The day has finally arrived – my first fantasy fiction novel is now available in paperback, and will soon be available for Kindle in a couple of days. So chuffed to have this out again, and it’s been a lot of hard work, formatting, cover design, and more. To order your copy, click HERE! (Available worldwide)
It’s been 10 years since I released the very first book that I ever wrote, a medieval fantasy entitled Falconwing. I am now re-releasing this novel, under the new title Honour-bound, and it should be available soon!
I began writing this book when I was a teenager. It’s gone through many, many incarnations over the years. It was finally published during my third year of university, and after it had gone out of print a few years ago, I decided that it was time to bring it out again, and possibly write the sequel. I very much enjoy writing fantasy fiction, and have several ideas toying about in my mind: the sequel to Honour-bound, another piece based on the Iron Kingdoms LRP game that friends and I have been playing for a few months now, and more. I’ve pulled out some of my old writings, and it has kindled a spark of awen that will hopefully be fanned into a full fire in the head!
This is a reblog from my channel, DruidHeart, at Witches and Pagans for PaganSquare. To read the full article in its original form, click HERE.
Treat others as you would like to be treated. Such a simple phrase, yet so hard to comply with when we’ve been hurt or wounded in any way. Our first reaction is to hurt back, to wound in return. Yet is this how we would like to be treated? What if the person who hurt you didn’t even know that they had? What if it was completely intentional? Is it then justifiable to perpetuate the cycle of hurt? How do we, as Druids, work with anger and wounding in today’s society? How do we work with honour?
We don’t really know how the ancient Druids worked with the concepts of honour or revenge. We have an account of how the Druids stood on the shores of their sacred isle at Anglesey, just before the Romans invaded, and called down their magic and their might, black-robed women with wild hair brandishing torches and running between the Druid ranks. What those men and women were doing we just don’t know, but we can be fairly certain that they were protecting their land from invaders. Whether or not their magics would have been invoked without provocation is a total unknown, but here we have an example of defence, rather than offense. Boudicca wiped out Colchester and London in retaliation for the rape of her daughters by the Romans. Whether or not that great queen in history was a Druid or not, or advised by them, is debatable.
But that is ancient history. How do we, as Druids today, work with concepts of revenge? How do we deal with people hurting us, with our rights being taken away? How does the word honour factor into our everyday lives?
It’s difficult, especially when we have such a quick means of communication in our world. Emails and opinions can be shared without a second thought. People can comment, cut down, undermine, say whatever they feel like in the virtual realm and not really suffer very many consequences in the real world. Government lie to us outright, and have been caught out in their lies, and still there is no justice. Even the most kind-hearted person begins the feel the anger and rage boiling within, battling with compassion and love for the world that they live in, for the world they would like to see. How can we deal with these emotions? If someone is attacking us, how do we as Druids protect ourselves and yet find justice? How can we ensure that the balance is maintained?
The first idea that we need to let go of is the idea of revenge. We do not need to hurt someone when they’ve hurt us. We would like to, we desire to hurt them in response, but we don’t need to in order to continue in our daily lives. We have to work out the difference between our desires and our needs, as with so many other aspects of our lives. It’s perfectly human to want to hurt someone when they’ve hurt us, or upset us, or someone we love. It’s up to us how we act on those feelings, however. We have to be emotionally responsible.
Pride is an oft maligned trait in the human race. Pride can be the reason many people seek out to hurt others, trying to “save face” or in an attempt to not to face those aspects of themselves that they so dislike, instead waging a war outside of their inner worlds so that they don’t have to own up to their own shadow selves. Yet pride can also be a good thing. Our pride can be part of our self-respect. In this way, pride will not allow others to walk all over us, but neither does it seek to destroy others who don’t agree with us.
As Druids, we work in service: to the gods, to the ancestors and to the community. We know that we have to give back, that we have a responsibility in this world to ensure that the ecosystem in which we live is functioning well. A balanced, diverse, healthy ecosystem is where there is a give and take, and where relationship is the key matter of the discussion. Those relationships must work together, must find a way to honour each other in order to flow smoothly, to be efficient and benefit the whole. It is this whole that concerns us, as Druids, the most. The whole is what we work in service to, rather than the self. When we heal the whole, when we work holistically, then we also benefit the self. It’s not altruism, it just is.
When we are in positions of power, acts of anger and revenge can be even more devastating to the whole. We must learn how to work honourably with our power, out of self-respect and out of respect for the rest of the world. Without all those relationships, whether it is other humans, the bees, the mountains or the rivers, we would simply not exist. We don’t live in a bubble or a vacuum. We need others in order to survive. We must learn to work with others, even if we disagree with them. When others hurt us, we need to ride the currents of emotion and keep the bigger picture to hand, in order to work honourably. We need to let go of our destructive sense of pride and ego, and build on the better aspects of both. We need to work from a strong and balanced sense of self, and yet be able to let that sense of self go into the light of utter integration for the benefit of the whole.
Author, activist and Wiccan Starhawk write in her book The Twelve Wild Swans: A Journey to the Realm of Magic, Healing and Action:
“We let go of vengeance out of love and concern for our larger community. To be a true leader, we must be able to look at each of our acts and say, “How will this affect the community? Is it worth dividing the community for me to be proved right? Would I not be destroying the very source of support and healing that I most need?
“And we relinquish revenge because we hold a vision of healing, for ourselves and for the world. Magic teaches us that the ends do not justify the means. Instead the means themselves shape the ends that follow. We cannot achieve healing through vengeance. We cannot serve a broad vision by being petty and spiteful.”
If we are to be leaders in our community, allowing our actions to speak as loudly, if not more than our words, we need to relinquish forms of revenge and focus instead on healing. We don’t need to make someone look bad, to punish someone, to destroy them or perform character assassinations. We can’t push out people simply because they disagree with us. People will be annoying, will try to pick fights, will be aggressive or antagonistic. We don’t have to respond like for like. If we are to work as Druids in the community, we need to let go of our desire for the above when we are hurt, and instead focus on the need for healing in the community as a whole.
This doesn’t mean that we allow people to walk all over us. Whether it’s an individual, the government, whatever, we can still stand up for what we believe in. We can speak out against injustices, we can march in protest or start a campaign, raising money and supplies to help those in need. When it becomes personal, we can simply ignore it and get on with our lives, doing the work that needs to be done, having compassion both for ourselves and for the person who is antagonising us. We know that the work still needs to be done, and getting distracted because of false pride or ego is not helping the whole. We can work with our feelings of anger and injustice, and then see where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Will this benefit the whole?
It requires us to look deeply at ourselves first and foremost. When we are able to do that, we can begin to work honourably. We see our own failings, and we have compassion for ourselves. We see those same failings reflected in others, and we have compassion for them. We know that we live in an extremely damaged world, and that perpetuating the hurt and anger will only damage it further. We will stand up for what we believe in. We will speak out against bullies and those who would tout their privilege. We will seek political and social reform. We will endeavour to find the balance, to find a fairer system where the term justice actually means something. We will work to nourish and strengthen this planet that we live on, even as it nourishes us. And we will focus on working in relationship with everyone around us, deeply immersed in our own sense of self-respect and honour.
And in doing so, we relinquish the notion of revenge, and instead focus on healing for ourselves and for the world. That is the power of the Druid.
© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017
Here is a reblog of my latest post on my channel at SageWoman Magazine for Witches and Pagans. To see the original post, clicke HERE.
Following an earth-based tradition such as Druidry is wonderfully empowering, and also beneficent to the whole, if we move beyond our self-centredness and work towards a life in service to our environment, the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. With such a tradition, there is no requirement for a belief in anything. There is no supernatural. There is only nature, glorious nature, right in front of our eyes. What we see, what we interpret with our senses, requires no belief, only a willingness to experience, to learn, to think and to create truly deep, inspiring relationships.
This sort of tradition, this sort of thinking, means that Druidry is different for each individual. What that also means is that we accept the experience of others within the tradition, and there is no right or wrong, per se, only interpretation and experience. There is no liturgy within Druidry. Yet we find it rooted in a landscape and in a culture, to which we can honour and learn from while making it work for us in an individual sense. Coming from a standpoint of no agreed standpoint, this can seem confusing and bewildering to some in the Druid tradition, and a source of great freedom for others.
The gods in Druidry are the gods of nature, both the natural world and of human nature (and beyond). They are forces of nature that without due respect, can kill, injure or destroy. Love, lust, rain, storm, wind, sun, snow, ice, war, birth, death: all of these are gods. Yet they are not gods to whom we bow down in some religious hierarchy. The gods of nature are those that we work with, together, in order to function properly in an ecosystem. There is no hierarchy in nature either; the concept of a food chain is a purely human invention to make humans feel superior, and therefore able to exploit, all life forms beneath them. The shark that swims with you in the ocean has another point of view on this so-called food chain. So does the flesh-eating virus, or the wildfire.
If we believe in some hierarchy, then we need to submit to an authority. The Druid knows that there is no authority in some uber-being above us. There are only the forces of nature that we work with, that we create relationship with, which we try to understand so that we may move through life in greater awareness and with more ease. If we submit to the forces of nature, we will perish. If we submit to the ocean, as my teacher Bobcat used to say, we will drown. There is no room for this sort of attitude within Druidry. It’s all about relationship.
Do the gods care for us? I have no idea. I’ve argued the case on both sides, and come to realise this year that I just don’t know anymore. And in that not knowing is glorious freedom. All I do know is that the rain falls, the sun shines, the moon orbit around the earth and pulls the seas with its circuit. Do any of these care? Does it matter if they do, or if they don’t? If it doesn’t matter, if we don’t need them to care, then we can just get on with the basic act of living. If we need them to care, then are we are searching for something outside of ourselves, for some sort of assurance that everything will be alright? As if seeking some form of parental nourishment, we may want someone to hold us, to take our hand, to fight the bad things and take them away. Or are we simply working with another force that has a holistic worldview, one that we aspire to, and seeks to work with us to create such a world? To give it yet another perspective, we might also want an authority to tell us what to do. In this regard, at least, the Druid knows differently.
We might pray or talk to the gods in order to try to understand a situation, but we know that they aren’t going to solve all our problems for us. We might work with the powers of earth, air, fire and water, or the realms of land, sea and sky to find out how we can re-enchant our lives with deeper meaning, but in the end how we live our lives is where the real magic and power of transformation lies, not with some external authority. Even if there is a benevolent source or deity watching after us, who cares about humanity, we can still do all that we can to make our own lives better with our own skills and experience first and foremost. We cannot leave it all up to some external force outside ourselves, for in doing so we release all sense of accountability and responsibility for our actions. We certainly don’t need more of that in the world today.
Anarchy is often seen as chaos, as a lack of organisation or structure. When we apply it to deep relationship with the world around us, however, the very basis of that relationship transforms the word into liberation from illusion. No longer are we held back by believing in a superior force, whether it is deity, the government or your boss at work. Instead, through real relationship we see how we work and live with these to create an ecosystem that is hopefully functional and sustainable. We do not seek authority in anything, but co-operation. Nature is our greatest teacher, and one to be respected, but not something to submit to in any sense.
We have to look to our own self-governance, governance of our very own self. We have to take personal responsibility for our actions, our thoughts, our words and our deeds. When we become aware of these things, we can then extend that self-governance to see how we can work in our own ecosystems without a hierarchal sense of authority, without judgement or power struggles. But we must first come to be at ease with our selves, to loosen the constraints of our own egos before we take it out into the wider world. Otherwise everything will still be about an assumed power, or level of authority that is not/cannot be questioned. We must question everything, first about ourselves, our beliefs, our attitudes, our lives and then about the rest of the world. In this, we become active members of an ecosystem, rather than passive passengers simply along for the ride. We work in co-operation with all other beings, for the benefit of the whole.
Anarchy requires us to think.
We may require or be in a position of leadership from time to time, and we understand that leadership is not equated to hierarchy. The flock of starlings move together, seeming as one, based upon the actions of one individual starling, dancing their mesmerising dance across the sky, showing off their skill, practicing their acrobatics against predation, revelling in the joy of being alive. The flock of geese is led by an individual at the front of the formation, but this position of leadership is always changing, allowing rest and an opportunity for others to take the lead. Where one goose becomes ill or injured, others will drop out of the flock to stay behind with it, until it either recovers or dies, and then re-join the flock as soon as it can. This is leadership without hierarchy, without authority. It is doing what needs to be done, without the games of power and control.
We know that not all sources of perceived power in this world share the same moral or ethical framework as we do. But if we take personal responsibility for our own selves, we can work for change and transformation on a personal and fundamental level over which we have absolute control. I will reiterate: personal responsibility. Not as a nation, not as a race, not as a species. We cannot dictate to others one way to do things, that our way is right, but rather accept responsibility for our own individual actions, our own time on this planet. We cannot simply follow unquestioningly what others say and do, think or behave, because we are intelligent, free-thinking individuals. There is no one way to do things, no one authority that we must submit to, no “one size fits all”. We honour the soul of every creature that we meet, and in doing so we also deeply learn the real value of co-operation, being active rather than passive. We learn to listen, to work with others, the art of compassion. We understand that cultural and societal influences may differ with regards to ethics and morality, and all that we can do is to work on being the best that we can personally be, living our truth and letting that be the example that needs to be set in the world today. Over that, and that only, do we have control.
Therein lies the true power of anarchy, and the end of submission.
Most of us hope that when we die, we are able to pass on with a little grace and dignity. However, what is important to me right now is living in the present moment, awake and aware to the flow of life, of awen, hearing the songs of the ancestors and truly finding the meaning of the word, grace, within my own life.
Grace is a brilliant word that has so many meaning: to favour, to honour, elegance or beauty in form, ease, fluidity, mercy, clemency and pardon, just to name a few. If we look to the Latin languages’ use of the word, we find echoes in the Italian grazie or Spanish gracias, or in the French merci. The Latin root is grātia, meaning: (1) a pleasing quality, (2) favour or goodwill, and (3) gratitude or thanks. All three of these I find are essential to living honourably in today’s world.
To have a pleasing quality can have a myriad of meanings, from being aesthetically pleasing to simply being kind. The key word in this description is please in a verb form, which is something that makes one happy, whether it is the self or another. Why would we not want to make another happy? As long as it isn’t at our own expense, or hurtful towards ourselves, it seems a wonderful way to live. When we are hurtful towards another person, it doesn’t make us feel very good – or if it does, there might be something rather wrong with the brain’s chemistry. This doesn’t mean that our lives are not our own, and that we have to make others happy first – finding happiness within the self should come first, as should love for the self, in order to spread it around a little bit. Finding a peace and contentment within helps us to bring that to others. When we are not at peace with our sense of self, we cannot bring peace to others.
To have goodwill for others is at the heart of living with compassion, and also living with grace. The moment we wish another being harm, we have stepped outside of grace and into a hellish world of anger, retribution, revenge, bitterness and so on. We will not always immediately have good will for another being, especially if we have been hurt by someone in the past. Sitting with our own hurt, and then recognising the other’s pain helps us to open up our perspective from just ourselves to the wider situation. People who hurt others are often very hurt themselves. Those who try to pick-apart, to undermine, to speak unkindly to/about, who cause emotional pain – we can work with this with grace. We can see their hurt, empathise with it (though we don’t have to engage it, especially if it means further hurt or abuse from them towards ourselves), and feel compassion for them. We can wish them well, wish them love and peace, which feeds our own inner peace and peace throughout the world. The compassionate being is one who lives gracefully. (Please note: If you are being physically or psychologically abused, please do talk to someone about it right away and seek help.)
For me, perhaps the most important part of grace and its root word is to give thanks. To have gratitude is one of the key components of my Druid path, along with reverence, honour and compassion. When we have gratitude, again we step outside of our “small self” and enter into a way of being in which everything is part of everything else. No longer separate from the world, we are able to experience a deep gratitude for the world, our experiences, our loves and our lives. Our ancestors have brought us to where we are today, and it is through their strengths and weaknesses that we walk upon the earth. Our future ancestors are the ones to which we will be accountable for our actions in the present moment. Having a deep gratitude for our ancestors, not only human but also other-than-human ancestors helps us to see the inter-connectedness of all existence. Again, it shifts the perspective away from the self and into a broader, more integrated view.
This is the essence of grace – widening our world and our views, and in doing so living with kindness and compassion. It is something that is achievable for all, and something that will lead us to lives with more peace and harmony. Listening to the notes of the Great Song, the Oran Mòr, we are able to move with grace, to live with grace and to extol grace upon others.
Druid College begins in a couple of weeks, and I’m so very excited about it. This is the first time I’ve taught this many students at once – thirteen in all have signed up for Year 1! It promises to bring a lot of change to my life, and I look forward to it.
This year has already brought about many changes in my life, and has led to a deeper relationship with my gods, the ancestors and my environment. I feel so blessed to be on this journey, a journey that is shared with my friends and family, with readers of my blogs, my students and fellow colleagues on the Druid path. I have lived my Druidry full-time for many years now, and now it is a full-time “job” as well as a way of life! There are also more books underway, which I hope you will enjoy.
I aim to live in service to this land, to this planet, in whatever shape or form I can. I feel that it is our duty as part of an earth-based religion to serve, with truth and honour. I heartily thank all my teachers and guides along the way, and hope that I can continue the cycle of inspiration, of awen, after having been so inspired by so many people, both human and non-human, as well as that wonderful serpent energy contained within these British Isles. I honour my roots and work towards a future that I hope will be integrated, inclusive and inspiring.
Thank you, all from the depths of my heart.