A Walking Meditation

I was lucky enough to have most of a day to myself in the middle of the school holidays, which I chose to spend doing a very mini-vision quest in the form of a walking meditation. We were staying in my childhood home for a few days, so the country park that I went to was one that I knew well as a child, but had scarcely visited since. After a drop-off at the top of the hill (saving me about a mile of road walking), I started out on the most familiar track, one I cycled along almost every day for seven years of secondary school. Familiar puddles, roots, obstacles. It was raining hard, the sandy ground was as slippery as ever.

As the hedges opened out onto the ‘plain’, an area of open grassland where the trees were kept back to stop highwaymen from attacking travelers on the old coaching road, I left my old cycling route and revisited the woodland areas I had explored and played in when very young. Almost unrecognisable after a gap of 30 years, yet the feelings of the place were the same. Happy, and full of potential. I then walked parallel to the plain staying within the woodland. Pleasant, even while being dripped on, though unexpectedly mostly young-ish growth with one veteran tree decaying sadly behind a fence.

I came to a large oak tree I didn’t recognise, at a junction in the paths. It’s roots called me to sit down, so I spent some time there, working out exactly what my questions were. After some thought, I realised I needed to understand where I was right now and which path to take forwards.

I had thought everything would change a year ago when my daughter started school, so I made all sorts of plans – and then had them systematically unraveled by being unable to do much of anything thanks to my hip injury. Eventually I got the message to stop worrying about the things I couldn’t do, and found peace within. A peace that has stayed with me, and allows me to be at one with the world. But maybe I am impatient or awkward, as it rarely feels like I am doing enough – even if that is what all the messages I receive tell me! It felt like time to ask again, as the new school year approached, and see what, if anything, had changed.

Coming out of the woodland as I reached the far side of the plain, I found a familiar view from a bench where there had always been one.

This was a step back into a different past – a memory of a disastrous day at school and daring to come here in my lunch break, to escape. I had failed an exam I really expected to pass, and was suddenly faced with reality being different to how I had imagined things were going. I had followed teacher’s advice, taken what I thought was the ‘easy’ route, and a subject I had always been good at, instead of following my heart. Looking back, so much might have been different that year had I stuck to my original plan. I have failed worse things since then, but I don’t think ever made quite such a wrong choice again.

Two friendly oak trees.

Having put my past in its proper place, it was time to follow a new path into my future. One that I had never walked before; small, quiet, pretty. I walked through many new areas, and eventually circled round to return via some more oaks and Scots pines. I sat in an oak, and asked what message it had for my future. The answer was not something new however, but ‘Thoroughly’. In other words, follow the advice from the ‘Certainty’ tree I had met recently, and do whatever I do thoroughly. Reach for the sky. Find the joy in it. Don’t be just liking what I do, but love it. Value it. Spend more time doing the things I love rather than simply like – and find ways to love more. Remember what I always said as a child: that it doesn’t matter why we’re here, it matters that we enjoy it. Be happy, and spread happiness. That’s all. I looked up and in front of me saw two lovely oaks, happy together.

The rain had gradually eased, so I looked for a place to eat my lunch. I walked past larches and through a grove of silver birch trees. Then two oak trees lying down by a stream, covered in soft moss, inviting me to sit down. Squirrels played, some holly protected me and a hazel stood nearby.

A perfect place for a picnic


A perfect end to a perfect morning. I had another hour or so there, then walked home, picking blackberries in the sunshine.

Advertisements

Climbing Trees

One of the things on my wish list for this year was to climb a tree – after having had a wonderful experience last year of sitting on a branch that made a natural seat. It reminded me of great tree climbs I did as a child. A pine tree in a friend’s garden with branches like a step ladder. A U-tree in a park with every branch forming a U-shape and many perfect sitting places. (Possibly a Chamaecyparis species.) An oak with a great hollow in the side of the trunk, five feet off the ground, that we would be lifted into.

There is a lovely guardian oak a few fields from me that I have almost climbed a couple of times, balancing precariously on the top of the fence next to its crown, but not quite getting the courage up to take the leap into the tree itself, knowing that I would have to reverse the leap out again with no one to guide me. I have seen a few trees for my daughter to climb, but they haven’t appealed to me being either too low, or too spindly for an adult.

Oak tree near Skyreholme, Yorkshire

Finally in Yorkshire last week I found an oak that actually invited me to climb it, complete with dimples for feet on the way up. Oak is such a wonderful tree to climb, lending its solidity and presence to all endeavours which is very much apparent in the climbing and sitting, and with craggy bark to hold onto and very often soft moss to sit on. This one had a surprise for me as I peeked around the corner of the trunk – a split in a side branch had become home to a rowan tree.

Rowan growing out of a crack in an oak branch.
(Click to enlarge.)

It also reminded me that sitting in a tree is quite a different experience to sitting on the ground leaning against a tree, no matter how good the connection to the tree is.

This week I paid a visit to Stanton Moor (of which more next time) and wondered if I might climb the ‘climbing tree’ near the ‘cave’. Possibly fortunately, given it is not a very large tree, I took a different route that led me nowhere near that corner of the moor. However, leaving myself open to whatever experiences should come my way, I found this beauty of an oak instead. Another tree which invited me to climb, and was fairly easy even encumbered with camera and rucksack.

As I sat in the tree, I became aware of just how bizarre and atypical its shape was. Long spindly branches going off in all directions, with many small twigs growing out randomly. It covered a large area but was not particularly tall. I wondered whether another shape might be more suited to fitting in with the trees around it, that this seemed impossibly long and spindly in places. However I had the prompt answer come back at me that if it was meant to be another shape, it would have been. This is the right shape for this tree, right here, and nothing else would be as good. There was such a certainty and trust that the tree seemed completely peaceful as a result.

Oak tree on Stanton Moor


It was then pointed out to me that I generally had certainty in my own life as well, in my path, my situation, my doings. Just trust in it.

This was a good message for me right now.
I see all the things in the world that bother me where harmony with the Earth has been lost, and wonder repeatedly what more I could or should be doing. I do what small things are possible right where I am to improve my area, while always wondering if they are enough. Every so often this inner conflict leads to confusion and frustration or depression in me – and I am aware that this is exactly what makes necessary change in the world. Yet regularly I am reminded that large scale campaigning or hands-on activism are not my parts to play right now, nor is it my path to live in some sort of sustainable woodland permaculture, traffic-free utopia I might dream of for the world. Like the tree says, if I am meant to be doing those things right now, then I would be. One day this might change, but just trust in myself to know.

The other message I brought home from the moor, filled as it was with many different people each experiencing it in their own way and not all leaving it as they found it or making it easy for others, was to observe difference with love instead of criticism, and to keep celebrating the positive in order that the love may grow, on all sides. Maybe these things are needed just as much.

I now think of this as the ‘Certainty Tree’. I will try and remember its message – and continue to climb trees.

Wands and Weather

Back in February when I was redesigning and simplifying my altar, I learned that I ‘had’ an apple wand. This made very little sense to me at the time for two reasons. First, that I have never used a wand finding my finger a pretty good tool for most things, and second because I had very little connection to apple as a wood. Since then I have made some progress in understanding these two difficulties, so am now ready to write a bit more.

A wand is always associated with witches and other magic workers in fiction, but in modern witchcraft rarely gets more than a passing mention. For those in a coven it may be obvious as to when a wand is employed, but for those like myself who read, experiment, meditate, and talk to dragons or other spirits, it seems of much less concern. Most books seem to promote the athame as the primary tool for casting a circle and directing energy, and for the great rite (although this has less relevance for a solitary witch!) But a wand is frequently the subject of a single paragraph, saying that it can be used to direct energy, without explaining how or when; and that it is usually associated with Fire as it represents Will, while the athame is Air and connects more to the mind. (Some say the Rider-Waite-Smith tarot deliberately reversed these in order to keep occult practices secret. There is logic both ways, since a blade is forged by Fire while a tree branch grows through the Air, but I know it is my Will I am directing through my finger or a wand and not just my thoughts!)

However there were also good reasons for not using an athame as my primary tool: the intention of a blade is usually to cut, whereas my aim is usually to direct energy; elementals don’t like blades being used, iron or other materials, so if outside I would need an alternative; and finally, laws in this country make it very difficult to legally carry a knife anywhere outside the home. I couldn’t help wondering if witches did use knives for casting their circles in days gone by, whether this was for protection against being seen before the circle was complete, that the knife was then in heir hand ready for use. I also find it very hard to believe that the average witch could afford a knife that was used purely for witchcraft or circle casting; I think most were practical people who took whatever household items were most suited to their purpose and sometimes a knife was appropriate to have at hand.

So having accepted a wand as my tool, I realised that the wood Apple is generally associated with Air, the fey, and music. Now I was getting a hint of why Apple might be right for me! I have recently been trying to sing the songs suggested to me by stones or water, and finding each to have its own character and be unique. Different types of stones, soil, sand, pure water or polluted water, each expressed its character through the song I sang with it, and area I have been developing and want to do more with. But was that the only reason? I decided to ask Oak about it, and have now had several discussions with him and various other allies.

The first discussion – I already have apple trees in my garden who would like to be used, I don’t have my own oak tree! And apple will lend its gentle aid, being strong and unweilding but also add a loving, peaceful, sharing influence.

The second discussion, after more reading and still feeling very little connection with Apple – yes other woods will do, but get to know apple! Apple brings calm and peace to its work, along with maturity. Not fast like Rowan, or straight like hazel, but loving and giving. Different doorways to Oak. Female. Time to set the Eve story in its proper place.
I then cut a short length and whittled the corners off while fresh from the tree, and was overwhelmed by the amount of love coming from the tree. It now takes its place on my altar until I have finished making my wand.

The third discussion – following on from learning about trees dying, (see ‘When is a plant dead?’) a certain consciousness exists in any piece of wood, and how it works will depend on the original tree, where it is cut from the tree, what is carved in it, how I add to it and add my consciousness to it. (This is why no one should borrow a wand!) I should use it for sun circles, sabbat celebrations, casting circles, love, friendship, for myself spiritually eg gaining wisdom, knowledge, singing, meeting goddesses. One day I’ll want a moon wand for working outside at night, hazel, and a yew wand for different work. But Apple first and for now. (A few weeks later I realise that the three woods are all female to me, and represent maiden, mother and crone. I discover unexpectedly that I have recently fully embraced motherhood; not by having a daughter who I am slowly teaching independence to, but by taking in houseplants that will need nurturing care for their whole lives (see ‘Bringing Plants Indoors’) so this shift in me is why I must make the Apple wand first; then go back and make Hazel. I’m not quite a Crone yet, so Yew could be a few years off.)

There was nothing suitable I wanted to prune from any of my apple trees, so I investigated my collection of stored wood – and found four pieces of apple from our garden already cut and seasoned from previous prunings. However, none seemed ideal for a wand being either too small once the bark was removed, or too large.

Then finally, I use my wand, under the guidance of Dragon. Some weather working is needed, and I am told to use my wand to call a wind and shift the clouds that have brought persistent fog for days now. I try holding it, knowing by now how it needs to be carved, and feel its energy through my arm and hand. I direct energy with it, and feel how much more effective it is than just me. Later I go back to my pieces of wood and can feel exactly which one it is carved from. The clouds start to clear; the next day is bright sunshine. The weather forecast has apparently ‘changed’.

I use my wand again a week later, first holding it too tight, then realise my mistake. This wand is very exacting! I finally understand that I am needed for weatherworking because I am not attached to any particular weather; I am actually happiest with the variety England normally gets. In early March I had asked if I should shift the snow, but was told it was necessary to rebalance the world and for humans to start to become aware of how they are affecting their environment, and there would be another 3 weeks of cold. There was. This time I was told it was right to shift the fog, and later to rebalance again, and therefore felt confident in doing so. Ultimately I need to keep balance, because humans are out of balance with themselves, and with the weather, wanting only sunshine. The problem is a result of humans, therefore humans must be involved in its solution, if we want to continue to work with the Earth. I have worked locally for several years, (see previous posts) but now also sometimes nationally when my awareness is capable. I share because more people around the world are needed to do this work. I didn’t choose it or ask for it, but seem to have been given the responsibility for it.

I was reminded by Dragon to say again that it is not me changing the weather, I am simply doing the asking and providing the energy for it to happen. I need to be in tune with what is happening, and to always ask as I have done so far, and to find ways of directing and raising energy that suit me and are appropriate to the level needed. It can be ritual, or singing when I need more energy than is easy for me, but I also need to learn more about the various winds and which one to call up, as well as the trade winds. Apple is keen to help with this and to bring more abundance of fruits to the land.

And finally, I find myself working on a writing project with the fey. I can’t help wondering if Apple has provided the link!

When is a plant dead?

This is a question that I have pondered more than once over the past few years, and finally have some answers. First I will explain the question.

1. Some shamans claim it is possible to talk to a tree before cutting it so that the ‘dryad’ divides in two, and lives on in the piece that has been cut off.
2. Some wandmakers claim it is possible to ‘wake’ the ‘dryad’ after creating a wand.
3. A cut branch will frequently root or graft successfully, whether or not the gardener talks to it first.

Given that I am currently in the process of finding wood for and designing a wand from one of my apple trees (see Candles for Rituals, Feb 2018) these questions have a particular relevance to me right now. So having failed to find definitive answers in any of my books, I did what I usually do in such circumstances: ask the trees.

My usual tree to talk to is a hollow oak, about half a mile from me, that I have a good relationship with. It is my guardian for journeys, and if he cannot answer my question himself, will usually know where I should go or who I should talk to. On this occasion Oak had most of the answers that I didn’t find within myself. (Some people use the term ‘dryad’ for the Spirit of a tree; this Greek word seems to me to both personify the Spirit and separate it from the tree in a way that seems more human than tree-like. Also, a dryad was an oak tree spirit, Meliae lived in ash trees, Epemeliad in apple trees, Caryatids in walnut trees … etc. etc. I prefer to just use the English tree names; in this case the tree is known to me as Hollow Oak.)

A tree is dead when there is no more ‘green’ remaining. That does not necessarily mean the colour green showing, such as in the leaves or inner bark, but that the plant still has the ability to transport water and nutrients, and therefore can grow. A section of stem, or root, can live a surprisingly long time after being cut, and regrow given the right circumstances. The Glastonbury Thorn, grown from the staff of Joseph of Arimathea is a case in point. (And in rare circumstances of complete human and elemental cooperation magic can happen, eg in the case of Machaelle Small-Wright, Dancing in the Shadows of the Moon.) However, by the time the cut wood is considered dried enough for woodcarving or furniture making, it can generally be considered dead. This is like a human slowly dying of old age – over the last few weeks of their life, the elements will withdraw one at a time. First Earth, as the person ceases to feel hunger, then usually Water as they cease to thirst. Fire, they become cold, Air, they stop breathing, and finally Spirit in the form of Soul leaves and the person is considered dead. (Actually sometimes a person is declared dead before Soul Spirit has left; they can usually be revived when this is the case.)

The Spirit of the tree does not go to the Summerlands, Annwn, Heaven, etc as we do, as because trees do not have free will, there is no need to learn the lessons from the life just lived and plan the next life or experiences to come. Their consciousness is already merged with the All and our planet Earth continues to grow in experience and love.

After our Soul Spirit has departed, our body elemental continues with our bodies until it is no longer recognisable as a body. Then the elemental passes over to other more simple elementals, while it goes on to help us form the next physical body we inhabit. The same with trees, after the Spirit of the tree withdraws. Fire elementals are generally involved in the making of compost, then compost becomes Earth, or dissolves in Water, so new elementals take over.

But if a piece of wood is stored carefully, it does not decay. The way I understand it is this: if a bicycle can be conscious and talk to me, or a rock or crystal, so can a piece of wood from a tree. It doesn’t have exactly the same consciousness, it is no longer alive, but it has a consciousness all the same which is related to the tree it once was. In my desk the wood comes from more than one tree, so the consciousness becomes more complex, and possibly deeper. In a wand, there may be different elements which combine – including the consciousness of the person using the wand. I understand now why a wand has to be a very personal tool, and why they are usually broken on the death of the witch or magician who used it. I also see a parallel here with bones. Just as a specific branch can help the user connect to the original tree, so could a specific bone could help a person connect to a specific ancestor – many barrows when opened up were found to have skulls neatly arranged inside them. But after time, when the original link is lost, there may not be a connection to a specific person any more – but a human bone will still have a different consciousness than a cow bone, or a sea shell just like a malachite is different to a moss agate or an amazonite stone.

One further thought was offered to me by Oak: trees are very aware of being cut and of the consciousness and intentions of the person doing the cutting. Oak gave me two examples of when this really matters. First, a branch cut specifically for propagating will take better than one pruned off and then grafted or rooted as an after-thought. Second, flowers are the peak of a tree’s energy and beauty; cutting it off in its prime is very confusing and distressing for the tree and the flower elementals. If flowers are cut for enjoyment as cut flowers, then please share your love of them with the tree and explain why you are cutting some of its flowers off (never cut all the flowers off a plant!) and leave the plant something in return like a drink or some food.

Oak Apples

Oak Apple

I found these decorative little apples on a walk last weekend, then returned later with my camera. Rarely have I seen them so beautifully coloured – just like the apples they are named after.

Oak apples and other galls have been used to make ink since at least Roman times, and it was the most commonly used ink from the 9th to the 20th century in Europe – it is still used for legal records in the UK such as birth, marriage and death certificates because it is both permanent and waterproof. Best used in a disposable quill pen rather than your best fountain pen!

To make it, first you need some galls that have been vacated by the wasp and are dry. Crush them to powder, then add warm water and iron in some form, eg rusty nails or filings, and cover. Keep in a warm place to ferment for a few days. Then drain off the ink, filtering out the solids if necessary, and store it in an airtight container. It has a fairly short shelf-life; oxidation reveals the ink and turns it darker on the page, but isn’t so helpful before it has been formed into writing! The ink is also quite acidic, being formed from tannic acid and iron – although apparently crushed egg shells can be used to neutralise it and prevent it from degrading the paper.

Oak Apple

Medicinally oak apples can be used like oak bark to stop internal bleeding. However while chewing bark is fine, I cannot recommend chewing an oak apple – they are about the most astringent of all vegetable compounds. Instead, use a decoction. They are also known for curing dysentery.

There is not a lot of folklore associated with the oak apple. However, it is said that if a “worm” (larva) is found inside the gall on Michaelmas Day (29th September) then the year will be pleasant and unexceptional, if a fly is found inside it will be a moderate season, but if a spider is found, then it will be a bad year with food shortages and ruined crops. If nothing is found however, then serious diseases will occur all that year.

Group of Oak Apples

The oak apples used to have a much greater significance in England, being used as decorations on Oak Apple Day, 29th May. The mid 1600s saw civil war in England, followed by a very Puritan Commonwealth rule. All sorts of traditional festivities and activities were banned, such as Maypole dancing, Christmas decorations or feasting, carol singing, theatres, inns, football or other sports, walking on a Sunday except to or from church, and even wearing colourful clothes or makeup etc. Even the various Medieval Saints’ Feast days were stopped, and instead Fast days were introduced once a month. It was on his birthday, 29th May, in 1660 that Charles II rode triumphantly into London to return as King. The day was declared a holiday and was entirely given over to dancing, feasting and merry-making – and the event was repeated every year. The story of how he hid in an oak tree to escape parliamentarian forces became widespread and led to the Oak tree becoming the symbol both for this day and of England. To show their loyalty and support for the monarchy and its restoration, doorways were decorated with oak boughs and people wore sprigs of oak in their clothing or on their hats – of which oak apples are the most decorative part at the end of May. They were liable to be punished with pinching or nettles if they failed to do so!

Oak Apple

While this holiday has become much less known since the Victorians removed it from the official calendar (a day given over to merry-making didn’t fit well in that period!) it is still celebrated in various villages and towns around the country – including Castleton in Derbyshire where they hold a garland parade every year on this day.

Oak Sunrise Window

Oak Sunrise Window

Oak Sunrise Window
(Click for full size picture)

Here is the (almost!) final result of a project that has been several years in the making. It is in fact the last stained glass project I completed when pregnant with M… but for various reasons has taken until now to actually be fitted into place.

The window space used to be external, but is now internal and the bottom half of the window will lift up as a serving hatch. (Once the sash cords and weights have also been fitted!) Hence it is designed so that it will still work as a picture when not fully closed. The original window was a little larger than this, we have made it a brick smaller at the sides and top, reversing the side of the sash opening in the process. (Those familiar with sash windows will know that they are set into the wall behind the front skin of bricks, a practice introduced in the 1700s to reduce the fire risks. It is partly what gives genuine sash windows their character, and while not providing the recesses or windowsills so useful for putting things on that a casement window has, they are actually very energy efficient. Even more so when double glazed…)

Besides the obvious picture, there is some personal symbolism in the design:

Oak tree – for protection and strength, for thanks, for journeying from.
Stag – represents partnership, balance, majesty, confidence, vitality. A friend in this world and in other worlds. Grounding. Trust.
Sunrise – beginnings, hope. There is always light on the horizon.
Stars – great bear (family animal), ploughing a furrow, pointing the way, some say the source of the seven rays. Also a saucepan with a bent handle… well it is the kitchen on one side!

It was tempting to use a version of this design for a Winter Solstice card, but of course here the oak tree is in the full leaf colours of midsummer. From a point of view of living with it as a picture, it feels relevant for at least two seasons each year, compared to flowers which only have one season.

For the technically minded, the glass used is mostly Kokomo, some Spectrum and some Dynasty. The stars are bevels. The antlers were done by cutting the heart out of the lead came where it overlaps the glass; they were soldered in place and cemented as if they were attached as normal.

Timelessness

Cathedral Oak, also known as Millennial Oak, in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire. Girth almost 10m at 1m above ground.

Cathedral Oak, also known as Millennial Oak, in Savernake Forest, Wiltshire. Girth almost 10m at 1m above ground.

Last week I was on holiday in Wiltshire, enjoying some Spring sunshine and frosty nights, and revisiting some very old trees and even older stones. To be in the presence of living beings that are ancient is, for me, to experience a sense of timelessness and peace. To know that I am part of something almost greater than I can conceive, and that I am transient in physical form, with a far shorter life expectancy than this tree. And yet I am also part of everything, connected to the tree and the rocks, and therefore timeless.

I was reminded particularly of how our ancestors thought a solstice sunrise or sunset was sufficient excuse to build a huge monument out of stone in order to enhance their celebrations. At Avebury, as at Stonehenge, there is an avenue leading up to the stone circles and I could feel a sense of excitement as I rounded the summit to see my destination. How, I wondered, did we manage to complicate our life so far that we stopped celebrating the stations of the sun? Why do we look for more in everything, instead of realising fully what already Is? And how can I get back to this in my own life?

I have read of the pleasure elementals take in simply being at one with the manifestation of their element, be it fire, water, wind or rock. For them it becomes an ecstatic experience. For example, to take the experience of a Gnome:

Musar feels that the fault lines and mountains talk to him and answer his questions about their origins. He perceives the history of a mountain, its internal stresses, its erosion patterns, and the forces that have shaped it and that will wear it down. Musar can dip his finger into a subterranean stream and instantly identify the minerals present, their concentration, and the sources of the stream. He senses forests and the evolution of trees and plants and how they affect the earth. … He can sit watching the stars moving through the sky from dust to dawn and feel that no more than a moment of time has gone. He can gaze into past ages and epochs of time and not feel in the least old or weary. For Musar, everything that has shape, form, and weight is fascinating and full of wonder.
Unlike a mountain or a plateau, Musar never grows old. He is constantly full of enthusiasm. For Musar, there is no need to hurry; there is no need to worry – each moment is satisfying, and each moment is a treasure of the heart. The silence in which he dwells is a magic well from which he sips and drinks the beauty of the earth.
(Mermaids, Sylphs, Gnomes & Salamanders, William R. Mistele)

I have read of Machaelle Small Wright’s experiences at the solstices and equinoxes, where there is magic in the exact moment of the sun’s transition.

March 20 [1984]
Spring equinox: 5:25 A.M.
I set my alarm for 5:10 and prepared for the equinox. At the moment of the equinox, I felt a strong wave of energy wash through me, and I saw the garden at Perelandra take a shift.

June 21 [1984]
The Summer solstice: 1:02 A.M.
… At 1.02 I felt the Annex fill with energy and saw it light up. I received an invitation to come join nature in the new Annex, to join their party. When I entered the Annex, I could feel the celebration all around. Then a nature spirit – a faun – stood before me and allowed himself to become visible to my naked eye. I hardly knew what to say, except “Hello” and “I love you.” I made clear eye contact with this lovely faun for the longest time. It was a special and extraordinary moment, I remained in the Annex for about an hour, feeling the movement and celebration going on around and within me.
(Dancing in the Shadows of the Moon, Machaelle Small Wright)

So I spent some time simply communing with the stones at Avebury, and seeing the delight in each one. All unique, individual, characterful, with their own story to tell. Yes they were once part of something much greater as many stones are now missing, our ancestors having knocked over and even destroyed many stones through fear, but the original layout can still be sensed through the landscape. One day we may collectively regain the understanding and connections that humans had with the Earth, at which point it, or similar structures may be reborn in a new form. For now, it represents where we are – which is probably better than where we were even a few decades ago.

For me personally I feel a parallel in that I started as a child with every possibility open to me, free of doubts, then science and logic and often fear took over. Finally I started to find my way again, connecting to my intuitive nature and the Spirit within. I feel I am still incomplete, for there is so much I don’t know yet feel I should be able to understand on some level, but I am now starting to find the building blocks of reconnecting. Much like the stone circle at Avebury, where some stones have been restored to their original positions.

'Munching Mouth' stone at Avebury, Wiltshire

‘Munching Mouth’ stone at Avebury, Wiltshire

Hornets

Hollow Oak Tree

Hollow Oak Tree

I have mentioned before that there is a particular hollow oak tree near here that I use as a doorway for the start of journeys. There are several oaks in my area of a similar age, maybe 150-200 years, that would have been planted along the hawthorn hedgerows in order to give shelter to animals in the fields. This particular tree has lost its hedge and it stands alone but for the cows and the many walkers with dogs who pass it each day.

I first stood inside the tree several years ago. You have to duck down and step up to get in, and then stand carefully as it is only just large enough and my head is likely to find wood or cobwebs. There is frequently a pool of water lying just in front of the entrance. There is a second entrance to the trunk on the opposite side (just visible in the photo), but only for rabbits and other small creatures. It all feels quite special, and is surprisingly welcoming even though this is by no means an ‘Ancient’ tree.

However this last summer has seen some changes. Rubbish and part-filled beer cans have appeared on various occasions around and even inside the tree, and it became apparent that some people were using it in less than harmonious ways. I found this quite upsetting. Then on my next visit I was alarmed to see two or three enormous wasps flying out of the tree. Hornets?! What were they doing here? I’ve never seen hornets in my life, just read about them in books, and certainly didn’t know they lived in Northern England.

Hornet leaving hollow oak tree

Hornet leaving hollow oak tree

Having found the hornets still present this month, yet with a much happier feel around the tree, I decided to ask about them in a journey. The reply I got surprised me. The tree had invited them for its protection. It was worried about the potential damage by vandals, knew that I for one valued its presence, and felt that something had to be done. In return for their protection the tree was sheltering the hornets and giving them a place to live. I was asked if I would please take a picture of them and write about them, and assured that they would not harm me unless I did anything ‘silly’. (I failed to ask why it was important I write about hornets; I could guess, but I’ll let you draw your own conclusions.)

So here are the best photos I was able to take this afternoon – it proved trickier than anticipated as although there were about a dozen insects flying about, they didn’t stay still! Having a tripod (and possibly a better camera on top of it!) instead of a toddler with me might have resulted in better quality pictures, but hopefully this gives an idea of them.

Three Hornets approaching nest

Three Hornets approaching nest

I asked what the spirit meaning was behind hornets and had the answer “protection, but always look at what the hornets are protecting and why.” Also “Always likely to be powerful.” This is quite different from any meanings for wasps that I have found online, where anger, being a warrior, overcoming challenges, expecting the unexpected, and homebuilding or other new beginnings can be themes.

I have since wondered whether ‘protection’ was in fact a more literal meaning than is often ascribed to animals encountered in dreams or other worlds; it may be that hornets may also signify the same meanings as other wasps under different circumstances. From what I have found out from nature websites however, they mainly eat insects and are generally less aggressive.

I was also struck by how if we become tired and run down we leave ourselves open to unwanted invaders or dis-ease, and usually see it as a negative, unwanted presence. The oak tree, displaying an individualised consciousness that I didn’t know was possible, is aware that it is decaying and instead of allowing mistreatment, has decided which invader to invite within. And it has chosen a barely native species that is sure to be noticed by all and seems to be already doing the job asked of it. Nature in harmony.

I have been assured that the tree will be here for as long as I am, but not much longer. It will be interesting to see if that is indeed the case!

Animism

I have for some years thought of myself as an animist, that is one who sees everything as being conscious and connected to Spirit. You, me, animals, plants, rocks, weather, all is conscious and all responds to us if we take the time to notice or to communicate. However it is one thing to agree with an idea, another to really connect with everything around me on equal terms.

The first ‘object’ I remember having a strong relationship with, after the usual childhood dolls and soft toys, was my bicycle. I rode a Claude Butler Mistral for nearly ten years, covering many thousands of miles to school or college, many of which were on my own. I used to talk to it, treat it as as partner on the eight mile journey home each day. After a while it started answering me back. Ringing its bell when there was someone behind me, getting fewer punctures or mechanical failures as it got older and I encouraged it more and more. I was quite sad when it had to be retired after a pothole incident in which I took flying lessons. I am still building a relationship with my Orbit Gold Medal that replaced it, though again find that the more it is encouraged and talked to the more the tyres stay hard, the chain rides without jumping, and the bike gets me to where I want to be without difficulty.

Houses are said to stay up better if they are lived in. The usual assumption is, I believe, that having someone there all the time means that problems can be spotted and sorted out while they are small. However I now think it is because a loved house will look after its occupants and not disintegrate as readily as one that is neglected and sad. I have been trying to connect to our house quite a bit recently, as we try to complete our slightly stalled building projects, and am finding it very rewarding. The colours I want to add seem to become richer, more vibrant. The place feels happier. Things happen.

Communicating with plants came relatively late to me, long after bicycles anyway, mainly because it never occurred to me it was possible. The more I understand the particular nature of a species, and love it for all of its qualities, the easier it seems to be to attune to it. Oak I connected to the first time I tried, along with several others that I have played around since childhood; Yew took me a long time and took me on quite a journey to really understand it and the great age to which it can live (thousands of years, not hundreds as was commonly believed). I still find it easier to connect to mature trees than younger ones, sometimes it feels like talking to children or teenagers when in a newly planted woodland! But I have found that once a connection is made with a particular tree or species it is much easier to reconnect on future occasions. It is like greeting a friend.

I have learned a lot about weather in recent years, and have had proof on several occasions now that it is conscious. One day I may write more, but the time doesn’t feel right yet; however there are many traditions around the world where the shaman’s job was to work with the weather in order to help keep the balance in the local area. I am now trying to do this in my small corner of Derbyshire.

However, watching M I now realise how little I really know about connecting to all things. She has learned that we wave to people when we say goodbye, and copies this. However she doesn’t often wave to people, it is more likely to be to the dogs we pass. Or rubbish that I don’t want her to touch. A playground we have been at, or bench we have sat on. More recently a single leaf or a feather she has picked up and looked at gets waved goodbye to before we can continue our walk. Even the sunrise she has been watching will get a wave before she turns around. In short, anything she has made a connection with is honoured as a friend.

It may well be that she ceases to do this as she grows up and becomes more involved with the earthly plain, but they will always be there for her when she is ready. What a wonderful way to live life.

Tree Stories 1 – Sweet Chestnut

As mentioned previously in ‘Dreams’, I have started a project to write stories about trees.

The original idea for this came almost exactly two years ago, when I was pregnant with M. I was journeying to Oak, wanting to learn more about how I could work with Oak to help others, particularly in healing. However the answer I got was way beyond any of my imaginings. The first part of my journal I wrote at the time reads:

2 July 2012
Travelled with [my power animal] to oak tree grove, wished to meet oak spirit and learn more about how I could work with oak to help heal. Met many trees, some familiar, aware of many animals being supported and living there in their shelter, plus a dwarf, didn’t meet oak spirit. Message quite unexpected. I already knew enough about oak and how it could help me, and should learn the same about other trees while carving ogham sticks. However they didn’t want my skills in healing but in writing – wanted 20 stories for children + adults, modern legends, that would tell about the qualities + healing from each tree, and it would be those stories that would go into the world to heal. … Also wouldn’t be in printed form but electronic – no tree would be harmed. 5 years. …

If anyone ever thinks that a journey is entirely a figment of their imagination, then I can honestly reply that I could never have made this up!

I initially assumed that the twenty trees would be those of the tree ogham referred to, which I had studied a little and for which I had collected a stick from around fourteen of the standard twenty – slow work when I refused to be responsible for the deliberate cutting of any tree. (A story for another day!) But that didn’t feel right. I tried writing down twenty favourite trees, but that didn’t feel right either. So I did what I often do when I don’t know how to decide something: wrote a list of every tree I could think of, and then dowsed through it for which ones wanted to be included. Amazingly from a list of over a hundred I ended up with exactly twenty. Some I know well, one or two I don’t yet. Some have an obvious story, some I haven’t a clue but I trust they will let me know at the right time. Most are native, a few are not, although all can grow here. It is a slightly quirky list, but at the same time shows balance. I have done my best to accept every tree on the list and not change the list in any way – I would publish it, but then realised I might start receiving suggestions for stories not yet written. You’ll just have to trust me.

The stories are intended to be for any age, but each one will be different and will take its inspiration directly from the tree in question. More than that I cannot predict! As I write this, two are complete, two are started, and one is but a draft idea. Five years feels like a tough challenge to create ‘modern legends’ as in my experience stories tend to evolve and develop and become multi-layered over time. Some may start out as short stories inspired by a particular tree. Some trees may end up with more than one story.

Sweet Chestnut tree, Stourhead, Wiltshire

Sweet Chestnut tree, Stourhead, Wiltshire


The first story, Sweet Chestnut, is the only one I wrote before starting this blog. It came to me last year as I was trying to entertain baby M in her pushchair, and I told it to her in several different versions as she fell asleep, before I finally wrote it down earlier this year. But the actual starting point was someone else having trouble believing in themself, trying to change to please others and ending up pleasing no one. I asked which tree could help, and was given the answer: Sweet Chestnut.

Sweet Chestnut is a tree that was introduced in Britain by the Romans for its nuts, which make a good flour substitute. For that reason it was sometimes called the Bread Tree. The nuts used to be very popular roasted on city streets, although I haven’t seen them sold like this for many years now. However, the largest nuts tend to be imported, as they grow better in warmer climates. The timber is also known as Poor Man’s Oak, as it looks similar and grows faster, but it is not as strong for it tends to split when it dries unless young or coppiced branches are used. However it has a very high level of tannins, so lasts longer out of doors than most other timber. For this reason it is often used for post and rail fences or gates, or in Italy for barrels for balsamic vinegar.

There are self-fertile varieties available now, but I was struck by the way that grand houses often have a quartet of wonderful twisted trees on their side lawns: Mottisfont Abbey is a good example. There are also wonderful forests of Sweet Chestnuts growing up the mountainsides of Herault’s Montagne Noire. We spent a Winter’s holiday in the area in 2011, enjoying the twisted grey branches above us while we scrunched through dried leaves on the old stone paths. Sadly their heyday had passed and the nuts were no longer being harvested, but the trees are still there growing in the stone terraces high above the villages.