Thursday, December 18, 2014

Book Review: Pagan Portals- The Awen Alone

 (link to Amazon page)

I have always had a fascination with Druidry, since I was little, but my personal spirituality has never explored the practice deeply. I was very excited to read this book, and it didn't let me down. I think that Joanna did a wonderful job of opening the door to Druidry and making it approachable.

The book opens with a short 'day in my life' story, which I think was fabulous. I really enjoyed the simple and down to earth way that she describes her activities. The many times, throughout the day, when she stops and takes just a moment to honor her path, really makes it visible how anyone could add these moments into their own life, no matter how much time they feel like they have. I always love people who can make spiritual practices relatable to our busy, modern, lives.

One of the first things that she addresses is the debate between solitary and group work. I think she sums up the major points quite nicely, and her ultimate message is that both have their strengths, and you need to do what works for you. Sometimes that can be group work, but it can also be solitary work, and that just because you don't have a group to work with doesn't mean you can't build a solid practice for yourself.

Joanna talks for a little bit about the history of Druids and the definition of Druidry. Then she explains Awen. Awen is one of those concepts that always felt a bit cerebral to me. Perhaps it was because I hadn't studied it extensively, but her explanations made it real to me. I had always understood Awen to be inspiration, and kind of a artistic type of thing, like I might be inspired to write something or create art. But she expands on the definition of inspiration, that it can literally be transcribed as 'to breathe in'. This brings a whole new level to the concept of Awen for me. Breathing in is a quite physical way of internalizing something, and I never feel like I have really learned a thing until I have internalized it. I also like the idea that we are constantly exposing ourselves to Awen, to inspiration, to spirituality. With every breath we take.

She then brings this breath idea around, that through the breathing in and breathing out, we are creating a conversation with the world around us. And there is definitely an exchange going on every second of ever day. I think we often take this exchange for granted, and that we aren't always aware of what we are taking and what we are giving back. I think there is a lot of value in bringing our focus back to the breath, back to the moment and back to the ways in which we are conversing with the world around us.

Though she does talk about deities in Druidry, she doesn't go into specifics. Rather, she explores the different ways we may experience the divine, with a special focus on seeing divinity in the natural world.

One topic I really enjoyed was her take on ancestors. I have thought (and written) before a lot about the difference between ancestors of the blood and those of the spirit: those we are related to through our genetics and those we feel a spiritual connection to. I am always glad to see others write about things like ancestors of the spirit, because I think it is a powerful concept that deserves attention. But she added in another type of ancestor that was new to me.

Joanna calls them ancestors of the future. She uses this term both to refer to us, those of us practicing right now, as well as future generations to come. But the thought is very similar, and it is a good one. When thinking of myself as an ancestor of the future, I definitely want to leave behind a legacy that future generations will be proud of. Not only in the way I treat the world, but the thoughts and ideas I leave behind. I also think that giving consideration to future generations and what they might need, can lead us to living more consciously in this lifetime.

One final ancestor type is ancestors of place. I know a lot of Pagan's work to connect with spirits and deities local to the area they live in, even if those spirits are somewhat outside of their preferred path. But I think it is a good idea to add in ancestors of place. I definitely like the idea of reading up on where you live, connecting with the generations that lived there before and keeping up a good relationship with those who have passed in the area.

She looks at the yearly cycle both in the eight major festivals as well as the four seasons. I loved that she connected different types of ancestors to different parts of the year. I think she gave a very good outline of things that you can do throughout the year to better connect with the energies of the time and the world around you. She also includes suggestions for prayer, meditation and an ongoing inner pathworking that you can work your way through.

Joanna covers many of the basic techniques such as meditation, ritual casting, altar setup, prayer and pathworking. I think that her instructions are simple enough that someone brand new could follow them easily. But she offers her own take on them, so even if you are already familiar with them, you may find new ways to deepen your own practice.

I found this book to be very inspirational. Even though I live in a fairly rural area, most of my day is not spent out in nature. I always struggle with books that only give suggestions that include long walks in deep woods or being otherwise alone and secluded in a natural setting. Though the focus of this book was on connecting with nature, I felt that Joanna did a really fantastic job of making that connection something that everyone could feel was within their grasp. I also think that she gave lot of consideration to how most people find time to be hard to come by. Many of her activities are easily done in small chunks of time, and are not intimidating if you have a busy life with little spare time.

If you feel spiritually connected to nature, even if you aren't particularly drawn to Druidry, I think you would enjoy this book. If you are interested in Druidry, but haven't read much about it, or are intimidated by more indepth books, I think this is an excellent starting point that will give you a foundation to work from as you go forward.

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