Yoga, Animism and the Nature of Evil

During yoga last night, halfway through the class and moving to another pose, a loud “wham!” sounded in the room. In the middle of the class, a woman had squashed some spider or insect with her shoe on the wooden floor. “Did you get him?” the yoga teacher asked.

“Yep,” the lady replied, pleased with herself.

My heart fell. I was saddened, not only by the loss of life, but more by the wanton destruction of said life, as if it had no right to existence. For one such as myself, intentional killing of another animal is tantamount to murder, when it is completely unnecessary. The class carried on as if nothing happened.

I’m still thinking about it. I know that I personally could not squash a spider or bug, snail or slug, no matter how yucky they might appear to my preconceived human perception of what is beautiful and what is not. Driven since a very young age, we are told that wasps are evil, spiders are scary and snails are gross and destructive in our gardens. They all deserve to die because of these things. It is utterly absurd.

I have sat down to a meal at a pub, outside in their beer garden, where customers could request a can of insecticide to kill the wasps that came looking for food, tantalised by the sweet smell of beer. Horrified, not only by the wanton killing but by the thought of such chemicals near food, I have not been back since. The way the human mind works both disgusts and challenges me sometimes.

I’m not overly fond of worms or slugs, slimy things or creatures that live in the ocean that I cannot see beneath me when I am swimming. Big spiders are slightly frightening, only because I know that they can bite (I’ve yet to be bitten). That doesn’t mean that I seek to eradicate spiders, or all slimy things from my garden, or cull sharks when I want to swim in their waters. We really have to get over our ideas of what is good, what is beautiful and what has a right to existence, and what doesn’t. Who the hell are we to say?

I’ve been an Animist all my life. I have known on a very deep level that all things have a right to existence. This was not instilled in me by my parents, per se – it just seems an inherent part of my personal nature. I know that all things are connected on both a spiritual level and also on a scientific level. We live in ecosystems, where one part relies on another part to function. We often forget that we are part of such complex systems, or we believe we are above them. I recently wrote to my local newsletter in response to a letter to the editor asking for the eradication of ragweed near his home. He saw the dangers of the toxic plant, however he also failed to recognise the many lives are dependent on this one species of plant. For himself, he saw no benefit in this plant. He saw himself as above and more valuable to the ecosystem in which this plant existed. This is the nature of evil, in my opinion – belief that we are separate and therefore we can do as we please.

Philip Carr-Gomm has recently shared his queries and thoughts on the nature of evil in a recent social media status update. He states:

“Humans can be so unspeakably destructive – either to their fellow humans or the Earth, perhaps the ‘unthinkable’ needs to be thought – that human nature is not naturally beneficent, and evil acts therefore the result of aberration, but that it is in its essence a mixture of beneficent and maleficent, and that only some sort of training, discipline, spiritual practice, psychotherapy or education that can help us ensure our beneficence rules our head, heart and actions, rather than the reverse.

What do you think? Have you sometimes thought ‘perhaps they got it right when they came up with the idea of Original Sin’?”

The idea of Original Sin to me is abhorrent as killing things without thought. It is used to guilt people into behaving in the way that those in power think they should, to keep those in power in the status quo. This is not a criticism of Christianity as a whole, but of those who use it to further their own purposes. There is much within Christianity that is beautiful and inspiring. This abuse of power is not limited to Christianity, but can found in religions and communities all over the world.

I personally do not think that people are born evil. When I look at human beings, I see monkeys with car keys. Sadly, these monkeys have forgotten their roots, forgotten that they are just monkeys, forgotten that they are a part of the world and a part of an intricate web of existence. This is where the nature of evil occurs, the sin that divides and separates. This is where the destruction occurs, because we believe we are separate, that we are in control, that we have power over other beings.

I would argue that nothing in nature is beneficent – everything simply is what it is, neither good nor bad. The sun is not being beneficent in providing us with light and life – it is just being what it is. The clouds are not being beneficent by providing us with rain – they are just being clouds. Beneficent seems to imply a focused and intentional act of giving. While nature has its own consciousness, how intentional is it? This leads us to the ultimate question – what is the meaning of life?

For me, life has no inherent meaning – it just is. Things are alive because the appropriate conditions were available for life to be. This includes humans and all other beings. There is no master plan. It is a wonderful, beautiful, freestyle weaving of a web of life.

We are not born evil, or with evil intent. We are not born good, or with good intent. We are simply born, and the lives that we live, the circumstances of those lives and the environment that we live in all provide us with a path that we take. We have a choice to cut ourselves off from our inherent nature, of living in harmony with the rest of the world. We choose to do this for the most part out of desire for personal gain, whatever the cost to other lives and the planet as a whole. When we believe in the lie that we are separate, we can commit the worst atrocities.

We don’t even need a religion or spirituality, psychotherapy or other means to find some sort of return to harmony. We just need to wake up and shake off the lie, the belief that we are separate. We need to see things how they are, not how we think they should be. We need to see our place in the warp and weft of the tapestry of life. We need to sing in tune with all the other songs of existence. We need to remember what it is to be truly alive.

When we awaken, we also find the proverbial return to the garden. We understand life in all its forms. By living with eyes open, we walk the earth with compassion for all things.

When we return to our place in the web, the end result is deep and lasting peace.

Duty

Recently I wrote a blog post about self-governance, and mentioned that another word that we need to reclaim in Druidry and Paganism in general is “duty”.

The concept of duty can go against the grain of some the Pagans and Druids out there who feel that it compromises their expressions of freedom. Duty seems to allude to the fact that we MUST do something, and being told to do anything can make many a pagan balk. However, duty is central to my Druidry, and there are many things that I must do to maintain my focus on a path and journey of honourable relationship and discovery.

As a Pagan and Druid who seeks a deep, sustainable, meaningful and honourable relationship with the land and the world around me, the concept of giving back for all that I have received is key. That giving back is my duty, my obligation to see that sustainability is kept, otherwise the whole thing might fall apart. I see it as my duty to recycle, to reduce my consumption of material goods, to be vegan, to organise litter clear-ups, to promote environmental activism, equality and rights for both human and non-human animals. I see it as my duty to act as priest for my community, to serve them in the best way that I can, whether that is as ritualist or celebrant, author or dance director, eternal student of nature and life. All of these I see as part of my dedication to my community, my gods and my ancestors. But it goes deeper than that. That is simply the work and the life path’s that I have chosen to embark on to live in a more meaningful, inspired and honourable way.

There aren’t really words to describe the depth of my duty towards my Druidry. It is something that is lived, is felt deep within the heart and deep within the gut. It is expressed dancing in the wind and collecting wild mushrooms. It is writing letters to the local council against the proposed housing development that will eradicate delicate and endangered species. It is a dedication to learning all about where I live, from where my water comes from to how I generate my own electricity. It is about learning to run with the deer on the heath and sing with the bees in the thick clumps of heather. It is about not settling for “good enough” or resting on your laurels. It is about constantly learning, experiencing and awakening.

Duty is tied with responsibility – the ability to respond. In keeping with the previous blog’s message of self-governance, we can use this to help us respond to situations better, more efficiently and with more compassion.

Duty is described in the dictionary as something that one is expected or required to do by moral or legal obligation. Indeed, my morality dictates my duty, however, the legality side is guided by my morals (and not the other way around). It is my civic duty to report abuse, or stop when I witness a car crash, yet I would do this regardless of whether there was legal obligation. Often duty is considered as something we are “forced” to do, yet I can think of no other way to be in the world. I am not being forced by anyone do live the way I do. I choose to live my life in service and in constant awe of the power of nature.

The nature and etymology of word duty is long and complicated. From Anglo-French deute and Old French deu, it means what is owed, due, proper and just. Go back further to the Latin, and we have debitus, the past participle of debere, which means debt, or to owe something. This ties in nicely with what I stated earlier, in the giving back for all that I have received in my life. I cannot simply take and take without giving anything back. Look at what that has already done to the world.

And so, duty is not a bad word in my vocabulary. It fits in my world view of being of service. It is about sustainable and honourable relationship within the cycles of life. We are never distanced from nature or life, but ever dancing within the wheels of time and the tides of life and death, entwined in each other’s arms and lives like Celtic knotwork. There is no separation, no Other. When we realise that, we realise our duty.

Listening to the whole story

joannavanderhoeven:

An older post by Snowhawke, but one that still has utmost relevance to us today. x

Originally posted on The Animist Druid:

Last night I went to a PermaCulture meet-up. It was surprisingly enlightening. The presentation was excellent. The group was diverse (for Maine standards). A few things in particular struck me.

I was impressed with just how clearly the presenter stated just how unsustainable our current way of living is. We have built the most complex system of economics, communities, infrastructure, and culture ever seen on the face of the planet; and it is all built upon the premise of endless cheap fossil fuel and the idea that we can consume and create endless waste without consequence. Most people realize this isn’t sustainable and major change has to come. But you can’t argue that this is not currently the situation and foundation of our modern life. 50% of the Earth’s non-renewable resources have been used up by the baby-boomer generation. These are gone forever. Richard Heinberg (a peak oil expert) was…

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Self-Governance

mudraFar too often we allow our emotions to control us, dictating how we react and respond to situations and perhaps not in the best way. Some would argue that our emotions are what gets things done, however, something done with anger, for instance, may not always be the best way forward.

Discipline has become a bad word in our society. What we need to do is to reclaim this word, along with duty (which I will elaborate more on in another blog). We need to sit down with ourselves and take a good, long, hard look at our emotions and the roots of these emotions, finding out why we react to situations the way we do, discover underlying patterns and unravel the threads that are loose, or about to snap, reworking them into something more harmonious.

If we work on a situation based on an emotion of anger, hate or jealousy, then the outcome will most likely not be conducive to creating compassion and harmony with the world. Exploring the roots of these “negative” emotions, we will realise that the underlying thread is one of fear. Anger is another expression of fear. We become angry at our partner for not behaving in a manner that we think he should. In reality, we may be fearful of losing our partner, or of changing feelings for him, of not having enough control in our own lives, etc. Hate is based in fear, as we fear that which is the Other, separate from ourselves, the unknown. Jealousy is based on fear of change, our own insecurities and fears created out of past experiences.

What we need to do it to sit down with our feelings, to better understand them and in doing so, better understand our selves. In creating a safe space to sit with our feelings, we can engage with them openly and honestly. Creating a haven, a sanctuary in which to perform this task, we can explore the deepest corners of our minds. For me, the goddess Nemetona helps in this exercise.

She is a goddess of sanctuary and sacred space. She is present in my home and in my heart. Human beings have such a craving for safety and security, and within this goddess we can find that wherever we are. Not only does it help with emotional discipline and self-governance, but the two are intricately woven together, with self-governance creating that safety. Let me explain.

If we are ruled by the tides of our emotions, we will never settle, never find a place that we can call a sanctuary. We are subject to the peaks and valleys of an emotional long hard slog, and never really find a good breathing space in which to find some respite. If we do not have that sanctuary, we have no place to breathe and to truly connect with our emotions. And so an endless cycle of repetition is created.

Finding time every day to simply sit and breathe is a great way to begin. In a safe, comfortable place, whether indoors or out, we focus on our breath, in and out, breathing in the air that our ancestors breathed, that all living things breathe. We breathe out into the world, exhaling even as the trees exhale in the deepening twilight. Sharing this beautiful moment, this sacred breath, we come to an awareness of ourselves, of our self and how we currently feel in the world at this particular moment. We can call upon Nemetona to hold this space while we simply sit and breathe, honouring Her for all that She is with a return to the stillness at our core.

It’s not easy, taking the time to simply breathe, to meditate on our breath. Our minds will try every trick in the book to distract us from this present moment and this one little act. It is with discipline that we return to our breath again and again, each time we find ourselves wandering off mentally, or shifting our bums restlessly. You have to really want to find stillness – it doesn’t just happen. You have to be disciplined enough to achieve it. It won’t simply suddenly appear out of nowhere, nor can it be spoon-fed. Discipline will not allow any passivity. We must take full responsibility for our selves and for our world.

After breathing, we can take some time looking at our feelings and emotions without attaching to them. Again, we can ask Nemetona to help us, to hold the space and to guide us to explore our feelings without getting too involved, wrapped up once again the in the emotion. She won’t do it for us, however. We can look at our fear, at our anger, our impatience, our joy and our happiness. We can find the roots of these if we don’t let them take control over our minds, and therefore live in better awareness.

For not only do we have to be careful of the negative emotions ruling our behaviour, but we must also become aware of the more pleasant emotions. Far too often we experience a beautiful emotion, and crave that emotion for the rest of our lives. We will never be able to recreate that experience, for it has happened and exists only in the past. All we have is this present moment, which is always changing, moving forwards. If we try to regain the feeling of joy that we had on our wedding day every time we look at our loved one, we disregard other emotions and feelings that will eventually come and bite us on our backside. We may not notice the present moment. Focusing only on positive emotions doesn’t work – we are human and we have negative emotions too. Those who deny them, who suppress them, will face some pretty hard demons at some point in their life.

So we sit, and we meditate day after day, breathing and coming to an awareness of the present moment. We are able to take the time to look at our feelings and get to know them better, thereby allowing ourselves the opportunity to break from negative patterns of behaviour into more purposefully led lives. Discipline and self-governance are not things to be afraid of, nor are they something to shun as not in keeping with our freedom of expression. We are better able to express ourselves when we are not ruled by our emotions, allowing us to see what lies at the root of our souls, and thereby what lies in others’ souls as well.

This is the heart of compassion. When we understand ourselves we can better understand others, and see their fears, their patterns being created. We can work with them to help create new patterns, or we can simply walk away with respect and not have their patterns reflected in our own. We can only help those who want to be helped, and this includes our own self.

So please do take the time to sit, every day, and be in the present moment. Become aware of your breathing. Call upon Nemetona or any other god to help you find that peace, that space to explore your feelings, should you so desire. Look at your feelings and better understand them for what they are. In doing so, you will no longer be ruled by them, but instead be able to respond in the world with an awareness and mindfulness that can only create harmony. We come to understand each other in a very deep and meaningful way when we take what we learn of ourselves and relate that to others. In this, we can see that we are all related.

We are not restricting ourselves with self-governance, but allowing ourselves to open to the world with the eyes of compassion and hearts that are true.

 

For more about the goddess, Nemetona, please see my book, Dancing With Nemetona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space

To Autumn, A Poem by John Keats

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To Autumn by John Keats (1820)

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss’d cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’er-brimm’d their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap’d furrow sound asleep,
Drows’d with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,—
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

A little autumnal photography…

Autumn is my favourite season. I love the colours, the smells, the feel, the light.  I thought I’d share some of my inspiration with all you lovely folks as I dusted off the old camera… model is my beautiful friend and fellow Mori Girl, Sarah.

© Joanna van der Hoeven www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven www.joannavanderhoeven.com

© Joanna van der Hoeven http://www.joannavanderhoeven.com

Reblog: The Coolest Kids on the Playground

This is a reblog of my post, The coolest kids on the playground, for my blog channel DruidHeart at Witches and Pagans.

There is a favourite saying of mine, “You do not have to blow out someone else’s candle for yours to burn more brightly”. Sadly, it seems that in our modern society, this is the way things “work”.
Watch a political debate. It’s just tossing around attempts to besmirch the other party, rather than actually getting things done. It’s infuriating. Sound bites on the news are all about how another party is crap, and theirs is better, without actually talking about the issue at hand.
See what happens on a school playground. Those who are different, who don’t fit in with the popular kids, are usually pushed around or gossiped/rumour mongered by those who are a part of the elite popular gang. I have no idea why it happens, but it happened over thirty years ago when I was in elementary and high school, it happens now and it will happen in the future, most likely. I don’t know if kids learn this from their parents, or television, or society – all I know is that kids can be cruel.
Even in Pagan circles, people put down or condemn others for various reasons: the “newbie”, the “fluffy bunny”, the rival coven, hearth or Order. All it comes down to, basically, is this playground mentality. Some people never got out of it. Even the most intelligent, articulate person can fall back into this frame of mind, to make themselves feel better.
This is not to say that we shouldn’t look critically at others’ behaviour, and especially our own. What I am trying to say is that we do not need to belittle anyone whose path may be different from our own.
I have known some popular Pagan leaders to put down other Pagans in front of their own group. This always leaves me with a bad feeling in my mouth – it is utterly distasteful. It does a disservice to everyone involved. Even the most militant, ethically-minded person I know has failed in this regard on at least one occasion, shuddering at the thought of once belonging to another group and verbally putting them down in front of a gathering of about a dozen individuals. This shocked me, but then I realised that we are all human, and we all have failings. We can all regress to the playground.

To read the full article, click HERE