Seven Trees   1 comment

The Tree is a world-wide wisdom-glyph, a potent symbol of connection and energy and life. The Tree features significantly in Druidry, among its many other appearances, with one reasonable explanation of the meaning of the word druid linked to trees, to a derivation from two reconstructed Indo-European roots *deru/*doru/*dru-, with its cluster of related meanings — “tree, oak, rooted, sturdy, true” — and a second root *wid-, “know, see, perceive, wise” [see the American Heritage Dictionary of Indo-European Roots]. This names — and challenges — Druids to be “wise knowers”, “truth-seers”, “tree-sages” and so on.

So the list of “Seven Trees” in this post is a selection from a vast root-stock alive in a metaphorical and literal First Forest, whose roots reach everywhere. Nonetheless, throughout time humans have found such selections to be useful, because their specificity nourishes inner seeds of creativity and encourages them to germinate. We lift a bucket from the wisdom-well and drink from it, marveling as it answers a deep thirst in us. A sapling puts forth leaves in the human psyche, so that new cultures, discoveries and insights can emerge. Choose your tree(s).

1) The Tree of Dreaming

Dreams often link us in unexpected ways to much that we push out of waking consciousness. Desires, fears, hopes, inner truths we deny or secretly suspect, creativity, inspiration, wisdom and insight and encounters with non-physical beings, enemies and friends, guides, companions, challengers and initiators and teachers. Each night we climb a branch, and we may retain something or nothing on waking. The leaves of the Tree brush against us, we drink from its sap, its branches lead to new possibilities, and we stir and wake and dream again.

I drink each morning from the forest pool, imbibing the wisdom of my dreams. What offering do I make in return? Gifts of self, gifts from my worlds.

As a meditation practice, I can commend this for recall and for wonder. The trees are mirrored in the pool, and their leaves blanket the forest floor beneath my feet. I sit on a tree trunk, and eat from the fruits and nuts around me. Before I return, I give thanks. A favorite tree nearby helps this manifest and concretize in my life.

2) The Tree of Kindred

The image here is obvious: the family tree. Linked as we ultimately are to everyone else on the planet, descended from common ancestors, we are this season’s leaves on the Tree, budding, greening, fading, falling and re-emerging on branches immemorially old. But because it is difficult to do more than express a general love for all things, we can begin more fruitfully if we love this leaf and that twig, slowly expanding our circle as we live and encounter new beings and extend our connections. The individual is a powerful key. Which ancestors have particular resonance and teachings for you in this life?

3) The Tree of Transformation

Humans transform trees into useful objects of wood, wood is a workable substance, and we respond to the beauty of the grain and warmth of wood in our homes and other structures. A tree is a living thing, growing throughout its life, which in some species can be very long indeed. All trees have their seasons, of fruit and flower, youth and maturity. Many species connect with other nearby individuals, and botanists are beginning to discover the central importance of tree species and individuals in the ecology of forests and woodlands. Trees are human cradles and coffins, doorways and walls, and have come naturally to represent all the experiences and choices that face a person in life. Christ was a carpenter, and died on a wooden cross, or in the language of some Christians, “God died on a Tree” — the most incorporeal linked to one of the most physical of living beings. Trees are doorways to other worlds, thresholds (also made of wood) to change and growth. In the distinction between transient leaf and lasting tree we have an image of what immortality might mean, the leaf of one personality among thousands, and the deeper link to the World Tree.

Yggdrasil

Yggdrasil, one example of the World-Tree

4) The Tree of the Worlds

In many cultures, trees link worlds, three or five, seven or nine. (In Norse mythology the World-Tree Yggdrasil links the Nine Worlds of Niflheim, Muspelheim, Asgard, Midgard, Jotunheim, Vanaheim, Alfheim, Svartalfheim, and Helheim.) We live on Middle-Earth, between upper and lower — or many other — worlds.

Many other regions and cultures also express images of a World-Tree, including Siberia, China, many African tribes, the Aboriginal Americas, and so on. The Tree holds the worlds together, and also keeps them distinct, and as a perceptual image makes travel between them possible. As below, so above: once you know where you are, it becomes a lot easier to go somewhere else. Abandon cultural markers, and I forsake a ready cultural visa — ignoring the admonition of the popular credit card advertisement, I “leave home without it” and not surprisingly, I may run into all kinds of trouble at the borders.

5) The Tree of Wisdom

In the Garden of Eden, the serpent tempts Eve with fruit from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Unlike mere knowledge, wisdom transcends polarities, and is rarer and all the more valuable for that reason. We cannot stay ignorant, but we do pay a price on the road to wisdom, often through pain and suffering, individually and culturally. Because unlike so much knowledge (nowadays increasingly accessible to anyone with an internet connection), wisdom must be earned. In the Biblical story, the two trees of Knowledge and Life grow in the center of the Garden, twinned expressions or manifestations of inner realities.

6) The Tree of Life

The “brain-stuff” of the cerebellum is called arbor vitae, the “tree of life”, in anatomical terminology, because of its branching structure. Several tree species popular with landscapers share the name arbor vitae — they’re ever-greens, always green, and so appropriately named. The medieval arbor vitae, tree of life, was deployed in Christian theology, linking human and divine worlds, the World or Cosmic Tree with the tree(s) of Eden and the tree of the Cross. In the teachings of the Qabbalah, adopted by Western magical traditions, the Tree of Life is a map of creation.

As one of my students once remarked, “Eve’s mistake wasn’t one of eating but one of sequence, paying attention to the right order of things. Eat from the Tree of Life first, and then eat from the Tree of Knowledge”.

7) The Tree of Silence

east pondAs I mentioned above, there are many trees we could include in any list like this, the tree being such a powerful collection of understandings, physical beings, symbols, images, experiences, and cultural and spiritual markers and maps. Those on quests often find themselves needing silence, retreat, withdrawal, fasting from superficial human interaction in search of deeper, more meaningful connection.

Both religious and secular literature abounds with stories and images of the sage, wise woman or man, spending a period of time, or an entire life, in a wilderness, desert, or forest. And the young initiate, seeker of wisdom, or adventurer, often must traverse the wilderness, venture into the forest, only to discover she or he is never truly “out of the woods”. The lessons, growth and discovery always continue. But then the rest we seek, the repose and restoration, are so often found in silence. Over and around and in these silences rises a tree, in whose shade we rest, listening to its wisdom. In the rustling of its branches, which only helps the silence deepen, birds and bug and beasts peep out from time to time, kindred on our way.

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Gratitude to you, my readers, for the 401 of you who follow this blog. Numbers both don’t matter at all and also matter deeply. Some of you visit briefly, and some stay longer. Knowing you’re reading and thinking about these things helps me keep writing. A blessing on you and your houses, you and your dear ones, you and your own walks each day and always.

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Image: Yggdrasil.

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  1. Pingback: From nothingness and choices being made – Jeshuaist

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