Book review: The Awen Alone

awen aloneI’ve been meaning to do a review of Joanna van der Hoeven’s The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid for ages. I recently re-read this wonderful little book, and I recommend it to anyone interested in a brief introduction to Druidry, especially those who are not a member of an Order or other organisation, or who practice their Druidry alone.

Joanna van der Hoeven is a Canadian Druid based in the UK, and has trained with OBOD and with Emma Restall-Orr. Her Druidry, therefore, is very much in the shape and form of what you might call “traditional British Druidry”, which is very different from the Druidry of ADF. There is a lot of wisdom in this book that is applicable to Druids and Pagans of all persuasions however.

The book is organised into three sections: the basics of Druidry, Druidry in practice and creating your own Druid path. The first is a short but effective overview of Celtic and Druidic history, as well as discussion of concepts such as gods, ancestors and nature. The second and third sections provide, for me, the most interesting parts of the book, featuring practical suggestions for meditation, nature awareness, “inner pathworking” and rituals to help create your own personalised Druidry.

Van der Hoeven’s Druidry is emphatically non-dogmatic. She says:

“In Druidry, there is a broad interpretation of just who or what the gods are. Some Druids are monotheists, believing in only one god. Some are polytheists, believing in many gods. Some are pantheists, believing that everything is an interpretation of the divine, and this seems to bridge the two strands of monotheism and polytheism. A benefit of the solitary path is that we can choose our own path, which may or may not lead to relationship with deity or deities. We may choose to see Druidry as a religion, with deity concepts, or see it as a philosophy, and leave deity out of it.”

This openness is, in my opinion, one of the great strengths of Druidry, but it does not mean that Druidry is a pick-&-mix, flaky spirituality. Van der Hoeven discusses Druidy’s commitment to nature and the practical ethics that flow from it, for everything from choosing what to eat to how to live lightly on the earth. She writes:

“Being a Druid is about taking responsibility for one’s actions, as well as for one’s environment. No longer can one be ignorant about either – it is waking up and making a commitment to understand, to the best of our abilities, everything that we do and say”.

At the heart of this Druidry is the Awen, a Welsh word meaning “inspiration”. Awen is central to traditional British Druidry, and is often chanted in ritual. For van der Hoeven, Awen is:

“an awareness, not just on a physical and mental level, but also on a soul-deep level of the entirety of existence, of life itself. It is seeing the threads that connect us all. It is the deep well of inspiration that we drink from, to nurture our souls and our world, and to give back in joy, in reverence, in wild abandon and solemn ceremony”.

The Awen is something I miss in my current ADF Druid practice, and van der Hoeven’s book reminds me why it is so important in the Druid tradition.

Van Der Hoeven is also the author of Zen Druidry, which discusses her personal practice combining Zen Buddhism and Druidry, and this aspect is referred to here in the section on meditation. I would recommend Zen Druidry as another short read for anyone interested in either, or both, paths.

The Awen Alone is a short book, only 101 pages, but it packs in a wealth of information and practical exercises that help you to not only know about Druidry, but experience it.