What do you think of when you hear the words, "Hedge Druid?" Someone who works with the green and growing things, of working with nature, with the seasons and the tides? Yes, Hedge Druidry is that—working to find our place within nature, to find where we fit into our own ecosystems, working towards balance, harmony and the benefit of the whole. But Hedge Druidry is also a path that works with and is called to the Otherworld, that world that is connected to and which lies so very close to our own. That hidden world, where the seen and the unseen dwell, where we can connect to guides that can help us in this world on our journey in a Hedge Druid tradition. It is working with the liminal, with the in-between places, that which is neither one thing nor another, but which can hold multiple possibilities.
What is the Otherworld? In Celtic lore, it is a place where the Fair Folk (faeries) reside, alongside the dead. It is a place of wonder and enchantment, a place of great blessings and great challenge. It lies alongside and overlaps our world, and at special times and certain places the veil between the worlds thins, and we can travel through, much as those who exist in the Otherworld may visit our own. It is a place where we can gain great wisdom from broadening our perspective, and honing our perceptions. It teaches us about the filters we perceive with on an everyday basis, and dares us to widen our view of the worlds and of ourselves. It is a place of transformation.
How can we reach this Otherworld? It exists, all around us, all the time, whether we live in the countryside or in the middle of a city. It is both here and not here, real and transient. We can reach this place by going to those liminal places in our world, those places that are neither one thing nor the other, places that hold many possibilities within local phenomena. Think of the seashore, where the water meets the land, or the forest's edge, where the wildwood meets the meadow or farmer's field. Think of expansive parklands in the middle of a city. Think of high hilltops, where the land meets the sky, or deep within the famous Celtic hollow hills, where a world lies within a world. Think of burial mounds, where the living meet the dead, or by lakes, rivers or streams, where hidden worlds lies just beyond our perception.
Think of the hedge, that borderline that separates one thing from another, the civilised from the wild.
Classical writers speak of Druids who worshipped in special groves of trees. These sacred places were called "nemetons," and are where the Druids performed their rituals and sacrifices. We know that trees were so very important to the Celts, with evidence from Iron Age settlements of large poles, called bíles, found at the centre of the dwellings, a representation of the World Tree that is found in many religious traditions throughout the world. Hedge Druidry works with this World Tree, and one iteration can be the liminality of the hedge. The Hedge Druid is one who rides the Hedge, who travels between the worlds, who works with boundaries and the liminal places where the edges blend and meet.
The term "hedge riding" refers to a practice found in the Pagan community, mostly in Witchcraft traditions. It stems from the German word hagazissa, which means, "hedge sitter." The Saxon term is, haegtessa, and both words are from where we get our word "hag." Someone who rides the Hedge can straddle the worlds, this world and the Otherworld, to bring back wisdom and information to use in our world. Working with the boundaries of the civilised world as well as that which lies beyond the hedgerow is the world of the Hedge Druid, connecting and weaving together those threads to shape the world.
The Hedge Druid is a more recent term that applies to someone who walks the Druid path for the most part alone, using their wit and intelligence, the wisdom gained from long hours of research and practical experience in order to create their own tradition that is right for them and their environment. The term "hedge," when applied to Druidry and Witchcraft, stems from the nineteenth-century term "hedge priest," denoting a priest of the Christian faith who did not follow a particular or established tradition, had no church per se, and who preached, "from the hedgerow." The term was first applied to Witchcraft in Modern Paganism and popularised by the author Rae Beth. The term then spread to Druidry and became synonymous with solitary practitioners, who were not part of any order, grove, group, or other established sect. Not all solitary practitioners of Druidry would call themselves Hedge Druids; however, it is a term that is growing in popularity. Yet, Hedge Druidry goes beyond the notion of a solitary practitioner into something that is deeper and more connected to the natural world, this world and the Otherworld.
It is not enough to know of the green and growing things in this world, no. For the Hedge Druid, one must work with both this world and the Otherworld, in order to fully understand and achieve a holistic perspective of life and death. When we ride the hedge, we are working with the World Tree to traverse the realms of material perception, to delve deep within ourselves and deep within the Otherworld. It is a truly holistic path, full of trials to help us see the world, and ourselves, more clearly.
When we ride the hedge, we are working with the World Tree to traverse the realms of material perception, to delve deep within ourselves and deep within the Otherworld. It is a truly holistic path, full of challenges to help us see the world, and ourselves, more clearly. Only when we understand the wild and the tame, this world and the Otherworld, light and shadow, life and death and everything in between can we truly come to an integrated worldview.
Do you feel called to a hedge practice? If so, then seek out a liminal place, whether it be a hedge, the shoreline, a mountaintop, etc. Find an in-between place, where more than one perception can be found. Meditate on the many possibilities that lie in these places, and think on the Otherworld, that fluid and mutable world that borders and overlaps our own. Go at a liminal time, such as dawn or dusk. Go at a time when the seasons change, such as the old Celtic festivals of Beltane or Samhain. Go out just before midnight, just before one day changes into the next. Go when the tides changes from high to low, or low to high. Go with an open heart and an open mind.
Wear and carry nothing that contains iron, for the majority of those who dwell in the Otherworld do not like the presence of iron. If you wish, you can protect yourself by carrying some St. John's wort, or a holed stone to ward off those who may not have your best intention at heart. The people of the Otherworld have their own agendas (as do we), and we must honour and respect that. Cast a circle, if you will, not to protect yourself from outside forces but to create a space in-between the worlds, a portal to the Otherworld. Turn counter-clockwise three times, and state your intention to walk between the worlds, in peace and in friendship. Sit in that liminal place, or walk through the landscape, looking and listening with new eyes, eyes that are now open to the Otherworld and its inhabitants. Know that as you are a walker between the worlds, one of the Old Ways who actively seeks relationship with the world of nature and the Otherworld, that you are guided and protected by your wit and intelligence, and that you dare to do the work with a brave, adventurous heart. For here is where your perception will change, where the world as you see it will forever be altered, so that you may never take it for granted what you perceive in the material sense, but instead come to know that a world where everything is possible, and things aren't always what they appear.
When you are ready, return to your original place and turn clockwise three times, stating your intention to return to this world, awake and aware of all that you have seen and learned on your travels through the Otherworld. Place an offering of milk, bread, and honey with a grateful and respectful attitude (but do not say "thank you," for in Celtic lore it is never wise to say this to the Fair Folk, as it may be seen as indebting yourself to them). Hold your love for this world and the Otherworld deep in your soul, and know that you are one of the wisdom keepers, one of the Old Folk who carry the light of the Otherworld in your eyes and the truth and wisdom of holistic living upon your lips. You are one who acknowledges and works with the liminal, in the manner of the Old Ways, and you honour the ancestors and the Otherworld in your work.
You are one who works with the hedge, with the World Tree. You have put the "hedge" back into Hedge Druidry.
Joanna van der Hoeven (Suffolk, UK) is a Druid, Witch, author, and teacher. She has written several books on Druidry, including The Awen Alone: Walking the Path of the Solitary Druid. She has also written countless articles ...