Druid College and Earth Day

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.

Re-weaving the Connection Every Day

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!

Revenge of the Druids

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

A Druid view of peace, justice and permaculture

Conflict resolution are two words that very much need to be taken into consideration in today’s political, social and economic climate. I would like to add a third word, which is honourable. When we are taking into consideration the bigger picture, the benefit to the whole, changing our perception to a more holistic one, then we are on the path towards honourable conflict resolution. Where each part matters, where each part has value, much akin to the animist’s view of the world wherein all of nature has inherent value, this worldview can help us to provide the solutions necessary in order to solve some deep problems. Too often it is easy to criticise; we often forget we must also offer solutions.

I spoke to my apprentices a couple of weeks ago at one of our Druid College sessions about ethical leadership. Leading on from that discussion, in the next weekend we will be exploring ways in which groups with differing opinions, mindsets, politics and worldviews can still operate co-operatively. Many aspects found within permaculture are a brilliant source of inspiration. Druidry is all about relationship, and relationship is also at the heart of permaculture. Nature works co-operatively in order to provide a functioning homeostasis. Yes, there are brief flashes of competition here and there, but for the most part every aspect of nature works with others in order to survive.

If we look at mycorrhizal fungi, those tiny filaments of connecting threads that run underground, connecting tree to tree in a forest, connecting many other plants and fungi, we see in a microcosm paradigm that everything is connected. Furthermore, there have been studies wherein it was found that through these connecting threads plants could help other plants, working co-operatively instead of competing for the best space and light. Trees that were in the sunlight could and did collect nourishment and nutrients that were then sent to trees in the shade that had little or no access. They did not even have to be of the same species: trees and other plants simply helped each other.

Unless we are hermits, we will have interaction with other humans. What we need to relearn is how to do so in a beneficial way, without falling into modern day society’s obsession with competition. It’s not a dog-eat-dog world out there. Much of patriarchy revolves around this idea of competition, and we need to let that go in order to find more balance in society as a whole. So how do we work with people whose perception is so different from our own? How can be bridge the gap, find the language, work honourably and sustainably with one another?

If we are working with a group, and that group begins falling apart, with bickering or power struggles, we need to look closely at how that situation came about in the first place. If we are in the role of leader, then it is up to us to communicate with all involved, and find out just what is going on, getting different perspectives on the matter. We then need to look at the situation from a different perspective altogether, which is where permaculture can help us to widen our perception further, outside the human element, allowing the authority to come from nature.

If there is a problem in a garden, a proponent of permaculture would look deeply into the issue. If there is a mould or damaging/invading insect in the garden, the solution would not be to just tackle the mould or the bug. Instead, one would look at the conditions that allowed such a thing to occur, looking deeply into the issue without any bias. Only then can more than one solution be offered, and perhaps one that is more effective.

If we relate that to group dynamics, we could be more successful in addressing more than one problem at a time. If there is conflict within the group, we could solve a single problem by kicking out the ones who are perceived to be creating the conflict. But then another person might take their place, doing the same amount of damage. If we took a permaculture perspective, we would also look at the reasons why such a thing was allowed to occur, and the reasons could be many and varied. We may find that if we address the climate and conditions that created the tension in the first place, it would all stop and no one would have to leave. Only when all issues are addressed will there be any honourable conflict resolution.

As a Druid, I take my inspiration and my authority from the nature. Nature is my teacher. Through nature I learn how to function in my environment, and how to take the lessons that I have learned in my own locality and apply or adapt them to any location that I find myself in. Talking to the spirits of place, the ancestors, the gods, I can get a feel for what it is that I owe in return for what I have been given. I can work towards balanced, reciprocal, sustainable and inspired relationship.

That doesn’t mean that there will never be conflict. But when there is, we can see them as challenges and opportunities, to learn more about ourselves and about the world. We don’t have to have everyone like us, and we don’t have to like everyone, but we can learn how to operate in a society where we want or desire very different things. And where honourable conflict resolution is unobtainable, perhaps through continuing abuse or damage to our own well-being in any shape or form, we can learn to extract ourselves from the situation and find a new path forward. Much as when I am walking in the forest, if I see a patch of nettles, I will not walk through them trying to find a relationship with them; I can honour them for what they are, but still avoid them. Some things simply will not work together, no matter how much we would like them to. Acceptance is a large part of permaculture, and of peace of mind.

When we are working in such a manner, we will find peace not only for ourselves, but hopefully for others as well. Justice only arises when we have found some semblance of peace, in ourselves and in the world. Working holistically, honourably, in a desire to be utterly integrated then we truly walk the path of the Druid.

Cover 1For more on finding peace in a world of unrest, you can buy my little e-book, The Stillness Within: Finding Inner Peace in a Conflicted World from Amazon. All royalties from books sales go to charity: The Orangutan Appeal UK and The Woodland Trust.

Druid College has a couple of places left on the Year 1 course starting this October. Please see the website for more details.

Duty and Service: The Life of a Druid

triskele-2For 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 for new book: Zen for Druids

Zen for Druids front coverReviews 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

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.