Hedge Riding: The Art of the Hedge Witch

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Book Review: The Salmon in the Spring

There are very few books out there that can blow open your mind and your soul, leaving you with an entirely new perception of the world in a deeper, more integrated way. Jason Kirkey's The Salmon in the Spring: The Ecology of Celtic Spirituality is one such book.

Paganism is usually described as an earth-based religion, but how does that translate into modern-day living? How, when we see every day the devastation that the human race is having on this planet can we live a spirituality rooted in reverence for the earth, when so many (even sometimes other Pagans) do not seem to respect it and only add to the detriment of the whole rather than establishing harmonious, beneficent and honourable relationship?

Kirkey eloquently considers this topic with a simplicity that not only explains in great detail the "why" and "how" of the situation, but also the means to solve the problems in our modern worldview that sees the earth as a resource, that uses it rather than establishes relationship with it. In modern society the individual is more important than the whole, and it is deeply embedded in our psychology, our economy, politics and in most aspects of our lives. Here we have an opportunity to return the soul to its natural state, to become whole again with the earth in finding our wild soul, our wild nature and learning reciprocity, relationship, integrity and integration.

Using Irish mythology as the springboard for a new way of living, for a new perception on how to live, Kirkey introduces the concept of the Súil Milldagach, the Formorian champion Balor's 'evil eye'.  Kirkey states that we are embedded in a society that only perceives with Súil Milldagach, a gaze that consumes and destroys everything.  In this work Kirkey views it as the shadow of the repressed ecological unconscious, brought to life by industrial society or The Formorian eye, where everything is held within a worldview of destructive behaviour.  The other side of the coin to the Súil Milldagach is the Tuatha Dé Danann Vision, a vison of the world wherein our perception is held in tune with nature and embedded in sound ecological living. It is a deep ecological perception that allows us to relate to our natural world, expressing our soul songs on every level while not destroying the land around us, working to maintain the whole while at the same time living out our own natural purpose, whether individual or collective. Kirkey states that it is our task today to shift from the Formorian Eye or the Súil Milldagach to the Tuatha Dé Danann Vision, or rather changing a culture from one which is "intent on shaping nature to suit it into a culture who, surrendering to it, would let nature shape it".  It is the difference between a culture of control and a culture of communion or relationship.

As a species we must re-establish a co-operative way of being in the world.  By making nature "other" or apart from the human race we have already begun the long descent into separation based upon what is essentially an illusion.  We are of the earth and are a reflection of the planet. The planet is within us and reflected in our actions.  All too sadly, we've lost that connection to the whole through mental abstractions, allowing destructive behaviour to thrive in the relentless pursuit of being better off.  "It is only by co-operating with the community that an organism can become fit. Nature knows this well. The human species is just beginning to learn the consequences of our non-co-operative actions, which place a higher value on the human enterprise than on the Earth system which makes that enterprise possible". Looking to Celtic spirituality and Brehon law, Kirkey advocates a hospitality towards the earth that involves a reciprocal relationship based on what the whole has to gain, rather than the individual. Otherwise, there can be no reciprocity, no true relationship.

In over the twenty years I have experienced life as a defined Pagan, the hardest issue I have had to deal with is my own humanity.  The guilt and shame of being human has haunted me in everything that I do, when faced with the destruction our species has caused wholesale upon this planet, our home.  It was a very difficult hurdle to overcome, to work in the world with this albatross around my neck, but in this book Kirkey lifts the veil once again, another veil of separation that I had clothed myself with in feeling ashamed for my species. For humans are a part of the earth, and there is no separation. I had spoken of that many times, written about it, but still felt a deep guilt for being human. What Kirkey offers is a freedom, in that it is perfectly okay to be human, to be of the earth: humus.  It is the expression of our soul made form. What we do, our actions and their consequences are of utmost importance, but simply by virtue of being human it does not imply a sin or separation from the whole.  "To be human is to be essentially integrated into the Earth - anything less and we are alienated not only from the ecological world but from our interior nature as well… If ever we have doubts about the viability and fitness of the human being, we need only remind ourselves that at base we remain untarnished Earth, immaculate as morning dew."  Here, Kirkey has offered me a great, blessed gift: hope.

Kirkey explores such difficult subjects such as soul, animism, and nature with such simplicity that it is clear he has spent much time meditating upon these subjects, and has the talent and wit to express is clearly, honestly and with a simplicity akin to a Zen Buddhist monk.  Take for example his definition of the soul: "The soul is the ecological reality of self-nature. It is an ecological reality because is only becomes visible and embodied through a relational exchange with the more-than-human world. It is also, however, deeply personal, meaning that we are each diverse and unique 'breaths' associated with the larger, more continuous nature of the wild soul."  Brilliant.

I have written elsewhere about the Otherworld, and how it is not separate from this world, despite our naming it as "other".  My perception is that there is no "other" in any shape or form, stemmed from my Buddhist tendencies and pantheistic viewpoint. We cannot throw trash "away"; there is no "away".  When we die, there is nowhere else to go - we are all still here, but changed in form.  Transformation is the expression of the universe. Kirkey similarly describes the Otherworld as a change in perception, when we are able to see more than our own ego-centric or anthropocentric view.  "Look at it directly and it vanishes. It is something to relax into, rather than something to possess or behold - a dimension of perception, not a discrete place.  The Otherworld is the soul of the world, the interior subjective depths of the cosmos where world and psyche are one in a seamless unity of being."

I could go on and on relating how Kirkey's perceptions in this wonderful book have helped to change mine, but really I would advocate seeking out this treasure and reading it for yourself.  There is so much material presented here, but in such as accessible way that it is almost impossible to put down, for you will have an epiphany at almost every chapter, or, like me, will be nodding your head like some toy dog in the back of someone's car with each passing paragraph.

There are not many writers out there like Kirkey.  Emma Restall Orr comes close, but her latest work  The Wakeful World is, for me, too heavily loaded with the psychologies and theories of the great thinkers - brilliant if you are into studying Calvinism, or Plato, Jung or Wittgenstein but you can get lost in the point Orr is often trying to make, overwhelmed as you may be by all the material. In this work, you will find concise and eloquent descriptions of difficult subjects that may take Orr hundreds of pages to summarise. It is accessible to academics and spiritual-seekers alike.

Kirkey takes some of the old Celtic tales and shows us how they relate to modern living, how they still have a viable expression and a lesson to be learned.  He doesn't just talk about living an earth-based spirituality, but shows you just how to do it. If you are interested in anything Celtic, get this book now. It is an innovative and bold work that offers you a new perception and can change your life. I know it has changed mine.

To find out more about Jason Kirkey and his work, please visit jasonkirkey.com.


Joanna van der Hoeven is the author of several books on Druidry, including The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid and Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life in Full Awareness. To find out more visit www.joannavanderhoeven.com.

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  Joanna van der Hoeven is a Hedge Witch, Druid, and a best-selling author. She has been working in Pagan traditions for over 20 years. 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.  


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