Learn about the festival of Imbolc, and how to incorporate it into your magical life 🙂 Subscribe to my Youtube channel to keep up to date with all my new videos! Blessings of the coming gentle time of Imbolc to you all. xoxo
Learn about the festival of Imbolc, and how to incorporate it into your magical life 🙂 Subscribe to my Youtube channel to keep up to date with all my new videos! Blessings of the coming gentle time of Imbolc to you all. xoxo
What a trip! Had a brilliant time, and looking forward already to next year. I’ll be doing more pilgrimages to various sites over the next year, so please consider becoming a Patron to support my work! https://www.patreon.com/joannavanderhoeven
Blessings of Lammas/Lughnasadh/Gwyl Awst to you. May your harvest be abundant and rewarding, and may we learn from our experience to carry knowledge forward into wisdom.
I have just come back from a four day road-trip with two of my best friends into the heart of the Wiltshire landscape, poking our noses in Somerset to visit Glastonbury and participate in a workshop run by author and activist Starhawk on Sunday as part of the Goddess Conference’s fringe events. To say I am shattered is an understatement; my body has shut down completely, and I am now suffering from a cold as well as my monthly moon-time a week early. When will I ever learn??? Easy does it!
At any rate, it was a magical time, with perhaps the most transformative event being a quiet meditation upon West Kennet Long Barrow. The harvest was in full swing in the landscape all around. Where we came from in Suffolk, the harvest began in early July, as we hadn’t had rain for two months. They were a bit more fortunate down in the south-west, and the harvest timing was more in tune with the Wheel of the Year than over in the East, where everything seems rather disjointed this year.
Sitting on top of the barrow, I could feel the energy of the land around me, as well as the energy of the ancestors and the barrow itself beneath me. The land’s energy was golden like the sun, flowing and bright. It was a stark contrast to the energy of the barrow, which was dark, cool and quiet. In the landscape, looking out over at Silbury Hill, I could feel the richness of this time of year, and see the ancient priests of the land atop the platform of that great hill, directing the ritual observances for honouring the harvest and the land, beginning at The Sanctuary and flowing all throughout that wonderful temple radiating outwards from Avebury’s henge and circle. Everything was in motion, everything was in full swing.
But beneath me was the silence of death, of deep stillness and quiet. Despite the bus load of tourists that had come and gone while I was meditating, I could still feel that deep sense of rest beneath me. I made my way down and into the barrow itself, stopping at the entrance to honour the ancestors. Deep within the barrow, in the furthest accessible chamber, I stood, honouring the silence of death.
But then the sounds of life came from the entrance, as baby birds chirped in their nest upon the arrival of their parents. Two families of swallows were nesting just above the entrance-way to the tomb, and the cycle of life and death seemed complete, and ever entwined, like beautiful Celtic knotwork or the spirals of the triskele seen upon so many of the neolithic and megalithic structures that abound in these British Isles.
We had just come from Swallowhead Spring, where it was a trickle in the dry landscape. Watercress choked the river Kennet, and the spring itself was dry.
We later moved to The Sanctuary, to experience this wonderful temple. It was like travelling back in time. We also visited the so-called “Moon Temple” that has been discussed in recent editions of Pagan Dawn magazine by geomancer Terence Mead. Sadly, we were unable to actually get close to the temple, as the farmer has moved all his cows, calves and a great big bull into that square kilometre where much of the temple lies. Shame, as we had walked miles and miles to get to it!
At Avebury we planned to hold a small ritual, just the three of us, during the lunar eclipse. We found a quiet corner, well, quiet for a minute or two before an old man tottered towards us as we had begun! It was all very odd, as he came near and then rolled out a blanket to sit upon, and made as if he was going to have a little nap. He stayed for a few minutes, then packed up again and made his way back the way that he had come. All very odd! We wondered if he was really real, and perhaps was, in fact, a spirit of place come to visit…
The eclipse was hidden behind fast moving clouds, and it seemed like the Wild Hunt was out riding early. The main part of the circle and henge had an air of a festival about it, so we kept to the quiet fringes and away from any crowds. As the wind picked up and our tired limbs grew heavy and cold, we called it a night and headed back to the hotel.
All in all, it was an interesting trip, deep in the heart of such a sacred landscape. But is has also made me very aware of my own landscape, and how sacred it is to me personally. I won’t be heading back that way for some time now, for I found myself missing my land, my locality, more and more as each day passed. The long six-hour drive home was taxing, and I am so grateful now just to be home, still buzzing from the experience at West Kennet, but rooting my feet firmly into the sandy heathland soil of home.
When visiting a sacred site, we can get carried away. We can often forget that at public sacred sites there are others there who are on their own quest, pilgrimage, whatever. We want to rush in, to do the work, to perform ritual, to connect, to sing, chant and celebrate. But we have to think more carefully about shared space.
I recently went to the White Spring with my Druid College Year 3 apprentices. I adore the White Spring; it’s such a lovely site. However, after about 15 minutes various people and groups piled in to temple, and the words “Pagan Circus” comes to mind…
At one point, we had some Druids chanting the awen softly one corner. Lovely. But then another woman began singing in another corner. In a third corner, a man was standing and singing at the top of his lungs (which in that space is really, really loud). Trying to get away from all this noise, I made my way the quietest part of the Mirror Pool in the middle of the temple. I gazed into the water, slowly collecting my thoughts and meditating upon the sacred water, when suddenly three women, two naked and one clothed, clambered into the Mirror Pool, stood in the middle of it and held hands, performing some sort of ritual between themselves. Needless to say, my meditation was, by then, a hopeless cause.
We have so little opportunity to be who we are, especially at such sacred sites as the White Spring. But we also have to bear in mind that this is a public space. There are other Pagans there who are attempting to commune with the energies, the gods and goddesses, the spirits of place, and who don’t need others crashing in on their precious few minutes in that area. These sites are not a Pagan free-for-all. We must respect others and the place. You would never see a group of monks from an abbey in the south of France rock up to Ely Cathedral and suddenly perform Mass, or chant their evensong while the resident monks and visitors alike are doing their thing. We have to bear this in mind, that other people’s experiences are just as important and valid as our own.
And it’s not just Pagans visiting these spaces. The White Spring is open to everyone, from groups of nuns visiting from Spain to families from Yorkshire on a weekend getaway. There are very practical things we need to bear in mind at such places. For one, it’s still illegal to be naked in a public space. For another, not everyone wants to see naked people, for various reasons. Imagine the Catholic nun trying to connect with St Brigid, and then having a group of naked priestesses splashing her habit as they clamber in and out of the sacred pool (there is, indeed, a separate plunge pool for people to dip in, should they wish!). Imagine a primary school teacher asking the young girl what she did on the weekend, and her reply was “Daddy and I went to visit a spring, and watched naked ladies.”
Many of these sacred sites have special out of hours timings for those who wish to hold private ritual. Both Chalice Well and the White Spring offer this, and it should be borne in mind by those who wish to hold ritual at these sites. That way, you won’t be intruding on anyone’s time spent at these sites, or offend anyone who’s beliefs are not your own. It requires advance planning and commitment, but it’s not that hard. I’ve done it myself, and had private time at the White Spring to plunge my naked self in the icy waters with a couple of friends, or visited the Red Spring after closing hours.
Let’s bear in mind other people’s experiences, which are just as valid as our own. Let’s not turn our sacred sites into spaces of competing rituals and rites all happening at the same time. Let’s honour the sacredness of the site, and remember that it’s not just there for us. The energy of these spaces is not only for our own spiritual nourishment. We take, take, take all the time. Receive healing, inspiration and more at these sites, by all means. But remember to give back, by respecting the site, and other people visiting it.
Make it an enjoyable and memorable experience for all.
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.
A couple of friends and I decided last minute that we needed to go to Glastonbury very soon, and so off we headed Tuesday morning from Suffolk before 5am. We spent a wonderful day in Glastonbury, visiting the Red and White Springs, as well as watching the sun set from the top of the Tor. As usual, I had several epiphanies at those sacred sites, and will be working through them, hoping to form them into some sense of coherent words in the future. Meeting with Rhiannon, Bloedeuwedd and Cerridwen is a life-changing experience.
On our return trip back home the next day, we stopped at Swallowhead Springs, and there I found Brighid in the winterbourne spring. My heart was full, and tears came to my eyes as I watched the flow come out from its secret entrance beneath the rocks.
We also stopped at Avebury, and though it was filled with several Dutch tour busloads (I always get homesick when I hear Dutch!) it still held that aura of serenity that it always does.
Lots of processing to do now, lots to think over, to implement, to live. May we be the awen!
I spent last weekend in Glastonbury, a beautiful little town where I always go a couple of times each year to refocus and recharge the old batteries on a spiritual pilgrimage. As a Druid, I get inspired by the land around me and my home environment more than anything, but if you want to see outside the box so to speak, there’s nothing better than a pilgrimage to a spot that has great energy and peace.
And so, my friend and I piled into the car and drove down to Somerset, stopping off at Avebury on the way as she had never seen it before. We had lunch at the Lion (a fantastic pumpkin chili burger each) and then walked amongst the stones. After we had completed our first circuit we went and spent some time by the Obelisk, in one of the two inner circles. This is a special spot for me, as it really is a gateway into the past; time moves differently in that circle. Sitting on the ground, placing your hands upon the grass you could feel time shifting and slipping in and out of the present, looking up and seeing what Avebury would have looked like before the houses were built, before the village came. It’s a powerful thing, going in and out of time, but also so wonderful: a reminder that time is not linear, exactly, but an ever ebbing and flowing tide.
After Avebury we headed to Glastonbury, where we had hoped to meet up with some friends and drum up on top of the Tor at sunset. By the time we had settled in and eaten, it had already gone past 9pm and we were just too tired, and had to pass on that little excursion. We went back to the B&B (Pilgrim’s B&B – I highly recommend it) and with a visit from the resident cat we went to sleep, having a big day ahead of us.
The next day we were up early – too early for anything to be open! Shops don’t open until after 10am (some of them opening when they feel like it) and the Goddess Temple was only open from 12 noon. So we wandered around the town, looking in windows and finally visiting them when they opened. There are some really lovely shops there, with good books, items and other pagan goodies (I highly recommend the incense from The Goddess and Green Man – Mists of Avalon and the Golden Sickle are my favourite!). We then went to the Goddess Temple, where we were able to find a little sanctuary from the high street. Clad in the red colours of Beltane still, it was a warm and welcoming atmosphere. Meditation is so easy in that sacred space. I asked one of the temple priests if he could smudge me and he did with some really powerful incense cleansing my spirit with skilful sweeps. Inside the temple there is also a Red Tent, where I always go for a second meditation session and a card reading using the Temple’s own deck of cards they created out of the Nine Morgens of their tradition. I got Freedom, and pondered that for a while in the beauty of the little temple.
We had some lunch and then headed to the White Spring, but it was closed. Sadly, the opening hours state that it is open in the afternoons on the weekends, but it is rather hit or miss as to whether anyone actually comes and opens them. So we then proceeded to Chalice Well, a beautiful space with lush gardens and a light yet at the same time heavy atmosphere of the sacred. So many people from all over the world have been there, and it is amazing to think how many feet have walked these paths, drunk these sacred waters and prayed by the wellhead. I did my usual ritualistic route up to the wellhead at the top of the garden, where a few other people were sitting. As I settled myself, I could see the usual golden glow of healing emanating from the well and flowing out into the gardens. Some young children ran up, and the glow intensified around them. They looked down into the well and then ran off, moving with the swift determination that youngsters do when they must see and be everywhere at once. I smiled, loving their fresh energy and youthful exuberance. Normally I would have been irritated, as I am not particularly maternal, but their energy and that of the well brought a smile of joy to my face. As I sat and basked in that energy I looked around to the others who had gathered around the well head. I realised the deep need for healing that so many had when coming to the Red Spring, whether physical or emotional or both. My heart opened to everyone who had gathered there, wishing them all the healing that they needed, my soul opening in compassion.
After a time I went to sit on the lower slopes of Chalice Hill, where the Chalice Well Gardens overlook the Tor. Meditating there for a bit I was able to send my roots deep into the ground, breathing into them and through them from the deep, dark depths of the soil. My heart was calm, my soul at peace.
We left the gardens and I met an old friend from The Druid Network, who was there with a friend of his. It was so lovely to see him, and even though I had difficulties in the past with his friend, my heart was open to them both – Chalice Well is such a place of healing, I cannot even begin to describe it. We all chatted and laughed, and then we continued onto the Tor while they made their way into the gardens.
As we puffed our way up the steep slope of Glastonbury Tor, the wind whipped our hair and clothes and stung our cheeks. It was windy, even for the Tor, which is always windy. We got to the top, and as always felt the energy whirling around us, pulling us up, down, sideways, inside and out. My friend went and sat on the northern side while I found a little corner out of the wind facing westwards. As I sat I could feel the energy that made this such a special place, a place between the worlds, between the earth and sky with fresh clean water flowing from it into the red and white springs below. It was then that it struck me – freedom. The card that I had drawn from the goddess temple. Freedom was not just physical or creative freedom, but also an emotional freedom. Letting go of hate, letting go of past grudges, we are then free. My spirit soared with the jackdaws that lifted off the grassy slopes of the Tor to ride down into the valley below. The epiphany had struck, not just as an intellectual exercise but as a real life experience, from start to finish in a single day. My heart opened in true compassion on top of the Tor, to everything on this planet, like it never had before and I felt a deep peace settle in my soul that would carry me through my life ahead. I realised that before I had only glimpses of the healing power of compassion, now the light flooded through my being, in perfect freedom.
We went back down to enjoy a nice meal and then relaxed in the B&B. Tomorrow we would finish our shopping and pop into the White Spring on the off chance that it would be open (it wasn’t when we were there). I was saddened that I could not actually visit inside the White Spring, where I had first met my goddess, Brighid, but I could still feel her all around me, as I always do, wherever I am in the world.
Our journey back was quick and painless, and exhausted I climbed into bed next to my husband, my two cats snuggling up as if I had been away for weeks. Going away makes you appreciate all that you have even more, even as it opens up new doors and allows for new experiences. Thank you, Glastonbury, once again, for a beautiful weekend.
Friendship is one of the greatest gifts we can have on this planet. I am blessed, in that I have a loving family and lots of good friends. In the last six to eight years I’ve developed close bonds with my girlfriends, and it is something that I treasure deeply.
Where two souls meet, in open honesty, with no agenda there is a beautiful, wonderful, inspiring interaction of heart meeting heart. In all our gloriousness and with all our faults, we can be who we truly are and in that honesty, are accepted for who we are. My friends are there to help when I need help, to point out where I might be wrong in a situation, to advise when I might be right, and to not judge me either way. I’m filled with gratitude for having friends like these.
For me, there is a special closeness, a special bonding with my girlfriends. Perhaps it is because we understand each other, have many similar shared experiences in our lives. Maybe it’s just our souls connecting with honesty. Whatever it is, it fills me with joy and inspiration. I love being with them, hearing their laughter, sharing their tears, wrapping my arms around them and having them hold me in return. With belly-shaking guffaws, snorts, farts, burps and all, they are my best friends.
Many of my girlfriends have a love of dance – quite a few of them are fellow belly dancers. We find a freedom in movement, a sense of belonging to a tribe who love to dance, who love music, who love to be in each other’s company in that setting and in others. I believe that as a species we were meant to dance, that it opens up our hearts and souls and allows us to speak without words. It allows us freedom from fear, from inhibition, from the walls that we surround ourselves with each and every day.
And so I’m looking forward to getting back to Glastonbury with one of my best friends, who couldn’t be with us last time we all went together. Spending time together laughing and enjoying good food. Spending time together in silence. Spending time together singing along to every Taylor Swift song from every album in the car drive down. Keeping each other awake on the car ride back. Experiencing a shared boundary and having a shared experience – that is what life is all about. So many things are better when they are shared.
To all my girlfriends, I love you with all my heart. You are my sisters, my inspiration, my joy. x
50 Druids were selected to contribute to Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) 50th anniversary celebration book, The Golden Seed, and I was honoured and delighted to be one of them. Order your copy now of this wonderful book, with fabulous illustrations and also a DVD of the 50th Anniversary event in Glastonbury with photos and music by Damh the Bard! Pre-ordered copies are in the mail as of today – yay!
Check out the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD)’s book celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Order! I was honoured to be interviewed by Philip Carr-Gomm for this very special weekend, and was delighted to be a part of it all. You can buy The Golden Seed from OBOD’s online store now! Click HERE for more details.