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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Joanna van der Hoeven

Joanna van der Hoeven

  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.  
Druid Magic - How to Craft Your Own Spells

Magic has been worked in the Druid tradition since ancient times. As it is a growing tradition, with new knowledge and techniques influencing it all the time, you can certainly feel free to write up your own spells, using whatever tools you desire, whatever components and whatever technique you feel best suits your practice. Here are some guidelines as to how to go about writing and performing a spell.

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Beltane Rites and Lore

Beltane is the start of summer, at the opposite end of the Wheel of the Year to Samhain, Summer's End. Cattle would be brought to the higher ground and summer pastures, tended by the women and children while the men would work the farms. In Irish Gaelic it is Beltaine, in Welsh it is Calan Mai, and in Scottish Gaelic Bealtainn. It is the other time when the veils between the worlds are thin, and the Fair Folk can be seen wandering the land in abundance. By the calendar, Beltane begins at dusk on the 30th April and runs to dusk on the 1 May. If celebrating by the local flora, it is when the hawthorn, or May is out in flower. In the UK, the first weekend in May is still celebrated with a bank holiday, perhaps as a remnant of this very important Celtic Festival.

Fire is an important part of this festival, for Beltane is often translated as "the fires of Bel", who was a sun deity. All household fires were extinguished on the eve of Beltane, and then fires were lit on hilltops at dawn, similar to but in reverse at Samhain, where fires were lit at sunset.[1] It was important to not give away any fire from your household at Beltane, for your luck would soon run out. In Ireland, the focus on fire and hilltops shifted from Tlachtga and Tara to Uisnech.  It is said that the first Beltane fire was lit at Uisnech by the Druid, Mide, whose name means "the centre". Beltane is a hinge for the world to open and change, as at Samhain. [2] In Scotland and Wales, the Beltane bonfires were made from nine woods collected and put together by nine men, and called "needfires". [3] Cattle were driven between two bonfires on this day before heading out to their summer pastures. They were said to pass close enough to the fires so that their hair might be singed. The heat and smoke of the bonfires might have been enough to cause any parasites to fall off the animals that may have taken up residence in the winter quarters. Fire is also an important part of the Beltane ceremonies today, as at Edinburgh with the Beltane Fire Society putting on a spectacular event every year, as previously mentioned.

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Spring Equinox tradition and lore

The Spring Equinox or vernal equinox occurs between 20 - 22 March. The word equinox is Latin for "equal night". It is also known as Ostara, Eostre or by its Welsh name, Alban Eiler, "the light on the earth". It is a time when day and night are of equal length, and the sun rises and sets due east and west respectively. In secular society, the spring equinox marks the first days of spring, but as we've seen above, Imbolc is actually when the first signs appear, at least in Britain.

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Imbolc - Welcoming Brighid, welcoming Spring

The word Imbolc stems from the older Celtic Oimelc, which means "of  milk" or "in the belly". Traditionally it was a time when the ewes from the sheep flocks began to lactate, having just given birth. This was an incredibly important time for our ancestors, as the winter's stores would be running low and the fresh milk available would provide nourishment and sustenance to get people through until the first crops began to appear. Fresh butter, cream and cheeses could be made to supplement the restrictive winter diet. Imbolc occurs around the beginning of February, if we are working with the traditional gestation period of the ewes. Nowadays, farmers have the sheep give birth at times that are more convenient; for example, a few villages over, one farmer has his lambing season during the Christmas holidays, as that's when he and the rest of his family are home and can help out.

If we are following the calendar, the dates for Imbolc are 31st January to 1st February. As the Celtic day began at sunset, we start the night before. Imbolc is often confused with the Christian holy day of Candlemas, which occurs on 2nd February. No doubt this was intentional, in order to compete with the beloved Pagan celebration of the lambing season and Spring.

Imbolc is a holiday that is dedicated to the goddess Brighid. She is so entwined with the season and the time, that most traditions honour her in some way during this festival. She is the goddess of poetry, smithcraft and healing, and is also often seen as a goddess of Spring. She is the sacred waters of the wells and springs, and the sacred flame tended first by nineteen priestesses, and then later by nineteen nuns dedicated to her in the guise of St Brighid. In Wales, Brighid is known as Braint, and is connected to the river Afon Braint which floods around this time every year. [1] The name, Brighid, has been adapted all over Britain and Europe, and indeed Britain is named after her, in the form of Briganti (Romanised to Brigantia). There are also myths that link the goddess Brig with the Spring in the form of the maiden, who alternates with the winter goddess the Cailleach. At Imbolc, the Cailleach drinks from a sacred stream, or makes her way to the seashore before dawn, and there transforms into the young maiden, Brigid. Other myths tell of Brigid immersing a white wand into the mouth of winter, which awakens the earth and brings in the thaw.[2] Brighid's name might also come from the Gaelic Breo-Saighead, which means "fiery arrow", and many modern-day devotees of Brighid see this as her aspect in the flow of awen, the fire in the head of the poet and artist as well as the returning light of Spring. For those who celebrate Imbolc by the signs in the vegetation, it is when the first snowdrops appear, pale white and green against the stark greyness of winter.

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Beating the January Blues. Druid Style.

The period just after the midwinter holidays can be difficult. For our ancestors this time of the year, before the chickens, ducks and geese began laying again and before the sheep and cattle began lactating, was a hungry time. Nowadays, when we don't appear to be so dependent upon the cycles of nature and farming for our very sustenance, the difficulty of the time of year settles into our souls in a different manner.

For those living in cold, northerly climates, this is when the deep freeze settles in (though with climate change, as we can see from Canada throughout the end of December, it can come earlier and stay longer). For those in more temperate areas such as here in the UK, it's the darkness of the grey, cloudy days and long nights that become hard to bear. It's also a time when money can be scarce, and we are paying our bills not only for the holiday time, but also higher bills for heating and electricity. We can feel overwhelmed, depressed, apathetic and more. This is the time when we just can't shake off that cold, and the colds and flus that have been going around since the holidays are getting stronger and stronger.

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The Winter Solstice

The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. It literally means that the sun stands still: from the Latin sol (sun) and sistere (standing still). The midwinter sun rises at its furthest point in the southeast and sets in its nearest point in the southwest, thus making the shortest and lowest circuit in the sky. For three days (the day before, the day of and the day after the solstice) the sun rises and sets on the same points of the horizon, until it begins to rise further east and set further west with each and every day. This phenomenon occurs between 20 - 22 December each year. The Welsh name for this time is Alban Arthan, a term coined by the 19th century poet and writer of forgeries, Iolo Morganwg. This translates as "Light of Winter" or "Light of the Bear", although it is also known as Alban Arthuan, which means "Light of Arthur". The "Light of the Bear" is an interesting translation, which may have roots going back 13,000 years and connected to the circumpolar constellation or Ursa Major, which would be very visible and very bright in the British Isles at this time of year, during the greatest darkness. [1]

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  • Agnes Toews-Andrews
    Agnes Toews-Andrews says #
    I enjoyed reading about Scriptor Syrus and how the new "Christians" created a diversion--Christ Mass, to offset the pagan Winter S
A Full Moon of Samhain Ritual to Remember

The candles were lit, the incense smoking, and the bells of the church ringing in the still night air. Friday night is the practice night for the village bell-ringers, and so our ritual was accentuated by their skilful tones. The moon was riding high in a hazy sky, and haloed with an ever-widening ring that spoke of the Otherworld.

We raised our boundary, which was to the whole of the property, and called to the realms of Land, Sea and Sky. We honoured the ancestors at the full moon of Samhain, as well as the spirits of place. We invited the Fair Folk who were in tune with our intention, as they have been a part of our rituals since we began. We sang to the four quarters, and then invoked the gods. We invited all who were harmony with us this Samhain night. This was our first time in invoking the god into our full moon ritual, but it felt right. How right, we were just about to discover.

We honoured the tides of Samhain, the winter months of darkness. We then performed our magical working at the fire, and gathering our clooties: ribbons of intention that we tie to the branches of the apple tree at the bottom of the garden every month. Walking back to the terrace where the bird bath, now a sacred basin of water reflecting the moonlight, served as our vessel as we drew down the moon into the water. The church bells rang in time to our working, and stopped just as we finished. The air was utterly still.

Suddenly, a loud bark sounded from the other side of the hedge, down the track a little ways. A fallow deer stag, wandering the moonlit night. We stopped and turned to the noise, and he barked again, this time a little closer. We looked to each other and smiled, feeling blessed by his presence. Then an enormous bark, just the other side of the cedar boundary, which made us all jump. He was right up against the hedge, near the little hole that the muntjac, fallow deer and badgers made.

And he was trying to come through.

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