Escaping…

Right now, I’m in “book jail”, as Jhenah Telyndru so wonderfully describes it: when you are working so hard on a project, and it’s pretty much all that you can think about. I’m currently working on my 7th book, and this one’s a big one for Llewellyn Worldwide.  However, today I thought I would get out and check on the progress of autumn in my area, because before you know it, it will pass you by! Sometimes it’s just nice to do something different creatively, so…

Here are some of the moments, captured on camera.

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A quiet moment in the beech wood…

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A crow going to join his mates…

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This year’s youngling!

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A proud mama…

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The last of the heather…

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A majestic hawk…

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A moment with the Old Oak

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The incredible autumn skies…

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Going for a canter…

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Harvesting the carrots

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Respect and Conduct at Public Sacred Sites

When visiting a sacred site, we can get carried away. We can often forget that at public sacred sites there are others there who are on their own quest, pilgrimage, whatever. We want to rush in, to do the work, to perform ritual, to connect, to sing, chant and celebrate. But we have to think more carefully about shared space.

I recently went to the White Spring with my Druid College Year 3 apprentices. I adore the White Spring; it’s such a lovely site. However, after about 15 minutes various people and groups piled in to temple, and the words “Pagan Circus” comes to mind…

At one point, we had some Druids chanting the awen softly one corner. Lovely. But then another woman began singing in another corner. In a third corner, a man was standing and singing at the top of his lungs (which in that space is really, really loud). Trying to get away from all this noise, I made my way the quietest part of the Mirror Pool in the middle of the temple. I gazed into the water, slowly collecting my thoughts and meditating upon the sacred water, when suddenly three women, two naked and one clothed, clambered into the Mirror Pool, stood in the middle of it and held hands, performing some sort of ritual between themselves. Needless to say, my meditation was, by then, a hopeless cause.

We have so little opportunity to be who we are, especially at such sacred sites as the White Spring. But we also have to bear in mind that this is a public space. There are other Pagans there who are attempting to commune with the energies, the gods and goddesses, the spirits of place, and who don’t need others crashing in on their precious few minutes in that area. These sites are not a Pagan free-for-all. We must respect others and the place. You would never see a group of monks from an abbey in the south of France rock up to Ely Cathedral and suddenly perform Mass, or chant their evensong while the resident monks and visitors alike are doing their thing. We have to bear this in mind, that other people’s experiences are just as important and valid as our own.

And it’s not just Pagans visiting these spaces. The White Spring is open to everyone, from groups of nuns visiting from Spain to families from Yorkshire on a weekend getaway. There are very practical things we need to bear in mind at such places. For one, it’s still illegal to be naked in a public space. For another, not everyone wants to see naked people, for various reasons. Imagine the Catholic nun trying to connect with St Brigid, and then having a group of naked priestesses splashing her habit as they clamber in and out of the sacred pool (there is, indeed, a separate plunge pool for people to dip in, should they wish!). Imagine a primary school teacher asking the young girl what she did on the weekend, and her reply was “Daddy and I went to visit a spring, and watched naked ladies.”

Many of these sacred sites have special out of hours timings for those who wish to hold private ritual. Both Chalice Well and the White Spring offer this, and it should be borne in mind by those who wish to hold ritual at these sites. That way, you won’t be intruding on anyone’s time spent at these sites, or offend anyone who’s beliefs are not your own. It requires advance planning and commitment, but it’s not that hard. I’ve done it myself, and had private time at the White Spring to plunge my naked self in the icy waters with a couple of friends, or visited the Red Spring after closing hours.

Let’s bear in mind other people’s experiences, which are just as valid as our own. Let’s not turn our sacred sites into spaces of competing rituals and rites all happening at the same time. Let’s honour the sacredness of the site, and remember that it’s not just there for us. The energy of these spaces is not only for our own spiritual nourishment. We take, take, take all the time. Receive healing, inspiration and more at these sites, by all means. But remember to give back, by respecting the site, and other people visiting it.

Make it an enjoyable and memorable experience for all.

New work: Hedge Druid

So, I’m deep into writing my sixth book on Druidry. This is a full-length book with Llewellyn Publishing, which I am so honoured and excited to be working with now! I have a working title of “Beyond the Hedgerow: The World of the Hedge Druid” but that may change.  It’s nice to be able to sink my teeth into such a project, and I hope that it will be well received. Here’s a little sample from the introduction 🙂

Introduction

She walks towards the hedge, the boundary that separates the farmer’s field from the village, a line that runs down to a wooded area and the heathland beyond. When she reaches the hedge of hawthorn, blackthorn and dog rose, a triad of wild and native plants that hold ancient and special meaning, she smiles and reaches out to stroke a rose hip. The cool autumn breeze plays in her hair, whipping it around her face as the sun spills its light in waves across the landscape, the sky dotted with huge fluffy clouds. It is harvest time, when nature’s abundance is at its peak. She feels the strength of the ancestors flowing through her blood and bones, and hears their song in the wind. She says a quick prayer to the ancestors and blesses the land and the ongoing harvest, even as the sound of farm machinery floats upon the breeze.

She turns and follows the hedgerow down to the little woodland, a special place that bursts with bluebells in the spring. In this place she stands for a moment, utterly still, listening to the sounds of the spirits of place: the robins and blackbirds, a pheasant squawking, a hawk crying high overhead riding the thermals. This is the edge, where the hedge meets the wild, where the known meets the unknown, the civilised comes up against the wild. Here, at the edge, is the special place, the in-between place. This is where she belongs.

Inviting the power of the ancestors to flow through her, inviting the gods and goddesses that she loves, inviting the spirits of place to join with her intention, she turns three times anti-clockwise and sings. Once she has stopped, she knows that she walks between the worlds, that the Otherworld is all around her, and she can seek its wisdom and guidance, while testing her courage and her wits. Here she will find the answer to help her in her quest. Here she will find the inspiration, known to the Druids as awen. Here is where the magic happens.

Druidry is a deeply fulfilling earth-based spirituality. I have followed the Druid path for the last decade and more. Born a witch, I have followed a Pagan path for over twenty-five years now. I had always had the gift of prophetic dreams, of knowing more than is apparent in one’s actions or speech, and having a “way” with animals. I have always been slightly fey, different from others. Sensitive to noise and light, weather patterns and more means that I sought out different things growing up. I spent a lot of time in the forest and fields behind my home, preferring the company of the grazing horses and woodland creatures to most humans. I was able to do magic, though I did not know it for what it was at the time.

When I was in my late teens, I discovered Wicca. Here was a religion that made some sense to me, that honoured nature and had a goddess as well as a god. I studied and practiced Wicca as a solitary for many years, dedicating myself to the goddess Morrigan.

Time passed on, and I found myself travelling and living thousands of miles away from where I grew up. Feeling a bit lost, physically and emotionally, I was also spiritually bereft. I had no roots, and did not know how to find or put new ones down. I stopped practicing for a couple of years, not feeling quite at home with myself or my spirituality any longer.

That time passed, and I came across Druidry. It interested me, but mostly all I knew of Druids came from fantasy fiction novels that I had read. I had not studied the Celts in any great detail, though my patron goddess was Morrigan. I had felt a calling, but only half-answered it in my work and in my practice. And so I continued to drift, learning a touch more about Druidry but finding all the material dry and a little dull.

Then I found Buddhism, and Zen. My world found a sharp focus, and for a couple of years that was my sole path. It helped me to stop for a moment, to sit long and meditate, to know myself more and in doing so, learn more about others. I began to live with a bit more intention, instead of reaction. I visited sacred sites in England and Wales, and finally came to Glastonbury. There, at Chalice Well, I did not have the usual epiphany that many speak of, but rather came across a book in the gift shop that changed my life. The author was Emma Restall Orr, and her wild, muddy version of Druidry rang true to my soul. I read all her works, and then studied with her for a year while she was running courses in the beautiful Cotswolds countryside.

That’s when everything began to come together, both in my spiritual life and my practical life. I was the sum total of my experiences, but also more than that. I was a part of the web, part of an ecosystem and as such I had to give back for what I received. I had to be a functioning and intentional part of the weave of life. I found that I could blend all that I had learned throughout my life into my Druidry, and now it has led me to wonderful places where I feel that I am fulfilling a purpose. I’ve come to understand that the meaning of life is to give your life meaning.

And so here I am, sharing with you what I have learned. My learning has mostly been a solitary experience, therefore I call myself a Hedge Druid. I have been part of larger organisations, having studied with the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids and been a trustee for The Druid Network. I’m now the founder and director of Druid College UK, and am pretty much a full-time Druid. I’ve been blessed that I’m able to do this, with the support of my husband, my family and my friends. It’s been a long and sometimes difficult journey to get to where I am today, but I can honestly say that Druidry has changed my life.

The enchantment that I felt when I was younger, roaming the forests and fields has returned. I feel it all the time now; a feeling of connection and wonder. Every day is blessed. I’ve found that it’s the little things that matter. Watching the long shadows of the birch trees stretch across my back garden as the leaves flutter in the autumn breeze. Watching the sun or moon rise. Leaving offerings to the Fair Folk at the shrine near the bottom of the garden. A sense of returning to my core being has flowed back into my life. I know who I am and where I am going. It is contentment, though not without challenges. It is a deep sense of peace.

I hope to share with you in this work the inspiration and knowledge that I have received over the years. May you find the path rise to meet your feet, may you walk it with integrity and honour.

An áit a bhuil do chroí is ann a thabharfas do chosa thú.

(Your feet will bring you to where your heart is.)

Book reviews: *A Legacy of Druids* and *Fairycraft*

A-Legacy-of-Druids-coverA Legacy of Druids by Ellen Evert Hopman is a capsule held in time, with interviews by Druids from all over the world that were taken twenty years ago. It is interesting to hear their stories, especially from those people I know now, and whose perceptions have changed with the passage of time.

It’s not a book on how to be a Druid, but rather a conversation with an entire room full of them. You get to “work the room” so to speak in this volume, finding so many different personalities, histories and visions for the future. The foreward by Philip Carr-Gomm was perhaps the most interesting for me, and which coincided with my perception of Druidry as it is today. That this should be so is obvious; as a nature-based tradition, Druidry is always evolving, and here was have the proof that this is so.

Dynamics, schisms, traits, perspectives of different Druid traditions, with a lot of American vs British is reflected in the interviewees’ words. That these perceptions and their individual predictions for the future have changed over the last twenty years is, I think, a very good thing. With the popularity of the internet, dialogue has opened across vast oceans, with views being shared, references, academia, experiential gnosis and more. The divide between the two has lessened greatly, to the benefit of all.

Of course, I did not agree or resonate with the words of every Druid (or Druid friendly person) interviewed. Like being at a party, there are some people you want to hang out with and others that you don’t. But all of it is informative, in its raw, unedited state. You get real flavour of who that person was at that time, and what Druidry meant to them at that particular point in time.

A very interesting, and original work. I would love to see a modern version of this done, with as many of the same people in the original work, as well as new voices!

fairycraftI thoroughly enjoyed Morgan Daimler’s Fairycraft. This book is the follow-up to her Pagan Portals Fairy Witchcraft, and goes into deeper depth for this particular practice.

This book is extremely well-researched, and contains as well as a plethora of information, the author’s own experiences in the tradition. This down to earth practicality is what sets this book apart from others on the subject. It is divided into many sections, each with their own sub-section detailing the matter fully and capably. Not only do you learn fairy lore and customs, but this book also provides you with rituals and rites, prayers and holiday suggestions suited to one who wishes to honour or develop a deepening relationship with the fey, the sidhe, the gods and the ancestors.

Daimler’s writing is sincere and succinct, not overly flowery and not trying to impress, but rather expressing honestly what she has learned through her many years of experience in the tradition. I especially enjoyed the final portion of the book, entitled “Living Witchcraft”, for it gave me a deeper insight into the tradition and its practicalities, and also the author herself. I’ve enjoyed all of Daimler’s works, and look forward to reading more.

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!

Druid Magic

magic circleDruids aren’t associated with magic in the same way that other Pagan traditions, such as Wicca or Witchcraft seem to be.  Yet I’ve found that in every spiritual path, there are elements of magic contained within that are often very similar in nature.

What is Druid magic? Do Druids cast spells? Have magical tools? Do we think of Gandalf, brandishing his staff and saying mightily “You Shall Not Pass!” or his mushroom-addled fellow, Radagast, who lives in the woods, talks to animals and, according to the latest Hobbit films, has a rabbit-powered all-terrain sleigh and brings hedgehogs back from the dead?

Of course it’s none of these things. It would be pretty cool if it were. But Druid magic, like all magic, is subtler than what we see on the screen or read in books.  There isn’t lightning shooting from fingertips or fire balls sparking from one’s eyes.  In fact, many modern Druids don’t use magic at all, or don’t call it magic.

So what is magic? It has often been quoted these days as manipulating the natural forces of energy within nature to provide a desired result.  This could have many interpretations.  Flicking a switch and having my living room lit up at night could fall within this category, but I’m being a bit facetious. It is also often said that magic should be the last recourse after having tried all mundane means of solving a problem.  So how do Druids use magic, if at all?

There is a growing trend of blending Wicca and Druidry, as in Philip Carr-Gomm’s new book, Druidcraft.  This is a lovely way of expressing the divide between two very similar paths; kind of bridging the gap that lies between.  I thought the book, especially the audio book, was brilliant, and yet I’m still not one to perform spells on a regular basis.  Why is that?

As stated previously, magic is often the last recourse to a situation.  If all other means have been tried, and I’m plum run out of ideas, then I might turn to magic. I might equally turn to prayer. Praying for some guidance, asking the gods, the spirits, the ancestors for a little advice when I’m stuck could be called a spell – it could also be called a prayer.  Lighting a candle and some incense, meditating and then seeking some clarification or inspiration from the ancestors could indeed look like the workings of a magical spell. I think perhaps the difference is in the intention – in both magic and prayer, we are hoping for a result, but the results are often different.

In prayer, asking for the gods to solve a problem for us rarely, if ever, works in my own experience.  I prefer to ask them for inspiration on how to get through this, or my spirit guides on where to go to next in order to resolve and issue.  Casting a spell bypasses the question, in a way, and seeks to get an answer to a question not asked.  Perhaps this is why I resort to magic so little, I always like to ask the input of others to seek out different perspectives on a situation. Again, this is only my own personal views, and others may have other ways of both prayer and spell-casting that are vastly different to my own.

For me, as a Druid I am always questing the awen – for me, awen is the Grail.  Inspiration, flowing spirit – it is such a beautiful word from the Welsh language that has so many different meanings.  To me, awen is magic, though perhaps not in the spellcaster’s sense of the word.  It is energy, it is flowing, it is the Tao and The Force of the Jedi Knight.  It is something to be tapped into in order to gain a new perspective, to see the bigger picture, to obtain compassion. Awen is Buddhist enlightenment.  It is the Christian “God is Love”.

Instead of performing a magic spell, I might wander the heathland or forest, looking for inspiration around me. I might find a place to pray, using that inspiration to guide my prayers to better understanding of myself, the situation, the world.  When all other recourses have failed, then I might try magic – the last recourse.

I feel that magic is something special, something not to be abused or overused.  We often hear the term “god-bothering” and magic may indeed be another form of “bothering” – whether it is the elements, the energy of nature, or something else entirely. I feel that Druids on the whole would turn to awen rather than magic, but perhaps with the blending of Druidry and other traditions this could indeed change, or maybe even change back to the way Druidry used to be – who knows?

Perhaps my quest for awen is my magic.  Magic includes transformation, and questing the awen will indeed change someone.  None of the knights on the Grail quest were ever the same.  None who seek enlightenment will ever be the same person they were before. We are constantly changing anyways, living a life of impermanence and fluidity, of change and flux.

Perhaps just tapping into that idea is magic, is awen.

(Reblogged from my channel at SageWoman: http://www.witchesandpagans.com/SageWoman-Blogs/druid-magic.html)

Craft Names

Autumn SongWithin Druidry, and indeed in modern Paganism, it is usual to adopt a craft name within your tradition.  It is not necessary, and if you feel that you don’t need one, or one doesn’t appeal, then by all means forego the craft name. However, choosing a craft name, or having one bestowed upon you can enhance your connection to your tradition, if you allow it.

Craft names can provide an air of mystery and magic.  We can choose something that reflects our work, such as Oak Seeker, Coll (hazel, if working with ogham), or Pathfinder.  We can choose something that reflects a part of the environment that we love – Alder, Willow, Rain.  We can put two words together that express a deep part of our soul, or a deep love that we have, such as Gentle Bear, Running Horse, or my craft name – Autumn Song.  We can adopt names of the gods and goddesses that we love, such as Nehalennia, Freya, Lugh, Branwen, Rhiannon, Bridget.  There are also mythological names like Merlin, Morgan and Nimue that might strike a chord deep within our hearts.  We can even choose names from fantasy books that we love – Gandalf, Radagast, Arwen, Goldberry, Eomer, Eowyn, Faramir (all Lord of the Rings names).  What matters most is that our name expresses a deep part of our soul; that when we utter it, write it, exhale it into the twilight it means something to us, connects us to the awen.

You can inscribe your craft name upon your altar, or your tools. You can sign correspondence with it.  You may even change your name to your craft name if you feel that better reflects who you are.  I like having both names, as I can honour my two grandmothers for whom I am named after, and honour my tradition with my craft name. Besides, it took me long enough to learn how to write my own name, and I’m sticking to it…

We might choose our craft name, or we might be gifted it by another. We could meditate, commune with the local spirits of place, or deity, and ask that they bestow us a name. In some magical traditions, a craft name is given upon initiation into the tradition, or upon completion of various grades.  When working alone, we do not have to wait to have a name bestowed upon us – we can seek it out ourselves from whatever inspires us whenever we feel ready.  We can ask our ancestors, our spirit guides, even friends and family for ideas and inspiration.

Our craft names may also change with time.  As we grow and develop in our spirituality, we might find that we outgrow our name, and thereby be inspired to choose another that better suits our current work.  We can include our naming in ceremonies, whether it is our first time or our fifth time in choosing a craft name.  Taking on a name is not something to be done lightly, however.  It requires much thought and meditation if you wish for it to be important to your work.

Whatever name you choose, or however you decide to be named, honour that name with all that you are.  Find ways of being that reflect your name in deep and compassionate ways, working to create peace and harmony in your life and in all life around you.