The Essentials of Witch Wood

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?

Avenger of Trees

Plant Spirit Awakening

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.            

Faerie Food

I love mushrooms. I love looking at them, painting them, searching for them in wild places. To me they are the symbol of all things Faerie.
Today I was planting some bulbs and came upon a familiar mushroom, two, in fact. The Wood Blewit is one of the prettiest mushrooms you’ll ever encounter. It comes in shades of purple and lavender and best of all, it’s edible. So I carefully picked these two little mushrooms and set them on my kitchen counter. Later in the day I set about cleaning them, gently brushing dirt from them, sometimes blowing dirt off that was stuck in their tiny gills. When they were sufficiently cleaned I set them down on a cutting board and turned to grab an onion when a flash caught my eye coming from one of the mushrooms. I picked it up to examine it and noticed a fleck of glitter on its cap. Then I noticed another and another and realized the entire cap of the mushroom was sprinkled with the tiniest specks of glitter I’ve ever seen, so tiny that I had missed them during the cleaning process. The strangest part about this was that they were very hard to rub off. I had to scrape them off with my knife.
Now, I probably don’t have to tell you that glitter is not a natural occurrence on any mushroom. Loads of scenarios flickered through my thoughts. I have been known to brush off my glitter laden clothes just outside my door where I enjoy the sparkle on my doorstep for months after. But the area I found the mushrooms in is nowhere near my door, not even near my house. I live in the middle of eleven acres of woods in the country so the idea that someone tossed glitter on my property wasn’t a viable one. Then there was the fact that of the two mushrooms standing within a few inches of each other only one of them was glittered.
My logical mind wants to find a practical answer to this conundrum.
My spirit knows the answer.
Nature spirits, which I choose to call Faeries, took glitter which they found somewhere – perhaps on my doorstep – and carried it possibly on the wind, possibly by bribing some insect to carry it on her back, then deposited it onto this one mushroom. Then they set about leading me to that place knowing I had flower bulbs to plant that would give them beautiful flowers to play with in the Spring. In my heart I feel they rewarded me for planting those flowers by giving me not only something to eat but a sign from them that they really are there.
So – does that make my mushroom Faerie Food? We all know we have been cautioned not to eat faerie’s food or we will be lost in their world for a long time, maybe even forever. Well I live with one foot in their world already.
Maybe it’s time to jump right in.

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Dirty Feet

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.

 

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No Shadows

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.

 

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Seeds

Seeds. Those wonderful tiny creatures that have the ability to pull my tired old bones up and out the door each spring to start life anew.

The Wheel of the Year has finally turned again and I bid the death of winter goodbye and welcome the rebirth of spring. Every year around this time I get into a manic state about growing things. I dig through containers that I’ve saved that seem ideal seed starting receptacles, fill them with soil and begin tenderly dropping all manor of seeds onto their surfaces. My house becomes a greenhouse and I become giddy with anticipation.

This year is a little different in that it is my first spring in a new place surrounded by woods instead of streets and houses. The fallow land encircling me calls me to fill it with herbs, flowers, vegetables and fruit. My mind is reeling with the possibilities around me! This little piece of earth I’ve been granted has become my new canvas, fresh, clean and empty, waiting to be filled. The seeds in those containers waiting to push their way up through the dark earth have become the paint that my hands, the brushes, will use to create a lush exhibition for the woodland spectators around me. New earthy faerie acquaintances have been slowly manifesting themselves to me and seem eager to discover what this mortal will help to give birth to on this land they have nurtured. In a way this is a new beginning for them as well as myself. I will introduce them to new plants with colors and textures they may never have seen before as well as the new faerie beings that most definitely will accompany the new residents. It will be a delicate state of affairs as the old native inhabitants strive to welcome the new teaching them the ways of the woodland as they are teaching me as well.

Now that the seeds are all nestled in their dark beds and I wait to see their tiny heads pop out of the earth I am reminded of the metaphor of the seed that speaks of the circle of life and new beginnings. Just as death is not the end of life so the seed that dropped off the dead plant was not its end. This tiny bit of life, the essence of the plant, holds the life force that now is pushing up through the darkness, going toward the light, knowing that when it reaches it a new life will begin.

One day I will be that seed…again.

 

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The Faerie Witch’s Love Spell

The spell it came within a book

Tucked back beyond the attic nook,

Deep within the pages told

Of secrets kept from days of old,

And then I saw it glowing bright

The answer to my lonely night.

 

Inside the book with pages torn

I read the words one autumn morn

But did not heed the warning there

Among the stories bright and fair

For all that caught my eye that day

A reference to a certain fey:

“ He’s dreaming in his treetop tower

Content to wait for the witching hour

To cast off limbs for flesh and bone

Wander through valley and standing stone

That brings him square up to the door

Where his lady waits on misty shore

With wand in hand and wreath in hair

She conjures him ‘tween earth and air,

And when they meet ‘neath moonlit sky

The faeries know the knot they tie

Will bring her joy and many tears

As well as magic, love and fears.

For mortal witch and faerie lover

Will join as one and soon discover

The veil is thin this Samhain night

And many partake of unearthly delight

Then wake to the cold November sky

Hang down their heads and heave a sigh

For alone they be each on their own side

The veil now dense, the distance wide.”

 

And I am one of witches fair

That conjured earth, fire, water and air

Upon a lonely Samhain night

To bring to me one shinning bright

A love to know and keep till dawn

And caring not if right or wrong.

 

So dressed in green by pale moonlight

I trod the woods that fateful night

And when I came upon the tree

That every night had beckoned me

I raised my wand up to the sky

And to the stars let out a cry.

“You of green within this tree,

Oh shinning one, come down to me,

Oh green one dwelling high above

Come down and bring to me your love

That we may dance until the dawn

Make love till all starlight is gone.

I cast this spell by thistle and thorn

You shall be mine until the morn.”

 

The crystal sparked the tree was lit

With tiny lights from root to tip.

I saw his face atop the tree

His glowing eyes stared down at me,

His voice it floated to the ground

And settled on the mossy mound,

“The night is long my pretty bird,

So take my hand, don’t say a word.

Into the night I’ll hold your hand

Across the green we’ll walk the land,

And you will know such wondrous things

That cause mere mortal hearts to sing.”

 

My feet were bare and so was he

His luminous wings did flutter free.

Our hands were clasped beneath the stars

Wee hours of night becoming ours.

As we walked through hills of silken green

And circles of stone with moonlit sheen

My faerie lover showed me things

That dwell within the mushroom rings,

Where dancing in a moonlit glen

He kissed my lips again and again,

Till lips and legs began to tingle

His breath and mine as one did mingle.

And then beneath the starry night

I saw the often told of sight

A doorway opened in the ground

Among the mushrooms gathered round.

And pulled along a lustrous hall

I felt myself begin to fall

Then caught within green arms so strong

I whispered low, this can’t be wrong.

 

The night stretched out before our eyes

Pushed longingly within our cries

As we made love beneath the earth

Both solemnly and filled with mirth.

Upon his bed of leaves and moss

He left me breathless, at a loss,

For soon I knew the sun would rise

And wipe the stars from out the skies

And he would leave me in a mess

To search the hills for my green dress.

 

Now my life is different it seems

My hair has turned a brownish-green

Everyone that passes me by

Can see the silver in my eyes,

And like the sky that shown that night

My skin now shimmers in pale moonlight.

 

So guard your hearts, oh witches fair

When moon is full love fills the air

But cast you not that faerie spell

For in its wake the tale you’ll tell

Is one of love and then of sorrow

Of time suspended till the morrow,

When autumn’s frost lay on the ground

And winter breathes its mournful sound

You’ll speak about the lovely things

That one can do with faerie wings

And then your breath will catch in time

With memories of faerie rhyme

That fill your nights and clutter your days

And make you walk around in a haze,

And all because the spell you cast

Brought faerie love that could not last.

 

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The Little Whistling Man

A hollow tree grows tall and crooked at the bottom of the hill just beyond the stone wall behind my house. Sometimes when the sun is just about to set I go walking past it and find a spot to sit in the tall grass. From there I can watch that hollow in that tall crooked tree without being seen. I have been doing this ever since the day I saw a little man all dressed in brown with horns coming out his fuzzy hair and glittery golden wings coming out his back. The sun had just set when I saw him come out of the hollow of the tree and stretch, raising his hands toward the tree tops. Then he started to whistle a strange little tune while he walked off into the woods.

Now I go down there as often as I can in hopes of seeing him again. I cannot get that tune he whistled out of my head nor the sight of the evening sky glistening off his wings as he walked out of sight.

I have never seen him since but sometimes in the evening, just after the birds have ceased their song and the last glow of day retreats behind the horizon, if I listen very intently, I can hear the sound of a strange little tune whistling in the trees…and then it is gone. Then I get up and walk past the hollow tree, up the hill and over the stone wall then back to my house. There I wait with a tune in my head and the memory of golden wings. There I wait till the sun is ready to set again.

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Mrs. Claus

Santa & Elf“Mrs. Claus is an elf and I can prove it”, she said.

The old woman looked at me with a sparkle in her chocolate brown eyes that had me wondering if she was serious or just trying to get my attention. Well, she had my attention already, she needn’t bother with that one so I decided to take her seriously.

She continued rummaging through boxes as she explained how she could prove such a thing.

“It was many years ago when I was just a young girl, too old for toys but too young for boys.” She winked at me and held up a small doll with black woolen hair matted from years of being crushed in a box under heavier objects.

“Or at least that’s what me mum thought.” Another wink and a thickening of her Irish accent led me to believe she was about to delve deeper into her past which had to be a very, very long time ago judging from her ancient face and gnarled hands. She handed me the doll telling me to hold it and not let go until she was finished with her story.

She continued her rummaging as she told me her tale.

“It was spring of the year that I turned fourteen when they moved into the old stone cottage down the road from me house. Everyone thought the old place would cave in soon if someone didn’t take it on. They said it was one of the last buildings left from the old days, said it was built when folks still gathered at the stones and wells on the sacred nights when the moon was their only light. Stories were told of strange lights coming from within the old cottage on the solstices and most everyone kept a wide berth when passing by the place. But I had seen those lights so I knew they were more than just stories. I knew that these people that moved into the cottage either didn’t know its reputation or didn’t care. I knew I had to get to know them.

I was a very brave child. Mum would disagree calling me reckless and impulsive. I would go exploring when she thought I was weeding the garden or tending the chickens…or sleeping. That’s how I came to see those lights I spoke of. And that’s how I came to meet Mrs. Vinclaus.

Her and her husband, Kris, spoke with an accent but I never could tell where they were from and they always simply pointed north or changed the subject when asked. They had what they called ‘extended family’ living with them which consisted of about ten men and women who seemed to me to be more like servants or employees than family. They were always doing something, mostly making things like furniture or clothing or toys when they weren‘t working on the cottage. One of them made the doll you are holding. But the most curious thing about them was how they dressed. Always in green, except for Kris, and always with hats that covered their ears. Even Mrs. Vinclaus wore hats that always covered her ears. But after visiting with them on many occasions Mrs. Vinclaus told me to call her Anna, which she pronounced like Awnay and she took her hat off to reveal perfectly pointed ears sticking out from her long raven black hair. I let out a little gasp but then smiled into her emerald green eyes.

“Go ahead,” she said with a grin,” Touch them.” And I did. And they were real!

After that She started telling me stories about their northern home and why they were living in the old cottage in Ireland for a time. She said the cottage had called out to them, that it needed to be repaired before it was lost forever. That particular cottage had been home to her ancestors for many years before her people had been driven out of Ireland. When I asked what she meant by driven out she just sighed, something she did whenever I touched on a subject she’d rather not discuss.

One cold winter evening after me parents were asleep I walked up the road to visit the Vinclause’s and bring them a gift of apple tarts I had made for them. It was the night of winter solstice and I knew it was special for them so I wanted to show me love with this gift. When I got there a celebration was going on in the garden behind the cottage. A big fire had been lit and Anna and Kris and all their extended family were roasting things over it, singing lovely but strange songs and making all kinds of merry. I had never seen anything like this before. There was a warm glow surrounding the whole garden and little sparks of green and blue lights kept flitting around my head. I joined the festivities and had my first taste of mead, sweet, golden and warm. Some of the family played fiddles, flutes and drums and the rest of us danced. They knew all the old Irish jigs and reels and a lot of tunes I’d never heard before. A few other people from the area were in attendance as well but the Vinclause family still out numbered us locals.

Sometime before dawn the festivities took on a slower pace with soft, sad songs being sung in both the old language and one I didn’t recognize. Light snow was falling and Kris, in his red festival clothes, was sitting on a huge old tree stump, Anna, in her velvet greens was on his lap, both smiling and swaying to the beautiful music when a garish flash of light enveloped them. At first I thought it was some supernatural light of some kind but then it instantly became quiet. The music stopped as did all conversation and all eyes were drawn toward the place where the flash had originated and a man stood with one of those new machines called a camera. Everyone seemed to be in shock for a few moments then all hell broke loose. The man was pounced upon by most of the family and a few of the locals. The camera was confiscated and the man driven out into the breaking dawn screaming like a banshee.

Kris was given the camera and in turn he handed it to his wife. “You know what to do with this, my dear”, he said.

Anna walked over to me and gave me the camera. She looked into my confused eyes and told me that only the most innocent of them could possess such a thing that could prove who they really are. She trusted me to keep their secret and only tell those who believed or needed to believe.”

“You need to believe”, she said.

“By the first of the new year they were gone leaving behind only the lovely now renovated stone cottage and this doll.” She touched the doll’s raven black hair with one of her crooked fingers.

“This note was attached to it.”

She handed me an old yellowed, crumbling piece of paper with the most beautiful fancy handwriting that read:

Whomever holds this doll that looks like me shall have my blessing of a long life filled with the wonder of magic.

Loving Blessings,

Anna

Then the old woman reached into another box. As a slow satisfied smile spread across her face she pulled out a photo and held it to her chest.

“This is what’s left of the photo the man took at the celebration”, she said handing it to me. “At some point I cut away all the background that had completely faded away and painted a new one and glued them onto it.”

I looked in astonishment at the photo not just because it was clear proof of Kris and Anna’s existence, but because it was in color!

“Yes”, she chuckled,“ It seems magic was afoot that night inside that old contraption.”

I’d like to say it was the old photo that helped me believe but in the end it was the doll that accomplished the feat. When I touched its pointed ears and looked into its emerald eyes a strange tingling went up my arm and into my heart settling there like warm honey and since that day, just as Anna promised, there has been the wonder of magic filling my life. An innocent kind of wonder that is had naturally by children but seldom by adults. I have seen the lights in the woods and talked to faeries and they let me paint their portraits. And every Winter Solstice I light a fire in the back garden and call to Kris and Anna and their family with thanks for all they have given me. Then I sing and old song and dance an old jig and raise a cup of cheer to them for through that small toy they have given back the childish wonder I’d lost along life’s difficult journey.

May you find that wonder again as well.