On a Moonlit Night…

A full moon and the spring equinox not two days apart; the energies leave me reeling, literally. My head has been pounding for two days straight, and I just can’t wait for the tides to turn and for the energy to subside, to slide into the more gentle flow rather than being a gushing torrent of turbulence. The light is too bright, sounds are too loud and everything is just too much. But I know it will change. Things always change.

It’s Friday night and I climb into the car and drive down to the beach. Over the farmer’s fields I can see the moon rising, huge and pink in a clear sky. My head has cleared, for the time being – the painkillers have set in. I am excited as I drive down the winding road, alert for owls and hares.

When I get to the car park there are only two other cars there, one leaving. I grab my bag and my drum and make my way across the shingle beach. I haven’t checked the tides, so I don’t know what awaits me or where the shoreline will be tonight. In the last of the evening light I can make out a figure walking in the distance to my right, and a fishing tent with a man moving about it to my left. As the stones of the shingle roll and crunch under my feet, I am glad for the noise, because it means no one can sneak up on me. These are things a woman alone at night usually considers.

As I reach the ridge of the high tide line, I see below me a beach that is not usually there. The tide is right out, and a long peninsula of shingle stretches out into the sea. I have walked on this shingle spit many times, out into the ocean but never have I seen it stretch so far out. My heart beats faster, as I know this will be a very special night.

I slide down the shingle bank, smooth stones rolling about my boots. The fisherman looks on, probably a little puzzled, but I can’t see his face in the growing dark. I reach a sandy beach, which in this area is a rarity. It’s only a small section, and I walk cautiously across it, because what looks like sand in this part of the world can also be mud, which acts like quicksand and to which many a day-tripper has lost their rubber boots as they scamper unwarily across the surface.

I cross the sand and reach the shingle spit. Walking down it, I raise my eyes to the moon now, and am stopped in my tracks. From where I stand, the spit of shingle stretches out into the sea, marking a pathway straight to the moon. It is incredible, and I am utterly enchanted. I want to walk that road, straight off the shingle spit and out into the waves until I reach the moon.

My senses come back to me, and I make my way down the long peninsula of rolling rocks, the waves lapping at either side of me. It’s exciting, being here, where only one set of footprints shows from a previous adventurer on this night. I walk out a little further, almost to the tip of the shingle spit, but not quite. I’ve never walked out this far before, and I don’t know what the tide will be doing. I have a feeling it’s just turning now, and I don’t want to be caught out. So, 50 yards from the end, I stand.  

I am betwixt and between. I am in a place that is not a place, in a time that is not a time. I am utterly between the worlds. I am not on land and I am not at sea. I am surrounded by water with boots firmly on smooth pebbles that roll in and out with the waves. The dark night sky above me is shot through with stars, and the full moon of the spring equinox is rising before me. What a time to be alive.

I take out my drum and start to work with the rhythm of the North Sea. I feel her flowing around me, singing her songs of ebb and flow, of her story of how she came into being. Standing as far out as I am, I understand how the land bridge used to work that carried our ancient Stone Age ancestors across from Europe to this land, before it was cut off by the water. It is still a shallow sea, muddy and roiling and constantly changing, hiding its mysteries beneath the waves.

I drum and sway with the tide. I can see that yes indeed, it is turning. It is now coming in, and I will have to keep my wits about me even as I tumble into ecstasy. My witch blood pounds in my veins, my wild heart soars with the stars above. I call out the goddesses in my life, singing their names, chanting and letting whatever comes to express itself on this night. The wind takes my words and songs away, a gift offered freely to this awesome night. I feel so alive, so utterly free and yet spellbound by the moment. I am the stars in the sky, the moon before me, the waves around me. I am utterly connected, yet without any visible strands that keep me pinned down to just one awareness. This is so exhilarating, so wild, so free. This is pure magic.

I stop drumming and singing and open my arms wide to the sky, drinking it all it. The Fair Folk are all around me, playing in the waves, brushing against my cold skin. I can hear them whispering, feel their light touch upon my hair. Strange sounds are all around me, and I am frightened and not frightened at the same time. This is wyrd.

 I am witch. I am a druid. I am one who walks between the worlds. This is who I am.

This is my Friday night.

I have been to many liminal places many different times, but not like this. This is special. I know that my heart will start to beat a little faster just remembering this night.

My ears are cold. I lower my arms and look around, noticing the tide coming in more and more, for that is what it does, without complaint, without effort, without coercion. I must be more like the tide, I think, as I put my drum away. I say my farewells to the place and all who are with me at the moment, and take a last look at the moon. The pathway to her is now under water, hidden beneath the shining surface of Mardöll, obscured by the grace of Nehalennia, taken with the great mystery. It is time to go.

I make my way back up the shingle spit, narrower than before. The fisherman is still there, and I wonder if my chanting, singing and cries were hear by him or whether they were scooped up by the sea there and then. I scramble up the steep shingle bank from the beach, almost twice my height. I sit for a moment at the top, looking at the little bay that has been created by the ever-shifting of the shingle. Each time I come here it is different; a bay disappears or suddenly appears elsewhere, a lagoon shines in the light, a seal swims close to the shore, geese fly overhead to the marshes, a cormorant makes its way home. Each time it is different. Each time it is magical.

I crunch my way back to the car. As I drive down the winding road, watching out for owls and hares, my headache comes rushing back, pounding in my temples. It lasts for two more days, until the equinox shifts the energies, and finally I am released from the swell. I can breathe in the spring sunshine, the daffodils in my garden bobbing their heads in the warmth, the robin singing, the bees beginning to make their rounds. It’s as if the earth has held its breath, and now it is released.

These changing tides are hard on the old body, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I smell the green grass and moss beneath me, and revel in the blue sky overhead. I give heartfelt thanks for my many blessings, and say a prayer for peace under the late March sunshine.

Winternights blot

Here’s a video describing a Winternights blot, a heathen ritual to welcome in winter. I honour my Anglo Saxon and Scandinavian ancestry at this time of year, as well as the growing darkness and the cold north winds.

Imbolc Protection Ritual

Snowdrops ButleyThis rite uses what is commonly known as “The Descent of Brighid” from the Carmina Gadelica. This rite specifically calls upon the powers of the goddess Brighid, and cannot be used interchangeably with another goddess. If you honour or work with other deities, you might consider using the poem as an example to write your own spell or charm of protection. Alternatively, you might just leave out all the references to deity. At the end of the poem, we find the term luatha-luis, whose meaning is not wholly clear, and which is open to interpretation. It may mean a fast-acting, possibly poisonous plant. Luis is the rowan or mountain ash, a powerful and magical tree, whose berries are poisonous when raw, but delicious and nutritious when cooked.
You can perform this ritual every Imbolc, especially if you are a follower or would like to honour Brighid. Or you can simply use it as a rite of protection. You can perform this rite after undergoing a purification such as smudging or saining yourself with smoke from mugwort or vervain.
For this ritual, I would strongly encourage the entire formality of designating sacred space. This will lend focus to your intention, as well as inviting the powers of the ancestors, the three realms, the spirits of place and more to your rite. Choose something that symbolises protection for you, a talisman if you will: something strong and durable, something that will “shield” you physically, spiritually and psychically. You can make a shield yourself, using whatever materials you prefer. This doesn’t have to be a full-body protecting hunk of steel, but again can be symbolic; you can make one out of papier maché to keep near your altar, should you so wish. You might wish to use something natural that you can carry with you, such as a stone or crystal, or even say the poem over a pendant bearing the triskele or triquetra symbol, reflecting the triple nature of Brighid. There are many ways you can use this; be creative!

Rite of Protection Using the Shield of Brighid

Set up and designate your sacred space. Once you have done so, sit or stand for a moment and breathe, focusing your intention on what is to come. Visualise a glowing light beginning to emanate from within, centred on your chest. This light reflects the light of the moon, or the light upon water, or the light of a flame. The energy from this light is not hot, but cool, flowing through you and filling you with strength and confidence, as well as compassion and love. Raise your arms to the sky, drawing down the power of the sky and the full moon. Then hold your hands out in front of you, and draw in the power of the sea, and the highest tide. Finally, hold your hands to the ground, and draw the power of the land into yourself, the serpent energy that courses and connects everything to each other. Stand fully upright once more, noting how the light emanating from within you is even brighter now. Take that light within your mind, and form it into a circle or sphere of light around you. Visualise that light encompassing you, shielding you. If you have a talisman to represent the shield, hold this aloft and still visualise the circle around you. Then say the following words, from “The Descent of Brighid” from the Carmina Gadelica, feeling free to adapt or leave out the Christian influence:

Brigit daughter of Dugall the Brown
Son of Aodh son of Art son of Conn
Son of Criara son of Cairbre son of Cas
Son of Cormac son of Cartach son of Conn.

Brigit of the mantles,
Brigit of the peat-heap,
Brigit of the twining hair,
Brigit of the augury.

Brigit of the white feet,

Brigit of calmness,
Brigit of the white palms,
Brigit of the kine.

Brigit, woman-comrade,
Brigit of the peat-heap,
Brigit, woman-helper,
Brigit, woman mild.

Brigit, own tress of Mary,
Brigit, Nurse of Christ, —
Each day and each night
That I say the Descent of Brigit,
I shall not be slain,
I shall not be wounded,
I shall not be put in cell,
I shall not be gashed,
I shall not be torn in sunder,
I shall not be despoiled,
I shall not be down-trodden,
I shall not be made naked,
I shall not be rent,
Nor will Christ
Leave me forgotten.

Nor sun shall burn me,
Nor fire shall burn me.
Nor beam shall burn me.
Nor moon shall burn me.

Nor river shall drown me.
Nor brine shall drown me.
Nor flood shall drown me.
Nor water shall drown me.

Nightmare shall not lie on me,
Black-sleep shall not lie on me.
Spell-sleep shall not lie on me,
‘ Luatha-luis ‘ shall not lie on me.

I am under the keeping
Of my Saint Mary;
My companion beloved
Is Brigit.

Let the words sink into the air around you. Let them suffuse the light that encircles you with their power. When you are ready, draw the circle of light that surrounds you back into yourself, centred on your chest. If you have a special talisman that you’d like to infuse with this energy instead, draw the circle of light that surrounds you into your talisman. When all the light has gone where it should, stand for a moment and see how this makes you feel. You can test the circle of light, by holding up your dominant hand (right if you are right-handed, left if you are left-handed) and immediately bring the circle of light back around your being. See it spring back up with ease, to surround you and protect you. If you are using a talisman, see it coming forth from the talisman. You can call and release this power as you wish, as you need. It is not something to be played with, but something real, an energy being focused around you. You are connecting with the power of Brighid.
When you are satisfied that you have the protection you need, it is time to reciprocate and leave an offering for what you have been given. As the lady of poetry, smithcraft and of healing, an offering related of one or all of these would be suitable.
Close down your ritual, and renew this rite of protection whenever you feel it necessary.

This ritual is an excerpt from my latest work, The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker, published by Llewellyn Worldwide.

(c) Joanna van der Hoeven 2019

Sneak peek at some of my new book… Beltane Ritual!

hedge-druid-cover   This ritual is not for the faint-hearted. For at Beltane, the portals between this world and the Otherworld are wide open, and the Fair Folk are out in abundance. Here we will go out into a wild place and seek out a companion or guide of the Fair Folk: one that can offer advice, wisdom and intelligence on the locality of place, what is needed and what can be offered in return. Meeting one of the Fair Folk can be thrilling, but can also be a little scary. They are like and yet not like us, as described in the previous chapter on the Fair Folk in Part One of this book. They have different agendas, and may or may not appear in human form. Yet Beltane is the traditional time for encountering the Fair Folk, as is Samhain. So here, with caution, we will attempt to meet one of them, to gain some insight into the work that we can offer to the Fair Folk as well as the spirits of place, and what they may ask of us (and what we may receive in return).

This ritual is ideally performed outside, but can be accommodated for those who are unable to do so. You can perform this indoors, at your indoor altar if you wish, and take a similar journey in your mind to a destination of your choosing. Instead of a fire, you can have a candle upon your altar as the focal point.

You may prefer to fast during the day of this ritual, if you are able (if in doubt, consult your medical health practitioner). Drinking vervain tea before the ritual or taking a few drops of the Moon Elixir (see end of this ritual on making your own Moon Elixir) might also aid in your working. It is important to ensure that you do not have any iron on your person, or in the ritual area, as this is reputed to drive away the Fair Folk. If you feel the need for some protection against the Fair Folk you can carry a pouch of St John’s wort upon your person, though this may affect some of the fey who wish to communicate with you. This protective herb has its good qualities, in keeping the harmful away but may also deter those whose intentions are entirely neutral or as yet unclear.

Good places to hold this ritual are in wild places, or liminal places such as a forest edge, or the seashore, or on a hilltop. Other places could be at ancient sites such as tumuli, barrows or stone circles where it is often said the Fair Folk gather. You could also hold this ritual near a hawthorn or an elder tree, as these are trees associated with the Fair Folk. You may also choose to perform this ritual by a hedge.  In any case, wherever you hold this ritual, ensure that the fire you create is safe and contained. Otherwise the Fair Folk might become angry with you, and this is certainly not what you want! I’ve even performed this ritual in my own backyard, with great success after a Beltane rite with friends and consequently meeting one of the Fair Folk for the very first time: he came through the hedge and stood under an apple tree, clad in shades of brown.

For this ritual, you will need:

  • An offering, such as butter or honey
  • Somewhere where you can sit outside for part or all of the night and have an outdoor fire
  • A mugwort smudge stick, or cut and dried herb to be burned in a censer
  • A handful of vervain
  • Some food and drink for yourself

Designate the sacred space as you normally would. When doing so, focus on inviting those of the Fair Folk who are in tune with your intention alongside the spirits of place, and who wish you no harm. That way, you may filter out unwanted attention from those who may not be so beneficial to you or your work. You might like to say something similar to what is offered below as you set up the space and after calling to the spirits of place:

I honour the time and tide and the beginning of Summer. I also call to the Fair Folk, those who hold the knowledge and wisdom of this land and of the ages. Those who come from between the worlds, I seek your blessing on this rite, and also your friendship. Those who are in tune with my intention, be welcome here in my rite.

Take as long as you need to settle and attune yourself to the place. Let yourself become a part of the landscape. Then light a small fire, and gaze into the flames. Take your time with this ritual; it might take all night, or at least a couple of hours. Allow yourself to really open up to the time and place, and do not rush anything.

When you feel ready, take the mugwort smudge stick, or burn some mugwort in a censer, and sain yourself with the smoke. (Saining is like purifying – allow the smoke to rise and flow over all your body, cleansing your body and soul.) Once you feel cleansed and purified, sit down for a few moments and just breathe.

Now call to the Fair Folk, first throwing a handful of vervain upon the fire (or the censer, if performing this indoors). Say these or similar words:

I now call out to one of the Fair Folk, you who would be my guide, who would share with me the wisdom of the Otherworld. In return, may the work that I do benefit this world and the Otherworld, and may there always be friendship between us.

Wait as long as is necessary. Someone will come to your call, whether in a human form or in animal form, or as a light breeze or a wind that caresses you, but touches nothing else. You might hear music, or laughter, without actually seeing anything. All these indicate the presence of the Fair Folk. Open your mind to any messages they might have to offer, or simply become aware of their presence in your life, in this place and time. At this initial meeting, a simple greeting might be enough, and a lengthy communion unnecessary. You can work and converse with the Fair Folk at length in later rites and rituals, but for now you are simply opening up your awareness of them, and of one in particular who wishes to work with you.

You may ask them for their name, but they may not give one to you, so don’t be offended by this. Simply acknowledge them as they appear, as your guide from the Otherworld. When your encounter is over (and it may be brief for this first time) slightly bow your head to them as the meeting comes to a close. Show gratitude towards them for making themselves known to you: give your offering in a suitable place for the Fair Folk and the spirits of place, acknowledging the beauty and gifts that have already been shared. Remember, don’t say “thank you”, for that may put you in their debt! Simply give the offering with a feeling of gratitude.

When you are ready, eat some food and have something to drink, and then put out the fire and ensure all safety precautions have been met. Close down your ritual space, and give a final thanks to all those who have been a part of your ritual. Know that you can return to this place to commune further with your Otherworldly guide. In future meetings they may set tasks for you to perform, in return for their wisdom. These might range from cleaning up litter in the area, to coming at certain times such as the full moon or at special holidays. They might ask you for protection of their space in your world, and you may need to seek out local authorities to communicate with and ensure that the place is protected and kept safe for generations to come. They might simply ask for further offerings of honey, whisky or mead, or poetry, song and music. Work with them to the best of your abilities, ensuring that no harm comes to yourself or others, the Fair Folk included. Ensure that you keep up your relationship with them; do not take them for granted, nor ignore them or allow the friendship to cease due to laziness or apathy.

If you need to sever the relationship for any reason, return to the place where you initially held this ritual. You may be moving to another part of the country, or have found another path. It is important to say farewell to your fey companion, and being polite to the Fair Folk is of utmost importance.

Beautiful Moon…

full moon 3

Photo credit: Stephen Rahn

Last night we had the most wonderful full moon, in a beautifully clear sky (though cold!). As I held my full moon ritual in my back garden, waiting for the moon to rise above the giant ash trees opposite the tiny valley, I looked back upon my path and all that I had experienced on this wonderful, magical journey. When the moon rose high enough, I went down into a small clearing where her light shone upon the dried grass, and lay down upon the earth to re-dedicate myself to The Old Ways.

I have felt my path shifting, changing since Beltane, and the stirrings of something new are rising within me. All signs point towards a new project, of taking up the reins in this journey and directing the energies towards my ultimate goal. There are stirrings, ideas, rumblings inside my head, and as I gazed out at the moon I felt overwhelmed by a tidal wave of love that just poured out of my breast and out into the world. My love for the natural world knows no bounds, and I deeply honour my Lady of the Moon and my Lord of the Wildwood for their blessings.

So, new things will be afoot in the next couple of years.

In the meantime, my last book for the Pagan Portals series, The Hedge Druid’s Craft: Walking Between the Worlds of Wicca, Witchcraft and Druidry will be available tomorrow (Friday, 29 June). As well, my new book with Llewellyn, entitled The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker will also be out around this time next year.

I look forward to walking this journey with you all. x