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.

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Rowan Trees

Rowan Tree growing in the mountains near Beddgelert. (Click to enlarge.)

Rowan has long been known as a witches tree and for protection. Amusingly, it is used both by witches, and also to protect from witches; this often took the form of two sticks joined together with a red ribbon and hung over a doorway, or a branch with berries laid over the mantlepiece. Rowan was often used to protect animals; cows in their stable, or sheep jumping through a hoop at the beginning of May. Its energy qualities are light and air, and these are so strong that they can transform any darkness around them, hence the protection that follows. It certainly grows well in light and airy places, such as the sides of mountains, needing no shelter for itself but looking after other trees until they may stand alone.

Rowan is also known as the ‘quickening’ tree or Quickbeam, as its energy gives life to projects encouraging them on their way. Without a burst of energy, such as the rowan can provide, creative ideas are lost and do not manifest in the physical world, or projects are started but abandoned before being completed. I suspect I have Rowan to thank for the many things I actually manage to get finished and then write about here!

Rowan appears in many old myths and legends, being considered sacred in many different European cultures. This may have something to do with its colours, as red berries were powerful symbols of life and death. It may be because of this, or it may be its lightening and quickening properties, or it may be the flowers that were sometimes used for a visionary aid that have led it to be planted around ancient sites – such as the thickets that grow in Iceland. Rowan trees were sometimes planted in Britain on energy points instead of standing stones and in churchyards in Wales in place of yew.

Rowan trunk

So now I will return to the story I began last time, about meeting the dragon Fireball at a rather special rowan tree in Wales. This tree is growing half way up, or rather down (the direction we were walking) a mountain valley near Beddgelert. The first thing that struck me was its size; the trunk is beyond what I could get my arms around, which makes it the largest rowan tree I can remember seeing. So I stopped to spend a few minutes with it.

Rowan branch

Around the back was a branch that had been cut off at some point several years ago, and the tree had almost grown around the stump of the branch, another thing I don’t usually associate with rowan. And the third thing was a pool by the side of the tree, showing how it had grown so strongly, and also giving it a connection with other worlds in a way I might usually associate with willow or alder or occasionally oak but not rowan.

So I walked around the whole tree, stopping at a low branch to admire the bark, and who do I see but Fireball playing around the spaces between its branches. He didn’t seem to want to talk, just play, but told me I could travel here from my own rowan tree at home any time I wanted to. I suddenly understood what the concept ‘group soul’ means in practice: all rowan trees have the same basic core, which comes through in their teachings and wisdom, in their energies, but all are also connected at another level. While it is easier (for me at least) to connect with and talk to older trees, a young tree is still part of that bond and can link to the others if I make use of that link. The fact that I travel between oak trees regularly serves to emphasise to me at least how this applies to all tree species.

Rowan tree where I met Fireball, with pool to the left.

The second thing I learned while at the tree was the particular ‘feel’ of Rowan energy. I have sensed it through smelling the flowers, but since I have never come across a Rowan tree of this size before, I have never truly experienced its unique qualities. I would know it again anywhere now, even from a small tree, just like I can recognise the energy signature of oak when I can’t see one along with a few others I know fairly well (eg beech, hazel, apple, birch, willow, heather) when I make the effort to connect to them.

Later, I managed to ask Fireball about the tree, and the legends of Rowan trees and earth dragons, one supposedly marking or guarding the other. (I have read of the relationship both ways around, but I like having things confirmed for myself and explained in a way I can understand them.) However, I learned nothing about the legends on this occasion! (Well he is a fire dragon not an earth dragon…) But what I did learn was that he just loved the energies of the tree and loved playing in it, in the same way elementals played in trees or other places sometimes. He reminded me about the joy of playing, of feeling, of exchanging energies, and of a story I read long ago of a very psychic person ‘visiting’ some distant ancestors at a remote spot playing in the sea, who just liked playing and took energy from the waves, the sun. Being at one with them. Fireball has a relationship with Rowan, especially when in berry, while other elementals have relationships with different trees; each type of tree has its own friends who associate with it, like attracting like. He reminded me of the particular elementals of hazels, of birch and of oak that I have seen on rare occasions. They all work together and are happy to do so.

Yet Fireball is not an elemental. He has nothing to do with the growth or development of the tree. His only reason for being there, as far as I can tell, was in his role as teacher. To show me the place, and to help me become more aware, and to enjoy Just Being as well.

The Land of Dragons

Last week I was in the Land of Dragons, otherwise known as Wales, for a family holiday. I hadn’t made the connection before going, despite having briefly visited Wales in early June, but then it has been a few years since my last proper visit and nationalism seems to have grown in recent years with Welsh flags on display most places we went. So to see a lot of dragons in a country for which they are a national symbol of pride shouldn’t come as a surprise. However, this went a step further, starting before I even left home.

The day before going, I was having trouble in my meditation with a lack of concentration for various reasons. I persevered, and then suddenly a small fire dragon bounded in. I haven’t met any dragon like this one before, dark orange, flames everywhere, very small (only waist high and four foot wingspan) and behaving like a small puppy bouncing about, chasing its tail, and utterly full of life. We agreed I could call him Fireball. Exactly what I needed personally at that moment.

He then said it was good to see me again!!! Apparently I have known fire dragons before, although this is definitely the first time I have seen one in this lifetime. Meanwhile, I was told he would be coming on holiday with us, and was really looking forwards to it. Fireball looks a little like a Welsh dragon, but there are some differences; he is more like the colour of ripe Rowan berries and his wings are smaller in proportion.

Glass Dragon

So day one, we set off heading for the far side of Wales, and the first place we stopped was a craft shop I have been past many times in canoeing days when it was closed – known as the Glassblobbery. As an occasional glass artist I was intrigued. So in I went, and was confronted with a glass dragon. And another, and tens if not hundreds of them in the shop, amongst various other glass animals and flowers. And the demonstration the man was about to do was a dragon. I found this delightful little chap there. (He is actually a pale blue-green colour.)

Day two, Dinas Emrys seemed to be the place we had to go to. Despite visiting Beddgelert many times in the past, I hadn’t been there – and it seemed a good size for M’s first Welsh hill. And of course it is entirely bound up with the legends of dragons.

Dinas Emrys as seen from above Sygyn Copper Mine. It is the small hill on bottom right.

Dinas Emrys – waterfall that is passed on the way.

The first part of the legend comes from The Mabinogi(on), a collection of ancient Welsh tales written down in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. After Beli Mawr died, his eldest son Lludd became king. He was wise and generous, but after many years of peace he was hit by three curses – gossip, shrieks on Beltane that terrified the people and withered everything, and vanishing of food that was stored, turning the country into a wasteland. Luckily his younger brother Llyfelys, now king of France thanks to marriage, knew the remedies to the curses. While the first was caused by the race of Coranians, who Llyfelys had the way of removing from the land, and the third was caused by a giant who became loyal to Lludd after being beaten by him in a fight, the second was caused by two dragons residing in the centre of his land who each year fought for supremacy. One was their own dragon, the other that of a foreign race, trying to overcome it, causing the native dragon to cry out. The centre was traced to Oxford, where they found a stone circle and a murky lake. Placing a cauldron filled with mead next to the lake, covering it with a cloth and disguising it with the mud, Lludd then placed wax in his ears and retreated to the stone circle for safety. As it grew dark, he felt an awesome shudder from the earth and knew the screams had begun. From the lake, two serpents, one red, one white, rose up from the deep, water dripping off their scales. The battle continued as they shape shifted many times until they resumed their true forms, fire and ice breathing dragons. Up in the air they fought, snapping and snarling, until finally exhausted they transformed into two piglets and fell back to earth, through the cloth and into the cauldron. There they drank the mead and fell into a deep sleep. Lludd quickly put each piglet into a stone jar, placed them on his cart and drove non-stop to the most secure part of his kingdom, Eryri (the mountains of Snowdonia). Finally he came to a hill called Dinas Ffaron Dandde (Hill of the Fiery Pharoah), just below the highest mountain of all, Yr Wyddfa. There in the hollow summit he found a pool, into which he hurled the two stone jars with all his strength. As they splashed into the water, the lake was swallowed by the hill, now renamed Dinas Emrys, leaving nothing but grass and stones.

Dinas Emrys, slow growing woodland and optical illusion of a tree ‘gateway’.

A little later in history, after the Romans left, King Constantine had two sons, Ambrosius and Uther. Unfortunately he also had a ‘Prime Minister’ Vortigern who coveted the crown, and who arranged Constantine’s death by a band of Picts. (Constantine’s young sons where whisked off to Brittany for safety.) Vortigern then invited the Saxons to get rid of the Picts – and gave them Kent in return, which worked fine until the Saxons wanted to take over Vortigern’s land as well. Barely escaping from a ‘parley’ with his life when the Saxons drew knives, Vortigern fled to Dinas Emrys and attempted to build a fortress there. However, while his men worked hard at the building work each day, every night their efforts were undone and they had to start all over again. In frustration, Vortigern consulted his wise men, who said he must find a ‘fatherless boy’ and sacrifice him over the hill to appease the spirits. The child found was Myrddin Emrys, whose mother had apparently become pregnant by an incubus spirit, so was still a virgin and the boy was baptised to remove the spirit from influencing him. However it seems most likely his mother was a priestess of the ‘old faith’ and took part in a pagan Great Rite with a masked stranger intended to create a child of destiny who would become a teacher and saviour of his age – and then adopted the Christian story as times changed. The child, later known as Merlin, escaped from his captors and persuaded the men to dig into the hill – where they found a lake as he predicted. Then he said in the pool there were two stone jars, each of which contained a sleeping dragon. These were found, the dragons were released and fought, the red dragon killing the white dragon, and peace was allowed to return. Vortigern’s castle was then completed and named Dinas Emrys in honour of Myrddin Emrys, (yes the second time it was apparently renamed Emrys; there is a suggestion it was actually Emyr meaning Emperor, Lord or King, possibly relating to the Emyr Llydaw, which was the Welsh name for Brittany but I digress) and the red dragon has been celebrated in Wales ever since. Meanwhile the young Merlin gave a prophecy and a warning about the Saxons, and Vortigern took his advice to flee for his life. Ambrosius and Uther had now come of age, returned from Brittany, and hunted Vortigern until he jumped off a cliff to his death.

Dinas Emrys and the rock remains. There is also some natural rock to walk up just above this.

Dinas Emrys was a gathering place for tribes in North Wales for at least 1500 years. Whenever danger threatened, they retreated to this heartland to take council with each other; I have seen it suggested it was an Omphalos, or Sacred Centre. The Slovenian artist and Earth healer Marko Pogacnik would probably call it part of a ‘nature temple’, somewhere that acts as a focal point for all the elemental kingdoms and has a far reaching energetic influence on the surrounding lands. Part, because it is also feels connected to Llyn Dinas in one direction, and the confluence of the Glaslyn and Colwyn rivers at Beddgelert in the other.

It is quite a special hill to walk up, with three ‘gateways’: first a water crossing (stepping stones optional, there is a stone bridge), then a tree gap and then a narrow rock gap that was once part of a Norman fort to the hill above. There is also a rather fine, carved, wooden dragon bench we found on the return route.

Pewter Dragon

Day three: after the first two days, I was excited to find out what the dragon connection would be next. It was wet, so we headed to Llanberis – where I found this tiny fella made of pewter.

Day four brought a totally unexpected connection – I met Fireball by a very fine Rowan tree when coming down a mountain path. (Since I have more to say on rowan trees, I’ll continue this story next time.)

Table Dragon

Day five saw red dragons following us along the Welsh Highland Railway, where they have a really beautiful symbol on the end of their station benches – everywhere except at Porthmadog that is, so I wasn’t expecting to see it (and didn’t get a photograph – it was raining at some of the other stations.) Some of the carriage tables also have a nicely drawn dragon next to a map of the line.

Day six was all about fabric dragons, in a wonderful exhibition of Josie Russell’s framed fabric pictures and in 3D toy dragons. Fireball suggested (or I interpreted) before I left I could look for a soft toy dragon and he would like that, but when it came to it none were accepted by the family for various reasons. So I have another sewing project, to create one that is ‘right’. So far, however, it is proving hard to visualise what it should look like as Fireball never sits still! Watch this space…

Finally day seven and eight both saw rather fine metal dragon sculptures, both painted red and both totally unique.

On my return I asked Fireball for some more details about some of these, included here, and then was told he would meet me on Dragon Hill in a week or so’s time. I can’t think where Dragon Hill is at the moment, but I’m looking forward to it already.

Holly Flowers

In a satisfying fusion of two apparently unrelated events, to me anyway, the timing was perfect this week to combine a new interest in whittling with the planned removal of a holly tree.

Whittling came about because I realised it would be a way of making fun, quick things in wood that would require less setting up and clearing away time than actual carving. I love carving when I have had an opportunity to do some, but setting up an old workmate table which isn’t too secure and can only hold small items, and which needs folding up and sweeping at the end of each short session – does not make for an easy time given all the other things I want to do and also don’t have much time for. And trying to use a mallet would be too noisy when M is supposed to be asleep! So being inspired by the fact that the mushrooms I carved last autumn were originally whittler’s projects, I thought I would look into it.

Serendipitously I already had a knife – a small Swiss Army one I was given over thirty years ago. Not possibly the ideal gift for a child, but it has traveled far and wide with me thanks to the usefulness of the scissors (with replaced spring), tweezers, and miniature screwdriver I added inside the corkscrew when I replaced the scissor spring – which is the perfect size for glasses screws that haven’t been glued in place. I never did find much use for the knife blade so I was really pleased to realise with a bit of reshaping and sharpening it could be capable of something interesting, meaning I now had a use for half of the eight functions on the knife. (Corkscrew, bottle opener and large screwdriver should be useful… just not my first choice! But plastic toothpick? How is this an essential tool?)

The holly tree is one I have always been a bit sad about. It was here when we moved in – a perfect conical shape growing up against the boundary wall, but with its top damaged in a fire for getting rid of the hawthorn clippings when the then overgrown hedge was rather brutally chopped in order to put the house up for sale. The holly sprouted twin leaders, so never had a chance of regaining its former shape. In recent years it has grown fairly huge, blended into the hedge on one side, and then layered itself on the other to produce a whole thicket of holly on a mission to takeover the corner of the garden – including attacking my small Rowan tree and a Cornus alternifolia ‘Argentea’ both of which I am rather fond of. I have other hollies in the hedge, so I thought it would be better to remove this one before it knocked the end wall down or grew into the electric wires, and then plant something else that was less prickly. As I pruned and shredded, I realised some branches as well as the trunk, now four inches or so in diameter, would be suitable for carving. Only at the last moment did I realise the smaller branches could also be useful for whittling.

Holly flowers in a vase.

Holly flowers in a vase.

The five flowers were all whittled from one branch, around quarter inch across. I left the bark in place to form ‘sepals’ around the ‘petals’, and was intrigued by the way it curled inwards while the ‘petals’ curled outwards. I could have left the stems green, but they felt rather fat and also the bark started going wrinkly before I had finished the last one, so I thinned them to a size that would fit in the vase. Not perfect, too many bits broke off when my cutting was too deep or too shallow, and my knife could do with more sharpening, but they were great fun to do. And I’m sure I will have some more bits to practice on before too long! Bedsides a store of larger timber now seasoning to carve at some future point.

Imbolc

Snowdrops in the garden on Imbolc

Snowdrops in the garden on Imbolc


Last Sunday was Imbolc, the first festival of Spring marking the transition into the active time of the year. The word means Ewe’s milk, because in days of old the first lambs were born and there would be milk to drink again. New life emerges, even as winter temperatures continue.

Celebrating the Sabbats has become a large part of the modern pagan tradition. I have written before here how, besides giving me something to celebrate every few weeks, I enjoy their connecting me to the cycles and rhythms of the natural world and to the gods and goddesses of the land. However I sometimes wonder whether they are relevant to me as a witch (rather than just as a pagan) since if I want to make changes in my life the moon is the celestial body I am more likely to work with. So this Imbolc I was pleased to have reason for a special ceremony in the garden.

Imbolc celebrates the reigniting of the divine spark, bringing our intuitive, unconscious energies into a manifest conscious reality that may grow as the sun’s power grows. This is all on a much bigger scale than the 29-day moon cycles. Candles are lit to symbolise the divine spark of the returning light – and act as a focus for our inspiration, creativity and intuition. Some years I have needed to symbolically relight my own internal fire from this candle, if I have been struggling through a long, dark winter, although I’m glad to say I didn’t feel such a need on this occasion. I made a cross for Brigid, the keeper of the light, because Imbolc is really her festival. We lit three beeswax candles to stand by her cross in the evening, representing her three aspects of inspiration, healing and smithcraft. Then the next day I took the cross into the garden and had a small ceremony to announce my intentions for each of the three main areas of the garden and ask for the help of the nature spirits to work in partnership with me. It was then placed under the Rowan tree, an area I have promised to leave as undisturbed as possible.

This marks the start of my co-operative gardening experiment and while I don’t anticipate a Findhorn or Perelandra here (my communication skills have a long way to go) I hope to grow a richer and more healthful, harmonious, balanced garden that will develop over the next few years. Time, and M’s growing capabilities and interests being the main factors in the speed and direction of development. Successes and / or lessons learned will no doubt be reported here…

Best Laid Plans…

Bench under a Rowan tree

Bench under a Rowan tree

When I started this blog I made a list of things I could write about, and one of most important of these, unsurprisingly, was Rowan. I was saving it for when the trees came into flower, and planned to take a photo to use for the title picture instead of the Mistylake picture supplied by WordPress. It would show the feathery green leaves, along with creamy white flowers, and underneath the tree I was hoping to capture either a certain local bench for sitting on and contemplating life (above), or if I could frame a picture appropriately, then a rather lovely stone circle in Derbyshire which has a Rowan tree overlooking it. I could even photograph the small tree in my garden; the ‘under’ aspect is a bit lacking but it will come!

I love the Rowan tree in flower; it wasn’t until I smelt the blossom that I really understood where the name of Quickening Tree came from, but to do so is to experience such an intense energy rising up that you feel anything is possible. While the red berries are also important, they come as the energies are withdrawing and spiralling back down into the earth in the autumn. It is probably not a coincidence that red often symbolises the underworld in Celtic mythology.

As the trees started to come into flower, I started taking the camera out each day when I went walking. Blossom only tends to last until the flowers have been pollinated; after this point they shed their petals and the bees and other insects move on to the next species. So day one, Saturday, I had just reached the tree with the bench when the threatening rain decided to suddenly bucket down. My immediate thoughts were to get the rain covers over the pushchair as quickly as possible, and leave the camera in the drybag! Day two, would you believe it the same thing happened. I usually avoid rain on my walks, unless I am in the mood for a cleansing, or am doing the walk as part of a ritual or meditation where I almost always get sun, wind and rain and possibly also lightening or hail. But not this time! The next two days I walked other places, the weather not being conducive to photography, but I planned Wednesday around getting the photo, when it was predicted to be sunny. The sun duly arrived, but imagine my dismay to find a note on the table telling me the camera had been ‘borrowed’ for the day… it wasn’t even used until Thursday! As I was unable to get to the tree again until Saturday, I wasn’t surprised to find that all the blossom had fallen off or turned brown, and there wasn’t a creamy white flower to be seen.

I will admit to being quite upset, especially on the Wednesday, because I knew then that with a sudden heat-wave the blossom wouldn’t last. However, when I analysed my feelings I realised that most of my upset was due to having been wrong – I was so sure this was the picture I was meant to have on my blog! Clearly it wasn’t meant to be, so I had to accept that and start exploring other ideas.

My thoughts were first that a ‘craft’ blog maybe needed more ‘craft’ than just pointing and shooting with a camera. Second I realised that I could also explore the ‘under’ aspect a little further; the bench is very popular and I have often sat there to pause for a few minutes, but I didn’t actually make the bench or plant the tree… I haven’t quite worked out how I am going to do it yet, but I have had various animals or nature spirits offer me their support and say that they would like to be included. Watch this space, as they say…

Anyway, it seems very appropriate that it is post number 13 that has proved the most unexpected, and has pushed me onto a new path!

Welcome and Hello!

I am a hedgewitch living between hawthorn, hazel, blackthorn, holly and beech hedges, gathering the nettles and stickyweed that grow in their shelter. Sometimes I meditate, sometimes I journey beyond our familiar world, and sometimes I create, taking nature as my inspiration. Fabric, stained glass, pen and paper, or even wood crafting, along with learning and practising the Craft.

I like to write about my personal beliefs, and how they are woven into everything I do so that there is no join to where magic stops and “reality” begins. If they inspire anyone else, even if it is to disagree with me or call them into question, then so much the better. I will not pretend to know what is “right” or “best”, I only know that we are all individuals and each have a unique purpose to fill; every path is equally valid. This is my path, which may be crooked at times, or have a few detours, but if there are two options I shall choose the prettier route even if it is longer.

There is a rowan tree in my garden, dedicated to Brigid, goddess of healing, poetry and smithcraft. Its blossom smells divine each spring, the best scented tree blossom I know. Later in the year I will save the red berries for medicinal purposes, as a decoction made with them is great for easing winter sore throats. Brigid has been with me for a few years now, like attracting like.