Druid Heart: Living a Druid Life

Living life from a Druid's perspective

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Joanna van der Hoeven

Joanna van der Hoeven

Author, poet, singer, dancer, blogger and activist, Joanna van der Hoeven (Autumn Song) is a Druid and Animist who honours the natural world around her and seeks to live with awareness and compassion. She has released five books, including Zen Druidry, Dancing With Nemetona and her latest - The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid.
www.joannavanderhoeven.com
https://twitter.com/JoannavanderH

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Hope

Hope can be a double-edged sword. It can lift our hearts, rally us towards a cause, or it can lead us to the depths of despair when it dies. I've often wondered whether it is better to have hope or not, whether hope is a carrot dangling in front of us, or whether it is that very real need to invest our emotions into the belief that we can change our world. Back in 2012, I wrote about the Zen approach, in a piece entitled "No Hope". The words that I wrote four years ago still resonate strongly within me, even as my relationship to hope has changed.

When we are at our lowest, we might still have some hope that things will get better. This hope may be the only thing that gets us through those long, dark nights of the soul. Then again, that hope may be what is preventing us from achieving things in our own right. Hope may cause complacency. If we work without hope, without expectation, then we may be even more motivated to make a positive change in the world in our own right, for the benefit of all.

With hope comes expectation. When we have expectations, we can be thrown against the rocks of frustration, anxiety, anger and despair when those expectations are not met, when things do not go the way that we would like them to. We want people to behave the way we think they should, for the benefit of all. We want our politicians to think of the people that they represent instead of their own agendas. We want colleagues to pull their own weight, spouses and partners to be there for us, children to love us. When things don't go according to our plans, or according to our expectations, we might crash and burn. We might dive into darkness at seeing a new President-elect, we might look at the environment and realise that perhaps we have simply gone too far, and there is no remedy for what we have done. When this happens, we can lose momentum, we can get stuck. Hope might be the thing that brings us out of this stagnation, or it might leave us altogether, so that we are in an even worse state than before.

So how do we work with hope? I've found it useful in the last couple of years to work with Hope as a god. I've worked with Time in the same context, and it has been illuminating for me in so many ways. Working with the gods, we learn to create a relationship with them, one that is nurturing for all involved. There is a give and take, a sustainable and reciprocal feeling to it that means that we cannot rely on them to do everything for us, and vice versa. It is in mutual respect where we meet, where we realise that we are part of an ecosystem, and where we need to strengthen the bonds of relationship so that it functions for mutual benefit. We learn from permaculture that diversity is key, that edges are where things happen. We learn to work with both, and in doing so can make this planet a better place. If we give up Hope in this context, if we give up Hope as deity, then there will be a very real feeling of bereavement in our lives; we will be bereft. That relationship will be gone, and when it is gone then to whom do we relate?

Others would say that this might be preferable, and in giving up Hope as deity we then become more self-reliant. But self-reliance is a myth. We are all co-dependent upon everything else on this planet. We do not exist in a vacuum. We need others in order to exist, let alone thrive. We are not separate. Without the innumerable other factors in our lives, beings seen and unseen, we simply could not be. I think that this is why I believe in the gods. The gods are all about relationship, about relating to our world through a means which is personal to each and every being. This is why I'm starting to work with Hope on a new level, when it seems perhaps that all hope is lost. Otherwise, I fear I might spiral into apathy, or depression. If I work with Hope, if I talk to Her and connect those threads of sustainable relationship, then I might be inspired to solve a problem, mend something that is broken, reweave the threads of connection in the best way that I can.

Hope can be the spark of inspiration, the awen that sings to us in the dead of night when all seems lost. Hope can also be a force that keeps us from changing our lives for the better, hoping someone else, someone more powerful or intelligent will do it for us. But when we work with Hope as deity, then things begin to change. Hope will not save us from ourselves. But Hope may inspire us to do better, to be better, to be the change that we wish to see in the world.

Or so one can only Hope.

 

© Joanna van der Hoeven 2016

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid and author of several books, including the best-seller The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druidand her most recent release, Zen for Druids: A Further Guide to Integration, Compassion and Harmony with the Natural World. Find out more at www.joannavanderhoeven.com

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Songs of Samhain

The earth hums beneath our feet. There is an energy present, which we can become aware of in each and every moment.  It helps us to deepen our connection to the earth, to the land, to the ancestors and the spirits of place.  Those who have walked this land before, whose bones and blood, leaves and wood, stones and pebbles make up this land, their energy is contained within.  So too are the energies of wind and rain, of sunlight, starlight and moonlight, shining down on us.  We are hurtling through space at infinite speeds, spinning in an endless cycle of birth and death. In that cosmic dance, there is energy, the push and pull of the planets and our nearest star, the dance of orbiting moons.  Open yourself to this energy, let it wash through your soul and awaken your heart to the wonder of the world.

The energy of the land may differ, depending on where we are in the world. Each land has its own unique signature, yet always contains similarities as well, for we share this planet and, deep at its core, is a heart of fire that is the spark of awen which we can tap into wherever we go.  Right here, right now, in this land of Suffolk, I can feel the energy of the land, feel it beneath my feet, place my hands upon the earth and connect with it. You too can practice this connection wherever you are, seeing how the energies differ, seeing how they are the same at various places.

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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.

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Lammas: Don't Fear the Reaper

The grain harvest is being collected in the fields around my home. The usually still and silent evening air is filled with the sound of combine harvesters, accentuated every now and then with the hoot of a tawny owl. Lammas is upon us.

Standing on a footpath that divides two large fields, one side filled with barley just reaped, the other with wheat standing pale golden in the sun, I raise my hands to the blue sky and give my thanks for all that nourishes us. I walk a ways into the cut field, the harsh stubs of barley amid the dry, sandy earth and place my hands upon the soil. Thank you for your blessing, may the land be nourished even as it nourishes us. Hail and thanks be to the goddess. I then move to stand on the edge of the wheat field, allowing its song of potential to flow through me. I brush the bent heads filled with seed and say another prayer of thanks. 

This is a wonderful time of year, when the songs of the ancestors flow through the rural heartlands of Britain.  Though the way we harvest is different, still there is that cycle of growth, of planting and harvesting. After the long hot days of midsummer, the lengthening evenings are welcome, bringing cooler air. Though the dog days may still lie ahead of us, there is something different in the air at this time of year.  The scents have changed, the leaves are dark green and heavy, the foliage beginning to choke out and fall back.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Thank you, Joanna. This is beautifully expressed. I really like your statement, expressed in other writings, that death is not the
  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven says #
    Hi Ted - thank you for your continued support. Yes, birth and death are an action, an event. Life is simply a constant flow of man
Anarchy and the End of Submission

Following an earth-based tradition such as Druidry is wonderfully empowering, and also beneficent to the whole, if we move beyond our self-centredness and work towards a life in service to our environment, the gods, the ancestors, the spirits of place. With such a tradition, there is no requirement for a belief in anything.  There is no supernatural. There is only nature, glorious nature, right in front of our eyes. What we see, what we interpret with our senses, requires no belief, only a willingness to experience, to learn, to think and to create truly deep, inspiring relationships.  

This sort of tradition, this sort of thinking, means that Druidry is different for each individual.  What that also means is that we accept the experience of others within the tradition, and there is no right or wrong, per se, only interpretation and experience. There is no liturgy within Druidry. Yet we find it rooted in a landscape and in a culture, to which we can honour and learn from while making it work for us in an individual sense. Coming from a standpoint of no agreed standpoint, this can seem confusing and bewildering to some in the Druid tradition, and a source of great freedom for others.  

The gods in Druidry are the gods of nature, both the natural world and of human nature (and beyond). They are forces of nature that without due respect, can kill, injure or destroy.  Love, lust, rain, storm, wind, sun, snow, ice, war, birth, death: all of these are gods.  Yet they are not gods to whom we bow down in some religious hierarchy. The gods of nature are those that we work with, together, in order to function properly in an ecosystem.  There is no hierarchy in nature either; the concept of a food chain is a purely human invention to make humans feel superior, and therefore able to exploit, all life forms beneath them.  The shark that swims with you in the ocean has another point of view on this so-called food chain. So does the flesh-eating virus, or the wildfire. 

If we believe in some hierarchy, then we need to submit to an authority. The Druid knows that there is no authority in some uber-being above us. There are only the forces of nature that we work with, that we create relationship with, which we try to understand so that we may move through life in greater awareness and with more ease.  If we submit to the forces of nature, we will perish. If we submit to the ocean, as my teacher Bobcat used to say, we will drown. There is no room for this sort of attitude within Druidry. It's all about relationship.  

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The Otherworld and the Sidhe (Shining Ones)

These past few months I’ve been working with the Otherworld and the Sidhe, trying to come to understand them from an experiential point of view rather than a mythological or academic perspective. We can read about it all we want, but the Otherworld must be experienced for it to be truly integrated into a particular tradition.

I’ve written previously about the Otherworld and the concept of duality last year on my other blog site as we approached Samhain, and have been pondering it ever since.  Preparing myself for a conscious encounter, so to speak.  I’ve encountered the Otherworld before, meeting beings on my wanderings out and about the landscape, but haven’t made a concentrated effort to really connect with them, whatever they may be and wherever they may originate.  I’ve had difficulty in the concept of an Otherworld, for to perceive a conscious split between this world and the Otherworld interferes with my ambition of pure integration. Or so I thought.

The premise that I am now leaning towards is not so much a separation between the Otherworld and this one, but more of an overlay, a deeper perceived reality than what we can experience with our physical and mental awareness when it lies half-dormant.  The Otherworld is this world as well, but on a deeper level.  It is a Deeperworld, where beings exist that require a deeper connection to the landscape than on a superficial level. Perhaps I was simply getting too caught up in the name, the Otherworld. For me, in my journey towards pure integration, there is no Other. 

The pitfalls of taking things too literally.

And so I made my journey to the nearest tumuli, a Celtic burial place that lies halfway between an old Celtic settlement and a ritual henge along the Suffolk coast. I had planned to meet with the Sidhe, those beings who dwell in the Otherworld and who can traverse the perceived realities between the worlds with greater ease than we can.  I had a friend come along to share in this Beltane ritual, and also to keep watch.  But the energy was not quite right, the timing was off.  The hawthorn had yet to bloom at the beginning of May, the weather was all over the place, sunshine one minute and hail the next.  As our ritual progressed on the hilltop next to the tumuli, a headache turned into a migraine that left me feeling really rather ill.  As I still persevered in my attempts to contact the Sidhe, the Shining Folk, my head pounded and I suddenly heard “Come back when the May is in bloom”.  And so we ended the ritual, strange energies swirling round our ritual site, the low clouds threatening, and made our way home.

A few weeks later, the hawthorn blossomed and I had my chance to get back to the tumuli. I originally had planned to spend the night there, but plans had changed, and so I was given only a couple hours grace to visit the site. Alone, I hiked there, the scent of the May blossom heady in the hedgerows.  As I approached the tumuli, walking through grazing sheep at the base of the hill, the warm sunshine opened out over the landscape and washed it with light, almost making everything sparkle with life.

I walked around the tumuli as I always do, past a small flock of beautiful black and white goats resting in the shade of an oak tree.  The energy around the site was calmer than the previous time, for which I was glad. It was more settled, but very strong, almost clear.  After circumventing the tumuli I walked to the top and sat down, simply breathing and attuning to the place, a squirrel  running through last year’s leaf fall, collecting nuts and acorns from his hidden caches.

When I felt fully connected with the landscape, not merely an observer or traveller to this land but a living, breathing, active and aware part of it, I placed my hands on the ground before me and let my soul sink into the soil, opening my nemeton to the spirits of place.  Almost instantly I felt a presence all around me, a small group of beings, three or four, standing in a circle looking at my form sitting on the earth, hands pressed to the ground. Not wanting to break the moment, I kept still, my eyes closed, and saw them with my mind rather than my physical senses.

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Trees as Teachers

The trees are almost in full leaf now, with only the ash and aspen yet to join in the greening. It's been an odd Spring, with the oak trees in leaf before the hawthorn has come into flower here in Suffolk.  Only now are the first blooms of the May tree coming out, and with it the signs that herald for me the coming season.  The warm days have certainly been a blessing, and the light rain that falls today is equally welcome after long hot days of full sunshine and cool sea breezes.

It's at this time of year that I am reminded of just how important trees are to me, not just in their life-giving properties but also in their spiritual presence.  The deciduous trees with their lush foliage always bring a smile to my face, and after a long winter of sleep to see the beech tree at the bottom of my garden joining in the party that the younger birch trees have started fills my heart with joy.  The grass is lush and green, and everything just feels so very much alive. I welcome the greening with all my heart and soul.

Trees are magnificent teachers. They are so much larger than we are, both spiritually and physically.  They remind us of what it means to live a life in service to the whole, to live a life filled with integration and harmony, sustainable and at peace. Trees teach us of communion and integration, both at the deep root levels of our soul and reaching out towards the heavens of our soul's awakening. They teach us of symmetry and asymmetry, of co-operation and anarchy.  They are a legion of souls across this land, swaying in the wind, living their intention and benefiting all those around them by doing so. There is no sense of "I" with a tree; rather, it can instigate a better sense of "You" (or "yew", pun intended).

When we develop a relationship with trees, we think about ourselves less, rather than think less of ourselves. We are reminded that we are a part of an ecosystem, that the ecology of our spirituality is all important to our everyday lives. This ecology is absolutely integral to who we are as a species, and part of a place and environment, as part of life on this planet. We cannot separate this ecology in any shape or form. It is in everything that we do.

We are not far removed from our cousins who still live in the trees. We're all just monkeys with car keys, after all.

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