The Solitary Path

For me, Druidry is mostly a solitary path, though I do belong to some Druid Orders and networks, and celebrate the seasons with a small group of friends. But the everyday Druidry, the currents of intention that flow through me and my home, through the landscape where I live, is my main focus. Like learning, I always preferred to do so on my own, rather than working with a group, for I found that my concentration was higher, and I could have a deeper level of experience than I could with the influence of others upon my work. Indeed, personal and private ritual is always more profound than most shared ritual, though there have been a few occasions where, such as at the White Spring in Glastonbury, there has been a mix of private ritual and group celebration with my best friends deep within the cavernous walls that house those sacred waters that have changed my life forever.

Of course, we are never truly solitary creatures, but in this sense I am using the word solitary with regards to other humans. I am never truly solitary, for I am always surrounded by nature and all its creatures every single second of my life. I am always a part of an inter-connected web of existence. Living this connection, weaving the threads of my life to that of my environment and all that exists within it, means that there is no separation, no isolation. Yet, when asked to describe my path, I use the word solitary in the sense that I prefer to find such connection on my own, without other human animals around. Why this should be so is perhaps due to my nature: naturally shy, and sensitive to noise, light, barometric pressure and other phenomena, it is just easier to be “alone” most of the time. My husband is much the same, so it is easy to be around him for most of the time, taking day-long walks with him through the countryside, with little words between us, for there is no need for unnecessary talk; just being with another being in a shared space is enough. We live in a small village near the coast, so it is easy to get away from humanity by just walking out the door and down the bridle paths, or simply stay in and enjoy our beautiful garden visited by all sorts of wildlife, from deer and pheasants to pigeons and blackbirds, and even a family of badgers one time!

The path of the mystic is much the same, a solitary path where personal connection to the divine is the central focus. Some would say that the mystic path is the search for the nature of reality. For me, Druidry is the search for reality within nature, and so the two can walk hand in hand down this forest path. There are many elements of mysticism in my everyday life, where the songs of the land and the power of the gods flow through me, the knowledge from the ancestors deep within my blood and deep within the land upon which I live, rooted in its soil and sharing its stories on the breeze. To hold that connection, day in and day out, to live life fully within the threads of that tapestry is what I aspire to do, each and every moment. Sometimes a thread is dropped, and it requires a deep mindfulness to restore it, but practice helps when we search for those connecting threads, becoming easier with time and patience both with the world and with your own self.

The dissolution of the ego can be seen as at the heart of many Eastern traditions. Druidry teaches us integration, our ego perhaps not dissolving but blending in with that of our own environment. The animism that is a large part of Druidry for many helps us to see the sacredness of all existence, and in doing so we are not seeking annihilation, but integration. We can perhaps dissolve the notions and out-dated perceptions that we have, both about the world and about ourselves, leaving the self to find its own edges and then blending in to the world around us, truly becoming part of an ecosystem where selflessness is not altruistic, but necessary for the survival of the system.

The flowing inspiration, the awen, where soul touches soul and the edges melt away into an integrated way of being, has always been at the heart of Druidry. The three drops of inspiration or wisdom from Cerridwen’s cauldron contain that connection; contain the awen that, with enough practice, is accessible to all. We have to spend time brewing our own cauldron of inspiration, filling it with both knowledge and experience before we can taste the delicious awen upon our lips. Some prefer to do this with others; some prefer to do so alone.

It is easier to quiet the noise of humanity, and of our own minds, when we are alone without distraction. Notice I said “easier” and not “easy”, because again it takes practice. But time spent alone, daily connecting and reweaving the threads that we have dropped can help us create a wonderful, rich tapestry that inspires us to continue in our journey through life, whatever may happen along the way. Though the solitary path might not be for everyone, having these moments of solitude can be a great tool for deep learning, working on your own as well as working within a group, Grove or Order. Sometimes we need to remove ourselves from the world in order to better understand it, and then come back into the fold with a new awareness and integration filled with awen, filled with inspiration.

Never Play to the Gallery

Today, I just lost a hero. Music, the world, has just lost a hero. A true artist in every sense of the word, David Bowie has been an inspiration and will continue to be for centuries to come.

I’ve been in love with him for nearly thirty years now.   I love his mind, his art, his music, his philosophy, his articulation. He was always one to express his art for art’s sake inasmuch as he could. Yes, he made mistakes. Yes, he picked himself back up again. He followed his inspiration, treading deeper water, finding those edges and always peering out beyond them, sometimes leaping over them into the great unknown.

My sadness is mixed with my joy that I was able to follow his work in this shared lifetime, right here, right now. My condolences to his friends and family, my heart reaches out to fans all over the world rocked by the news of his death.

May we all continue to question everything, to express our inspiration in thought-provoking ways. May we follow our hearts, think with our heads, and allow the love of this life to take us on amazing journeys. And may we never play to the gallery.

Moving forwards

You can’t stay stuck. You either have to move forward, sideways, or back the way you came. You have to find a way to follow the flow, to get where you need to go. This was made all the more clear to me today as my husband and I snowshoed the trails around my parents’ home.

These were trails that I had known all my life. In my youth I had spent many long hours in the forest, no one for miles around, hiking the trails in all seasons, with only the birds and the tracks of fox, deer, squirrel and rabbit to keep me company. Some of the trails I had made by my own passage, which are now no longer in existence. Things change, paths come and go.

We strapped on our snowshoes and headed out into familiar backcountry. It was beautiful, with a couple of feet of snow on the ground, heavy on the tree branches and falling lightly out of the grey sky. We followed an old trail that had a few deviances from its orginal path. When the path just ended for no reason, we decided to continue on; we weren’t forging a new trail, and others had gone before. We weren’t too bothered: we knew the area pretty well. A couple of miles up the mountain was a road, and a couple of miles below was the river. Eventually if you got too lost, you could just either head uphill or downhill. Walking parallel to the hill would either hit another road or powerlines, so you could again get your bearings pretty quickly. We had a phone if we needed a pickup from any of the roads.

Still, it was an adventure. The trail moved into unfamiliar terrain, and at one point near the top of the mountain there suddenly appeared “No Tresspassing” signs in the middle of the forest where the trail just stopped. We had been out for hours and we stopped, discussing the best thing to do. It was getting cold, we had climbed 90% of the mountain, and could either spend what little energy we had left trying to find the connecting path that should have been there (even though this meant trespassing) or go back the long way we came. Tired, sweaty and getting cold, we decided to keep going ahead, despite the signs. (Please note: this is not an endorsement to trespass on private property – it all depends on the circumstances.) The old trail used to go through this newly acquired or newly signed property, and I knew we weren’t far from the connection off towards the east. It was the best decision we could make, given our current circumstances and situation. We tried our GPS, but for some reason it had decided not to work. We had to rely on gut instinct. Ten minutes later, after walking past a dozen signs, the trail suddenly appeared again, this time with new signs and following a different path. Breathing a sigh of relief, we continued, moving forward, knowing that home was that much closer. We took out the compass and confirmed that we were indeed heading east, which is where we wanted to go.

The trail had changed, and though the name was familiar the terrain wasn’t. But eventually the trail connected to the old trail that I knew and had grown up with, for we saw some of the old signs that had been screwed into the trees. These little metal signs had been attached to the tree for so long that they were half covered by the tree, which had grown around it, and would eventually swallow them whole. I smiled, realising that these signs were new when I was younger, and reflected the growing, changing, ever flowing nature of time, and the nature of nature itself.
We found our third connection, and came out onto the road with great relief. It had been quite an adventure, physically challenging and mentally stressful, not knowing where you were, breaking the rules and hoping that your insinct is right. Some trails had drastically changed, some were the same, but moving forwards was essential in order for us to find the way home. As we walked down the road in the falling snow, I thought how much this reflected life in general.

Sometimes we work bloody hard to get where we need to go. It can be physically, mentally and emotionally challenging. What matters most though is taking those first steps, and getting out there, finding the path that works for you. It may not matter too much which path you start out on, as long as you do start. Sure, you might have to break a few rules on the way. Sure, you may seriously doubt yourself. Sure, you may find the path twists and turns unexpectedly. You may be exhausted. But at least you are trying. At least you are not stuck. Out there, in the backcountry woods, being stuck can be fatal. So you keep moving, you keep going.

We are resourceful creatures. Sometimes we just have to listen to our guts. I was so thankful when we found that connecting trail, confirming that my sense of direction had been right. We use what we have been gifted with, what we have learned, and what we are continuing to learn to help us move forward. Sometimes we may even have to move backwards for a while, retrace our steps in order to find a better path. Sometimes we may not even have a destination in mind; the journey is enough. Take pleasure in the journey, the good and the bad, the stresses and the glories. Use your wits and intelligence, your physical strengths, your intuition, your friends and family to help you get where you want or need to go. One foot in front of the other. You can do it.

All you need to do is keep moving.

Nature is in contant flux. It is never the same day twice. Everything is changing, growing and fading, living and dying. Follow that flow. Be the flow itself.

Tyranny and the Oak

Tyranny and the Oak

Yesterday when I came home from work and walked through my door, I nearly burst into tears. Only days after agreeing on climate change policies in Paris, the UK government approved fracking under our national parks. Yes, protected areas of natural beauty and wilderness are now open to being fracked, so long as it is started just outside the park boundary. What’s worse, and which isn’t being talked about so much, is that the government has a veto power to override any area that has said “no” to fracking. Standing in the porch, despair just settled in, as it doesn’t seem to matter what we do, what we say, or how we live our lives. Those in power who are trying to line their own pockets and those of their constituents will do what they like, regardless. What’s the point?

Later that evening, as I lay in bed, unable to sleep, I tried to look beyond the despair, to see the situation from another perspective. As a Druid, I considered where I take my inspiration, where my soul finds sustenance, where that deep relationship happens that enables me to carry on, day after day. Where does the Druid get inspiration from? The Druid’s authority is nature. Not the government, not humanity, but nature. Looking deeply into the natural world, we can see how we can be in the world, continuing in our quest to live with honour and integrity, to the best of our abilities.

I thought of the oak tree. Druid; dru, meaning oak, and wid, meaning wisdom. The wisdom of the oak. What was the wisdom of the oak that could help lift me out of this despair, to continue to live in a tyrannical country where the people’s voices are not heard?

The oak tree grows, from a little acorn, into the best tree that it can dependent upon the conditions of its environment. Whether the soil is poor or good, the weather favourable or not, the tree will grow to the best of its ability, fulfilling its potential as an oak tree, singing its song clearly. Sometimes the conditions are perfect; sometimes they lead to the demise of the tree but still the tree carries on as best it can. One of two oak trees that I love split in half a couple of years ago in a wind storm, and yet it still carries on, the fallen half only half alive, the other half continuing as if nothing had changed. It knows its purpose as an oak tree, to grow, to live, to be in its environment. There are several old oaks trees around here that have suffered greatly from past storms, old age and more. But still they carry on. They inspire me.

Yes, someone could cut them down tomorrow. That does not mean that they will not be the best oak trees they can be right now. That does not mean that they will not produce acorns in the fall, or drop their leaves to sustain them through winter and spring. It does not mean that they will not provide food and shelter for those living near them. The wisdom of the oak.

I will continue to do what I can. I will continue to give, to care, to follow my Druid’s inspiration, the wisdom of the oak. Even if I break, even if I fall, still the dru wid will carry me. I will continue to live my live utterly dedicated to my gods, the ancestors, and the natural world. I will continue to seek deep integration with the land, and let the example of how I live my life to be my song sung into the winter’s night, filled with gratitude and reverence. I will continue to see the many blessings, and work against those seek to use nature only as a resource, fulfilling their greedy and empty lives with the hollow intake of cash. The oak tree will whisper its wisdom, to carry on, to grow, wherever you have taken root, wherever life takes you, whatever condition you find yourself in. And if you do this, you do not fail, you cannot fail, for you have found the meaning of life.

Changing Times

thank youDruid 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.

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

World Suffering – Thich Nhat Hanh

This little gem came as a great reminder today, when the suffering of the world threatened to overwhelm me.  Bursting into tears as I watched on the BBC news children’s toys scattered in the rubble of the Gaza bombings,, their bodies being loaded together into the mortuary. Rude people at the village shop blocking other people’s cars, and making them wait until they finish shopping to move their car, even after the person has asked them to politely to move.  Loud, overbearing people in the bays next to you at the driving range.  The obnoxious amount of money spent on the World Cup Football in Brazil while people starve in the streets.

Thich’s words were a welcome reminder to find the beauty, and to nourish ourselves in order to better serve the world, in a world filled with suffering – not to be overwhelmed by it, but to find the beauty to carry on regardless. To find a community as well, of like-minded souls, who can inspire you on your journey through life.  To be out in nature, and to see the wonder and live with the awe of a child again.

Then, you will be better able to serve the world, instead of submitting to the suffering and the grief, the rage and the injustice.  Returning to the centre, finding peace and being peace is all that matters.