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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The Magic of Nature Oracle

Magic of Nature OracleSheena Cundy and Tania Copsey created the most wonderful set of oracle cards, called The Magic of Nature Oracle. I have a few oracle decks that I work with – Brian Froud’s The Heart of Faerie is brilliant for specific questions that I may be looking for insight into. I use the Magic of Nature oracle cards for general interpretation and insight, to confirm and affirm actions and experiences and they are always spot on.

Yesterday I had a lovely little ritual with my friend out on the heath, beneath a copse of silver birch trees. We lay down on the ground and opened our hearts and souls to our respective goddesses, feeling the energy of the earth rising towards the surface, to lengthening sun, Her energies stirring our souls into action, re-awakening our spirit even as the snowdrops appear on the forest floor. As I lay on the earth my heart was filled with such love for the earth, for my goddess and all that she represents. It re-awakened a love that had lain dormant for a time this winter. That love flowed between us, inspiring us to action. We left our offerings and prayers, and made our way back home.

Later that evening after I meditated at my altar, I took down the Magic of Nature Oracle and asked for a general reading. What card came up? Love, with two beautiful swans. We had discussed swans in our ritual earlier, and it was simply the perfect card to represent all that had happened that day, and all that inspires me on my path, as well as reminding me of my beautiful sisters who walk this path with me.

The cards are so very different from any other oracle deck. With animals, trees and seasons it covers a lot of life in beautiful representations both in the word translation of the cards and the artwork itself. If you are looking for a deck with a difference, something that isn’t simply replicating other decks available, then the Magic of Nature Oracle cards is for you.

You can find out more about Crafty Crones, Sheeny and Tania’s company, as well as the Magic of Nature Oracle deck HERE.

 

The Awen Alone is now available!

The Awen Alone Joanna van der Hoeven

 

Today is the day!!! The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid is now available in stores!

Throughout the ages, people have withdrawn from the world in order to connect more fully with it. This book is an introductory guide for those who wish to walk the Druid path alone, for however long a time. It is about exploration and connection with the natural world, and finding our place within it. It covers the basics of Druidry and how, when applied to the everyday life, enriches it with a sense of beauty, magic and mystery.

This book is for those people who feel called to seek their own path, to use their wit and intelligence, compassion and honour to create their own tradition within Druidry.

The Druid and the Deer

P1020784 I went out seeking Elen today. I put on my thermal trousers, got on my ski jacket, slipped on my handwarmers and proudly placed my Winnie the Pooh earmuffs upon my head. Grabbing my bag, I opened the front door with excitement and stepped out into the cold January air.

What a beautiful, cold scent! I love the smell of winter, of snow – there’s nothing quite like it. It reminds me of home, in Canada, where that scent stays for longer than a couple of weeks like it does here in Suffolk. The snows were melting – the pavement was now showing and bits of grass here and there.

Walking down the bridleway, more and more mud started appearing, but I knew that wouldn’t last long. Out on the heath the snows, though they were settling, were still enough to cover everything with a mantle of white. I crossed the track to the riding stables and set out upon the heath with a light heart.

I looked in the first usual spot for the fallow deer – they weren’t there. I went to the second, and again, they weren’t there. I could count on one hand the amount of times I’d been out in the heath and woods and not seen deer, and yet was afraid that this would be another one of those times. A minute later, I knew that it wasn’t.

Straight in my path was the first herd – about 10-15 strong. I saw no stag, but lots of lovely does in all colours, from nearly black to a light fawn colour. They raised their heads, their large ears listening. I took a step forward for a closer look, and they turned and began walking away. I stopped, not wanting to frighten them, but then one doe that very distinct “Eeep!” and then they all turned tail and ran a few hundred yards further down the path.

I continued, watching them melt into the gorse bushes without a sound. I considered following them, but then knew that I should leave them alone and not hassle them. I had a plan – I was going to find one of their spots and sit there, feeling their energy, and hoping that would bring me closer to Elen.

I crossed along the trail to a smaller side track, along the edge of the wood. I knew they often gathered beneath the pines in a small section to the left and all the tracks confirmed my path. I followed, a lone doe under a pine tree about three hundred yards away watching me intently. I stepped on a dried twig, which snapped audibly, and out of hiding another herd ran out to find another shelter.

Again, I felt bad for disturbing the deer, but at least the way was now clear for me to enter into Elen’s realm. I got to the edge of the pine trees and silently asked permission to enter the space. A voice in my head said, “Go quietly,” and so I did.

I shook out my blanket and laid it upon a bare patch of ground where many deer had been under the pine trees. I sat down cross-legged for a few minutes, simply looking around. I realised that I might be here some time, and so I sat with my back against a pine tree, simply listening and looking. The musky scent of deer was heavy in here, mingling with the sharp scent of pine. I breathed deeply, and quieted myself down.

I simply listened, first with eyes shut and then opening my senses, one at a time, to the world around me. The first thing I noticed was the sound of traffic from the road to the village – some days when the air is still, or the breeze blowing in the right direction, the sound is quite loud. This was one of those days. I then heard a plane overhead, a small craft with a growling engine slowly making its way out towards the North Sea. More traffic. My own breathing. I then realised that the birds had stopped chirping. The only sounds I could hear in the middle of the heathland were human sounds.

“You have pushed us further and further,” a voice said in my head. “Our territory is smaller and smaller, and still you encroach upon us, further and further.” I suddenly felt ashamed, not only for my species but also for myself – this was a place for the deer, this was one of their spots. I was intruding upon their space. It was like being found in another person’s front room, making yourself comfortable. I whispered my apology and, scattering some seeds and grains in thanks, packed up my blanket and quickly left that place.

As I made my way back to the path, I saw more deer deep in the wood, shadows flashing between the light spaces behind the tree trunks. “Where is my place?” I asked the heathland, silently. There was no answer.

More deer came out and stood on the path in front of me, leaving the wood. They were curious, and I asked them “Where is my place?” They did not answer. Instead, they melted into the brush once more. I continued down the path, watching more and more deer leave the wood and go out into the heath once more. I saw the white doe, watching me intently from the edge of the gorse, and I whispered softly, “Hail, Elen”. After a moment of watching me, the rest of her herd began to run around the perimeter of the wood, and she eventually joined them. I wished with all my heart that I too could run with the herd, to see what it felt like to be so powerful and yet so light. Without a sound they ran. “Where is my place?” I asked once again, feeling a hint of despair creeping in.

I walked on for ten minutes, and came out to where my path normally would turn out into the open heath. Yet even more deer here, a darker herd with pale underbellies, standing in the snow. The saw me, and sproinged off in the way that only those of the deer persuasion could – bounce bounce bounce. I smiled, realising that everywhere I had turned today, there had been deer.

But still the question remained, “Where is my place?” Walking now in the open heathland, the snow crunching beneath my feet, I pondered the question with a heavy heart. I was not the deer, I was not wild, this was not my place. I was human. Were human places to be my places? I always connected with the wild places before, but knew that this was not my place. So where was my place? A crow laughed from the wood behind me, as I pondered and continued on.

That is the question that is most important to Druids, and what they seek to find most in their spirituality. Where is their place in the wide world? I trudged on, feeling the wind across my cheeks and feeling my bum getting cold. I was living here in the UK, is that where my place was? I was Canadian, is that where my place was? Yet I was out here – where was my place?

My path still followed the deer tracks left in the snow. Everywhere I wanted to go, it seemed I was following deer, lots of them, their little imprints in the snow going in exactly the same direction. I crossed the heath and made my way to the lesser travelled part of the heath, on which I had never seen any humans. This was my special place, where I came to connect with nature and the spirits of place many times before. I hoped that I would not disturb anymore deer, that indeed this was where my place was.

There were no deer to be seen, and yet the path was marked by deer tracks yet again. Less now, but still one or two had followed this way before. I found my footprints from a few days ago, and followed them – they mingled in with deer tracks now. On the edge of the open space, I saw the two lovely oak trees that I had often sat beneath, looking out over the heather and the clear blue sky. I walked to the edge of the bare canopy of the first, and asked permission to share that space. I was welcomed in with warmth. I literally sat within the arms of the oak tree upon my blanket, my back resting upon the trunk, my feet tucked up beneath me.

I closed my eyes for a while, simply listening. I couldn’t hear the traffic so much anymore – I was further away from the road. I distantly heard the church bells chime the hour, though the wind was in the wrong direction and I could not count the bells well enough to tell the time. It did not matter anyway. A stag coughed from the woodland down the way and to the right, and then again. I simply let myself be, opening my nemeton to the world around me, and asked the question once more, “Where is my place?”

I opened my eyes, and an answer came. “Not where is my place,” the oak tree said. “What is my place?” A wave of understanding washed over me – that was it! And here, beneath the boughs of the oak, I knew what my place was – I was a Druid. That was where I fit into the world. It didn’t have a physical space – I could be anywhere in the world and still be a Druid. It was what I was that mattered. The wisdom of the oak once again to the Druid’s rescue.

I lifted my eyes to my footprints just before me, leading to the edge of my blanket, and saw a single set of deer tracks right next to them, leading to this very spot. Not occupying the same place, or even the same time, still they walked the same path. This was the key. Elen of the Ways. Walking the paths, along with others, with respect, compassion and honour – this was what it was all about. Footprints mingling, trodding the same ways, in the same direction, going towards the same thing, branching off to other things, it was the path that was the key. It was The Way that mattered.

I smiled. I got up and thanked the oak for his wisdom, and Elen for showing the the Way. My bum thoroughly cold now, I sat up and the kneeled to leave my offerings of seeds, grain and home baked banana bread beneath the oak’s branches. I replaced my blanket within my bag and headed down the path I had previously trodden.

Again, my footprints were mingled with deer – a minute later new prints emerged, which lead to a dark, sandy patch that showed up through the snow. I followed the prints and found a fox den, to my delight. Recently excavated, they had come out after a long sleep, avoiding the worst of the snow. I could see their sandy pawprints slowly washing clean in the snow as they ventured out from the den. How lovely!

I continued on my way, and eventually came out onto the heath again. I saw the herd once again, with the white doe. She again watched me intently. This time, they made no move to run. I slowly continued on my way and felt a hundred eyes watching me behind the white doe. I turned around and waved a farewell, seeing their inquisitive faces and long necks following my every movement. This time, they did not run.

I made my way home, following horse tracks and deer tracks, rabbit, fox and blackbird tracks. All these Ways, all these paths, all these markers that were left behind in the snow to remind me of the shared path.
I honour you, Elen of the Ways.