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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Wild Things


I had an email this morning from a reader thanking me for my book, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid, which is always a lovely thing to hear - do write to authors you like and support them! - and who also had some very good questions, apprehensions and fears about walking the wilds of Maryland, USA, safely and as a Druid, in cougar and bear country.

I used to live in North Vancouver, and took precautions every time I went out into the wild. I always had a hunting knife, not only for defence, but also in case  I got lost, needed to make a fire, etc.  What sort of Pagan goes into cougar and bear-infested woods armed? A smart one! Not that we would want to use any weapons, but that we know that nature is not necessarily always working for the sole purpose of being kind to humanity. Nature has its own modus operandi, as we know, for we too are a part of that nature.

What I would recommend to anyone anxious about going out into the wilds, is to keep walking the same paths, get to know the area intimately, cougars, bears and all. Go prepared. Go armed, if you need to, and as per the laws of your country, state, province or county. Know how to use that weapon properly, and be aware of all the safety precautions necessary to carry such a thing responsibly. Our own claws and fangs have become pretty poor weapons of self-defence. And so we developed new ones.

Become a part of that landscape, not just a "tourist" but someone who is there every day, just as the birds and beetles are. The reader really wanted to meditate out in the wilds, but felt a great apprehension in doing so, quite rightly. The best thing would be to take someone with you, especially if you want to meditate in cougar country.  Having someone watch over you is a very good idea. I would imagine that if you can't get someone to come with you, then making a fire would keep many wild beasts away, but this isn't a failsafe method. Meditation is also not always something that detaches you from the world; you can try to meditate with your eyes open, awake and aware to everything around you. That is, indeed, a very Zen form of meditation! Or try a form of walking, wakeful meditation, where you are not so much of a "sitting duck", so to speak. The pagan author Starhawk in her book The Earth Path talks of walking out in nature with an open awareness, which is again another form of meditation that isn't a detachment from the world, but rather integration with it.  

Wild animals can always surprise us, by sheer accident and not necessarily by stalking us as a snack. For example, snakes always surprise me when I'm out walking. First glance always makes me jump! I live in adder country, here in the UK, and the adder is probably our most dangerous animal (being the only poisonous snake, and is usually stepped on by accident by people wearing flip-flops while walking out on the heathland - sigh). But when I encounter one, I simply take a couple of steps back, smile to myself and the snake, and find another way around. I look where I'm walking, awake and aware to any sunny spots on the path where they might be basking. I also wear good, sturdy hiking boots. I'm sure the snake felt exactly the same shock and surprise when a human nearly stepped on her, and is appreciative of the space that I gave her afterwards! They are such beautiful creatures.

I should hope that Druids are, above all, smart when out in the wild. That means taking every precaution when it comes to meeting wild animals, getting lost, etc. Far too many people believe that Druids wander about the forest barefoot, singing to squirrels and living in a Disney-esque fashion. But we know that isn't the case. Here in the UK, there are no predators for humans to fear anymore, and so we pretty much walk the wilds with impunity in the wild-animal department. Hypothermia or heatstroke can still kill us, and usually claims one or two people a year in this country. Yet we forget the dangers that others face out in the wilds of North America or mainland Europe when it comes to wildlife. When I see a large shape in the dark here while out and about at night, my first instinct still is to think "bear!" and then I remind myself that I'm in the UK, there are no bears. Relief, and a little sadness, wash through me.

I think a smart Pagan feels a little fear when out in the wilds. We are not separate from the natural world. Fear is a part of living, for every creature. That fear is a form of respect.

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid and author living in Suffolk, UK. Her works include the best-selling The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid, Zen Druidry: Living a Natural Life in Full Awareness, Dancing with Nemetona: A Druid's Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space, as well as the upcoming Zen For Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with Nature. For more information, please visit www.joannavanderhoeven.com.



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Tagged in: animal Druid fear nature wild
  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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