Thank you all so much for your support! My heartfelt thanks to the community, to the ancestors and to the gods for my many blessings.
May we be the awen!!!
Here is a new promotional trailer for my second book, Dancing With Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space. Nemetona is a goddess that I have worked with since I was a child – I just didn’t have a name for her. Seek her out, dance with her, and come home to your self. x
Around the winter solstice is the time of year when many people get together, families and friends, to celebrate the holidays. If we are fortunate, we have some time off to be together, all together in one place – we may not have such an opportunity until the next solstice season rolls around. It can be a wonderful time of loving hugs, good conversation and deep, belly filled laughs. It can also be a trying time, when the bonds of friendship or family can become tested as we are all thrown together, our usual routines and habits left behind and we are faced with situations that are perhaps out of the norm.
My home is usually very quiet, filled with deep silence and stillness. In that silence I find my personal sanctuary, where peace is around every corner. I’m not a big fan of crowds or noise. However, at this time of year, I leave behind my little sanctuary and venture out into the world of lights and noise, family and friends when I’d really rather be sitting on my meditation cushion in the dark, with a candle and some incense.
It’s quite a shift to deal with. There is constant noise around me, different noise to that of my own home. It’s the noise of other people, which I am not accustomed to. Loud televisions, conversations, arguments, laughter – it’s a bit of an assault on my senses. Dealing with other people’s behaviour when there is no opportunity to “escape”. I have to confront everything that upsets me head on, or lose my temper, say something in anger as my “sanctuary” is thrown out the window.
Or is it? Yes, it’s difficult. Even as I type this blog, there are interruptions by people walking in and out of the room, asking me what I’m doing and other various questions. Nemetona, my goddess of sanctuary, has taught me that she is ever within me even as she is without – I take her with me wherever I go, and where I go she is always there.
In my Zen practice, this time of year provides me with innumerable ways to really practice. Life becomes difficult when things don’t go our way. When we realise this, and when we see that life is simply going ahead whether we like it or not, things can become easier. I have to deal with behaviour that I don’t like – this gives me a chance to practice and to try to understand that person’s behaviour. Often I can see myself reflected in it, or see that they are lost in their own suffering. I can try to ease that, when I remember to try to understand it. When it just pisses me off, I’m not trying to understand, and anger can erupt. When this occurs, I realise that I am not practicing very well, that I am not aware of my own reactions and behaviour. It’s a constant reminder to look deeply at myself, to see my patterns and to alter them in order to have peace and harmony both within and without. My goddess and my Zen practice help me with this understanding.
I have two choices when I find myself in difficult circumstances – get upset or not get upset. When people are shouting in the kitchen, or using words unkindly, or their behaviour is totally out of sync with creating harmony, I feel a tightness, a contraction within my body. Getting upset with this only tightens that contraction even further, making me miserable, or lashing out in anger in a misguided attempt to alleviate the tightness within. Seeing people mistreat each other, taking each other for granted – all of these things can cause contractions within. Passive/aggressive behaviour, words that are intented to provoke, noise levels louder than they need to be – all these things cause a contraction within my body. I want to loosen that contraction, but how?
Sitting and walking meditation practice, daily, really help me through this challenging time. By sitting, I am aware of my body, and aware of my thoughts. I see patterns in my behaviour. I see the self that is screaming for attention, for comfort, for sanctuary. I also then see the illusion of the separate self, and the inter-connectedness of all things. We are all dependent on everything else – the sunlight, the rain, our parents, the air, food. Without any of these things we could not exist. We are in them and they are in us.
When people’s behaviour challenges us, it helps to remind ourselves of this inter-connectedness. They are in me, and I am in them. It’s easy to do when out in the forest, becoming one with nature. But in challenging situations, with people we are often more directly faced with egos and personalities, with habits and the ego’s constant self-regard. When someone says something that upsets us, instead of thinking “I’m so upset that he said that” we can just realise that he said something. That’s the truth of the matter. Someone simply said something. We can act on what they said, of course, if they are saying inappropriate things. But we don’t have to act on it in anger, simply in awareness. Things happen. People behave the way they do. We can either get upset and lose our practice, or we can see the opportunities to become even more aware of our selves. In this awareness lies peace.
Slowly losing our separate sense of self, our egos begin to dissolve. We listen more. We apologise more. We find a deep well of peace to draw from, where we nourish that which brings peace and harmony. We don’t ignore our feelings, but we don’t feed those that create discord. We’ve no wish to stay in that contraction, no desire to create it in others.
Use this time of year as an opportunity to practice, to see how in nature we are all connected. See how the awen flows, how we are inspired by each other in each and every moment. Use difficult situations as the chance to become aware of your self and the world around you. It’s not easy, I’m being challenged constantly. It’s also a wonderful opportunity to fully immerse in the flow of awen, and not to be bashed against the rocks and caught in the swirls and eddies in the river of life. When life isn’t going the way that you would like it to, simply remember that. When we are angry or depressed, remember that it is because life isn’t going the way we want it to. Work with those feelings, work with others, and the practice will begin to show its rewards in less contraction, less anger and less upset. Peace begins to seep in, trickling through out insight, aware of the delicious drops of awen upon our tongue.
Isn’t that what this time of year is all about? Peace and love, awareness of the darkness and the returning light, the times and tides of life. May this time of year bring you many chances to practice, and may you find true joy in that practice.
From now until 20th December, I am taking questions about any of my books on the GoodReads website – please do feel free to get in touch!
The sanctity of the ‘sacred space’ is an integral part of the majority of pagan beliefs and this celebration of the Celtic goddess Nemetona offers a Druid’s-eye view of the concept. In’ Dancing With Nemetoma’, Joanna van der Hoeven explores the influence of this little-known deity who was probably introduced into Britain by Celtic/Gallic mercenaries serving with the Roman legions. The name is derived from ‘nemeton’, a term designating Gaulish religious spaces and nemetons, or sacred groves and sacred spaces, can be located throughout the Celtic world by that name. The author gives an identity to that strange, otherworldly feeling we experience when coming upon a sacred space, whether spiritual or temporal, with which we can all identify regardless of the Path we travel.
Endorsed by many of the leading lights in contemporary Druidry, ‘Dancing With Nemetona’ is a singularly compelling book for those of any pagan persuasion who wish to identify with that unexplained feeling often encountered on both the inner and outer planes. I particularly liked the author’s honesty in stating right from the beginning: “With what little history we have, it is up to us to seek Her out and find Her again, making our own connections. Within these pages are ways in which I have come to know Her, and in which you may as well, if you have not already met with Her. What is found in these pages is not long-standing tradition, but my own journeys of discovery with this goddess that I wish to share with you.” Recommended reading
Melusine Draco, Coven of the Scales and author of Magic Crystals, Sacred Stones
Far too often we allow our emotions to control us, dictating how we react and respond to situations and perhaps not in the best way. Some would argue that our emotions are what gets things done, however, something done with anger, for instance, may not always be the best way forward.
Discipline has become a bad word in our society. What we need to do is to reclaim this word, along with duty (which I will elaborate more on in another blog). We need to sit down with ourselves and take a good, long, hard look at our emotions and the roots of these emotions, finding out why we react to situations the way we do, discover underlying patterns and unravel the threads that are loose, or about to snap, reworking them into something more harmonious.
If we work on a situation based on an emotion of anger, hate or jealousy, then the outcome will most likely not be conducive to creating compassion and harmony with the world. Exploring the roots of these “negative” emotions, we will realise that the underlying thread is one of fear. Anger is another expression of fear. We become angry at our partner for not behaving in a manner that we think he should. In reality, we may be fearful of losing our partner, or of changing feelings for him, of not having enough control in our own lives, etc. Hate is based in fear, as we fear that which is the Other, separate from ourselves, the unknown. Jealousy is based on fear of change, our own insecurities and fears created out of past experiences.
What we need to do it to sit down with our feelings, to better understand them and in doing so, better understand our selves. In creating a safe space to sit with our feelings, we can engage with them openly and honestly. Creating a haven, a sanctuary in which to perform this task, we can explore the deepest corners of our minds. For me, the goddess Nemetona helps in this exercise.
She is a goddess of sanctuary and sacred space. She is present in my home and in my heart. Human beings have such a craving for safety and security, and within this goddess we can find that wherever we are. Not only does it help with emotional discipline and self-governance, but the two are intricately woven together, with self-governance creating that safety. Let me explain.
If we are ruled by the tides of our emotions, we will never settle, never find a place that we can call a sanctuary. We are subject to the peaks and valleys of an emotional long hard slog, and never really find a good breathing space in which to find some respite. If we do not have that sanctuary, we have no place to breathe and to truly connect with our emotions. And so an endless cycle of repetition is created.
Finding time every day to simply sit and breathe is a great way to begin. In a safe, comfortable place, whether indoors or out, we focus on our breath, in and out, breathing in the air that our ancestors breathed, that all living things breathe. We breathe out into the world, exhaling even as the trees exhale in the deepening twilight. Sharing this beautiful moment, this sacred breath, we come to an awareness of ourselves, of our self and how we currently feel in the world at this particular moment. We can call upon Nemetona to hold this space while we simply sit and breathe, honouring Her for all that She is with a return to the stillness at our core.
It’s not easy, taking the time to simply breathe, to meditate on our breath. Our minds will try every trick in the book to distract us from this present moment and this one little act. It is with discipline that we return to our breath again and again, each time we find ourselves wandering off mentally, or shifting our bums restlessly. You have to really want to find stillness – it doesn’t just happen. You have to be disciplined enough to achieve it. It won’t simply suddenly appear out of nowhere, nor can it be spoon-fed. Discipline will not allow any passivity. We must take full responsibility for our selves and for our world.
After breathing, we can take some time looking at our feelings and emotions without attaching to them. Again, we can ask Nemetona to help us, to hold the space and to guide us to explore our feelings without getting too involved, wrapped up once again the in the emotion. She won’t do it for us, however. We can look at our fear, at our anger, our impatience, our joy and our happiness. We can find the roots of these if we don’t let them take control over our minds, and therefore live in better awareness.
For not only do we have to be careful of the negative emotions ruling our behaviour, but we must also become aware of the more pleasant emotions. Far too often we experience a beautiful emotion, and crave that emotion for the rest of our lives. We will never be able to recreate that experience, for it has happened and exists only in the past. All we have is this present moment, which is always changing, moving forwards. If we try to regain the feeling of joy that we had on our wedding day every time we look at our loved one, we disregard other emotions and feelings that will eventually come and bite us on our backside. We may not notice the present moment. Focusing only on positive emotions doesn’t work – we are human and we have negative emotions too. Those who deny them, who suppress them, will face some pretty hard demons at some point in their life.
So we sit, and we meditate day after day, breathing and coming to an awareness of the present moment. We are able to take the time to look at our feelings and get to know them better, thereby allowing ourselves the opportunity to break from negative patterns of behaviour into more purposefully led lives. Discipline and self-governance are not things to be afraid of, nor are they something to shun as not in keeping with our freedom of expression. We are better able to express ourselves when we are not ruled by our emotions, allowing us to see what lies at the root of our souls, and thereby what lies in others’ souls as well.
This is the heart of compassion. When we understand ourselves we can better understand others, and see their fears, their patterns being created. We can work with them to help create new patterns, or we can simply walk away with respect and not have their patterns reflected in our own. We can only help those who want to be helped, and this includes our own self.
So please do take the time to sit, every day, and be in the present moment. Become aware of your breathing. Call upon Nemetona or any other god to help you find that peace, that space to explore your feelings, should you so desire. Look at your feelings and better understand them for what they are. In doing so, you will no longer be ruled by them, but instead be able to respond in the world with an awareness and mindfulness that can only create harmony. We come to understand each other in a very deep and meaningful way when we take what we learn of ourselves and relate that to others. In this, we can see that we are all related.
We are not restricting ourselves with self-governance, but allowing ourselves to open to the world with the eyes of compassion and hearts that are true.
For more about the goddess, Nemetona, please see my book, Dancing With Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space.
Sometimes one has to retreat from the world, in order to better understand it. Finding sanctuary, a sacred space where we can open our souls without fear, where we can simply be, is a glorious experience. It happens a lot less than we need in our lives, in my opinion.
A goddess of sanctuary, Nemetona is an elusive deity. Not much is written or recorded about her in Classical texts or history. Just the barest hints and place names, some tribe names and a couple of inscriptions. Who is this goddess to whom we can bare our souls, in complete soul truth, knowing that we are held?
In our modern day world, so often we feel we have to close ourselves off in order not to be overwhelmed – by people, media, technology. For sensitive souls, it sometimes is pure hell. We need to allow our soul truths to emerge, otherwise as caged birds we function behind bars, never truly spreading our wings and knowing what it means to fly. We feel we have to be careful not to be too open, too emotive, too sensitive to what people are saying or what is happening in the world around us. We are not allowed to be offended, we are not allowed to speak out without fear of being shot down a lot of the time. We are told that we shouldn’t be so sensitive. Our souls grow smaller with each experience of shutting down, never letting anyone or anything in.
That physical space around us, where we feel uncomfortable if someone we do not trust enters, is a valuable space. It is our personal nemeton, a space where our energy exists outside of our bodies. Many liken it to your aura. Some nemetons are strong and radiant, some wounded with gaping holes, others barricaded with steel. What we have to learn, or relearn, is how to open this space in love and trust – that is what Nemetona provides, often in a world wherein we feel no other human is able to provide this for us…
To read the full post, click HERE.