Having danced deeply with the goddess Nemetona, the Lady of Sacred Space and Sanctuary this year, the issue of boundaries returns to me again and again in relation to human interaction, in every day life with people that I share this journey with.
Nemetona is an elusive goddess; not much is written historically about her. Place names exist that contain her name, altars with her inscription in various places, tribes named after Her. However, as a goddess she is an experiential deity – not one to be thought about so much as one to be experienced. It is through practical working with Her that we come to know Her.
Our own personal nemeton, that space around us that we do not allow anyone but those with whom we are most intimate with, expands and contracts with each person that we meet. Some we might shy away from, some we might fling our souls wide open to. What I have learned is that boundaries must be kept, in order to keep the nemeton intact.
This is difficult for me, as I enjoy ecstatic relationship –I crave it in my Druidry, in my life. Yet I have learned with whom it is appropriate and with who it is not. To utterly dissolve into the moment of the sunset, or opening my soul to the bluebell wood as I lie beneath the gently swaying branches of oak and sycamore, or deep within the heart of ritual where transformation, celebration, integration take place – these are the times when it is not only appropriate, but relatively safe to do so. I know that the bluebell wood will not harm me, will not abuse the relationship. Sadly, this is often not the case with many humans that we meet.
Perhaps that is why it is so much easier for me, as a Druid, to find relationship with the beech tree at the bottom of the garden, or the badger that comes looking for birdseed and peanuts, than the average human being. I have not been hurt by these creatures – even when my soul is laid bare, I have not come to harm. The seaside has not taken advantage of that moment when we are soul naked, seeking deep ecstatic relationship. Perhaps this is because the sea does not want, does not need as we humans need.
Human relationship is so very different, for so much of it is heavily dependent on need, on desires. We seek a ‘give and take’ in our relationships, if they are to be healthy. When there is not balance, it is unhealthy, and often advantage of another is occurring.
Saddened by and a little wiser by past experiences, I have to relearn again and again where my edges are and where they meet with others. Telling myself over and over again that I will not be hurt by certain people, or that I will allow love in from others – this is what is so very important. This is what Nemetona teaches me each and every day.
By becoming aware of our own boundaries, we can then act honourably with other humans we meet, and indeed with all of nature. Sometimes it is wholly inappropriate to fling our souls open to the lake at moonrise – that is why in Druidry we ask permission to share our soul touch with others. Maybe this is what is lacking in much of human interaction – that permission is not sought. It is either given when not asked for, or taken even when it is not sought.
In the midst of all this, all we do is dance with Her as best we can, sometimes ecstatically, sometimes deep within our boundaries, ever awake and aware of our relationship to Her and to the rest of the world.
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
Joanna van der Hoeven is a Druid and author of several books, including Zen Druidry and the upcoming Dancing With Nemtona: A Druid’s Exploration of Sanctuary and Sacred Space (available through Moon Books and Amazon). Her philosophy on life is simple – live it. Fully and as aware as you can. Don’t go with the flow. Be the flow itself. www.autumnsong.org