Here’s a link to an interview that Nimue from Druid Life blog carried out with me – keep an eye out for more interviews and very interesting blog posts from this lovely lady!
I first met Jo through The Druid Network some years ago when she volunteered to start producing a podcast. Since then I’ve been following her various exploits with interest. Jo is a woman of remarkable energy, whose interests and creativity range widely. She’s in many ways a new voice in Druid writing, and someone whose words I find resonant and inspiring. I’m very excited about her book.
Nimue: I notice you’ve said online that your book on Zen and Druidry is your third book contract, so, what were the other two? I’m clearly behind here.
Jo: My other two books are a medieval fantasy (pulp fantasy my partner calls it!) called Falconwing and I also have a book of poems, entitled Instinct & Inspiration (the poetry book feels a little juvenile now, as it was written over ten years ago, and my style has very much changed – and improved!).
Nimue: Zen and druidry – how did you come to bring these two traditions together?
Jo: I’ve always had a great interest in religion, spirituality and philosophy from around the world. I’ve been on the Druid path for over 10 years now, formerly a Wiccan. I can’t quite remember how I stumbled upon Zen, but I began to see the similarities between the two emerge as I delved ever deeper into both Druidry and Zen. Both have roots that can be traced back to India – at different times, it seems the proto-Celts went west, while Zen went east! The tenants and philosophies were much alike. I also found that while studying and practicing Zen (in essence, meditation) it could be applied to Druidry and both would benefit.
Many people seem to think that Zen meditation is all about clearing the mind, focusing on having no thought. In reality, Zen teaches us to notice our thoughts as they happen, and as we observe we can eventually change our patterns into something much calmer, less chaotic – simplicity in its essence. Rather than emptying our mind, we notice thoughts as they arise, and by noticing not allowing them to control us. This eventually leads to a state of mindfulness – being completely aware of yourself and your surroundings.
This was essential in my Druid meditation. Whether practicing inside or outside, complete mindfulness was the key to true connection. Carrying that mindfulness into everyday activities was the next step. It has allowed me to deepen my Druidry even further, allowing for profound change. Not only the principles of Zen deepened my Druidry, but the practice as well!
Nimue: How important to you is that historical angle and sense of connection between the two traditions? Or possibly, is the connection there because of the history, or is it something else, or both?
Jo: I think the connection is there within most spiritualities – they develop as we search for a meaning for our existence, for a reason why things happen… they are all rooted in the same basic human condition. Much in the same way as I see similarities between Heathenry and Druidry, so too did I make the connection with Zen and Druidry. In fact, you could say I’m a Zen Heathen Druid! Celtic and Heathen recontructionists are face-palming right now, aren’t they?
I wouldn’t say that it’s all that important to have the historical connection – everyone’s path is their own, no one can walk it for them. Therefore, each person has their own needs, which may or may not be met by an existing tradition, spirituality or philosophy. Whether there is a historical connection or not, if it works, then it is meeting the needs of the individual. For me, that is what is most important.
Nimue: Good words! I know you have an ‘evolving tradition’ attitude, from your words on belly dancing. How does that thread fit with the others?
Jo: Do you mean how does belly dancing fit in with Zen and Druidry? I find dance one of the greatest physical expressions of emotion, inspiration – it’s storytelling without words. So much is happening with your body when you dance – and also with your soul. Being completely mindful of your dance, feeling every muscle, allowing the story to come through you, your story, maybe how you are feeling at that very moment – it’s just such a great expression, or reflection, of your own soul. Sometimes it can simply be a physical release – I like nothing better than to put on some David Bowie or Led Zeppelin when I’ve had a trying day, and thrash it out in my living room when I get home. Other times I am expressing an emotion, such as love or peace. It can also be a meditation, almost trancelike, shifting our consciousness to reach other states of being.
I love the movements and music of belly dance – there are so many different kinds of belly dance, from all over the world. I love exploring all the different styles – in my workshops, I take a different style of gypsy belly dance and teach it. Our last workshop was learning moves from the Rajasthani gypsy tribes – this month we are learning Turkish Roman moves and steps. I find belly dance so expressive – it can be hard and edgy, with modern music such as Beats Antique, it can be soft and flowing, as with veil work, mysterious and moody with swordwork, cheeky and fun with cabaret – there’s a dance style to suit every mood! I love expressive dancing – Flamenco with its passion is another favourite.
So, to answer your question – they are all great ways to be completely in the moment, to express your soul song – I suppose each is a language unto itself!
Nimue: Do you work with any druid groups at the moment?
Jo: I was a member of Clan Oghma for about a year, but had to give that up as I just couldn’t make the dates with my schedule. I was already a member of a group that I started up about five years earlier, Spirit Grove. It’s funny you should ask this question, as I have just left Spirit Grove as well now, to focus on a more solitary path. I always find it difficult to achieve the deep spiritual experiences that I have in my own solitary practice when faced with group ritual. As well, I’ve moved out to the countryside, so I’m quite far away from both previous groups. I really enjoyed working in a group – it’s a totally different dynamic, but now I’m called to walking a path in the quiet company of the heath where I live, the North Sea and the birch and pine woods of home.
I took both the OBOD bard and ovate courses, so I suppose I’m a member of OBOD. I’m also a member of The Druid Network, and also the Order of the Yew.
Nimue: And, where can people find you online? Or offline, for that matter…
Jo: At http://www.autumnsong.com, and I am also on The Druid Network. You can also find me on witchvox.com, and of course on facebook. I also have a blog at wordpress.com which is called octopusdance.
Original article can be found here: http://druidlife.wordpress.com/2012/02/21/interview-joanna-vanderhoeven/