My search for a spiritual tradition with authentic roots began in earnest around the turn of the millennium, when I undertook a year-long ‘shamanic’ training in the UK, where I was living at the time, having just moved back from America. However, although I found the training profoundly transformative, I was uncomfortable about applying ‘imported’ South American and Native American practices, cosmologies and affirmations into my own lands, where the indigenous tradition is so different. I then began to work on developing a meaningful practice which made sense not only in the context of my own Celtic ancestry, but which was grounded in the native traditions of the countries – Scotland and Ireland – where my feet were physically planted. Because this land we walk on is alive; it wants us to know it. It has stories and dreamings of its own. Why then, being part of it, would we speak to it in the language and stories of others?
I couldn’t find sound and relevant trainings which seemed to be properly grounded, and so I began to develop my own practice. I began by exploring what I knew from my professional and academic background in psychology, mythology and Celtic literature. I found many glistening threads in Archetypal Psychology – in particular, in the study of the mythic imagination, and in working with myth and dreams. I’d always believed that myth, story and the archetypal characters who dwell in them are alive: we think we make them up, but I always imagined they had an independent existence. Or, as the founding father of Archetypal Psychology James Hillman famously said: we think psyche is in us, but we are actually in psyche. When I came across philosopher Henri Corbin’s discussion of the ancient Sufi concept of the mundus imaginalis – a world independent of the physical and intellectual worlds we normally inhabit but which is just as real; a world where the myths and archetypes and dreams and images are alive, and have an existence entirely independent of us – then I knew I was really onto something important.
I researched extensively into old literature from Ireland, Scotland and Wales, to see what I might discover about the religious practices and cosmologies of my ancestors. However, I believed strongly – and still do – that an attempt to reconstruct a contemporary spiritual practice based on a culture which is two thousand and more years old makes little sense. Our lineage is broken. Although the old literature can provide many insights into some of the beliefs of our ancestors, and some of the old ways have passed down into folk traditions which still exist today, we can’t reconstruct their entire worldview, or anything remotely resembling a complete system of practices and observances. And so I believe that we need to find a way to blend what we can discover about the knowledge and wisdom of our ancestors, along with the lessons we’ve learned in the intervening centuries, into an Earth-centred practice that makes sense today. That was my challenge, for a good number of years.
And then, in 2010, I moved to a wild and windy croft on the farthest south-western coast of the Isle of Lewis, in the Outer Hebrides. It was one of the remotest parts of Scotland, and barely populated. Our aim in moving there had been to escape from the horrors of ‘civilisation’, and to become as self-sufficient as we possibly could. With hardly anyone else to talk to, my immersion in the land – and in the stories and the mythical characters who inhabited it – became complete. It was a land of extremes – both meteorologically and geologically – and it had many lessons to teach. In the years that we spent there, I lost myself in that wild land’s dreaming. It was a long and hard apprenticeship to what Canadian scholar Sean Kane calls ‘the power of place, speaking’. Those were mythic years, in every sense of the word. And when – after chewing me over thoroughly – that bleak but beautiful island finally spat me out, I had more ‘practice’ than I knew what to do with, and a whole new set of skills to offer the world.
But I’ve always been reluctant to teach the things I learned during those years. Perhaps it was out of a sense of not yet being ready – but, eighteen years after I first took serious steps to imagine for myself a spiritual practice based on my native traditions, something is telling me it’s finally time. And that’s what brought me, finally, to what I call ‘HedgeWalking’: an authentic, land-based spiritual practice based on the indigenous myths and traditions of Ireland and the British Isles.
The ‘HedgeWalking’ website I’ve just constructed is an offshoot of The Hedge School. On it, you’ll find a small number of deep trainings designed to help others find their own way to such a practice. You’ll find no dogma there, no preaching; no formulas or prescribed beliefs. Just a profoundly embodied attunement to the land and the nonhuman others who share it with us, and an equally profound grounding in the mythic imagination. Blending the two together creates a special and unique way of living in relationship with this beautiful animate Earth, leading us ultimately to the fullest expression of our own unique calling. There is also a new blog, which will run in parallel with this one, and offer occasional thoughts specifically on these issues.
One of the trainings I’m particularly looking forward to is the chance to work deeply with a sisterhood of no more than eight women, throughout the course of a year. It includes four residential weekends here in Connemara, as well as the chance to work together and support each other in a private online forum, and via group and individual video calls.
The programme will begin in January and run throughout 2019, and will be focused the ways in which we can draw on our native traditions to help us connect with the wisdom of the Earth, and of the Otherworld. We’ll work with ceremony and voice, ritual and movement. We’ll tell stories, braid yarn, and knot thread. We’ll journey deeply into this world, and into the other worlds which permeate it. The work we’ll do includes:
- Falling into the land’s dreaming: grounded practices for developing a deep relationship with the land and the other-than-human world.
- The mythic imagination: working with dreams, myth, archetype, the active/creative imagination.
- Walking between worlds: journeying and healing techniques based on shamanic practices which are attuned to our own native traditions.
For more information, please visit this page on The Hedge School website.