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Paths Blogs

Specific paths such as Heathenism, blended traditions, polytheist reconstructionism, etc.

New book now available for pre-order!

I have a new book coming out in March 2025! The Old Ways: A Hedge Witch's Guide to Living A Magical Life.

This is the perfect companion piece to The Path of the Hedge Witch: Simple, Natural Magic and the Art of Hedge Riding. It is more of an intermediate level book, but can be useful for anyone interested in Hedge Witchcraft. 

It is now available for pre-order on Amazon. Here are the links:

Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Old-Ways-Witchs-Living-Magical/dp/0738775517/ 

Amazon Canada: https://www.amazon.ca/Old-Ways-Witchs-Living-Magical/dp/0738775517/ (may take a few more days to get the pre-order link on there)

Amazon US: https://www.amazon.com/Old-Ways-Witchs-Living-Magical/dp/0738775517/

It is coming out 10 March 2025 in the US, and 31 March in the UK (kindle versions may arrive sooner). So, here's looking forward to March, 2025!

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Joanna van der Hoeven is the author many books, including the upcoming The Old Ways: A Hedge Witch's Guide to Living A Magical Life (out in March 2025), The Path of the Hedge Witch: Simple, Natural Magic and the Art of Hedge Riding, as well as The Book of Hedge Druidry: A Complete Guide for the Solitary Seeker. Find out more through her website at www.joannavanderhoeven.com

 

 

 

 

 

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The Sanctity of Beauty

Spirit of Beauty, that doth consecrate
With thine own hues all thou dost shine upon
Of human thought or form, - where art thou gone?

- Percy Bysshe Shelley



When we awaken to the call of beauty, we become aware of new ways of being in the world. We were created to be creators. At its deepest heart, creativity is meant to serve and evoke beauty. When this desire and capacity come alive, new wells spring up in parched ground; difficulty becomes invitation and rather than striving against the grain of our nature, we fall into rhythm with its deepest urgency and passion. The time is now ripe for beauty to surprise and liberate us.

- John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace



Why is everything so ugly now? So much music, “art”, architecture and popular culture is now seemingly purposely being as ugly and grotesque as possible. Aesthetic seems to have been assassinated, not only in this new century but especially in this decade. I recently read it referred to as “aesthetic terrorism”, and that is a very apt term. People used to want to be as beautiful as possible, they wanted their homes and clothes and cars and everything to be beautiful. Now people seem to be trying to make things as ugly and cold and empty as they possibly can.

So much modern “art” (already hard pressed to be called art in my opinion) has taken an even sicklier turn and apparently now the most random, huge, rough block of stone can be considered art. A salt and pepper shaker filled with water are displayed in a case at a nearby museum and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. We have gone from the Birth of Venus and Michelangelo’s David to salt and pepper shakers filled with water, something that shouldn’t exist anywhere outside of a diner dishwasher. Art is now even a target for climate protesters who think they’re making some kind of righteous statement.

But art, the beautiful, the aesthetic, is all sacred. It is what we should strive for, not self-mutilation or purposeful destruction or “uglification”. How are we to bear this life, the human condition, without beauty? Many will say that “beauty is in the eye of the beholder”, but that platitude only goes so far. There will always be a majority consensus and if something drifts too far down an extreme spectrum, there will be but few beholders who will really see any beauty, or they will pretend to in a case of the emperor’s new clothes. We have a distinct pandemic of this in our society.

If you are unfamiliar with the Brothers’ Grimm tale of the Emperor’s New Clothes, here it is.

Once upon a time, there was a wealthy king who was so proud of his appearance and his clothes that he spent all his time changing outfits and gazing in the mirror. One day, two clever swindlers came along, claiming to be tailors and promising him the finest clothes in the kingdom. But these clothes had magic powers, and were invisible to anyone unfit for their position or "hopelessly stupid."

The king
wanted not only the finest clothes he could get, but this would make it very easy to see who in his court didn’t deserve to be there! He paid them a great deal of money, and they pretended to make him the clothes. But there was no thread on their looms. They made a grand show of measuring, cutting, and stitching invisible fabric and fitting the emperor in front of his grand mirror.

The king was troubled that he couldn’t see any clothes! “Surely I am not hopeless
ly stupid! Surely I am not unfit to be king!” he thought. So he nodded and beamed at the “tailors”, playing along and saying how very beautiful the embroidered fabric was.

When the king paraded around in his new "clothes," everyone pretended to see them, praising their beauty, for they were all terrified of being dismissed or being seen for the cretins they were. All except for a little child who spoke up and said, "But he isn't wearing anything at all!"
Slowly the others had to agree, and one-by-one they stood up and bravely declared, “He isn’t wearing anything! He’s completely naked!”

And the proud king could only rush back into his palace and hide himself in shame, the clever swindlers and his money long gone.


So now people see the rich and famous, the spectacles, the flamboyant, the insecure over-compensators, the exhibitionists, the pop stars, the actors at the Met Gala, contestants on Eurovision, and they praise and admire, and usually they know not even what.

Most artists and performers have become little more than shock jockeys, seeing how far they can go, how ridiculous they can look, how much attention they can get. People, particularly the rich and famous, have always wanted attention but now, it’s not being done with beauty, like it used to be. It’s done with ugliness. Ugliness of all kinds and on all levels. Ugliness that so many people can’t even see because they have been so brainwashed and are so afraid of “not fitting in” or “not being liked”.

This ugliness is a manifestation of what is festering inside our society and in each of us. Art is often a reflection of the contemporary world and ours is, face it, pretty damn ugly these days. So while artists have choices, perhaps it is not that much of a surprise that so much art is so downright ugly now. And so many artists and others
still try to have the intellectual debate, “What is art? What makes art? Does art have to be beautiful? Can anything be art?” I can answer that last one at least. No, not anything can be art and not anything should be called art.

But art and aesthetic will not improve until people improve. It is a reflection of us, what we are creating is a reflection of who we are. And apparently most of us
these days are very ugly, very confused, very angry and hateful and very disconnected. Art imitates life, but life, in turn, also imitates art. This cycle needs to be one of beauty, but now it is not.

In a sense, all the contemporary crises can be reduced to a crisis about the nature of beauty….Perhaps, for the first time, we gain a clear view of how much ugliness we endure and allow. The media generate relentless images of mediocrity and ugliness in talk-shows, tapestries of smothered language and frenetic gratification. The media are becoming the global mirror and these shows tend to enshrine the ugly as the normal standard

- John O’Donohue,
Beauty: The Invisible Embrace


A
n excellent example of a mind-boggling piece of modern art is the new official portrait of King Charles III, in which only his face and hands are very clear and the whole piece is absolutely bathed in a torrent of strange red. Just red, all over. I don’t get the impression that this artist likes or respects Charles, yet somehow this is the piece that got commissioned and approved. I don’t know why. I can’t fathom it. But it’s almost like a visual “Freudian slip”; perhaps the desire by many for him to be “consumed by hellfire”, as some have described the look of the portrait, resulted in an accidental depiction of exactly that.
Particularly in a place, a palace in London, that is usually dripping in aesthetic, this new “art” is glaringly off brand.

But, again, perhaps this is very in step with our time. Hopefully the inevitability of ongoing change will bring us full circle and back to true beauty. Hopefully our continued moves toward entropy will birth a new and much better cycle. We must keep creating and we must keep aspiring to great heights, not new and dismal lows. Our well-being and our very survival depend on it.

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The Oracle of Water: Abyss

Keywords: Darkness, Mystery, Fear, the Unknown, the Unconscious Mind, Alien



The crushing abyss is a realm completely alien and all but completely inaccessible to humans. It’s an environment we can’t possibly survive in, but one that can teach us a lot about ourselves and the universe.

The Abyss represents the unknown, unseen, and unexplored aspects of ourselves and our psyche. It symbolizes the dark, mysterious, and often feared parts of our inner world. When the Abyss appears in a reading, it may indicate that you are being called to confront and explore your inner depths, including your fears, shadows, and unconscious patterns.

This card can also represent a need for transformation and rebirth. Just as the abyss is a vast, dark expanse that can also hold the potential for new life and discovery, you may be entering a period of profound change and growth. The Abyss can symbolize the dissolution of old patterns, beliefs, or identities, making way for new possibilities and perspectives.

The abyss is a strange, mysterious place that could easily pass for being on another planet. It literally is a whole other world that exists right alongside our light and air-filled world. It represents the unconscious mind, which is even deeper and less accessible than the subconscious. If cards like “Mist” and “Swamp” suggest shadow work, then Abyss represents even deeper and darker shadow work. It is frightening and uncertain, but necessary.

In a spiritual context, the Abyss can represent the void or the unknown aspects of the divine. It may indicate a need to surrender to the mysteries of the universe and trust in the unknown which is an inescapable part of life. The Abyss can also symbolize the collective unconscious, not just the individual, representing the shared human experiences and archetypes that lie beneath the surface of our conscious awareness.

Life is born and thrives even at the depths of the sea, below massive amounts of pressure and at the mouths of toxic thermal vents. There is always so much more that is so much deeper below the surface than we realize.




 

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What Makes A Good Ritual?

Sometimes it can be helpful to question the very basics of our tradition. Today, I want to take a look at ritual. What is the point of ritual, and what does good ritual require?

Ritual helps us to mark time, celebrate moments in time and connect us to the greater cycles of life around us. They can also serve to help us change our consciousness, so that we can better see and feel these moments and cycles.  Ritual consists of words and actions that are designed to create an emotional/spiritual response, such as connection to the seasons, to nature, to the earth, to the gods, etc.

Ritual is rather pointless unless it moves us. True, sometimes we are just not our very best witchy/druid/pagan selves, and we sometimes go through the motions in order to keep up our practice. But for ritual that requires connection, the most important part of it is the feeling, the emotion. We must feel the actions that we perform, and the words that we say. A little drama in ritual – the good kind – performed without overdoing it can lead to a change in consciousness and a change in the self. Because isn’t that what you came to do in ritual in the first place?

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Let there be light!

The Minoans were a Bronze Age people, so obviously they didn't have electric lights. So how did they light their living spaces?

With oil lamps.

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Why We Need to Stop Respecting Religion

Religion has, for far too long, been given carte blanche to run rampant throughout the world, throughout culture, society and government. Religion has been hiding behind a facade of infallibility; behind the notion that just because it is a religious belief, it must be inherently respected and protected. This needs to end NOW.

It is a very controversial thought, but it is high time for religion to stop getting the “respect” that it never, ever deserved. Do we even question why we “respect” everyone’s religious beliefs? Granted, not everyone, even (or especially) within religions, respects the other beliefs. This is plainly evident in wars like the Crusades and the never-ending conflicts in the Middle East, for example.

What is this fear that has kept too many people from really examining and critiquing religion the way it desperately needs to be? What is this fear that makes people think they can’t speak up against an injustice or atrocity just because it is under a banner of religion? It is especially
because certain actions are done in the name of religion that they should fall under the most scrutiny and should not ever be seen as beyond reproach. If there is or ever was one thing in human existence that is not beyond reproach, it is the poison that is religion.

Religious people are afflicted with what I call the Sundae Syndrome. Imagine the most beautiful, perfect ice cream sundae you can, with all your favorite toppings. You're about to dig in but right there in the middle, sticking out with it's antennae wiggling, is a huge cockroach. You would put the spoon down and walk away, wouldn't you? Or run.

Religious people just eat around the cockroach. They don't walk away. They don't say "Ew!" and ditch the sundae. They think, "Well, yes, the church has done some bad things in the past and some people in the church are very bad but the religion is good and I still want it!" But the cockroach is the religion. Not the sundae. Even if it were, you still don't want a sundae tainted by a roach, do you? The sundae is what the religion disguises itself in. But make no mistake, there is a big disgusting cockroach waiting for you in there.

If you never have before (or if you have), consider these questions -

1. Why do I have religious beliefs? Why do I believe what I believe?
2. Why do I respect other people’s religious beliefs, even the ones I disagree with?
3. Do I really think that all religious beliefs and practices should be protected? Why?
4. What am I so afraid of that keeps me not only believing what I believe, but keeps me respecting other beliefs?
5. What is it about a “religious belief” that makes me instantly think that it should be respected?


I don’t think that many people will have good answers to any of these questions, though surely the most self-righteous and virtue signaling will certainly think that they do. Ultimately it will just be a lot of grandeur, posturing and regurgitation of whatever has been fed to them in their ecclesiastical echo chambers.

The root of all evil in this world is not money, it is religion. Religion is the culprit at the center of all the hate and “isms” that are destroying the world – racism, sexism, xenophobia, the list goes on. Fears of the other, the different, the deviant. Hatred for the other, the different, the deviant.

Religion was made by men for men. We already know that this is a man’s world, that it is run by a crushing patriarchy, and religion is at the heart of that. So of course, no surprise that religion is also patriarchal. So men have allowed themselves to be brainwashed to believe, by religion, that they are above nature, above women, above all others who are not like them. This is one of the greatest, if not the greatest lie of humanity. What began as a way to cope with our mortality and the harder aspects of the human experience became a simple way to control people.

There has been no real separation of church and state, though one is desperately needed. In fact, the church and religion were originally created by the “state” for the purpose of controlling the masses and exploiting them. Religion is built upon a foundation of control and it’s main tools are fear and guilt. Religion
creates fear and guilt in people in order to control them.

The notion that religion just demands automatic respect is so out of control that a non-religious person gets shamed for not bowing their head while grace is being said. In a “Miss Manners" advice letter, the writer relates that they were at a relative’s house for dinner and that they did not bow their head during the blessing, for which they were chided by their sister after the meal.

The religious believe that they are so entitled to so much “respect” and coddling that they do not even consider the beliefs, feelings or comfort of others. This is just the tip of the iceberg that is religious hypocrisy. If you do not practice or believe in something, there is no requirement to respect it. If anything, hospitality demands that guests be as comfortable as possible, and if your guest is not comfortable participating in “saying grace” then that is what should be respected. No, contrary to how Miss Manners responded, one does not have to participate in or even respect the religious beliefs of others, not even when in their home.

Do not misunderstand, this does not mean one should stand up and denounce another’s beliefs right in their own home. Not respecting something doesn’t mean that you go full tilt and attack it. But it does mean that you don’t have to participate in any measure if you don’t want to. Unfortunately autonomy is not something the religious understand.

Why are the beliefs of the religious (or any of the delusional that this world is crawling with these days) so very delicate? Why do they seem to think that if they don’t get coddled or kowtowed to, that they are somehow being slighted or that their beliefs – or the veracity of those beliefs – is negated if the other person doesn’t support it? Do they know deep down that these delusions are indeed so false and damaging that they can’t hang on to them if someone else isn’t enabling them?

So now ask yourself, “If no one respected any of my beliefs, would I still have them?” That at least is the way to tell if a belief is part of who you genuinely are, or if it dictates who you are because of fear and what others expect you to be because of their beliefs.

Many people pretend to be something they’re not in order to be loved or accepted. A particularly delusional woman I once knew, who destroyed two marriages and lost many friends and later her own children because of those delusions, admitted that she was afraid other people not liking her. This made her a very weak and phony person. Who then was she, if she made herself into an image that she thought everyone would like?

To be fair, we all do that to some extent. Obviously we all want to be loved and accepted and we all make adjustments to our appearance, our personality etc. in order to gain that love and acceptance. But it’s not hard for this to go too far, and for people to essentially play a role in order to gain love, power, control, money, safety, or confidence. But if you are fabricating an entire character, as though in a role playing game, then you are missing the mark and the inauthenticity of that character will poison your life, just as the costumes and inauthenticity of religion have poisoned the world.

I could go into a very long dissertation about all the different evils, inconsistencies, damages etc. caused by religion, all religions. But I will leave that to the late, great Christopher Hitchens and recommend his excellent book “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything”.

More people need to start questioning religion more, resisting is influence more, and being more honest with themselves about what they believe and why. Belief ultimately shapes our lives and our worlds so we need to start being much, much more careful with our beliefs. Stop accepting, start questioning, and stop respecting religion just because it is religion. It is time to evolve.

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The Oracle of Water: Ocean

Humans have been navigating and charting the seas at least since the Phoenicians, yet the ocean remains the last frontier. Even outer space is not as mysterious to us as the depths of the oceans, of which an estimate of only about 5% has been explored and charted. This is staggering considering the ocean covers 70% of our planet.

This is not unlike our own emotions or subconscious which, among many other things, the ocean represents. Our subconscious and darker sides are often as deep and mysterious to us as the abyss. There is no escaping that we are incredibly emotional and watery creatures. This also makes us magical for, as anthropologist Loren Eisley put it, “If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water.” We are water, and we therefore contain magic as well as records and ancestral memories in that strange medium. Also containing salt, we are like walking micro-oceans, ever connected to our source.

While there are different names for the different parts of the ocean, it is all one ocean in the end, one whole being connected all over the planet. This interconnection is echoed throughout nature and the human condition, and in all our individual lives.

In many traditions, the ocean represents the primordial source of life itself. Just as life emerged from the depths of the ocean in evolutionary narratives, so too does it signify the origins of creation in spiritual contexts. It is often seen as the womb of existence, where all life began and where all life returns. In this sense, the ocean becomes a metaphor for the eternal cycle of birth, death, and rebirth.

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