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.

Flame of Samhain

flmeShine, in the coming darkness. Let the spark of awen light the flame within your soul. Guard that flame, the truth against the world. Let it be your guide, let it be your light, to shine out into the world.

There will be challenges. There will be challenges against you, against the world. The flame of others may not shine so bright, for they have not discovered the beauty and promise that they hold. The flame within their own hearts has not been set alight, or has been dimmed by pain, by the past, by worries of the future. Seek to light the flame in others, even as you hold fast to your own inner flame. Support and nurture the spark within, to allow truth into the world.

Only you can allow others to dim your light, to weaken your flame. And they may try, especially when you shine so bright. For we live in a world where competition and dissatisfaction is rife, where if someone else is succeeding, it is perceived as personal failure in our own lives. Drop this illusion, and fan the flames within and without. If one succeeds, we all succeed. Two flames burn brighter than one, and blowing out someone else’s flame does not make yours burn brighter. When you burn bright, and others seek to dim your flame with their own pain, their own wounds, then burn all that much brighter, to guide the way in the dimly lit corridors of the mind, and the heartache of the soul. Know that in the action of dimming another’s flame, there lies a wounded heart, and often a frightened soul. Keep clear in your boundaries, but also be compassionate in your words and deeds.

Shine on. Nothing can take that away from you but your own self.

May we be the awen.

Fire in the Head

Well, the manuscript has been handed in for my next book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature. I’ve just come back from a fabulous weekend of teaching at Druid College. It’s been a busy few weeks, to say the least! Everything is coming together, after the nourishing rains and sunlight, both in the inner worlds and the outer. The bluebells are out in full force, the awen is flowing and the sunlight every growing. Beltane is near.

These past few years I have learned so much about my local environment, having moved from the city to the country back in 2010. Being a country girl at heart, it was like a huge sigh of relief, getting away from the concrete and out into the sweet-smelling air of the rural countryside. I have explored the ancestors of place, finding ancient Celtic settlements, henges and tumuli. I have also discovered that my ancestry, with regards to ethnicity through DNA testing, is 56% British (“native” British people are usually 60%), which was a shock as I had pretty much thought all my ancestry would be Western European, seeing as I could trace my family history back to the Netherlands for at least 250 years. Does this give me a deeper sense of belonging to this land? It does, and it doesn’t. I feel less like a visitor, but then again I have been living here in the UK for nearly twenty years. When does someone become native? Is it justified by a length of time, by ancestry?

For me, I think it comes down to relationship. If I have soul-deep relationship with the land, if I am connected to it on every level, then I am home.

Where I live there are the songs of Celts and Saxons, Normans and Friesians. But it is the songs of the Celts that I find harmony with more than most, and being able to connect to these ancestors through blood, place and tradition brings an even deeper level of understanding to my being. I love living in Boudica country. I love learning more and more about the history, the theology. These have always got my fires burning, all throughout my schooling years as a child into adulthood. Now they feel a bit more solidified, a bit more a part of me than someone else’s stories.

Our teaching at Druid College combines the history and theology of both ancient Celtic and modern-day Druidry. I am blessed to have a co-tutor who is, in my eyes, the leading authority in this area (and many other world religions): Robin Herne. I feel that together we have created something that is truly special, truly unique. I have the most amazing students this year, our inaugural year, who inspire me in a beautiful cycle of awen and creativity.

Everything feels like it is coming together in wonderful synchronicity, in beautiful symbiosis. Flowing with the currents of awen, walking with honour and responsibility, ever inspired by the wonder of existence I simply cannot take anything for granted. The fires of Beltane will soon be lit. The fire in the head simply will not quit.

And so this Beltane I hope to travel out to the local ancient sacred spaces, to spend the night with the ancestors, lighting a fire and sleeping out under the stars, walking between this world and the Otherworld. The fire in my head will not allow me to do otherwise, it seems. The fire in the belly keeps me stoked. The fire in the cauldron brings potential and awen.

And if I’m not back in a hundred years, you’ll know where to find me!

The Song of Wandering Aengus

By William Butler Yeats

I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head,
And cut and peeled a hazel wand,
And hooked a berry to a thread;
And when white moths were on the wing,
And moth-like stars were flickering out,
I dropped the berry in a stream
And caught a little silver trout.
When I had laid it on the floor
I went to blow the fire a-flame,
But something rustled on the floor,
And someone called me by my name:
It had become a glimmering girl
With apple blossom in her hair
Who called me by my name and ran
And faded through the brightening air.
Though I am old with wandering
Through hollow lands and hilly lands,
I will find out where she has gone,
And kiss her lips and take her hands;
And walk among long dappled grass,
And pluck till time and times are done,
The silver apples of the moon,
The golden apples of the sun.

 

 

Dousing the Fire

Brighid is often known as the goddess of the sacred flame and of the sacred well. It is often said in religions throughout the world that where fire and water meet there is the greatest potential. Exploring her aspects of fire and water are extremely beneficial and here I shall talk a bit about fire; however, perhaps not in its most usual aspect.

We are all familiar with fire as flame, as external energy whether that be a fire in the hearth, the combustion that allows us mechanised transportation or the heat of the sun. What I’ve also been exploring is the fire within, that flame or spark of energy that ignites us to do things, say things, create things. I often think of inspiration in the Druidical “fire in the head” sense, but I also feel fire in the belly and fire in the heart. The fire in the belly is intuitive, instinctive. The fire in the heart is our passion, our love, our capacity for compassion and understanding.

The fire of the heart can take a long time to come into being. In our society, we often feel isolated from each other, even when we are literally living on top of each other in urban high-rise complexes. We learn coping techniques of shutting ourselves off from one another in order to function. We may have been hurt by others in the past and that causes us to dampen our flame of love for the rest of the world.

We also live in a society wherein it seems perfectly acceptable to douse someone’s fire. Think of reality shows, especially those that have “judges” critiquing the participants. Last year I gave up watching Strictly Come Dancing because I was tired of one particular judge being an outright bully, thinking his comments were humorous when they were in reality just plain mean. Putting down, making fun of someone who is simply trying their best to participate in a dance show to raise money for Children in Need is not something I wanted to be a part of. I can donate money directly instead of supporting that kind of behaviour.

We are so influenced by what we watch on television – we cannot deny that we are not. And it frightens me, especially with the amount of television that children are often exposed to these days. It is a rare occurrence, even where I live, to actually see children playing outside despite there being the most gorgeous countryside at their disposal. Whether that is due to parents’ control or other factors I cannot know – all I know is that when I was growing up the streets would be filled with neighbourhood children riding bikes or playing street hockey among other games. Are children nowadays being raised by television and computer games instead?

We live in an extremely competitive society, or so we are told. We feel that we always need the upper hand, the edge on a situation. We are now programmed to work against each other as opposed to with each other. We are trying to beat that other person out in promotion, or to be the best as everyone knows that the top dog is the happiest. We live in a put-down culture where co-operation simply doesn’t exist. We do not know our neighbours.

Living like this provides a perfect divide and conquer technique for those who want to keep us under their control. What we need to do is to reclaim our own power, and that of our own community. Instead of dousing the fire in other people, we need to cheer them on, to work together to make our lives better. It’s happening in small grassroots ways here and there, but not on a massive scale. In my own village, we have a village allotment where people can get together to work on group projects as well as their own. The village shop often acts as a hub for people to interact with each other.

What we need to do is to stop trying to take each other down and instead build each other up. We need to realise that life is not about competition. As a social species, we thrive better when we work together. When we douse the fire in other people’s hearts we are also dousing the fire within our own hearts. Every word, every deed with the intention of dousing another’s fire reduces our own capacity for love and compassion, to make the world a better place. Why on earth would we want to do that?

In her book, The Earth Path author and activist Starhawk talks about this very subject, exploring it at various Witchcamps. A proud supporter of community effort and achievement, of bringing power back to the people, she has worked with the various elements. She tells us of the results of working with fire and dousing another’s energy.

Throughout that week, we went on to reflect on the ways in which we put out each other’s fire. When we recognise subtle energies, we become responsible for the kind of energy we are putting forth in our community. The things we do and say about each other create subtle energetic fields that either support our work and our relationships, or undermine them.

Malicious gossip, backbiting, unsupportive criticism, and mean-spiritedness douse even the stoutest of fire. And because a fire takes energy to build and maintain, such negativity is wasteful of the community’s resources; it’s like use electricity not just to keep the radio on all the time, but to keep it tuned to an irritating and distracting station… when anger festers, when we chew over our grievances like old bones without expressing them directly, when we meet others with sullenness or resentment, we douse not only their fire but our own.”

We need to judge situations in our lives all the time – they key to doing so lies in not being judgemental. We also need to support each other. If you don’t like what someone is doing, if you think it is detrimental to the community, you need to speak to that person directly. If you just don’t like them, then leave them well enough alone. All too often it is easy to attack or undermine someone through subtle means – Facebook and blogs are often used as tools for such behaviour. We can so easily dowse another’s fire through incessant comments or insidious ways online without anyone else apart from the target being the wiser. Let’s stop this behaviour right now. It is within our power.

Let’s cheer each other on, and where we simply cannot let us walk away with respect. Let’s stand up for what we believe in without resorting to maliciousness. Let’s put some good fuel onto the fire of our hearts and that of others and in doing so everything will burn with a cleaner, better focused energy.

Brighid has taught me to look deeply into what is feeding my fire, and how I can feed the fire within others. For that I am utterly thankful.

 

The blessing of Imbolc

Fantasy artwork by Mictones

Fantasy artwork by Mictones

Imbolc is fast approaching. Here in my garden in the UK, the crocuses are starting to come out, and a lone daffodil stands courageously amidst the dried, chopped stalks of last year’s growth. Traditionally, it was the time when the ewes began to lactate, providing much needed milk for the farmers whose food stores were becoming low. Nowadays, the sheep are birthing at different times of the year – at one farm here where I live in Suffolk, the farmer timed it so that they would birth during the Christmas holidays, as that was when he had the most time to dedicate to them, to see to their health and welfare during this time. Luckily for all, it has been a mild winter, all things considered – I would hope that if weather conditions were harsh, the farmer would be prepared to bring them all indoors. Some pagans celebrate Imbolc when the first snowdrops are out, but again that could be anywhere from beginning of January to March, weather depending. I’ve even seen snowdrops out on a sunny bank in December. Most Pagans today follow the festivals by the calendar year, and the 2nd of February (or the evening before, as the Celts began their day at sunset) is when this special time is celebrated.

It is also a festival connected to Brighid, whether it be the Celtic goddess or the Irish saint. If you do a little research into Her, you will find many connotations, associations and roles that she plays both in mythology and in the cycles of life and death. For me, Brighde as I know her is a little less known; she is the White Serpent of Albion.

You won’t find much lore relating to this aspect of Her. This is based on small snippets of information and a huge amount of experiential ritual, practice and connection. She first came to me several years ago at Imbolc, as I was performing a solitary ritual in my backyard on the mossy ground beneath the beech tree. I placed my hands upon the soft earth, grounding and feeling the earth’s energies stirring as the growing heat of the sun shone on my head and shoulders. An image of a large, coiled white serpent or a dragon beneath the dark earth sprang into my mind. The serpent was slowly stirring, rising up through the ground, slowly uncoiling towards the warmth and light from its dark and comfortable winter slumber. A flash, and suddenly I was connected to sacred sites across this whole island – Avebury and Glastonbury, stone circles in the Scottish Highlands, dolmen in Ireland and Wales, the tumuli several fields over. As quickly as it flashed through my mind it was gone, but I felt the energy, the connection thrumming through my veins for days afterwards. Even simply thinking about that experience brings the connection back, though every now and then I go to my little sacred spot in the garden and perform this ritual again, to re-establish or reaffirm that connection when the need arises.

This is Brighde as I know Her. The serpent energy that connects and flows through these lands. Her gift is awen, inspiration, the fire in the head and the fire in the belly. There is fire within her serpentine body, fire in the sky that she rises towards in her journey throughout the year. After the summer solstice she begins her descent again into the earth, into the darkness. Nwyfre, the life force, flows through her; she is the life force itself. Where she touches flows awen, inspiration and connection to that force. It is beautiful and powerful, a kind of power that sparks the soul and body into action, into seeing beyond the self and into a whole other world that might otherwise go unnoticed. Through that connection, everything is sacred.

I’ve worked with Brighde’s serpent energy for a couple of years now, and it sings to me in times of joy and in times of despair. When I need that connection I can simply remember that moment, if I am not able to go outside and touch the earth. Touching the earth is such a great experience – every Pagan should try it. It takes the gods, the ancestors, the elements out of an abstract and into being. It is life and death, the cycle, the spiral, the great dance.

And so I look forward to this special time of year, and re-establishing that connection, feeling my energies rising even as the serpent below me uncoils towards the surface. I can feel it in my spine, chakras opening as the serpent rises through my body. I can feel it humming in the spirals of my DNA. I can feel it resonating throughout the spiral galaxy and beyond.

I wish you all a blessed Imbolc and Brighde’s blessing to you all.

Beltane and bluebells

We headed off across the field, flowers in our hair, to find the bluebell woods at Beltane. Some of us had seen them before; the others were in for a big surprise.

As we neared the gate, the scent of the blossom floated on the breeze, and a haze of purple/blue could be seen. As we passed through, we simply stood and stared at the thick, lush carpet of flowers that covered the entire floor of the little wood. This place was special.

We walked on, talking of faeries and bending down to touch and smell those flowers next to the path. Bees buzzed past, and the greening canopy of leaves overhead whispered in the breeze of the coming summer. We made our way to a little faery knoll, where there was a space of grass and where we could do the first half of our ritual without fear of crushing any of the tiny, precious flowers.

We sat, and prayed to the spirits of the wood. They welcomed us with open arms, a gentle hug of affirmation. We proceeded with our ritual, honouring the gods, the ancestors the four quarters, the three realms. We spoke of our own fires within, of what sparked our passion in life. Our words were witnessed by the circle of present, and all else around us, both seen and unseen.

We then made our offerings and closed down the ritual, heading back to the house. Once there, we lit the twin fires in the backyard, and drummed the energy into being. With drums pounding, we each took our turn walking between the fires, letting their heat and energy fill our souls with the song of flames and smoke, of fuel and light, of love, sex and passion. We let the flames purify our souls, and released what we had held onto all winter that was unnecessary. Once the flames died down, we then jumped the fires, some with skirts held high, with joy in our hearts and smiles on our faces.

The fires burned lower, and we walked once again between the two fires, to be smudged by twin bearers of mugwort, who lit their bundles in the flames and swept them all over our bodies. There was laughter and thoughtfulness, and we then sat down around the fires for the next part of our ritual.

We had prepared words of love; words of love that we wished someone would write or say to us. We wrote love poems to ourselves, with words honouring the fact that love must first come from within. We shared the poems and words with laughter and with tears, and then burned the papers in offering to the spirits. We then stood, delighting in an energy shower/chant that one of our group taught to us on the spot, and then we did a drum healing for all.

All in all, it was the most blessed Beltane ritual that I have ever had the pleasure of attending. This year feels so…. it just feels so much more. Things are happening. Things are moving, changing. The gods are calling, the woods beckon, the fire of light and life ignites in our souls. Welcome summer.

A Rainy Day and 8 Coloured Pencils…

Brighde has called to me since my visit to the White Spring in Glastonbury (and twice before) and I have answered that call.  I am currently exploring her Fire element.  Here’s what the inspiration of Brighde provided this afternoon…

Fire of Brighde ©Joanna van der Hoeven 2014

Fire of Brighde ©Joanna van der Hoeven 2014

Fire of Brighde ©Joanna van der Hoeven 2014

Fire of Brighde, ©Joanna van der Hoeven 2014

Fire of Brighde ©Joanna van der Hoeven 2014

Fire of Brighde, ©Joanna van der Hoeven 2014