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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Beginning With Honour

The first steps on the Druid path aren’t the most important. In fact, it is the continuing progress we make along our path that is crucial to understanding the nature of our spirituality.  However, simply finding a path in the first place can be the most difficult task of all.

Leaves, golden and deep, russet red, fell to the forest floor as I climbed to the summit. I could smell the burgeoning leaf mould amid the acrid pines, winter on the wind.  As I approached the tree line I knew he was there, waiting for me.  I changed quickly from coyote to woman and stepped out of the shade into the autumn sunshine.  The wind was cool, and the view from the mountaintop was spectacular, as the fall colours glistened in the lazy golden glow.  I stepped forward towards the crystal clear pool, and cupped my hand, drinking the clear, cold liquid.  A small yellow leaf fell into the pool as I finished drinking, and twirled there in the breeze.
I gazed a while at the little leaf, floating on the water, before turning away and approaching my guide.  He stood, his leathers and feathers blowing in the afternoon wind.  He looked out over the lands and sky before him, silent.  I stood next to him, silent too for a space.

“You have a question,” he said, after some time had passed.
“Yes,” I said.  I took a deep breath.  “What is my path?”

There was a long pause before he answered, slowly and solemnly.  “How can I know your own path?”

I nodded.  I expected such an answer, yet hoped for another.  “What really matters then?”

He nodded and spread his arms out before him, encompassing the rolling hills, the deep blue sky.  “This.”  There was a pause, and he drew his arms back to his sides.  “And nothing,” he added, nodding.

“Nothing matters?” I looked at him, his long salt and pepper coloured hair blowing in the breeze.  “What about the future? What about the past?”

“They might matter, but right now, they do not.”

I nodded, finally understanding.  “This moment is what matters”.  I could feel him smiling slightly next to me. I took a deep breath.  “If this moment is all that matters, and I am trying to find my path, then how do I go about finding it?

He looked out, determination upon his brown and wizened face.  “Start walking”.

It was my turn to smile. It was so simple.

Our first steps may be uncertain, they may be fraught with fear, they may be joyous – yet we must continue walking to progress. We mustn’t concentrate too much on wondering, am I doing this right, is this right for me, am I just imagining it, etc.  To fully experience it, we must keep placing one foot in front of the other, learning as we go.

That being said, where and how do we make our first steps?  My advice would be go out into the landscape, find a place that sings to your soul, and walk up on the earth there, fully in the moment of that place and time.  Spend time coming back to that place, getting to know it and letting it come to know your intentions as well.  From there, we can continue on our path, giving offerings to the land, establishing a relationship with it.  Walking with honour, the path becomes even more beautiful than ever.

Taking this concept further, one may then learn about the landscape that they live in – where their water comes from, how their houses are powered and how much energy they use, where their rubbish goes.  Further articles can be found on TDN as to how to live with less impact upon the earth, walking the path lightly with reverence.  Rituals, learning correspondence courses – these can then be followed in time.  The most important thing, however, is simply awakening to the journey that you are about to begin, and to honour it with all that you are.

Once the path feels comfortable, you’ve established a good pace and broken in those heavy duty boots, going further comes naturally.  Yet, to go further, something more is required – sacrifice.  To dedicate fully to a path filled with inspiration and honour, some sort of sacrifice is required to let the spirits (including your own) know that you are walking the walk and not just talking the talk.

I ran up to the mountaintop, my paws crunching the dry leaves beneath the forest canopy.  Hot, humid air met my wet nose, as I loped to the pine trees at the clearing’s edge.  Smelling their rich, deep, dark scent, I stepped out into the bright sunshine.

My tongue lolling out the side of my mouth, I immediately sought the pool of cool, clear water that nestled in the rocks.  I stepped into the pool, lapping the rainwater eagerly.  I then felt my body shifting, changing, becoming softer, longer.  I stopped lapping the water and with my hands brought it to my mouth.  I then ducked my head under the water, the delicious freshness washing through my braids and down my back, soaking my leather vest and breeches.

I stood then, walking to the cliff edge, looking out at the blue mountains that surrounded me, the lake dazzling below.  A hawk played on the thermals and winds that ran up the mountainside.  I spread my arms and danced the circle, feeling freedom, glad to be here, to be alone.

It was then I noticed a figure at the clearing’s edge, standing in the shade of the pines.  It was my teacher, the old man, who stood and watched.  I stopped dancing, and watched him back. He slowly walked towards me, his leathers shiny with age in places, feathers blowing in the breeze.  His long, gray hair blew across his brown and wizened face, his rich brown eyes looking deep into my own.  I turned back out towards the view, not wishing to have company.

“You wish to be alone,” he said.
“Yes”, I replied.
“You are never alone”.

I pondered that for a moment.  I could feel him standing next to me, but still I did not turn. “No, I am not”.

There was silence for a space.  “The hawk, she is never alone.  The coyote, he is never alone.  Always, there are others who share our world with us.  The trees, the winds, the rocks, the beetles, the waters – they are always with us.”

“We are never alone”.
“What is it that you seek?” he asked, after some time had passed.
“To go deeper, to go further.”
“Deeper into what?”
“Myself, the world…”

The wind whispered through the pines, the sun hot upon the rocks.  “And how will you do this?”   

I thought for a while, formulating the answer slowly into words.  “Through the teachings that I have been given, and through my own teachings as well”.

“Teaching and learning are both great gifts.  It is wise to accept them.”  The hawk cried out, splitting the silence.  “You have made your sacrifice.  Yet, more sacrifices will be called for.”

I felt both great freedom and weight in my belly at the tasks to come.  “I am ready.  I may not always be willing, but I am ready to sacrifice.”

“So you will be,” he said.  I could feel him smiling next to me.  We stood together, watching the sunlight play upon the waters of the lake.  “Now it is time to fly.  You have worked hard.  Join the hawk in his flight, for he comes to give his gift to you.”

I looked up, and the hawk dove straight towards me.  I watched him approach with speed, until his yellow eyes were right before my own, and suddenly I was the hawk, buffeted by the winds, rising on the warm currents of air that rose from the rocky mountaintop.  I looked down, and saw myself, lying prone at the old man’s feet where I fell.  A moment’s hesitation, and then the hawk lifted me away, higher into the air, the mountaintop disappearing beneath me.  We rose and rose, ever higher, into the clouds.  When all was white, I then found myself on the mountaintop again, by myself, yet not alone.

My mouth was parched; my skin sunburned from lying in the sun.  I made my way to the pool of water and jumped in, the cool water soothing my reddened skin.  I let the waters heal me, soothe me.  Coyote came and nuzzled the back of my head with his nose.  I turned and ruffled his fur.  He asked me to come away now, and so I stepped out of the pool.  I shifted into Coyote form and stood next to him, shaking the water from my coat.  With a grin, we both ran back into the shelter of the trees, the cool forest stretching for hundreds of miles below us.

Sacrifices can be made in many forms – what matters most is that you sacrifice something that is important to you – something that will not be easy to give.  This varies from person to person, yet to go further, to go deeper into the wilderness along the path this part is essential.  Once made, the path opens before you, with many options, twisting, winding, uphill and downhill, sometimes easy, more often difficult, and wholly inspiring.

May your first steps guide you with every blessing on your chosen path.

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  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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