Hygge in Dangerous Times

Hygge – the Danish art of chilling out and feeling relaxed, comfortable, cosy and safe, has had a real run for its money in 2020. With so much media and so much fear (rightfully so) due to so many deaths, especially here in the UK and also in the US, feeling safe and secure has been out of our reach for many, many months. Those of us who have had to shield for various reasons, and who are still doing so, feel our anxiety rise every time we have to engage with the public – for my husband and I, that’s food shopping and pretty much it. We haven’t had any other face to face contact with others for over six months because of my husband’s medical conditions, and my surgery and recovery this summer. We will still be extra careful, up until there is a vaccine.

P1020204 (2)While you can hygge by yourself, and this is my favourite hygge, there is a lot to be said for social hygge. Indeed, for many who do not have solitary, feline souls, the social aspect of hygge is hygge. Getting together with friends around the dining table, having coffee and cake, talking and reminiscing is what it’s all about. But in these strange times, getting together with friends is a real challenge, and for some, not an option.

CthulhuI thought I was doing okay without the social interaction. I have my husband and my cats, and Skype my family once a week, and talk to my mother on the phone as well. We’ve re-started our Saturday roleplaying sessions online (Cthulhu on the Roll 20 platform) and I call my friends weekly just to have a chat. While I was recovering from surgery, a couple of friends came by to drop off care packages and we had a small chat (me at the door, they in the driveway). I thought it wasn’t too bad, as I’m such a solitary creature anyway. But something last week made me realise just how much social interaction is an important part of my life and hygge.

It was my friend Lisa’s birthday at the end of July, and Michelle’s last week, with mine this week. We decided to get together for a socially distanced cuppa and some cake in my back garden. I unlocked the side gate so they could come over without entering the house, and we sat in the shade and talked, watching the hawks circle overhead and the house martins doing their aerial acrobatics. We caught up on each other’s lives, talked about the huge changes and how we are coping. We drank some lovely tea (Chakra Balance from Woodbridge Emporium) and ate some cake. We also exchanged presents and just enjoyed each other’s company for an hour and a half.

Afterwards, when I got back in the house (and washed my hands) I stood in the kitchen and looked out the window to where we had been sitting. I felt a release in my chest, where a tightness had been that I had not noticed until that moment. A long, shuddery breath ensued, the kind that you get after a good, long cry, when the diaphragm spasms and your chest calms down. And that’s when I realised it, that I needed the physical, social interaction too, more than I ever knew.

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That feeling of release, after spending time with friends who I had not socialised with in person for over six months, really hit home. It was a physical sensation, as well as a mental one. It pointed out that while video chats, phone calls and social media are great for keeping people together on a regular basis during a pandemic, there is no real substitute for that face to face interaction.

xmas 2015 2Who knows how much longer it will be before we are able to have that easy interaction again? I haven’t seen my family in Canada for over a year, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to return. That really hurts deep down. My parents’ 50th wedding anniversary had to be cancelled, and who knows if I’ll be able to make it in 2021 when they’ve rescheduled. It’s not until a vaccine has been tried and tested that I can travel safely and visit my friends and family, and that is a hard thing to bear when you haven’t had a hug from your mom for a long, long time.

But we do the best we can. We need to find the hygge still, in a safe and responsible way. We need to feel safe and secure, with family and friends, for our own well-being. We have to abstain where it is dangerous, and take extra precaution in any face to face encounter. It’s hard to hygge in that way, but maybe there is a new form of hygge that will develop out of this: one that can see us through until we can meet each other safely and securely without the threat of illness or death hanging over our heads.

P1030412 (2)So I’m practicing careful hygge right now, socially-distanced hygge in the garden with a select few folk. Small steps while we navigate our way through this pandemic, and keep everyone safe. And while there is still anxiety about any social interaction, I can counter-balance that with some solitary hygge: time spent in silence and stillness, watching the sunset, or having a cup of tea and listening to some piano music. Cooking a birthday cake to celebrate 46 turns around the sun, and eating it with great pleasure with my husband and a glass of champagne. Holding hope in my heart that I will be able to see my family soon, and know that their love and the hygge that awaits at my mother’s kitchen table can exist in my mind and in my heart until I can experience the real thing.

So hygge carefully, my friends, and I hope that you manage to find some safety, security and well-being in this difficult times. May you find that little space of sanctuary each and every day, to help you through until we can meet again.

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The Importance of Home

The first harvest is mostly in for my part of the world, in Suffolk, East Anglia. There are still a few fields of wheat or barley that are waiting either for the rental of the combine harvester to come through or for a clear, sunny day when it can be gathered in dry. It’s been a good year so far for all the crops, and it beckons me to see what the first of the harvests gathered is like within my own life, and how I can work with that for the rest of the harvest tide.

My new book came out on Lammas here in the UK, which I think is an auspicious time. I’ve had really good feedback so far, and it’s a work that I am very proud of; it’s my best book yet. But thoughts are now turning once again to the simpler things, the quiet things, time out of the limelight. Even as the nights begin to draw in, and the leaves lose their green vibrancy settling into dark shades and some even beginning to turn in their autumnal splendour, I think of the coming months and the safety, security and sanctuary that is home.

For me, my home has always been split between two continents. My family home in Canada, and my adopted home here in the UK. I love both landscapes; I love the history and the spirits of place. While politically the UK seems to be going down the rabbit hole while Canada is holding its own with integrity, still it’s the land that I keep coming back to. My own little patch, where I live and work and love and play is so very important to me, and has always been. It’s been instilled in me, from a young age from my wonderful parents, just how much a home can take care of you, if you take care of it. We never had much money growing up, but it was the little things that made home so very special. Making home a safe space, a space where you could grow but still retreat when needed, a place to find companionship and also experience the solace of being alone. The vibrancy and comradery of the dining table in full swing, or the quiet solitary walks through the woods. It was all good.

My home here in the UK is a haven of quiet, peace and often solitude, working as I do from home with my two cats for company. We have lovely neighbours all around us, and this time of year I will often answer the door to find fruit and veg presented and offered in friendship, which I gladly receive! Zero food miles, for starters, and there is nothing like eating a meal with food that fresh. In return I offer the bounty of my garden: apples as well as seedlings from the many and varied plants (and my latest book, for those who are interested).  It’s got a feel of a small community; we look out for each other, and we’ve got each others’ backs. My neighbours bring in my dustbins when they do their own, and I’ll do the same if I’m the first out there. It’s a feeling of togetherness, which is something that I’ve never really had elsewhere. Perhaps it’s living in the countryside that does it – or maybe it’s just luck of the draw when it comes to your neighbours.

But the home is all important. Keeping it looking and feeling lovely, maintaining that balance between tidy and relaxed. I love my home and have always made anywhere I live a home. Surrounding myself with the things I love, as well as the gifts from others who remind me of the deep bonds of friendship. I’m so grateful to my parents for having instilled in me this sense of the home being a sanctuary, and that has allowed to me to live thousands of miles away for the last twenty years in relative peace (while still missing them incredibly).

Soon, I will be flying back home for a visit, as it’s been over a year since I’ve been back. I’ve calculated this into my carbon allowance for the year.  I Skype with my mother and father every week, and occasionally if she’s online my sister will join in. It’s lovely to be able to see their faces through the miracle of technology, and it’s even better that the computer they use is in my old bedroom. I really feel like I’m back home when I get to talk to my mom this way, and it gives me a sense of connection even when the miles are so numerous between us. But there’s nothing like actually physically being there, enjoying the sights and smells and engaging all the senses in the concept of home, as well as the memories. Just sitting at the kitchen table, having a cup of tea with my mom makes me smile with warmth and anticipation. Watching my young nephew run around, or listening to his older sibling play guitar. Cycling with my sister, going to my brother’s cabin. Reminiscing and walking through all the memories, and letting the future take care of itself. Swimming in the lake, having a beer outside in the evening.  It’s the little things that matter.

And so, as I ponder the rest of the harvest, I wish you all a wonderful harvest tide. May you enjoy it with those you love, and may the peace and sanctuary of home be with you in your hearts, even if you have to create that anew. Find that place, and let it settle in your soul. It’s the perfect spot to reflect and plan for many future harvests to come.

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Pagan Hygge

Hygge is a wonderful word. But it’s more than a word; it’s a feeling.

candle 2Hygge (pronounced hue-gah or hoo-gah) was originally a Norwegian word, meaning “wellbeing” that was adopted by the Danes in the early 1800’s. Nowadays, it’s a very important word to describe a feeling of comfort, security, warmth, friendship, cosiness and more. In today’s world, we need that more than ever.

The Danes are experts at creating hygge. Much like the Druid searches for inspiration, the Danes quest for hygge. I too work to create feelings of hygge, to nourish the hygge in my home and with my friends and family, even as I quest for the awen, for inspiration from the natural world as to how to live my life with honour and integrity, as a fully functioning part of an ecosystem. For me, the two can work hand in hand.

Hygge is the simple things in life. Things that make you have that warm, fuzzy hyggelig feeling. Things that bring you joy. Small things. “Unimportant” things. It’s paying attention to the moment, right now, and appreciating it for all its worth. So, what things am I talking about here?

knitted socksFireplaces. Candles. A cup of tea. Warm knitted socks. Petting a cat. Sitting outdoors watching the sunset. Walking quietly in a woodland. Picnics on the beach. Barbeques in the garden. Gathering with friends in a cosy pub. A family birthday party with lots of cake and laughter.

Hygge is nourishing the soul. We very much need this nourishment, for in our Western lives we run ourselves ragged. It’s not hard to see why the Danes are the happiest  people in the world. They cultivate hygge regularly. They know the importance of being with family, of leaving work at 5pm to cook dinner and eat together at the dining table. Of working 40 hours a week or less. Of a welfare system that makes everyone feel secure, paid for with higher taxes. A free university education that benefits from these higher taxes as well. A sense of security, of well-being. Given that they live in a very challenging place, where the winter months have precious few hours of sunlight, they have strived to create that sense of security and safety in their homes, in bars, even at work. They’re doing it right.

I practice hygge. I sit in my conservatory after work, or outside in the sunshine with a cup of tea, smelling the air with a cat by my side. My morning cup of coffee is a silent ritual, sitting at the dining table with incense and candles lit in the autumn and winter months. I cook as often as I can, with local produce that nourishes not only the body but P1070068 (1024x768)the soul. I welcome my friends over, have a spare pair of warm socks should they need them, cookies and teas or coffees at the ready. I light a candle and say prayers to my lady Brighid every morning at her shrine next to my fireplace, and give thanks for my many blessings. In my home, I want people to feel welcome, to feel safe in my little sanctuary. My work with the goddess Nemetona greatly helped me to appreciate all that sanctuary includes, and the importance it plays in all our lives. Gratitude and sanctuary are what we so desperately need.

With the threat of nuclear war, with the instability of Brexit, with floods and landslides and earthquakes and other natural disasters around the world, with capitalistic consumption and greed running rampant, it’s not hard to see why we are so unhappy. But we can change our own little space, creating space as well for others to appreciate the little things, in the spirit of hygge.

These little things become the most important things, and hopefully our actions will ripple out across the web of existence, with more and more people coming to understand the joys and wonders of hygge.

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The Novice

noviceWhilst on holiday in Brittany the past week (blog and photos to come!) I read Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s novel, The Novice. It is his first novel, that tells the story of a young woman who has become a legend in Vietnam for paving the way for women to be nuns in the Buddhist tradition. It’s a short book, eloquently written and filled with wisdom throughout.

Kinh Tam is a beautiful young woman who has always felt a calling for deep learning through Buddhist enlightenment. As there were no temples for nuns at the time, she felt that her only option was to do what women did back then – marry and have children. However, her marriage failed as her in-laws falsely accused her of trying to kill her husband one night. Kinh Tam goes back home then, cuts off her hair and disguises herself as a boy, wandering for five days until she comes to a temple where she asks to be taken in as a novice.

She shows an aptitude unlike any other monk in her devotion to the Zen Buddhist teachings and carrying them out. She lives the perfections of generosity, mindfulness, magnanimity, diligence, patience and insight. She has already been through much, after the false accusations of attempted murder, and yet she holds true to her path, holding no malice to those who have wronged her through their own false perceptions.

A young noblewoman who visits the temple falls in love with the young “boy” monk, seeing in him such beauty that only an open-heart can radiate. Kinh Tam avoids her, with as much compassion as possible, as her secret cannot be found out else she faces expulsion. After Kinh Tam turns down the noblewoman’s request for a private meeting, the noblewoman woman becomes enraged, filled with her own anger and wounded pride, accusing the young novice of impregnating her when it was really a servant boy from her household whom she took to bed in anger and despair of not being able to sway the young novice from his devoted path.

Kinh Tam faces the dilemma of choice: tell everyone that it’s not possible, as she is a woman, or face beatings for her “transgressions”. Her love for her path is so strong that it sees her through the beatings, and yet again she never holds any malice towards the young woman (Mau), those who believe her false accusations and even those who beat her. She knows it is only their wrong perception of her that makes them act as they do, and the strength of loving kindness overcomes all the pain she endures.

Kinh Tam goes through further hardships, yet always with the endurance of a loving heart and the deep well of forgiveness. I won’t tell you the ending, but I was in tears as I read it – it was just so beautiful.

Kinh Tam’s story is one that can help anyone going through a rough time. It doesn’t matter what it is that you are enduring, whether it is being shot at, beaten, false accusations or someone trying to undermine you and your work – the open heart of compassion and seeing the unity of all things is stronger than any of these. Anyone can relate to Kinh Tam’s story. As a woman, I felt a deep bond with her struggles and an empathy for her trials and tribulations. I felt deeply the tug of sadness as one woman falsely accuses another (albeit unknowingly regarding the disguised gender, yet with an intended malice in any event). As a practitioner of Zen I found deep wisdom in the teachings that lay like little stars filled with light across the pages, twinkling with their insight into living a life of less suffering. We all suffer, for various reasons, but we can lessen that suffering through the open heart of compassion. Those who try to hurt us, physically, emotionally, intellectually, who undermine our person and our work, who tell lies and allow their pride, anger and other emotions to overwhelm their reason and the ability to see clearly the heart of the matter – these are things we all go through at some point in our lives. Whether it is through war, office/work politics or family issues, the cause is the same: wrong perceptions. Because they have a wrong perception of us, they act out, lash out, are ruled by the monkeys riding on their backs.

Yet we don’t have retaliate like for like. We can see their suffering, and still send them our love and compassion, even from afar. Because they perhaps have not seen that there is another option, they have no way out. Living through our actions, of opening our eyes to all possibilities and the reality of the present moment we can hopefully provide an example for a peaceful way of life that benefits the whole. We can forgive these misjudgements from others, as they are easily created. Through diligence we can work to dissolve these false perceptions within ourselves, through meditation, deep insight and the other teachings of Zen Buddhism.

I always doubted whether humans were truly capable of forgiveness. When explained through the words and story told by Thich Nhat Hanh, it makes so much more sense; it is so easy. There are three appendices to the story, one describing further the legend of Kinh Tam, the second describing the legacy of Kinh Tam by Sister Chan Khong of Plum Village monastery, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s own addendum about practicing love. These appendices are just as important as the story itself, for it shows “Engaged Buddhism” in action as Sister Chan Khong and Thich Nhat Hanh both relate how the practice of compassion helped them through the suffering of the Vietnam war, exile and more. We see first-hand how the Zen Buddhist precepts are put into practice, actually lived out in the lives of those who worked in the DMZ, offering wisdom and deep insight into how suffering is different for each individual and yet can be overcome when held in the arms of compassion.

In the UK, you can buy this wonderful little book from as little as £1.04 second-hand; do try to read it if you are at all interested in Zen Buddhism, mindfulness, compassion or loving kindness. If you feel you are suffering in any shape or form, this book might be able to help you find the way to transforming suffering into something that instead brings peace and harmony to your world, and thereby to the world at large.

May we be peace. x




Transcript of Nemetona: Goddess of Boundaries and Edges…

I’ve had several requests for a transcript of the talk I gave last weekend at Leaping Hare Pagan Conference in Colchester, Essex. So, here you go! x

Nemetona: Goddess of Boundaries and Edges, Sanctuary and Freedom

In this talk I am going to explore the goddess Nemetona as the Lady of Boundaries and Edges, and also her role in personal freedom and sanctuary. Not much is known academically of the goddess Nemetona: there are a few inscriptions at sacred spots such as at Altripp, Trier and Eisenberg in Germany. There is also an inscription to her at Bath. She was known in Gaul and in Spain we find the Nemetatae tribe. The word nemeton or similar versions are mentioned throughout Europe, especially in place names. Nemeton means Sacred Grove, and in this regard she is sometimes connected with Druids. However, this talk is not an academic discussion of this particular goddess, but an experiential one. We will explore boundaries and edges of ecosystems and of our own selves, our own nemetons, inspired by the goddess of the sacred grove, where the edge of the wood meets open space. We will see where those boundaries meet, touching soul to soul and awakening awen or inspiration. My perspective comes from a Druid tradition, languaged as it is within a religion that is animistic and polytheistic.

A Druid looks to nature in order to find inspiration. Authority is found in nature rather than in human constructs and society. Our relationships are inspired by the natural connection we see in everything, the threads of the web that connect us all. We realise that we do not exist separately from the world – we are a part of it, a thread in the tapestry. We know that without other beings we could not exist. Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh calls this Interbeing – that we inter-are with everything on the planet. Nothing exists separately. We live in ecosystems, living environments that support and sustain us. It isn’t human animals that define how the Druid interacts – the land provides us with a way to be in the world, teaches us of co-existing in harmony, in the flow of perpetual change and in the times and tides of life. It can be regarded as anarchic in that sense, but it is not a disregard for the laws of humanity that keep a society together, a cohesive social order – rather it is more seeking the wisdom of the oak, as the word Druid means – dru, meaning oak, and wid, meaning wisdom. Gods of nature, of an earth-based religion inspire us in different ways from the secular world. The gods are both brutal and beautiful.

Working with the gods, the ancestors and the land we learn about harmony, about ecosystems, about where edges meet and how it works co-operatively. Nemetona teaches us this as we explore our own nemeton. Our personal nemeton is that space around us, sometimes called our aura, that we only allow those we trust to enter. That space is sometimes expanded in ritual, to create a sacred circle or sacred space, where we find ourselves within the greater cosmos, defined in a smaller, set form and boundary which is easier to understand. In that boundary we are safe, we are free.

Nemetona teaches us of that perfect freedom. In Wicca, it is often said that one enters the circle “In perfect love and perfect trust”. We open our souls wide within the limits of our circle, guided by the gods to inspire and receive inspiration. In that perfect freedom we know our true selves. As goddess of the sacred grove, Nemetona teaches us of this perfect trust, and how it relates to the rest of the world. Calling to her to help hold that space, we explore the nature of our own self, coming to truly know it and understand it. Having secured our sense of identity we can then work in the world from strong standpoint, where we know that the world doesn’t end at us – we work in service to the world. We have to step beyond the boundaries of ego and self-importance if we are to work for true harmony.

Working with edges, our own and understanding how to use them to benefit the whole is at the heart of what Nemetona teaches us. Our personal nemetons will change their appearance according to our current lives and how well we are at using them intentionally. If we are unaware of our nemeton, then we often find we clash with other people, or have a hard time connecting with others, or withdraw into ourselves so much that others may pass us by when we would like them to acknowledge us. Conscious manipulation of our nemeton can indeed change the way we feel about ourselves and how we are perceived. As with everything in Druidry, this must be done with honour and integrity.

Opening our nemeton requires a level of ability and trust. We close ourselves off on so many levels each and every day simply because of the sensory overload that we are exposed to through people, media and more. We have so many demands on our life that if a stranger came up to us in need after a hectic day, we may shut ourselves off completely from them and not provide the help that they might need, however simple and genuine their request may be. Our cat may come to us for a cuddle, and we don’t even notice as we are too busy distracting ourselves with television and high fat or sugary food. We switch off constantly, and we must relearn how not to do this, and instead be aware and mindful of our nemeton and how it interacts with others.

The nemeton is a sacred and holy space. When we interact with others, we must always bear this in mind. Using our nemeton to gain attention needlessly or simply to get what we want is dishonouring both ourselves, others and the Goddess.

We must honour the nemeton of others as much as we honour our own. They are all sacred. By discovering where our edges lie, we can also learn to see where and how other nemetons work, and in doing so work honourably with them.

Nemetona teaches us to open ourselves. She also teaches us how to listen. Listening is one of the greatest teachings in Druidry. We need compassion, which is basically simple understanding. We need to listen without judgement in order to work with compassion. We see how relationships work in nature. We study the way things work in order to better understand them. We see how sometimes relationships don’t work, in nature and in our own lives. If it doesn’t work, we find out why it didn’t work. If we are working with the soil, we know that some things simply won’t work in our home environments. We cannot grow bananas in the UK. The soil in my back garden is very acidic – I have to know and understand the soil in order to know what will grow best in that environment. Some relationships just can’t thrive in certain environments, and it is up to us to quest for the understanding. Sometimes we simply have to let go of relationships that don’t work. We cannot continue to try growing bananas in our backyards if we try repeatedly and fail. We must understand why it doesn’t work and move on in order to nourish and be nourished.

When we are rooted in our selves, finding our place in the environment, working with our edges we understand where we came from. With that understanding, we can reach out to others, where soul meets soul, when boundaries and edges touch. In that touch there is relationship and inspiration. In Druidry we call that awen, where soul touches soul and the spark of inspiration occurs. Where the seeds lands on the soil, where those edges meet, something wonderful happens and new life occurs. When we meet another human being with honesty and compassion, utterly awake and aware to the connection around us we are inspired. If we are aware of where we come from, aware of our ancestors, the land upon which we live, we can work from a place of deep connection. As the Tao Te Ching states, “Stay at the centre of the circle and let all things take their course”.

But it doesn’t stop at the self. Self-improvement is not the goal in Druidry. Nemetona teaches us to root and find our edges in the sacred grove, but then nudges us to go and seek out those edges in the wider world, where we can truly be inspired. Self-focused creativity is not as inspiring as that which is connected to the whole. Getting the self out of the way is key in this learning, of learning to live in service. We need to find out how and what we can give in order to have sustainable relationship.

Giving is essential in a culture and lifestyle that takes so much. We live in a consumer culture. We need to balance consumerism with the inspiration we receive from nature, where if we take too much it dies. If one creature starts to take too much the whole ecosystem is affected, and is at risk. As homo sapiens, the beings that are supposedly aware, we still take too much. We can look to nature to find out how to work better in and with the world. The curse of self-awareness means that we are often so focused on our selves that we do not see the wider world. We are so busy looking inwards that we forget to look outwards. We forget that what benefits us may not benefit the whole, and we are a part of that whole, therefore selfishness can be so detrimental – if only we are able to look beyond the self (and we are). Relationships require a give and take. We cannot always give nor can we always take. We are honour bound to give back for what we have received if we are working from a place of deep connection. Nature shows us how. Otherwise it is simply not sustainable. A forest is able to sustain itself without any human interaction. The sacred grove in the forest, where the edges of woodland meet open space are filled with potential, able to sustain itself with integrity.

Nemetona allows us that sacred space to explore our emotions and find ways through the internal formations of our minds so that we can act with intention in the world, rather than living a purely reactive life. This is the blessing of self-awareness, one that we should use much more often than we do. By taking time to explore our boundaries and edges and where they meet in the world we turn what could otherwise be a solely inward-focusing exercise into pure integration with the rest of the world. Within the circle, within the sacred grove we are able to work clearly. Human emotion can often overwhelm us, causing us to act out in ways that are not sustainable, in ways that are dishonourable. Anger, rage, love and lust can consume us if we are not aware of where our edges meet. In sacred space we can come to understand them as forces of nature that need to be worked with creatively to transform them, thereby benefiting the whole. Druidry is about seeing the bigger picture, stepping beyond our selves and our own internal worlds through a deep knowledge of the self, working from a place rooted space and time. We can serve the world best if we are working from a place of strong, honourable intention.

The importance is placed on holding, holding space not only for ourselves but for others. That is the role of teaching and guidance. In learning, in deep learning held in a place of sanctuary we work beyond the realms of language into true experiential learning. Coming from a safe place, we begin to realise that we know nothing, and in that knowing is exquisite learning, an openness to all of reality as it really is, aware and wide awake, both eyes open, all our senses open. In Zen this is often called Beginners Mind, where when we realise we know nothing at all our horizons are expanded, the self is dropped and we are open to endless possibility. That word, possibility is so evocative. From the latin, possibilis meaning “that which can be done” and posse “be able”. The door is opened and it is for us to walk through. It is a call to action.

Shunryu Suzuki wrote a book called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, and there are many beautiful expressions of possibility therein, showing how we can move beyond our selves. One such quote is “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few”. He also states ““A mind full of preconceived ideas, subjective intentions, or habits it not open to things as they are.” Going deeper into ideas of attachment, he states “Not to be attached to something is to be aware of its absolute value. Everything you do should be based on such an awareness, and not on material or self-centered ideas of value.” When we able to step beyond ourselves we perceive reality as it really is, and can work from a place of understanding and compassion. If we come from a viewpoint that everything is sacred, if we learn to perceive the sacredness of everything, we will be inspired to have sustainable relationship.

Community is important. Right here, right now in this very room our edges are touching, blending, breaking or standing fast against each other. There are also non-human edges that we are coming into contact with – the chair, the floor, the air around us, the ancestors. Learning to work together, inspired by the gods and by nature, by the earth-based traditions that we belong to we can work with an awareness of the sacred in our own community. There is strength in that awareness, making the community itself strong. We can show how sustainable relationships work. We can walk our talk and inspire others. We can’t live only for ourselves – we have to be individually strong yes, but where we work together, our edges touching is where the true strength lies. Finding authority in the natural world helps us to build this strong awareness and community. Learning to work with boundaries, co-operative work and practice is tantamount. If we are simply focused on the self, our community suffers. If we focus solely on the community, the self suffers. Balance and harmony, the wider perspective, is what is needed.

Leading by example through sustainable relationship can be the greatest inspiration, the greatest motivator. The energy of connection in relationship is where the real power lies. The inter-relatedness of everything is where the true strength is found. The root of the word community comes from communis – meaning common. I am not important. You are not important. Humans are not important. But where our edges meet, whether that is with another human or tree, mountain or beetle, where we find relationship is where the power lies. In our interaction is where there is the greatest potential. Nemetona teaches us of this power, by working co-operatively we can find new ways to trickle that energy up through the various social strata and spheres to affect the whole. The way we treat each other, run our businesses, live our lives and relate to each other can and does affect the wider world. We are not self-contained units. We are part of the whole.

The Celts had a very strong sense of personal and social responsibility. There were honour prices to be paid if someone had wronged another of the community. This implies a very real sense of ownership to one’s behaviour. Not working or living in a world isolated, working together requires us to acknowledge and work with the edges of other people, human and non-human in a myriad of ways. The Celtic metaphysic demonstrated that we simply cannot do as we want – being part of a whole, we have to consider others in every aspect of our lives. There is a strong notion of free-will, but the important thing to remember is that everything is a choice. When we choose with a wider sense of perspective we lean more towards benefiting the whole rather than just the self. Co-incidentally, when we benefit the whole we are also benefiting ourselves. Working in a society that focuses on responsibility, rather than punishment can lead to a better society in which everyone is an active participant, rather than being taken care of by a nanny state. Without personal responsibility, such as in our current judicial system, someone else will take care of it. There is a passiveness in our relationships with each other.

I remember seeing on the news a couple of weeks ago how the driver of a car ran into someone on horseback. A man and his wife were out for a horse ride, she in front and he behind down a quiet little country lane. A car came up, driving too fast, and the man on horseback had two options – move his horse out of the way and let his wife and her horse be hit, or take the impact himself. Tears fell from my eyes as I imagined what it would be like to be in his predicament, where no matter what you do someone you love will die due to the carelessness of another. And the horse that he was riding, to not bolt or run away at the danger, to believe in his rider so much that he would take the impact was just overwhelming in its power of relationship. Needless to say, the horse died, but the man and his wife, and her mount survived.

What happened to the car driver? Nothing. He didn’t even get a caution, or a ticket for careless or reckless driving. Now, I’m not saying that the man needed to be punished, but what I would like to see in our society is personal responsibility. If we still followed a society where personal responsibility was paramount to honour and integrity, an honour price should have been paid to the man who lost his horse. Whether in money or work, it doesn’t matter. The driver should have found some way to make amends. Instead, our society is at the hands of a judicial system which encourages passive behaviour, seeing just what we can get away with and allowing others to make the decisions for us. We live in a world where personal responsibility requires reinforcement from an outside authority. We need to take personal responsibility back into our own hands, taking our authority from nature. Perhaps then we will move from passiveness into lives filled with intention, even as the bluebell opens out to the warming sunshine.

We have to learn how to communicate, and here we see how the words community and communicate come together. Each community is different, each ecosystem balanced in different ways. Only through communication can we work and relate honourably in different ecosystems. The winds, the smells, the flora and fauna in the ecosystem of my home are different to that of Ipswich, only 15 miles away. Coastal, heathland and forest – I find systems within systems in my very own backyard. We have to learn about each system, how it works to relate properly and effectively to the whole and not just tramp all over it, devastating it with our own self-centred arrogance. We have to learn to recognise each other’s edges without putting our own projections onto them. Working with others, working with the self, working with Nemetona we find how to be of service without ego getting in the way.

I have seen the goddess Nemetona in the principles of permaculture. The basis behind permaculture is something I’ve been talking about all along: how to take what we see in natural ecosystems and use that as a model for our own living, creating sustainability and diversity. Permaculture acknowledges that it is at the edges where there is the most potential, the most diversity. The edge of a forest is where you will find the most plants, where the herds of deer wander. It teaches of self-regulatory systems where each element has its own personal intention which also works to the benefit of the whole. The diversity of beneficial relationships is what makes an ecosystem work and be self-sustaining.

We may already have all the elements necessary to have a self-sustaining ecosystem – all they may need is a little rearranging in order to create harmonious relationships. We are a part of nature, therefore we need to re-learn how to be in nature without messing it all up. Permaculture begins with working with what is already there. Then we can research and study what works best and help to create a system that is sustainable. This is what we do when as Pagans when we are working with our own personal nemeton, and also when we are in larger groups, perhaps even group ritual. The diversity, the edges are at the heart of all interaction. We can create systems that are healthy and balanced simply by paying attention. Within permaculture, each species of animal or plant has what is known as a niche – its own function within the ecosystem in relation to other species. Likewise, we all have our own talents and abilities that we can contribute in relations to society at large. When we see each other’s niches we can work around and with that, recognising their edges and creating new ways of being in the world that work co-operatively instead of competitively.

In permaculture, where one ecosystem meets another it is known as the edge effect. Conflict between what could be seen as competing plants due to finite levels of light on a forest edge are overcome naturally by having different plants growing at different times of the year. This acknowledgement of space helps all to thrive in their own time. Imagine how our human world would be if we could adopt these same principles! I think it would be more courteous world, to say the least.

Where woodland and grassland meet, we find some advantages coming from both ecosystems. The berry-producing bushes at the forest edge make the best use of the greater amount of light than that found deep within the heart of the wood. Birds of prey nest at field and forest edges to benefit from the security provided by tree cover and the food provided by open spaces in the form of voles, mice and other small animals. Deer, as mentioned previously, favour the edges as it gives them the best of both worlds – grazing and shelter from predators. Permaculture learns how to lessen the rigidity of edges, so that there isn’t a strong forest meets field edge, but rather a co-operative blend of the two as would be found naturally, instead of the forced edge of a farmer’s monoculture field and that of ancient woodland.

Becoming aware of your edges is only the beginning to coming to an understanding of this sacred Goddess. Once we know where our edges are, we can also be freed of them in the right environment, finding immersion in our landscapes that it utterly exhilarating and deeply inspiring, at one with the rest of the world and in perfect harmony.

Blessings from the edge to you all.

Nemetona: Goddess of Boundaries and Edges, Sanctuary and Freedom Presentation

I had a wonderful time yesterday at the Leaping Hare Pagan Conference in Colchester, Essex.  I was honoured to be asked by the organisers at the end of last year to present, give a talk on the goddess Nemetona after having received requests throughout the year following the release of my second book, Dancing With Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space.

It was a really enjoyable experience. I have been going to Leaping Hare for many, many years now and there is a real community spirit, a real sense of well-being and support. Thank you to everyone for your kind words, messages and emails following the talk – may we be the awen!

Reblog: The Blessing of Samhain… If You Dare…

This is a reblog from my channel, DruidHeart, at the Witches and Pagans website. To read the full article, click HERE.

Here in the UK, the weather has turned and the colder air sweeps down from the North. Nights are longer, as the sun jumps along the horizon with each rising and setting, heading further and further towards the south. Trees are changing colours, and plants are beginning to die back, the green fading into golden and tawny hues, foliage less dense and earth beginning to peek through the underbrush.

The tide of Samhain has begun, when, after the autumn equinox we prepare for the darkness to come. The balance has been tipped, and we have tipped with it, our internal clocks trying to adjust to new temperatures and light levels. Often, we try to establish our centre, attempting to find some foothold or handhold in the coming darkness, our egos crying out the great rallying cry of “I AM!” The darkness, however, knows the folly of this, and smiles as it creeps ever closer.

In the darkness there are no guidelines. There are no boundaries. There is no up or down, no left or right. There is only impenetrable night, a sweet release from the constraints of the known…

To read the full article, click HERE.


mudraFar too often we allow our emotions to control us, dictating how we react and respond to situations and perhaps not in the best way. Some would argue that our emotions are what gets things done, however, something done with anger, for instance, may not always be the best way forward.

Discipline has become a bad word in our society. What we need to do is to reclaim this word, along with duty (which I will elaborate more on in another blog). We need to sit down with ourselves and take a good, long, hard look at our emotions and the roots of these emotions, finding out why we react to situations the way we do, discover underlying patterns and unravel the threads that are loose, or about to snap, reworking them into something more harmonious.

If we work on a situation based on an emotion of anger, hate or jealousy, then the outcome will most likely not be conducive to creating compassion and harmony with the world. Exploring the roots of these “negative” emotions, we will realise that the underlying thread is one of fear. Anger is another expression of fear. We become angry at our partner for not behaving in a manner that we think he should. In reality, we may be fearful of losing our partner, or of changing feelings for him, of not having enough control in our own lives, etc. Hate is based in fear, as we fear that which is the Other, separate from ourselves, the unknown. Jealousy is based on fear of change, our own insecurities and fears created out of past experiences.

What we need to do it to sit down with our feelings, to better understand them and in doing so, better understand our selves. In creating a safe space to sit with our feelings, we can engage with them openly and honestly. Creating a haven, a sanctuary in which to perform this task, we can explore the deepest corners of our minds. For me, the goddess Nemetona helps in this exercise.

She is a goddess of sanctuary and sacred space. She is present in my home and in my heart. Human beings have such a craving for safety and security, and within this goddess we can find that wherever we are. Not only does it help with emotional discipline and self-governance, but the two are intricately woven together, with self-governance creating that safety. Let me explain.

If we are ruled by the tides of our emotions, we will never settle, never find a place that we can call a sanctuary. We are subject to the peaks and valleys of an emotional long hard slog, and never really find a good breathing space in which to find some respite. If we do not have that sanctuary, we have no place to breathe and to truly connect with our emotions. And so an endless cycle of repetition is created.

Finding time every day to simply sit and breathe is a great way to begin. In a safe, comfortable place, whether indoors or out, we focus on our breath, in and out, breathing in the air that our ancestors breathed, that all living things breathe. We breathe out into the world, exhaling even as the trees exhale in the deepening twilight. Sharing this beautiful moment, this sacred breath, we come to an awareness of ourselves, of our self and how we currently feel in the world at this particular moment. We can call upon Nemetona to hold this space while we simply sit and breathe, honouring Her for all that She is with a return to the stillness at our core.

It’s not easy, taking the time to simply breathe, to meditate on our breath. Our minds will try every trick in the book to distract us from this present moment and this one little act. It is with discipline that we return to our breath again and again, each time we find ourselves wandering off mentally, or shifting our bums restlessly. You have to really want to find stillness – it doesn’t just happen. You have to be disciplined enough to achieve it. It won’t simply suddenly appear out of nowhere, nor can it be spoon-fed. Discipline will not allow any passivity. We must take full responsibility for our selves and for our world.

After breathing, we can take some time looking at our feelings and emotions without attaching to them. Again, we can ask Nemetona to help us, to hold the space and to guide us to explore our feelings without getting too involved, wrapped up once again the in the emotion. She won’t do it for us, however. We can look at our fear, at our anger, our impatience, our joy and our happiness. We can find the roots of these if we don’t let them take control over our minds, and therefore live in better awareness.

For not only do we have to be careful of the negative emotions ruling our behaviour, but we must also become aware of the more pleasant emotions. Far too often we experience a beautiful emotion, and crave that emotion for the rest of our lives. We will never be able to recreate that experience, for it has happened and exists only in the past. All we have is this present moment, which is always changing, moving forwards. If we try to regain the feeling of joy that we had on our wedding day every time we look at our loved one, we disregard other emotions and feelings that will eventually come and bite us on our backside. We may not notice the present moment. Focusing only on positive emotions doesn’t work – we are human and we have negative emotions too. Those who deny them, who suppress them, will face some pretty hard demons at some point in their life.

So we sit, and we meditate day after day, breathing and coming to an awareness of the present moment. We are able to take the time to look at our feelings and get to know them better, thereby allowing ourselves the opportunity to break from negative patterns of behaviour into more purposefully led lives. Discipline and self-governance are not things to be afraid of, nor are they something to shun as not in keeping with our freedom of expression. We are better able to express ourselves when we are not ruled by our emotions, allowing us to see what lies at the root of our souls, and thereby what lies in others’ souls as well.

This is the heart of compassion. When we understand ourselves we can better understand others, and see their fears, their patterns being created. We can work with them to help create new patterns, or we can simply walk away with respect and not have their patterns reflected in our own. We can only help those who want to be helped, and this includes our own self.

So please do take the time to sit, every day, and be in the present moment. Become aware of your breathing. Call upon Nemetona or any other god to help you find that peace, that space to explore your feelings, should you so desire. Look at your feelings and better understand them for what they are. In doing so, you will no longer be ruled by them, but instead be able to respond in the world with an awareness and mindfulness that can only create harmony. We come to understand each other in a very deep and meaningful way when we take what we learn of ourselves and relate that to others. In this, we can see that we are all related.

We are not restricting ourselves with self-governance, but allowing ourselves to open to the world with the eyes of compassion and hearts that are true.


For more about the goddess, Nemetona, please see my book, Dancing With Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space

Reblog: Nemetona and Sanctuary

This is a reblog from my post at Druid Heart, at SageWoman’s channel on Witches and Pagans.

524734_640754085941583_54399955_nSometimes one has to retreat from the world, in order to better understand it. Finding sanctuary, a sacred space where we can open our souls without fear, where we can simply be, is a glorious experience. It happens a lot less than we need in our lives, in my opinion.

A goddess of sanctuary, Nemetona is an elusive deity. Not much is written or recorded about her in Classical texts or history. Just the barest hints and place names, some tribe names and a couple of inscriptions. Who is this goddess to whom we can bare our souls, in complete soul truth, knowing that we are held?

In our modern day world, so often we feel we have to close ourselves off in order not to be overwhelmed – by people, media, technology. For sensitive souls, it sometimes is pure hell. We need to allow our soul truths to emerge, otherwise as caged birds we function behind bars, never truly spreading our wings and knowing what it means to fly. We feel we have to be careful not to be too open, too emotive, too sensitive to what people are saying or what is happening in the world around us. We are not allowed to be offended, we are not allowed to speak out without fear of being shot down a lot of the time. We are told that we shouldn’t be so sensitive. Our souls grow smaller with each experience of shutting down, never letting anyone or anything in.

That physical space around us, where we feel uncomfortable if someone we do not trust enters, is a valuable space. It is our personal nemeton, a space where our energy exists outside of our bodies. Many liken it to your aura. Some nemetons are strong and radiant, some wounded with gaping holes, others barricaded with steel. What we have to learn, or relearn, is how to open this space in love and trust – that is what Nemetona provides, often in a world wherein we feel no other human is able to provide this for us…

To read the full post, click HERE.

Reblog: Sacred Spaces

This is a reblog from DruidHeart, my blog on SageWoman Magazine’s channel at Witches and Pagans. Photo credit from The Sleepy Backpacker’s blog HERE.

stonehenge2014Moonhenge, in Cambridgeshire, is a brilliant example of new Pagan sacred spaces being created. With so much controversy over some of the megalithic stone circles and other sites around Britain, why should we not be creating more new spaces in which to celebrate, should we so wish?

Every Western Pagan knows about Stonehenge. They all know about the summer solstice celebration there. A loud and rowdy affair in which the public join in, it is more a rave than a sacred celebration. Though we cannot know for certain what the ancestors did in that ritual space, to me personally it just seems wrong to have people getting drunk and shouting loudly, climbing on stones and partying all night in a temple so closely linked to the dead as well as the sunrises throughout the year. I may be entirely wrong.

However, it just seems like sacrilege when the spirits of place are not honoured in a respectful way. To make something sacred is to honour and respect it – it is connected to such words as dedication, devotion and veneration, three things which most of the partygoers at the high point in summer are not terribly concerned with at Stonehenge.

The creation of sacred space is a key tenet of Druidry and many other Pagan religions. It is an invasion to have people that you do not know enter your sacred space and act out of accordance with the intention of the rite or ritual being performed. Out of hours access permits are available to those who wish to use the particular temple of Stonehenge for more private use, however, during the actual time of the sunrises and sunsets at various times of the year, this temple space must be shared with those who are not in tune with the intention.

Other sacred sites around the world do not seem to suffer as much from this intrusion. We would not party in Chartres Cathedral, for instance, or rave all night in the Temple of Athena….

To read the full article, click HERE.