Our latest dances…

Last weekend we featured two new choreographies at The Winter Shimmyland Hafla run by Mystic Belly Dance. Our dance company, Gypsy Dreams Belly Dance, performed four routines, two of which are shared here. We have our full amateur troupe, Gypsy Dreams, and our professional troupe, Lilith Dreaming, with our two latest dances – hope you enjoy!

Reblog: The Winter Solstice – No Birth, No Death

This is a reblog from my site, Druidheart, at SageWoman’s channel on Witches and Pagans. To read the whole post, click HERE.

With the Winter Solstice approaching, and in the cold dark months of the year, we have an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the deeper parts of our existence, those shadowy elements that seem to fade away so easily in the heat of the midday sun, those thoughts that require darkness and the teaching that it can bring. Thoughts such as life and death, darkness and light and the cyclical nature of existence are all excellent themes to meditate on at this time of year, with a natural introspective element to this season allowing us to perhaps go further, deeper than we could or would in the warmer, more outwardly focusing half of the year.

This season, with the increasing darkness and the lack of light here in the UK brings more sharply into focus thoughts of death and dying. It is often said in Western Paganism that the Sun God dies at Samhain and is reborn at Yule, when the days begin to lengthen and the light in our lives is increased. However, lately my thoughts have abandoned the concept of death, as well as birth, into a more Zen-like “No Birth, No Death” frame of mind.

Having meditated on this for a couple of months now, and seeing it reflected in nature around me, as a Druid this is how I internalise the teachings. For me, nature is the greatest teacher. I look to no other authority other than nature. It is the core of my religion, the core of my being. Having looked deeply into the nature of death and dying, of birth and living the concept of no death, no birth makes a lot more sense to me right now. Let me explain…

To read the full post, click HERE.

Reblog: Welcoming the Light at the Spring Equinox

This is a reblog from my Druid Heart, at SageWoman’s channel on http://www.witchesandpagans.com:

The sun rises ever earlier, the days becoming longer. Soon the balance will tip, when the night gives way to the lengthening days. The spring equinox falls on March 20th this year, and after a very wet winter I am very much looking forward to it.

Watching the sun rise and set every day, honouring it with a short prayer and ritual gesture, I can attune myself to the cycles of the sun, of growing life and nourishing decay.  I honour the cycles of the moon, with ritual and spontaneous prayer upon seeing Her face.  Feeling these rhythms deep in my blood and bones, I also feel the shift as the equinox approaches. Similar to the autumn equinox,  I feel like we are on the edge of a knife, ready to be tipped over into a new cycle.

Unlike the autumn equinox, where all seems hushed, teetering on the precipice with dignity and solemnity, the spring equinox is filled with the songs of birds urging us to simply open our wings and fly into the great unknown.  Yet we must take that reaching towards the light as seriously as we take the descent into darkness, otherwise we could get burned. We must protect what we sow in the spring for it to reach fruition in the autumn…

To continue reading, please click HERE to see the full post. x

Reblog from SageWoman: The Darkness Within


Reblogged from my channel at SageWoman:http://www.witchesandpagans.com/Druid-Heart

The winter solstice is fast upon us, even though technically the shortest night has already been upon us (for a brain-thumping explanation, see http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2013/12/the-astronomical-hijinks-of-the-shortest-day-of-the-year/282109/).  Thoughts turn inwards at this time of year, when in the darkness we are confronted with our shadow selves, should we choose to face them.  We have the opportunity to learn more of ourselves, and in doing so, better serve not only ourselves but the world.

Performing a meditative journey, I met with my shadow self – that part of your self that you fear, that you loathe, that you don’t understand as well as those things that cause you pain, grief, rage, etc.  This confrontation was very interesting – my shadow self described to me all the things that she thought I was, as well as all the emotions that crippled me. She delighted in telling me them, it seemed – with each utterance she thought she had gained power over me.  The words hit me and reverberated throughout my body – I literally felt them, each and every one.  When she was done I was still standing, though shaky.

I knew that in order to gain some semblance of control, I needed to know her name and so I asked. She refused to tell me, delighting instead in playing games. I finally had enough of it all, and named her myself in words strong and full of intention – “You will not give me your name, and therefore I will name you myself. You are Joanna Alida van der Hoeven.”

She deflated, knowing that I had named her correctly.  “I know who you are,” I said.  “You are all that I fear to be, all that I have been in the past for good or ill and all that I might be in the future.  But you are merely a potential.  The past is gone, and I am not the same person I was then. The future has not happened yet, and so no one dictates that for me. In the present moment, I simply am who I am, free to be who I wish, decried by my words and deeds and actions.” I remembered the words to my favourite film, Jim Henson’s Labyrinth, and faced my shadow self, stating “You have no power over me”.

The encounter was over, and I had emerged tired but triumphant.  Haunted by some aspects of the past, I have realised that they do not dictate who I am now. The past is there to inform us so that we do not make the same mistakes again.  The past informs the present and the future.  We are not our past, just as we are not our future – we can only be who we are in this present moment.  Our lives are filled with potential for good and bad and we can either let fear dictate our actions and allow past mistakes to re-emerge, or we can accept it; we can own our mistakes and become simply the best people we can be at this moment in time.

I have had a mantra over the last few months, that when I question my motives, or feel fear or grief or rage, happiness or unhappiness, I ask myself this – “Whom does this serve?” Taken straight out of Grail mythology, this question is the one that must be asked upon directly viewing the Grail in order to heal the wounded Fisher King.  These four words contain so much power, and have so many different meanings.  It questions us to look deep within ourselves, but also to the greater world at large.  It deeply explores our intention, which to me is one of the greatest powers one can have both within Druidry and the world.  Intention is at the core of every action we make – but we must look deeply at the intention before we act, if possible, in order to ensure that our actions are honourable.

In the darkness, the shadow self has power.  What we are unaware of deep within our selves can control us in so many ways. We must learn to confront our shadow selves, to acknowledge them, to own our past and our mistakes, our fears and our grief, in order to tumble out towards the light once again, ever repeating this cycle even as the seasons change and the tides turn. The awen lies all around us within nature – all we have to do is open our eyes to see it.

(The journey meditation that I performed was part of a series contained in Jenah Telhyndru’s Avalon Within: A Sacred Journey of Myth, Mystery and Inner Wisdom.)

Blog image is from a quilt taken from The Free Motion Quilting Project: http://freemotionquilting.blogspot.co.uk/2010/05/shadow-self-part-2.html


Working with Kindness

Many religions and spiritualities the world over teach that kindness and compassion is the way to live your life in order the create harmony and peace not only for yourself, but for the rest of the world.  This is a form of service, which I think may be lacking in much of modern paganism.  It is in the service to others where we truly shine.  The Sisterhood of Avalon states it beautifully in a triad – service to the self, service to the Sisterhood and service to the Goddess.  Like most things, it starts from within and then spreads to the wider community and the world at large.  Sadly, perhaps due to the growing number of self-help books and various psychologies, this service tends to stop at the self.  Instant gratification in our capitalist society combined with living in relative ease can allow complacency in our lives and in our minds.  We can become grasping even, wanting to be healed, looking for that one thing or one person who will heal us, as we have been taught my marketing campaigns the world over.  Me, me me. I, I, I.

There seems to be a great need for healing in the world today.  Paganism embraces this healing with open arms, honouring it in all its various forms.  We are often told that we must first heal ourselves before we can heal others. In this, I very much agree.  It’s often the hardest thing to heal yourself – focusing on others is much easier than coming face to face with your own pain, grief, demons or shadow self.  However, we can become too engrossed in looking inwards that we forget to look outwards as well.  Too much self-awareness and not enough external awareness.  It can even border on or become egocentric.

The key here I believe lies in kindness.  Through these last few months, when the darkness of winter takes hold and we are gifted with the time and space to reflect, we can look at how we can be kind to ourselves.  This is the best thing we can do for ourselves in terms of our own healing.  It is easier to forgive others for hurting us, or causing us stress, grief or pain than it is to forgive ourselves for doing things that we regret.  Yet we must look at ourselves in the same light as we do others and be able to forgive ourselves in order to move the service from self to others, through the act of love and kindness.  This is our service to our self.

We have to be aware of our edges – we must create boundaries so that when we allow kindness to flow through us we have an awareness that not everyone will be kind in return.  This is not a shutting down or closing off of the soul to others – it is simply being prepared.  Like meeting a strange dog or cat for the first time, we are unsure as to how they will react, and so we proceed with caution.  We still show compassion and love and try to help them should they need it in any way possible. We will also do all that we can to prevent being bitten. This is our service to others.

I have been too open – I have not guarded my boundaries as well as I should have. I have loved freely and been bitten on the ass in return.  I have learned to use boundaries to let me help myself and to help others.  In Brian Froud’s latest faery oracle card deck, there is a card that I drew called The Lady of Faith.  She wears a helmet and shoulder armour, but her breast is bare of armour and she is leaning towards something with a hand to her heart.  This card shows that we must protect ourselves but still allow our hearts to move us in kindness and compassion.

I recently saw a documentary on Phil Robertson, of Duck Dynasty fame about how he transformed his life through his religion and coming to know God and Jesus.  While we may not share the same religious points of view we can agree that it all comes down to kindness.  He described when he was making a living fishing on the river and other “river rats” would come and steal from his nets.  After he had found Jesus, he worked with the idea of kindness and so, when he caught them stealing again, offered them the fish freely.  They took it and responded to his kindness by never stealing from him again.  Phil stated that he will act towards all things with kindness, but still carry a shotgun in case all things weren’t kind to him.

This is very similar to a Zen Buddhist story, where a monk is sitting and praying in his cave high on the mountaintop. A thief comes upon him and threatens him. The monk looks at the thief and states that if he wanted his possessions so badly, feeling he had to threaten and steal them, then he would freely give them if that was his need.  The thief left bewildered and the monk sat outside, looking up at the moon.  “If only I could have given him this beautiful moon”, he said. (Some argue that the monk should have done a Phil Roberston and had a shotgun as well, but that doesn’t fit in with the peaceful and non-violent ideals that the monk held to.)

Living to our ideals, exploring our shadow aspects (those aspects of the soul that we fear, that we loathe, that we deny) and giving back to the world results naturally in leading the way to the further service to the gods.  We dedicate our lives to kindness and compassion with full awareness and in doing so, reflect the true nature of not only our being, but of being.  For me, the gods that I follow all have an aspect of peace and kindness that we can find in their stories to inspire us along our own life’s journey.  Tyr, most often seen as a god of war and justice, to me also represents kindness to animals and loyalty as when he fed the wolf, Fenris, when no one else would.  Nehelennia, the goddess of the North Sea rages and leaves us with a fresh world – sometimes battered but ever inspired by the impermanence of all things.  Morrighan heals after the battles and rejuvenates after the blood is spilled.  Nemetona teaches of boundaries as well as love and peace.  In this I have dedicated myself to learning and being open to the awen of their songs.

Through coming into our own true potential, we are better able to serve ourselves, our community and our gods.  The key to it all is through kindness.  How very simple, how often this message had been repeated over thousands of years. How easy it is to forget in today’s society.  Yet when we open ourselves to the possibilities and let kindness lead us in our actions, peace and harmony are a natural result.

Looking inwards

“Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.” -Henry David Thoreau

As I have begun my journey into the descent of both the self and the dark half of the year, thoughts and feelings have arisen which require acknowledgement. It has often been said that those thoughts that we are unaware of, control us. Quite.

Just as we are not our jobs, our familial roles or any other singular label, so too are we not our past, nor our future. We can only be our present.  All too often I have beat myself up about what I have done in the past. After a couple of months of looking inwards and discovering these thought patterns, I have realised that I have to let go of what I thought of myself in the past.

In the past I have been selfish. In the past I have done things I am not proud of. However, that does not mean that I am selfish now, or that I will do these things again, now or in the future.  What happened does not define me in the present moment so much as inform me of how I got here. I am only the person I am now, typing up this blog post trying to make sense of the self and how it works.

It is a season for letting go and so, every time I have a thought on how I have failed, I remind myself that this was something that happened in the past and, in truth, is not who I am now. It is extremely liberating, and enables me to be the best person I can be right now, as opposed to living in destructive and judgemental behaviour about what I have done.  I can certainly be critical of things, looking at them with detachment and learning from it, however no condemnation can be made because it no longer exists.  Often in Zen we hear of teachers asking students who bring up past faults and issues “Yes, but where is this now?”  Baffled, the student cannot answer, for it does not exist in the present moment. They are memories and lessons learned. They existed in the past. They inform us of the future.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to lose that sense of self in order to be able to look inwards critically.  Putting aside the ego and simply seeing thoughts for what they are is extremely difficult. The ego jostles for attention at any possible chance, with thoughts of “I am this” or comparisons to other people, opinions on the world at large and a deep-seated fear of annihilation. When we put all these aside we are simply left with our own personal truth.

Reblog: Courage

Reblogged from my blog on SageWoman’s channel at Witches & Pagans: http://www.witchesandpagans.com

As the darkness approaches, I find myself thinking more and more about courage. What is courage? Personally, I think courage is so subjective – there is no one definition that would suit everyone. Yet I shall give it a go in any case.

The dictionary defines courage as: the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery. I would posit that courage is the quality of mind/spirit that enables a person to face difficulties, etc in spite of fear. It is just not true that the brave know no fear – I believe that they simply get on with it. There is no such thing as a fearless person, unless that person has not the mental capacity for it, having suffered physical brain or emotional trauma.

What causes fear? For the most part, fear is the unknown. As humans, we crave constancy, security. We’re not especially fond of change, at least in great quantities. We fear what we cannot see – many are afraid of the dark. Is this an instinctual fear, based on what could attack and eat us from the shadows? I had an experience a couple of weeks ago, in my own backyard, where I went to offer some food at my altar – a large dark shadow that was not usually there made me stop in my tracks. A bear, my first thought was. Then my brain worked through the processes of logic – there are no bears in Britain. I’m not in Canada anymore. What animal would be big enough to create this? A stag? Would he attack me in this, the rutting season? No, he couldn’t get through the hedge with his rack at this time of year… After going through these thought processes (which probably took less than a second) I simply stepped forward to investigate, and found it to be a large branch from the beech tree that came down in the high winds. I smiled at the brain’s way of dealing with it and made my offering, honouring the darkness and shadows as well.

Growing up in Canada, in bear country, you are taught to be afraid of large, dark shapes at night and early morning. You stay away from them. That learned behaviour has stayed with me even though I have lived in the UK since 1998.

So, what is the great thing about learned behaviour? It can be unlearned. My fear of the dark, of the unknown, can be investigated, experienced fully. Now, of course it is healthy to have a certain instinctual fear of large shadows in the dark, just in case I find myself alone in the woods when I get back to Canada for a visit. I can’t expect my brain to make these logical leaps in time to deal with the situation of a real bear being there – my brain would rightfully tell me to leg it. However, dealing with a fear of the unknown can be unlearned.

In new situations, I don’t have to automatically feel apprehension. I don’t have to worry. I don’t have to react. I can breathe, and work with what is actually happening at the moment, rather than living in the past or fast-forwarding to the future. In the present moment, we cannot know fear – we can only fear outcomes. When we are hurt, when we are in pain or in danger, if we are thinking in the future, “when will this stop!” then we are not in the present moment – we have given over to the future. Facing the current moment of pain, of danger, requires us to be totally present. This very easy to say, not so easy to do. Still, it is worth the effort, I think.

While working on this concept, in the meantime one can learn to live with the fear, in the form of taking on the notion of courage and running with it. Face the darkness in spite of your fears – they may only be tree branches anyway. Fear is a very human emotion, one that has kept us alive for millennia.

For me, fear is a god. Fear can be crippling, fear can drown us in its depths; it can suffocate us until we know no other escape. As such, fear can kill. Yet, like most gods, only in submission to these raw flows of energy would we risk death. By working with the flows, riding the currents of fear, developing a relationship with it, we can better understand it as well as its place in our lives, and the rest of the world. In the meantime, may all your shadows only be deadwood. You’ll only find out by checking it out, at any rate…