Transcript of Nemetona: Goddess of Boundaries and Edges…

I’ve had several requests for a transcript of the talk I gave last weekend at Leaping Hare Pagan Conference in Colchester, Essex. So, here you go! x

Nemetona: Goddess of Boundaries and Edges, Sanctuary and Freedom

In this talk I am going to explore the goddess Nemetona as the Lady of Boundaries and Edges, and also her role in personal freedom and sanctuary. Not much is known academically of the goddess Nemetona: there are a few inscriptions at sacred spots such as at Altripp, Trier and Eisenberg in Germany. There is also an inscription to her at Bath. She was known in Gaul and in Spain we find the Nemetatae tribe. The word nemeton or similar versions are mentioned throughout Europe, especially in place names. Nemeton means Sacred Grove, and in this regard she is sometimes connected with Druids. However, this talk is not an academic discussion of this particular goddess, but an experiential one. We will explore boundaries and edges of ecosystems and of our own selves, our own nemetons, inspired by the goddess of the sacred grove, where the edge of the wood meets open space. We will see where those boundaries meet, touching soul to soul and awakening awen or inspiration. My perspective comes from a Druid tradition, languaged as it is within a religion that is animistic and polytheistic.

A Druid looks to nature in order to find inspiration. Authority is found in nature rather than in human constructs and society. Our relationships are inspired by the natural connection we see in everything, the threads of the web that connect us all. We realise that we do not exist separately from the world – we are a part of it, a thread in the tapestry. We know that without other beings we could not exist. Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls this Interbeing – that we inter-are with everything on the planet. Nothing exists separately. We live in ecosystems, living environments that support and sustain us. It isn’t human animals that define how the Druid interacts – the land provides us with a way to be in the world, teaches us of co-existing in harmony, in the flow of perpetual change and in the times and tides of life. It can be regarded as anarchic in that sense, but it is not a disregard for the laws of humanity that keep a society together, a cohesive social order – rather it is more seeking the wisdom of the oak, as the word Druid means – dru, meaning oak, and wid, meaning wisdom. Gods of nature, of an earth-based religion inspire us in different ways from the secular world. The gods are both brutal and beautiful.

Working with the gods, the ancestors and the land we learn about harmony, about ecosystems, about where edges meet and how it works co-operatively. Nemetona teaches us this as we explore our own nemeton. Our personal nemeton is that space around us, sometimes called our aura, that we only allow those we trust to enter. That space is sometimes expanded in ritual, to create a sacred circle or sacred space, where we find ourselves within the greater cosmos, defined in a smaller, set form and boundary which is easier to understand. In that boundary we are safe, we are free.

Nemetona teaches us of that perfect freedom. In Wicca, it is often said that one enters the circle “In perfect love and perfect trust”. We open our souls wide within the limits of our circle, guided by the gods to inspire and receive inspiration. In that perfect freedom we know our true selves. As goddess of the sacred grove, Nemetona teaches us of this perfect trust, and how it relates to the rest of the world. Calling to her to help hold that space, we explore the nature of our own self, coming to truly know it and understand it. Having secured our sense of identity we can then work in the world from strong standpoint, where we know that the world doesn’t end at us – we work in service to the world. We have to step beyond the boundaries of ego and self-importance if we are to work for true harmony.

Working with edges, our own and understanding how to use them to benefit the whole is at the heart of what Nemetona teaches us. Our personal nemetons will change their appearance according to our current lives and how well we are at using them intentionally. If we are unaware of our nemeton, then we often find we clash with other people, or have a hard time connecting with others, or withdraw into ourselves so much that others may pass us by when we would like them to acknowledge us. Conscious manipulation of our nemeton can indeed change the way we feel about ourselves and how we are perceived. As with everything in Druidry, this must be done with honour and integrity.

Opening our nemeton requires a level of ability and trust. We close ourselves off on so many levels each and every day simply because of the sensory overload that we are exposed to through people, media and more. We have so many demands on our life that if a stranger came up to us in need after a hectic day, we may shut ourselves off completely from them and not provide the help that they might need, however simple and genuine their request may be. Our cat may come to us for a cuddle, and we don’t even notice as we are too busy distracting ourselves with television and high fat or sugary food. We switch off constantly, and we must relearn how not to do this, and instead be aware and mindful of our nemeton and how it interacts with others.

The nemeton is a sacred and holy space. When we interact with others, we must always bear this in mind. Using our nemeton to gain attention needlessly or simply to get what we want is dishonouring both ourselves, others and the Goddess.

We must honour the nemeton of others as much as we honour our own. They are all sacred. By discovering where our edges lie, we can also learn to see where and how other nemetons work, and in doing so work honourably with them.

Nemetona teaches us to open ourselves. She also teaches us how to listen. Listening is one of the greatest teachings in Druidry. We need compassion, which is basically simple understanding. We need to listen without judgement in order to work with compassion. We see how relationships work in nature. We study the way things work in order to better understand them. We see how sometimes relationships don’t work, in nature and in our own lives. If it doesn’t work, we find out why it didn’t work. If we are working with the soil, we know that some things simply won’t work in our home environments. We cannot grow bananas in the UK. The soil in my back garden is very acidic – I have to know and understand the soil in order to know what will grow best in that environment. Some relationships just can’t thrive in certain environments, and it is up to us to quest for the understanding. Sometimes we simply have to let go of relationships that don’t work. We cannot continue to try growing bananas in our backyards if we try repeatedly and fail. We must understand why it doesn’t work and move on in order to nourish and be nourished.

When we are rooted in our selves, finding our place in the environment, working with our edges we understand where we came from. With that understanding, we can reach out to others, where soul meets soul, when boundaries and edges touch. In that touch there is relationship and inspiration. In Druidry we call that awen, where soul touches soul and the spark of inspiration occurs. Where the seeds lands on the soil, where those edges meet, something wonderful happens and new life occurs. When we meet another human being with honesty and compassion, utterly awake and aware to the connection around us we are inspired. If we are aware of where we come from, aware of our ancestors, the land upon which we live, we can work from a place of deep connection. As the Tao Te Ching states, “Stay at the centre of the circle and let all things take their course”.

But it doesn’t stop at the self. Self-improvement is not the goal in Druidry. Nemetona teaches us to root and find our edges in the sacred grove, but then nudges us to go and seek out those edges in the wider world, where we can truly be inspired. Self-focused creativity is not as inspiring as that which is connected to the whole. Getting the self out of the way is key in this learning, of learning to live in service. We need to find out how and what we can give in order to have sustainable relationship.

Giving is essential in a culture and lifestyle that takes so much. We live in a consumer culture. We need to balance consumerism with the inspiration we receive from nature, where if we take too much it dies. If one creature starts to take too much the whole ecosystem is affected, and is at risk. As homo sapiens, the beings that are supposedly aware, we still take too much. We can look to nature to find out how to work better in and with the world. The curse of self-awareness means that we are often so focused on our selves that we do not see the wider world. We are so busy looking inwards that we forget to look outwards. We forget that what benefits us may not benefit the whole, and we are a part of that whole, therefore selfishness can be so detrimental – if only we are able to look beyond the self (and we are). Relationships require a give and take. We cannot always give nor can we always take. We are honour bound to give back for what we have received if we are working from a place of deep connection. Nature shows us how. Otherwise it is simply not sustainable. A forest is able to sustain itself without any human interaction. The sacred grove in the forest, where the edges of woodland meet open space are filled with potential, able to sustain itself with integrity.

Nemetona allows us that sacred space to explore our emotions and find ways through the internal formations of our minds so that we can act with intention in the world, rather than living a purely reactive life. This is the blessing of self-awareness, one that we should use much more often than we do. By taking time to explore our boundaries and edges and where they meet in the world we turn what could otherwise be a solely inward-focusing exercise into pure integration with the rest of the world. Within the circle, within the sacred grove we are able to work clearly. Human emotion can often overwhelm us, causing us to act out in ways that are not sustainable, in ways that are dishonourable. Anger, rage, love and lust can consume us if we are not aware of where our edges meet. In sacred space we can come to understand them as forces of nature that need to be worked with creatively to transform them, thereby benefiting the whole. Druidry is about seeing the bigger picture, stepping beyond our selves and our own internal worlds through a deep knowledge of the self, working from a place rooted space and time. We can serve the world best if we are working from a place of strong, honourable intention.

The importance is placed on holding, holding space not only for ourselves but for others. That is the role of teaching and guidance. In learning, in deep learning held in a place of sanctuary we work beyond the realms of language into true experiential learning. Coming from a safe place, we begin to realise that we know nothing, and in that knowing is exquisite learning, an openness to all of reality as it really is, aware and wide awake, both eyes open, all our senses open. In Zen this is often called Beginners Mind, where when we realise we know nothing at all our horizons are expanded, the self is dropped and we are open to endless possibility. That word, possibility is so evocative. From the latin, possibilis meaning “that which can be done” and posse “be able”. The door is opened and it is for us to walk through. It is a call to action.

Shunryu Suzuki wrote a book called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and there are many beautiful expressions of possibility therein, showing how we can move beyond our selves. One such quote is “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”. He also states ““A mind full of preconceived ideas, subjective intentions, or habits it not open to things as they are.” Going deeper into ideas of attachment, he states “Not to be attached to something is to be aware of its absolute value. Everything you do should be based on such an awareness, and not on material or self-centered ideas of value.” When we able to step beyond ourselves we perceive reality as it really is, and can work from a place of understanding and compassion. If we come from a viewpoint that everything is sacred, if we learn to perceive the sacredness of everything, we will be inspired to have sustainable relationship.

Community is important. Right here, right now in this very room our edges are touching, blending, breaking or standing fast against each other. There are also non-human edges that we are coming into contact with – the chair, the floor, the air around us, the ancestors. Learning to work together, inspired by the gods and by nature, by the earth-based traditions that we belong to we can work with an awareness of the sacred in our own community. There is strength in that awareness, making the community itself strong. We can show how sustainable relationships work. We can walk our talk and inspire others. We can’t live only for ourselves – we have to be individually strong yes, but where we work together, our edges touching is where the true strength lies. Finding authority in the natural world helps us to build this strong awareness and community. Learning to work with boundaries, co-operative work and practice is tantamount. If we are simply focused on the self, our community suffers. If we focus solely on the community, the self suffers. Balance and harmony, the wider perspective, is what is needed.

Leading by example through sustainable relationship can be the greatest inspiration, the greatest motivator. The energy of connection in relationship is where the real power lies. The inter-relatedness of everything is where the true strength is found. The root of the word community comes from communis – meaning common. I am not important. You are not important. Humans are not important. But where our edges meet, whether that is with another human or tree, mountain or beetle, where we find relationship is where the power lies. In our interaction is where there is the greatest potential. Nemetona teaches us of this power, by working co-operatively we can find new ways to trickle that energy up through the various social strata and spheres to affect the whole. The way we treat each other, run our businesses, live our lives and relate to each other can and does affect the wider world. We are not self-contained units. We are part of the whole.

The Celts had a very strong sense of personal and social responsibility. There were honour prices to be paid if someone had wronged another of the community. This implies a very real sense of ownership to one’s behaviour. Not working or living in a world isolated, working together requires us to acknowledge and work with the edges of other people, human and non-human in a myriad of ways. The Celtic metaphysic demonstrated that we simply cannot do as we want – being part of a whole, we have to consider others in every aspect of our lives. There is a strong notion of free-will, but the important thing to remember is that everything is a choice. When we choose with a wider sense of perspective we lean more towards benefiting the whole rather than just the self. Co-incidentally, when we benefit the whole we are also benefiting ourselves. Working in a society that focuses on responsibility, rather than punishment can lead to a better society in which everyone is an active participant, rather than being taken care of by a nanny state. Without personal responsibility, such as in our current judicial system, someone else will take care of it. There is a passiveness in our relationships with each other.

I remember seeing on the news a couple of weeks ago how the driver of a car ran into someone on horseback. A man and his wife were out for a horse ride, she in front and he behind down a quiet little country lane. A car came up, driving too fast, and the man on horseback had two options – move his horse out of the way and let his wife and her horse be hit, or take the impact himself. Tears fell from my eyes as I imagined what it would be like to be in his predicament, where no matter what you do someone you love will die due to the carelessness of another. And the horse that he was riding, to not bolt or run away at the danger, to believe in his rider so much that he would take the impact was just overwhelming in its power of relationship. Needless to say, the horse died, but the man and his wife, and her mount survived.

What happened to the car driver? Nothing. He didn’t even get a caution, or a ticket for careless or reckless driving. Now, I’m not saying that the man needed to be punished, but what I would like to see in our society is personal responsibility. If we still followed a society where personal responsibility was paramount to honour and integrity, an honour price should have been paid to the man who lost his horse. Whether in money or work, it doesn’t matter. The driver should have found some way to make amends. Instead, our society is at the hands of a judicial system which encourages passive behaviour, seeing just what we can get away with and allowing others to make the decisions for us. We live in a world where personal responsibility requires reinforcement from an outside authority. We need to take personal responsibility back into our own hands, taking our authority from nature. Perhaps then we will move from passiveness into lives filled with intention, even as the bluebell opens out to the warming sunshine.

We have to learn how to communicate, and here we see how the words community and communicate come together. Each community is different, each ecosystem balanced in different ways. Only through communication can we work and relate honourably in different ecosystems. The winds, the smells, the flora and fauna in the ecosystem of my home are different to that of Ipswich, only 15 miles away. Coastal, heathland and forest – I find systems within systems in my very own backyard. We have to learn about each system, how it works to relate properly and effectively to the whole and not just tramp all over it, devastating it with our own self-centred arrogance. We have to learn to recognise each other’s edges without putting our own projections onto them. Working with others, working with the self, working with Nemetona we find how to be of service without ego getting in the way.

I have seen the goddess Nemetona in the principles of permaculture. The basis behind permaculture is something I’ve been talking about all along: how to take what we see in natural ecosystems and use that as a model for our own living, creating sustainability and diversity. Permaculture acknowledges that it is at the edges where there is the most potential, the most diversity. The edge of a forest is where you will find the most plants, where the herds of deer wander. It teaches of self-regulatory systems where each element has its own personal intention which also works to the benefit of the whole. The diversity of beneficial relationships is what makes an ecosystem work and be self-sustaining.

We may already have all the elements necessary to have a self-sustaining ecosystem – all they may need is a little rearranging in order to create harmonious relationships. We are a part of nature, therefore we need to re-learn how to be in nature without messing it all up. Permaculture begins with working with what is already there. Then we can research and study what works best and help to create a system that is sustainable. This is what we do when as Pagans when we are working with our own personal nemeton, and also when we are in larger groups, perhaps even group ritual. The diversity, the edges are at the heart of all interaction. We can create systems that are healthy and balanced simply by paying attention. Within permaculture, each species of animal or plant has what is known as a niche – its own function within the ecosystem in relation to other species. Likewise, we all have our own talents and abilities that we can contribute in relations to society at large. When we see each other’s niches we can work around and with that, recognising their edges and creating new ways of being in the world that work co-operatively instead of competitively.

In permaculture, where one ecosystem meets another it is known as the edge effect. Conflict between what could be seen as competing plants due to finite levels of light on a forest edge are overcome naturally by having different plants growing at different times of the year. This acknowledgement of space helps all to thrive in their own time. Imagine how our human world would be if we could adopt these same principles! I think it would be more courteous world, to say the least.

Where woodland and grassland meet, we find some advantages coming from both ecosystems. The berry-producing bushes at the forest edge make the best use of the greater amount of light than that found deep within the heart of the wood. Birds of prey nest at field and forest edges to benefit from the security provided by tree cover and the food provided by open spaces in the form of voles, mice and other small animals. Deer, as mentioned previously, favour the edges as it gives them the best of both worlds – grazing and shelter from predators. Permaculture learns how to lessen the rigidity of edges, so that there isn’t a strong forest meets field edge, but rather a co-operative blend of the two as would be found naturally, instead of the forced edge of a farmer’s monoculture field and that of ancient woodland.

Becoming aware of your edges is only the beginning to coming to an understanding of this sacred Goddess. Once we know where our edges are, we can also be freed of them in the right environment, finding immersion in our landscapes that it utterly exhilarating and deeply inspiring, at one with the rest of the world and in perfect harmony.

Blessings from the edge to you all.

White Spring, Glastonbury

My friends and I spent the Spring Equinox in Glastonbury, visiting the sacred sites and reawakening our senses, honouring our goddesses through pilgrimage, laughter, food, meditation and more.  I love going to Glastonbury, and especially the White Spring, where Brighid make her third and most insistent call to me to follow her down paths of healing and service, using fire and water, inspiration and creativity.

We booked some private ritual time at the “temple” (an old Victorian pumphouse that has been converted into a place of beauty honouring the White Spring) and those of us who were able got into the water – a very cold 10 – 11 degrees Celsius!  I adore this place, and the time I get to spend there.

Brighid’s blessings to you all.

White Spring 1 (6) White Spring 2

Nemetona: Goddess of Boundaries and Edges, Sanctuary and Freedom Presentation

I had a wonderful time yesterday at the Leaping Hare Pagan Conference in Colchester, Essex.  I was honoured to be asked by the organisers at the end of last year to present, give a talk on the goddess Nemetona after having received requests throughout the year following the release of my second book, Dancing With Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space.

It was a really enjoyable experience. I have been going to Leaping Hare for many, many years now and there is a real community spirit, a real sense of well-being and support. Thank you to everyone for your kind words, messages and emails following the talk – may we be the awen!

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.

Book Review: Following the Deer Trods – Shaman Pathways

FTDTFollowing the Deer Trods – Elen Sentier

This Shaman Pathways book from Moon Books provides an introduction to the subject of the Awenydd, the Brythonic shaman working with the goddess Elen of the Ways. The author herself is an Awenydd, it having been in her family for many generations.

Sentier’s words are clear and very informal – it’s as if you’re having a chat in your kitchen with a cup of tea. She won’t dumb it down for you, neither will she make it impossible for you to understand – she uses the vernacular throughout. As a Shaman Pathways book, it has to provide an introduction to the topic in about 100 pages or less, which is quite difficult in any subject. In this book, Sentier does it quite clearly and concisely.

I saw many parallels between the function of the Awenydd and that of the Druid. As well, I could see a similar East meets West approach to some of the subjects, especially those considering the ego which I could relate to on many levels. I especially liked the foot dowsing, or walking the earth in the footsteps of the deer, listening to the many stories around us rather than focusing and hearing only our own. Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, once described this sort of walking as “kissing the ground with your feet”, making each step one made in peace. Sentier points out “when any of us step, walk, run, touch the Earth with our feet, we give our and pick up energy with each step. This happens whether we are conscious of it or not; walking, following the deer trods is partly about becoming conscious of this and about how we do it.”

I also found kindred alliance with the concept of the Awenydd being one that is in service to the community, rather than focusing on the concept of personal development. For me, this is what Druidry is all about. We can begin with the self, but it must not end there. As Sentier points out, “In the British tradition our [awenyddion, the plural of an awenydd] primary goal is to help the Earth and in order to do this we learn to ask her what she needs rather than thinking we know best”. Sentier also brings forward the concept that the healer or awenydd is not one that cures, but rather the one that uses a holistic approach, literally makes things whole. This may not include a cure, but it takes into consideration all aspects of healing.

My only criticism of this book is that the author tends to write in an anti-Christian tone every now and then, which I find off-putting. Having Christian family as well as Christian, Jewish and Muslim friends, and also working with Christian Druids I sometimes find remarks like “cruelty seems to be an integral part of all three of the Religions of the Book (the Bible) Christianity, Judaism and Muslimism” a little hard to bear. Indeed, the second half of the Bible deals with the teachings of Christ, which are mainly about love, not cruelty. Cruelty is not specific to a religious creed. The author’s rather low view of Christianity, in my opinion, is not conducive to getting the message across in a positive and peaceful way, all things considered.

This is really a book that is jam-packed with really useful information, exercises and different ideas that aren’t really found elsewhere. If the delivery hadn’t included the author’s views on Christianity, I would be happy to recommend it to anyone. However, considering some of the words said throughout the text, I could not recommend it to anyone who follows any of the three Abrahamic faiths alongside their own Paganism.