Delineating Sacred Space in Ritual

Delineating/Designating/Creating Sacred Space (preparing the nemeton)

P1000491 (1024x640)Not all Druids feel the need to delineate/create sacred space (otherwise known as preparing the nemeton) as described previously. Especially when working out of doors, some do not “cast a circle” as is popular in other traditions, feeling that there is no need as they are out there to connect and commune with the world around them, and that all is sacred, therefore we cannot “create” sacred space in any sense. This is why it is sometimes referred to as delineating sacred space, which in effect means to delineate the area that we are working in, to narrow the focus down to a specific point. However, this again can be too confining for some Druids, and so they forego the practice altogether. In Wicca, a circle is cast mostly to contain the energies raised within ritual, and some Druids today use a similar reason for their creation/delineation of ritual space. However, others see this as irrelevant to Druid practice, and so do not incorporate it at all.

In my practice, I delineate sacred space or prepare the nemeton when working with others, so that we are “all on the same page”. What this means is that we are working with the energies of a delineated space, to narrow the focus, so for example we would raise a boundary of energy around the entirety of the back garden, so that we can focus on what is happening in that area, as sometimes widening the focus can be too distracting, what with everything going on all around us at any given time. This way, we can really concentrate on using a smaller area, the microcosm of the macrocosm. However, when working alone I don’t feel the need, usually, to delineate the space as my personal nemeton is sufficient. Much of it depends on my mood, where I am and what feels most appropriate. When casting the circle or delineating sacred space, we can push out energy from our own bodies or expand our own nemeton, and say something similar to the following:

I now cast/create this sacred space, a nemeton of inspiration wherein to do my work.

If we wish, we can use a tool such as a staff, wand or a blade to direct the energy that we are pushing out of ourselves to delineate the sacred space. I use my sickle in this action.

We can then ask the spirits of place, and/or the realms of Land, Sea and Sky to overlay the nemeton:

Spirits of place, lend your energy to my nemeton, that it may be strong. Guide, guard and bless my work.  

May the Realm of the Land provide this nemeton with stability, may the Realm of the Sea provide it with love and may the Realm of the Sky provide it with inspiration. 

When overlaying it in this manner, you can create a space that has been encircled three times, defining a temple space and strengthening it with this triplicity, something which I’m sure our ancient Celtic ancestors would have appreciated.

We can then consecrate the space, should we feel the need. I carry incense and water, normally, to represent earth, air, fire and water. Sometimes I simply smudge the area with mugwort. If I have nothing to hand, for instance when I’m doing impromptu ritual out in the wilds, I might simply ask for a blessing on the space in lieu of consecration. You may say something like:

I now consecrate this area through the powers of earth, fire and air and water.

Or

I now consecrate this area through the powers of Land, Sea and Sky

Or

I ask a blessing on this sacred space, from the spirits of place, the gods and the ancestors.

When closing down the ritual, you then will take down the nemeton, if you have created one, in a similar fashion to that which you created it, but perhaps in reverse order. If you created it in a triple manner as in the example above, you might walk the circumference three times to take it down, drawing the energy back into yourself, or the tool with which you may have cast the circle, perhaps walking in the opposite direction to which you created the sacred space:

I now release this sacred space, the nemeton of inspiration wherein my work/ritual/celebration was done.  

I use my sickle to “cut” the circle and draw the energy back into the blade. Then, if it’s a triple cast circle, I also honour the spirits of place and the three realms for their part in the designation/delineation of sacred space.

Spirits of place, thank you for bringing your energies to my nemeton; I ask that it be released into the world for positive change and transformation. 

May the Realms of the Land, Sea and Sky release the energy of this circle, to flow throughout the worlds in respect and in harmony.

This is basically all there is to creating/designating/delineating sacred space. It is a simple and yet beautiful way to create a temple in which to work, one that leaves no trace behind except our songs and stories on the wind.

Spring Equinox Ritual

17424940_1631874040162911_2176214830578649287_nHere’s a ritual that you can use to celebrate the Spring Equinox. A full set of rituals for the seasons, as well as for life’s passages will be found in my upcoming book, Hedge Druid for Llewellyn Worldwide, available in 2019.

Spring Equinox

For this ritual, try to find a place that is between two places: a threshold place, a liminal place. It might be on the seashore, or a lakeshore, where the water meets the land. It might be a hilltop, where the land meets the sky. Even a backyard can be seen as a liminal place, between your home and the wilderness. You can choose a liminal time as well, such as dawn or dusk, not quite morning, not quite night. This ritual is aimed at opening your mind and your self to wider perspectives, as you stand on the balance point of light and darkness. There is nothing that you need for this ritual, no items at all, but you can always leave an offering if you so choose. Please ensure that it is biodegradable, and compatible with the environment. Songs and poetry are always good options, if you are unsure.

Designate the sacred space, if you feel the need to do so. Some feel more secure within a ritual nemeton (sacred circle), others do not feel the need. Do what feels right for you. Take a moment, a few moments, and connect with the place. Listen, and feel. Allow the place to tell you its story. Connect with it, and become a part of it.

When you are ready, stand and hold your arms out to the sides. Say these or similar words:

I stand at the threshold, in the liminal world between time and space.

I stand upon the knife’s edge, I stand upon the turning point in this liminal place.

I honour the balance of day and night, of dark and light; 

Equal day, equal night.

Grant to me Second Sight. 

Lower your arms, sit down if you wish, and meditate upon the area around you. If you’re feeling adventurous, stand with one leg raised, or on one foot with the other either pushed out in front or behind you. A good pose to use is the “tree pose” in yoga.  If you’re feeling very adventurous, cover one eye with your hand while standing in this posture. This is an ancient posture said to be used by the Druids to see through and beyond the veils to the Otherworld.

Stand in this position for as long as you can. Allow yourself to open up to the place, allow it to give you insight. You can gaze at the clouds scudding overhead, or the waves lapping the shore, or the wind among the leaves of the trees. Let your mind relax, and open itself to what nature is trying to say to you. You may ask a question, or have a problem that needs some inspiration in order to be solved. Allow nature to be your guide, allow the spirits of place to guide you. Allow the liminal nature of the time of the Spring Equinox to take you beyond light and dark, day and night, black and white. Find that balance point, where everything is perfectly held: in your body, in your mind, in your soul and in the world around you. The answer will appear, or you will get insight into your own nature, and/or the nature of the world.

When you are ready, gently come out of this pose, or rise from your seated posture. Hold your arms out to your sides once again, and say these or similar words:

The balance shifts, the doors open and we come through to the other side

The darkness recedes, the light increases and we have no place to hide

Second sight grants to me

Confirmation in times of uncertainty

The Wheel turns round, cycle never-ending

From darkness to light this cycle we’re tending

Hail to the growing light, farewell to the long night

Hail to the awen (inspiration) and to the Second Sight

Give your heartfelt thanks to the spirits of place, for their gifts. Honour in your soul every living thing for its own sake. Honour the times and tides of the Spring Equinox, of balance. When you are ready, give your offering, close down the ritual space if you created a nemeton (sacred circle), and thank the spirits of place once more. Remember, and write down if you need to, what you learned and gained from opening up to the second sight. These insights may well carry you through the light half of the year, until the autumn equinox…

(Designating a sacred space, or circle casting will be discussed in the next blog post.)

Druidry Online Course

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:

  • A 118 page pdf document containing information, practical exercises, things to think about, reference and suggested/further reading
  • Audio mp3 files to complement the course, including two meditations and a journeying session, as well as a storytelling session from Robin Herne and a chant to be used in ritual by Joanna van der Hoeven
  • Email tutorship from Joanna and Robin throughout the duration of the course. You can take the course as your own speed, there is no time limit.

So, what does this course cover? It covers the basics of Druidry, including:

  • What is DruidryDruidry Course Photo
  • What is Relationship?
  • History of the Druids
  • The Gods in Druidry
  • The Spirits of Place
  • Working with the Ancestors
  • The Quarter Days and Fire Festivals
  • Druid Ethics
  • Druid Philosophy
  • Awen
  • Altars and Ritual Tools
  • Magic
  • Ritual Structure and Performance
  • Meditation
  • Prayer
  • Anarchy and the End of Submission
  • Suggested Reading List

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 autumnsong@hotmail.co.uk to register.

We hope that you will take this journey with us. In the meantime, awen blessings!

Joanna and Robin

Druid Magic

Magic in Modern Paganism is often seen as the ability to make changes through Will, the will of the mind combining with and focusing the energy of the universe. Druid magic is not that different, and there are several ancient accounts of Druid magic that can be found throughout history. As well, there are the Celtic myths and legends to look to, with tales of the spells, feats, incantations and more of certain characters. Indeed, the Tuatha dé Danann, the gods and goddesses that travelled on the North Wind to make their home in Ireland, were also called the Aes Dana or the Gifted People. They were known for their magical ability, and the first Druid magic worked in Ireland was done by them. In Irish, draíocht translates as both spells and magic, and shares its root with the word draoi, meaning Druid.

Druid magic was used for many different purposes: to curse, to bless, to transform, to repel, to create illusion, provide healing, to divine and to bring harmony. There are as many uses for magic as there are intentions of the individual, and so magic was and still is widely used in the Druid tradition. Magic can be empowering to the individual who has tried everything else and has no other recall in a given situation. Many in Modern Paganism adhere to the Wiccan view of the Threefold Law, which states that what you do comes back to you threefold, for good or ill. Druids don’t believe in this law as such, but as those who are questing integration, to create balance and harmony within an environment, performing malicious magical acts isn’t exactly suiting the purpose. Sometimes things will need to be removed, much like pruning a diseased tree. What is most important is that the whole is taken into consideration, and not just the desires of the individual.

It was said that Druids could call up mists, or create fog banks to hide themselves from their enemies. The art of illusion or misdirection was not unknown. Deirdre was made invisible by the Druid fostering her, so that no one could see or hear her. Aonghus Og covers Diarmuid’s lover, Grania, with his mantle or cloak, thereby making her invisible so that they can escape their pursuers.  A mantle is a cloak, and we can still see the use of the word, “to cloak” meaning to conceal. What’s more, mantle in ornithological terms also means the wings of a bird , and there are instances of Druids and even the Tuatha dé Danann being described as wearing a cloak of feathers. Some of these cloaks enabled the Druids to fly, such as the blind Druid Mog Roith so that he can direct a battle accordingly.

There are many various healing techniques in Celtic culture. Healing wells abound through Britain, Ireland and Europe, and are associated with Celtic deities. Other popular magical acts and items include the brat Bríde was a piece of cloth left out on the evening of Brighid’s holy day of Imbolc, and brought back into the house with the power to heal, as well as to protect and ensure abundance of milk in cows and aid in calving, lambing and foaling.  This cloth was not to be washed, otherwise its power would be drained. A brat that was seven years old was especially powerful. Herbs were used in healing, and special charms were recited as the herbs were being collected, as demonstrated by many various charms found in Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica.

This is but a brief description of Druid magic. I go into much more detail in my upcoming book, Hedge Druid which will be published by Llewellyn Worldwide next year. Concerning Druid magic, we have some ideas, a few tantalising morsels to help us understand what magic was to the ancients Celts. As well, we have our own understanding of how the world works, and we can combine the two in order to achieve magical workings for our own day and age.

Simple Imbolc Celebration and Magic

Cover high resHere 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

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.

Extract from upcoming book, HEDGE DRUID

Here is a little extract of the book that I’m currently working on for Llewellyn Worldwide , to be released hopefully late Spring early Summer 2019. It’s a complete guide to being a Hedge Druid, not only as a solitary path, but as one who walks between the worlds.

Magic

Magic in Modern Paganism is often seen as the ability to make changes through Will, the will of the mind combining with and focusing the energy of the universe. Druid magic is not that different, and there are several ancient accounts of Druid magic that can be found throughout history. As well, there are the Celtic myths and legends to look to, with tales of the spells, feats, incantations and more of certain characters. Indeed, the Tuatha dé Danann, the gods and goddesses that travelled on the North Wind to make their home in Ireland, were also called the Aes Dana or the Gifted People. They were known for their magical ability, and the first Druid magic worked in Ireland was done by them. In Irish, draíocht translates as both spells and magic, and shares its root with the word draoi, meaning Druid.

Druid magic was used for many different purposes: to curse, to bless, to transform, to repel, to create illusion, provide healing, to divine and to bring harmony. There are as many uses for magic as there are intentions of the individual, and so magic was and still is widely used in the Druid tradition. Magic can be empowering to the individual who has tried everything else and has no other recall in a given situation. Many in Modern Paganism adhere to the Wiccan view of the Threefold Law, which states that what you do comes back to you threefold, for good or ill. Druids don’t believe in this law as such, but as those who are questing integration, to create balance and harmony within an environment, performing malicious magical acts isn’t exactly suiting the purpose. Sometimes things will need to be removed, much like pruning a diseased tree. What is most important is that the whole is taken into consideration, and not just the desires of the individual.

A special caste or group of magical workers in Celtic history were the poets, the fili in Ireland, who has the ability to satirize and in this working, force others to obey their will. They could also praise and elevate an individual in form of blessing. They alongside the Druids also cast curses upon people, including the glam dicin, the curse of all curses. This is a “shout”, so we can assume that it was a curse that was shouted upon someone, usually in threes. Druids were sent by Queen Medb to seize Cuchulainn and to perform the glam dicin, which would cause three pimples representing injury, shame and fault upon his face.[1] Culwech threatens a porter when he is denied entrance to a feast in Arthur’s hall, and tells him that he will give three mortal shouts, loud enough that they will be heard in Cornwall and Ireland. These shouts will cause miscarriages and infertility in all the women.[2] The Roman writer Tacitus records black-robed women who ran amongst the Druids on the shores of Anglesey, brandishing torches and shouting curses with wild hair and screams causing fear in the opposing Roman soldiers. There were also curses to cause an unquenchable thirst, as well as to prevent people from urinating and causing them extreme discomfort.[3] This last curse, strangely enough, seems to have been the most favoured by practitioners of magic here in East Anglia, as well as causing disease in cattle and horses (not surprising, being such an agricultural area).[4]

The power of the spoken word was evidently the most important factor in this kind of magic, and others in the Druid tradition. As a mainly oral tradition, this applied to magic as well. To write a magic spell on something would be akin to setting something in stone, most likely irreversible.[5] Oaths were a very serious matter to the Celts, and often included something along the lines of the land swallowing them, the sky falling upon them and more should they break this oath. There is also something known as a geis, which comes from the same root as the word guth meaning “voice”.[6] This can be seen as a form of curse upon someone, or as an limitation upon one’s life that should they break it, has devastating results, often death. The geis, or a geisa, had repercussions in the material and the spiritual world, which to the Druids were interrelated. The fulfill a geisa meant that order was maintained throughout the cosmos. It was the responsibility of the individual to adhere to or take on a geis, and not simply the result of “fate” as normally viewed in other mythologies. The power of words, of your word once given, was all important. These words could be hurled in satire or curses, sung or chanted for victory or more. The voice, when used in a certain manner, saying certain words, could have very real and life-altering power. We will look at the voice later in the Developing Skills and Technique section of this book.

It was said that Druids could call up mists, or create fog banks to hide themselves from their enemies. The art of illusion or misdirection was not unknown. Deirdre was made invisible by the Druid fostering her, so that no one could see or hear her. Aonghus Og covers Diarmuid’s lover, Grania, with his mantle or cloak, thereby making her invisible so that they can escape their pursuers.[7] A mantle is a cloak, and we can still see the use of the word, “to cloak” meaning to conceal. What’s more, mantle in ornithological terms also means the wings of a bird[8], and there are instances of Druids and even the Tuatha dé Danann being described as wearing a cloak of feathers. Some of these cloaks enabled the Druids to fly, such as the blind Druid Mog Roith so that he can direct a battle accordingly.

Divination was a form of magic often used by the Druids. The most popular methods were by determining auguries from the flight of birds, or more gruesomely, through the reading of entrails. The Gauls were said to be unsurpassed in this ability, according to Trogue Pompey of the Voscons (Justin, XXIV, 4).[9] Dreams were also important, and combined with sensory deprivation had valuable results. The Irish imbas forosna is a form of sensory deprivation that excludes all light, and the Druid might go into a trance or even a slumber while he sought wisdom, then to be revealed figuratively and literally in the light of day. The transition from darkness to light is what caused the illumination, if you’ll pardon the pun. Speaking of illumination, there is also the tenim laegda, which means “illumination of song”. An offering or sacrifice is made, a song is sung and the querant touched with a wand, while the spellcaster places a thumb in their mouth, similar to when Finn Ma Cumail gained wisdom from the salmon after he sucked the juices from his thumb that spattered from the cauldron. The fingers could also be used in dichetal do chenmaid, used by Irish Christians as well as it did not include sacrifice or any Pagan deities.[10] How exactly dichetal do chenmaid is performed is now lost to the mists of time.

Shape-shifting is a regular occurrence in magical workings in Celtic mythology. Fith may be a derivative of the Irish word for deer, and often we see people being turned into deer, swans, owls, hares, hawks, even a grain of wheat and more in the old tales. There is a lot of medieval accounts of witches being able to turn into hares, and so the magical working of shapeshifting continued. In relation to fith fath, the actual process itself might not be the physical transformation into a creature, but a journeying of the mind and/or spirit in the shape of a creature. One can become a specific creature in order to see a challenge through, though this requires immense mental discipline and a large amount of practice. The more one practices, the better one becomes. However, it’s not just the practical part of the exercise that is important; researching and learning all that you can about the animal in question is imperative in doing this correctly. Otherwise, what you will be doing is having a nice daydream of what it would be like to be this animal, and not a spiritually transformative magical working. As Druids seek integration with the world, becoming another being in the world allows for a different perspective, and enables us to forego our human-centric worldview. As Druid Robin Herne states in his work, Old Gods, New Druids:

“Shape-shifting… and its importance cannot be emphasised enough. It forms the core of our approach to mysticism – transforming one’s consciousness into something that will have a far greater effect later on… Far from rejecting the world, fith-fath sekks to embrace it in all its diversity, seeks to become the bird or beast or tree.”[11] 

We also have the tarb-feis, which involves a ritual sacrifice of an animal and then part of its flesh is eaten. In eating the flesh, the Druid can become one with the creature or absorb its magical or physical power. For those who are vegetarian or vegan, I personally don’t see why this can’t be done with herbs and other plants. (Note: Druids today do not sacrifice living animals, though they may rear animals for food just as they grow their own vegetables, as self-sufficiency is growing in the tradition.) We know that the Druids used mugwort in divination, both ingesting and using the smoke to induce a trance-like state. Plants have just as much power, and just as much to teach us, as animals do in their being.

There are many various healing techniques in Celtic culture. Healing wells abound through Britain, Ireland and Europe, and are associated with Celtic deities. Other popular magical acts and items include the brat Bríde was a piece of cloth left out on the evening of Brighid’s holy day of Imbolc, and brought back into the house with the power to heal, as well as to protect and ensure abundance of milk in cows and aid in calving, lambing and foaling.[12] This cloth was not to be washed, otherwise its power would be drained. A brat that was seven years old was especially powerful. Herbs were used in healing, and special charms were recited as the herbs were being collected, as demonstrated by many various charms found in Carmichael’s Carmina Gadelica. We will look at herb lore in a separate chapter.

[1] Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999

[2] Ibid.

[3] Herne, R. Old Gods, New Druids, O Books, 2009

[4] Pearson, N. The Devil’s Plantation: East Anglian Lore, Witchcraft and Folk Magic, Troy Books, 2016

[5] Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999

[6] Ibid.

[7] Sutton & Mann, Druid Magic: The Practice of Celtic Wisdom, Llewellyn, 2013

[8] Ibid.

[9] Markale, J. The Druids: Celtic Priests of Nature, Inner Traditions, 1999

[10] Ibid.

[11] Herne, R. Old Gods, New Druids, O Books, 2009

[12] Loughlin, A. ” Là Fhèill Brìghde”, online: http://www.tairis.co.uk/festivals/la-fheill-brighde

Reblog: A Full Moon of Samhain Ritual

Here’s what happened on the full moon of Samhain this year 🙂  To read the original blog post, visit my channel at SageWoman for Witches and Pagans, at PaganSquare.

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