Extract from upcoming book, HEDGE DRUID

Here is a little extract of the book that I’m currently working on for Llewellyn Worldwide , to be released hopefully late Spring early Summer 2019. It’s a complete guide to being a Hedge Druid, not only as a solitary path, but as one who walks between the worlds.

Magic

Magic in Modern Paganism is often seen as the ability to make changes through Will, the will of the mind combining with and focusing the energy of the universe. Druid magic is not that different, and there are several ancient accounts of Druid magic that can be found throughout history. As well, there are the Celtic myths and legends to look to, with tales of the spells, feats, incantations and more of certain characters. Indeed, the Tuatha dé Danann, the gods and goddesses that travelled on the North Wind to make their home in Ireland, were also called the Aes Dana or the Gifted People. They were known for their magical ability, and the first Druid magic worked in Ireland was done by them. In Irish, draíocht translates as both spells and magic, and shares its root with the word draoi, meaning Druid.

Druid magic was used for many different purposes: to curse, to bless, to transform, to repel, to create illusion, provide healing, to divine and to bring harmony. There are as many uses for magic as there are intentions of the individual, and so magic was and still is widely used in the Druid tradition. Magic can be empowering to the individual who has tried everything else and has no other recall in a given situation. Many in Modern Paganism adhere to the Wiccan view of the Threefold Law, which states that what you do comes back to you threefold, for good or ill. Druids don’t believe in this law as such, but as those who are questing integration, to create balance and harmony within an environment, performing malicious magical acts isn’t exactly suiting the purpose. Sometimes things will need to be removed, much like pruning a diseased tree. What is most important is that the whole is taken into consideration, and not just the desires of the individual.

A special caste or group of magical workers in Celtic history were the poets, the fili in Ireland, who has the ability to satirize and in this working, force others to obey their will. They could also praise and elevate an individual in form of blessing. They alongside the Druids also cast curses upon people, including the glam dicin, the curse of all curses. This is a “shout”, so we can assume that it was a curse that was shouted upon someone, usually in threes. Druids were sent by Queen Medb to seize Cuchulainn and to perform the glam dicin, which would cause three pimples representing injury, shame and fault upon his face.[1] Culwech threatens a porter when he is denied entrance to a feast in Arthur’s hall, and tells him that he will give three mortal shouts, loud enough that they will be heard in Cornwall and Ireland. These shouts will cause miscarriages and infertility in all the women.[2] The Roman writer Tacitus records black-robed women who ran amongst the Druids on the shores of Anglesey, brandishing torches and shouting curses with wild hair and screams causing fear in the opposing Roman soldiers. There were also curses to cause an unquenchable thirst, as well as to prevent people from urinating and causing them extreme discomfort.[3] This last curse, strangely enough, seems to have been the most favoured by practitioners of magic here in East Anglia, as well as causing disease in cattle and horses (not surprising, being such an agricultural area).[4]

The power of the spoken word was evidently the most important factor in this kind of magic, and others in the Druid tradition. As a mainly oral tradition, this applied to magic as well. To write a magic spell on something would be akin to setting something in stone, most likely irreversible.[5] Oaths were a very serious matter to the Celts, and often included something along the lines of the land swallowing them, the sky falling upon them and more should they break this oath. There is also something known as a geis, which comes from the same root as the word guth meaning “voice”.[6] This can be seen as a form of curse upon someone, or as an limitation upon one’s life that should they break it, has devastating results, often death. The geis, or a geisa, had repercussions in the material and the spiritual world, which to the Druids were interrelated. The fulfill a geisa meant that order was maintained throughout the cosmos. It was the responsibility of the individual to adhere to or take on a geis, and not simply the result of “fate” as normally viewed in other mythologies. The power of words, of your word once given, was all important. These words could be hurled in satire or curses, sung or chanted for victory or more. The voice, when used in a certain manner, saying certain words, could have very real and life-altering power. We will look at the voice later in the Developing Skills and Technique section of this book.

It was said that Druids could call up mists, or create fog banks to hide themselves from their enemies. The art of illusion or misdirection was not unknown. Deirdre was made invisible by the Druid fostering her, so that no one could see or hear her. Aonghus Og covers Diarmuid’s lover, Grania, with his mantle or cloak, thereby making her invisible so that they can escape their pursuers.[7] A mantle is a cloak, and we can still see the use of the word, “to cloak” meaning to conceal. What’s more, mantle in ornithological terms also means the wings of a bird[8], and there are instances of Druids and even the Tuatha dé Danann being described as wearing a cloak of feathers. Some of these cloaks enabled the Druids to fly, such as the blind Druid Mog Roith so that he can direct a battle accordingly.

Divination was a form of magic often used by the Druids. The most popular methods were by determining auguries from the flight of birds, or more gruesomely, through the reading of entrails. The Gauls were said to be unsurpassed in this ability, according to Trogue Pompey of the Voscons (Justin, XXIV, 4).[9] Dreams were also important, and combined with sensory deprivation had valuable results. The Irish imbas forosna is a form of sensory deprivation that excludes all light, and the Druid might go into a trance or even a slumber while he sought wisdom, then to be revealed figuratively and literally in the light of day. The transition from darkness to light is what caused the illumination, if you’ll pardon the pun. Speaking of illumination, there is also the tenim laegda, which means “illumination of song”. An offering or sacrifice is made, a song is sung and the querant touched with a wand, while the spellcaster places a thumb in their mouth, similar to when Finn Ma Cumail gained wisdom from the salmon after he sucked the juices from his thumb that spattered from the cauldron. The fingers could also be used in dichetal do chenmaid, used by Irish Christians as well as it did not include sacrifice or any Pagan deities.[10] How exactly dichetal do chenmaid is performed is now lost to the mists of time.

Shape-shifting is a regular occurrence in magical workings in Celtic mythology. Fith may be a derivative of the Irish word for deer, and often we see people being turned into deer, swans, owls, hares, hawks, even a grain of wheat and more in the old tales. There is a lot of medieval accounts of witches being able to turn into hares, and so the magical working of shapeshifting continued. In relation to fith fath, the actual process itself might not be the physical transformation into a creature, but a journeying of the mind and/or spirit in the shape of a creature. One can become a specific creature in order to see a challenge through, though this requires immense mental discipline and a large amount of practice. The more one practices, the better one becomes. However, it’s not just the practical part of the exercise that is important; researching and learning all that you can about the animal in question is imperative in doing this correctly. Otherwise, what you will be doing is having a nice daydream of what it would be like to be this animal, and not a spiritually transformative magical working. As Druids seek integration with the world, becoming another being in the world allows for a different perspective, and enables us to forego our human-centric worldview. As Druid Robin Herne states in his work, Old Gods, New Druids:

“Shape-shifting… and its importance cannot be emphasised enough. It forms the core of our approach to mysticism – transforming one’s consciousness into something that will have a far greater effect later on… Far from rejecting the world, fith-fath sekks to embrace it in all its diversity, seeks to become the bird or beast or tree.”[11] 

We also have the tarb-feis, which involves a ritual sacrifice of an animal and then part of its flesh is eaten. In eating the flesh, the Druid can become one with the creature or absorb its magical or physical power. For those who are vegetarian or vegan, I personally don’t see why this can’t be done with herbs and other plants. (Note: Druids today do not sacrifice living animals, though they may rear animals for food just as they grow their own vegetables, as self-sufficiency is growing in the tradition.) We know that the Druids used mugwort in divination, both ingesting and using the smoke to induce a trance-like state. Plants have just as much power, and just as much to teach us, as animals do in their being.

There are many various healing techniques in Celtic culture. Healing wells abound through Britain, Ireland and Europe, and are associated with Celtic deities. Other popular magical acts and items include the brat Bríde was a piece of cloth left out on the evening of Brighid’s holy day of Imbolc, and brought back into the house with the power to heal, as well as to protect and ensure abundance of milk in cows and aid in calving, lambing and foaling.[12] This cloth was not to be washed, otherwise its power would be drained. A brat that was seven years old was especially powerful. Herbs were used in healing, and special charms were recited as the herbs were being collected, as demonstrated by many various charms found in Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica. We will look at herb lore in a separate chapter.

[1] Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999

[2] Ibid.

[3] Herne, R. Old Gods, New Druids, O Books, 2009

[4] Pearson, N. The Devil’s Plantation: East Anglian Lore, Witchcraft and Folk Magic, Troy Books, 2016

[5] Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sutton & Mann, Druid Magic: The Practice of Celtic Wisdom, Llewellyn, 2013

[8] Ibid.

[9] Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999

[10] Ibid.

[11] Herne, R. Old Gods, New Druids, O Books, 2009

[12] Loughlin, A. ” Là Fhèill Brìghde”, online: http://www.tairis.co.uk/festivals/la-fheill-brighde

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A very early teaser…

So, here’s a little teaser about the work that I did a couple of months ago, when the gods decided to sit me down quite literally and make this book happen. This book will not be available until 29 June 2018 through Moon Books, but I just thought I’d leave this here…  🙂

Cover high res

Endorsement by Mabh Savage, author of A Modern Celt and Celtic Witchcraft:

“This book is an absolute must for anyone seeking to deepen their magical nature or set out upon a path to connect with the world around them. Jo is incredibly inclusive and covers aspects of witchcraft, Wicca and druidism interspersed with an alamanac-style folklore juxtaposed against modern science and a common-sense realism about the modern world we find ourselves in. As a witch on an eclectic path, and a trainee Bard, many of Jo’s words and experiences really resonated with me. Like Jo, I have always been a witch, but appreciate this can mean different things to different people, and I also have found that some Druidic paths can at first appear dry and academic, but with this volume you can sink your toes into the earth and reach high into the sky to touch the stars; to feel what being a Hedge-Druid can really mean; how it can change your world. Jo works with herbs, plants and animals, examining all types of creature, from what we might consider the lowest, such as insects and invertebrates, to the magnificent mammals such as stags and horses. She reminds us that each has a vital place in the world, and in its eco-system, and even shows us how we might go about finding our own animal ally. As well as the earthly beings we can connect to, Jo teaches us how to connect to the celestial beings; the sun, moon and stars, and the aspects of our earth that they control, such as the tides and the seasons. Jo speaks to us of the inherent goodness in some people; how we can look past the horrors that some humans have brought upon the world and see the hard work of those (including many druids and those on similar paths) who are trying to fix the damage and repair the connection between humans and nature. Jo reminds us that we can fill each day with ‘the magical and the mystical’, and gives us the tools and knowledge to create our own deeper understanding of this truly wondrous world we live in.”

New book by Danu Forest coming soon!

DF autumn equinoxApologies for the lack of posts lately – this is an incredibly busy time of year, for me as a Druid priest and also getting through my Herbcraft diploma course, as well as starting up Druid College this October.  However, I saw that the ever-lovely and talented Danu Forest has a new book coming out soon, and I wanted to share the good word here! I really enjoyed the first book in this series, which was The Magic of the Summer Solstice.  Her second offering, the Magic of the Autumn Equinox is available for pre-order now! Click HERE for more details.

Book Review: The Magic of the Summer Solstice

Magic of Summer Solstice Danu ForestFellow author, Druid and all around lovely person, Danu Forest has written the first in a series of e-books that detail aspects of each of the eight pagan festivals, otherwise commonly known as The Wheel of the Year.

Her first book, The Magic of the Summer Solstice, is a well written, well-rounded account of folklore and customs that surround this time of the highest light.  It is also filled with arts and crafts to do during the summer solstice, as well as recipes, meditation, visualisations and more. There are also lovely, simple illustrations by her talented husband and artist (and excellent drummer – my doumbek came alive in his hands at Druid Camp last year!), Dan Goodfellow.

I loved this little book. I loved it so much I read it twice.  I really look forward to reading the others in the series, and to find ways to incorporate some of the ideas into my own personal ritual practice.

For the time being, I’m keeping an eye on the elder tree in my backyard for making cordials, and will be making a lovely sun wheel for our group celebration later this month!

P.S. Just to top it all off, I was also delighted to see that at the end of the e-book was this!

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New book coming out May 2014!

dwn smallMy latest book will be coming out in May 2014 with Moon Books Publishing, as part of their Pagan Portals series. This series is a set of introductory books, usually 25,000 words or less, on a topic that allows the reader to gain an foothold on a subject, and then inspire them to continue to find out more on their own personal journeys. This is the second book I have written for the series, the first being Zen Druidry (see my Books Page for how to buy).

Nemetona is an ancient goddess whose song has flowed from Europe into these isles, humming softly deep within the earth and also deep within the human soul. She is the Lady of Sanctuary, of sacred groves and sacred spaces. Not much has been recorded of her academically – we know of an altar in Bath that was dedicated to her by a Gallic artisan who felt her power and carved her elusive name for us to remember down through the ages.

She is present within the home, within our sacred groves and rites and in all the spaces that we hold dear to our hearts. She also lies within, allowing us to feel at ease wherever we are in the world, through her energy of holding, of transformation. She holds the stillness and quiet of a perfect day, she is the stillness at the end of it, when the blackbird sings to the dusk. She is Sanctuary, where we can stretch out our souls and truly come alive, to be who we wish to be, filled with the magic of potential.

Rediscover this ancient Goddess and dance with a Druid to the songs of Nemetona. Learn how to reconnect with this goddess of sanctuary in ritual, songs, chants, meditation and more.

Druid Magic

magic circleDruids aren’t associated with magic in the same way that other Pagan traditions, such as Wicca or Witchcraft seem to be.  Yet I’ve found that in every spiritual path, there are elements of magic contained within that are often very similar in nature.

What is Druid magic? Do Druids cast spells? Have magical tools? Do we think of Gandalf, brandishing his staff and saying mightily “You Shall Not Pass!” or his mushroom-addled fellow, Radagast, who lives in the woods, talks to animals and, according to the latest Hobbit films, has a rabbit-powered all-terrain sleigh and brings hedgehogs back from the dead?

Of course it’s none of these things. It would be pretty cool if it were. But Druid magic, like all magic, is subtler than what we see on the screen or read in books.  There isn’t lightning shooting from fingertips or fire balls sparking from one’s eyes.  In fact, many modern Druids don’t use magic at all, or don’t call it magic.

So what is magic? It has often been quoted these days as manipulating the natural forces of energy within nature to provide a desired result.  This could have many interpretations.  Flicking a switch and having my living room lit up at night could fall within this category, but I’m being a bit facetious. It is also often said that magic should be the last recourse after having tried all mundane means of solving a problem.  So how do Druids use magic, if at all?

There is a growing trend of blending Wicca and Druidry, as in Philip Carr-Gomm’s new book, Druidcraft.  This is a lovely way of expressing the divide between two very similar paths; kind of bridging the gap that lies between.  I thought the book, especially the audio book, was brilliant, and yet I’m still not one to perform spells on a regular basis.  Why is that?

As stated previously, magic is often the last recourse to a situation.  If all other means have been tried, and I’m plum run out of ideas, then I might turn to magic. I might equally turn to prayer. Praying for some guidance, asking the gods, the spirits, the ancestors for a little advice when I’m stuck could be called a spell – it could also be called a prayer.  Lighting a candle and some incense, meditating and then seeking some clarification or inspiration from the ancestors could indeed look like the workings of a magical spell. I think perhaps the difference is in the intention – in both magic and prayer, we are hoping for a result, but the results are often different.

In prayer, asking for the gods to solve a problem for us rarely, if ever, works in my own experience.  I prefer to ask them for inspiration on how to get through this, or my spirit guides on where to go to next in order to resolve and issue.  Casting a spell bypasses the question, in a way, and seeks to get an answer to a question not asked.  Perhaps this is why I resort to magic so little, I always like to ask the input of others to seek out different perspectives on a situation. Again, this is only my own personal views, and others may have other ways of both prayer and spell-casting that are vastly different to my own.

For me, as a Druid I am always questing the awen – for me, awen is the Grail.  Inspiration, flowing spirit – it is such a beautiful word from the Welsh language that has so many different meanings.  To me, awen is magic, though perhaps not in the spellcaster’s sense of the word.  It is energy, it is flowing, it is the Tao and The Force of the Jedi Knight.  It is something to be tapped into in order to gain a new perspective, to see the bigger picture, to obtain compassion. Awen is Buddhist enlightenment.  It is the Christian “God is Love”.

Instead of performing a magic spell, I might wander the heathland or forest, looking for inspiration around me. I might find a place to pray, using that inspiration to guide my prayers to better understanding of myself, the situation, the world.  When all other recourses have failed, then I might try magic – the last recourse.

I feel that magic is something special, something not to be abused or overused.  We often hear the term “god-bothering” and magic may indeed be another form of “bothering” – whether it is the elements, the energy of nature, or something else entirely. I feel that Druids on the whole would turn to awen rather than magic, but perhaps with the blending of Druidry and other traditions this could indeed change, or maybe even change back to the way Druidry used to be – who knows?

Perhaps my quest for awen is my magic.  Magic includes transformation, and questing the awen will indeed change someone.  None of the knights on the Grail quest were ever the same.  None who seek enlightenment will ever be the same person they were before. We are constantly changing anyways, living a life of impermanence and fluidity, of change and flux.

Perhaps just tapping into that idea is magic, is awen.

(Reblogged from my channel at SageWoman: http://www.witchesandpagans.com/SageWoman-Blogs/druid-magic.html)