Duty and Service: The Life of a Druid

triskele-2For me, Druidry is about living a life in service. Many people confuse the word service with subservient: being beneath someone else in a lower position, lowering yourself for others. Service has nothing to do with this, and everything to do with using your skills, wit and intelligence to benefit the world around you. Relationship is at the heart of Druidry, and service to Druidry requires good relationship. There is equality, a give and take, in order to maintain a sustainable relationship. We work to serve the whole: the ecosystem, our community, our families, our ancestors, our gods, our planet. Our work in Druidry is not just for ourselves.

To work in service requires an open heart, a sense of duty and discipline. Too often, when things are rough, people can lay aside their spiritual practice feeling that they need to just in order to survive, or that they simply can’t be bothered. When we do so, we are stating that the theory and foundation of our religion or spirituality is just that: a theory. It’s not something that needs to manifest. When something just remains a thought, a theory, then it is completely intangible, and unable to create change in the world. At these points in time, when we are stretched to our limits, when we are in pain, when the world seems to be crumbling around us, this is when we need our Druidry the most. We make not feel like doing ritual, but this may be exactly what we need. We may not want to meditate, but again, that may be just what clears up our thoughts in order to proceed, to find the way forward. This is where discipline kicks in, as well a duty. When we just don’t feel like it, we can remember our ancestors, remember their struggles, their fears, their failings, and know that we can do better, we can give back for all that we have received. With relationship at the heart of Druidry, we must learn what we owe to the world, and not forget this very important concept. Only then will we truly understand the concept of duty, and manifest it in the world, living a life in service.

I am blessed in so many aspects of my life. That is not to say that my lady Brighid does not throw me onto her anvil every now and then, and pound the heck out of me, stretching me and re-forging me anew. But in service to Her, I work with the gifts that she provides me, with the challenges that lie before me, and see them as opportunities to re-forge relationships, or to understand why they don’t work and walk away. I learn where I can be of service, where my skills and talents lie, and then use them to the best of my ability, living my truth. Above all else, Brighid keeps reminding me to live my truth.

In the midst of despair, when all seems dark, I stop and take a look around. I see the blackbird, singing in my garden at sunset, listening to his call that takes me beyond this world and into the Otherworld. I see the deer eating the birdseed that falls from my feeder. I watch the clouds turn from white to gold and then deepest pinks and orange, a wash of colour that delights the eye and feeds the soul. I remember to look for and see the beauty in the world, in the small things and the large. I remember that I am part of an ecosystem, and that I have duty to give back. This gives my life meaning, and is also the meaning of life.

As a Druid, I walk a life of service. This service provides my life with meaning. I owe it to the land that nourishes me to protect it, to give back for my many blessings. I owe it to my ancestors, without whom I would not be here today. I owe it to my gods, who provide me with such deep inspiration that words cannot even come close to projecting my relationship with them. Knowing what I owe, I walk the path of service in perfect freedom, for freedom is found when we release our self-centred perspective, and take the whole of nature into our hearts and souls. We are nature.

It’s not just for ourselves. It’s for all existence.

The Druid and the Mystic

p1080469-768x1024For me, Druidry is mostly a solitary path, though I do belong to some Druid Orders and networks, and celebrate the seasons with a small group of friends.  But the everyday Druidry, the currents of intention that flow through me and my home, through the landscape where I live, is my main focus.  Like learning, I always preferred to do so on my own, rather than working with a group, for I found that my concentration was higher, and I could have a deeper level of experience than I could with the influence of others upon my work. Indeed, personal and private ritual is always more profound than most shared ritual, though there have been a few occasions where, such as at the White Spring in Glastonbury, there has been a mix of private ritual and group celebration with my best friends deep within the cavernous walls that house those sacred waters that have changed my life forever.

Of course, we are never truly solitary creatures, but in this sense I am using the word solitary with regards to other humans.  I am never truly solitary, for I am always surrounded by nature and all its creatures every single second of my life.  I am always a part of an inter-connected web of existence. Living this connection, weaving the threads of my life to that of my environment and all that exists within it, means that there is no separation, no isolation. Yet, when asked to describe my path, I use the word solitary in the sense that I prefer to find such connection on my own, without other human animals around. Why this should be so is perhaps due to my nature: naturally shy, and sensitive to noise, light, barometric pressure and other phenomena, it is just easier to be “alone” most of the time.  My husband is much the same, so it is easy to be around him for most of the time, taking day-long walks with him through the countryside, with little words between us, for there is no need for unnecessary talk; just being with another being in a shared space is enough.  We live in a small village near the coast, so it is easy to get away from humanity by just walking out the door and down the bridle paths, or simply stay in and enjoy our beautiful garden visited by all sorts of wildlife, from deer and pheasants to pigeons and blackbirds, and even a family of badgers one time!

The path of the mystic is much the same, a solitary path where personal connection to the divine is the central focus.  Some would say that the mystic path is the search for the nature of reality. For me, Druidry is the search for reality within nature, and so the two can walk hand in hand down this forest path. There are many elements of mysticism in my everyday life, where the songs of the land and the power of the gods flow through me, the knowledge from the ancestors deep within my blood and deep within the land upon which I live, rooted in its soil and sharing its stories on the breeze. To hold that connection, day in and day out, to live life fully within the threads of that tapestry is what I aspire to do, each and every moment.  Sometimes a thread is dropped, and it requires a deep mindfulness to restore it, but practice helps when we search for those connecting threads, becoming easier with time and patience both with the world and with your own self.

The dissolution of the ego can be seen as at the heart of many Eastern traditions. Druidry teaches us integration, our ego perhaps not dissolving but blending in with that of our own environment. The animism that is a large part of Druidry for many helps us to see the sacredness of all existence, and in doing so we are not seeking annihilation, but integration. We can perhaps dissolve the notions and out-dated perceptions that we have, both about the world and about ourselves, leaving the self to find its own edges and then blending in to the world around us, truly becoming part of an ecosystem where selflessness is not altruistic, but necessary for the survival of the system.

The flowing inspiration, the awen, where soul touches soul and the edges melt away into an integrated way of being, has always been at the heart of Druidry.  The three drops of inspiration or wisdom from Cerridwen’s cauldron contain that connection; contain the awen that, with enough practice, is accessible to all. We have to spend time brewing our own cauldron of inspiration, filling it with both knowledge and experience before we can taste the delicious awen upon our lips. Some prefer to do this with others; some prefer to do so alone.

It is easier to quiet the noise of humanity, and of our own minds, when we are alone without distraction. Notice I said “easier” and not “easy”, because again it takes practice. But time spent alone, daily connecting and reweaving the threads that we have dropped can help us create a wonderful, rich tapestry that inspires us to continue in our journey through life, whatever may happen along the way. Though the solitary path might not be for everyone, having these moments of solitude can be a great tool for deep learning, working on your own as well as working within a group, Grove or Order. Sometimes we need to remove ourselves from the world in order to better understand it, and then come back into the fold with a new awareness and integration filled with awen, filled with inspiration.

The Joy of Teaching

Well, we’ve just had our first weekend with our Year Two students, and it was brilliant. We have a really diverse and bright group, who bring to the weekends such different experiences. I am truly honoured to know them.

We began with a ritual in the nearby woodland, a lovely deciduous wood with several large ponds. We honoured the work of Year One, and stated our intention for Year Two. We honoured all the teachers in our life, those who inspire us. Robin also spoke a few very moving words to honour Boudica, as our new venue lies very close to the spot purported to be where she fought her last battle. We then wove a web of connection, throwing balls of yarn to each other across the circle, stating what we wish to weave into the year’s work. Word like “joy”, “compassion”, “integrity”, “friendship”, and “honour” were said. We then lifted the web and moved deosil around the circle, chanting and bringing our energy to the web, which will later next week be offered to my Samhain fire.

We had a packed weekend, discussing what it means to live an awakened life, as well as prophecy and seership, divination and the divine. We took the students through a ritual trance induction to the Lowerworld, to meet with their totem animal. There was witty and funny discussion, and the weekend was very much a success. The venue, with its solar panels and air exchange system really met the criteria we have for working in sustainable relationship with the land, and for ancestors yet to come.

We’re very much looking forward to the next weekend!

And, on October 31st we open for our next Year One session which begins in October 2017. This allows time for payment in installments to be made before the course begins. For more information on the Year One programme, please visit the website at www.uk.druidcollege.org.

Review: Zen for Druids

Here is a review by Maria Ede-Weaving on Philip Carr-Gomm’s blog for my upcoming book, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with the Natural World (due out this October, and now available for pre-order). Thank you, Maria, for your lovely words!

Zen for Druids front coverI am a massive fan of Joanna van der Hoeven’s books. They are wonderfully accessible whilst still conveying a depth and clarity that helps the reader to really connect with the wisdom of the subject. Her latest offering does just that. ‘Zen For Druids’ is a companion to her earlier work ‘Zen Druidry, exploring Zen Buddhism and Druidry by illustrating how these spiritual paths can complement one another in practice.

The book is written in five parts. The first explores Druidry and the Dharma giving an excellent overview of Buddhism’s Three Treasures; The Four Noble Truths; The Five Precepts; The Eightfold Path and The Sixteen Bodhisattva Precepts and how these relate to Druid philosophy.

The second part takes us through the Pagan Wheel of the Year and how Zen Buddhism can enrich the understanding and honouring of these festivals. Joanna includes some really useful tips at the end of each festival section, with ideas to deepen your experience of each.

Part three focuses on Meditation; part four on Mindfulness and part five on Integration, each section helping to both explain the underlying spiritual meaning of these practices whilst giving practical advice, exercises and encouragement. I particularly enjoyed the section on Integration where the author writes beautifully about Awen and Relationship as a connecting, compassionate force that reveals the interconnectedness of life.

In her chapter on Ego, Self and Identity the author tackles the thorny issue of the Ego. In many spiritual texts, the Ego can so easily be labelled the ‘bad guy’ but Joanna skilfully explores the difference between Representational Ego and Functional Ego, redeeming the Ego’s useful functions whilst suggesting a compassionate approach to its more challenging aspects.

Joanna van der Hoeven

The concepts in this book take some thoughtful pondering but the beauty of Joanna’s writing is that it cracks open what initially appear to be very complex ideas and gets straight to the heart of each. Obviously the real work is in the dedicated practice of a spiritual path but Zen For Druids offers a wonderful foundation to build upon. In every page you can sense that the author has learned these insights through experience, that she really understands and lives these principles from a place of deep heart-knowing. We move from a purely intellectual grasping of a subject to this heart-led living of a spiritual path through the constant connection and exploration of that path; Joanna van der Hoeven’s fabulous book is both an inspiring and deeply practical aid to help you on that journey.

I highly recommend this book. It is proof of how seemingly different spiritualities can enrich each other, and for those of us who are drawn to both western and eastern paths, it’s a real gem!

Zen For Druids is now available on Moon Books for pre-order. 

Reblog: Anarchy and the End of Submission

Here is a reblog of my latest post on my channel at SageWoman Magazine for Witches and Pagans. To see the original post, clicke HERE.

Following an earth-based tradition such as Druidry is wonderfully empowering, and also beneficent to the whole, if we move beyond our self-centredness and work towards a life in service to our environment, the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. With such a tradition, there is no requirement for a belief in anything. There is no supernatural. There is only nature, glorious nature, right in front of our eyes. What we see, what we interpret with our senses, requires no belief, only a willingness to experience, to learn, to think and to create truly deep, inspiring relationships.

This sort of tradition, this sort of thinking, means that Druidry is different for each individual. What that also means is that we accept the experience of others within the tradition, and there is no right or wrong, per se, only interpretation and experience. There is no liturgy within Druidry. Yet we find it rooted in a landscape and in a culture, to which we can honour and learn from while making it work for us in an individual sense. Coming from a standpoint of no agreed standpoint, this can seem confusing and bewildering to some in the Druid tradition, and a source of great freedom for others.

The gods in Druidry are the gods of nature, both the natural world and of human nature (and beyond). They are forces of nature that without due respect, can kill, injure or destroy. Love, lust, rain, storm, wind, sun, snow, ice, war, birth, death: all of these are gods. Yet they are not gods to whom we bow down in some religious hierarchy. The gods of nature are those that we work with, together, in order to function properly in an ecosystem. There is no hierarchy in nature either; the concept of a food chain is a purely human invention to make humans feel superior, and therefore able to exploit, all life forms beneath them. The shark that swims with you in the ocean has another point of view on this so-called food chain. So does the flesh-eating virus, or the wildfire.

If we believe in some hierarchy, then we need to submit to an authority. The Druid knows that there is no authority in some uber-being above us. There are only the forces of nature that we work with, that we create relationship with, which we try to understand so that we may move through life in greater awareness and with more ease. If we submit to the forces of nature, we will perish. If we submit to the ocean, as my teacher Bobcat used to say, we will drown. There is no room for this sort of attitude within Druidry. It’s all about relationship.

Do the gods care for us? I have no idea. I’ve argued the case on both sides, and come to realise this year that I just don’t know anymore. And in that not knowing is glorious freedom. All I do know is that the rain falls, the sun shines, the moon orbit around the earth and pulls the seas with its circuit. Do any of these care? Does it matter if they do, or if they don’t? If it doesn’t matter, if we don’t need them to care, then we can just get on with the basic act of living. If we need them to care, then are we are searching for something outside of ourselves, for some sort of assurance that everything will be alright? As if seeking some form of parental nourishment, we may want someone to hold us, to take our hand, to fight the bad things and take them away. Or are we simply working with another force that has a holistic worldview, one that we aspire to, and seeks to work with us to create such a world? To give it yet another perspective, we might also want an authority to tell us what to do. In this regard, at least, the Druid knows differently.

We might pray or talk to the gods in order to try to understand a situation, but we know that they aren’t going to solve all our problems for us. We might work with the powers of earth, air, fire and water, or the realms of land, sea and sky to find out how we can re-enchant our lives with deeper meaning, but in the end how we live our lives is where the real magic and power of transformation lies, not with some external authority. Even if there is a benevolent source or deity watching after us, who cares about humanity, we can still do all that we can to make our own lives better with our own skills and experience first and foremost. We cannot leave it all up to some external force outside ourselves, for in doing so we release all sense of accountability and responsibility for our actions. We certainly don’t need more of that in the world today.

Anarchy is often seen as chaos, as a lack of organisation or structure. When we apply it to deep relationship with the world around us, however, the very basis of that relationship transforms the word into liberation from illusion. No longer are we held back by believing in a superior force, whether it is deity, the government or your boss at work. Instead, through real relationship we see how we work and live with these to create an ecosystem that is hopefully functional and sustainable. We do not seek authority in anything, but co-operation. Nature is our greatest teacher, and one to be respected, but not something to submit to in any sense.

We have to look to our own self-governance, governance of our very own self. We have to take personal responsibility for our actions, our thoughts, our words and our deeds. When we become aware of these things, we can then extend that self-governance to see how we can work in our own ecosystems without a hierarchal sense of authority, without judgement or power struggles. But we must first come to be at ease with our selves, to loosen the constraints of our own egos before we take it out into the wider world. Otherwise everything will still be about an assumed power, or level of authority that is not/cannot be questioned. We must question everything, first about ourselves, our beliefs, our attitudes, our lives and then about the rest of the world. In this, we become active members of an ecosystem, rather than passive passengers simply along for the ride. We work in co-operation with all other beings, for the benefit of the whole.

Anarchy requires us to think.

We may require or be in a position of leadership from time to time, and we understand that leadership is not equated to hierarchy. The flock of starlings move together, seeming as one, based upon the actions of one individual starling, dancing their mesmerising dance across the sky, showing off their skill, practicing their acrobatics against predation, revelling in the joy of being alive. The flock of geese is led by an individual at the front of the formation, but this position of leadership is always changing, allowing rest and an opportunity for others to take the lead. Where one goose becomes ill or injured, others will drop out of the flock to stay behind with it, until it either recovers or dies, and then re-join the flock as soon as it can. This is leadership without hierarchy, without authority. It is doing what needs to be done, without the games of power and control.

We know that not all sources of perceived power in this world share the same moral or ethical framework as we do. But if we take personal responsibility for our own selves, we can work for change and transformation on a personal and fundamental level over which we have absolute control. I will reiterate: personal responsibility. Not as a nation, not as a race, not as a species. We cannot dictate to others one way to do things, that our way is right, but rather accept responsibility for our own individual actions, our own time on this planet. We cannot simply follow unquestioningly what others say and do, think or behave, because we are intelligent, free-thinking individuals. There is no one way to do things, no one authority that we must submit to, no “one size fits all”. We honour the soul of every creature that we meet, and in doing so we also deeply learn the real value of co-operation, being active rather than passive. We learn to listen, to work with others, the art of compassion. We understand that cultural and societal influences may differ with regards to ethics and morality, and all that we can do is to work on being the best that we can personally be, living our truth and letting that be the example that needs to be set in the world today. Over that, and that only, do we have control.

Therein lies the true power of anarchy, and the end of submission.

Interview with Future Primitive

Here’s a link to my most recent interview with Future Primitive Podcasts from last week. I hope you enjoy!

Letting Nature Live Through Us – Click HERE for the full interview.