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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
Wild Things


I had an email this morning from a reader thanking me for my book, The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid, which is always a lovely thing to hear - do write to authors you like and support them! - and who also had some very good questions, apprehensions and fears about walking the wilds of Maryland, USA, safely and as a Druid, in cougar and bear country.

I used to live in North Vancouver, and took precautions every time I went out into the wild. I always had a hunting knife, not only for defence, but also in case  I got lost, needed to make a fire, etc.  What sort of Pagan goes into cougar and bear-infested woods armed? A smart one! Not that we would want to use any weapons, but that we know that nature is not necessarily always working for the sole purpose of being kind to humanity. Nature has its own modus operandi, as we know, for we too are a part of that nature.

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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
Lammas: Don't Fear the Reaper

The grain harvest is being collected in the fields around my home. The usually still and silent evening air is filled with the sound of combine harvesters, accentuated every now and then with the hoot of a tawny owl. Lammas is upon us.

Standing on a footpath that divides two large fields, one side filled with barley just reaped, the other with wheat standing pale golden in the sun, I raise my hands to the blue sky and give my thanks for all that nourishes us. I walk a ways into the cut field, the harsh stubs of barley amid the dry, sandy earth and place my hands upon the soil. Thank you for your blessing, may the land be nourished even as it nourishes us. Hail and thanks be to the goddess. I then move to stand on the edge of the wheat field, allowing its song of potential to flow through me. I brush the bent heads filled with seed and say another prayer of thanks. 

This is a wonderful time of year, when the songs of the ancestors flow through the rural heartlands of Britain.  Though the way we harvest is different, still there is that cycle of growth, of planting and harvesting. After the long hot days of midsummer, the lengthening evenings are welcome, bringing cooler air. Though the dog days may still lie ahead of us, there is something different in the air at this time of year.  The scents have changed, the leaves are dark green and heavy, the foliage beginning to choke out and fall back.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Thank you, Joanna. This is beautifully expressed. I really like your statement, expressed in other writings, that death is not the
  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven says #
    Hi Ted - thank you for your continued support. Yes, birth and death are an action, an event. Life is simply a constant flow of man
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.

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Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
Trees as Teachers

The trees are almost in full leaf now, with only the ash and aspen yet to join in the greening. It's been an odd Spring, with the oak trees in leaf before the hawthorn has come into flower here in Suffolk.  Only now are the first blooms of the May tree coming out, and with it the signs that herald for me the coming season.  The warm days have certainly been a blessing, and the light rain that falls today is equally welcome after long hot days of full sunshine and cool sea breezes.

It's at this time of year that I am reminded of just how important trees are to me, not just in their life-giving properties but also in their spiritual presence.  The deciduous trees with their lush foliage always bring a smile to my face, and after a long winter of sleep to see the beech tree at the bottom of my garden joining in the party that the younger birch trees have started fills my heart with joy.  The grass is lush and green, and everything just feels so very much alive. I welcome the greening with all my heart and soul.

Trees are magnificent teachers. They are so much larger than we are, both spiritually and physically.  They remind us of what it means to live a life in service to the whole, to live a life filled with integration and harmony, sustainable and at peace. Trees teach us of communion and integration, both at the deep root levels of our soul and reaching out towards the heavens of our soul's awakening. They teach us of symmetry and asymmetry, of co-operation and anarchy.  They are a legion of souls across this land, swaying in the wind, living their intention and benefiting all those around them by doing so. There is no sense of "I" with a tree; rather, it can instigate a better sense of "You" (or "yew", pun intended).

When we develop a relationship with trees, we think about ourselves less, rather than think less of ourselves. We are reminded that we are a part of an ecosystem, that the ecology of our spirituality is all important to our everyday lives. This ecology is absolutely integral to who we are as a species, and part of a place and environment, as part of life on this planet. We cannot separate this ecology in any shape or form. It is in everything that we do.

We are not far removed from our cousins who still live in the trees. We're all just monkeys with car keys, after all.

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Prayer - it's not a one-way street...

A television show that I enjoyed, which originally aired in the late 90’s through to 2002, is Dharma and Greg. It is about a free-spirited woman with two hippy parents who is very spiritual, very loving and very funny. She marries a conservative born and bred lawyer, and the exchange, dynamic and growth between the two is what makes this such a great show.

At one point Dharma is praying in a hospital chapel, and her spirit guide, a Native American named George whom she connected with personally before he died, comes to her aid and offers advice in her time of need. He hears her praying, trying to have a conversation with whatever deity will listen in the multifaith chapel, and offers these very poignant words which I remember to this very day.

Dharma is feeling remorse because of harsh words she had about her mother, and now her mother is in danger of losing the child that she is carrying.

"George, my Mom might lose the baby."

"And you feel like you made this happen."

"It feels like it."

"Well if you did, they should put your picture up here on the spinning God Wheel", he says, indicating the multifaith prayer icon on the altar.

"Whether I did it or not, I was thinking it."

"Because you were angry."

"So what should I do now? Do you think I should stay here and pray?"

"What do you mean by praying?"

"I don't know - talk to the universe, to God, the Great Spirit, whatever It is."

“Huh. So, you’re having a conversation with the Great Spirit, the Maker of All Things, and you’re doing the talking?”

"Oh, right."

This, indeed defines for me the nature of what prayer is seen as today. Even if we are not asking for anything, a lot of prayer in our culture and society consists of a one-way conversation between the individual and the deity/spirit in question. Prayer is a relationship, for me, and as such necessitates a give and take in everything, including both spoken and unspoken words. Too often in prayer, we forget to listen. When we speak and then listen, then we are communing. Otherwise, we are just talking.

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Recent Comments - Show all comments
  • Ted Czukor
    Ted Czukor says #
    Great reminder, Joanna. We love Dharma and Greg, too, and George is a genius character. There are direct parallels between Nativ
  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven says #
    I think all earth-based traditions will have many similarities I do love that saying as well. So very true. x
  • Kim Campbell
    Kim Campbell says #
    Thank you for this post. You make an excellent point that we all seem to forget.
  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven says #
    Thanks, Kim! x

Posted by on in SageWoman Blogs
Basic Meditation

Here is a 13 minute basic mindfulness meditation that I created which can be incorporated into your daily practice. I also use it before prayer and ritual, to ground and center myself, preparing for the work.

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How Altars can Alter our Practice


Altars can have a very significant role in daily practice and worship, providing a focal point in establishing relationship. I try to highlight this importance with my students, explaining the benefits of have a focus within an area in which to open up communication with the spirits of place (or land, sea and sky), the ancestors, and the gods.  Communication is essential to good relationship, and finding a spot to come back to again and again helps us to not only strengthen the bond between the person and the place, but also gives it a ritual context within which to commune. Often this ritual context is held within a temple, whether it is a building or creation of stone and/or timber, or a sacred circle cast with energy around the practitioner. The importance of the altar and the temple should not be taken for granted, though neither are exactly essential.  

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