Druid Heart: Honouring the Land

Living life from a priest of nature's perspective

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Joanna van der Hoeven

Joanna van der Hoeven

Author, poet, singer, dancer, blogger and activist, Joanna van der Hoeven (Autumn Song) is a Druid, Witch and Animist who honours the natural world around her and seeks to live with awareness and compassion. She has released seven books, including the best-selling The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid.
www.joannavanderhoeven.com
https://twitter.com/JoannavanderH

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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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Samhain: Ancient and Modern

Calan Gaeaf (Welsh) or Samhain (Irish) begins at sunset of 31st October and runs to to sunset 1st November according to most Western Pagan traditions. If working by the moon, it is the first full moon when the sun is in Scorpio. If working by the natural landscape, it is when the first frosts bite. Samhain was termed the Celtic New Year, as it marked the ending of one cycle and the beginning of another. The Celts reckoned their days from sunset to sunset, and so the start of the year would begin in the dark time at the beginning of winter. Samhain marked the first day of Winter.

Calan Gaeaf, however, is a time that is not a time, and therefore some Pagans honour this tide and season from 31st October right through to the Winter Solstice. It is a time after many things have died, and there is a stillness to the air, an Otherworldly feel in the silence. It's a dark time here in the UK, with long nights on our northerly latitude, and usually a very wet time as well. It's not hard to see how these months could be seen outside of time, outside of the cycles of life, death and rebirth.

Calan Gaeaf, Samhain, Hallowe'en, All Soul's Night - for many pagans this is the ending of one year and the beginning of another.  It is often seen as the third and final harvest - with the last of the apples harvested, the cattle were prepared for winter and the grain stored properly.  It is also a time when it is said that the veil between the worlds is thin, and the realms of the living and the dead are laid bare to each other. We are approaching the darkest time of the year, and the killing frosts and snows await just around the corner.  It is a time of letting go, of releasing into the dark half of the year, and getting rid of the dross in our lives so that we do not have to carry them with us through the long winter nights.  We consciously make the effort to live better, meaningful lives and let go of all that holds us back - our fears and worries, our anger and hatred.  We nurture the beneficial and the good that we have in our lives, ensuring that they are well kept for our plans to come at the winter solstice. So the cycle continues.

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  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    A very lovely and evocative description. Thanks for sharing, blessed be, Tasha

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Reaping and Sowing

It's good to know when all your training comes into play. The years of hard work you have put in. All the practice that I have done in Zen Buddhism, Druidry and other aspects of Western Paganism has greatly helped me during a very difficult week.

Breathing. It's amazing how much just focusing on the breath can calm the mind and the body. For the mind and body are one. What affects one, affects the other. Five focused breaths, in and out, feeling the air move through your nose, down your throat and into your lungs, expanding, and then back out in reverse. Concentration on this small action. The heartbeat slows, the mind has a pause to reset. And perspective floods in.

The cycles of life and death are one. It is ouroboros, the snake eating its tail, no beginning, no ending, only being. There is only energy, in different forms and degrees of manifestation.

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  • Suzanne Tidewater
    Suzanne Tidewater says #
    I appreciate what you've written. Bringing my mind back to my breath has been a powerful meditative practice!
  • Tasha Halpert
    Tasha Halpert says #
    Lovely piece of writing and so very true. Thanks for sharing.
Lughnasadh and the State of Grace

Lughnasadh is upon us, and the farmers are anxiously looking to the skies for a few clear hours when they can harvest their crops of wheat in my area. It has been a hot, dry summer, and of course, just when the harvest is due to come in we get changeable weather with rain showers every day; not ideal when you need to gather in a crop like wheat totally dry, or else it will rot. So just like our ancestors, we look up and hope and pray for some dry weather, and for the farmers, that they’ve rented the combine harvesters on the best day for it, and not when it's going to dump it down halfway through their work.  

Things are unpredictable in life. It's just something that we have to accept. With a little grace, we can face the problems and triumphs, the highs and the lows with equanimity. Grace is a word that is little used today, but one which I think is important, and one that I've been trying to live each and every day.

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Rescuing the Druid

We all have our ups and downs in life, and these can certainly vary dependent upon many factors: genetics, environment, disposition, culture, upbringing and more. The Druid faces the same challenges as many others do in their journey through life; being a Druid is no different in what the world throws at you.

What is different is how you deal with what comes your way. That doesn't mean as a Druid you won't suffer from depression, or heartbreak, grief or anxiety. But the methods that we use to face these challenges helps us to understand ourselves, and each other, a little better, and learn where we fit in the holistic scheme of things.

I've faced many challenges in my life, and still continue to do so on a daily basis. One challenge that I faced over this winter was my love and enthusiasm for dance had gone. For the last six months, I was seriously considering quitting dancing altogether. For over a year the question of my love for it had been rolling around in my brain. Over the winter holiday period, I was this close to giving it up completely. In fact, I had made up my mind that upon my return to England, I would inform my dance class.

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