May the light and magic of midsummer bless you all!
May the light and magic of midsummer bless you all!
Coming out on 1st July (Canada Day!) will be the audiobook version of The Crane Bag: A Druid’s Guide to Ritual Tools and Practices. Here’s a little sneak preview…
What to wear in ritual? Whether you’re a Druid, a Witch, a Wiccan, a Heathen or from any other path this question often comes up. The simplest answer is: wear what you like. However, let’s go into more detail, for the sake of this blog post!
I come from a Druid/Witch/Wiccan background. When I first began on my Pagan path, I performed my solitary rituals either in the nude or in robes that I had made. It all depended upon the season, the intention of the ritual, and practicality of it all. Some indoor magical workings and rituals I would do without a stitch on, as I felt that was most appropriate. As well, having just come out of a ritual bath, it was easy! I have also done some solitary outdoor rituals in the nude, such as honouring the solstice while dancing outside in the warm rain, away from prying eyes. The feeling of the warm, humid air and the rain on my body were wonderful, and is an experience that I will always remember and treasure. However, that ritual was performed during a Canadian summer, where the temperature soars to a very humid 32 degrees, and wearing anything or even moving causes one to break out in a sweat. It was also raining, which meant the bugs were in hiding, and the mosquitoes and blackflies which would otherwise eat me alive were not present.
In a British summer, things can be very different, and four seasons in one day is not uncommon. As well, there are less wild places to be in Britain away from prying eyes, as there are just so many more people on this tiny island than there is spread out across the vastness of Canada. Working in the nude can be extremely liberating, and many of modern Paganism’s leading people such as Wicca’s Gerald Gardner and Druidry’s Ross Nichols were firm believers in naturism: that being unclothed in nature had great benefits to one’s physical and spiritual health. However, in my opinion it can also be cold, uncomfortable and inappropriate.
It is entirely your choice as to how you wish to dress, or undress for ritual. If you are performing it in a public place, then you must remember that in most countries, it is illegal to be nude in public. The laws and the sensitivities of others must be taken into consideration. Some would argue this, such as those who at large Pagan festivals prefer to walk around naked, but I feel that this is inappropriate for many. We do not know everyone’s story, and so to be confronted by a naked person can be very upsetting for some people. There may have been past sexual abuse, or ongoing abuse in their lives. We have to think of the repercussions of our own actions and behaviour, how they will affect others. We are still able to express ourselves in freedom, without upsetting other people.
The last time I was as the White Spring in Glastonbury, it was open to the public and three women went in the main pool (not the bathing pool, I might add) and performed a ritual there in front of everyone with two of the three ladies completely starkers. While that may have been appropriate for a private ritual, when the public are also walking around it is, in my view, highly inappropriate to do so. Imagine a nun from France visiting, or a young schoolgirl who is asked by her teacher “What did you do this weekend?” and she replies “Daddy and I went to the White Spring and watched naked ladies in the water”. I have performed private ritual at the White Spring in the nude with friends, and it was absolutely lovely to immerse ourselves in the sacred and very, VERY cold water (we had to use the main pool, as the bathing pool wasn’t in existence then).
Here in Britain, it is highly unlikely that I will perform any ritual naked out of doors. Even my backyard is overlooked by neighbours either side, and so I keep my clothes on. As well, it’s usually too cold to go out romping in my birthday suit. I completely understand why some people feel the need to do ritual naked, but I don’t see the point when it is illegal, uncomfortable or inappropriate.
Making your own robes can be a richly rewarding practice. There are many simple robe designs that you can find online easily, and all you need to do is have some fabric and a little skill with a needle and thread. I would suggest using fabrics that are natural and that don’t have any man-made material in them if you plan to wear it in ritual, and they are lying next to the skin. Rayon for instance has a tendency to melt onto the skin if caught in a candle’s flame. Also robe designs with big bell sleeves are a no-go for anyone working with fire. No one wants a human torch as part of the ritual!
Many people like the old-fashioned appeal of robes for ritual, feeling that this harkens back to a time that seems more magical than today’s modern age. However, plain comfortable modern clothing can also be appropriate for ritual, if you have no desire or skill to make your own robes. We don’t know if our ancestors, whether they be witches, druids, heathens or whatever dressed in different clothing for every magical working or religious rite. They may very well have worn whatever they were wearing that day, that week, that month (depending on how often they changed their clothing).
When I am trudging out onto the heath for ritual, I wear good boots as I live in adder country. I usually also wear trousers such as jeans that have a heavy material which the gorse cannot penetrate, or at least knee-high boots that can ward off most of the pricks and thorns. I like the dress in natural colours, mostly greens lately as I find this personally pleasing. Green is also a colour associated with the faeries and the Otherworld, and in my current work is very appropriate.
In group ritual, sometimes those organising ask people to come along and dress in specific colours that honour the festival or season. Midsummer might be in fiery hues, for example. Some may wear modern clothing in the appropriate colours, others go for full-on gowns or robes. Either way, this is a nice way to get people together with a certain theme in mind and create a sense of community and harmony, whether you are in modern clothing or ritual robes; at least you’re somewhat matching. Much like making your own robes, doing this can also put you in a ritual frame of mind long before you have left the house. You are already thinking about the ritual as you are choosing or making your clothing. The ritual, indeed, has already begun.
Some people like to wear clothing that is true to ancient times according to their tradition. This can be wonderful way to connect to the ancestors. It is also a lot of fun! Many people who are involved in re-enactment organisations and who are also Pagan like to use this as a theme for their ritual garb. Reconstructionist paths do much the same.
The most important thing is that you like what you are wearing. Even if it is a simple piece of ritual jewellery that you can hide underneath your shirt, if that pleases you then wear it wherever and whenever you do ritual. Being comfortable is also a big factor, as being hot and uncomfortable, sweaty or cold is not really all that conducive to productive ritual. Let what you wear (or don’t wear) reflect your true self, in accordance with the law and propriety. And most of all, let it be fun and enchant you, and be a contributing part of the ritual if you so wish.
We’ve had a winner in the e-newsletter prize draw, and congratulations to Kelly Pederson! The course is now available to all, and here are details of what it includes:
So, what does this course cover? It covers the basics of Druidry, including:
How much does this course cost? It is £75, which includes the pdf file, the audio files and the email correspondence with both tutors. You may correspond as little or as much with the tutors as you like. Payment can be made via online bank transfer, or by cheque in British pounds.
This course is aimed for those new to Druidry, and can also serve as a good refresher for those who have walked the Druid path for many years. It is based on the teachings we provide at Druid College, condensed down to an introduction to Druidry and offered alongside guidance provided by both tutors. This course is about reweaving that connection, our connection to the land, the ancestors, and the gods. It is about learning the native spirituality of these British Isles, and exploring how they work in the wider world. As an introduction into the path that is Druidry, it focuses on our relationship to the land, the ancestors, the gods and the spirits of place.
What you get out of Druid learning is what you put into it. There is no room for passivity; Druidry is very much an active path. No one can do it for you. You must search out the awen, the inspiration yourself. Teachers may act as guides, priests may work as celebrants in ritual, but they do not take the place of active learning on the individual level. No one can do it for you.
So we actively encourage you to take those first steps along the path, and to hold the intention of your learning close to your heart as your journey. Know that the work that you put in will reap benefits, for yourself, your own sense of well-being and for the earth as a whole. For we are all part of the great tapestry of life.
If this sounds like something you would be interested in, then please email email@example.com to register.
We hope that you will take this journey with us. In the meantime, awen blessings!
Joanna and Robin
Here is an extract from my upcoming book, “The Hedge Druid’s Craft“, which is another introductory Pagan Portals book and is now available for pre-order.
Imbolc is a gentle festival, where we honour the first signs of Spring after a long winter. It has long been dedicated to the goddess Brighid who has associations with fire and water. Allow this time of year to fill your soul, the air still cold but the warmth of the light from the strengthening sun inspiring you to go out into the worlds and do the work that you have to do. You can light a candle to dedicate yourself at this time to your work, having spent the winter months thinking long and deeply about it. Now is the time to state your intention clearly. You can carve words or symbols into the candle that represent your work, and strew herbs around it to lend their energies (see A Basic Candle Spell below). As you light the candle, state your intention clearly, calling upon the ancestors and the Fair Folk, the gods and goddesses to bear witness. This is not an oath to be made lightly.
Meditate upon the candle’s flame for as long as you wish. Then take a bowl of spring water and anoint yourself with it. I like to collect water from Chalice Well and the White Spring in Glastonbury every time I visit, and I use this special, holy water for use in rituals and in spellcraft. You can draw the shape of a crescent moon upon your brow with the water, or place any other symbols which have meaning to you upon your body. It is also a good time for healing work, and anointing yourself with sacred water on areas of your body that need healing can kick-start the process (as well as following good medical and spiritual advice).
A Basic Candle Spell
Take a candle of an appropriate colour to use in your work. As a very basic guide, red is for love and passion, pink for emotions, blue for healing, green for the environment, brown for animals, yellow for inspiration, purple for magical strength, black for release of negativity. White candles are used for purification, as well as can be used to replace any other colour that you may not be able to obtain.
Sit with your candle and meditate upon the work that you wish to achieve. Then, stating your intention clearly, pour your energy into the candle. Allow energy to flow from your hands into the candle. When you have poured enough into the candle, you can then add more strength to it by carving words or symbols into it, still holding your intention. Then, place the candle it a holder and light it with a match. As you strike the match, keep your intention in your mind, and as you bring the match to the candle’s wick, visualise the power of fire igniting your work. Sit before the candle and meditate upon the flame, still holding your visualisation of the end result of your spellwork coming to fruition. You can add herbs around the base of the candle, if you so wish, to allow them to add their magical energy to your work. You can infuse the herbs with your intention and energy in exactly the same way as you did the candle. See with your mind’s eye a cone of power rising from the herbs around the candle, blending with the candle’s flame and sending the power out into the world.
The candles were lit, the incense smoking, and the bells of the church ringing in the still night air. Friday night is the practice night for the village bell-ringers, and so our ritual was accentuated by their skilful tones. The moon was riding high in a hazy sky, and haloed with an ever-widening ring that spoke of the Otherworld.
We raised our boundary, which was to the whole of the property, and called to the realms of Land, Sea and Sky. We honoured the ancestors at the full moon of Samhain, as well as the spirits of place. We invited the Fair Folk who were in tune with our intention, as they have been a part of our rituals since we began. We sang to the four quarters, and then invoked the gods. We invited all who were harmony with us this Samhain night. This was our first time in invoking the god into our full moon ritual, but it felt right. How right, we were just about to discover.
We honoured the tides of Samhain, the winter months of darkness. We then performed our magical working at the fire, and gathering our clooties: ribbons of intention that we tie to the branches of the apple tree at the bottom of the garden every month. Walking back to the terrace where the bird bath, now a sacred basin of water reflecting the moonlight, served as our vessel as we drew down the moon into the water. The church bells rang in time to our working, and stopped just as we finished. The air was utterly still.
Suddenly, a loud bark sounded from the other side of the hedge, down the track a little ways. A fallow deer stag, wandering the moonlit night. We stopped and turned to the noise, and he barked again, this time a little closer. We looked to each other and smiled, feeling blessed by his presence. Then an enormous bark, just the other side of the cedar boundary, which made us all jump. He was right up against the hedge, near the little hole that the muntjac, fallow deer and badgers made.
And he was trying to come through.
We could hear him brushing against the hedge, wanted to come through the doorway, but his antlers preventing him from doing so. The firelight made the area where the entrance lay shadowed from our sight. Our breath quickening, we looked at each other. The God was here, and he was making himself known. He paced along the back boundary, trying to come through first one hole in one corner, and then the other. He then returned to the middle of the hedge, where the boundary between the civilised and the wild lay, that doorway to the Otherworld that lay in the hedge, and pawed the ground, sniffing the night air, sniffing the scent of the three women gathered around the sacred pool. Gathered around the sacred pool, with hearts beating loudly in their breast.
“A blessing to you, God of Samhain, Lord of the Wildwood. May your journey into darkness be blessed, and we are honoured by your presence,” I whispered softly into the night, tears falling down my cheek.
We heard him still sniffing, and we felt his eyes upon us. The world stood still, and we hardly dared to breathe. Would he change his shape and come through? What would we do if that happened? A hush descended, and we no longer heard him just the other side of the hedge. With hands slightly shaking, we dipped our clooties into the water and walked down to the apple tree, right where he had been sniffing just the other side. As we walked, we sang to let him know we were approaching. “Deep into the earth I go, deep into the earth I go. Hold my hand, brother; hold my hand. Hold my hand, sister; hold my hand”. We bravely tied our ribbons to the branches, knowing that the God stood only a few feet away from us. Stepping back, we finished the chant, and bowed to the apple tree and hedge, bathed in the soft moonlight. Silence reigned. We knew he was no longer there, and we didn’t hear him leave. He simply disappeared through the veil between the worlds.
We made our offering, and gazed into the mirror at the fairy portal shrine I made under the beech tree. We saw things: bonfires on the hills of Tlachtga, owl-faced warriors, deep caverns beneath the earth, the land of the sidhe, and the Mari Lwyd. We circled the fire clockwise three times for blessings, and then ended our rite, breathless and filled with wonder.
May the Lord of the Wildwood bless you all this season, may you find nourishment in the darkness of winter.
© Joanna van der Hoeven 2017
When visiting a sacred site, we can get carried away. We can often forget that at public sacred sites there are others there who are on their own quest, pilgrimage, whatever. We want to rush in, to do the work, to perform ritual, to connect, to sing, chant and celebrate. But we have to think more carefully about shared space.
I recently went to the White Spring with my Druid College Year 3 apprentices. I adore the White Spring; it’s such a lovely site. However, after about 15 minutes various people and groups piled in to temple, and the words “Pagan Circus” comes to mind…
At one point, we had some Druids chanting the awen softly one corner. Lovely. But then another woman began singing in another corner. In a third corner, a man was standing and singing at the top of his lungs (which in that space is really, really loud). Trying to get away from all this noise, I made my way the quietest part of the Mirror Pool in the middle of the temple. I gazed into the water, slowly collecting my thoughts and meditating upon the sacred water, when suddenly three women, two naked and one clothed, clambered into the Mirror Pool, stood in the middle of it and held hands, performing some sort of ritual between themselves. Needless to say, my meditation was, by then, a hopeless cause.
We have so little opportunity to be who we are, especially at such sacred sites as the White Spring. But we also have to bear in mind that this is a public space. There are other Pagans there who are attempting to commune with the energies, the gods and goddesses, the spirits of place, and who don’t need others crashing in on their precious few minutes in that area. These sites are not a Pagan free-for-all. We must respect others and the place. You would never see a group of monks from an abbey in the south of France rock up to Ely Cathedral and suddenly perform Mass, or chant their evensong while the resident monks and visitors alike are doing their thing. We have to bear this in mind, that other people’s experiences are just as important and valid as our own.
And it’s not just Pagans visiting these spaces. The White Spring is open to everyone, from groups of nuns visiting from Spain to families from Yorkshire on a weekend getaway. There are very practical things we need to bear in mind at such places. For one, it’s still illegal to be naked in a public space. For another, not everyone wants to see naked people, for various reasons. Imagine the Catholic nun trying to connect with St Brigid, and then having a group of naked priestesses splashing her habit as they clamber in and out of the sacred pool (there is, indeed, a separate plunge pool for people to dip in, should they wish!). Imagine a primary school teacher asking the young girl what she did on the weekend, and her reply was “Daddy and I went to visit a spring, and watched naked ladies.”
Many of these sacred sites have special out of hours timings for those who wish to hold private ritual. Both Chalice Well and the White Spring offer this, and it should be borne in mind by those who wish to hold ritual at these sites. That way, you won’t be intruding on anyone’s time spent at these sites, or offend anyone who’s beliefs are not your own. It requires advance planning and commitment, but it’s not that hard. I’ve done it myself, and had private time at the White Spring to plunge my naked self in the icy waters with a couple of friends, or visited the Red Spring after closing hours.
Let’s bear in mind other people’s experiences, which are just as valid as our own. Let’s not turn our sacred sites into spaces of competing rituals and rites all happening at the same time. Let’s honour the sacredness of the site, and remember that it’s not just there for us. The energy of these spaces is not only for our own spiritual nourishment. We take, take, take all the time. Receive healing, inspiration and more at these sites, by all means. But remember to give back, by respecting the site, and other people visiting it.
Make it an enjoyable and memorable experience for all.