Archive for the ‘tree wisdom’ Category

Tree Prayer   4 comments

Tree Prayer

Oak, shade my path. I welcome your wisdom.
Birch, green my way. I call on your courage.
Hemlock, heal my heart. I fast under your foliage.
Pine, scent my dreaming. I gather your gifts.

Tree companions all, I seek the shelter of your boughs.
May my days make return for your abundance.

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I’m still working on and tweaking and listening to this prayer, as I say it out under the trees. I suspect we’re composing it together.

I invite you to try out this prayer — really out — outdoors, and to post your experiences, revisions, smoother versions, and so on.

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“Initiates of Darkness”   Leave a comment

The page is never blank, though it looks that way each time I click “new post”. Always the track of beast flares across the path, the flight or song of bird ignites the sky. All beings burn with life. Any blankness I may encounter is specific terrain I’ve chosen somewhere, sometime. Now to learn just where I took that quirk in the path. I tremble as I ask, I’ve sown it, so let me own it.

If “I have it in me so much nearer home/To scare myself with my own desert places” as Frost says in “Desert Spaces”, I also carry within me other worlds upon worlds, mirroring all the ones around me. I stand at a mid-point, and so much flows through me, through us all. Do I even notice? (Do I want to?)

Seamus Heaney observes of these lines that

… whatever risk they run of making the speaker seem to congratulate himself too easily as an initiate of darkness, superior to the deluded common crowd … they still succeed convincingly … [an] undeniable emotional occurrence which the whole poem represents.

I call it an emotional occurrence, yet it is preeminently a rhythmic one, an animation via the ear of the whole nervous apparatus …

If I’m looking for awen, for spiritual energy and music and delight, for movement into the wider self that includes but never stops with the apparent world, then rhythm and melody will take me there — the drums of Beltane beating on my inner ear, the hum and whisper of birdsong and newly-minted leaves. (Doubt just becomes boring, no use.) Once out of my head and into such prayer and listening, the recovery of life-giving vision can proceed. Lock myself into my own concerns, though, and that’s where I’ll remain. Meanwhile the cosmos keeps saying enlarge, enlarge — “an animation via the ear of the whole nervous apparatus”. Let me sync with what’s playing all around me. Ah, there it is again, that Song in all things.

Bagby

Bagby at play.  Photo courtesy NY Classical Review.

Follow me, friend, as I take this tangent: tonight I’m leading the second of two local discussions of Beowulf, Tolkien, and Benjamin Bagby, who performs the first third of the Old English poem in the original language, accompanying himself on a reproduction harp. Bagby’s coming to perform in Vermont next month — the surface occasion for tonight’s discussion.

We’ll talk, among other things, about wyrd, that old word that still half-lives in modern English weird, lives more fully in the Weird Sisters of Macbeth, and most fully in its original sense of the pattern of things which is both destiny or fate, and also the stage for meaningful human choice and action. Beowulf falls to wyrd, but also survives because of it.

Anglo-Saxonist author Stephen Pollington puts it this way:

The analogy of a spider web is usefully employed in considering wyrd. Each section of the web is a discreet part of the whole, yet the tiniest ensnared insect will set the entire web vibrating. Whether the spider wins her dinner depends on how skillfully she has woven her web, how quickly she reacts, and the chances of the captured insect to struggle free. The web is wyrd, but what the actors do upon it will decide the outcome.

Wyrd, says the poem, oft nereð unfægne man þonne his ellen deah. Taking Pollington’s analogy to heart, I render this as “The Pattern often saves an undoomed man when his courage holds” (Beowulf line 572). And I repeat to myself the charm: What the actors do upon the Web will decide the outcome.

We’re all “initiates of darkness”, of fates and destinies set in motion and still unfolding, yes — but that doesn’t define us. It just leavens the crusty bread that we are. Without a taste of that Old Tree of the knowledge of good and evil, what after all could we manage to accomplish? The first breath of any opposition would blow us away like dandelion fluff, like breadcrumbs. (No inner resources, I can hear my grandmother sniff.) We didn’t start the fire, sings Billy Joel. It was always burning/Since the world’s been turning.

Part of the journey beyond Druidry 101, as on any path worthy of the name, is the discovery of the usefulness of opposition. In careful measure (wyrd measures out some, yes, but so do I, each day), it gives us something to push against, a resistance, like weights in the gym, the settings on the stairclimber, the hills that are part of my dog-walk. I find out where I am, in the face of it — it’s potent in dispelling my illusions. It’s part of our training for what a world of polarities means. Armed and tested with this hard-won wisdom, we’re ready for realms of light. A Druid can aspire to live, serve and create anywhere. (And until that day of fuller mastery, there’s today with its choices and challenges. The poor, says the Galilean master, you will always have with you. What is my poverty?)

Some days, of course, I long for a cosmos that’s easy, or even just easy-er. But, I notice, after some time there, I’m restless again, eager to jump back into the fray and play of a more demanding laboratory world, where just about everything is subject to change and experimentation. So what happens if I take this tangent?

wantastiquet trail

Mount Wantastiquet trail.

Meanwhile, I pray with the Leaf-Lords and Ladies around me:

Oak, shade my path. I welcome your wisdom.
Birch, green my way. I call on your courage.
Hemlock, heal my heart. I fast under your foliage.
Pine of all lands, I gather your gifts.
Tree companions all, I seek the shelter of your boughs.

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Images: Bagby.

What We Deserve, What We Owe   Leave a comment

BAM camp

At Camp Middlesex, Ashby, MA. Photo courtesy Anna Oakflower.

I appreciate that these two things — what we deserve, what we owe — preserve the power to provoke and unsettle us. In the millennia of recorded human history, we’ve grappled long with them both, trying out a range of responses, never wholly satisfied with any of them, though it seems almost every generation in the last few hundred years has claimed to have arrived at some definitive version.

It’s no surprise they’re linked, our rights and our obligations, to put them in more contemporary terms. And it should be no surprise that the second of the pair gets much less air time. But what are our duties and obligations? What do we owe, and to whom? Pop culture offers its ready wisdom: what goes around comes around, you get what you give, there’s no free lunch.

John Beckett in a recent blogpost outlines seven things we owe Pagan newcomers, and they are helpful guides to anyone connecting with others. Among things we might reasonably be said to owe, he notes, are hospitality (a world-wide value), respectful boundaries, clear expectations, and an honest history. And only by acknowledging that we owe these things to others can we rightfully expect to claim them in return for ourselves. To put it in other terms, where we expect to benefit is where we are called to honor others’ expectations for those same things. Such human reciprocity is the cornerstone of civilization.

For we receive so much so freely already, a gift. The black walnut in our back yard has gone golden yellow, its heavy mealy nuts falling, to the delight of our gray squirrels.

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black walnut, 14 October 2018

The last salamanders before the frosts come are walking their fires across the earth.

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salamander — photo courtesy Anna Oakflower

 

Mushrooms drank in the wet summer and autumn of New England this year, and emerged in their unlikeliness.

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OBOD ritual knows the power of summoning us to “what we may deserve” — a little quiver of reckoning in those words. Do we even know? How far do our presence and actions extend?

A stand of pines reaches skyward, lifting vision with them.

pines

Do we deserve this world? Do the clouds deserve the lakes that go still and mirror them back to the sky? Sometimes the only fitting response is gratitude and generosity in return.

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millpond, Camp Middlesex, Ashby, MA

From these come the first stirrings of spiritual presence for many — the strange and marvelous givenness of our world, and ourselves in it.

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Seven Druid Hacks   Leave a comment

[Updated 23 Aug 2019]

Wantast-sign

With a name like *Wantastiquet …

Already you can tell the post is Druidy. Beyond the obviousness of “Druid” in the title, there’s a symbolic number involved. If not Seven, then Three. Yes, definitely Three.

hack (from Dictionary.com)

  • a cut, gash, or notch
  • a piece of code that modifies a computer program in a skillful or clever way OR breaking into a network, computer, file, etc., usually with malicious intent
  • a tip, trick, or efficient method for doing or managing something

Question: Wait … are these hacks to become a Druid, or to practice Druidry more effectively?

Answer: yes.

“Guard the mysteries. Constantly reveal them”.

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ONE: Explore a habit — a piece of the human psychological code.

With the three definitions of hack available to suggest strategies, (a) cut, gash or notch the habit. That is, interrupt it in some way and see what happens and how it feels. If I favor one hand, try the other. Is it merely training that makes one easier or harder, or some other factor? (b) modify the habit in a skillful or clever way. See what else it can do. Or attack it with “malicious” intent. Sabotage my own habit. (c) Develop a new habit or modify an existing one as a strategy for managing something more efficiently.

To give a personal example, in breaking an undesirable habit, every time I felt a craving, I used the desire as a prompt to do a short meditative or imaginative practice. Not necessarily with the aim or replacing the habit, but borrowing its energy to launch a new one. Though in more than one case, the new practice became more interesting than the original habit, which eventually dried up.

This is just the beginning. Such exploration can reveal a great deal that was formerly half-conscious. And that can be useful — how much do I let myself be programmed unconsciously? Turns out quite a lot.

I make a set of “habit” cards, letting connections to the Tarot develop as I go. Turns out this is a much deeper practice than I’d anticipated. More on this in later posts.

TWO: Down with a pulled muscle in my back these last few days, I’ve had time to focus on what needs my attention next. And what kind of attention. Can I give love to aspects of my life I’ve labeled *bad*? Can I find reasons to stop liking something I now like? How much of *me* is merely whim, attraction and dislike. Is that *all* I am? No wonder people have a hard time understanding and experiencing immortality before they die, if they expect a self consisting of labels and whims to endure beyond physical death. Trees (most of them, anyway) drop their leaves each fall. What lesson is there in that for me? Hold on, then let go. Pulse. Rhythm. Cycle. Tree ritual: gather a handful of brown leaves in a basket. These are my “temporarily usefuls”. I drop them, one by one, back to the ground where I gathered them. A gust of wind whirls a bunch of them from the basket. Soon it’s empty. I bless the basket — it’s lighter now — then sit in meditation for an interval. When I get up, my back reminds me it needs love, too.

THREE: What’s on my altar right now? It doesn’t matter if I have a formal altar or not. (In a recent fit of cleaning and organizing, I don’t.) In fact, I’ve probably got more things on *invisible* altars than on *visible* ones. A prompt for meditation all its own.

Can I move one thing off an altar that doesn’t need to be there? Can I set one thing there that deserves a place of its own? Once it’s there, let me acknowledge and honor it in a short ritual. My wife, here is your presence on my altar, as in my life. A piece of quartz from a walk, for a start. Then under it, a card. What do I write on it? How will I decorate it? How often will I move, replace, re-dedicate it? Will the object take on a different symbolic form? Sea shell found on a beach walk together? Photograph? A note that *she* wrote to *me*?

FOUR: I had and have no idea beyond the title “Druid hack” where this post would and will go. I still don’t. Each new hack comes with some reflection and meditation after I finish the previous one. Here at Four, the midpoint of Seven, I still find myself disliking the word “hack”. For me it’s still too colored by its computer associations — a hacker is a vandal or thief. A “life hack” sounds like a cheap trick, a shoddy excuse for a valid strategy. Such an association is on me to work with.

For very different reasons I’ve resisted learning the ogham, though it’s a valid part of many Druid traditions. But piece by piece, quite literally — ogham sticks handed out in rituals, the most recent being saille ᚄ “willow” at the Spring Equinox — my resistance is wearing down. Where else am I resisting? Is it a productive resistance? By the slow magic of time, the self can change less traumatically than through abrupt shifts that can do needless violence to our lives. Brew my slow magic with me, o my days.

I find myself thinking of the variety of trees  that live in the neighborhood that I can visit, ask for the gift of a twig, and offer a gift in return. That I can charge my ogham with meditations about the specific trees that contributed. Not merely ash, but this ash. That the use of ogham can be a conversation between a group of trees and the student of the ogham, of tree wisdom. What *IS* tree wisdom? I’m just beginning to learn. (Hence the long journey of the Ovate that many experience.) Willow ogham, gift in hand from the Equinox ritual, I begin again with the willow in the backyard, long a companion already.

FIVE: Creativity is messy. Manifestation in particular. Think baby being born, think art project, think carving, smelting, painting, sculpting, gardening. Think soul-making. I’m doing a month of daily writing as I work on a Nanowrimo novel that needs further work. 333 words a day is small enough I can manage that much even with the groans and delays of my Great Procrastinator, a bad back, and still the same household tasks as always. My wife’s off to a job interview; I stare at the computer screen. Window to magic.

Because creativity is messy, where can I celebrate my next mess of creation? In a novel that’s “about” two worlds meeting, among other things, where else are worlds meeting in my life already, without strain or struggle? Where and how can I celebrate that fact? (This Pagan says ritual! and gets all tingly at the thought.)

A poet friend performs a simple ritual each time he sits down to write. Invoking the Muse isn’t merely a metaphor, he says. I rise to build up the fire on this spring morning, a whispered acknowledgment to Brighid. Even the thought of gratitude can be invocation.

SIX: Where else can I dance? Turns out, everywhere. I hadn’t danced for twenty years — until I danced at a ritual around a fire, and enjoyed it. I look forward in a month to Beltane for this reason, among so many others. But I’m certainly not waiting that long. I’m learning to dance more often, and in places and ways I’d overlooked for a long time. I have a desk covered with papers, bank statements to file, notes to organize, pamphlets, copies of Green Living, old newspapers ready for transfer to the kindling box. There’s barely room for the computer where I write this. But I’m dancing as I clean, and it feels … different. No hurry, a rhythm inherent in the action itself, a song accompanying, a song that says things without words, and sometimes with them, without any need for meaning. Cleaning for me is always a matter of “more than before”. And the dance carries over to the writing, dancing with words. Because the words are already dancing. I match my rhythm to them, and they flow more easily. (Dancing, it turns out, also helps loosen up my back. It’s sitting still that doesn’t help me stay loose. Funny, though, that lying still, on an ice-pack, is just fine. “Chill before moving” is excellent advice in a number of human endeavors.)

SEVEN: Combine what’s isolated and separate what’s together. This can apply concretely to things like composting and recycling, of course. Not mere polarizing perversity, this. I look at the previous six hacks and consider how dancing a habit and its changes can reveal a unique rhythm, a song of power that can accompany the experimental shifting and play with habits. Consciousness itself is a series of settings we play with all day long, with food, stimulants, activity, rest, conversation, daydream, reading, work, listening to music, sleep, exercise, and so on. I can distinguish at least ten distinct states of consciousness in just an average day, without any particular attempt to shift. What about you? How effectively can I deploy the possibilities of one setting to accomplish something another setting cannot? Rather than butt my head against energetic barriers, shift the consciousness. A whole laboratory waiting for me to explore it.

The hack of creating new hacks is one of the most remarkable things humans do. It’s recursive — it loops onto itself, in a fractal kind of way, making patterns that can teach us things unknown before they take shape.

So there you have them — seven Druid hacks: exploring a habit (and the habit-making mechanism) and then Tarot-izing it, doing a tree-leaf ritual, “altar-izing” something not there before, trying out and consulting tree wisdom, welcoming the mess of creativity, dancing more than before, and playing with consciousness-settings.

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*Wantastiquet: “the language belongs to the land

March Sanity   2 comments

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one tree, two trunks — our old willow

We stand a little past the Equinox, and here, east of the Green Mountains (a hopeful name!), the snow’s half-gone, or going. As of today where I live in southern Vermont, sunrise came at 6:46 am, and sunset tonight will clock in at 7:06 pm — the day now 20 minutes longer than the night.

As always and forever, the planet — and that includes our neighborhoods on it, wherever they are — matters more pervasively, and holds more true and enduring interest, than whatever’s shrieking for our attention in the media. Politicians trade places, and learn with us the pointed lessons of one kind of power. Meanwhile, another and greater power plays across the earth, in our marrow, in our hearts and the roots of things.

IMG_1854Here in the Northern Hemisphere, flocks of geese wing towards hatching grounds in Canada, foraging along the way in snow-fields, and shivering in half-frozen ponds and lakes. A mated pair of cardinals bob and swing at the feeder in the front yard, now up again after the bear alert.

The first brave flowers push through snow, snowdrops here, and a friend in Boston, two hours to the east and moderated by the Atlantic, reports honeysuckle and monkshood. In the back yard, boulders with their thermal mass warm each day in the strengthening sun and thaw a semicircle in the snow around them.

The willows everywhere hold out their green-yellow twigs, waiting, preparing. I stand for a moment with the great willow in our lawn. Last autumn a large upper branch snapped in a storm, and amazingly it hasn’t yet fallen, half-supported by a nearby pine. In another few weeks I’ll climb and saw it the rest of the way. Willow deadfall — the tree sheds like a Labrador — light and punky once it dries, has served as our principal kindling all winter long.

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backyard blueberries, red sap rising

Here in Vermont, NG, a Druid in the north part of the state, has launched our first seed group, the initial step towards forming an OBOD grove. As with seedlings, the first steps of care ask for our regular attention. We may gather at midsummer to bless the young sprouts and tender shoots of that initial intention — it depends on whether we reach the critical mass all groups need in order to move from idea into manifestation. There are possibly a half-dozen of us so far around the state linked by a mailing list, a May website.

This afternoon I’ll gather with Mystic River Grove in Massachusetts for their Alban Eiler/Equinox rite. Members and friends come from Maine, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. After, it’s feast time, a chance to (re)connect with the many members of OBOD’s first and largest Grove in the U.S., see how we’ve all wintered, and celebrate the turn towards warmth and light. “By the power of star and stone …”

May the light, clarity and sanity of March bless you all.

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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.

Speaking Trees: a Reading   2 comments

danas reading

photo courtesy Wendy Rose Scheer

At MAGUS ’17, Dana (on the left — check out her excellent blog The Druid’s Garden) generously offered readings for several of us, using her set of tree staves. You can see four of us (I’m on the right) sitting bundled in every layer we brought with us — the weather had turned cold.

I’d sat in on a couple previous readings (with permission!), and Dana’s infectious love of trees and tree lore made each reading memorable and full of wisdom. With her combination of hands-on experience and extensive reading in herbals and Native American lore, each of us learned anew how Druidry has much to teach. I say “how” because any time spent in Druid practice shows us we go just as far as we’re willing to put in time and energy.

If we’re new to divination we may bring to it our skepticism, or an uncritical acceptance of whatever we hear, or a cherished obtuseness to anything outside our blinkered perspectives. Having run through these and a range of other even less useful inner “sets” in the past, I tried simply to listen. Drawing for an awen spread of three staves — past influences, present circumstances and future tendencies — can help give a sense of dynamics that may be working through some part of our lives.

My notes here are a merging of Dana’s reading, my own study and insight from subsequent meditation and reflection.

Here are the three staves I drew: birch, white pine and cottonwood.

Birch (genus Betula) is a common hardwood, with species ranging worldwide throughout the northern hemisphere. The northeastern U.S has perhaps a dozen species. The bark, famous for canoes, also makes excellent kindling, I’ve discovered, even when it’s damp, because its oils will still burn. With medicinal, cosmetic and industrial uses, the birch is widely used. It’s also a pioneer tree, adaptable to varied conditions, among the first to appear in pastures, meadows and burnt areas. As such, birches frequently represent beginnings, initiations, growth, renewal, and so on. The associated ogham is beith. As part of my Ovate work, I’m identifying the trees on our 2 and a half acres, and there are nearby birches to get to know.

The past is a beginning. It’s not destiny, but simply a direction taken. I find the past a surprisingly fluid thing. (The birch is flexible). Because as I grow and change, I perceive my own past differently, coming to value some difficult experiences for what they taught me, and seeing whole decades in a different light than they appeared at the time.

To choose just one example, my first serious relationship, shortly before I met my wife, dragged me along an emotional roller-coaster, passionate and full of drama at the time. But it taught me patience, dispelled a fair amount of romantic nonsense, and showed me that kindness more than anything else should grow at the core of my relationships if I want them to last.

Rather than a fixed past, I find it’s the future that’s fixed — at any single moment. But then the moment shifts, my awareness and choices enter in, and the future shifts as well. Taking a reading is like sounding the depth of coastal waters — it’s accurate for that interval, but you need to know if the tide’s coming in or going out. Twelve hours earlier or later, to say nothing of twelve days or twelve years, conditions will have changed. Birches aren’t especially long-lived, but they “open the way” for others.

White Pine (Pinus strobus), like the Birch, is a common tree in the northeast U.S. Other Pinus species flourish in Europe and Asia. A softer wood, a long-lived tree (the record in the U.S. is 500 years), the white pine is prized for woodworking, lumber, and medicinal properties. It’s the “peace tree” of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois, and it has also produced the tallest trees in the eastern U.S. (the famous sequoias take the prize in the west). Pine needles contain quintuple the vitamin C of lemons, and a needle tea is a healthful drink — a good medicine for me, because I’m prone to lung and skin problems. Algonquian tribes in the region knew other uses — the Adirondack Mountains in New York take their name from the Mohawk adirodaks, meaning “tree-eaters”, their term for the Algonquians.

As a guide to the present, white pine tells me, in Thoreau’s words, “be not simply good, be good for something”. And as a Druid, to me this means to be good at something, too. For a long time I’ve worked with words, making a living as teacher and writer. Druidry urges me to expand my knowledge and practice, and learn my neighbor trees better. It’s time to give back more, to support trees in distress, learn the landscape and do my part to help the biome as it adjusts to climate changes. (Both for its useful info and for its misleading title, spend a few minutes with “American trees have started migrating west and no one knows why“.)

As I delve more deeply into the Ovate grade, and improve my knowledge of healing, otherworld mysteries, and divination, white pine is a worthy signal tree and spiritual landmark. “If not this, then something better” has been my mantra during a protracted job search. Looking outside my accustomed region/specialty is both good job-search advice and good  physical-spiritual foraging advice, too. Go further afield.

Cottonwood (Populus species) is the third stave. Dana and I laughed at this one. At least the cottonwood she had in mind is not a native to the east, but a western tree, so this third stave seems to confirm and extend some of the energetics present in the white pine above. (Some species do inhabit the eastern U.S.)

Cottonwoods constitute a varied group of trees, including aspens and poplars. Populus trichocarpa is the first tree species to have its genome sequenced. It grows fast, and can reach nearly 60 feet (18 meters) in about a decade. Varieties of cottonwoods have flourished in unlikely places, and helped re-tree barren areas, notably the Faroe Islands and Iceland. Like the birch and white pine, it has food and medicinal uses.

As a tree speaking about the future, the cottonwood is a good reminder both to play to strengths and also to try out new areas, to adapt, to “do my own thing” while finding new niches where that “thing” can thrive. “Grow where you’re planted” isn’t bad counsel as a start — we all do that inevitably anyway, at birth. It’s flowering after that that’s the work of our days. “To go to seed” isn’t a bad thing, despite the connotations of “seedy”. How else to pass along who we are, what we’ve gained? To give back as we do, completing the cycle, walking the circle, answering the Druid call to service.

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Image courtesy Wendy Rose Scheers.

 

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