White Mountain Druid Sanctuary (WMDS) is a Druid inspired Pagan site in Trout Lake, Washington. There aren’t many Pagan sites in the US and there are even fewer that have been created as a modern interpretation of ancient Indo-European customs and practices. WMDS was envisioned after years of study of ancient Celtic (Irish, Welsh, and Gaulish) archaeology, history, and religion and was built to honor the practices of Ár nDraíocht Féin: A Druid Fellowship (ADF), a Pagan church based on ancient Indo-European traditions expressed through public worship, study, and fellowship. WMDS was also built to re-imagine how the ancient peoples of Celtic Europe may have honored the world around them, the Land, and the Gods and Spirits.
PaganSquare is a community blog space where Pagans can discuss topics relevant to the life and spiritual practice of all Pagans.
2017 is going to be the year where hopefully the words “voluntary simplicity” will be embraced by a wider range of people. I know that I have been incorporating voluntary simplicity in my own life for many years now, and that there is still many more ways in which I can follow a simpler, more efficient and ecologically sustainable way of being in the world. To do so, I am constantly informing myself, being conscious and mindful, trying to look at the bigger picture and taking personal responsibility for the world that I am leaving to our ancestors of the future. Now more than ever, we are at the crucial tipping point where we have to look beyond our own self-interest and look to the whole, to be more holistic in everything that we do.
I have incorporated Zen and Buddhism into my life for many years. For me, this brings a wisdom from both Eastern and Western philosophies that can blend together to form a holistic worldview and way of life. I feel that East and West need each other in order to understand the whole. Only when we understand the material as well as the spiritual can we bring them together to live fully in the here and now.
It’s important that simplicity, in terms of reducing consumerism, resources and living a better, cleaner more sustainable life, is voluntarily chosen. When it is not, we come across such suffering as poverty. Many people in the world do not have a choice to reduce, reuse, to choose. Here in the West, many of us can make choices, however small, in our daily lives that strive towards a more sustainable future for everyone. Where we can, we should voluntarily make that choice, in order to preserve a future for humanity. In doing so, we will also achieve a higher quality of life, and be able to truly flourish as a species. We are at that balance point, if we haven’t already gone too far, to either evolve into a higher consciousness and have that reflected in our actions, to come together as we realise that there is more to bind us together than tear us apart, or we can fall into divisiveness, fighting each other over the few differences and destroying not only ourselves, but a large portion of life on this planet in our downfall.
But what is simplicity? It is living in harmony with the world. Druidry is all about relationship, and this is also at the heart of simplicity. It is egalitarian. It sees through the illusions created by modern-day culture and society, the need to consume, the distractions of the media. It is about seeing what is really important in life: your family, your friends, your local environment. It is about living sustainably, so that our children and their children, as well as all the planet’s children, both human and non-human, have a good quality of life. It is about learning what is enough, rather than striving for more.
While writing up my notes on an "Ethical Leadership" presentation for our next weekend of Druid College, I've mused over issues regarding power and working with others. Unless you are a solitary hermit, you will have to work with others. There will be a barrage of egos, wounded or whole, with which to interact. Fragile or strong, dealing with other human beings is not necessarily the easiest of tasks. Even though we may speak the same language, we might not be able to communicate with them at all, whereas we may not speak "cat", but can understand what a cat is trying to tell us. When working with others, we have to let go of notions of "power over", as activist and author Starhawk has written about, and instead work on "power with". In her book, Truth or Dare: Encounters with Power, Authority and Mystery, she distinguishes three types of power: “power-over,” referring to domination and control; “power-from-within,” meaning personal ability and spiritual integrity; and “power-with,” pertaining to social power or influence among equals.
Power-over is all about control. It is firmly rooted in a wounded ego, that seeks to dominate another in order to feel better. For whatever reason, and there are many, many reasons why people behave the way they do, this seems to be the standard view of power in the Western world. In our capitalist society, in our dog-eat-dog world, we seek power-over another in order to get our way. What we need to desperately do is extract ourselves from this way of thinking, and into a more holistic view where we are not only looking to benefit ourselves, but to benefit the whole, the entirety.
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
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.
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.
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.