Reblog: A Full Moon of Samhain Ritual

Here’s what happened on the full moon of Samhain this year 🙂  To read the original blog post, visit my channel at SageWoman for Witches and Pagans, at PaganSquare.

The candles were lit, the incense smoking, and the bells of the church ringing in the still night air. Friday night is the practice night for the village bell-ringers, and so our ritual was accentuated by their skilful tones. The moon was riding high in a hazy sky, and haloed with an ever-widening ring that spoke of the Otherworld.

We raised our boundary, which was to the whole of the property, and called to the realms of Land, Sea and Sky. We honoured the ancestors at the full moon of Samhain, as well as the spirits of place. We invited the Fair Folk who were in tune with our intention, as they have been a part of our rituals since we began. We sang to the four quarters, and then invoked the gods. We invited all who were harmony with us this Samhain night. This was our first time in invoking the god into our full moon ritual, but it felt right. How right, we were just about to discover.

We honoured the tides of Samhain, the winter months of darkness. We then performed our magical working at the fire, and gathering our clooties: ribbons of intention that we tie to the branches of the apple tree at the bottom of the garden every month. Walking back to the terrace where the bird bath, now a sacred basin of water reflecting the moonlight, served as our vessel as we drew down the moon into the water. The church bells rang in time to our working, and stopped just as we finished. The air was utterly still.

Suddenly, a loud bark sounded from the other side of the hedge, down the track a little ways. A fallow deer stag, wandering the moonlit night. We stopped and turned to the noise, and he barked again, this time a little closer. We looked to each other and smiled, feeling blessed by his presence. Then an enormous bark, just the other side of the cedar boundary, which made us all jump. He was right up against the hedge, near the little hole that the muntjac, fallow deer and badgers made.

And he was trying to come through.

We could hear him brushing against the hedge, wanted to come through the doorway, but his antlers preventing him from doing so. The firelight made the area where the entrance lay shadowed from our sight. Our breath quickening, we looked at each other. The God was here, and he was making himself known. He paced along the back boundary, trying to come through first one hole in one corner, and then the other. He then returned to the middle of the hedge, where the boundary between the civilised and the wild lay, that doorway to the Otherworld that lay in the hedge, and pawed the ground, sniffing the night air, sniffing the scent of the three women gathered around the sacred pool. Gathered around the sacred pool, with hearts beating loudly in their breast.

“A blessing to you, God of Samhain, Lord of the Wildwood. May your journey into darkness be blessed, and we are honoured by your presence,” I whispered softly into the night, tears falling down my cheek.

We heard him still sniffing, and we felt his eyes upon us. The world stood still, and we hardly dared to breathe. Would he change his shape and come through? What would we do if that happened? A hush descended, and we no longer heard him just the other side of the hedge. With hands slightly shaking, we dipped our clooties into the water and walked down to the apple tree, right where he had been sniffing just the other side. As we walked, we sang to let him know we were approaching. “Deep into the earth I go, deep into the earth I go. Hold my hand, brother; hold my hand. Hold my hand, sister; hold my hand”. We bravely tied our ribbons to the branches, knowing that the God stood only a few feet away from us. Stepping back, we finished the chant, and bowed to the apple tree and hedge, bathed in the soft moonlight. Silence reigned. We knew he was no longer there, and we didn’t hear him leave. He simply disappeared through the veil between the worlds.

We made our offering, and gazed into the mirror at the fairy portal shrine I made under the beech tree. We saw things: bonfires on the hills of Tlachtga, owl-faced warriors, deep caverns beneath the earth, the land of the sidhe, and the Mari Lwyd. We circled the fire clockwise three times for blessings, and then ended our rite, breathless and filled with wonder.

May the Lord of the Wildwood bless you all this season, may you find nourishment in the darkness of winter.

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017

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Hope

Hope can be a double-edged sword. It can lift our hearts, rally us towards a cause, or it can lead us to the depths of despair when it dies. I’ve often wondered whether it is better to have hope or not, whether hope is a carrot dangling in front of us, or whether it is that very real need to invest our emotions into the belief that we can change our world. Back in 2012, I wrote about the Zen approach, in a piece entitled “No Hope“. The words that I wrote four years ago still resonate strongly within me, even as my relationship to hope has changed.

When we are at our lowest, we might still have some hope that things will get better. This hope may be the only thing that gets us through those long, dark nights of the soul. Then again, that hope may be what is preventing us from achieving things in our own right. Hope may cause complacency. If we work without hope, without expectation, then we may be even more motivated to make a positive change in the world in our own right, for the benefit of all.

With hope comes expectation. When we have expectations, we can be thrown against the rocks of frustration, anxiety, anger and despair when those expectations are not met, when things do not go the way that we would like them to. We want people to behave the way we think they should, for the benefit of all. We want our politicians to think of the people that they represent instead of their own agendas. We want colleagues to pull their own weight, spouses and partners to be there for us, children to love us. When things don’t go according to our plans, or according to our expectations, we might crash and burn. We might dive into darkness at seeing a new President-elect, we might look at the environment and realise that perhaps we have simply gone too far, and there is no remedy for what we have done. When this happens, we can lose momentum, we can get stuck. Hope might be the thing that brings us out of this stagnation, or it might leave us altogether, so that we are in an even worse state than before.

So how do we work with hope? I’ve found it useful in the last couple of years to work with Hope as a god. I’ve worked with Time in the same context, and it has been illuminating for me in so many ways. Working with the gods, we learn to create a relationship with them, one that is nurturing for all involved. There is a give and take, a sustainable and reciprocal feeling to it that means that we cannot rely on them to do everything for us, and vice versa. It is in mutual respect where we meet, where we realise that we are part of an ecosystem, and where we need to strengthen the bonds of relationship so that it functions for mutual benefit. We learn from permaculture that diversity is key, that edges are where things happen. We learn to work with both, and in doing so can make this planet a better place. If we give up Hope in this context, if we give up Hope as deity, then there will be a very real feeling of bereavement in our lives; we will be bereft. That relationship will be gone, and when it is gone then to whom do we relate?

Others would say that this might be preferable, and in giving up Hope as deity we then become more self-reliant. But self-reliance is a myth. We are all co-dependent upon everything else on this planet. We do not exist in a vacuum. We need others in order to exist, let alone thrive. We are not separate. Without the innumerable other factors in our lives, beings seen and unseen, we simply could not be. I think that this is why I believe in the gods. The gods are all about relationship, about relating to our world through a means which is personal to each and every being. This is why I’m starting to work with Hope on a new level, when it seems perhaps that all hope is lost. Otherwise, I fear I might spiral into apathy, or depression. If I work with Hope, if I talk to Her and connect those threads of sustainable relationship, then I might be inspired to solve a problem, mend something that is broken, reweave the threads of connection in the best way that I can.

Hope can be the spark of inspiration, the awen that sings to us in the dead of night when all seems lost. Hope can also be a force that keeps us from changing our lives for the better, hoping someone else, someone more powerful or intelligent will do it for us. But when we work with Hope as deity, then things begin to change. Hope will not save us from ourselves. But Hope may inspire us to do better, to be better, to be the change that we wish to see in the world.

Or so one can only Hope.

Working with the Gods

Working with the gods in Druidry is perhaps one of the most intense, exhilarating and powerful experiences we can have. Why is this?

To work with the gods, we require utmost honesty and truth. If we are to open our souls to the gods, and see theirs in return, we have to be utterly aware of who and what we are, baring all without the masks of self-protection, negation, pride or any number of human foibles. It comes close to the Wiccan saying of “in perfect love and perfect trust”, yet I would simply change the word “trust” to “honesty” here.

Trusting a god of nature may not always be a wise thing to do. Gods of nature do not always have our best interests at heart. Gods of nature are there to express their soul song, whether that be in the gift of nourishing herbs and berries or the destruction of a hurricane. I don’t necessarily put my trust in an oncoming storm, but I am willing to be utterly open and honest with it. The same could be said of any interaction or relationship. Trust is an odd thing, an investment in the behaviour of others of which we have no control. I’d rather focus on being open and honest in my relationships with the gods, with the humans and other animals around me, with the tree and stone folk. They do not necessarily require my trust, but by working and being truthful and honest, a deeper and more meaningful relationship is established.

Over the last few years I have worked deeply with Brighid. She came to me at Imbolc three years ago, as a goddess of these British Isles. She was the land itself, not a goddess “of the land”. It’s difficult to describe the difference, but in the bones of the earth beneath my feet I see her solid foundation. In the energy that rises and falls with the seasons I see her own tides rising and falling. In the air that moves across this land I feel her breath, sometimes filled with the scents of the sea less than a mile away, sometimes with the rich earthy scent of the heathland. The rain that falls is filled with her blessings, the sun that shines filled with her joy and nourishment. She works to her own cycles, and I must learn to work with her.

She is not always giving, she is not always nourishing. She asks that we stand on our own two feet and have the courage to help ourselves. She blesses my garden with her light, but she does not do it for me – I have to work with that, for sometimes it can be too strong, and I must balance it with the water caught in my rain barrels from her previous storms. I have to learn to dance with her, to follow her rhythms and movements with respect. I have to listen, deeply, to the music that is the great song, the Oran Mòr. From that deep listening comes an understanding and inspiration, the awen that is sought after and the heart of Druidry.

I cannot deceive my gods. Not because they are omnipotent, but rather the relationship wouldn’t work, wouldn’t flow smoothly if I was anything other than open and honest with them, about myself, about my relationship with the world. I wouldn’t be deceiving them, but deceiving myself by trying to hide behind facades. There is no room for growth, for change, unless we make room by letting go of certain things. We must empty our cup for it to be filled.

When we are open and honest with the gods, their wisdom and energy can flood through us, helping us to understand our place in the world, how we can work in the world in balance and harmony. This is an exquisite gift, an exchange of energy that we see reflected in nature all around us, yet which seems so out of reach for us so often. The mere simplicity of it all is what makes it the greatest challenge, for it requires us to throw away all the dross, to change our own mindset and see the world with a new perception that may or may not support our current view. To change our view of the world can turn it upside-down, can shake our foundations down to the ground. However, sometimes this is necessary in order to rebuild a stronger foundation, with clear perception, un-muddied by our habitual thinking.

Years have passed and still I am only beginning to learn this wonderful new dance with my goddess. She is teaching me new steps, new movements, new music. With an open heart I am willing to learn, to give it my best, and above all, to enjoy every single moment of it.

Reblog: Immanence and Transcendence

Here is a lovely reblog from a fellow wanderer down the forest path and friend.  Her words are beautiful, moving, and resonate deeply within my blood and bones…

I have been pondering these two words in relation to spiritual beliefs and religious practise for some time off and on, now and then, here and there. As these things happen they came back to me as I was bent over cleaning out the cats’ litter trays late last week.

I have ruminated about the nature of earth based and book based belief systems. I have pondered upon the impact on the peoples from earth based and book based religions with regards to migration. I have wondered how to frame an understanding of immanence and transcendence that works for me and in my religious and spiritual life as a Druid…

To read the full article, click HERE.

Gods of Humanity

Often we relegate things like love and lust, rage and compassion, anger and fear into emotions. If we think of them as just emotions, we may not work with them on a level that is appropriate. In fact, if we do not give them the respect that they deserve, they can sneak up on us when we least expect it and give us a good kick up the arse.

My teacher, Bobcat told us students many years ago that we should regard them as gods. It took me a while to understand what she meant, and only after the experience of years since does it all seem clear to me now. We often have to stumble and fall before we actually pay attention to the ground we are walking upon. The idea of the gods of human tides took a good few years to sink in, but they now sit comfortably within my framework of ethics, living in honourable relationship.

Gods often demand respect. Not because they are seeking power over us and have something to prove, but rather that if we do not respect them we could be swept away on their currents of energy. It is often said that in Druidry we do not sublimate to the gods, but rather work to create a relationship with them that is rich and sustainable, as we do with all things.

The gods of the human tides are treated with the same respect as the gods of thunder and lightning, the sea and sun, the winter’s howling and the spring’s blooming. We must look carefully into our anger, our lust, our greed, our compassion, our generosity in order to understand the intention behind them better. If we are not careful, we can get swept away with them all too quickly. If we do not stand our ground we can jeopardise our entire existence, all that we have worked for, all our dreams and schemes, our morals and our ethics.

It requires a willingness to be soul naked and bare, to look inside the self and see the constructs of it in order to better understand why it works the way it does. It requires utter honesty. How many of us are completely honest with ourselves? Very few, if any.

I am not an exception. I have fallen before the gods of humanity, swept away on various currents and seeing the destruction that is wrought by the giving in to their powerful surge. It has led me to look deeper within myself to find the root causes of why I allowed that to happen, and in doing so ensuring that it doesn’t happen in the future. Creating a relationship with these gods means that I understand them better, and myself more, therefore acting with intention instead of simple reaction. Great doubt and insecurity, great fear and anger all lie within our souls. Facing these requires great courage and strength, great faith in ourselves and in the world around us.

None of us are perfect. But we learn from our mistakes, the tripping up awakening us, making us pay attention to the footsteps we take along life’s journey. Then each step is walked with honour, respect and integrity. Do not dwell on past mistakes, but do not let them happen again. Awake and aware, we walk forward, deeper into the heart of the forest and the wisdom of the oak.

Where Prayer and Meditation Meet…

meditationMeditation and prayer are sometimes seen as the same thing. It depends on what tradition you belong to, what form of meditation you take, and how you define prayer.  For some in the Christian tradition, prayer is about talking to God, meditation is about listening to God.  Others see prayer as a form of magic, with words and thoughts sent out in the hopes of altering what seems to be a predetermined course. Others still see prayer as a moment to reflect on our lives, and develop gratitude and compassion.  All of these things can be applied to meditation as well.

We meditate in order to create harmony in our lives, to work through a problem, to live a more authentic life filled with awareness. There is a goal in mind, even in Zen meditation, where we come across the conundrum of the goalless goal. Seeing our lives for the wonder that they are, we also raise compassion and empathy for all things within our souls.  The lines between prayer and meditation often blur.

Where prayer and meditation meet is in that quiet stillness, like that moment at dusk, when the world is hushed and we can truly listen, not only with our ears but with our hearts. It is a moment of utter peace, in the here and now. It is life, plain and simple.

Craft Names

Autumn SongWithin Druidry, and indeed in modern Paganism, it is usual to adopt a craft name within your tradition.  It is not necessary, and if you feel that you don’t need one, or one doesn’t appeal, then by all means forego the craft name. However, choosing a craft name, or having one bestowed upon you can enhance your connection to your tradition, if you allow it.

Craft names can provide an air of mystery and magic.  We can choose something that reflects our work, such as Oak Seeker, Coll (hazel, if working with ogham), or Pathfinder.  We can choose something that reflects a part of the environment that we love – Alder, Willow, Rain.  We can put two words together that express a deep part of our soul, or a deep love that we have, such as Gentle Bear, Running Horse, or my craft name – Autumn Song.  We can adopt names of the gods and goddesses that we love, such as Nehalennia, Freya, Lugh, Branwen, Rhiannon, Bridget.  There are also mythological names like Merlin, Morgan and Nimue that might strike a chord deep within our hearts.  We can even choose names from fantasy books that we love – Gandalf, Radagast, Arwen, Goldberry, Eomer, Eowyn, Faramir (all Lord of the Rings names).  What matters most is that our name expresses a deep part of our soul; that when we utter it, write it, exhale it into the twilight it means something to us, connects us to the awen.

You can inscribe your craft name upon your altar, or your tools. You can sign correspondence with it.  You may even change your name to your craft name if you feel that better reflects who you are.  I like having both names, as I can honour my two grandmothers for whom I am named after, and honour my tradition with my craft name. Besides, it took me long enough to learn how to write my own name, and I’m sticking to it…

We might choose our craft name, or we might be gifted it by another. We could meditate, commune with the local spirits of place, or deity, and ask that they bestow us a name. In some magical traditions, a craft name is given upon initiation into the tradition, or upon completion of various grades.  When working alone, we do not have to wait to have a name bestowed upon us – we can seek it out ourselves from whatever inspires us whenever we feel ready.  We can ask our ancestors, our spirit guides, even friends and family for ideas and inspiration.

Our craft names may also change with time.  As we grow and develop in our spirituality, we might find that we outgrow our name, and thereby be inspired to choose another that better suits our current work.  We can include our naming in ceremonies, whether it is our first time or our fifth time in choosing a craft name.  Taking on a name is not something to be done lightly, however.  It requires much thought and meditation if you wish for it to be important to your work.

Whatever name you choose, or however you decide to be named, honour that name with all that you are.  Find ways of being that reflect your name in deep and compassionate ways, working to create peace and harmony in your life and in all life around you.