Druid College UK are Crowdfunding for Scholarship Programme

At Druid College UK we are seeking people to help us create and sustain a scholarship programme, to enable those who wish to enroll but lack the funds to do so. At the moment we offer a discounted price for those on a low-income budget, but we only have a few places on the course where we are able to do this every year. With a scholarship programme, we would be able to extend this offer to many more people from all over the community who are seeking learning on their spiritual path.  Many of our students are also international students, and the travel expenses on top of the tuition fees can be a real challenge. So, if you can help us out by donating towards our scholarship programme, that would be greatly appreciated!

http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/druid-college-uk-scholarship-programme

Advertisements

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.

The Return

So today it is Canada Day, where back home everyone is celebrating their happiness in a country that is working towards a better future for all, under the leadership of a sincere and honest politician. (Yes, they do exist). Yesterday in my little village here on the edge of England, looking out over the North Sea towards Europe, someone had written racist slogans on the traffic signs and one For Sale sign. I stand on the shingle beach and weep for what has happened to this country.

And yet, Brighid, Brigantia, the goddess that is this land by whatever name, does she care? The wheat is still growing in the fields, the deer still bounding across the heath, the magpies chittering in the garden. The troubles of humanity, I wonder: do they affect her as well? When we finally manage to wipe ourselves off the planet, she will go on, regardless…

I return to my garden, and sit at my altar beneath the beech tree, the dryad spirit singing softly to me, reminding me to listen. And so I listen, to the wind through the leaves, to the blackbird singing, the chickens squawking down the road. I listen to the hum of the earth, the heartbeat of my lady. I release my fear, my anguish through my tears even as the rain falls, washing my face with its song. And I return to this place, to the songs all around me that are not the songs of humanity. I remember that I am part of a much bigger web.

My lady grabs me by the hand and whooshes me across this country, riding the dragon lines of her energy. I am at Avebury, where a ritual for peace is being held. I am at a lonely stone circle in Dartmoor, the heavy slate skies and thunder booming overhead. I am at the edge of Loch Lomond in Scotland, with the fey crowding all around me. I am at the edge of the Atlantic on the coast of Ireland, the waves crashing against the rocks.

I am then taken deep below the ground, through the sand and silt, through layers of rock. I am in the deepest darkness, where the hum and heartbeat of this little planet hurtling through space is strongest. And then suddenly I am thrown out into the sky, riding the winds and lost in perfect freedom. I am diving deep into the realm of the sea, where the songs of whales guide me towards peace.

And I am back in my garden, my breath coming hard, my eyes snapping open.

I am more than my species. I am more than my gender. I am more than my nationality. I am more than my politics.

And my lady smiles.

Tyranny and the Oak

Tyranny and the Oak

Yesterday when I came home from work and walked through my door, I nearly burst into tears. Only days after agreeing on climate change policies in Paris, the UK government approved fracking under our national parks. Yes, protected areas of natural beauty and wilderness are now open to being fracked, so long as it is started just outside the park boundary. What’s worse, and which isn’t being talked about so much, is that the government has a veto power to override any area that has said “no” to fracking. Standing in the porch, despair just settled in, as it doesn’t seem to matter what we do, what we say, or how we live our lives. Those in power who are trying to line their own pockets and those of their constituents will do what they like, regardless. What’s the point?

Later that evening, as I lay in bed, unable to sleep, I tried to look beyond the despair, to see the situation from another perspective. As a Druid, I considered where I take my inspiration, where my soul finds sustenance, where that deep relationship happens that enables me to carry on, day after day. Where does the Druid get inspiration from? The Druid’s authority is nature. Not the government, not humanity, but nature. Looking deeply into the natural world, we can see how we can be in the world, continuing in our quest to live with honour and integrity, to the best of our abilities.

I thought of the oak tree. Druid; dru, meaning oak, and wid, meaning wisdom. The wisdom of the oak. What was the wisdom of the oak that could help lift me out of this despair, to continue to live in a tyrannical country where the people’s voices are not heard?

The oak tree grows, from a little acorn, into the best tree that it can dependent upon the conditions of its environment. Whether the soil is poor or good, the weather favourable or not, the tree will grow to the best of its ability, fulfilling its potential as an oak tree, singing its song clearly. Sometimes the conditions are perfect; sometimes they lead to the demise of the tree but still the tree carries on as best it can. One of two oak trees that I love split in half a couple of years ago in a wind storm, and yet it still carries on, the fallen half only half alive, the other half continuing as if nothing had changed. It knows its purpose as an oak tree, to grow, to live, to be in its environment. There are several old oaks trees around here that have suffered greatly from past storms, old age and more. But still they carry on. They inspire me.

Yes, someone could cut them down tomorrow. That does not mean that they will not be the best oak trees they can be right now. That does not mean that they will not produce acorns in the fall, or drop their leaves to sustain them through winter and spring. It does not mean that they will not provide food and shelter for those living near them. The wisdom of the oak.

I will continue to do what I can. I will continue to give, to care, to follow my Druid’s inspiration, the wisdom of the oak. Even if I break, even if I fall, still the dru wid will carry me. I will continue to live my live utterly dedicated to my gods, the ancestors, and the natural world. I will continue to seek deep integration with the land, and let the example of how I live my life to be my song sung into the winter’s night, filled with gratitude and reverence. I will continue to see the many blessings, and work against those seek to use nature only as a resource, fulfilling their greedy and empty lives with the hollow intake of cash. The oak tree will whisper its wisdom, to carry on, to grow, wherever you have taken root, wherever life takes you, whatever condition you find yourself in. And if you do this, you do not fail, you cannot fail, for you have found the meaning of life.

Druid College, Year 1 this October!

HF2We’re getting all geared up for Year One this October at Druid College UK!

In Year One We will be looking at core principles and teachings of Druidry, Living with Honour, Rooting in the Earth, Working with the Ancestors, Animism and the Spirits of Place, Listening and Druid meditation, Awen and the cycle of creativity, Working with the Nemeton, Developing Authentic Relationship, Inspiration and the Poetic arts, Storytelling and cultural heritage, The Cycle of Life and the “Wheel of the Year”, Working with the Gods/Deity, Anarchism and the end of Submission, Emotions and “riding the energies”.

Your tutors are me (Joanna van der Hoeven) and Robin Herne, and there are still places available: for more information visit www.uk.druidcollege.org

The food debate

local greensThe ethics of food and diet is such a diverse and difficult topic to cover. For every ethical answer to a question, there are other equally valid ethical answers dependent upon differing circumstances, considerations and priorities. I have been a vegan for over a year now, and in the last month have been seriously reconsidering the ethical implications of my diet regarding the impact that I am having on the whole.

It’s easy to find statistics to back up pretty much any argument. It really depends on who is funding the research, for the most part. However, it is up to us personally to make out own choices, and to educate ourselves as best we can so that we make informed choices about our lives and the way we live them. I chose to be vegan because I thought that it was the most ethically environmentally sound option. However, now I’m not so sure.

The first thing to consider is food miles. Much of the vegan’s diet comes from lands thousands of miles away. The carbon footprint of air travel to bring these foods to the UK is considerable. The second thing to think about is what the growing of these crops is doing to these faraway lands and their people. Quinoa and rice are traditional crops for South America and China respectively, however, now that the West’s desire for these foods has grown the demand for growing them has increased drastically. This has caused the prices of these foods to soar, a lot of time to a level that the farmers themselves cannot afford to put what they grow onto their families’ plates. The third thing to think about is what effect these crops are having on the native land. As crops such as soy, rice, quinoa, lentils, etc are all grown “far away” we don’t really have an understanding of what it is doing to the land itself, as we don’t see it. Out of sight, out of mind. Soy is a great factor in the destruction of rainforest, whether through legal or illegal logging to create new monoculture crops. The monoculture crop itself has a great impact on the land as well – the earth loves and needs diversity. Monoculture is not sustainable, and susceptible to a great many attacks that a bio-diverse ecology would be able to fend off. There are hundreds of other factors to consider – these are just a few.

I’ve been studying permaculture these last few months, learning more about it and how it works. Working with the principles, it seems to me personally that the most ethical way that I can sustain myself it to eat local and organic, either growing my own or supporting those who do. I can check on what they claim, how they go about it as they are just down the road from me. What is happening is not happening thousands of miles away. I know that there are laws in place to protect people, land and animals. I feel like I have a little more control over my diet, knowing where it comes from, how it was grown, etc.

It’s not an easy choice. It requires a lot of research and investigation. It would be easier just to be vegan. I have to read food labels for everything. I have to check farms. I have to talk to neighbours and others in the village if I want to eat their surplus food. It requires an actual positive relationship with not only my food, but my environment.

We grow some of our own food, and will have a small vegetable garden this year. However, our garden is mostly a wildlife garden, dedicated to supporting birds, bees and other pollinating insects, hedgehogs, badgers and the occasional deer that come scrounging through. We decided not to grow the majority of our food, as there is an organic farm down the road that we would like to support instead. It’s their livelihood, and we want to ensure that it is as successful as can be. They grow organic crops, but also raise meat for livestock. It is an ethical consideration that must be taken into account.

Studying more and more about permaculture, I’ve found that I was quite ignorant about the keeping of livestock in small, organic flocks. Large scale industrial farming and monoculture crops are seriously threatening the earth, however, small scale flocks that are organic and actually benefit certain ecosystems, especially where crop growing isn’t a viable alternative. There are also ways to raise livestock alongside different crops that are beneficial to all involved – the very essence of permaculture.

While it’s beyond the scope of this blog to go into the details of permaculture, there are many good resources out there to find out more about the subject (see below).

So, after weighing the pros and cons of being vegan, I’ve decided to go local and organic, with a little dairy in the form of cheese from local farms and eggs from neighbours who keep and love their hens. It’s easy to just say that being vegan is the best thing for the planet, but it leaves out a lot of considerations for the planet that are perhaps “outside the box” in the usual arguments for making the switch.

As with everything, there is no black and white answer, no single answer to such a debate. All we can do is to enlighten ourselves with all the arguments, the pros and cons of each side, and make our own choices based upon what we know.

We also have to know that the choices we make are the choices WE make. We cannot make these choices for others. We cannot push our lifestyle on others. We can inform them of why we make the choices we do, but we cannot condemn them for the choice they make – we are not “better” for the choices we make. It is a trap that is easy to fall into, a sense of self-righteousness that we are definitely doing the right thing. No one really knows that the right thing is, really, or even if there is a right thing at all.

I remember being disappointed when my friend (and now Druid College colleague) Kevin made the switch to eating local meat that he had killed himself. I saw no need from my vegan perspective for the killing of another animal. Having spent time further researching the various implications of western diets on the rest of the world, I’ve changed my mind about his choice, and while I wouldn’t eat meat myself I applaud the well-researched and informed choice he made about Conscious Killing .

We all have to take responsibility for our lives. We have to walk our talk and work to make this world a better place for all, in any way that we can. We have to inform ourselves of the issues that our living has upon the rest of the planet. If like me you follow an earth-based religious or spiritual path, that is a major consideration and part of your path – otherwise why follow it at all?

I can say that after I made the switch two weeks ago (while still using up old foodstuffs like soy in the freezer) I feel a lot better physically. I feel like I have more energy. Whether this is because I’m eating food that hasn’t been treated for long world-wide journeys, eating food in season, eating local and organic I’m not sure – although I think that has a large part. I feel more connected to this land, its rhythms and cycles. So this will be the last month that I eat apples until end of August or beginning of September, providing that local UK apples will not be available in April (dependent upon quantities). There are even further issues that I need to look into, such as the amount of energy required to refrigerate apples throughout the winter from the various local farms. Spring greens in the form of soups are a staple this month. The nettles are growing in my garden – the perfect spring tonic. The sheep and goats are lactating – a new vintage of cheese will soon be available. Purple sprouting broccoli and artichokes will soon be out. Rhubarb is growing outside my conservatory, which will replace the apples in my baking and sauces. It makes the next variety of food available a real event, a real marker of the season.

Whatever your path, whatever your decision, I support you in making honourable choices for the benefit of the whole based on intelligent research and empathy for the land upon which you live. Talk to the gods, the ancestors and discuss these issues with them. Walk the land in reverence and find out how you can fit within that landscape with the least amount of impact. An earth-based tradition is all about relationship, whatever the path it is that we take. Let us take it right back to the earth in every shape and form, in every choice that we make.

What’s in season in the UK

The quinoa debate

Local and organic veg box scheme UK

The Earth Care Manual: A Permaculture Handbook for Britain and Other Temperate Climates