Hedge Riding: The Art of the Hedge Witch

Bringing the Hedge back into Hedge Witchcraft, working with liminal spaces and the Otherworld

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The Coolest Kids on the Playground

There is a favourite saying of mine, "You do not have to blow out someone else's candle for yours to burn more brightly".  Sadly, it seems that in our modern society, this is the way things "work". 

Watch a political debate. It's just tossing around attempts to besmirch the other party, rather than actually getting things done. It's infuriating. Sound bites on the news are all about how another party is crap, and theirs is better, without actually talking about the issue at hand. 

See what happens on a school playground.  Those who are different, who don't fit in with the popular kids, are usually pushed around or gossiped/rumour mongered by those who are a part of the elite popular gang. I have no idea why it happens, but it happened over thirty years ago when I was in elementary and high school, it happens now and it will happen in the future, most likely. I don't know if kids learn this from their parents, or television, or society - all I know is that kids can be cruel.

Even in Pagan circles, people put down or condemn others for various reasons: the "newbie", the "fluffy bunny", the rival coven, hearth or Order.  All it comes down to, basically, is this playground mentality.  Some people never got out of it. Even the most intelligent, articulate person can fall back into this frame of mind, to make themselves feel better.

This is not to say that we shouldn't look critically at others' behaviour, and especially our own.  What I am trying to say is that we do not need to belittle anyone whose path may be different from our own.

I have known some popular Pagan leaders to put down other Pagans in front of their own group. This always leaves me with a bad feeling in my mouth - it is utterly distasteful.  It does a disservice to everyone involved. Even the most militant, ethically-minded person I know has failed in this regard on at least one occasion, shuddering at the thought of once belonging to another group and verbally putting them down in front of a gathering of about a dozen individuals.  This shocked me, but then I realised that we are all human, and we all have failings. We can all regress to the playground.  

We may not be on the same path that we were on twenty years ago. However, that does not invalidate the meaning that path had for us or the lessons we learned, at the very least.  We may feel that we have "spiritually progressed" from such nonsense. Yet I hate it when people think this way - is there even such thing as spiritual progression? If so, is it a competition, as some would have it? Are we better than others for being in a different place right now, further along the spiritual ladder?

The notion of this ladder is utterly absurd to me.  There are "newbies" on the Pagan path with a far greater understanding of the world than some of the most popular Pagan leaders.  I have often come across children who are far wiser than adults in my lifetime, and I do not disregard what children say simply because of their age or their experiences. Every experience is relevant to the person involved, and we should respect that, whatever they social status, age, spiritual path, etc.

My path has changed over the years, but I feel no need to disrespect the roads that got me to where I am today.  I began as a solitary Wiccan, brought up on Scott Cunningham's books.  These beautiful, simple books were a great starting point for my path, and are still a great foundation, even if what I do nowadays is vastly different.  I have found different teachers, groups and Orders, and each one had something to teach me, even if it was the simple fact that it wasn't the right path for me.  I would never disregard another's spirituality or path simply because "I have so moved on from there".   Who the heck am I to even say such a thing?

There is a great need to feed the ego, with its constant grasping for attention, for adulation, for its right to existence.  We need to stop feeding it so much, and to see that we are all on a journey somewhere.  It's not a race. It's not a ladder. It's a path that twists and turns, that runs through the forest into darkened groves and bright sunlit glades, rotting swamps and laughing riverbanks.  We cannot be further along the path than anyone else, for we're all walking different paths, albeit perhaps in the same forest.

We can be critical of the behaviour of others in a positive way, without belittling them if we think that what they are doing is wrong. We can stand up for what we believe in morally and ethically.  We can do so with intelligence and with respect.

We do not need to resort to being the coolest kids on the playground.

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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.  


  • Thesseli
    Thesseli Wednesday, 03 September 2014

    Good to see someone pointing this out.

  • Daniel Papworth
    Daniel Papworth Thursday, 04 September 2014

    Strong resonances in my own (Christ) tradition with this post. "Then he took a little child and put it among them; and...said to them, “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.” (Gospel of Mark, chapter 9, verses 36-37)

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Thursday, 04 September 2014

    Excellently put. Whenever I encounter an arrogant Religionist who belittles others - both their intelligence and the depth of their commitment - simply because their different lives led them to form beliefs different from his own, I wonder what gives him the right to do that. I like your metaphor of walking different paths through the same forest.

  • Sebastian Lokason
    Sebastian Lokason Thursday, 04 September 2014

    Very well said, thank you.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Friday, 05 September 2014

    Thank you all so much for your kind words. x

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