still is.

For in this time between the worlds, anything truly is possible. We are able to become whoever it is that we wish to be. At the Samhain fires, we can release what we do not like about ourselves, and resolve to change that in time for the rebirth of the sun. We state our intentions even as we let go, and hold true to our word. We can be whoever or whatever we want, reborn in the dawn’s light after a long night of magic and mayhem.

May these coming months both challenge you and bring you great knowledge, understanding and joy. May you meet these challenges with courage and wit, strength and intuition. And may you enjoy this time that is not a time, in a place that is not a place, in a world that is not a world.

Blessings of Samhain to you all.

P1020122

 

A Weekend with Druid College Apprentices

Another Druid College weekend has come and gone. This one, however, was quite special. The Year 3 apprentices all came over to my house, to share their intention for the work of Year 3, and to gain inspiration from the land, sea and sky.

Everyone declared their Chair, which is the work of service that they will specialise in for the year. This ranged from storytelling as a healing technique, to guardianship of areas of land, animal reiki, permaculture and more. It’s so wonderful to see the awen open up the soul of a person, and allow the ideas to flow, the impetus to start a new journey, to see the wonder that lies in the world all around us.

P1020017We traveled out to the heathland, to meet with the land and the Fairy Tree. We went to the sea, where we stood at the lowest low tide on the day of the dark moon, our prayers going out over the waves, treasures finding their way into our pockets. We went to a Celtic burial mound site on top of hill, to commune with the realm of the sky, the ancestors and the gods.

My 45 year-old body is now recovering from all the work, and my soul is lifted on the wings of inspiration. I love my work. And long may it continue.

Looking for Reviews!

Hi all! Just a quick note to let you know that we need reviews up on Amazon for my latest offering, The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker. If you are able to leave a review, it would be hugely appreciated! This is one of the best ways to help an author, as Amazon reviews follow specific algorithms, and after a certain number it pops up in newsletters, recommendations, etc. for better exposure. The more reviews the better! As well, it helps me personally in my writing to get feedback in order to improve with each book released.

Thank you all so much for your support, and I look forward to hearing from you!

Harvest blessings,

Jo. x

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Prize Draw for The Book of Hedge Druidry!

3Summer Solstice Prize Draw for my blog readers! One free, signed, advance copy of my upcoming book, Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker. Will ship to anywhere in the world. All you have to do to enter to win this free copy is email me at vanderhoevenjoanna@gmail.com and ensure the title of the email reads: Hedge Druidry Prize Draw.  The lucky winner will be announced on Monday, 24th July. Good luck!

“The Book of Hedge Druidry is a beautifully written exploration of the world of the Hedge Druid. Joanna digs deeply into the core theories that inform the practices of the solitary Druid with a sensitivity and depth of insight that reveals the richness of the path. She freely shares her extensive knowledge and experience and offers the reader a wealth of practical suggestions; everything from ritual creation, prayer, and meditation to the study and application of ogham, herblore and spellcraft.” – Philip Carr-Gomm

“Joanna eloquently offers tools, theories, techniques, and her inimitable wisdom to guide the solitary Druid practitioner through the dappled groves of tradition. This is the perfect ally to those new on the path and seeking a genuine voice to accompany them”. Kristoffer Hughes

“Joanna van der Hoeven has deftly woven together various strands of wisdom to craft a tapestry that is accessible, foundational and inspirational to all who are drawn to the path of Druidry… this is a practical guide that encourages seekers to immerse themselves in the work of the Hedge Druid – a spiritual path that values direct participation with, and first-hand knowledge of, the worlds within us, around us, and beyond us.” Jhenah Telyndru

It’s finally here in my hands!

Yesterday I received my sample copies of my new book coming out next month in North America, and in August worldwide. I’m so excited to see it, to be able to hold it. It’s big!!! And I’m proud of this work, being a complete guide to Druidry from a Hedge Druid’s perspective. Working with the Otherworld, the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place in a solitary tradition, and re-enchanting the soul. You can pre-order copies now, and if you do from Amazon’s Smile site, a percentage is donated to charity as well. Order your copy HERE.

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Sneak peek at some of my new book… Beltane Ritual!

hedge-druid-cover   This ritual is not for the faint-hearted. For at Beltane, the portals between this world and the Otherworld are wide open, and the Fair Folk are out in abundance. Here we will go out into a wild place and seek out a companion or guide of the Fair Folk: one that can offer advice, wisdom and intelligence on the locality of place, what is needed and what can be offered in return. Meeting one of the Fair Folk can be thrilling, but can also be a little scary. They are like and yet not like us, as described in the previous chapter on the Fair Folk in Part One of this book. They have different agendas, and may or may not appear in human form. Yet Beltane is the traditional time for encountering the Fair Folk, as is Samhain. So here, with caution, we will attempt to meet one of them, to gain some insight into the work that we can offer to the Fair Folk as well as the spirits of place, and what they may ask of us (and what we may receive in return).

This ritual is ideally performed outside, but can be accommodated for those who are unable to do so. You can perform this indoors, at your indoor altar if you wish, and take a similar journey in your mind to a destination of your choosing. Instead of a fire, you can have a candle upon your altar as the focal point.

You may prefer to fast during the day of this ritual, if you are able (if in doubt, consult your medical health practitioner). Drinking vervain tea before the ritual or taking a few drops of the Moon Elixir (see end of this ritual on making your own Moon Elixir) might also aid in your working. It is important to ensure that you do not have any iron on your person, or in the ritual area, as this is reputed to drive away the Fair Folk. If you feel the need for some protection against the Fair Folk you can carry a pouch of St John’s wort upon your person, though this may affect some of the fey who wish to communicate with you. This protective herb has its good qualities, in keeping the harmful away but may also deter those whose intentions are entirely neutral or as yet unclear.

Good places to hold this ritual are in wild places, or liminal places such as a forest edge, or the seashore, or on a hilltop. Other places could be at ancient sites such as tumuli, barrows or stone circles where it is often said the Fair Folk gather. You could also hold this ritual near a hawthorn or an elder tree, as these are trees associated with the Fair Folk. You may also choose to perform this ritual by a hedge.  In any case, wherever you hold this ritual, ensure that the fire you create is safe and contained. Otherwise the Fair Folk might become angry with you, and this is certainly not what you want! I’ve even performed this ritual in my own backyard, with great success after a Beltane rite with friends and consequently meeting one of the Fair Folk for the very first time: he came through the hedge and stood under an apple tree, clad in shades of brown.

For this ritual, you will need:

  • An offering, such as butter or honey
  • Somewhere where you can sit outside for part or all of the night and have an outdoor fire
  • A mugwort smudge stick, or cut and dried herb to be burned in a censer
  • A handful of vervain
  • Some food and drink for yourself

Designate the sacred space as you normally would. When doing so, focus on inviting those of the Fair Folk who are in tune with your intention alongside the spirits of place, and who wish you no harm. That way, you may filter out unwanted attention from those who may not be so beneficial to you or your work. You might like to say something similar to what is offered below as you set up the space and after calling to the spirits of place:

I honour the time and tide and the beginning of Summer. I also call to the Fair Folk, those who hold the knowledge and wisdom of this land and of the ages. Those who come from between the worlds, I seek your blessing on this rite, and also your friendship. Those who are in tune with my intention, be welcome here in my rite.

Take as long as you need to settle and attune yourself to the place. Let yourself become a part of the landscape. Then light a small fire, and gaze into the flames. Take your time with this ritual; it might take all night, or at least a couple of hours. Allow yourself to really open up to the time and place, and do not rush anything.

When you feel ready, take the mugwort smudge stick, or burn some mugwort in a censer, and sain yourself with the smoke. (Saining is like purifying – allow the smoke to rise and flow over all your body, cleansing your body and soul.) Once you feel cleansed and purified, sit down for a few moments and just breathe.

Now call to the Fair Folk, first throwing a handful of vervain upon the fire (or the censer, if performing this indoors). Say these or similar words:

I now call out to one of the Fair Folk, you who would be my guide, who would share with me the wisdom of the Otherworld. In return, may the work that I do benefit this world and the Otherworld, and may there always be friendship between us.

Wait as long as is necessary. Someone will come to your call, whether in a human form or in animal form, or as a light breeze or a wind that caresses you, but touches nothing else. You might hear music, or laughter, without actually seeing anything. All these indicate the presence of the Fair Folk. Open your mind to any messages they might have to offer, or simply become aware of their presence in your life, in this place and time. At this initial meeting, a simple greeting might be enough, and a lengthy communion unnecessary. You can work and converse with the Fair Folk at length in later rites and rituals, but for now you are simply opening up your awareness of them, and of one in particular who wishes to work with you.

You may ask them for their name, but they may not give one to you, so don’t be offended by this. Simply acknowledge them as they appear, as your guide from the Otherworld. When your encounter is over (and it may be brief for this first time) slightly bow your head to them as the meeting comes to a close. Show gratitude towards them for making themselves known to you: give your offering in a suitable place for the Fair Folk and the spirits of place, acknowledging the beauty and gifts that have already been shared. Remember, don’t say “thank you”, for that may put you in their debt! Simply give the offering with a feeling of gratitude.

When you are ready, eat some food and have something to drink, and then put out the fire and ensure all safety precautions have been met. Close down your ritual space, and give a final thanks to all those who have been a part of your ritual. Know that you can return to this place to commune further with your Otherworldly guide. In future meetings they may set tasks for you to perform, in return for their wisdom. These might range from cleaning up litter in the area, to coming at certain times such as the full moon or at special holidays. They might ask you for protection of their space in your world, and you may need to seek out local authorities to communicate with and ensure that the place is protected and kept safe for generations to come. They might simply ask for further offerings of honey, whisky or mead, or poetry, song and music. Work with them to the best of your abilities, ensuring that no harm comes to yourself or others, the Fair Folk included. Ensure that you keep up your relationship with them; do not take them for granted, nor ignore them or allow the friendship to cease due to laziness or apathy.

If you need to sever the relationship for any reason, return to the place where you initially held this ritual. You may be moving to another part of the country, or have found another path. It is important to say farewell to your fey companion, and being polite to the Fair Folk is of utmost importance.