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The Wisdom of Trees

Updated: Jul 30, 2022

Our ancient ancestors understood that the earth is a living, sentient being and so they gave thanks to her for the food and shelter she provided to them, This affinity has been lost in our modern, industrialised world. There is, however a growing awareness of the damage caused by deforestation and pollution and the need to get back into balance with nature. Gaia or Mother Earth is a conscious, living being. Trees have a deep connection ( literally ) with the earth and they live in harmony with Gaia.

Trees have an essential role to play in sustaining life on the planet. They are sometimes described as the lungs of the earth because they inhale the carbon dioxide we exhale and convert it back into life-giving oxygen. They provide us and other animals with nuts, seeds and fruit. They provide shelter and the wood is used to make essentials such as furniture and utensils. They provide us with beauty and when we spend time in woodland areas we sense their still, calming energy and we feel much better just by being in that energy.

Many people live such busy, urban lives that they find it hard to switch off and de-stress. An activity known as 'Forest Bathing' is becoming increasingly popular, The purpose of this pursuit is to help people regain their lost connection with trees and nature. The organisers teach people how to spend time mindfully in forests, slowing down their breathing and engaging all their senses. Perhaps I am lucky in that I grew up on a farm with very few houses nearby and I spent virtually all my time out in nature. Trees and fields are like air to me. I cannot live in an urban environment. I did for a time but I found it stifling. Many people never had the opportunity to make that connection with nature and it may not come so easily to them.

If you wish to connect with a tree you need to slow down as they are very still. Approach a tree slowly and open your heart to it for it is with our hearts that we connect with nature, not with our heads. Make physical contact with the tree by putting your arms around it. You can sit with your back resting against the tree or place your forehead to the trunk. Take a deep breath in and as you breathe out feel your energy move down through your legs and feet and out through the earth. As you breath in visualise your breath rising up from the roots beneath your feet back up your legs and your body. Focusing on your breath in this way will help you ground and free your mind of tension. You'll start to feel a sense of peace and you may feel a discernible magnetic energy enter your head and heart chakra.

Our Druidic ancestors used trees as portals to the Spirit World. They allowed their souls to travel to the Upperworld by visualising climbing up the branches of a tree, or to the Middleworld by going through the trunk and out the other side to a spiritual version of our own (middle) world. They visualised a journey to the Lowerworld by travelling down the roots of a tree to a magical land deep inside Mother Earth.

On my walks in woods I often place my brow against the trunk of a tree and find myself journeying to either the Middle or Lowerworld, I could do this without the physical tree but I find it easiier to journey this way. I feel that the tree knows what I need to experience. You may find your own way of communicating with a tree that works for you. Remember to be in your heart, relax your mind and as in meditation, let go of your thoughts. Always listen to your intuition and trust whatever impressions come to you.

Trees were considered sacred by the Celts and Druids. The symbol of the Tree of Life or Crann Beathadh was representative of their cosmology or world-view. They saw the tree as an 'Axis Mundi' connecting the Upper, Middle and Lowerworlds. The branches of the tree reached into the Upperworld which is where the Gods dwelled. The Middleworld was where people lived and the Lowerworld was the dwelling place of Mother Earth, the Nature Spirits and Elementals.

In Celtic art there were many examples of the interconnecting roots and branches of the Tree of Life with the roots forming endless knots representing the eternal, interlinking aspect of life and nature. The physical representation of the Tree of Life for the Druids was the Oak tree. In Norse mythology it was the Ash tree known as Yggdrasil. In Egyptian cosmology it was the Sycamore tree, For the Mayans it was the Yaxche. The Tree of Life symbol is a recurring theme in many ancient cultures and is an integral part of the Jewish mystical tradition, Kabbalah.

Some two thousand years ago the Druids of Ireland and Britain developed a writing system caled Ogham ( pronounced Oh-Am ) which they chiselled onto rocks and sticks. It still survives today on rocks all over Ireland that are known as Ogham Stones. The script consisted of a series of horizontal strokes at right-angles to the central stem, a little like the branches on a tree trunk. The script was written vertically and read from the bottom up as if you were climbing a tree. There are twenty letters within the Ogham language and each letter is associated with a different native Irish tree. There are many other tree references built into the Ogham language. The Ogham term for 'letter' Fid means 'tree'. The term for 'word' is Flesc which means 'twig'.

The Ogham alphabet was arranged to reflect the seasonal cycle of trees, and Druids followed a lunar-cycle calendar consisting of thirteen months. Each month of their calendar was dedicated to a different native tree. Here I will focus on some of our best-known native trees and those most commonly associated with the ancient Celtic festivals.

The Celtic New Year did not start on January 1st but started on Samhain, 31st October (Hallowe'en). The sacred tree of Samhain is the yew tree. At this time of the year the veil between the physical and spirit worlds is very thin. The Yew connects us to our ancestors and is often found in graveyards and ancient burial sites. The Yew represents the cycle of death and rebirth. They are unique trees in that they can live for thousands of years. Some have been dated to 4000 years old. They are also unusual in that the branches grow down to form new stems linked to the original tree. Also a new trunk can grow from the decayed remains of the old trunk. In this way the Yew shows us the power of death, transformation and rebirth. It teaches us not to see death as negative but rather an integral part of the cycle of life. The Yew provides us with a direct link to our ancestors and to the Spirit realm.

The Rowan tree, also known as Mountain Ash is associated with the Celtic festival of Imbolc. This is the feast of the Celtic Goddess Brigid, later to be appropriated by the Catholic Church as St. Brigid. The Rowan is a very beautiful tree in Autumn when it is generously clad in flame-red berries. During Imbolc ( 1st February ) the buds are beginning to swell, signifying that Spring is on the way. Rowan represents the re-birth of the Spirit. The Goddess Brigid also assists with inspiration and the development of psychic powers. Rowan branches have been used for centuries fo cleanse and protect energy in the same way as sage is used. Our Irish ancestors often used to hang them up inside the doors of their houses to ward off bad energy.

The Celtic festival of Bealtaine is associated with the Hawthorn tree. Traditionally known as Whitethorn this tree's white blossoms bedeck the hedgerows in early May. May day was the start of the festival of Bealtaine and a tradition that is still retained in some parts of rural Ireland was to gather May flowers with which to decorate the front door of one's house. Like with Imbolc this festival was also Christianised so that people instead created May altars to honour Mother Mary. In Britain Bealtaine was celebrated in villages by dancing around the Maypole which originally was a live hawthorn tree that was brought into the village for this purpose. It represented fertility and creativity.

Hawthorns are very common in Ireland around fairy forts, sacred sites and holy wells. They are said to guard the entrances to the Lowerworld. Hawthorns beside holy wells became known as Rag Trees because people believed that if they tied a bit of cloth from a sick person's clothes to this tree and said prayers, that the sickness would disappear as the rag rotted away. This tradtition expanded to using the trees for any wish to be granted.

The Hawthorn helps us to expand our heart chakras and deepen our connection to Spirit and to love. A tea or tonic can be made by crushing and boiling haws, then allowing to simmer for fifteen minutes during which time the leaves and flowers can be added before straining off and drinking once the liquid has cooled slightly.

The Ash was considered by the Druids to be one of their five sacred trees. Due to it's graceful proportions it is known as the 'Venus of the Woods.' It is easy to identify by its distinctive white bark and by its seeds in Autumn which resemble bunches of keys. In Norse mythology the Ash, known as Yggdrasil represented the Tree of Life. The God Odin hung from the Yggdrasil to gain illumination and hidden knowledge and to discover the secrets of the Runes. Ash is linked to the moon and the element of water. It heps us connect into our divine feminine intuition, It reminds us to look at the whole cycle of life and see it from a bigger perspective.

A tree that is even more associated with the Druids than the Ash is the Oak tree. Druids are said to have met in oak groves to teach and perform sacred ceremonies. In fact the name Druid is thought to be derived from the Gaelic for oak which is 'dair' or 'doire'. Often referred to as 'the king of the forest' the Oak is known for its strength. If you are feeling weak or disempowered by the stresses of life, sit and meditate under an oak tree. It will help you reconnect and restore your strength. The Oak is associated with the midsummer solstice and it helps us to move forward to face the second half of the year with renewed vigour.

In order to truly understand who we are we need to understand where we came from. Trees can help us do this. They have been on earth for longer than humans and have experienced many cycles of death and rebirth. Our ancient ancestors regarded trees with reverence even dedicating their calendar to them. They understood the wisdom and healing properties of trees. As we evolve in consciousness we become aware that we need to live in harmony with nature. We can start by spending more time with trees and by being grateful for their gifts of beauty, healing and wisdom.

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