The paths that life take us are many and winding, with great and small adventures along the way. My own path to being a hedge witch is not dissimilar, and the roads that I have travelled have all informed me in my practice today.
As a child growing up on the edge of a village in the mountains of Quebec, I had always been drawn to and fascinated by the natural world, as well as the "mythical" inhabitants that shared our world or whose worlds overlapped our own. While belonging to the Protestant Church, all around me were tales from the First Nations, Métis and Inuit, tales that spoke of the natural world and how things came to be, alongside many spirits, gods, and creatures that were betwixt and between. These tales always rang more true than those I was taught in the Christian faith, and so I learned more about the indigenous peoples of my homeland at every opportunity.
My first introduction to the Craft and its various traditions was in college back in the early 1990s, through a class that was entitled, "Magic, Religion, and Science." It was AMAZING. The subjects that we covered suited me down to a tee.
During this college course, we saw a trilogy of films by Donna Read for the National Film Board of Canada, entitled "Women and Spirituality." The first of the three films was entitled The Goddess Remembered. I was entranced by the tales of the women who honoured a goddess figure in the past as well as today, goddesses that came from their own cultures. I knew then that I could connect with a goddess who was not a fantasy, but a reality. The soundtrack for all three films was created by Loreena McKennitt, one of her first major film projects and which also introduced me to her work. I have been a fan of her music ever since, and she has been an inspiration to me in so many different ways.
The next two films were The Burning Times and Full Circle. By the end of the viewing I knew that I had to seek out a path that honoured a goddess. I found a witchcraft store in Montreal, The Magical Blend (which closed down a few years ago) and I knew I had come home. I bought books and just visited the store to bask in the atmosphere. It was a wonderful place.
From there I began to develop my own personal Wiccan path. I had always preferred to practice my spirituality solo, and so in the quiet of my apartment in Montreal and in the woods and glades of my ancestral home, I called to the Goddess and God, performed rituals to honour the cycles, seasons and the moons, and practiced magic.
My Wiccan studies led me to Druidry, which I took up alongside my witchy ways. The works of Emma Restall Orr greatly inspired me, and I began to work as a Druid after taking a year-long course in the Cotswolds (England) with her. My Druid practice deepened my connection to nature, to the natural world and the spirits of place. It taught me of how I was part of an ecosystem, and how I could become a functioning and beneficent member of that ecosystem.
I also dived into Zen Buddhism, and practiced that alongside my Druidry. I found a great complement in the quietude and seeking without seeking nature of Zen to the mindfulness found within Druidry. It became such a large part of my life that I wrote my first book about it, and also released a subsequent book a few years later expanding on the subject.
My Druid studies in full swing, I still felt the pull, the call back to my witchy nature, which never went away. It was always there, always a part of my heart and soul, a part of my DNA. With combining Zen and Druidry, I realised that my own spiritual path need not be an "either/or" situation, but could be a "both/and" scenario. Singularity had very little place in a practice based on nature, and I came to understand that diversity is key in all sustainable relationships. I reintroduced elements of my old witchy ways into my life, practicing that alongside my Druidry, which I still do today.
While practicing both Druidry and Witchcraft, I came across the works of the author Rae Beth. It was she who introduced me to the art of hedge riding, and what it meant to be a hedge witch. It was she who coined the term "hedge witch," which meant not just someone who followed a solitary path, but someone who performed "hedge riding." This resonated deeply within my soul, and awoke ancestral memories.
I knew I had done this before. I knew that I had walked between the worlds, as a witch, as a Druid, in other paths. I had many experiences with beings from the Otherworld in my daily life, which changed my world forever. Encounters with the Fair Folk, with spirits, with deities showed me back to a path that I had walked before, but which now led to new and even more exciting adventures. This path led me back to myself, to my authentic self, my sovereign soul.
After years of practicing a hedge tradition, I wrote a book entitled Hedge Druidry. This book encapsulated everything that I had discovered in my many years working in the Druid tradition, alongside the information that I had gleaned in my hedge ridings. Hedge riding is a trance-like state where one can be taken in the "astral and even sometimes the physical to walk between the worlds. In doing so, one can glean information to take back into daily life. This information and experience turns into personal wisdom, where one learns not only more about the natural world, the seen and the unseen, but also of the self.
And underneath it all, I still practiced my own witchcraft. I began to take my hedge riding into my own Craft, and found that it lent a great power and energy that hadn't been there before. Because I was becoming aware of the energy of the many and varied beings that shared this space with me, I felt more powerful and self-assured as I understood the ways that the world around me worked in my own locality. I could lend my voice to the symphony of song that is playing each and every day, and find out where the harmony lies. I understood that being a witch meant working in balance, for balance, each and every day.
Many see hedge witchcraft as simply a solitary practice. But I learned that it is so much more. I understood that hedge riding is what makes the hedge witch who they are, and that it informs their very soul. For some, it is easy. Those of a fey nature, who are sensitive, who are attuned to more than what the eye can see, for these folks the path may open easily before them. For others, understanding the trance techniques combined with good old-fashioned grit and determination will help them to achieve the results they desire and the wisdom that comes from walking between the worlds. Anyone can follow this path, with a little wit, determination, discernment, and persistence.
I understood how developing a hedge witchcraft tradition leads one to understand the traditional ways, the old ways of working with the land. My own hedge witchcraft leans towards the teachings from traditional Craft practices in England, combined with magical practices and folklore from my Germanic and Scandinavian heritage. We learn how to work deeply with the land, in intimate relationships that provide a give and take, a reciprocity so that each side is nurtured and can grow. It is working profoundly within the cycles of the environment that we find ourselves in, and learning about our own locality with a love and determination to be in accord with the natural world around us. It is seeking out our Fairy companions, and the multitude of wisdom that awaits in the Otherworld. My own path has also led me down the route of herbcraft, and understanding the wild plants that grow in the hedgerows.
The hedgerows are the magic places. They delineate one place from another, yet belong to neither. They are the in-between place, where enchantment resides. The hedge witch knows this, and seeks out these liminal places, as they speak to their soul. When we ride the hedge, we are in both worlds at once. The paths from these places are many and varied, and all contain soul lessons along the way.
And so, living once again on the edge of a village, this time on the Suffolk Coast in the East of England, my hedge witch practice is one that is lived every single minute of every single day. It is a part of my soul, as it has always been. I just never had a name for it for the longest time. All the paths have led me back to my sovereign self. I am more than just one specific thing at one specific time. My hedge practice has taught me the benefit of multiplicity, of diversity, of walking between the worlds.
My hedge practice had led me home.
Joanna van der Hoeven has been working in Pagan traditions for over thirty years. She is an author, teacher, dancer, blogger, photographer, and videographer. Her love of nature and the land where she lives provide her with ...