Moving forwards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All you need to do is keep moving.

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

Reblog: The Solitary Path

Here is a reblog from my channel, Druidheart at SageWoman on the Witches and Pagans website, exploring a little of what the solitary path means to me.

The Solitary Path

Posted by Joanna van der Hoeven on Tuesday, 10 March 2015 in SageWoman Blogs

aloneSome people find comfort and deep learning in solitude. Others find inspiration and wisdom in the interaction with others, where the edges of our souls meet. I find a good balance between the two in my life, needing solitary reflective contemplation and the shared words, laughter and brilliance of my friends to encourage and nourish creativity. I have a strong circle of female friends with whom I share ritual practice, dance, creative crafts and good food, alongside weekends away, sometimes as “girly” weekends, sometimes as spiritual pilgrimages.

I have found ritual with these ladies deeply inspiring, and the bond that it creates reminds me of the sanctity within all our relationships. However, I mostly practice my Druidry on a solitary level, literally walking the wild paths of the heath or deep into the heart of the forest alone. In those moments I feel a deep connection to the world around me, whereas in ritual with others I feel a deep connection to them.

I think a balance is definitely required, in working both alone and with others. But here I shall speak of working alone, and the benefits that can be obtained from following a spiritual path with your own wits, instinct and inspiration to guide you.

I think that more of us need to spend quality time alone. I realise that in our society many people already feel alienated and isolated, but I wonder how much of that stems from not really being able to properly be with your self. I worry about the next generation, who have phones and tablets and a constant barrage of virtual communication that they can resort to anytime they are left alone. I remember a time when my husband was away for a work conference, and feeling the need for human company I went down to the local pub to chat with others from the village at the bar. There was conversation between the customers and the publican, but as soon as she left to go to the kitchen conversation died, and people went straight to their phones rather than talk to each other. I sat there, wondering what on earth has gone wrong with our society in that we cannot talk to each other anymore, but I digress.

The need for other human companionship can be strong, and it’s not a need that we should ignore, being a social species. However, what I would posit is that we certainly do need to learn how to be alone, to listen to ourselves, to become attuned to our thoughts and behaviour in order to better understand ourselves. I strongly feel that when we understand ourselves, we understand others and can be in the world with more empathy and compassion. Often I have taken time out away from the world in order to better understand it – in this I feel a very strong connection with monastic traditions. By removal from the world and the thoughts of others I can better hear the gods, the ancestors and the spirits of place all around me. By spending time alone with my thoughts I learn the cycles that they go through, paying attention to them and really noting them. With a little Zen, when we actually pay attention to our thoughts they don’t control us as much as they might otherwise, offering us an opportunity to live with real intention instead of leading reactive lives.

Spending time in mediation alone, learning how the mind works we can then begin to hear the songs of others as naturally our thoughts quiet down. We have paid them attention, and now that our thoughts have received the attention they desired, they no longer crave more. We hear the birdsong, we feel the sunlight on our skin, the wind in our hair where otherwise we might have been distracted by thoughts, feelings, emotions and situations. The world opens up, and we are once again reminded that the world is more than just us – that we are a part of a beautiful living, breathing system where everything is inter-related. It is an exquisite gift.

Spend more time with yourself. If you can, spend half an hour, an hour or a couple of hours each day alone, perhaps going for a walk or meditating. If at all possible, go on a weekend solo retreat, or a weeklong solo retreat in a place that inspires you, where you can really connect with what is important and with your own beautiful self. Learn to love that self for what she is, for who she is and connect with her, giving her as much time as you would your dearest friends.

When we learn to love our own self, that love will then spill out into the wider world, nourishing and sustaining others.

For more on the solitary path, see my latest book The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid, available now through Moon Books.

Dousing the Fire

Brighid is often known as the goddess of the sacred flame and of the sacred well. It is often said in religions throughout the world that where fire and water meet there is the greatest potential. Exploring her aspects of fire and water are extremely beneficial and here I shall talk a bit about fire; however, perhaps not in its most usual aspect.

We are all familiar with fire as flame, as external energy whether that be a fire in the hearth, the combustion that allows us mechanised transportation or the heat of the sun. What I’ve also been exploring is the fire within, that flame or spark of energy that ignites us to do things, say things, create things. I often think of inspiration in the Druidical “fire in the head” sense, but I also feel fire in the belly and fire in the heart. The fire in the belly is intuitive, instinctive. The fire in the heart is our passion, our love, our capacity for compassion and understanding.

The fire of the heart can take a long time to come into being. In our society, we often feel isolated from each other, even when we are literally living on top of each other in urban high-rise complexes. We learn coping techniques of shutting ourselves off from one another in order to function. We may have been hurt by others in the past and that causes us to dampen our flame of love for the rest of the world.

We also live in a society wherein it seems perfectly acceptable to douse someone’s fire. Think of reality shows, especially those that have “judges” critiquing the participants. Last year I gave up watching Strictly Come Dancing because I was tired of one particular judge being an outright bully, thinking his comments were humorous when they were in reality just plain mean. Putting down, making fun of someone who is simply trying their best to participate in a dance show to raise money for Children in Need is not something I wanted to be a part of. I can donate money directly instead of supporting that kind of behaviour.

We are so influenced by what we watch on television – we cannot deny that we are not. And it frightens me, especially with the amount of television that children are often exposed to these days. It is a rare occurrence, even where I live, to actually see children playing outside despite there being the most gorgeous countryside at their disposal. Whether that is due to parents’ control or other factors I cannot know – all I know is that when I was growing up the streets would be filled with neighbourhood children riding bikes or playing street hockey among other games. Are children nowadays being raised by television and computer games instead?

We live in an extremely competitive society, or so we are told. We feel that we always need the upper hand, the edge on a situation. We are now programmed to work against each other as opposed to with each other. We are trying to beat that other person out in promotion, or to be the best as everyone knows that the top dog is the happiest. We live in a put-down culture where co-operation simply doesn’t exist. We do not know our neighbours.

Living like this provides a perfect divide and conquer technique for those who want to keep us under their control. What we need to do is to reclaim our own power, and that of our own community. Instead of dousing the fire in other people, we need to cheer them on, to work together to make our lives better. It’s happening in small grassroots ways here and there, but not on a massive scale. In my own village, we have a village allotment where people can get together to work on group projects as well as their own. The village shop often acts as a hub for people to interact with each other.

What we need to do is to stop trying to take each other down and instead build each other up. We need to realise that life is not about competition. As a social species, we thrive better when we work together. When we douse the fire in other people’s hearts we are also dousing the fire within our own hearts. Every word, every deed with the intention of dousing another’s fire reduces our own capacity for love and compassion, to make the world a better place. Why on earth would we want to do that?

In her book, The Earth Path author and activist Starhawk talks about this very subject, exploring it at various Witchcamps. A proud supporter of community effort and achievement, of bringing power back to the people, she has worked with the various elements. She tells us of the results of working with fire and dousing another’s energy.

Throughout that week, we went on to reflect on the ways in which we put out each other’s fire. When we recognise subtle energies, we become responsible for the kind of energy we are putting forth in our community. The things we do and say about each other create subtle energetic fields that either support our work and our relationships, or undermine them.

Malicious gossip, backbiting, unsupportive criticism, and mean-spiritedness douse even the stoutest of fire. And because a fire takes energy to build and maintain, such negativity is wasteful of the community’s resources; it’s like use electricity not just to keep the radio on all the time, but to keep it tuned to an irritating and distracting station… when anger festers, when we chew over our grievances like old bones without expressing them directly, when we meet others with sullenness or resentment, we douse not only their fire but our own.”

We need to judge situations in our lives all the time – they key to doing so lies in not being judgemental. We also need to support each other. If you don’t like what someone is doing, if you think it is detrimental to the community, you need to speak to that person directly. If you just don’t like them, then leave them well enough alone. All too often it is easy to attack or undermine someone through subtle means – Facebook and blogs are often used as tools for such behaviour. We can so easily dowse another’s fire through incessant comments or insidious ways online without anyone else apart from the target being the wiser. Let’s stop this behaviour right now. It is within our power.

Let’s cheer each other on, and where we simply cannot let us walk away with respect. Let’s stand up for what we believe in without resorting to maliciousness. Let’s put some good fuel onto the fire of our hearts and that of others and in doing so everything will burn with a cleaner, better focused energy.

Brighid has taught me to look deeply into what is feeding my fire, and how I can feed the fire within others. For that I am utterly thankful.

 

To be or not to be – that is the question…

Questioning your spiritual and religious path is something that happens to almost everyone who is travelling down the winding trackways of life, with its twists and turns, surprises and disappointments. For the most part, we try to find others who are on a similar path, to share in the experience, to help us perhaps with their stories, to provide guidance or simply reassurance that we are on the correct path. We as a species are a tribal people. We also love to put things into categories and boxes, in order to make some sort of sense of life. With religion or spirituality, it’s never that easy.

Our path may have been walked by others for many years – or we may be forging out on our own. It helps if we can name our path, as if in naming we can further clarify the intention behind the journeying. We can get caught up in the naming, trying to find where we fit in the world, finding some definition that makes sense to us and to everyone else. Sometimes there is no sense to be made, for if we are walking between worlds, defining it using the terms of just one world can make it seem less than what it really is, what it feels like to us, and how we experience it.

When we are researching our path, we come across definitions that others have used, that they may still use and hope that perhaps we will fit somewhere within them. Yet the fit isn’t quite right – either the hem is too low, the collar too tight, the colour is wrong. We may like the cut but not the pattern. It may not be suitable in all weathers – you get my point. When I first started out, it was on the path of Wicca, back in the early 1990s, then coming to Druidry shortly after the new millennium had begun. I’ve studied other religious paths along the way – Buddhism and Zen, Native American, Romany Chovihano, Heathenry and more. Always questing the awen, I’ve often found that there is no monopoly on wisdom. I’ve incorporated elements of all these into my own Druidry and, by doing is, is it still Druidry?

For me, yes – it is. My path is based on the wisdom of this land and the ancestors. This is the base from which I work, flavoured with ideas and teachings from other paths. Yet it is still, in essence, Druidry – at least in my own eyes. Others might disagree. For me, Druidry is simply a word that describes the language of my spirituality, of my religion. In it I find the wisdom of the oak – for me it is that simple.

Questioning and questing are valuable assets in our spiritual paths – they are a force against complacency, against blind acceptance. They make us address the issues of words and ideas thoroughly in a meaningful way that pertains to us alone. I’ve witnessed many thoughtful words from people looking at their own path, and trying to find a definition that works. Nell wrote on her blog, The Animist Craft of community (click HERE for full article). Lorna Smithers currently has found a new path that makes sense for her (click HERE) and Nimue Brown has discussed it in various forms on her posts, Disillusioned with Druidry and Walking your Own Pagan Path (and written a book, Spirituality Without Structure). Emma Restall Orr even touched upon this issue in “Essays in Contemporary Paganism” (Moon Books, 2013) in her essay, “After Paganism”. After spending around 30 years being a leading figure in the Druid community, she now states on her website [accessed 25 June, 2014]:

“Studying Druidry from the mid 1980s, I worked for The Order of Bards Ovates and Druids, then The British Druid Order, where I was joint chief for some 9 years alongside Philip Shallcrass. In 2002 I left to found The Druid Network, which now runs without me. While my time within Druidry was enormously valuable, I would no longer term myself a Druid.”

Our beliefs and attitudes are always shifting, always questing the awen in different ways. We may walk a path for a while, for many years even, and then find that we’d rather follow something else or create a new path deep through the forest of our souls. We may find that we do not fit in with the definition others ascribe to a path, such as Druidry. We may shrug off what others say and continue to call ourselves Druids, feeling that the word itself, and not the adherents to it, adequately describe our own path.

For me personally, I’m happy with the term, Druid, even though I disagree with a lot of what other Druids do, just as much as I agree with them. Though others may say or do things I find embarrassing, or simply wrong, they do not describe my path any more than those who I find inspirational and wise. Are we trying too hard to find definitions of what we are, or what we aren’t, or is this an exercise that is necessary in order not only to define our own paths, but our own selves? Where does intention fit in with this idea? Are you happy with the terms you or others have ascribed to your own path? Do these terms matter?

Calling Oneself a Druid

A blog post about whether to call yourself “Druid” or not has been brewing in my mind for weeks – when do we think we can claim the title?

 
Simply because in the past one could not claim to be a Druid until after 19 years training (depending upon the source you use) doesn’t mean that we still have to follow that way of thinking today. The Celts did many things that we don’t or wouldn’t do today. For instance, the ancestors performed animal sacrifice – we don’t. We have to adapt to the modern day to be able to let our path expand and fulfill our needs of today.

 
To call oneself a Druid is to simplify our intention – how else would we go about it? To say “I am a follower on the path of Druidry” just doesn’t roll off the tongue in casual conversation. The term is there to clarify the path, not to claim grand titles. Christians don’t believe that they are Christ. Buddhists don’t claim to be The Buddha (they are all Buddhas). Therefore, those that follow the path of Druidry, in my view, can call themselves Druid – what are the alternatives? Druidists? Druidans? Druidarians?

 
Doesn’t quite work.

 
If we don’t adapt the Celtic worldview to ours, we are simply are creating or following dogma, which is an anathema to Druidry, in my view. We should learn all that we can from our Celtic ancestors, to inform our current worldview. The future is built brick by brick up on the past. The ancient Celtic worldview teaches us of a time in history, a specific point and that specific point only. What is no longer relevant to modern day society we need to address, and find new ways of making it work. We aren’t changing it into a completely new religion – it must adapt and flow like the awen itself.

 
Therefore, to me a beginner on the Druid path may call him or herself a Druid without fear. So can one who has followed the path for 7, 13, 25 years or more. What matters more than the amount of time you have spent on this path is what lies within your heart.

 
If you love and honour nature, if you seek to learn and inform your worldview from it and feel called to the path of Druidry, then you are a Druid. Walk your talk, live in balance and harmony, and inform yourself – become a student of life. Learn history, language, biology, ecology and astronomy. Gain the intelligence and use it – experience it. That is the path to wisdom. Above all, honour your own nature as well – for in seeing the divinity within nature, we see the nature of the divine.

Name Change Successful!

We have successfully changed the blog name and URL, and it would appear from the statistics that everyone came along with us for the ride – woo hoo! We’re pleased as punch over here.

If you have linked to this blog from your own, either in a blog post link or in the blogroll, the site redirection will take people to this new site.  However, if you would like to update the name and URL manually in your blogroll, please do – we would like to reflect the new name here and get the word out as smoothly and swiftly as we can.

We would also like to take this opportunity to thank all of our followers and subscribers who have been along with us for this wonderful journey – long may it continue!

J.x