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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Winter's Beauty - in the cold and wet...

Winter in Britain – it’s dark and it’s wet.  Not very cold, compared to what I grew up with in Canada, but the damp just seaps into your bones.  It’s a different kind of winter, one that I still sometimes have trouble getting to grips with.

The darkness is the first thing that my body has difficulty coping with.  If it’s dark outside, my body wants to sleep. I’m very much a daytime person.  Here in the UK, at a latitude of  52.0594° N (where I grew up it was 45.9500° N) it gets dark a lot earlier than what I’m used to, and it’s not light outside much before 8.30 or 9am in the darkest part of the year.  Hibernation mode kicks in.  I struggle to get out of bed even though I’ve had a great sleep if it’s still dim out. Come summer, and it’s light at 3.30am, I can get out and greet the sunrise no problem.

The darkness has a real thick, heavy quality to it sometimes, with overcast skies and damp air all around you, sounds hushed in the shadows.  Like a blanket, it can completely cover you and, if you like your head above the covers, can seem stifling.  I’ve had to learn to work with the darkness, to enjoy it, to see its beauty.

One of the gifts that darkness brings is the gift of openness. Boundaries melt away in the twilight, and as darkness takes hold edges give way. There is a release in the night air that is so wholly unlike anything experienced under the sun.  The smells, our vision, all our senses change.  Our souls can expand in the blackness, melting with the shadows of other beings. 

It also instils a real sense of courage, and also a strength that other beings in lower latitudes may not need with their extended source of light.  It’s a very British thing, to be used to the dark and the wet.  There is a stoicism in this shared absence of light. Those on the continent at the same latitude deal with snow a little more, which does brighten up the darkness a bit – but the darkness is there.  It gives a culture a flavour, and it helps me to understand Druidry in the British Isles, and even the British people, even more.

Releasing into the flows of darkness, we come to a greater understanding of it. You can’t fight it – might as well try to stop the wind from blowing. Oh sure, stores and high streets might get their Christmas lights up by the second week of November, trying to instil us with a consumerist craving to buy more stuff under the guise of making our lives a little brighter, but on the whole we know that it’s all an illusion. It’s bloody dark out there.

I live in the countryside, in a small village with only a couple of street lights on the main road.  The night sky here is amazing (when it’s not cloudy).  Up here in the north, we’re closer to the heavens, it seems.  You could almost reach out and touch the brilliance of the stars.  It takes me breath away each time I look up.

I’ve learned to love the darkness. It’s not an instinctual thing, I don’t think. Instinctually, we’re afraid of the dark because there are things that might eat us soft and squishy bald monkeys venturing out of our caves at night.  Our eyesight is pretty poor at night.  But that needn’t stop us from loving the darkness, from learning its deep, rich lessons. 

I’m reminded of a Cowboy Junkies song:

There are witches in the hills calling my name

Saying come join us sister, come kiss the flame

Come dance in the moonbeams, ride the night winds

Make love to the darkness and laugh at Man’s sins

 

 

Last modified on
  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.  

Comments

  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor Wednesday, 03 December 2014

    This is so evocative, Joanna. I lived in Stratford, Ontario for 3 years - which is in THE SNOW BELT. We dearly want to go to Glastonbury, but after the last 30 years of living in Phoenix, I don't know if I could handle the bone-chilling winters which you describe. Thanks for promoting the blessings of the darkness.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Wednesday, 03 December 2014

    Hi Ted! It's a different kind of cold, for sure - very different from growing up in Canada, with -20 to -30 C. Visit Glastonbury in the summer, and you'll have tons of tourists. Visit in the winter, and brave the cold and wet, and you'll probably have the Tor all to yourself! x

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