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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Darkness and the Winter Solstice

The solstice season is upon us, and it’s only a couple of weeks before the longest night of the year here in the northern hemisphere. It’s a season of darkness and cold, where we are given the opportunity to find the gifts that darkness brings. It can be hard, when the rest of the world seems to be doing their best to stave off their fear with bright lights, noise and extended shopping hours, but if we are able to push beyond that we can see the sacredness of this holy time, and the exquisite power that it brings.

I am mostly a diurnal creature myself. I prefer to go to bed early and rise early, rather than staying up late. However, at this time of year the darkness catches up with me, and by 4pm it is pitch black out there. My usual sunshine nature turns inwards, and time for reflection and contemplation kick in. But that is not all there is to the darkness that pervades my life at this time of year.  The sweet relief of darkness beckons me to release into its embrace, when edges are abandoned and we are allowed to float free in space and time.

Darkness breaks down edges and boundaries. Our visual nature cannot cope with darkness; our low-light vision is pretty terrible. We can’t see where the edges of things are, and they all become one in a tapestry of shades of black that we are unable to penetrate. This causes many to panic, terror rising in our bellies as our instinctive fear of the dark come to the fore.  Through many millennia of existence, we have been creatures of the daylight, and know that our soft bodies are food for many things after the sun sets.  This instinctual fear is still deep in our genes, as anyone who is out in the woods with bears and cougars at night can sympathise.  Deep in our bones, we know that there is danger in darkness.

Growing up in Canada, I had a healthy fear of the dark, knowing that to be outside at night would put me into contact with creatures who might see me as a snack. We also learn to fear our human counterparts in dim city streets, parking lots and alleyways.  Who knows when an attack will come? Women especially know this fear, having been taught to walk with car keys strategically placed in hand in case of attack, making sure their walk home from the bus is kept on different routes so as not to develop patterns. We have lost our relationship to the darkness through our justified fear.

Many of the things worth experiencing in life require dealing with such dangers, however. Common sense and risk-assessment are necessities and gifts to the human mind, but sometimes we need to move beyond. We have to risk our levels of comfort sometimes in order to truly experience life in all its shapes and forms. I’m not suggesting that we stop being aware of our surroundings in the city streets, or walk into a cave in the woods without precaution. Sometimes risking ourselves physically is what breaks us through to another level, but in the darkness spiritually we risk our sense of self, our identity. We are able to step outside our comfort zone in order to progress further in our quest for integration, wisdom and learning. Otherwise we remain trapped: safe, but trapped.

What I propose is that we re-establish our bond with darkness. This doesn’t mean taking any and all unnecessary risks, but really exploring the nature of darkness and what it brings.  As a Druid, I am constantly seeking integration with the natural world, and the gift that darkness brings to me is that sweet release of boundaries and edges. When I sit in a shadowy corner of my garden at night, unable to see around me, I don’t know where I stop and where the rest of nature begins. I become the owl hooting in the trees, the moss beneath me, the deer barking sharply in the night. My sense of self falls away, along with all the sticky ego issues that we humans live with day in and day out. Now, however, night in and night out we are able to let go, fully realising the gifts that darkness brings.

Floating in a dark void, we are part of a universe that is mostly darkness.  Our senses come alive and we are gifted with complete and utter integration. Our souls slip loose of the ego’s shackles and simple exist, without judgement, reflection or reaction. It allows us a respite from all that our diurnal minds carry us through in the daytime, and even in our dreams during the night. It is the darkness of death.

Some would equate this to the darkness of oblivion, of annihilation, however I have come to know that energy cannot be annihilated, that it cannot be destroyed.  Energy simply flows through different manifestations, some material, some not. Yet is always is, it is always in being, flowing through space and time. For some this energy is God/dess.

And so we can craft relationship with this energy at this time of year, exploring what it means to be without body, without mind, utterly in the flow of this energy without our human trappings, edges falling away in utter darkness.  We are given a great gift to explore this darkness.  If a safety net is required, rest assured as the tide turns after the solstice, we are invited to explore the light until the summer solstice. Either way, both light and dark can be honoured equally, as well as all the shades in between.

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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.  


  • steven rice
    steven rice Wednesday, 02 December 2015

    Love it. For many years I was a second shift worker and the shift usually lasted to the early morning hours. Many times I would arrive home and stand and stare at the heavens. On as many nights I would walk home from the automobile repair shop, just enjoying the solitude of the night. Early to bed and early to rise, so true. Now ion recurring a feline creature, even more so. Love the early mornings with snow on the ground ( south-western, ohio) enjoying the quiet and the moon off the snow. Great writing, fantastic visuals.

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Thursday, 03 December 2015

    Hello Steven,
    Oh, how I miss the snow! Living on the edge of the North Sea, the water keeps the temperature too high for snow most of the time. There's nothing better than a cold, crisp night with stars dazzling the sky... x

  • John Reder
    John Reder Thursday, 03 December 2015

    What “impressed” me with what (or how) Joanna wrote is that it triggered the memory of the original Fleetwood Macs song “Bare Tress” and brought back the winter images of that time … and the times, like the seasons have changed.


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