New work: Hedge Druid

So, I’m deep into writing my sixth book on Druidry. This is a full-length book with Llewellyn Publishing, which I am so honoured and excited to be working with now! I have a working title of “Beyond the Hedgerow: The World of the Hedge Druid” but that may change.  It’s nice to be able to sink my teeth into such a project, and I hope that it will be well received. Here’s a little sample from the introduction 🙂

Introduction

She walks towards the hedge, the boundary that separates the farmer’s field from the village, a line that runs down to a wooded area and the heathland beyond. When she reaches the hedge of hawthorn, blackthorn and dog rose, a triad of wild and native plants that hold ancient and special meaning, she smiles and reaches out to stroke a rose hip. The cool autumn breeze plays in her hair, whipping it around her face as the sun spills its light in waves across the landscape, the sky dotted with huge fluffy clouds. It is harvest time, when nature’s abundance is at its peak. She feels the strength of the ancestors flowing through her blood and bones, and hears their song in the wind. She says a quick prayer to the ancestors and blesses the land and the ongoing harvest, even as the sound of farm machinery floats upon the breeze.

She turns and follows the hedgerow down to the little woodland, a special place that bursts with bluebells in the spring. In this place she stands for a moment, utterly still, listening to the sounds of the spirits of place: the robins and blackbirds, a pheasant squawking, a hawk crying high overhead riding the thermals. This is the edge, where the hedge meets the wild, where the known meets the unknown, the civilised comes up against the wild. Here, at the edge, is the special place, the in-between place. This is where she belongs.

Inviting the power of the ancestors to flow through her, inviting the gods and goddesses that she loves, inviting the spirits of place to join with her intention, she turns three times anti-clockwise and sings. Once she has stopped, she knows that she walks between the worlds, that the Otherworld is all around her, and she can seek its wisdom and guidance, while testing her courage and her wits. Here she will find the answer to help her in her quest. Here she will find the inspiration, known to the Druids as awen. Here is where the magic happens.

Druidry is a deeply fulfilling earth-based spirituality. I have followed the Druid path for the last decade and more. Born a witch, I have followed a Pagan path for over twenty-five years now. I had always had the gift of prophetic dreams, of knowing more than is apparent in one’s actions or speech, and having a “way” with animals. I have always been slightly fey, different from others. Sensitive to noise and light, weather patterns and more means that I sought out different things growing up. I spent a lot of time in the forest and fields behind my home, preferring the company of the grazing horses and woodland creatures to most humans. I was able to do magic, though I did not know it for what it was at the time.

When I was in my late teens, I discovered Wicca. Here was a religion that made some sense to me, that honoured nature and had a goddess as well as a god. I studied and practiced Wicca as a solitary for many years, dedicating myself to the goddess Morrigan.

Time passed on, and I found myself travelling and living thousands of miles away from where I grew up. Feeling a bit lost, physically and emotionally, I was also spiritually bereft. I had no roots, and did not know how to find or put new ones down. I stopped practicing for a couple of years, not feeling quite at home with myself or my spirituality any longer.

That time passed, and I came across Druidry. It interested me, but mostly all I knew of Druids came from fantasy fiction novels that I had read. I had not studied the Celts in any great detail, though my patron goddess was Morrigan. I had felt a calling, but only half-answered it in my work and in my practice. And so I continued to drift, learning a touch more about Druidry but finding all the material dry and a little dull.

Then I found Buddhism, and Zen. My world found a sharp focus, and for a couple of years that was my sole path. It helped me to stop for a moment, to sit long and meditate, to know myself more and in doing so, learn more about others. I began to live with a bit more intention, instead of reaction. I visited sacred sites in England and Wales, and finally came to Glastonbury. There, at Chalice Well, I did not have the usual epiphany that many speak of, but rather came across a book in the gift shop that changed my life. The author was Emma Restall Orr, and her wild, muddy version of Druidry rang true to my soul. I read all her works, and then studied with her for a year while she was running courses in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside.

That’s when everything began to come together, both in my spiritual life and my practical life. I was the sum total of my experiences, but also more than that. I was a part of the web, part of an ecosystem and as such I had to give back for what I received. I had to be a functioning and intentional part of the weave of life. I found that I could blend all that I had learned throughout my life into my Druidry, and now it has led me to wonderful places where I feel that I am fulfilling a purpose. I’ve come to understand that the meaning of life is to give your life meaning.

And so here I am, sharing with you what I have learned. My learning has mostly been a solitary experience, therefore I call myself a Hedge Druid. I have been part of larger organisations, having studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and been a trustee for The Druid Network. I’m now the founder and director of Druid College UK, and am pretty much a full-time Druid. I’ve been blessed that I’m able to do this, with the support of my husband, my family and my friends. It’s been a long and sometimes difficult journey to get to where I am today, but I can honestly say that Druidry has changed my life.

The enchantment that I felt when I was younger, roaming the forests and fields has returned. I feel it all the time now; a feeling of connection and wonder. Every day is blessed. I’ve found that it’s the little things that matter. Watching the long shadows of the birch trees stretch across my back garden as the leaves flutter in the autumn breeze. Watching the sun or moon rise. Leaving offerings to the Fair Folk at the shrine near the bottom of the garden. A sense of returning to my core being has flowed back into my life. I know who I am and where I am going. It is contentment, though not without challenges. It is a deep sense of peace.

I hope to share with you in this work the inspiration and knowledge that I have received over the years. May you find the path rise to meet your feet, may you walk it with integrity and honour.

An áit a bhuil do chroí is ann a thabharfas do chosa thú.

(Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.)

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Druid Ritual

Crane Bag Advert 1It’s all 5 star reviews so far! Here’s an excerpt from my latest book, The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices which you can purchase from Amazon, Moon Books, Barnes and Noble and all good book retailers!

What is The Crane Bag?

The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices is a book in the Pagan Portals series that describes the ritual tools and practices found in the Druid tradition. As part of the Pagan Portals series, it is intended as a brief introduction to the subject, allowing the reader to further develop their own path in their own time and in their own fashion.

“The Crane Bag” is a wonderful theme in Celtic mythology, found mostly in the tales of the poet-warrior Fionn Mac Cumhail, who inherited the crane bag from his father. This bag held the special treasures of the land and was made from the skin of a crane who was, in actuality, a woman enchanted into crane form. We can view the myths that surround the crane bag as those of the gifts of sovereignty, bestowed by the goddess upon worthy heroes as is typical of Celtic mythology. The Goddess held great abundance and gifts within her womb, and only those who passed the test and were deemed fit were able to be gifted with this most precious treasure.  As the bestower of sovereignty, the Goddess fades and emerges time and again within the old stories, as does the crane bag, appearing and disappearing from myth when there is need.  The sea god, Manannan, is the original owner of the crane bag and through his love for the goddess gives and takes it back throughout the telling of the tales.

Within the mythology of the crane bag, those who follow the Celtic Druid tradition can come to know a very beneficial tool in their learning, the gifts of which are endless.  Within the crane bag are not only the tools of the Druid, but also a symbolism of the gift of the goddess, of sovereignty.  With the proper use, it can further the Druid in working with the tides of nature, finding their proper place in the grand scheme of things, living in balance, harmony and peace. In ritual use, these tools can guide the Druid to deeper levels of meaning and understanding within the tradition, helping the Druid on her journey throughout life towards integration in a holistic way of being in the world. We are able to find a deep connection, be it with the ancestors, the gods, the spirits of place or the Otherworld. Combined with the tools of the Druid’s craft held within the crane bag, we can learn how to walk the path of the Druid with honour and respect.

What is Ritual?

Ritual consists of a prescribed set of words and actions within a particular context used to bring about a desired outcome. Druid ritual uses words and actions within the context of an earth-based tradition to connect with the landscape, the gods, the ancestors and so on. For the Druid, connection, relationship and integration with the landscape are at the heart of all that she does, whether in ritual or not.  Ritual can be seen as a time set apart from daily life to reconnect the threads that bind us together with the land, with nature.  We take a step back from what is perceived as the mundane and acknowledge the sacred. Ultimately, the Druid strives to perceive the sacred in everything, and ritual helps the Druid to achieve that vision.

Our modern lives are so busy, with work, family, media, technology and more. Ritual helps us to step back from the busyness, into another way of being.  It is a change of consciousness, where we can shift our perception away from a singular view to a more plural view, integrating with the land around us, realising that we are a part of an ecosystem. Ritual is the act in the material world that connects us with a wider reality.  It is an experience, not just a thought.

Ritual is that which helps us ground and centre in the present moment. When we stop, when we take a break to perform a ritual, we become aware of who, where and what we are at a particular point in time. We are rooted in the here and now, awake and aware to all that is happening around us. When we are awake, we are able to find our place in harmony with nature, finding a deep peace both within and without. It gives us an intention, a focus with which to work in the Druid tradition, to reweave the threads of connection.

Ritual also helps us to find stability. When we create rituals to perform repeatedly, we bring that sacred perspective more and more into our everyday life. These rituals needn’t be identical each and every time; what is important is that the ritual is actually done.  It is the experience of ritual that helps us to self-locate. We cannot do that simply by thinking about it; we must act as well. When we have acted out our rituals with some regularity, we may find that our connection to the natural world deepens.  The ancient philosopher Lao Tzu once said:

Watch your thoughts, they become words;

watch your words, they become actions;

watch your actions, they become habits;

watch your habits, they become character;

watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

We as humans are creatures of habit, and indeed these habits define us as people.  A repeated action or behaviour will certainly have an impact on who we are as an individual. By using ritual we can break off from bad habits and thought patterns, for example, and find the sacredness within and all around us. It requires practice, as in the Welsh saying at the beginning of this chapter. We cannot just think about ritual; we must do it.  If we take the time to reconnect with our place in the natural world, over and over again, then we will maintain that connection more and more throughout our lives until they are an example of pure integration and harmony.

Druid ritual is also a celebration.  The eight seasonal festivals of modern Druidry help us to remember what is going on in nature at the present moment. There are many books that cover the eight seasonal festivals, their origins, meanings and ways to celebrate, and so we will not cover that here (see bibliography and suggested reading for more). Rather, we will look at how Druid ritual is set up, from start to finish, using our tools from the crane bag to find our soul map in our own environment.

Ritual is also a tool for transformation. When we have worked with intention and grounded ourselves in the present moment, we cannot help but be transformed as our perception shifts from one perceived reality to another. Through the experience of ritual, we understand that our point of view is not the only one, and that perception shifts with intention. When we broaden our horizons, we cannot help but be transformed.

Re-enchanting the Soul

Work and familial obligations can sometimes weigh us down in a sea of mundane jobs, tasks, and commitments. With Druid ritual, we can re-enchant the soul to bring the magic back into our everyday lives, as we perceive the sacredness of all things. Then, we realise that there is no such thing as the mundane, only the sacred. The division between the two is realised as an illusion, and we are thus able to “travel between the worlds”.

The Druid is always questing for inspiration, or awen. Awen is a Welsh word, sometimes translated as “flowing spirit” or “flowing inspiration”.  Creativity is such a large part of the Druid path, where we are inspired and then inspire others in return. This exchange of inspiration is at the heart of all that we do, in deep relationship with the world around us. When we touch each other soul to soul, where we find intention blending together to work in harmony, then we are inspired. The Druid looks to the natural world around her to gain that inspiration.  She takes her cues from nature as to how to live in the present moment, utterly awake and aware. So inspired, she lives her life as best she can as part of that environment, in tune with all that shares the same space. By doing so, she also inspires others in return.

Simply by getting outside and into “nature”, our awareness shifts. Though nature is something that we are a part of all the time, we often see it as something “out there”, as external to ourselves. When we realise that we are a part of nature, we shift from a self-centred perspective to an integrated one, thereby opening our eyes to the beauty and wonder that lies all around us each and every day. Taking a walk helps us to see the beauty of an oak tree in full leaf, to feel the warm caress of the summer wind, to feel the blessing of the rain or the exhilaration of a snowstorm. We awaken our senses to the world around us simply by being out in it, in nature, away from central heating and electricity, away from cars, phones and computers. Though all these things can be of great benefit, when we re-attune our senses to our “natural” environment, we can also reawaken something that has long lain dormant within our souls. We can re-enchant our lives, re-wilding our souls.  We can return to the very roots of our being. We can find the child-like wonder while looking at an ants’ nest, or listening to the blackbird at dusk.  We no longer become bored or jaded, but rather totally awake to the world around us. Our lives are benefitted from this re-enchantment on every level. This is the awen.

This is also the importance of ritual. When we take the time to re-enchant our souls, we make our lives more magical, more meaningful and more present. We can step outside the realms of 9-5 living.  We enter into a state of intention and enchantment, inspired and inspiring others in return. In this, we find true relationship.

May your path be enchanted with the old tales and the songs of the land!

(Extract from The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices by Joanna van der Hoeven. www.joannavanderhoeven.com).

 

The Journey Continues…

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

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

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

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

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

Druid College UK are Crowdfunding for Scholarship Programme

At Druid College UK we are seeking people to help us create and sustain a scholarship programme, to enable those who wish to enroll but lack the funds to do so. At the moment we offer a discounted price for those on a low-income budget, but we only have a few places on the course where we are able to do this every year. With a scholarship programme, we would be able to extend this offer to many more people from all over the community who are seeking learning on their spiritual path.  Many of our students are also international students, and the travel expenses on top of the tuition fees can be a real challenge. So, if you can help us out by donating towards our scholarship programme, that would be greatly appreciated!

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/druid-college-uk-scholarship-programme

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.