Just a reminder that we also have an audio version of Down the Forest Path, with weekly podcast episodes (though I may miss out a week here and there, like last week due to another death in the family). It’s been interesting to try out this medium, and although I’m much more comfortable writing than speaking, I feel that this is good for me, as a Druid in honouring an ancient oral tradition. So, every month there is one free podcast available, but to listen to all you will need to subscribe. Subscription lasts for an entire year from signing, and you will also have access to all of my back catalogue items such as the audio version of my book The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid, guided meditation, talks and presentations, music and more.
Yes, I am a Swiftie. Unabashedly a Swiftie. Always have been, most likely always will. I’m loving the new song (total earworm!) and the video is a little bit of genius. It’s also gotten me thinking, which is what all art/social commentary should do, no?
Musician and singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt has spoken about the cult of celebrity for a few years now, how it has changed music makers from being artists to being commodities. The face of music has changed so drastically in the last ten years that it’s becoming more and more difficult to express yourself musically, as an artist, rather than going for the superficial jugular of celebrity status. While I’m not saying that Taylor Swift has never sought celebrity, this clever woman has criticised it and examined it from many angles over the span of her career.
Taylor Swift’s most recent song and video, “Look What You Made Me Do“, is another critique of how people see her, based on assumptions made from the media, other artists, the haters and the Swifties alike. (She previously covered one assumption a few years back in her video, “Blank Space“, poking fun at the media image of her being an over-emotional, co-dependent serial relationship junkie.) It’s a very good tongue-in-cheek look at the many personas that others have created for her, such as the leader of “The Squad” (a media reference to her circle of famous friends), her so-called “surprise face” when she wins awards, her “love” of playing the victim and more. Before the song was released, Taylor had wiped all social media, deleted all Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts, as well as having her website simply showing a black screen. It’s a very shrewd move, personally deleting everything that the media could interpret about her, which she knows as well as we do that it’s only a part of who she is, a representation of a facet of a person. No one is their Facebook or Twitter account.
The song and video also points out that we need to take responsibility in our lives, which includes personal and emotional responsibility. The title, “Look What You Made Me Do” is referencing that fact that we often blame others for so many things, which engenders a lack of personal responsibility when it comes to the art of basic living. We need to take responsibility back for ourselves, for our actions, our words, our thoughts and emotions. When we do so, we pull of the mask that allows us to stay in our wounded selves, and to fly free with the wings of freedom and sovereignty. The reaction of others to this, well, what can I say? Some may praise you for it, some may criticise, some may hate and some may love you for it. The title is also a comment on how the media have created and fabricated all these stories about her, making her as a media-created character do and say things that are completely false. Taylor Swift’s new album (available beginning of November) is called Reputation, is yet another examination of the power of story, and who is telling it, and to whom.
This year, on a pilgrimage to Glastonbury, I met with the goddess Bloedewedd at the White Spring. She cautioned me to choose the mask that I wish to present to the world, otherwise others would do it for me. As I was watching Taylor’s video, these words came back to me, reflecting that everyone needs to choose, otherwise the choices will be made for them. Some would argue that we should simply take off all masks, and I would agree with this statement up to a point. We need boundaries, and certain barriers in place for different situations.
When I am working in a professional capacity, I can’t be the silly goof that I am in my dance troupe, twerking in the middle of a choreography just to make the others laugh. When I am teaching, I can’t be the child running to the bottom of the garden in search of faeries, or seeing how much of the alphabet I can burp after several glasses of Prosecco. We have different masks, different hats that we wear in different situations, because I am a daughter, a wife, a Druid, an author, a dancer, a woman, a teacher, a friend, a sister, a lover. To some, I am even a challenge, an enemy, a fraud, a hypocrite, a liar, and more. While this may not be true, other people’s interpretation of me is something that I have very little control over. They may have their reasons for believing in the story that they hold of me, they may not. But we have to remember: it’s just a story.
What is important is that our story is something that we can be proud of. Not in order to impress others, but for ourselves, so that we can move forward and add to our story with honour and integrity. We can shake off other people’s perceptions of us, because we have very little control over that anyway. We can choose to not be commodified inasmuch as we are able, and to take the reins in our journey and guide ourselves towards the sovereignty and the story that we wish to fulfill. Only we know the truth of our story, the terrible lows and the glorious highs. Only we can choose to move forward with honesty and good self-examination, in order to achieve our goals and to live a life that’s more integrated, with deep and sustainable relationships.
I’m proud of my story.
And so is Taylor Swift.
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Well, another brilliant weekend of Druid College has come and gone. We’re nearing the end of our Year 2 programme, and getting ready for the apprentices to declare their Chair, their work for Year 3. It’s an exciting time for me, to see what direction each person will take in their path to being a priest of nature, and to help guide them on their personal journey.
Some of the elements that we covered this weekend really stand out for me: crafting sacred ritual and exploring the ecstatic in ritual. As the Saturday of our weekend also coincided with Earth Day, we decided to create a ritual using the energy of the day, alongside the millions of other intentions the world over for peace, harmony and respect for this planet we call home. As Druidry is all about crafting sacred relationship, we used the time and tide as an opportunity to ride the waves of energy and, hopefully, the winds of change.
In the morning we got together and discussed the intention of the ritual, and how we could go about manifesting that intention. We hadn’t used ritual drama before, and so I suggested that Robin (our other course leader and a brilliant storyteller and actor) take on the role of someone who has lost their connection with nature, with the earth, with the fact that we are all related. In sacred space, we invited the personification of this energy, and Robin played the part to the hilt. It was difficult to hear the words he spoke (rather, yelled) in the peaceful setting of the woodland where we stood, the scent of bluebells surrounding us, the mallard ducks flying in and out of the pond next to us. Word of racism, environmental destruction, classism and more were flung into our space from the voice of a wounded individual who had lost that sense of connection, who represented everything that we work in our daily lives to heal. We had heard these words in the media, from people on the street, perhaps even from family members, words of the uselessness of nature except as a resource, words of nationalism and “foreigners”, words of the necessity of cheap manufactured goods despite the cost to human and non-human lives and more.
Then we created a container for that energy. Like an oil spill, we contained the negativity by creating a circle around the energy, holding it and stating that we will not allow it to infiltrate into our lives, and do everything we can to change and transform that energy. Circling Robin, we held hands and took in that energy.
We then needed to transform it, and so in a cauldron filled with water from the Red Spring in Glasbontury (Chalice Well) we spoke words of how we will transform that energy in our own lives. Aware of what we can and cannot control, we decided how best we can transform and create a counter-balance to the destruction of the sacred and the values of sustainable relationship that we hold so dearly. We can change ourselves, first and foremost, and that energy will ripple outwards. And so, bringing our lips close to the cauldron we spoke, of loving friends and family despite their flaws, of working on how to heal ourselves, of how we can affect our local environment, community and more. Changing ourselves, we change the world.
We then used an elixir of vervain, created by the waters of the Red Spring and White Spring, blessed by the light of the full moon, and added three drops to the cauldron filled with holy water and our intention. Through the magic of herbs and intention, the water was blessed and transformed to heal and nourish all.
We then created a circle once more, holding hands and feeling the energy of community strong. We then opened our circle and allowed a space for Robin to join us, should he so wish. In his character, he was unsure of whether he wanted to join us or remain as he was, and so we simply stated that the circle was open to him when and if he was every ready to join. There was always room at the table.
A healing sound bath followed, where we each took up an instrument with beautiful vibrational energy, and the air was cleared with the soft sounds we created, mingling with the songs of the robins and blackbirds, the wind through the new leaves in the trees, the glow of the bluebells bright in their basking in the warm spring sunshine.
All in all, it was a wonderful ritual, created by the group and one in which everyone had a part to play, both in the ritual circle and afterwards in their own lives. A very transformational ritual, to say the least.
I want to take this opportunity to thank all involved in Druid College over the last two years, who have shared in this wonderful journey. I look forward to many more years to come.
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!
This is a reblog from my channel, DruidHeart, at Witches and Pagans for PaganSquare. To read the full article in its original form, click HERE.
Treat others as you would like to be treated. Such a simple phrase, yet so hard to comply with when we’ve been hurt or wounded in any way. Our first reaction is to hurt back, to wound in return. Yet is this how we would like to be treated? What if the person who hurt you didn’t even know that they had? What if it was completely intentional? Is it then justifiable to perpetuate the cycle of hurt? How do we, as Druids, work with anger and wounding in today’s society? How do we work with honour?
We don’t really know how the ancient Druids worked with the concepts of honour or revenge. We have an account of how the Druids stood on the shores of their sacred isle at Anglesey, just before the Romans invaded, and called down their magic and their might, black-robed women with wild hair brandishing torches and running between the Druid ranks. What those men and women were doing we just don’t know, but we can be fairly certain that they were protecting their land from invaders. Whether or not their magics would have been invoked without provocation is a total unknown, but here we have an example of defence, rather than offense. Boudicca wiped out Colchester and London in retaliation for the rape of her daughters by the Romans. Whether or not that great queen in history was a Druid or not, or advised by them, is debatable.
But that is ancient history. How do we, as Druids today, work with concepts of revenge? How do we deal with people hurting us, with our rights being taken away? How does the word honour factor into our everyday lives?
It’s difficult, especially when we have such a quick means of communication in our world. Emails and opinions can be shared without a second thought. People can comment, cut down, undermine, say whatever they feel like in the virtual realm and not really suffer very many consequences in the real world. Government lie to us outright, and have been caught out in their lies, and still there is no justice. Even the most kind-hearted person begins the feel the anger and rage boiling within, battling with compassion and love for the world that they live in, for the world they would like to see. How can we deal with these emotions? If someone is attacking us, how do we as Druids protect ourselves and yet find justice? How can we ensure that the balance is maintained?
The first idea that we need to let go of is the idea of revenge. We do not need to hurt someone when they’ve hurt us. We would like to, we desire to hurt them in response, but we don’t need to in order to continue in our daily lives. We have to work out the difference between our desires and our needs, as with so many other aspects of our lives. It’s perfectly human to want to hurt someone when they’ve hurt us, or upset us, or someone we love. It’s up to us how we act on those feelings, however. We have to be emotionally responsible.
Pride is an oft maligned trait in the human race. Pride can be the reason many people seek out to hurt others, trying to “save face” or in an attempt to not to face those aspects of themselves that they so dislike, instead waging a war outside of their inner worlds so that they don’t have to own up to their own shadow selves. Yet pride can also be a good thing. Our pride can be part of our self-respect. In this way, pride will not allow others to walk all over us, but neither does it seek to destroy others who don’t agree with us.
As Druids, we work in service: to the gods, to the ancestors and to the community. We know that we have to give back, that we have a responsibility in this world to ensure that the ecosystem in which we live is functioning well. A balanced, diverse, healthy ecosystem is where there is a give and take, and where relationship is the key matter of the discussion. Those relationships must work together, must find a way to honour each other in order to flow smoothly, to be efficient and benefit the whole. It is this whole that concerns us, as Druids, the most. The whole is what we work in service to, rather than the self. When we heal the whole, when we work holistically, then we also benefit the self. It’s not altruism, it just is.
When we are in positions of power, acts of anger and revenge can be even more devastating to the whole. We must learn how to work honourably with our power, out of self-respect and out of respect for the rest of the world. Without all those relationships, whether it is other humans, the bees, the mountains or the rivers, we would simply not exist. We don’t live in a bubble or a vacuum. We need others in order to survive. We must learn to work with others, even if we disagree with them. When others hurt us, we need to ride the currents of emotion and keep the bigger picture to hand, in order to work honourably. We need to let go of our destructive sense of pride and ego, and build on the better aspects of both. We need to work from a strong and balanced sense of self, and yet be able to let that sense of self go into the light of utter integration for the benefit of the whole.
Author, activist and Wiccan Starhawk write in her book The Twelve Wild Swans: A Journey to the Realm of Magic, Healing and Action:
“We let go of vengeance out of love and concern for our larger community. To be a true leader, we must be able to look at each of our acts and say, “How will this affect the community? Is it worth dividing the community for me to be proved right? Would I not be destroying the very source of support and healing that I most need?
“And we relinquish revenge because we hold a vision of healing, for ourselves and for the world. Magic teaches us that the ends do not justify the means. Instead the means themselves shape the ends that follow. We cannot achieve healing through vengeance. We cannot serve a broad vision by being petty and spiteful.”
If we are to be leaders in our community, allowing our actions to speak as loudly, if not more than our words, we need to relinquish forms of revenge and focus instead on healing. We don’t need to make someone look bad, to punish someone, to destroy them or perform character assassinations. We can’t push out people simply because they disagree with us. People will be annoying, will try to pick fights, will be aggressive or antagonistic. We don’t have to respond like for like. If we are to work as Druids in the community, we need to let go of our desire for the above when we are hurt, and instead focus on the need for healing in the community as a whole.
This doesn’t mean that we allow people to walk all over us. Whether it’s an individual, the government, whatever, we can still stand up for what we believe in. We can speak out against injustices, we can march in protest or start a campaign, raising money and supplies to help those in need. When it becomes personal, we can simply ignore it and get on with our lives, doing the work that needs to be done, having compassion both for ourselves and for the person who is antagonising us. We know that the work still needs to be done, and getting distracted because of false pride or ego is not helping the whole. We can work with our feelings of anger and injustice, and then see where they fit in the grand scheme of things. Will this benefit the whole?
It requires us to look deeply at ourselves first and foremost. When we are able to do that, we can begin to work honourably. We see our own failings, and we have compassion for ourselves. We see those same failings reflected in others, and we have compassion for them. We know that we live in an extremely damaged world, and that perpetuating the hurt and anger will only damage it further. We will stand up for what we believe in. We will speak out against bullies and those who would tout their privilege. We will seek political and social reform. We will endeavour to find the balance, to find a fairer system where the term justice actually means something. We will work to nourish and strengthen this planet that we live on, even as it nourishes us. And we will focus on working in relationship with everyone around us, deeply immersed in our own sense of self-respect and honour.
And in doing so, we relinquish the notion of revenge, and instead focus on healing for ourselves and for the world. That is the power of the Druid.
© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017
For me, Druidry is about living a life in service. Many people confuse the word service with subservient: being beneath someone else in a lower position, lowering yourself for others. Service has nothing to do with this, and everything to do with using your skills, wit and intelligence to benefit the world around you. Relationship is at the heart of Druidry, and service to Druidry requires good relationship. There is equality, a give and take, in order to maintain a sustainable relationship. We work to serve the whole: the ecosystem, our community, our families, our ancestors, our gods, our planet. Our work in Druidry is not just for ourselves.
To work in service requires an open heart, a sense of duty and discipline. Too often, when things are rough, people can lay aside their spiritual practice feeling that they need to just in order to survive, or that they simply can’t be bothered. When we do so, we are stating that the theory and foundation of our religion or spirituality is just that: a theory. It’s not something that needs to manifest. When something just remains a thought, a theory, then it is completely intangible, and unable to create change in the world. At these points in time, when we are stretched to our limits, when we are in pain, when the world seems to be crumbling around us, this is when we need our Druidry the most. We make not feel like doing ritual, but this may be exactly what we need. We may not want to meditate, but again, that may be just what clears up our thoughts in order to proceed, to find the way forward. This is where discipline kicks in, as well a duty. When we just don’t feel like it, we can remember our ancestors, remember their struggles, their fears, their failings, and know that we can do better, we can give back for all that we have received. With relationship at the heart of Druidry, we must learn what we owe to the world, and not forget this very important concept. Only then will we truly understand the concept of duty, and manifest it in the world, living a life in service.
I am blessed in so many aspects of my life. That is not to say that my lady Brighid does not throw me onto her anvil every now and then, and pound the heck out of me, stretching me and re-forging me anew. But in service to Her, I work with the gifts that she provides me, with the challenges that lie before me, and see them as opportunities to re-forge relationships, or to understand why they don’t work and walk away. I learn where I can be of service, where my skills and talents lie, and then use them to the best of my ability, living my truth. Above all else, Brighid keeps reminding me to live my truth.
In the midst of despair, when all seems dark, I stop and take a look around. I see the blackbird, singing in my garden at sunset, listening to his call that takes me beyond this world and into the Otherworld. I see the deer eating the birdseed that falls from my feeder. I watch the clouds turn from white to gold and then deepest pinks and orange, a wash of colour that delights the eye and feeds the soul. I remember to look for and see the beauty in the world, in the small things and the large. I remember that I am part of an ecosystem, and that I have duty to give back. This gives my life meaning, and is also the meaning of life.
As a Druid, I walk a life of service. This service provides my life with meaning. I owe it to the land that nourishes me to protect it, to give back for my many blessings. I owe it to my ancestors, without whom I would not be here today. I owe it to my gods, who provide me with such deep inspiration that words cannot even come close to projecting my relationship with them. Knowing what I owe, I walk the path of service in perfect freedom, for freedom is found when we release our self-centred perspective, and take the whole of nature into our hearts and souls. We are nature.
It’s not just for ourselves. It’s for all existence.
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
Hope can be a double-edged sword. It can lift our hearts, rally us towards a cause, or it can lead us to the depths of despair when it dies. I’ve often wondered whether it is better to have hope or not, whether hope is a carrot dangling in front of us, or whether it is that very real need to invest our emotions into the belief that we can change our world. Back in 2012, I wrote about the Zen approach, in a piece entitled “No Hope“. The words that I wrote four years ago still resonate strongly within me, even as my relationship to hope has changed.
When we are at our lowest, we might still have some hope that things will get better. This hope may be the only thing that gets us through those long, dark nights of the soul. Then again, that hope may be what is preventing us from achieving things in our own right. Hope may cause complacency. If we work without hope, without expectation, then we may be even more motivated to make a positive change in the world in our own right, for the benefit of all.
With hope comes expectation. When we have expectations, we can be thrown against the rocks of frustration, anxiety, anger and despair when those expectations are not met, when things do not go the way that we would like them to. We want people to behave the way we think they should, for the benefit of all. We want our politicians to think of the people that they represent instead of their own agendas. We want colleagues to pull their own weight, spouses and partners to be there for us, children to love us. When things don’t go according to our plans, or according to our expectations, we might crash and burn. We might dive into darkness at seeing a new President-elect, we might look at the environment and realise that perhaps we have simply gone too far, and there is no remedy for what we have done. When this happens, we can lose momentum, we can get stuck. Hope might be the thing that brings us out of this stagnation, or it might leave us altogether, so that we are in an even worse state than before.
So how do we work with hope? I’ve found it useful in the last couple of years to work with Hope as a god. I’ve worked with Time in the same context, and it has been illuminating for me in so many ways. Working with the gods, we learn to create a relationship with them, one that is nurturing for all involved. There is a give and take, a sustainable and reciprocal feeling to it that means that we cannot rely on them to do everything for us, and vice versa. It is in mutual respect where we meet, where we realise that we are part of an ecosystem, and where we need to strengthen the bonds of relationship so that it functions for mutual benefit. We learn from permaculture that diversity is key, that edges are where things happen. We learn to work with both, and in doing so can make this planet a better place. If we give up Hope in this context, if we give up Hope as deity, then there will be a very real feeling of bereavement in our lives; we will be bereft. That relationship will be gone, and when it is gone then to whom do we relate?
Others would say that this might be preferable, and in giving up Hope as deity we then become more self-reliant. But self-reliance is a myth. We are all co-dependent upon everything else on this planet. We do not exist in a vacuum. We need others in order to exist, let alone thrive. We are not separate. Without the innumerable other factors in our lives, beings seen and unseen, we simply could not be. I think that this is why I believe in the gods. The gods are all about relationship, about relating to our world through a means which is personal to each and every being. This is why I’m starting to work with Hope on a new level, when it seems perhaps that all hope is lost. Otherwise, I fear I might spiral into apathy, or depression. If I work with Hope, if I talk to Her and connect those threads of sustainable relationship, then I might be inspired to solve a problem, mend something that is broken, reweave the threads of connection in the best way that I can.
Hope can be the spark of inspiration, the awen that sings to us in the dead of night when all seems lost. Hope can also be a force that keeps us from changing our lives for the better, hoping someone else, someone more powerful or intelligent will do it for us. But when we work with Hope as deity, then things begin to change. Hope will not save us from ourselves. But Hope may inspire us to do better, to be better, to be the change that we wish to see in the world.
Or so one can only Hope.
I had a lovely solo ritual last evening, to celebrate the autumn equinox. As the sun set, I meditated on the changing colours in the sky, on the harvest that has taken place, the wheat and corn crops taken in, the onions and turnips. The fields are still being tended, ploughed for winter veg, seeding with potatoes and other root crops. The sounds of work in the fields is still going on, even as the evening dog walkers pick blackberries and apples from the hedgerows. It’s a strange time of both noise and stillness, when the swifts and house martins have mostly left, the skies seeming emptier for it. The dawn chorus is softer, the evening calls less urgent.
The times of the festivals have an effect on me, physically as well as spiritually. At these strong points in the year, I often feel at odds, not quite in this realm or any other. At Beltane, my head felt like it was being pressed in on all sides as we spent time at the local tumuli. Yesterday, and the day before, I felt dizzy, sometimes faint as it seemed the energy was swirling around me yet again. Being very susceptible to pressure changes in the air, I feel I’m becoming even more sensitive to energies unseen that roil and swirl around this little sphere hurtling through space.
I love autumn. I love the energy that it brings, a quiet, soft, energy: a release. It seems that all summer long, from Beltane onwards there has been a swift build-up of energy that it seeking its release. Some of it goes at midsummer, but most of it is contained, helping to ripen the harvest fruits. It’s at this time of year, when the fruits fall, that the energy is released, the potential lying still and quiet in the seeds, ready for winter’s dreaming.
And so at last night’s ritual, I began with meditation, and then did the ritual in my usual way, scattering leaves and saying words of my appreciation for the season and the harvest around my circle. I also prayed for peace, a deep, heartfelt prayer, as well as doing five earth touchings. I then meditated again, the sun having set, feeling the balance between darkness and light. I opened my self to what I needed to learn over the long dark nights of approaching winter, widening my perspective, allowing nature to guide me. Instantly, one word rang through my head: forgiveness.
Taking inspiration from nature, I thought about forgiveness. If any ecosystem held a grudge, then it would fail. Trees continue to provide us with oxygen, despite us decimating their population. Herbs continue to grow, despite humanity’s propensity for herbicides. The rain falls, the sun shines, and we still reap the rewards that this world has to offer each and every day. If we could only do the same, if we could only learn true forgiveness, then this world would be a much better place.
I thought that I was pretty good at forgiveness. I’ve forgiven people in my life who have caused me to suffer. But taking a deeper look, my forgiveness wasn’t all-encompassing. I needed to release the anger and hate, like the leaf falls from the tree, like the leaves that lay scattered all around me in my ritual circle.
Forgiveness is one of the most difficult things to do for us humans. We often equate forgiveness with weakness, seeing it as a relinquishing of power. Those who forgive, we think, are only setting themselves up for more grief from those who would cause them to suffer. They’re doormats.
What we don’t realise is the exquisite power of forgiveness. When we can truly forgive, we can move on with our own lives. This doesn’t mean that we condone bad behaviour; far from it. We can still stand up for ourselves, speak out against injustices. We will still face struggles with people in our lives. But we can suffer less in ourselves, if we can forgive.
But we don’t want to. We want the other person to suffer, for all the hurt that they have done to us and to others. If we forgive, we think that they’ve been left off the hook. This most certainly isn’t the case. Everyone is accountable for their actions, everyone has a responsibility for their own life. We can’t force anyone to accept this, of course, but we can set the example for others. And when others don’t follow our example, we shrug and move on, knowing that we have, at the very least, stopped the suffering in ourselves.
But we want to change people. We want to stop people who are hurting others, and rightly so. So we can stand up for what is right, remembering that there is more than one right. We can also forgive, because everyone is suffering in some form or other. Whether willingly or not, when someone is causing another being harm, they are suffering deep inside from some affliction that we may never realise. They are fighting their own battles. We must set the example.
That doesn’t mean that we’re going to suddenly start liking these people. But we can allow the power of compassion to flow freely, to stop the pain in our lives, and when we do it begins to radiate outwards, like rings of water in a still pond. We’re not going to take any crap, but equally we’re not going to allow any crap that comes our way to cause us to suffer, to continue to make us crazy, hurt or bitter. We’re going to remain open, calm and filled with love for this planet, and in doing so understand the true meaning of forgiveness.
We’re also going to forgive ourselves. In doing so, we find peace. We’ve all screwed up, we’ve all caused pain at some point. We need to release that in order to function properly. We accept responsibility for our actions, and ensure that we never do it again. We strive to be better people, to make the world a better place.
Some would query whether it is truly possible for any human being to really forgive. I’ve thought about this myself. As such emotionally biased creatures, are we able to set aside our skewed perceptions of any given situation? In the attempt to do so, at the very least, is the heart of compassion. In the striving to do so, we rise to the challenge.
So my ritual last night was filled with my home environment providing me with the awen on the nature of forgiveness, compassion and love. And as I sat in the growing darkness, the cool soft breeze playing around me, I whispered these four words: I welcome the darkness.
Running a little behind in my course on Stoicism, I’m now getting up to date on the second week’s programme. This section challenges me to live in accord with Stoic values (virtues) and to set consistent goals in my daily life. It focuses more on my intentions and actions, i.e., my behaviour throughout the day. The ancient Stoics viewed their ethics as the very cornerstone of their philosophy. I also see my ethics as the cornerstone of my Druidry.
Living in accordance with nature is the goal of the Stoic. While many see have translated this as “living in accordance with virtue” for me it is the same thing. To live a life in balance and harmony with the natural world is to live a life of virtue. But what is virtue?
The dictionary’s first two definitions of virtue are:
- moral excellence; goodness; righteousness.
- conformity of one’s life and conduct to moral and ethical principles; uprightness; rectitude.
There are other definitions, such as chastity and virginity, but these are irrelevant to the topic. What is important is that the Stoic definition of virtue is not the same as the modern definition that often is confused with righteousness, but is rather a striving for excellence in living in accordance with one’s ethical principles, a flourishing of that which makes us live well. Many people when they first hear the word “virtue” they think of someone who thinks they are better than someone else, and this is simply not the case in Stoicism. Valued living is often replacing virtue in both modern-day Stoicism as well as psychology, and this term is less confrontational as well as being more descriptive.
So, this week is all about learning what is under my control, and what is not. It’s a very Zen way of thinking, which I can relate to easily. Stoicism also throws in a few other concepts, such as when we act or behave well, we are working with virtue, and when we are acting or behaving badly, we are working with vice. Again, we have to remember the Stoic’s definition of virtue and vice, where virtue is living well and in accordance with nature, and vice is not. Everything not under our control is termed indifferent. The Stoic definition is something that we have no control over, fortune and misfortune. We might be striving towards personal excellence, and this is virtue, however, we might be working under conditions of illness or physical pain, over which we have no control. It is preferred, of course, to be hale and healthy, and the preferred does make an appearance in this section of the work. So, to sum it up, we have:
- Externals, such as health, wealth, and reputation, which are merely “preferred” and
- Virtues, such as wisdom, justice, courage, and self-discipline, which are considered the chief “good” in life.
So, this week I begin by working with “values clarification”. This is an exercise which I’ve fallen out of the habit of doing, as I have done it previously in my Zen Buddhist studies. It is asking “are you sure” or “is that so” when you react to a situation or when you define your life in general. It is realising that your perception is only a tiny point on the compass, and that there are 359 other degrees from which to view it. It is questioning everything that we say or do, questioning our goals and how we live, questioning very deeply, and requires a lot of attention and focus.
To quote Marcus Aurelius:
“To what use then am I putting my own soul? Never fail to ask yourself this question and to cross-examine yourself thus: “What am I making of this part of me they call the ‘central faculty’ of the mind? And whose soul do I have now anyway? The soul of a child? Of a youth? […] Of a tyrant? Of a grazing animal? Of a wild beast?” – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, 5.11
And so, the fundamental questions that are posed to me on this course right now are:
- What’s ultimately the most important thing in life to you?
- What do you want your life to “stand for” or “be about”?
- What would you most like your life to be remembered for after you’ve died?
- What sort of thing do you most want to spend your life doing?
- What sort of person do you most want to be in your various relationships and roles in life, e.g., as a parent, a friend, at work, and in life generally?
To begin with, what is the most important thing in life to me? It’s a hard choice, between my family and working towards creating a world where nature is honoured. In fact, the two are indeed a part of each other, for my blood relatives are an extension of my connection to the entire world – they are just more immediate to me DNA-wise. The most important thing is that the world we live in, nature and the natural world, is respected, not abused and is loved so that all future generations of beings can enjoy it.
What do I want my life to stand for or be about? I would like my life to stand for working together to create peace and harmony with the natural world, with each other, co-existing as we do on this little ball of rock hurtling through space. I’d like my life to be about re-enchanting our souls with the wonder of nature, of the gods and the ancestors, the spirits of place that have such meaning and provide us a context for our lives wherever we are in the world.
What would I like to be remembered for? I hope that in my work as a Druid, my words and deeds inspire others in their reverence for the land and for the past, present and future ancestors.
What sort of thing to I want to spend my life doing? What I am doing now, writing and sharing my experiences on the Druid path, hoping to gain a little wisdom and insight, and sharing the awen in a continuous cycle of inspiration and creativity.
What sort of person do I most want to be in my various relationships and roles in life? As a Druid, one works in harmony with nature. As an author, one whose words inspire. As a friend, someone who supports and is there for others. In life, someone who is genuine, living life to the fullest in harmony, and in doing so honouring the gods, the ancestors, my friends, colleagues, readers, neighbours, spirits of place and so on.
Now it’s my turn to consider these responses for the next few days, to see if they change, or how true they remain. To talk to friends and family, to share points of view. We then move on to more questions, to delve deeper into personal ethics, but first, I’m going to spend a good few days here, really defining my terms and finding the truth in the words.