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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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.  

When beginning on the Druid path, having a place to work in that you can come back to repeatedly creates a special bond between the person and the place.  A place has a very real impact upon a person, as we come to realise that we are not separate from the rest of the natural world.  When we find our place within a place we are able to communicate openly, sharing freely that wonderful dose of awen (inspiration), the hum of energy where souls meet.  

I have an outdoor altar and an indoor altar. They are both very different. Indoors the altar is laid with candles and artwork, bones and feathers, stones and other fetishes laid about while incense swirls over the mass of objects.  Outdoors I have a simple altar of a stone laid flat upon another stone, with a small stone circle creating the temple that holds this altar.  I leave offerings of food and drink upon the outdoor altar, sometimes making offerings/sacrifice to the water in our pond instead. The indoor altar is held within the temple that is home, my own sanctuary delineated from the rest of the world, where safety and nourishment is found inside its walls. My outdoor altar is set within the temple of stones and the boundaries of the garden itself, though the energy flows freely through either altar, not confined to the spaces of the temples, just as energy is not confined to the temple that is the physical body.  

Returning again and again to my altar indoors, it is a space where I can commune with the spirits of hearth and home, my goddess Brighid in her more anthropomorphic state.  The ancestors of blood I feel deeply within my soul at this particular altar, as well as the ancestors of tradition. Surrounded by my collection of books, these wisdom keepers have their energy flowing into that sacred little room where I meditate daily, lighting candles and incense and communing. At the outdoor altar, I connect with Brighid in her serpent energy form, the white dragon energy that runs throughout the British Isles, connecting each part to the other in a vast network of flowing energy. I also find a deep resonance with the ancestors of place there, those who have lived upon this land before me, who tended the apple orchards and lived in hovels, the birds, badgers, beetles and more whose bodies make up the soil. Outside, I realise that we walk upon the bodies of our ancestors with every step, that they are an essential part of our life, for out of the soil comes the food that nourishes us.  I feel the realms of sea and sky close by too, for living near the coast the air is often tinged with the scents of the North Sea.   

As I spend time at these altars, I establish a relationship that grows and grows with each visit. Instead of scattering the energy here there and everywhere, it becomes focused into a place.  There are several other places nearby that I visit regularly which have the same effect, places where I spend time getting to know the spirits of place and they in turn get to know me. In coming back to these places time and again, there is a familiarity that develops, as with old friends, that helps us in our work, whatever is it that we are doing. Altars really can alter our perception and our relationship with the world around us, by providing that focal point that we return to again and again.  Spending time at a designated place allows us to get to know it intimately, rather than having a passing conversation with an acquaintance. As my teacher before me always said: "It's all about relationship".  

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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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