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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The Otherworld and the Sidhe (Shining Ones)

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.

They were tall, willowy and graceful.  Dressed in flowing white, they did indeed seem to shine in the sunlight. They had long hair that stirred around them, and faces both serene and curious at the same time. In noticed that there was a woman among them, standing around me and simply watching me.

“What is this?” I could hear in my mind.  I kept still, not wanting to lose the moment. There was no reply, but I felt them watching me, learning about me as I sat there.  I remained still, allowing them to study me, letting them become aware of my presence. I wanted to experience Them, but realised that they also had to experience me.

After a few long minutes I could feel their acceptance.  “Come back again, soon,” I heard, and then they simply faded from my mind’s sight. I opened my eyes and looked around me; the world was just as I remembered.

I look forward to my continued work with these beings, whom I see as the Sidhe of Celtic lore. Not from another world, but wholly a part of this world and the unperceived parts of this reality, hidden from our souls unless we consciously open ourselves to them (or they simply want to appear to us, sometimes unbidden, as has happened before in my landscape wanderings). I think it is important for me in my life right now to develop this relationship further with the Sidhe.  They seem to be calling, even as the hawthorn is still thick with blossom into early June.  The gateways between the worlds are merely our perception, and I’m working on opening my perception ever further, to experience the world in beautiful, utter integration, my soul wide awake, arms flung wide in embrace.

 

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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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