There is a quote I read somewhere that says ‘a tree does not a forest make’. Well, I disagree with that statement. In this increasingly overpopulated world we live in it is becoming harder and harder to find what our ancestors would call a woods let alone what they would refer to as a forest. Deep within the heart of every tree there lives the potential for a forest. Each year as my single Norway Maple drops its leaves I am reminded of that. By the time it is finished they carpet the ground with the promise of a thousand trees. The promise of the Witch Wood.
I am on a spiritual journey with the trees. I have been talking to them since I was a child and for the past few years they have been talking back. It was a very large tree that showed me that she is indeed a forest in her own right. I have always had the extreme luxury of being able to enter the sanctuary of a large woods or forest but I realize that a lot of people don’t have that. And the trees also realize that. They want people to know that all it takes to enter the woods is to simply sit with a tree. Touch it, talk to it either out loud or in your head. It will hear you and if you listen with your heart you may hear it talk back. When you have experienced this connection you have entered the Witch Wood. It is a magical place where other worldly creatures dance and play with the earthly ones. It is a place where peace resides, a place you can go when life gets too hectic and you just need a little break from it.
All it takes is one tree and a few minutes of your time. The Witch Wood is calling. Will you answer?
In a dream I met her. She was sitting across a table from me and talking, a lot, telling me so many things but the one thing that stuck out was that we were alike. Very alike, she said. Then today I am online watching a seminar on Plant Spirit Herbalism and there she was! Talking, a lot, about all the things that run around in my head, all the things I love and know about plants. Talking about talking to plants which I have been doing basically all of my life. Her words were pulling me back into a place I had lost. Her words were reminding me of the beauty and glory of being with and talking to and listening to plants and trees; a place of life and love and healing. Reminding me that without plants we cannot live for there would be no air to breath. Simple truth so easily forgotten.
But let me back track to yesterday when I was feeling disconnected, drudging along my life- road with little enthusiasm, feeling drained of energy and my old nemesis depression was tapping gently on my door. Taking my dust mop, an old fashioned tool for cleaning floors, I stepped outside to shake the dust of my house from its woolen fibers hoping to shake the dust off my muddled thoughts when I heard the cry of a hawk very close by. Looking up into the sky to find where the sound was coming from revealed two red tailed hawks soaring over my head then landing on one of the trees right in front of me. They sat there just long enough for me to realize they were the bearers of a sign then they flew off into the woods their calls echoing behind them diligently succeeding at breaking into my muddled thoughts.
When I went back into the house I gathered up the few books I have on interpreting signs from the animal kingdom. I knew that hawk was a messenger telling me to pay attention, that something was about to be revealed to me. So for the rest of the day I watched and waited. Nothing seemed to be jumping out at me telling me ‘this is the direction’ or ‘do this and it’ll all make sense’. No, the rest of the day seemed to be just a continuation of the same drudging lack of purpose and now my old nemesis was knocking rather loudly at my door. So in an attempt to dull the racket in my brain I got online and just surfed, letting the digital waves take me where they wanted while secretly hoping that they might lead me to that anticipated and illusive message. Now, mind you, it is the middle of March in the northern part of the country; there are still piles of snow sitting around and I see something crawling on my computer screen. Thinking it was one of the few bugs that come inside up here to get out of the cold like lady bugs or stink bugs I prepared to either move it out of my way (lady bug) or remove it to the outdoors (stink bug). But on closer inspection found an ant! And I swear to you it looked right at me! So right then I knew it was another sign guiding me toward that illusive ‘message’. Ant’s significance is patience. So with a sigh, I resigned myself to wait.
So when I sat down at my computer this afternoon still feeling much like I did yesterday but with that weird dream still stuck in my head I remembered that I had signed up for a virtual conference on Herbalism. So I tuned it in and there she was; the woman from my dream talking about all the things I know and love and feel so deeply about. All the things I had forgotten to rely upon; the plants, the trees, my old friends, the ones who use to come to me when I was little, the ones who were the faeries, the spirits of nature. She reminded me that I am not alone, that none of us are. The plants are there waiting for us to acknowledge them, to let them help us, love us, heal us. They are more than just physical beings; they are also spiritual beings just like us only so much more advanced evolutionally speaking. They were here way before us and will probably be here way after we are gone. They are well worth listening to.
So what do you think? Was the ant also telling me where I would find the message? Makes sense to me.
Lately I’ve become aware of my lifelong relationship with fire. There is a possibility that I inherited it from my father; he was always setting our houses on fire – accidently, of course, and no, he wasn’t a smoker. The fires were always caused by carelessness and, I now believe, his inability to actually connect to the spirit of fire, which was strange because his occupation included the installation and maintenance of home heating systems, more fire-work. So you might say his life revolved around fire but it took him most of his life to find that balance with it that kept it from getting out of control on him (he had his last house fire when he was in his eighty’s). Throughout my life I watched and tried to learn from his mistakes. Over the years there have been some close calls; a pot holder catching fire, a kerosene lamp blackening my apartment wall, the occasional grease fire and the chimney fire that taught me the importance of keeping the chimney clean. But along the way fire and I have come to the realization that we are deserving of each other’s respect as living, breathing beings on a planet wrought from fire in a universe rife with it.
In the house I lived in for over thirty-five years the focal point of the living room was the big iron woodstove which was in the front part of the house. Later we added another smaller one in the back part of the house. For most of those years they were the only source of heat in our home and I was their major caretaker. They and I had a very passionate love-hate relationship. They were a lot of work but they gave back so much in warmth and ambiance that most of the time it was a labor of love.
When I finally moved out of that drafty old Victorian in town into a newer house in the country the only thing I really missed were those woodstoves and their amiable blazes. At first I thought I could live without them and I did – for about a year. The house was defiantly warmer with its in floor heating and good insulation, warmer than the old one even with its two iron fire breathing beasts.
But as time went on I realized there was an empty space inside my spirit that that couldn’t be filled with anything other than fire. So with the help of a grandson an outdoor fire pit was crudely built out of all the local rocks we could find. It was just a circle of stones inside of which I could safely build a fire. The woods around my house provided plenty of dead limbs to feed my addiction and I was happy for a time. Then I realized that in the dead of winter it was nearly impossible to dig out the pit and fire wood from under a few feet of snow. So the next year I acquired a metal chiminea to set on the small patio outside my back door. Through the fall I filled two totes with kindling and fallen branches to keep it all dry and when winter came I bundled up, shoveled the couple of feet to the fire source and enjoyed many cold evenings visiting with my fire friends. Life was good. But in the back of my head there was a little voice getting louder by the month complaining that it needed fire in the house. It needed a woodstove.
I mentioned this numerous times to my partner but he was not in agreement. Then I went for the logical angle (since he is into that sort of thing) and told him we needed something for heat when the power went out. He said he’d work on getting a generator. We’ve been here for over four years now and there is neither a woodstove nor a generator in our possession.
So this summer I decided to try a little sympathetic magick. Basically I needed a sort of poppet of a woodstove that I could use as a lure for a real one. After much thought I realized it would be easier to make a faux fireplace than a woodstove. And it would also be nice if it was life size. I had most of the supplies to build it hanging around the property; old wood from an abandoned and fallen tree house my grandsons had built, bricks I’d picked up from a demolished old building, and a big wooden crate that was just the right size for the core of my project. The only thing I purchased for it was an electric fireplace insert that tries to look real – and almost makes it.
Long story short, the fireplace poppet is now a focal point in my living room where it gives off heat, ambiance and the magickal intent to bring a real live fire breathing iron beast into my home.
My partner hopes the fake one will pacify me. But all he has is hope. I have a fire poppet and a whole lot of magickal intent.
Anyone who gardens in the north knows that this is the season for dirty feet. It doesn’t seem to matter if you go barefoot, wear shoes, sneakers, or mud boots; somehow the dirt from the garden finds its way to your feet. I’ve tried tucking my jeans into the boots, wearing them on the outside of the boots, even going so far as putting a rubber band at the hem of the jeans around the boot. No matter what I do at the end of the day my feet still look like someone has dumped dirt into my boot and rubbed it into my skin.
I blame the garden gnomes.
I saw a garden gnome some years ago. Not one of those statues of garden gnomes you see all over the place, which I believe give them a good laugh. No, this was a real, honest to goodness gnome. Did you know that what people think is a pointy hat on their heads is actually the shape of their heads? Yup, that’s what I saw.
It was a one moonlit summer night when he appeared in my flower garden. He stood about three feet tall and just stared at me as I stared back at him. I got the feeling he was just as surprised to see me as I was him. It was difficult to make out colors due to the blue cast the moon gave everything but I did notice that he was not wearing clothes and he was a bit hairy all over. And, like I said, there was no hat on his head, just that domed point with long, dark hair cascading from it. His facial features were quite flat, eyes that slanted toward pointed ears held close to his head, a wide nose with flaring nostrils and full lips below a large mustache that hung well past his chin and his skin appeared greenish-blue in the summer moon light.
The night I saw the gnome I was wearing my wellies due to a resent downpour which made the garden wet and muddy. When the gnome disappeared – and I mean disappeared, he just seemed to sink down into the earth on the spot he was standing – I finished the ritual I had been doing when he first appeared then I went back inside. As is customary in many pagan paths, I had bathed before doing my ritual so imagine my shock when I removed my wellies and found mud caked on the top of my feet and between my toes. That was the first time I made the connection between dirty feet and gnomes.
That was the only time, so far, that I’ve seen a gnome but I know they’re out there in my garden just beneath the surface. I know they are waiting for me every time I go out to weed or water, gather or plant. They are just waiting to use their own little brand of earth magic to somehow put dirt into my boots. Sometimes I make their job easier by wearing sandals or simply walking around the garden barefoot, letting the dirt toss up onto my feet, squish between my toes. I can almost see them smiling knowing I have gotten their message to not forget what is responsible for making my garden grow.
Now when I take my boots off and knock the dirt out of them heading for the bathtub to wash my dirty feet, I think of that gnome staring at me in the moonlight and smile.
They were lost and alone with no shadows to guide their way, no sense of direction only the wind and rain. The sky had been grey for days on end and at night there was darkness so thick they huddled in a hollow tree with their eyes closed in order to glimpse a little light. They wandered in the rain seeking any glimmer of light; a candle flame, a little camp fire, a glow worm or firefly. But the rain was so steady it put out all the fires and the cold was so harsh the tiny light-bearers stayed underground. Without light there were no shadows, without shadows there was no direction and so they stumbled in circles from one hollow tree to the next.
The children listened to the stories of the elders who spoke of a time in the past when the sun and moon had grown tired of all the complaints of the people and so refused to guide them until they stopped their grumbling, fretting and whining and once again found their joy. The elders warned the people that this had come upon them for the same reason and encouraged them to be brave and find something to be joyful about else their days of wandering with no shadows would continue.
The people grew sad many succumbing to tears which only aided the task of the rain and the sobbing at night frightened the children to tears as well. All hope seemed lost as the people pressed close in a mass of anguish and despair within the damp void of a large tree.
Then one darkest empty night the people were awakened by the sound of a reed flute and the tapping of a small drum that pulled them all up from their fitful sleep. The darkness was so dense they had to rely on the sound of the music to guide them. And so holding onto each other they ventured out into the cold dark rain in search of the sweet sound. As they drew closer to it some of the people began to smile others to hum along with the notes that filled the night air. Some even found they had not forgotten how to dance, the soles of their feet itching to step to the beat of the tiny drum. By the time they reached the source of the music all their sobbing had ceased. Most of them had smiles on their faces and the tiniest glimmer of dawn lay flat against the rain soaked sky. They gathered around a piper and drummer who sat upon a wet mound of green moss playing the most joyous music any of the people had ever heard. Before long they were all dancing and singing, laughing in spite of the rain and dark grey that filled the sky above them.
The elders smiled at one another as one of them slipped a silver coin into each of the pockets of the musicians, then moved toward their people to join in the celebration as a tiny sliver of golden light could be seen on the eastern horizon.
Many years ago I did a ceremony to become one with trees. The first phase of the ceremony involved going deep within the woods and listening to the wind in the trees to discern which one was to be my sire. I found her, a maple, near a stream, standing alone on a moss covered berm, the wind whispering a soft serenade through her branches.
I set my pouch down that was filled with the tools I would need to accomplish the ceremony and then I undressed. In order to become like a tree one must cast off all the encumbrances of the human body. I was first to become naked as a tree, my skin becoming my bark.
The next step was to gather some of her fallen branches that proved easy since there was one leaning against her trunk. I broke it into tiny pieces making a little stack of them within reach of the tree. Then I dug a hole at her base with a knife from my pouch just large enough for my feet to fit into, stepped into it and placed my arms around her in a hug. We stayed like that until I could feel her life force and she mine. I curled my toes into the soft earth at her feet. I felt a hum of life emanating through her bark, entering my heart, climbing up through my feet, a slow steady hymn of life and love as I asked her permission to become one with her spirit. A breeze sauntered through her branches, I looked up, she nodded her assent and a trickle of affection joined her hum of life entering my body. I thanked her, stepped out of the hole and knelt at her feet to begin the final phase of the ceremony.
Into the hole I placed a drop of my blood and the tiniest pieces of her fallen branch, lit them with a match – the only fuel allowed in the ceremony – and fanned them with my breath until the flames took hold. Then I began feeding the fire while humming a tune, whatever came into my mind, a love song to this beautiful tree person. All of the wood I had piled up was fed to the fire and burned to ash. Then I stood and stepped back into the hole while it was still warm from the fire. The ashes from her spent and burned body covered my feet, squeezed between my toes and I felt the warmth of them like the caress of a lover. I put my arms around her again and we stood there, a single entity bound by blood and fire, standing together between Earth and Sky.
Since that day my love and connection to trees has grown to nearly obsessive proportions. At the time of the ceremony I lived in town with a few trees in my yard. Now I live in the woods surrounded by them. I hug at least one tree daily, talk to them as often as possible and plant more of them yearly. But the most interesting thing that happened to me after the ceremony was the overwhelming desire in the spring to drink the sap of the maple tree. The desire is so strong I have begun to feel like the vampire that is in need of the life blood of another human being in order to continue living. But in this case it is the craving of a human who has become part tree by ceremonial transmission needing a yearly transfusion in order for that element to stay alive in her. When the craving first started a neighbor was tapping trees in his yard to make maple syrup and would share some sap with me. Now I have my own trees.
I tapped two trees a couple days ago, with their permission, of course, and today I collected two gallons of clear, sweet liquid, the blood of the maple tree, my friend, sister, lover. She freely gives me her life blood so that I may continue to nurture my tree self. I drink and feel renewed.
I am sure a psychoanalyst could have a field day with this situation but I know what I am. I know that one day a long time ago a tree sired me and made me one of Them and now I am a tree vampire. I can’t help myself, I must feed to stay alive, to continue being one with the trees.