Book Review: The Awen Alone

Guest blogger Maria Ede-Weaving reviews my latest book,  The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid on Philip Carr-Gomm’s blog. Thank you, Maria, for your lovely words – I am well and truly chuffed to bits.

The Awen Alone Joanna van der HoevenDruidry is a fast growing tradition and whether by necessity or choice, many of its practitioners walk the path alone. Sharing a tradition and its spiritual practices with others can be richly rewarding but it is not for everyone and Joanna van der Hoeven’s latest book The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid illustrates that a solitary path in no way diminishes the wisdom and inspiration that Druidry offers.

The book is organised into three sections: the Basics of Druidry, Druidry in Practice and Creating Your Own Path.  The first deals with the history and what Druidry is, examining subjects such as the Awen, the Gods, the Ancestors and festivals. The second delves into practices such as meditation and pathworking, altar creation and rituals, whilst the third gives suggestion as to how the reader might design and walk their own path.

Joanna has already written two wonderful books in the Pagan Portals series published by Moon books: Zen Druidry and Dancing with Nemetona.  Pagan Portals are great little books that serve as doorways to a subject, a starting point for further reading. The Awen Alone is also part of this series and although it is a small book, it is large of heart; Joanna manages to perfectly distil core wisdom in an accessible and perceptive way that loses none of the richness of the subject.

Throughout you get a real sense of Joanna’s commitment to her practice; of the wisdom gained through an honest devotion to discovering her truth.  She reminds the reader that one of Druidry’s greatest strengths is that it encourages relationship with self, community and nature and that this brings its own responsibilities and inspiration. Druidry has no Dogma and this has led some outside the tradition to judge it as a ‘do what you fancy’ spirituality that lacks depth. The Awen Alone challenges this assumption by exploring a Druidry that strikes the perfect balance between acting upon the freedom to discover what Druidry is for the individual whilst sharing core values and principles that give shape to it as a philosophy. Joanna’s approach reminds us that we must move beyond reacting to truly responding and relating, and in this way our practice will remain flowing, flexible and open – enhancing our sensitivity to the changes that we must make, whilst at the same time feeling ourselves rooted in the tradition.

As a guide for the solitary Druid or beginner, The Awen Alone can’t be faulted – the reader is in very safe and knowledgeable hands – but in my view, it is much more than a ‘how to’.  Joanna’s book stands on its own as a concise and insightful exploration of Druid philosophy. For me, The Awen Alone helped me to re-engage with my own practice with some renewed enthusiasm and a deeper appreciation and understanding of this path that I follow. Its useful suggestions and exercises are perfect for those new to the Druid path, but Joanna’s depth of understanding and her ability to deliver this in an accessible yet profound way, makes this a book that Druids with many years of experience can learn from.  – Maria Ede-Weaving

Lucid dreaming

sleep flyingLately I’ve been getting pretty good at flying.

Once a month, or every couple of months, I have a flying dream. Lately they’ve been intentional, as just before I fall asleep, or when I awaken into another sleeping pattern in the middle of the night or early morning, I say to myself “I really fancy another flying dream”. Starting to take control of your dreams is often termed “lucid dreaming”, usually best experienced in lighter stages of sleep than in deep or exhausted sleep. I’ve done this various times, to turn around dreams that have gotten out of hand, situations that are getting ugly, and lately in order to experience true joy and freedom.

My last flying dream a couple of days ago was very interesting. In the previous flying dream, I restricted myself to an abandoned house that my sister was going to buy, so that I could practice flying without anyone knowing. For some reason, it was important to keep this a secret, and not let anyone know of my special power. In the latest dream, I took it outside, and didn’t really care who saw me flying around. It was freedom in every sense.

Feeling a bit homesick, I decided to go and visit my childhood home in flight mode, and then I was flying up my parents’ street, seeing the house and the hills and miles of forest behind. I thought “Wouldn’t it be cool to see my hills and forest from the air? I’ve never seen them from that vantage point. It would be great to see home from a bird’s eye view.” I swooped past the house and rose up high into the air, past the ridge letting the vast expanse opened out before me.

Only it wasn’t home. Or at least, it wasn’t the home of my childhood.

Spreading out before me was the gently rolling hills, fields, hedgerows and landscape of England. I shook my head and went back down for another swoosh up, telling myself that this time I would see home. Again, the same thing happened.

I slowly came out of the dream, exhilarated by all that flying. But I pondered the meaning of my semi-lucid state. I wasn’t able to see what I wanted to see. Or was I?

I have lived in Britain for over 15 years now. This dream has confirmed that this is my home now. While a large part of me will always remain in the hills and valleys, rivers and lakes of my home where I grew up, this is where I do my work, live my life, work with the ancestors and the gods. It was a beautiful affirmation of home, and freedom.

In what I suppose became a semi-lucid state, my sub-conscious helped me to realise and take to heart something that I had only considered in my head. Now I was able to feel it wholly, truly, in my entire being. I feel lucky and blessed.

May you all fly free!


Perception, assumption and suffering

How much of our lives are based around incorrect perceptions? How often does our emotional state and relationship with others fall apart based on incorrect perceptions? And just what is perception?

Perception is how we interpret the world, through our own subjectivity. We have a store consciousness built on our past experiences and those experiences related to us by others. We use this store consciousness to help inform us on our view of the world. It helps us to survive. We know that fire burns, so we don’t touch it. We know that cougars are dangerous, so we don’t approach. We look both ways (hopefully) before crossing the street. However, as our perception of the world is so subjective, how often do we get it wrong?

This is not to say that we should throw out all useful perception and experience. What we need to do is to become aware of our perceptions, and to see if we are making assumptions that aren’t based on actual fact. So much of our lives are built upon this, which is a rather shaky foundation.

Incorrect perception can lead to all sorts of problems and can create a huge amount of suffering. We might have the incorrect assumption that we are alone, which gives us the false perception that we are completely isolated from the rest of the world. We may react to a situation based on what we think someone said, rather than what they actually said, and thereby create a false perception of the actual event. We may assume from past experience that all politicians lie, and create a false perception that we cannot trust anyone, much less bother to vote. We might get angry at someone for their behaviour, without seeing the root causes behind it. Changing your perception leads to understanding, which is the essence of compassion.

We will still make mistakes, however. We have habits, ingrained learned behaviour that is difficult to overcome if we are not aware of it. However, once we see the patterns formed in learned behaviour, we can unlearn it. We can break free of negative, destructive cycles, beginning to heal ourselves and then work towards healing our community, our world.

By nature I judge everything – it’s simply a part of my personality. While it’s worth having to some extent, it’s also a detriment. What I have had to learn is how to judge without being judgemental. It may not sound like that great a difference, but really it is the foundation of trying to understand the human being.

Daily meditation helps with this on so many levels. Practising awareness for 10 to 20 mins a day in mindful meditation begins to seep into every aspect of your life. Once you become aware of your thought patterns and behavioural patterns, you can then learn to break free of these in order to live with more intention. Everyone can meditate to some extent – you just have to want to. You have to want to spend time with yourself, and thereby doing some pretty deep examination, coming to terms with the less than glowing aspects of your self, as well as embracing those parts of your self that nourish and bring peace. It’s very simple and sometimes very difficult. However, if you want to get off that treadmill of constant running, out of that vicious cycle you feel trapped in, it’s well worth the effort.

Next time you are angry, depressed or sad, take the time to look deeply into your perceptions. If you find that they are based on incorrect or unsubstantiated views, perhaps they are not perceptions but assumptions. You will have to let go of the anger, depression or sadness as well as the ego in order to fully see – things we like to cling on to for various reasons, ie. because we know we are right, because we know we are not good enough, etc. This knowledge is not true knowledge, but assumption based on false perception.

Doing this work can lead to a life filled with less suffering, and in doing so even bring more joy into the world. May we do the work with a peaceful heart and with pure intention.

The Self and the Middle Way

I’ve just been introduced to a wonderful concept, a very different view of the Middle Way by Vietnemese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh in his book, Beyond the Self: Teachings of the Middle Way.

So many people interpret the Buddha’s teachings of the Middle Way as walking between two extremes, of finding a middle ground between points of view. However, Thay talks about how we need to throw out all duality in order to truly understand the Middle Way. We do not walk between two extremes, but instead we throw out the concept of the extremes. We let go of dualistic points of view, and in doing so we are further able to release notions of the self in order to fully integrate with the world.

This has resonated so deeply with me, as for the past couple of months I have been exploring the release of the self and integration with the natural world as a result. To walk the middle way, we must, as Thay suggests “throw out” instead of letting go – as letting go still concedes to a dualistic nature of existence, and a self that is separate from nature. If we throw out all these ideas we are left with nothing but possibility.

The idea of the Middle Way, of changing the way that you think by throwing out dualities, has some other very interesting concepts to chew on. What happens if you throw out anger and joy? What happens when you throw out pain and bliss? Walking the Middle Way is not about never getting angry, or upset, or joyful, or blissful. It is about releasing ideas of opposites, and seeing the potential that is created in doing so.

How does this work then? If we throw out ideas of birth and death, we are simply left with manifestation of existence in all its forms. This reaffirms my belief that life does not begin when we are born, nor stop when we die: we simply change form, decomposing into the soil, molecules breaking down, chemical reactions occurring. We are released into the air through the plants growing around us, released into the water table, we fall as rain or snow, we are in the wind. There is no beginning and no end. When the conditions are right we manifest in different forms, whether that be human, water molecule, etc. When we strike a match, the flame does not come out of nowhere: the right chemical reaction must occur. When the flame is blown out, it does not disappear into nothingness, but simply ceases in that manifestation. When the conditions are right, it can appear again. As Thay puts it – clouds cannot die.

For me, this is the concept of reincarnation, exquisitely explained.

With regards to the self, we can take this further, realising that there is no separate self. We are beings that, like everything else on this planet, require the existence of other things in order to manifest. We are entirely co-dependent, there is nothing on this planet that can exist without other things. A cloud needs water and other elements in order to be. Humans needs water, food, shelter, oxygen and a host of other things in order to exist. Everything is interconnected. We cannot separate one thing from another – it is simply impossible. When we realise the interdependence of existence, we see that there really can be no separate sense of self – we are made up of millions of other human and non-human elements.

Thay goes further into describing all these other elements as having their own vitality, their own purpose, their own consciousness. Each thing is equally important in the manifestation of all existence.

For me, this is animism, exquisitely explained.

It is so wonderful when concepts that you hold so dear to your heart, concepts that you regularly meditate over, are expressed within a different religious path so eloquently. It shows a shared human experience, and a shared global manifestation of consciousness.

Thay is currently in hospital, aged 88 having suffered a brain haemorrhage. He is making progress, and we all wish him the best in his recovery, should that happen. Whatever may happen, we wish him peace and love. His teachings have made him a true hero of our time.

The Curse of Self-Awareness

As homo sapien sapiens, the beings that are aware that we are aware, we have a great gift in terms of our species title (though personally I’m not sure that this is pertinent only to human beings). We also suffer from a great curse: the curse of self-awareness.

Being self-aware can help us to achieve wonderful, beautiful things, striving towards peace and harmony with all creatures with pure intention, awake and aware of how you respond to situations and seeing where you “fit”. It can also lead down the slippery slope of becoming drowned in your own sense of self and of not being able to see beyond that. We can get lost in our heads in a made-up world instead of actually being in reality. We can create situations, linger on emotions and situations that are no longer relevant, and simply be too self-focused, missing out on the beauty, wonder and magic that life can offer us at any given moment.

Much of Paganism and Druidry begins by looking at the self, of finding where we fit within nature. Locating that sense of self is important. However, it shouldn’t end there – we must look outwards as well, otherwise we are missing out on everything that nature is communicating with us in relationship. Druidry is, after all, all about relationship, a two-way flow of energy.

Lift the curse of self-awareness, and look beyond the self to be inspired by the beauty and wonder of the world around you. Finding where you fit, and then listening and being inspired by others, in whatever form they may be – that is the greatest gift.