So many people are going through a difficult time right now. My heart goes out to each and every one of you. xoxo
Hi all! Here’s my latest video in my new YouTube series, exploring the “witchier” side of my practice 🙂 Blessings of Ostara, and the full moon to you!
Reposted from my blog at SageWoman on Witches and Pagans at PaganSquare
A large part of the work at Druid College is teaching our apprentices how to re-weave the connection to the land each and every day. We cover a wide-range of topics in doing so, from conscious consumerism, political and environmental activism, daily and seasonal ritual celebrations and more. Our focus from our last weekend was on daily connection, how we can bring everyday actions into our practice, to make the mundane sacred; indeed, to highlight the fact that there is no such thing as the mundane. It’s only in our perception.
Part of the homework given was to write an essay on how the apprentice can re-weave the connection every day. I thought I would share what I do with them, and you, in the hopes that it may inspire you on your path.
As I work from home, I have the luxury of setting my own schedule. However, I do still remember the days when I worked full-time, and then part-time, and how I simply shifted priorities in order to make it work. I also don’t have any children, although my two furry grrrls do make me wonder sometimes…
I start the day with a prayer. Watching the sun rise, I say the following:
I kindle my soul at the hearthfire of Brighid. Flame of courage, flame of joy, drops of awen be upon my lips, my work. May Brighid guide me in all my endeavours, this day and every day. May the light of illumination be upon me, may the blessings of Brighid flow through me. May her fiery arrow bring forth awen, to shine upon all kith and kin.
I then feed the cats, clean the litter boxes and see that they’re happy. When they’re all settled, I light some incense and go to my little shrine to Brighid in my living room, next to the fireplace. Here, I have a small lantern and a bowl of water filled with water from the White Spring in Glastonbury. I light the candle and then pass my hand over the water and say:
In Brighid’s name I light the flame. Come into the sacred waters, lady of the three strong fires: in the cauldron, in the belly, in the head: Brighid. Lady of the sacred flame, lady of the holy well, lady of poetry, smithcraft and healing, white serpent energy of Albion, I honour you for all that you are with all that I am.
A blessing be upon this hearth and this home, and all who dwell within. A blessing be upon my Lady, a blessing be upon this land. May there be peace in our hearts and minds, and towards all fellow beings. May we be the awen.
I then sit and focus on my breath for nine rounds, then perform the Three Realms working as found in Jhenah Telyndru’s Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery, and Inner Wisdom. This releases any negative or destructive energies within our being and replaces it with the clean, clear energy of the three realms.
I then put on the coffee and have a fruit smoothie for breakfast. I sit down at the dining table and say a quick prayer that I recite before all meals, sometimes out loud, sometimes just in my head.
I give my thanks for this food that I am about to eat. May it lend health, strength and nourishment to me. I give my thanks to the spirits of land, sea and sky. I honour all the times, and all the tides.
After breakfast, I get on with my work, clearing the admin first, and then going to write, create music, do an audio recording for my bandcamp page or do some artwork. I work for about five hours, and then have a late lunch. After lunch, I go outside for a three-mile walk. Sometimes I dance instead of going for a walk, using the 5 Rhythms method. Both walking and dancing help me to gain inspiration needed to solve problems, to connect with the rhythms of nature, or to find the stillness needed outside of my own mind, to be fully present in the moment.
The rest of the afternoon is spent in study and ends with meditation. Then, when the sun sets, I sing a prayer as I watch the sun fall past the horizon:
Hail fair sun the day is done. We take the rest that we have won. Your shining light guides our way. Blessed thanks for this day.
I usually have a cup of herbal tea with me as I watch the sun set. I’ve been using mugwort, chickweed and lady’s mantle from my own garden lately, to help me as I transition through perimenopause. I hold the herbs in my hand before putting them into the teapot, honouring their energy and adding my own to their song.
I then cook a meal for my husband and I, honouring the lovely organic food and all those who brought it to my home. Afterwards, my husband and I spend time together, enjoying each other’s quiet company. I may take a bath in the evening, honouring the clean, hot water that flows from the tap, throwing in some herbs or oil after infusing them with my intention, honouring theirs and bringing them together. I have another cup of herbal tea, made with vervain, which is calming and sacred to Druids both ancient and modern. (Please note: some of the herbs mentioned in this writing should not be used when pregnant. Always seek the advice of a good herbalist.) When it is time for bed, I say a final prayer:
I rest my soul in the arms of Brighid. Lady of peace, lady of healing; blessings of the sacred flame be upon me. Protecting flame, the light in the darkness. May her waters soothe my soul. Lady, watch over me as I sleep, this night and every night. May my love for you guide me in all that I do. May we be the awen.
Different prayers may be recited during the day, or during, before or after meditation. I have created a small book of prayers that I have handwritten, charms and such that correspond to everyday actions. There is a song for Brighid, which I sometimes sing when I am outside at my altar and feel Her moving through me. There is a prayer for greeting the moon, for invoking the spirits of place. I have created a blessing of protection, for when I feel that there is need. I have created a house blessing, to be recited twice a year, at Imbolc and Samhain after I clean the house thoroughly from top to bottom. I have written a chant for Brighid, to bring me into a trance-like state. There are healing charms and more that I have written or researched, said when necessary throughout the day.
In a sense, I have created my own liturgy for my own personal practice. However, this is for me and me alone; created out of elements of my own experience and my own life. I encourage others to create their own, if they so wish. Druidry has no set liturgy as a whole, however, I like the structure that I have created in my own personal practice. I understand that others might find it too restrictive. There are spontaneous prayers and connections recited and felt throughout the day, such as when out on a walk and I see the herds of deer, or the hawk flying overhead, or when I reach my hands down onto the mossy ground of my back garden to feel the energy of the land, or see the approaching storm.
These are the tools that I use each and every day to help me re-weave the connection to the land, to the gods and to the ancestors. At the full and dark moons I do ritual to honour these tides, as well as at the eight seasonal festivals of the modern Pagan Wheel of the Year. It’s been a fun and creative process, creating the daily prayers and rituals over the years, and I encourage anyone to try it. May we be the awen!
Reviews are coming in for my new book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature. This new book expands upon my first work, the introductory Pagan Portals Zen Druidry, and looks deeper into combining elements of Zen Buddhism and Druidry. Here are a few of the reviews!
I am a massive fan of Joanna van der Hoeven’s books. They are wonderfully accessible whilst still conveying a depth and clarity that helps the reader to really connect with the wisdom of the subject. Her latest offering does just that. ‘Zen For Druids’ is a companion to her earlier work ‘Zen Druidry’, exploring Zen Buddhism and Druidry by illustrating how these spiritual paths can complement one another in practice. The book is written in five parts. The first explores Druidry and the Dharma giving an excellent overview of Buddhism’s Three Treasures; The Four Noble Truths; The Five Precepts; The Eightfold Path and The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts and how these relate to Druid philosophy. The second part takes us through the Pagan Wheel of the Year and how Zen Buddhism can enrich the understanding and honouring of these festivals. Joanna includes some really useful tips at the end of each festival section, with ideas to deepen your experience of each. Part three focuses on Meditation; part four on Mindfulness and part five on Integration, each section helping to both explain the underlying spiritual meaning of these practices whilst giving practical advice, exercises and encouragement. I particularly enjoyed the section on Integration where the author writes beautifully about Awen and Relationship as a connecting, compassionate force that reveals the interconnectedness of life. In her chapter on Ego, Self and Identity the author tackles the thorny issue of the Ego. In many spiritual texts, the Ego can so easily be labelled the ‘bad guy’ but Joanna skilfully explores the difference between Representational Ego and Functional Ego, redeeming the Ego’s useful functions whilst suggesting a compassionate approach to its more challenging aspects. The concepts in this book take some thoughtful pondering but the beauty of Joanna’s writing is that it cracks open what initially appear to be very complex ideas and gets straight to the heart of each. Obviously the real work is in the dedicated practice of a spiritual path but Zen For Druids offers a wonderful foundation to build upon. In every page you can sense that the author has learned these insights through experience, that she really understands and lives these principles from a place of deep heart-knowing. We move from a purely intellectual grasping of a subject to this heart-led living of a spiritual path through the constant connection and exploration of that path; Joanna van der Hoeven’s fabulous book is both an inspiring and deeply practical aid to help you on that journey. I highly recommend this book. It is proof of how seemingly different spiritualities can enrich each other, and for those of us who are drawn to both western and eastern paths, it’s a real gem! ~ Maria Ede-Weaving, from the office of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids
Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Harmony, and Compassion with Nature by Joanna Van Der Hoeven is a look at integrating aspects of Zen Buddhism and Druidry into ones personal practices. We take a look at some of the basic principles of Buddhism such as the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path and how they can be integrated with aspects of Druidry such as the sacredness for all things. There are questions which help us contemplate these concepts within the aspects of both Druidry and Buddhism. We take a look at meditation and mindfulness in both areas of practice. We are shown how to incorporate the eightfold path of Buddhism into the Wheel of the Year and Druid festivals. I liked how this book brought together both Buddhist and Druid practices to create a practice that is one with nature and enhances our spiritual practice. I learned a lot about both Druidry and Buddhism and how they can work seamlessly together to create a spiritual practice. ~ Rose Pettit, Insights into the Wonderful World of Books
In this user-friendly book, Joanna van der Hoeven further develops ideas already present in her earlier ones, especially Zen Druidry. On my reading, this book will work best for Druids committed to a modern eco-spirituality. I imagine readers already re-enchanted by their experience of the natural world, who want a harmonious relationship with that world, and to honour, protect and preserve it. Zen for Druids confirms this stance and adds something else: the interwoven ethical and attentional training of the Buddhist tradition. The author draws specifically on Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen Master who founded the Community of Interbeing and is a leading model and exponent of ‘engaged Buddhism’. This cultivates personal, social and ecological levels of awareness. It recognizes the radical interdependence of all beings and a need to make ethical/political choices in line with this interdependence. Such Buddhism is not in any way world denying, in the way that Buddhist tradition has at times been in the past. I see Thich Nhat Hanh as a perfect source of influence for this book, and several of his own works are cited in the bibliography. Zen for Druids is divided into five parts. The first is a clear exposition of Buddhist basics, helped by that tradition’s own style of clear exposition and list making. It includes chapters on the three treasures, the four noble truths, the five basic precepts for lay Buddhists, the eightfold path and the sixteen Bodhisattva precepts. By age-old Buddhist design, there is a certain amount of repetition in these lists, with the same issues coming up again in slightly different contexts. Each individual chapter ends with a set of questions designed to engage the reader in their own reflections. The second part moves through the eightfold wheel of the year, frequently found as a festival year in Druid and Pagan communities. Each festival is given its own chapter, and each chapter combines traditional Druid and Pagan themes with a principle from the Buddhist eightfold path. The author starts at Samhain (right effort), moves on to the Winter Solstice (right mindfulness), Imbolc (right concentration), Spring Equinox (right intention), Beltane (right view), Summer Solstice (right action), Lughnasadh (right speech) and the Autumn Equinox (right livelihood). Each section is followed by a list of suggestions for practice. The book’s remaining three parts are shorter. They concern, respectively, meditation, mindfulness and integration. In two chapters on meditation, the first explores ‘mind traps’ – “those little prisons of our own making. We are constantly hijacked by our thoughts and feelings, attachments to them and our egos, such that we spin endlessly in circles until we fall down”. The second shows us to how do a brief meditation session in the Zen manner. The following section, concerning mindfulness in the world, suggests a practice of ‘mindful Mondays’ and explores the relationship between present time awareness and an animist world view. The final section, on integration, focuses on our integration with nature, looking at the issue of ‘ego, self and identity’ before reflecting on ‘awen and relationship’. For Joanna van der Hoeven, indeed, “awen is relationship and integration, the connecting threads that bind us soul to soul”. In Zen for Druids, one Druid shows how she has taken an iteration of Zen Buddhism into her life and practice, combining them into one path. She sets out her stall very clearly and offers the reader specific opportunities and resources for practice and reflection. This book does a valuable job well. ~ James Nichol, Contemplative Inquiry
I read Joanna’s “Zen Druidry” and it really helped add an extra layer of depth to my own Druidry. This book continues down that same path, with a lot more emphasis on how to incorporate aspects of both Zen and Druidry into one’s life. Not only does Joanna write in a way that is easily accessible, her approach to topics provides the reader with enough information to work with the topic or concept. The questions she asks throughout the book are definitely good moments of “food for thought” – and for me provide even more desire to dig even deeper into what she is presenting here. Is her book a be-all, end-all of Zen, Druidry, or the combination of the two? Not even, nor is it meant to be. Finding that kind of depth, in my opinion, is up to the individual bringing these concepts into their Spiritual practices. This book; however, is a definite strong start for those who are looking for ways to incorporate these two particular Spiritual disciplines into their lives at the same time. For me, this book is a timely follow on to the “Zen Druidry” title, providing more depth and clarity to the combination of these two Paths. Going further down that Path, will be up to the individual adherent and their own unique application of these disciplines to their own lives. If you are picking this book up first, set it down and get “Zen Druidry” and read that first. Then follow on with this one. The two flow together very nicely. ~ Tommy van Hook, Life with Trickster Gods
The ancient Stoics typically adopted the traditional four cardinal virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and self-discipline. The main goal of the Stoic is to live in accordance with nature, or live in accordance with virtue. In my work on the Stoic Mindfulness and Resilience Training Course I’ve been asked to think of examples, of people who inspire me in how they conduct themselves, in the way that they walk their talk. I’m also reminded of those people who I simply do not want to be, ruled by their shadow selves, causing destruction wherever they go.
Wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation, are the cardinal virtues in Stoicism, and their opposites are vices. Epictetus sums up the key Stoic indifferents as “health, wealth, and reputation”. Your status in society, your bank account, your reputation, all these are matters that are not entirely under your control. If they are not under your control, then they are indifferent. Indifferents also don’t necessarily contribute or detract from your happiness and well-being, from your peace of mind. Some may be preferential over others, such as being healthy, but ultimately even if we are ill, we are still able to live as well as we can, with the Stoic virtues of wisdom, justice, courage and self-discipline. If we are ruled by our reactions to that which is indifferent, then we will never progress, instead living reactionary lives, ruled by our shadows, making bad decisions, treating others unfairly, becoming fearful and lashing out with bad behaviour.
From the online site Stoic Ethics, we have it summed up here:
“The Stoics elaborated a detailed taxonomy of virtue, dividing virtue into four main types: wisdom, justice, courage, and moderation. Wisdom is subdivided into good sense, good calculation, quick-wittedness, discretion, and resourcefulness. Justice is subdivided into piety, honesty, equity, and fair dealing. Courage is subdivided into endurance, confidence, high-mindedness, cheerfulness, and industriousness. Moderation is subdivided into good discipline, seemliness, modesty, and self-control. Similarly, the Stoics divide vice into foolishness, injustice, cowardice, intemperance, and the rest. The Stoics further maintained that the virtues are inter-entailing and constitute a unity: to have one is to have them all. They held that the same virtuous mind is wise, just, courageous, and moderate. Thus, the virtuous person is disposed in a certain way with respect to each of the individual virtues. To support their doctrine of the unity of virtue, the Stoics offered an analogy: just as someone is both a poet and an orator and a general but is still one individual, so too the virtues are unified but apply to different spheres of action.”
This sits very well with my many years of studying Zen Buddhism. The notion of compassion is central to Zen Buddhism, and combined with the Western Stoic notion of virtue can make even more sense to the practitioner. I’m sure the Buddha would have loved to have had a chat with Marcus Aurelius, or Epictetus!
At some points in our lives, we will all be faced by difficult challenges. How we rise to these challenges is what defines us, morally, spiritually, ethically. Our actions may not always bring about peace. We may be required to call people to account for their actions, or to stand up for another. We may have to do things we would prefer not to, to be uncomfortable, to make unpopular choices. But in staying true to nature, to the virtues, and working with compassion we ennoble our hearts and our souls in the journey of a life well-lived.
In my studies, after now having defined what the above virtues mean, and applied them to my own life, I’m moving on to suspending value judgements and towards what the Buddhist would call Right View, albeit in a Stoic context. It will be interesting to see how these two philosophies overlap, and where they differ. It should also be interesting at this point in my life as well, where I am called to challenge bad behaviour and try to cease further suffering by making a stand in certain areas. After having spent the last couple of weeks defining my goals in Week Two, I’m now moving once again into a deep study of my thought processes, reactions and behaviour in Week Three. Self-monitoring is always a fun, and very useful, exercise. 🙂
So, as readers of this blog may be aware, I’m doing a course in Stoicism, giving some Western philosophy a go, taking a break from my studies in Eastern traditions. The basic premise behind Stoicism really intrigues me. It all boils down to “living in agreement with nature”. The course describes it as thus:
“Stoicism is a complex philosophy in some respects and it’s beyond the scope of this training to go into it in much detail. However, the central teaching was summed up fairly concisely. Stoicism teaches that the goal of life is “living in agreement with Nature”. The Stoics took that to mean, not retreating to a quiet life in the countryside, but rather living “in accord with virtue” or excelling as a human being. Living in agreement with our own nature means flourishing and fulfilling our potential, by cultivating reason and thereby achieving strength of character and practical wisdom. The outcome of our actions, whether we achieve external “success” or “failure”, is therefore less important than the nature of our own character.”
Being a Druid, the whole idea of living in agreement with nature I find highly appealing. It is, after all the goal of the Druid, is it not? For this course, I am taking the Stoic goal word for word here, and not adding on the extra interpretation that so many seem to use, that being, living in accordance with our own nature, or living in accordance with human nature. To me, that seems an unnecessary addition, and not quite in tune with my religious beliefs. It seems to separate the human from nature, where in my mind human nature is a part of nature, just we humans are a part of an ecosystem. To separate the human from nature, to create any lines of division are completely illusory; mental constructs created by human beings for whatever reason: superiority over other beings, separation from the material and the spiritual, and so on. I’m taking the Stoic goal word for word here, because it makes much more sense to me on my quest for integration.
The next aspect of the course that should be interesting is as follows:
“Your overall goal in this four-week training program is to learn to live more consistently in accord with traditional Stoic values, or with “virtue” and practical wisdom, and to evaluate the results for your quality of life. The most important aspect of this will be training yourself to consistently place more importance on your own character and actions than upon external events. You’ll also be training yourself to cultivate mindfulness so that you avoid going along with any thoughts, actions, or feelings, that may interfere with that goal.”
Having studied Eastern traditions, namely Buddhism for so many years, this both makes total sense to me and also presents a different point of view from which to operate. Within Buddhism, we are taught very similar concepts, cultivating mindfulness so that we do not fall into the traps of bad behaviour, allowing our thoughts and feelings to control our lives. As Lao Tzu said, ““Watch your thoughts, they become words; watch your words, they become actions; watch your actions, they become habits; watch your habits, they become character; watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.” That makes perfect sense, and is a very noble thing to do. The difference in Stoicism lies perhaps in the cultivation and support of your own character, identity or self. Within Buddhism, we are taught not to transcend the physical or the material, as so many people wrongfully assume, but to transcend the notion of a separate self to the rest of existence. By living mindfully, wholly within our bodies, aware of our actions, thoughts and so on, we see that the illusion of separation is just that, an illusion. There really is no self.
In Stoicism, there is indeed a more defined sense of self, one that must be cultivated in order to live in accordance with nature. It goes without saying that placing more importance on your own actions rather than external events is the way forward to creating a life of harmony, but the difference lies in the importance of your character as well. Maybe Lao Tzu’s quote above bridges the gap between Buddhism and Stoicism, for it mentions the importance of character. On the other hand, maybe I’m misinterpreting the whole thing, and confusing “character” with “self”. It will be interesting to see if I can make that distinction as the course progresses, in accordance with the principles behind Stoicism.
What I love, and what works with the philosophies that I have previously studied, but perhaps doesn’t stress as much as Stoicism does, is the following from the course:
“Some things are “up to us”, or under our direct control, whereas others are not up to us.
- Encheiridion, 1
In the next sentence, Epictetus explained that Stoics mean what is “up to us” in the sense of being completely voluntary and within our sphere of control. In a word, as he puts it, this means our actions. That includes our external behaviour but also certain mental acts, such as voluntarily judging something to be desirable or undesirable. Everything else is only under our control indirectly, as a consequence of our actions, which means that other factors can always intervene to thwart our intentions. Those things, which are not our actions, are referred to as “externals” or “indifferent” things. The Stoics often sum up the most significant and problematic externals as: health, wealth, and reputation. Pain and pleasure are also “indifferent” in the sense of being things that happen to us, rather than things we do. When our voluntary actions are good, that’s called “virtue”, and when they’re bad, that’s called “vice”. So acting with virtue rather than vice, in this sense, is the main thing that is “up to us”. Indeed, we’re told the Stoics sometimes defined the fundamental goal of life as “living in accord with virtue”.
Epictetus goes on to say that the root cause of most emotional suffering is placing too much value on these external things, on things beyond our direct control. Becoming overly-attached to externals makes us all the “slaves” of our passions, he says. That’s definitely something worth thinking about, isn’t it? The Stoics therefore repeatedly advised their students to notice when they were experiencing unhealthy emotions or desires, feelings they might want to change. When this happens we’re to pause for a moment and try to grasp very clearly what aspects of the situation are entirely within our sphere of control.”
Focusing on what is under our control, and what is not, is indeed a part of Buddhism. However, the stress that the Stoics put on this concept in relation to living in virtue is much stronger. Attachment to our thoughts and emotions is very similar within the two traditions, and mindfulness of when we are acting out inappropriately is a key concept. However, within Stoicism the difference lies in that we perhaps don’t detach from all emotions or passions, but instead cultivate virtue over vice. I am hesitant in this regard, worrying about cultivating a sense of pride that might impede the Stoic sense of being. Buddhism states that all attachments, to the good or bad, are impediments on the way to enlightenment. The goal of integration is to move beyond attachments into a pure moment of utterly being. Stoicism doesn’t ask us to move beyond striving to do good, to excel in virtue, to perhaps in a sense attach to these ideals. There isn’t the “goalless goal” in Stoicism that there is in Buddhism. It’s fascinating.
With these goals and concepts in mind, working them with my Druidry is, I think, going to be an enlightening experience. I’m eager to see if it truly does lead towards a life in accordance with nature. After working this week with the course, already some things are starting to “click”, and work easier than with some of the Eastern concepts. Then again, it may simply be my interpretation of these concepts that is the greatest challenge towards understanding and integration.
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.
My latest book, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid has broken through another sales barrier last month – I am really pleased and very grateful for the warm reception that this book has received! I am currently working on a new book at the moment, diving in and getting stuck into a much more in-depth piece of work entitled Druid: Priest of Nature. I hope to have finished writing this one by this time next year – wish me luck!
Working with the gods in Druidry is perhaps one of the most intense, exhilarating and powerful experiences we can have. Why is this?
To work with the gods, we require utmost honesty and truth. If we are to open our souls to the gods, and see theirs in return, we have to be utterly aware of who and what we are, baring all without the masks of self-protection, negation, pride or any number of human foibles. It comes close to the Wiccan saying of “in perfect love and perfect trust”, yet I would simply change the word “trust” to “honesty” here.
Trusting a god of nature may not always be a wise thing to do. Gods of nature do not always have our best interests at heart. Gods of nature are there to express their soul song, whether that be in the gift of nourishing herbs and berries or the destruction of a hurricane. I don’t necessarily put my trust in an oncoming storm, but I am willing to be utterly open and honest with it. The same could be said of any interaction or relationship. Trust is an odd thing, an investment in the behaviour of others of which we have no control. I’d rather focus on being open and honest in my relationships with the gods, with the humans and other animals around me, with the tree and stone folk. They do not necessarily require my trust, but by working and being truthful and honest, a deeper and more meaningful relationship is established.
Over the last few years I have worked deeply with Brighid. She came to me at Imbolc three years ago, as a goddess of these British Isles. She was the land itself, not a goddess “of the land”. It’s difficult to describe the difference, but in the bones of the earth beneath my feet I see her solid foundation. In the energy that rises and falls with the seasons I see her own tides rising and falling. In the air that moves across this land I feel her breath, sometimes filled with the scents of the sea less than a mile away, sometimes with the rich earthy scent of the heathland. The rain that falls is filled with her blessings, the sun that shines filled with her joy and nourishment. She works to her own cycles, and I must learn to work with her.
She is not always giving, she is not always nourishing. She asks that we stand on our own two feet and have the courage to help ourselves. She blesses my garden with her light, but she does not do it for me – I have to work with that, for sometimes it can be too strong, and I must balance it with the water caught in my rain barrels from her previous storms. I have to learn to dance with her, to follow her rhythms and movements with respect. I have to listen, deeply, to the music that is the great song, the Oran Mòr. From that deep listening comes an understanding and inspiration, the awen that is sought after and the heart of Druidry.
I cannot deceive my gods. Not because they are omnipotent, but rather the relationship wouldn’t work, wouldn’t flow smoothly if I was anything other than open and honest with them, about myself, about my relationship with the world. I wouldn’t be deceiving them, but deceiving myself by trying to hide behind facades. There is no room for growth, for change, unless we make room by letting go of certain things. We must empty our cup for it to be filled.
When we are open and honest with the gods, their wisdom and energy can flood through us, helping us to understand our place in the world, how we can work in the world in balance and harmony. This is an exquisite gift, an exchange of energy that we see reflected in nature all around us, yet which seems so out of reach for us so often. The mere simplicity of it all is what makes it the greatest challenge, for it requires us to throw away all the dross, to change our own mindset and see the world with a new perception that may or may not support our current view. To change our view of the world can turn it upside-down, can shake our foundations down to the ground. However, sometimes this is necessary in order to rebuild a stronger foundation, with clear perception, un-muddied by our habitual thinking.
Years have passed and still I am only beginning to learn this wonderful new dance with my goddess. She is teaching me new steps, new movements, new music. With an open heart I am willing to learn, to give it my best, and above all, to enjoy every single moment of it.