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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Winter Solstice - No Birth, No Death

With the Winter Solstice approaching, and in the cold dark months of the year, we have an excellent opportunity to reflect upon the deeper parts of our existence, those shadowy elements that seem to fade away so easily in the heat of the midday sun, those thoughts that require darkness and the teaching that it can bring.  Thoughts such as life and death, darkness and light and the cyclical nature of existence are all excellent themes to meditate on at this time of year, with a natural introspective element to this season allowing us to perhaps go further, deeper than we could or would in the warmer, more outwardly focusing half of the year.

This season, with the increasing darkness and the lack of light here in the UK brings more sharply into focus thoughts of death and dying.  It is often said in Western Paganism that the Sun God dies at Samhain and is reborn at Yule, when the days begin to lengthen and the light in our lives is increased.  However, lately my thoughts have abandoned the concept of death, as well as birth, into a more Zen-like “No Birth, No Death” frame of mind.

Having meditated on this for a couple of months now, and seeing it reflected in nature around me, as a Druid this is how I internalise the teachings.  For me, nature is the greatest teacher.  I look to no other authority other than nature. It is the core of my religion, the core of my being.  Having looked deeply into the nature of death and dying, of birth and living the concept of no death, no birth makes a lot more sense to me right now. Let me explain.

Everything on this planet is made up of energy, atoms moving around creating substance (though don’t forget, you can’t ever believe anything an atom says – they make up everything – boom tish!). Energy isn’t created out of nothing, it cannot be “created” so to speak. It can be refined and harnessed, but it doesn’t come out of nothingness and equally cannot be destroyed.  Nothing is annihilated.  Everything that exists has come from other things, everything that exists will simply change form upon their seeming “death”.

This is not a death in the traditional sense – it is simply a change in manifestation.  Just like birth is not really a beginning, it is simply a new manifestation of energy into a recognisable form.  Nothing is permanent: not the mountain, not the seas, not the sky and not our own selves.  We all know that we will “die”, but this death is not a cessation of existence.  It is simply a breaking down of form into other forms.  When the conditions are right, life manifests itself again in a way that we recognise.   Life is simply the ever-changing manifestation of energy.

With this thinking, I have never been born and I shall never die.  I have simply come into this form under the right circumstances that is known in the human community as Joanna van der Hoeven. I shall eventually cease to exist in this form, my body breaking down into the soil, chemical reactions occurring, bacteria doing their thing, my current form changing. I will be released into the soil, into the plants, released into the air, the water. I will become part of the cloud, the rain, the thunder. I will become part of the land, the stones, the soil. Everything that has existed is still here, in the sunlight, in the wind, in the breath and in the body.

This brings a whole new dimension to working with the ancestors as well. Far too often we can think of them as having existed in the past, but they are all around us, all the time.  Not in an ethereal way, but in a real, logical, way. 

Zen often uses the analogy of a wave being the ocean. It is a smaller manifestation of the ocean, but it is still a part of it. When the seas are calm, the wave does not manifest. When the songs of wind and water merge, waves are manifested. When the wave ceases to be, it doesn’t “go anywhere” – it is simply the ocean in another form.

So too can we think of our own existence upon this planet, like a wave on the ocean. It can calm the fears of death that we might hold, or ease our grief and anxiety.  I have felt a much deeper connection to the land and to the ancestors, and fear the deaths of my loved ones no longer.  There will still be grief at the loss of the current form, their current manifestation, but that is eased by the knowledge that energy cannot go anywhere.  We are all constantly changing form. A wave cannot die. A cloud cannot die. We cannot die.

May this season bring you rest and reprise, and a deep connection to the ancestors and the world. 

May we be peace.

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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.  


  • Linette
    Linette Tuesday, 02 December 2014

    A few days ago someone posted a quote on FB, the author made a statement about "when I am no longer on this earth"...and being a pantheist I thought....well do you plan to have your remains shot into space...because no matter what you ARE part of this earth.

    The Universe is an event, and we are part of it, not players on a stage. Just as you say! Cycle forward!

  • Joanna van der Hoeven
    Joanna van der Hoeven Thursday, 04 December 2014

    On Twitter, someone replied to this post with a lovely meme that said "We are nature. We are the universe manifest as human for a short time". I loved that. x

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