Review: Zen for Druids

Here is a review by Maria Ede-Weaving on Philip Carr-Gomm’s blog for my upcoming book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with the Natural World (due out this October, and now available for pre-order). Thank you, Maria, for your lovely words!

Zen for Druids front coverI 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.

Joanna van der Hoeven

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!

Zen For Druids is now available on Moon Books for pre-order. 

The Golden Seed out now!

50 Druids were selected to contribute to Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD) 50th anniversary celebration book, The Golden Seed, and I was honoured and delighted to be one of them. Order your copy now of this wonderful book, with fabulous illustrations and also a DVD of the 50th Anniversary event in Glastonbury with photos and music by Damh the Bard! Pre-ordered copies are in the mail as of today – yay!

Golden Seed

The Golden Seed

Golden Seed

Check out the Order of Bards Ovates and Druids (OBOD)​’s book celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Order! I was honoured to be interviewed by Philip Carr-Gomm for this very special weekend, and was delighted to be a part of it all. You can buy The Golden Seed from OBOD’s online store now! Click HERE for more details.

News and events roundup February

February was a particularly busy month – with the opening of Druid College UK being a huge success!  We are now already halfway full in our bookings to begin Year 1 in October this year, and the response has just been amazing.  Social media posts engagement has numbered over 100,000 views, with thousands of shares and likes.  A big thank you to everyone who has supported this project! There are still spaces left on the course, so if you’re interested please email me for further details.

Lots of support has also been received since the interview I had with OBOD’s chosen chief, Philip Carr-Gomm last year at the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids‘ 50th anniversary gala. The Druidcast interview went out in January, and there has been lots of interest since then, certainly keeping me busy! At the end of February I also did an interview for Upon a Pagan Path, which aired early this month – Tommy the interviewer was such a lovely chap.

February also saw all three of my books, Zen Druidry, Dancing With Nemetona and The Awen Alone reach the Number 1, 2 & 3 spot on Amazon!  What a day that was – I was and still am flabbergasted.

The next couple of months are going to be equally busy. On Saturday 28 March I will be giving a talk at Leaping Hare in Colchester on the goddess Nemetona. I’ve been going to Leaping Hare for many, many years now and it is an absolute honour to be asked to present at this year’s gathering. I’m looking forward to seeing many familiar faces from the Eastern Region!

But before Leaping Hare I’m heading over to Glastonbury, to enjoy a little break and celebrate the Spring Equinox with some lovely friends.  We’ll also be seeing our friends Serpentyne who are doing a gig on Sat 21st – a medieval ball! Don’t miss it – it’s going to be great. We’re very much looking forward to performing with Serpentyne this summer at the Corn Lammas Gathering 21-23 August as Gypsy Dreams Belly Dance.  (I’ll also be sharing  a stall with my lovely, arty, crafty sisters and selling books – do pop by for a chat!).

The Beltane Picnic hosted by the Pagan Federation will take place this year on 24 May at The Roundhouse in Essex.  I’ll be there with my belly sisters performing again, and also doing book signing – I love this event so much, and have been going for a few years now – it’s such a warm, friendly, welcoming atmosphere of celebration!

If you’re in the Suffolk area on 18th & 19th April, check out the Woodbridge Mind Body Spirit Festival. It’s a lovely gathering of really cool folk who have created a wonderful two day festival celebrating alternative therapies, lifestyles and just sharing the love. I’ll be doing a chakra cleansing workshop on the Saturday, as well as performing with my dance troupe.  Shimmy shimmy shimmy!

And lastly, big thank you to everyone who has supported this blog and who continues to do so. Since the beginning of January we have had over 10,000 views on here alone, with many new people subscribing. Virtual hugs all around!

My interview with Philip Carr-Gomm

Druidcast 94 is now out, with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids‘ Chosen Chief, Philip Carr-Gomm interviewing me last June for their 50th anniversary gala. We talked about religion and philosophy, my books and also what is Druidry today. Have a listen, and check some great music and another great talk by Jonathan Wooley on Druidry and the young adult!

http://druidcast.libsyn.com/druidcast-a-druid-podcast-episode-94

Yoga, Animism and the Nature of Evil

During yoga last night, halfway through the class and moving to another pose, a loud “wham!” sounded in the room. In the middle of the class, a woman had squashed some spider or insect with her shoe on the wooden floor. “Did you get him?” the yoga teacher asked.

“Yep,” the lady replied, pleased with herself.

My heart fell. I was saddened, not only by the loss of life, but more by the wanton destruction of said life, as if it had no right to existence. For one such as myself, intentional killing of another animal is tantamount to murder, when it is completely unnecessary. The class carried on as if nothing happened.

I’m still thinking about it. I know that I personally could not squash a spider or bug, snail or slug, no matter how yucky they might appear to my preconceived human perception of what is beautiful and what is not. Driven since a very young age, we are told that wasps are evil, spiders are scary and snails are gross and destructive in our gardens. They all deserve to die because of these things. It is utterly absurd.

I have sat down to a meal at a pub, outside in their beer garden, where customers could request a can of insecticide to kill the wasps that came looking for food, tantalised by the sweet smell of beer. Horrified, not only by the wanton killing but by the thought of such chemicals near food, I have not been back since. The way the human mind works both disgusts and challenges me sometimes.

I’m not overly fond of worms or slugs, slimy things or creatures that live in the ocean that I cannot see beneath me when I am swimming. Big spiders are slightly frightening, only because I know that they can bite (I’ve yet to be bitten). That doesn’t mean that I seek to eradicate spiders, or all slimy things from my garden, or cull sharks when I want to swim in their waters. We really have to get over our ideas of what is good, what is beautiful and what has a right to existence, and what doesn’t. Who the hell are we to say?

I’ve been an Animist all my life. I have known on a very deep level that all things have a right to existence. This was not instilled in me by my parents, per se – it just seems an inherent part of my personal nature. I know that all things are connected on both a spiritual level and also on a scientific level. We live in ecosystems, where one part relies on another part to function. We often forget that we are part of such complex systems, or we believe we are above them. I recently wrote to my local newsletter in response to a letter to the editor asking for the eradication of ragweed near his home. He saw the dangers of the toxic plant, however he also failed to recognise the many lives are dependent on this one species of plant. For himself, he saw no benefit in this plant. He saw himself as above and more valuable to the ecosystem in which this plant existed. This is the nature of evil, in my opinion – belief that we are separate and therefore we can do as we please.

Philip Carr-Gomm has recently shared his queries and thoughts on the nature of evil in a recent social media status update. He states:

“Humans can be so unspeakably destructive – either to their fellow humans or the Earth, perhaps the ‘unthinkable’ needs to be thought – that human nature is not naturally beneficent, and evil acts therefore the result of aberration, but that it is in its essence a mixture of beneficent and maleficent, and that only some sort of training, discipline, spiritual practice, psychotherapy or education that can help us ensure our beneficence rules our head, heart and actions, rather than the reverse.

What do you think? Have you sometimes thought ‘perhaps they got it right when they came up with the idea of Original Sin’?”

The idea of Original Sin to me is abhorrent as killing things without thought. It is used to guilt people into behaving in the way that those in power think they should, to keep those in power in the status quo. This is not a criticism of Christianity as a whole, but of those who use it to further their own purposes. There is much within Christianity that is beautiful and inspiring. This abuse of power is not limited to Christianity, but can found in religions and communities all over the world.

I personally do not think that people are born evil. When I look at human beings, I see monkeys with car keys. Sadly, these monkeys have forgotten their roots, forgotten that they are just monkeys, forgotten that they are a part of the world and a part of an intricate web of existence. This is where the nature of evil occurs, the sin that divides and separates. This is where the destruction occurs, because we believe we are separate, that we are in control, that we have power over other beings.

I would argue that nothing in nature is beneficent – everything simply is what it is, neither good nor bad. The sun is not being beneficent in providing us with light and life – it is just being what it is. The clouds are not being beneficent by providing us with rain – they are just being clouds. Beneficent seems to imply a focused and intentional act of giving. While nature has its own consciousness, how intentional is it? This leads us to the ultimate question – what is the meaning of life?

For me, life has no inherent meaning – it just is. Things are alive because the appropriate conditions were available for life to be. This includes humans and all other beings. There is no master plan. It is a wonderful, beautiful, freestyle weaving of a web of life.

We are not born evil, or with evil intent. We are not born good, or with good intent. We are simply born, and the lives that we live, the circumstances of those lives and the environment that we live in all provide us with a path that we take. We have a choice to cut ourselves off from our inherent nature, of living in harmony with the rest of the world. We choose to do this for the most part out of desire for personal gain, whatever the cost to other lives and the planet as a whole. When we believe in the lie that we are separate, we can commit the worst atrocities.

We don’t even need a religion or spirituality, psychotherapy or other means to find some sort of return to harmony. We just need to wake up and shake off the lie, the belief that we are separate. We need to see things how they are, not how we think they should be. We need to see our place in the warp and weft of the tapestry of life. We need to sing in tune with all the other songs of existence. We need to remember what it is to be truly alive.

When we awaken, we also find the proverbial return to the garden. We understand life in all its forms. By living with eyes open, we walk the earth with compassion for all things.

When we return to our place in the web, the end result is deep and lasting peace.

Celebrating 50 years of OBOD

OBOD logoThis weekend the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids celebrated 50 years of their organisation, founded by Ross Nichols (Nuinn). The weekend ran from Friday 6 to Monday 9 June, with fringe events and a spectacular evening of arts and entertainment on the Saturday, all held within Glastonbury town centre.

 
I had been asked by chosen chief, Philip Carr-Gomm if I would be available for an interview on the Friday afternoon of the event, as well as be a part of the author’s table on the Sunday. It was an honour and a pleasure to be able to do so, and to attend the variety of other things happening all over the weekend.

 
After a 7.5 hour drive from where I live on the coast of the North Sea in Suffolk, we arrived with 10 minutes to spare before my interview with Phillip (which will be available on the OBOD podcast, Druidcast at a later date alongside other authors and figures within Druidry and OBOD). I hobbled into the venue (having pinched a nerve in my hip the day before) and was greeting warmly by Jo, who was working in the Avalon Foundation office, Kris Hughes (one of the most lovely, witty and funny Druids you will ever meet – do check out his books and the Anglesey Druid Order) and then by Philip himself, whom I’d only ever known via email correspondence. Philip has a wonderful way of making you feel at ease, ensuring that things will run smoothly without having to say a word. He is one of those people who is utterly devoted to his passions in life, and be completely un-egotistical about it all, considering his position within the Order and in modern Druidry itself. The cult of celebrity exists even in the modern pagan world, but it has not and I highly doubt will ever influence this genuine and endearing soul.

 
As the interview began, Philip set me at ease straight away – it was like talking to an old friend. The people attending the interview as audience members were absolutely lovely as well – it was nice to be able to connect with them and honour their support.

 
After the interview I headed to the Goddess Temple, to decompress and honour this very sacred time and place. We then had supper and went back to our B&B, which was about 4 miles out of town, as when I tried to book three months earlier the town had already been overrun by Druids seeking lodging!

 
The following morning we attended the official opening of the weekend event. Caitlin Matthews made the first speech, talking about what it means to be a Druid today, and how those who follow the path of Druidry can proudly call themselves Druid. Professor Ronald Hutton then gave an endearing roast and toast speech about the OBOD and Philip himself, which had us all in stitches, particularly when he likened Philip’s personal appearance to a dandelion puff and fighting the urge to blow on this head to release the seeds into the world. Phillip then spoke about the Order, and a powerful dramatic interpretation of the trees of the ogham was enacted. The most beautiful aspect of the entire morning’s event, however, was the cascading chant of Awens that Damh organised. Four hundred voices raised in celebration and joy chanted the sacred sound that sent beautiful rays into the heavens even as it shook the grounds of the Abbey wherein we were situated.

 
Later that day was a very special ceremony on the top of Glastonbury Tor that honoured the Druidry of the past, present and future. A moving sight was seeing those that were in the different schools of learning (Bards, Ovates and Druids) coming forward and standing in three lines before the tower of St Michael, looking like three rays of awen in their tabards of blue, green and white.

 
In the evening the Eisteddfod was absolutely superb, with offerings from a Dutch opera singer, as well as brilliant drumming and poetry. Afterwards the chairs were cleared away and the evening’s bands came on – the dance floor was heaving and the energy was amazing. Fifteen minutes before the scheduled end of the evening, Damh jumped offstage and ran out the tent to lead us to a very special surprise in the Abbey grounds – a spectacular fireworks display that lit up the whole town. As the last of the light and noise faded into the night, the awen chant seemed to flow from the very ground itself, as hundreds of Druids honoured the peace, love, passion and more in their souls in the darkness as it sounded from their voices one last time.

 
The following morning I sat at the author’s table with fellow Druid authors such as Cat Treadwell, Robin Herne, Kris Hughes and more. It was a lovely chance to connect with people and offer signed copies of our work, sharing in the very special energy that Druids seem to have when it comes to learning, reading, and always questing the awen.

 
After that I headed to the Red Spring for some quiet, personal time – sadly the White Spring was not open. I honoured this most sacred place in England and then it was time to leave, back to my home on the other side of the country.

 
All in all, this weekend was filled with lovely, beautiful people who had a deep love of Druidry and the land upon which they lived. It made me proud to call myself Druid, to make me really feel part of a tribe of people who have created a lasting tradition built upon the wisdom of the ancestors of the past and holding a deep and abiding bond for our ancestors of the future that will follow in our footsteps. Long may it continue.