Druid Ritual

Crane Bag Advert 1It’s all 5 star reviews so far! Here’s an excerpt from my latest book, The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices which you can purchase from Amazon, Moon Books, Barnes and Noble and all good book retailers!

What is The Crane Bag?

The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices is a book in the Pagan Portals series that describes the ritual tools and practices found in the Druid tradition. As part of the Pagan Portals series, it is intended as a brief introduction to the subject, allowing the reader to further develop their own path in their own time and in their own fashion.

“The Crane Bag” is a wonderful theme in Celtic mythology, found mostly in the tales of the poet-warrior Fionn Mac Cumhail, who inherited the crane bag from his father. This bag held the special treasures of the land and was made from the skin of a crane who was, in actuality, a woman enchanted into crane form. We can view the myths that surround the crane bag as those of the gifts of sovereignty, bestowed by the goddess upon worthy heroes as is typical of Celtic mythology. The Goddess held great abundance and gifts within her womb, and only those who passed the test and were deemed fit were able to be gifted with this most precious treasure.  As the bestower of sovereignty, the Goddess fades and emerges time and again within the old stories, as does the crane bag, appearing and disappearing from myth when there is need.  The sea god, Manannan, is the original owner of the crane bag and through his love for the goddess gives and takes it back throughout the telling of the tales.

Within the mythology of the crane bag, those who follow the Celtic Druid tradition can come to know a very beneficial tool in their learning, the gifts of which are endless.  Within the crane bag are not only the tools of the Druid, but also a symbolism of the gift of the goddess, of sovereignty.  With the proper use, it can further the Druid in working with the tides of nature, finding their proper place in the grand scheme of things, living in balance, harmony and peace. In ritual use, these tools can guide the Druid to deeper levels of meaning and understanding within the tradition, helping the Druid on her journey throughout life towards integration in a holistic way of being in the world. We are able to find a deep connection, be it with the ancestors, the gods, the spirits of place or the Otherworld. Combined with the tools of the Druid’s craft held within the crane bag, we can learn how to walk the path of the Druid with honour and respect.

What is Ritual?

Ritual consists of a prescribed set of words and actions within a particular context used to bring about a desired outcome. Druid ritual uses words and actions within the context of an earth-based tradition to connect with the landscape, the gods, the ancestors and so on. For the Druid, connection, relationship and integration with the landscape are at the heart of all that she does, whether in ritual or not.  Ritual can be seen as a time set apart from daily life to reconnect the threads that bind us together with the land, with nature.  We take a step back from what is perceived as the mundane and acknowledge the sacred. Ultimately, the Druid strives to perceive the sacred in everything, and ritual helps the Druid to achieve that vision.

Our modern lives are so busy, with work, family, media, technology and more. Ritual helps us to step back from the busyness, into another way of being.  It is a change of consciousness, where we can shift our perception away from a singular view to a more plural view, integrating with the land around us, realising that we are a part of an ecosystem. Ritual is the act in the material world that connects us with a wider reality.  It is an experience, not just a thought.

Ritual is that which helps us ground and centre in the present moment. When we stop, when we take a break to perform a ritual, we become aware of who, where and what we are at a particular point in time. We are rooted in the here and now, awake and aware to all that is happening around us. When we are awake, we are able to find our place in harmony with nature, finding a deep peace both within and without. It gives us an intention, a focus with which to work in the Druid tradition, to reweave the threads of connection.

Ritual also helps us to find stability. When we create rituals to perform repeatedly, we bring that sacred perspective more and more into our everyday life. These rituals needn’t be identical each and every time; what is important is that the ritual is actually done.  It is the experience of ritual that helps us to self-locate. We cannot do that simply by thinking about it; we must act as well. When we have acted out our rituals with some regularity, we may find that our connection to the natural world deepens.  The ancient philosopher Lao Tzu once said:

Watch your thoughts, they become words;

watch your words, they become actions;

watch your actions, they become habits;

watch your habits, they become character;

watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.

We as humans are creatures of habit, and indeed these habits define us as people.  A repeated action or behaviour will certainly have an impact on who we are as an individual. By using ritual we can break off from bad habits and thought patterns, for example, and find the sacredness within and all around us. It requires practice, as in the Welsh saying at the beginning of this chapter. We cannot just think about ritual; we must do it.  If we take the time to reconnect with our place in the natural world, over and over again, then we will maintain that connection more and more throughout our lives until they are an example of pure integration and harmony.

Druid ritual is also a celebration.  The eight seasonal festivals of modern Druidry help us to remember what is going on in nature at the present moment. There are many books that cover the eight seasonal festivals, their origins, meanings and ways to celebrate, and so we will not cover that here (see bibliography and suggested reading for more). Rather, we will look at how Druid ritual is set up, from start to finish, using our tools from the crane bag to find our soul map in our own environment.

Ritual is also a tool for transformation. When we have worked with intention and grounded ourselves in the present moment, we cannot help but be transformed as our perception shifts from one perceived reality to another. Through the experience of ritual, we understand that our point of view is not the only one, and that perception shifts with intention. When we broaden our horizons, we cannot help but be transformed.

Re-enchanting the Soul

Work and familial obligations can sometimes weigh us down in a sea of mundane jobs, tasks, and commitments. With Druid ritual, we can re-enchant the soul to bring the magic back into our everyday lives, as we perceive the sacredness of all things. Then, we realise that there is no such thing as the mundane, only the sacred. The division between the two is realised as an illusion, and we are thus able to “travel between the worlds”.

The Druid is always questing for inspiration, or awen. Awen is a Welsh word, sometimes translated as “flowing spirit” or “flowing inspiration”.  Creativity is such a large part of the Druid path, where we are inspired and then inspire others in return. This exchange of inspiration is at the heart of all that we do, in deep relationship with the world around us. When we touch each other soul to soul, where we find intention blending together to work in harmony, then we are inspired. The Druid looks to the natural world around her to gain that inspiration.  She takes her cues from nature as to how to live in the present moment, utterly awake and aware. So inspired, she lives her life as best she can as part of that environment, in tune with all that shares the same space. By doing so, she also inspires others in return.

Simply by getting outside and into “nature”, our awareness shifts. Though nature is something that we are a part of all the time, we often see it as something “out there”, as external to ourselves. When we realise that we are a part of nature, we shift from a self-centred perspective to an integrated one, thereby opening our eyes to the beauty and wonder that lies all around us each and every day. Taking a walk helps us to see the beauty of an oak tree in full leaf, to feel the warm caress of the summer wind, to feel the blessing of the rain or the exhilaration of a snowstorm. We awaken our senses to the world around us simply by being out in it, in nature, away from central heating and electricity, away from cars, phones and computers. Though all these things can be of great benefit, when we re-attune our senses to our “natural” environment, we can also reawaken something that has long lain dormant within our souls. We can re-enchant our lives, re-wilding our souls.  We can return to the very roots of our being. We can find the child-like wonder while looking at an ants’ nest, or listening to the blackbird at dusk.  We no longer become bored or jaded, but rather totally awake to the world around us. Our lives are benefitted from this re-enchantment on every level. This is the awen.

This is also the importance of ritual. When we take the time to re-enchant our souls, we make our lives more magical, more meaningful and more present. We can step outside the realms of 9-5 living.  We enter into a state of intention and enchantment, inspired and inspiring others in return. In this, we find true relationship.

May your path be enchanted with the old tales and the songs of the land!

(Extract from The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices by Joanna van der Hoeven. www.joannavanderhoeven.com).

 

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Loreena McKennitt – A Trio Performance

LM meme Ancient Muse (1)Loreena McKennitt, Caroline Lavelle and Brian Hughes were amazing, as always last Monday night! A wonderful performance, utterly magical. I laughed, I cried (I sobbed!), I was utterly enthralled (some songs I think I forgot to breathe). It was just brilliant, and lovely to see these talented folk on stage once again. It’s been five years since Loreena and her travelling troubadours have been to the UK, and I last saw her at the Barbican, promoting her album The Wind That Shakes the Barley.

The London Palladium is one of those old theatres that just oozes culture. It was the perfect setting for the ambient nature of this trio, intimate and yet wish a dash of indulgence. Sound quality, however, is not this theatre’s forte, and all sound had to be put through the speakers, which lost depth. The right-hand speaker couldn’t handle the piano’s low notes either and there was some crackling. There were some other hiccups in the show, and those little pixie mischiefs always happen in threes: a harp string breaking in the middle of Annachie Gordon (through which Loreena simply continued playing in true professionalism, playing around the broken string without missing a beat), a spotlight that kept going out, and forgetting the words to Greensleeves and the audience helping out! Their set list got changed radically after the broken harp string, and yet the concert still flowed beautifully. While changing the broken string, Loreena told extremely funny jokes, those long, funny, storytelling ones with a great punchline at the end. It was lovely, to see her humorous side that evening as well!

The emigration section was very powerful. With diary extracts from those at Grosse Isle in Quebec, tending to the Irish refugees, to Loreena’s own musings on her journey to discover the Celts, it really struck a chord (pardon the pun) within the hearts of all who attended. It was a history lesson, a musical journey and a spiritual experience.

Caroline Lavelle excelled that evening, on cello, recorder and squeezebox, as well as her soft, breathy background vocals. On the final song, her voice blended with Loreena’s so beautifully, I was utterly uplifted, and it was the best version of Full Circle that I have ever heard.

I was exhausted, emotionally, spiritually and physically after it, and am still kind of floating on the afterglow. Wonderful, awen in full flow. http://loreenamckennitt.com/ #loreenamckennitt

Yearning for the Wind

Yearning for the windWow. Get this book. Read this book. Love this book.

Tom Cowan’s stories and insights into Celtic spirituality are brilliant.  There will be a few future blog posts based around concepts from this book, concepts that coincide with things that currently are occupying my brain space, such as integration, immersion, the Oran Mor and more.  This is a book that will not only blow your mind, but also leave you giggling, rooting for the author on his adventures, and developing a deeper insight into your own soul.

A beautiful book to read after The Salmon in the Spring!  You can buy Yearning for the Wind HERE.

Book Review: The Magic of the Summer Solstice

Magic of Summer Solstice Danu ForestFellow author, Druid and all around lovely person, Danu Forest has written the first in a series of e-books that detail aspects of each of the eight pagan festivals, otherwise commonly known as The Wheel of the Year.

Her first book, The Magic of the Summer Solstice, is a well written, well-rounded account of folklore and customs that surround this time of the highest light.  It is also filled with arts and crafts to do during the summer solstice, as well as recipes, meditation, visualisations and more. There are also lovely, simple illustrations by her talented husband and artist (and excellent drummer – my doumbek came alive in his hands at Druid Camp last year!), Dan Goodfellow.

I loved this little book. I loved it so much I read it twice.  I really look forward to reading the others in the series, and to find ways to incorporate some of the ideas into my own personal ritual practice.

For the time being, I’m keeping an eye on the elder tree in my backyard for making cordials, and will be making a lovely sun wheel for our group celebration later this month!

P.S. Just to top it all off, I was also delighted to see that at the end of the e-book was this!

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Book Review: Following the Deer Trods – Shaman Pathways

FTDTFollowing the Deer Trods – Elen Sentier

This Shaman Pathways book from Moon Books provides an introduction to the subject of the Awenydd, the Brythonic shaman working with the goddess Elen of the Ways. The author herself is an Awenydd, it having been in her family for many generations.

Sentier’s words are clear and very informal – it’s as if you’re having a chat in your kitchen with a cup of tea. She won’t dumb it down for you, neither will she make it impossible for you to understand – she uses the vernacular throughout. As a Shaman Pathways book, it has to provide an introduction to the topic in about 100 pages or less, which is quite difficult in any subject. In this book, Sentier does it quite clearly and concisely.

I saw many parallels between the function of the Awenydd and that of the Druid. As well, I could see a similar East meets West approach to some of the subjects, especially those considering the ego which I could relate to on many levels. I especially liked the foot dowsing, or walking the earth in the footsteps of the deer, listening to the many stories around us rather than focusing and hearing only our own. Vietnamese monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, once described this sort of walking as “kissing the ground with your feet”, making each step one made in peace. Sentier points out “when any of us step, walk, run, touch the Earth with our feet, we give our and pick up energy with each step. This happens whether we are conscious of it or not; walking, following the deer trods is partly about becoming conscious of this and about how we do it.”

I also found kindred alliance with the concept of the Awenydd being one that is in service to the community, rather than focusing on the concept of personal development. For me, this is what Druidry is all about. We can begin with the self, but it must not end there. As Sentier points out, “In the British tradition our [awenyddion, the plural of an awenydd] primary goal is to help the Earth and in order to do this we learn to ask her what she needs rather than thinking we know best”. Sentier also brings forward the concept that the healer or awenydd is not one that cures, but rather the one that uses a holistic approach, literally makes things whole. This may not include a cure, but it takes into consideration all aspects of healing.

My only criticism of this book is that the author tends to write in an anti-Christian tone every now and then, which I find off-putting. Having Christian family as well as Christian, Jewish and Muslim friends, and also working with Christian Druids I sometimes find remarks like “cruelty seems to be an integral part of all three of the Religions of the Book (the Bible) Christianity, Judaism and Muslimism” a little hard to bear. Indeed, the second half of the Bible deals with the teachings of Christ, which are mainly about love, not cruelty. Cruelty is not specific to a religious creed. The author’s rather low view of Christianity, in my opinion, is not conducive to getting the message across in a positive and peaceful way, all things considered.

This is really a book that is jam-packed with really useful information, exercises and different ideas that aren’t really found elsewhere. If the delivery hadn’t included the author’s views on Christianity, I would be happy to recommend it to anyone. However, considering some of the words said throughout the text, I could not recommend it to anyone who follows any of the three Abrahamic faiths alongside their own Paganism.

Review of Dancing With Nemetona

Dancing With NemetonaA lovely review of my book, Dancing With Nemetona, by Melusine Draco, author of Traditional Witchcraft for the Woods and Forests and other titles:

The sanctity of the ‘sacred space’ is an integral part of the majority of pagan beliefs and this celebration of the Celtic goddess Nemetona offers a Druid’s-eye view of the concept. In’ Dancing With Nemetoma’, Joanna van der Hoeven explores the influence of this little-known deity who was probably introduced into Britain by Celtic/Gallic mercenaries serving with the Roman legions. The name is derived from ‘nemeton’, a term designating Gaulish religious spaces and nemetons, or sacred groves and sacred spaces, can be located throughout the Celtic world by that name. The author gives an identity to that strange, otherworldly feeling we experience when coming upon a sacred space, whether spiritual or temporal, with which we can all identify regardless of the Path we travel.

Endorsed by many of the leading lights in contemporary Druidry, ‘Dancing With Nemetona’ is a singularly compelling book for those of any pagan persuasion who wish to identify with that unexplained feeling often encountered on both the inner and outer planes. I particularly liked the author’s honesty in stating right from the beginning: “With what little history we have, it is up to us to seek Her out and find Her again, making our own connections. Within these pages are ways in which I have come to know Her, and in which you may as well, if you have not already met with Her. What is found in these pages is not long-standing tradition, but my own journeys of discovery with this goddess that I wish to share with you.” Recommended reading

Melusine Draco, Coven of the Scales and author of Magic Crystals, Sacred Stones

Recommended Reading: Thich Nhat Hanh, Love Letter to the Earth

TNH LLtoE

The wisdom of compassion allows us to see that we are part of a great cycle, that there is no separation. The earth is us, and we are the earth.

In this book, Love Letter to the Earth, Vietnemese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, talks about the stress we humans are putting upon the planet, and what we can do to live more harmoniously with the rest of the natural world.

I read this with the eyes of a human, the mind of a Zen Buddhist and the heart of a Druid.  In my opinion, this book needs to be on every Pagan’s bookshelf, let alone read by everyone regardless of faith, spiritual path, economic circumstance, political party, etc.

It is animism, and how to live it.