Druidry Online Course

We’ve had a winner in the e-newsletter prize draw, and congratulations to Kelly Pederson!  The course is now available to all, and here are details of what it includes:

  • A 118 page pdf document containing information, practical exercises, things to think about, reference and suggested/further reading
  • Audio mp3 files to complement the course, including two meditations and a journeying session, as well as a storytelling session from Robin Herne and a chant to be used in ritual by Joanna van der Hoeven
  • Email tutorship from Joanna and Robin throughout the duration of the course. You can take the course as your own speed, there is no time limit.

So, what does this course cover? It covers the basics of Druidry, including:

  • What is DruidryDruidry Course Photo
  • What is Relationship?
  • History of the Druids
  • The Gods in Druidry
  • The Spirits of Place
  • Working with the Ancestors
  • The Quarter Days and Fire Festivals
  • Druid Ethics
  • Druid Philosophy
  • Awen
  • Altars and Ritual Tools
  • Magic
  • Ritual Structure and Performance
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Anarchy and the End of Submission
  • Suggested Reading List

How much does this course cost? It is £75, which includes the pdf file, the audio files and the email correspondence with both tutors. You may correspond as little or as much with the tutors as you like. Payment can be made via online bank transfer, or by cheque in British pounds.

This course is aimed for those new to Druidry, and can also serve as a good refresher for those who have walked the Druid path for many years. It is based on the teachings we provide at Druid College, condensed down to an introduction to Druidry and offered alongside guidance provided by both tutors. This course is about reweaving that connection, our connection to the land, the ancestors, and the gods.  It is about learning the native spirituality of these British Isles, and exploring how they work in the wider world.  As an introduction into the path that is Druidry, it focuses on our relationship to the land, the ancestors, the gods and the spirits of place.

What you get out of Druid learning is what you put into it. There is no room for passivity; Druidry is very much an active path. No one can do it for you.  You must search out the awen, the inspiration yourself.  Teachers may act as guides, priests may work as celebrants in ritual, but they do not take the place of active learning on the individual level.  No one can do it for you.

So we actively encourage you to take those first steps along the path, and to hold the intention of your learning close to your heart as your journey. Know that the work that you put in will reap benefits, for yourself,  your own sense of well-being and for the earth as a whole. For we are all part of the great tapestry of life.

If this sounds like something you would be interested in, then please email autumnsong@hotmail.co.uk to register.

We hope that you will take this journey with us. In the meantime, awen blessings!

Joanna and Robin

Letting Go: Beware the Children of Anger

Letting go is truly a difficult thing to do, and yet seems so simple. Human beings, with their human consciousness, are just not that simple.

I’ve written before on how letting go is a process we have to repeat over and over again; it’s not a one-time event. We have to continually make the choice to let go, in order to truly live our lives in the present moment, in the here and now, emotionally responsible for ourselves and finding an ethically sound way of being in the world. I haven’t discussed the finer process of letting go, however, in any great detail and here are a few words from my own experience.

People are going to hurt us in one way or another, based upon expectations, behaviour, upbringing, environment and a whole host of factors that we simply have no control over. Our response to this is what is most important: our response-ability. When we have the ability to respond in a thoughtful, compassionate way then we are truly working to be a part of the world, a weave of the web that strengthens the whole.

Yet it is so hard to be compassionate when people deliberately hurt us, and sometimes even when it’s not deliberate but perhaps uncontrolled aggression from their past experience, current physical pain or more. But the ability to understand that there are more factors involved in any given situation that you are simply unable to perceive is at the heart of compassion. Compassion is a willingness to understand.

People have hurt me in the past, willingly and unwillingly. Colleagues and co-workers, lovers, strangers; there is no telling where the next experience will come from. However, noticing the stages that we go through when we are being hurt can help us on the path to letting go with an awareness that will allow us to not slip into the easy patterns of denial, whether that is of our own behaviour or that of others.

When we are hurt, usually our first response is anger. For most people, anger is something that time heals, though the length of time is relative to the person and their situation. Anger isn’t the most difficult thing to move through, as we can recognise anger much more easily than its children: pity being one of them. Often when we move through anger towards pity, we don’t know that we are still dealing with anger, with an abstract notion of the other person. Pity does not have empathy. Pity does not have anything to do with compasssion. Pity is the result of dualistic thinking, of an Us and Them mentality. We pity someone because we are separate from them. Pity is so often tinged with bitterness and anger that they are almost inseparable. When we have finished being angry with someone, we move on towards pitying them, in a passive/aggressive way of still attacking them. Pity the poor fool.

When we bypass pity through working around our anger, we find empathy instead, which holds no judgement of the individual.

Sometimes pity is replaced with its older sibling: contempt. We have been a victim of someone’s abuse, and though we realise we are no longer going to take their crap, we hold them in high contempt for putting us through that. They may have spent months trying to hurt us in various ways; we are so over that now and could they just get in with their own lives, please? So trapped in their little world, so lost…

Contempt is just as easy a trap to fall into as pity. Again, contempt has absolutely no compassion, no element of trying to understand involved in its process; it seeks only to make us feel better about ourselves. In the web of existence, we can’t just work on ourselves: we have to work on the whole.

We don’t have to stick around for further abuse, but we do have to be on our guard for feelings such as pity and contempt to flag up the fact that we haven’t actually moved on, we haven’t let go of our anger, we’ve only put a new hat on it and deceived ourselves with its shiny new appearance. When we find ourselves dancing with the feelings of contempt or pity, we can stop, untangle ourselves, bow and walk away, breathing into the wild winds of change. We know that we can choose our dance partners, and in that choosing find glorious freedom and self-expression. We know that we are part of an eco-system, part of a whole, where every part is acknowledged and sacred. The flows of the gods of humanity that we choose to dance with, however, it entirely up to us.

Reblog: How Altars can Alter our Practice

Reblogged from my channel, Druid Heart, at Witches and Pagans.

P1000491 (1024x640)Altars can have a very significant role in daily practice and worship, providing a focal point in establishing relationship. I try to highlight this importance with my students, explaining the benefits of have a focus within an area in which to open up communication with the spirits of place (or land, sea and sky), the ancestors, and the gods. Communication is essential to good relationship, and finding a spot to come back to again and again helps us to not only strengthen the bond between the person and the place, but also gives it a ritual context within which to commune. Often this ritual context is held within a temple, whether it is a building or creation of stone and/or timber, or a sacred circle cast with energy around the practitioner. The importance of the altar and the temple should not be taken for granted, though neither are exactly essential.

When beginning on the Druid path, having a place to work in that you can come back to repeatedly creates a special bond between the person and the place. A place has a very real impact upon a person, as we come to realise that we are not separate from the rest of the natural world. When we find our place within a place we are able to communicate openly, sharing freely that wonderful dose of awen (inspiration), the hum of energy where souls meet… (cont’d)

To read the full article, click HERE.

Sacrifice

barley stubbleSacrifice – it’s one of those “old” words, like honour and duty. Many who have read Roman accounts of the Druids associate the word, sacrifice, with the priest caste of the Celtic people at that particular time. However, the word goes even further back into the beginnings of time for the human animal, when the importance of relationship with nature was everything, when we knew that to disconnect ourselves from the natural world meant death. Today, we must remember this, remember each and every day how much we are a part of the world, how much our everyday actions count, no matter how small. Each day is also an opportunity to give thanks for the blessings that we have. At Lammas, however, just giving thanks doesn’t seem quite enough. When the first crop is harvested, and the land lies stark and naked, shaved and shorn from under the combine harvester, giving thanks and saying words over the field doesn’t feel adequate. This, for me, is where sacrifice comes into play.

It’s hard as the line keeps shifting between giving thanks and the notion of sacrifice. What might be an offering to one person might be seen as a sacrifice to another. I can only speak from my own personal viewpoint, as I may value things differently from my neighbours, my family, and members of my pagan community. So, what is the difference between an offering and a sacrifice?

For me, sacrifice is something of significant value. This is not necessarily a monetary value, but could be something that is cherished, prized, something that is utterly loved and which has a representative value of the threads of connection we hold with the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. What is it that I have which I value? What am I willing to give back in return for the flow of awen, that spark where soul touches soul and is inspired? What am I willing to do to achieve that?

When the barley in the field by my house is cut, the energy of the land drastically changes. Between the homes and the heathland there are two arable fields, one which was harvested in the spring for green barley, and one which still has the golden, bowed stalks waiting to be harvested. Acknowledging the change isn’t enough, for when we hear the songs of the ancestors, I feel how important these crops were for them, how important their relationship with the land meant their survival and success. In a field of growing barley, there is potential, a shimmering energy waiting to be harvested. When that field is cut, the potential can be scattered if the land is not honoured. The ancestors knew this, but we have forgotten. Modern farming depletes the soil of essential nutrients that must be replaced, often by less-than-natural means. The barley is cut, and the field then stands, barren and forgotten for weeks, until the farmer and his tractor are ready to plough in the winter or spring crops.

The land isn’t respected, isn’t acknowledged anymore. As an animist, I find this appalling. When the land has been used, has given us so much in a beautiful field of barley, and we don’t even give thanks, much less sacrifice then there is dishonour. As with any relationship, if one side continually gives and gives, and the other continually takes and takes, the balance will shift, the relationship will crumble and great suffering will ensue.

What can I give that will honour the lives that this crop will feed, that will honour the land that grew it, that will honour the ancestors that worked it, that will honour the spirits of place who live there? What will be a significant gift for all we have received?

The sacrifice will change year upon year. What matters most is the importance of the sacrifice to me personally.

Offerings represent a more daily interaction, little gifts and niceties that you would present to any friend that you meet: a cup of tea, a biscuit, some of the fresh-baked bread you just made, or your home-brew mead. Finding out what the local spirits of place would like is as polite as asking your guest how she would like her tea: with or without milk, honey or sugar? When it comes to sacrifice, however, the shift of focus changes to become more introverted rather than extroverted.

I’ve previously in earlier articles described sacrifice as something that is not only of great value, but also as something that can help you “get to the next level”, so to speak. No, we’re not playing at Druids on World of Warcraft, but we are seeking to deepen our relationship with the land. Sacrifice is key in this regard, helping us to go deeper, to give more of ourselves in order to understand more of the land.

Many within the Pagan traditions see the Sun King as offering himself as sacrifice at this time of year, to be cut down as the grain is cut, to be reborn at Yule. Yet are we comfortable allowing the Sun King to do this each and every year, or should we also take our part in the sacrifice, participating rather than simply watching the cycles of life unfold?

And so I will spend the next few weeks walking the land, finding out what I can give, what I can do to deepen my relationship with it, to be an active contributor instead of a passive spectator. Some aspect of my self must be willing to die alongside John Barleycorn in order to understand the cycles of nature. Some sacrifice must be made.

Working with the Gods of Time

barleyDruidry is hard work. If you want to establish a deep and meaningful relationship with the land, the gods and the ancestors you have to work at it, each and every day, really walking the talk and living your religious or spiritual path. Like most things in life, you get out what you put in.

At this time of year, things can seem crazy busy, with all the plans that we dreamt up over the winter months and put into action in the spring finally coming to fruition. Working as a Druid priest, not only do I have my own personal plans to attend to, but also those of the community. July and August are heavy months in my diary, filled with handfastings and weddings mostly. In the later summer months we are inspired to a deep commitment, not only in our work but in our love lives as well. If we want our harvest to be successful, we have to work at it.

The warm months encourage us outside, even though we may have a pile of work waiting on our desk. It’s important to experience these months physically, as well as on a spiritual level, especially here in the UK where sometimes the summer can seem so short. It makes greater demands on our time, and I find that I do not get nearly as much writing done from June to October as I would like, with other duties and the hot sunshine or warm rain calling me outdoors. It’s equally important to be outside in all kinds of weather, but perhaps it is because I was born in August that this month really appeals to me, with more thunderstorms, hot sunshine, refreshing rains and muggy weather. Though autumn is my favourite season, it can often be too short, whereas summer (hopefully) lingers on in the heat of the stones and the land, the smell of the rain, the flowers and the scent of mown grass.

So even though my work goes a bit nuts at this time of year, I take time out each day to remind myself of that commitment that I made with the land. To work with her, to honour her, to be with her, to learn from her. I hear the songs of the ancestors flowing through the land. My lady Brighid sings deep within my soul, every day.

Even though I had only a small window of opportunity yesterday to get out there, still I went to the field opposite my house to be with the barley before the harvest, listening to the brilliant rustle of the drying stalks under the sun, hearing the songs of the land and the troubles with the bluebell woodland beyond. Saying my prayers and blessings over the crop and the land, connecting with the earth and her nourishment, giving of myself in return was a necessary part of the day. Like being in any long-term relationship, it requires constant presence and not taking anything for granted. This was really brought home to me when I studied with Bobcat many years ago in the beautiful setting of the Cotswolds, when we discussed with the other students the gods of time. Working with time is a great learning curve, coming to learn how to relate to the gods of time, working with deep integrity and honesty.

So you will please excuse me if there are fewer posts between now and the end of August – in the few moments of brief respite from other duties and obligations, I’m probably out in the fields or forest, heathland or seashore, spending time with the ancestors, honouring the gods of time and reminding myself to be present.

Blessings of the harvest!

Druid College, Year 1 this October!

HF2We’re getting all geared up for Year One this October at Druid College UK!

In Year One We will be looking at core principles and teachings of Druidry, Living with Honour, Rooting in the Earth, Working with the Ancestors, Animism and the Spirits of Place, Listening and Druid meditation, Awen and the cycle of creativity, Working with the Nemeton, Developing Authentic Relationship, Inspiration and the Poetic arts, Storytelling and cultural heritage, The Cycle of Life and the “Wheel of the Year”, Working with the Gods/Deity, Anarchism and the end of Submission, Emotions and “riding the energies”.

Your tutors are me (Joanna van der Hoeven) and Robin Herne, and there are still places available: for more information visit www.uk.druidcollege.org

Love

Many of us have heard the saying “Love means never having to say you’re sorry”. Like all sayings, they can be misinterpreted. Love is one of the most powerful gods. Love is so much more than romance, than warm fuzzy feelings for another. Love can be an unshakeable force, it can inspire us to greatness or tear us apart.

Never having to say sorry with regards to love has been misused by many as an excuse to behave badly, to not care about the feelings of others, to live in a purely self-centred state. It is also often implied that if we really love someone we should always be willing to forgive their behaviour. In Buddhism, it is widely regarded that we are all Buddhas, that we all have the ability for true compassion. However, we are also all human, with all the wonderful implications, limitations and foibles that it entails.

We have all known people whose behaviour has been less than glowing, who are so entrapped in their own worlds and minds that they often create a reality which is completely and utterly different to the one that you may experience. As humans, we have a shared reality and shared human experience, but as beings that are supposedly self-aware we become trapped in this self-awareness to the point of it spilling over into less than glowing behaviour. Love accepts the humanity of everyone. Love accepts reality. Love is compassion.

Compassion, however, doesn’t mean we have to take everyone’s crap. Compassion is understanding, trying to see the bigger picture, to understand why someone behaves the way that they do. In this attempt, we step outside of our “small selves” and out into a greater reality. We open up our perception. We may never truly understand, but at least in the attempt we see that the world is more than just our experience, our perceived reality. We recognise the experience and reality of others.

When that reality hurts us, when people do or say things to undermine us for whatever reason, should we simply forgive and move on? I’m not entirely sure it’s within human capacity to truly forgive, though people like Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh are real-life inspirations for this way of being. We may find that the hardest person to forgive is ourselves. Perhaps we need to focus less on “us” forgiving “them” and simply focus on living our own lives in way that means that we will never have to say “I’m sorry” to another. This, in my opinion, is the real interpretation of the saying “Love means never having to say I’m sorry”.

We may fail, and there is nothing wrong with saying “I’m sorry”, however.

When we come against people we simply cannot be with, we can still try to understand them, to look beyond our self. It can often put us into the bigger picture, allowing more of a peripheral vision of the world that encompasses everything and in doing so, allowing the self to fall away in integrated living. Sometimes we simply have to walk away from that relationship in order to work compassionately with our selves, for we simply suffer too much at that given time to be able to function properly. We can do this with partners we’ve been romantically involved with – when it no longer works, we can bow to each other and walk away with respect, and hopefully a little compassion for both them and ourselves.

What we have to focus on most though is our own life, and our own behaviour. We have to live our lives in a way that means we will hopefully never have to apologise for our behaviour. It’s not an easy path, but it’s one that is worthwhile. In doing so, we will walk lightly upon the earth, loving the earth with every fibre of our being, loving everything on the earth with eyes wide open and a heart filled with compassion. We can love life, the power of the gods moving through us and around us, and live our lives in celebration of this.

As the first snowdrops bloom here in the UK, and the songs of the birds change to love of each other, of the warming sun and the greening of the land, may our hearts too be filled with love.

reverence