Rhiannon and the Art of Side-Saddle

jo weddingRiding side-saddle is both easy and difficult. It’s a strange dichotomy of being securely “locked in” and feeling like you’re going to slide out the side at any moment. I took lessons riding side-saddle, and also did some jumping. I even rode down the aisle at my wedding side-saddle!  When I compare this to working with the goddess Rhiannon, I can see how she is often portrayed as riding side-saddle, and I think the fact that she’s wearing skirts is only part of the reason.

If you have a voluminous skirt, it’s quite easy to ride in the normal fashion. Your ankles may be showing and perhaps even your calves (gasp, shock and horror!) but really, it’s quite do-able. But side-saddle just looks more elegant, even though it perhaps fits in with the conformity to “keep your legs together” so as not to be considered a “loose woman” in any shape or form. However, all that nonsense aside, side-saddle is fun and a challenge for any rider, whatever they choose to wear, whatever gender they associate with. My husband tried it, everyone in our Western riding group tried it, just to see what it was like. It’s good to try new things.

Riding side-saddle, you usually have your legs hanging down the left side of the horse. Your left foot is in a stirrup as usual, but your right leg is held above the left and “hooked in” with a curved bar just above the knee. This keeps your right leg in place, though you have to hold your right foot flat against the side of the horse the entire time in order to truly maintain that grip correctly. It’s almost like sitting with one leg crossed over the other, but not quite.

You need to have some flexibility in the spine and torso in order to keep the head, chest and hips facing forward as much as you can, while the legs are over on the left-hand side. It feels really good after a ride to get down and stretch out the other side of your body! It also takes a bit of balance, as it can feel like you are going to slide off the other side of the horse. As mentioned above, keeping the right foot in the correct position helps with this, but that feeling is still there. The emptiness on the right-hand side can be a little daunting, even as you feel fully strapped in with your right leg securely tucked under the leaping head, lower pommel or as it is sometimes known, the leaping horn.

rhiannon oracle

Rhiannon from The Avalonian Oracle, written by Jhenah Telyndru, artwork by Emily Brunner

This delicate balance, of security and instability, finds resonance within me with the stories of the Welsh goddess Rhiannon. She is often portrayed as a horse goddess, riding a white mare from the Otherworld and marrying into the human realms, there to face the trials and tribulations of such. She works to re-establish order, correcting her husband and fixing his gaffs, seeking her lost child, and enduring hardships and injustices while remaining true to herself. She literally carries the mantle of sovereignty, as a horse carries a rider, to take it where it needs most to be, to work in the world in co-operation and in compassion.

It can be a tricky ride. One minute you can feel secure, locked in and riding in the correct posture. Forget that posture for a moment, and then you are insecure, literally, feeling like you are going to slide down any moment. It’s a great teacher in remembering to hold true, figuratively and literally. Be mindful of everything you do, if you want to enjoy this ride. Because the moment you aren’t, you could lose your seat, whether that’s the seat on horseback or the seat of sovereignty, in the soul and in the wider world.

But once you understand the delicate balance, once you come to terms with this new way of being, it’s glorious. It’s elegant. It’s graceful. And I’m not just talking about riding side-saddle. This is what Rhiannon can teach us as well. To find a new way of being, to be in balance and staying true to yourself, being present and knowing that some things need to be endured in order to find the beauty in our lives. To carry the burdens with grace, to stay true to yourself.  Rhiannon is both the horse and the rider, enduring and carrying, guiding and taking the reins of sovereignty unto herself.

rhiannon bookI’ll be working closely with Rhiannon over the next few months, and I look forward to the insights that she brings. If you are interested in this goddess, there is a brilliant book written by Jhenah Telyndru, called Rhiannon: Divine Queen of the Celtic Britons. Jhenah works closely with Rhiannon and other Welsh goddesses in the Sisterhood of Avalon, which she founded in 1995. Do check it out, and all her work, it’s brilliant.

May you ride forth in the present moment, finding your centre and staying true. And remember, when it all comes down to it, horse-riding is merely the art of keeping the horse between you and the ground.

The power of New Year’s Resolutions

P1070010Many people here in the West have made New Year’s resolutions. I for one think that this tradition is a good one, for I’m always seeking to improve myself, to live in better harmony with the world around me. I know that I can’t change others, only myself, and lead by example. And so, a resolution or three can help me to achieve that goal.

Why are resolutions so important? Well, simply put, it’s vocalising an intention. In much of Western Paganism and Heathenry words, especially spoken words, have deep meaning when applied with intention, and most magic (but not all) relates to words, spells, chants, invocations and more. Think of the many sayings that relate how important words are to us. We take people by their word, and our word in our bond. Sadly, this is all too often forgotten in today’s society. We have to take back the sacredness of our words, thereby sanctifying also our intentions.

There is a deep power when we say what we mean, and mean what we say. Not hiding behind pretension or illusion, we will do as we say and we will be truthful and honest in our actions. We will sometimes fail to come through, as we are all fallible, but still the power is not only in the result, but in the attempt to live in this manner. We can ask for help when needed, for we know that everyone needs help every now and again.

When we take the importance of our words to heart, we can also look at how we take the words of others into our lives. How much do we validate our life based upon the words of others? Are these words spoken with an honest intention that is in correlation to your own, or is there a hidden agenda within them? Many people seek to abuse trust, sadly, and feel that only they hold a real reflection of others’ self-worth. Only you know your own value, your own worthiness, and if you are true to your word you then need not seek external validation. Criticism, honest and valid criticism can and should be useful in everyone’s lives. Bitter, angry, mocking criticism, filled with contempt, is not helpful in any way, and is only a reflection of the person who delivers such words, not you. We live in a world where many feel that their own flame burns brighter by blowing out others’, but we know that this is not the case.

By being true to your word, you are also being responsible for your actions. This again is something that I feel is lacking in much of today’s society. All too often we can blame others for our misfortune, or sink into the abyss of apathy rather than taking an active role in our lives. We have to define for ourselves how we wish to live, and take a participatory role in achieving that goal. None other can walk this path for us.

Taking on resolutions can help us to give voice to the sovereign self that we wish to be, that idealised self that we can indeed become, should we have the courage to walk the path towards that end. They can clarify what it is that we wish to achieve, and even ask for help along the way, from the gods, the ancestors, friends and family. We need not seek their validation, but only their help should we need it, for we know our own self-worth. Hold true to your resolution, as much as you can. Use it to remind you of the sovereign self, that self that states that YOU are in control of your own behaviour, that state of integration with the rest of the world where you realise that you are a part of a great weave in the tapestry of life. We may falter, we may even fail, but at least we tried. And next year we can try again, or make new resolutions to help us find and achieve that truth that we seek within our souls through the power of our words.

 

Swift, Celebrity, Stories and Sovereignty

Yes, I am a Swiftie. Unabashedly a Swiftie. Always have been, most likely always will. I’m loving the new song (total earworm!) and the video is a little bit of genius. It’s also gotten me thinking, which is what all art/social commentary should do, no?

Musician and singer/songwriter Loreena McKennitt has spoken about the cult of celebrity for a few years now, how it has changed music makers from being artists to being commodities.  The face of music has changed so drastically in the last ten years that it’s becoming more and more difficult to express yourself musically, as an artist, rather than going for the superficial jugular of celebrity status. While I’m not saying that Taylor Swift has never sought celebrity, this clever woman has criticised it and examined it from many angles over the span of her career.

Taylor Swift’s most recent song and video, “Look What You Made Me Do“, is another critique of how people see her, based on assumptions made from the media, other artists, the haters and the Swifties alike. (She previously covered one assumption a few years back in her video, “Blank Space“, poking fun at the  media image of her being an over-emotional, co-dependent serial relationship junkie.) It’s a very good tongue-in-cheek look at the many personas that others have created for her, such as the leader of “The Squad” (a media reference to her circle of famous friends), her so-called “surprise face” when she wins awards, her “love” of playing the victim and more. Before the song was released, Taylor had wiped all social media, deleted all Facebook, Twitter and Instagram posts, as well as having her website simply showing a black screen. It’s a very shrewd move, personally deleting everything that the media could interpret about her, which she knows as well as we do that it’s only a part of who she is, a representation of a facet of a person. No one is their Facebook or Twitter account.

Taylor Swift ReputationThe song and video also points out that we need to take responsibility in our lives, which includes personal and emotional responsibility. The title, “Look What You Made Me Do” is referencing that fact that we often blame others for so many things, which engenders a lack of personal responsibility when it comes to the art of basic living. We need to take responsibility back for ourselves, for our actions, our words, our thoughts and emotions. When we do so, we pull of the mask that allows us to stay in our wounded selves, and to fly free with the wings of freedom and sovereignty. The reaction of others to this, well, what can I say? Some may praise you for it, some may criticise, some may hate and some may love you for it. The title is also a comment on how the media have created and fabricated all these stories about her, making her as a media-created character do and say things that are completely false. Taylor Swift’s new album (available beginning of November) is called Reputation, is yet another examination of the power of story, and who is telling it, and to whom.

This year, on a pilgrimage to Glastonbury, I met with the goddess Bloedewedd at the White Spring. She cautioned me to choose the mask that I wish to present to the world, otherwise others would do it for me. As I was watching Taylor’s video, these words came back to me, reflecting that everyone needs to choose, otherwise the choices will be made for them. Some would argue that we should simply take off all masks, and I would agree with this statement up to a point. We need boundaries, and certain barriers in place for different situations.

When I am working in a professional capacity, I can’t be the silly goof that I am in my dance troupe, twerking in the middle of a choreography just to make the others laugh. When I am teaching, I can’t be the child running to the bottom of the garden in search of faeries, or seeing how much of the alphabet I can burp after several glasses of Prosecco. We have different masks, different hats that we wear in different situations, because I am a daughter, a wife, a Druid, an author, a dancer, a woman, a teacher, a friend, a sister, a lover. To some, I am even a challenge, an enemy, a fraud, a hypocrite, a liar, and more. While this may not be true, other people’s interpretation of me is something that I have very little control over. They may have their reasons for believing in the story that they hold of me, they may not. But we have to remember: it’s just a story.

What is important is that our story is something that we can be proud of. Not in order to impress others, but for ourselves, so that we can move forward and add to our story with honour and integrity. We can shake off other people’s perceptions of us, because we have very little control over that anyway. We can choose to not be commodified inasmuch as we are able, and to take the reins in our journey and guide ourselves towards the sovereignty and the story that we wish to fulfill. Only we know the truth of our story, the terrible lows and the glorious highs. Only we can choose to move forward with honesty and good self-examination, in order to achieve our goals and to live a life that’s more integrated, with deep and sustainable relationships.

I’m proud of my story.

And so is Taylor Swift.

 

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Working with Anger, Working with Community

An article by Sophie Dòbhran and Joanna van der Hoeven

As Druids, as Pagans, and also in the role of priestess it can sometimes become really hard to stay connected with people who are cultivating rage and anger towards an event that creates a painful gap between what they wish and what is happening. One reason might be that they seem so shocked towards the event, as if they had just realized that such things are possible in our world. The first surge of anger is necessary, in order to provide a little release from the pain and suffering of the first wounding, but then we keep wounding ourselves again and again by cultivating the anger. And in doing so through our connection with others, we cultivate misery and pain together and nurture our being entitled to it.

Is it in how we resist a situation, and in doing so how we are ourselves nurturing the rage and anger and blind suffering that we so loudly condemn?

Even more troubling, is that it seems that the journey stops there: misery seeks misery, people suffer together then turn the page and go back to watching violent forms of entertainment on television and in the movie theatres but all that’s acceptable in our society. Until the next shocking thing happens. It’s like awakening sporadically is so painful and shocking that it doesn’t stick.

It is so difficult to feel the anger properly, and then to let it go. Anger perpetuates more anger, more suffering, and more pain.

Sometimes we need anger to begin a new motivation, a new revolution. However, a revolt that is perpetually based in anger turns into the riots in the streets of London a few years back, where innocent people were hurt, shops destroyed and more. That sort of anger doesn’t produce any results other than more suffering. Yet the anger that the women of the suffragette movement felt turned into courageous and defiant acts against the establishment that won women the vote, and more rights to come.

We could look at it as differentiating between holding the anger as motivation, or holding the anger as instigation. The preferable way would be the former, and then with a level-head find the solution after gone through the initial suffering. But there is a boiling anger in society that’s continuously being repressed, both here in the UK and in the USA, which will eventually explode if nothing is done about it, if there isn’t an outlet for it. Peaceful demonstrations seem to have little effect anymore on the establishment, and the media can just block it out as if it never happened. So, there’s the anger there, and it’s not going away soon…

Perhaps it has to do with the general isolation that has taken place, people being so disconnected from each other, and from Nature. We are no longer used to being mindful, to listen to silence. We are addicted to all kinds of fake relationships, superficial activities, superficial foods, and so on.

We need to remember that it’s all energy; sometimes the energy of anger isn’t appropriate. And when it’s no longer appropriate, when it becomes harmful instead of leading us out of apathy, for instance, then we need to repurpose that energy into something useful.

“Useful” is something each person must define for themselves, for each situation is unique. In order to do that, we need to step back from the situation and get perspective in order to discern just action. Anger, like a barking dog, can alert us that our boundaries have been crossed. But are we going to let the dog address this situation for us? How about when we cultivate anger together and become a pack of barking dogs?

Perspective needs distance and silence to produce clarity. No one can understand just why we are so angry better than we do. What follows is compassion. Compassion is not always soft and gentle. Sometimes, compassion means strengthening boundaries or raising one’s voice to be heard. Compassion means observing the situation with distance and clarity in order to discern the best path of action inherent to it.

It’s easy to be angry and feel desperate, lost and confused. Or to think that a public demonstration will change things, because we are now used to getting immediate satisfaction all the time. And yet if we truly pay attention, we realize that we can truly cultivate the change we want to see in the world. On a much smaller scale, maybe, but it is real and it is tangible, and it is satisfying.

Given that we are already what we condemn, we never have to look very far to create mindful actions that reverse that negative flow. It doesn’t change the world or impact politicians, but it changes our world, from our nemeton to another’s nemeton. Aren’t our nemetons microcosms?

Druidry is a religion based on locality first and foremost, and so, when we are upset or angry, it’s our immediate locality that bears the brunt of it. Our immediate locality is also the thing that we can affect most in our lives. When we’re angry at the government or our employers, we can do what we can to be heard: writing letters, signing petitions, talking and organizing unions, etc. But we have no control over what happens after that.

However, in our own environment, in our own bodies and for the most part, in our own houses and land we do have some control, and these are the areas that we can affect to effect change. Only we can change ourselves. We can think and act locally first and foremost, instead of the usual “think globally, act locally” because our range of influence is not all-encompassing. We can think all we want (and post all we want on social media), but that does not effect change. If we bring it down into bitesize chunks that we can handle, then we’re able to really do the work that needs doing.

So, we work in our area, to clear litter, to do ritual work, to contact the Fair Folk, to work with the ancestors and the spirits of place because that is where we live, because that is where we get our nourishment and sustenance. It is also useful to become members of their parish council, or join other committees in the community. That way, we have a real vote on planning applications and housing developments, environmental and health issues and more. In doing so, our environment affects us and we affect it. Then, like little ripples from a pond, that changed and charged energy can spread out. We create an effect in the world.

Think of your locality, think of your tribe. When your tribe is strong, let that energy permeate the rest of the world. This is not to say that we must become insular, separatist and isolated, but more as a ways and means of really affecting change in our own worlds. Become aware of the energy of anger, and how it is being used. Take care of your community, of your locality, and be conscious of the choices you are making and the reasons behind those choices. When we are conscious of our behaviour, we work with right action, and our work will benefit in a holistic pattern that emanates from a strong and true core of personal sovereignty.

Sophie Dòbhran was born in Quebec and lives in a farmhouse on a small island near Quebec city with her husband, her son, two cats and a dog. She studied under Swami Premananda Saraswati for a certification in Hatha yoga and also studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids. She joined the Sisterhood of Avalon in 2014 and has been actively cultivating an avalonian spiritual practice since. She facilitates Red Tents once a month, as well as druidic rituals and an SOA learning circle in her community. To find out more, visit her website at http://www.ileauxpommes.wordpress.com.  

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid, Witch and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years and is also a member of the Sisterhood of Avalon. She is the Director of Druid College UK, helping to re-weave the connection to the land and teaching a modern interpretation of the ancient Celtic religion. To find out more, please visit http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com

Dark Moon Wisdom

Dark Moon Wisdom

You don’t have to shine to be powerful.

Release.

Release into the darkness, allow the night to fill your soul.

Find your sovereignty in the darkness.

Face the shadows, name the fears.

Then allow the dark moon to guide you further, deeper within, towards utter integration.

Feel the deep magnetic pull.

You don’t have to shine to be powerful.

 

© Joanna van der Hoeven