Who’s that Living in the Trees?

If you go down to the woods today, you’re in for a big surprise…some of the trees have faces in, with noses, mouths and eyes!

Each species of tree has its own nature and each individual tree its particular character and spirit, but do some of them actually have creatures living within? I think they might! Have a look at some of the faces and figures I’ve seen in the woods this year and see what you think…

Here’s one of the old, mossy Beeches that fill the woods where I live.

It looks to me like the sad face of a mediaeval knight, or perhaps a Cathar healer, lamenting the changes in the world…

This one has a more elven feel to it, a gentle quality like that of a deer.

Here it is from a different angle, with an enigmatic smile:

The face of this graceful Beech is hidden by her out-stretched arms…

This Oak tree definitely has a wart-hoggy aspect to it!

And is it just me, or is there a swan here, its neck and wings rising from the stump of an old Sallow?

Last but not least, surely that’s an Ent approaching from behind the shining Silver Birch?

Who knows, perhaps after the witching-hour all sorts of folks emerge from their homes in the trees to dance in the moonlit glades?

If you have taken any photographs of trees that have the faces of humans – or other creatures – in them, why not drop me a line and we can start a collection?

With best wishes!

Essi.

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Into the Woods!

In many ways woods are like people. All of them are made up of essentially the same stuff, yet each one is unique. Some are bright, cheery, welcoming. Others are shy and wistful. Some are dark and brooding and bring a sense of danger with them! And, like people, I find that the better a get to know a wood the more surprises and joys it brings.

After I had sat in the sun watching the lambs for a while (see last post) I scrambled over a ditch and entered the fringes of a wood I had not been into before. Unlike most of the woods here, which are filled largely with broad-leaved trees like Beech and Oak, this one was made up mostly of Pines. As a general rule, I’m not so keen on these. They tend to be the darker, more brooding type. Fewer birds enjoy them and there is often a sense of lifelessness about them.

This one was different, perhaps because although it was mostly made of Pines, it skirts a larger piece of more open, broad-leaved woodland. All the same, you can see from the picture below that it had a slightly forlorn air about it.

It was also wild. No human had been here for a very long time. No boot or trainer had trampled its way through the undergrowth.

The only paths were those made by the delicate feet of deer and rabbit, or the padding paws of many badgers. I love these paths best of all. They have been made over the centuries by the animals who know each nuance of the land far better than I ever could.

One piece of good advice that I was given when I was a boy was that if you get lost in a wood (in daytime) follow the animal tracks. They almost always lead to water, or to another path and from there you can find your way.

As I moved further from the light of the fields into the shadows, a sense of hush filled the air and I decided to sit for a while in one of the patches of sunlight that filtered through the tree-tops.

Looking around, I was aware of many different casts of colour and light. Moss, bright green in places and dark as velvet in others. Last year’s pine needles, now dusty brown. Here and there a muddy pool. In places, whole tree trunks had fallen. They lay around me with their pale branches pointing upwards, like the ribs of great carcases stripped by time.

Sitting still is often rewarding. Nature stops noticing you. Birds and creatures start to drift closer.

A wood pigeon flew into a tree right overhead and began to call with that soft, fluting note that soothes the whole body. Busier sounds then approached as a flock of siskins made their way through the pines, feeding and chatting to each other as they came. A pair of roe-deer appeared and made their way up the steep sides the hill. They were so close that I could see the whiskers on their muzzles and the sunlight in their soft brown eyes.

Nearer to hand a single fly landed on a patch of moss.

I bent over to watch him as he clambered through the feathery strands.

A patch of low-growing plant (to me) was a high jungle to him!

Can you spot the fly?

Looking a little further away, a sliver of burgundy caught my eye, an unusual colour in the woods. I walked over to it and found myself looking down on these amazing funghi.

I’d never seen funghi coloured like these. Each one opened out like an oriental fan

Or perhaps a table for little folk to use!

This one looked more like some kind of creature from another planet..

Turning again, a paler colour drew my eye and this time found myself looking down on these wonderful white-and-olive funghi.

Definitely hats for someone of the right size…

At that moment there was a sudden whir of wings. A woodcock took off from the scrub just a few feet away, keeping low to the ground and zig-zagging as it went. It’s a rare thing to see one of these extremely timid birds and I smiled in gratitude to see the bird land a little way off and scurry out of view.

It was time to head home, but the wood had one last gift. As I reached its edge, with the green fields beckoning, a single butterfly flew into view. It was a Red Admiral.

The first butterfly of the year is always a special one and I don’t recall the last time I saw a Red Admiral this early in the season. I watched this one flitter this way and that, in and out of the patches of light, before it disappeared amongst the trees.

With that, I clambered back over the ditch and headed home again.

Tree Magic – Alder the Water King

Today marks the beginning of the third month in the old Celtic Tree Calendar. There’s been a debate over the years as to whether this month belongs to the Alder or the Ash. I go with Irish tradition, placing Alder in the third slot, because it is at this time of year that the Alder’s buds and catkins show brightest, whereas other trees are still slumbering. Ash is much later to leaf and has its rightful place as the fifth tree in the calendar, its dark buds bursting open only in April-May.

The Alder and the Willow are the two trees most closely associated with water, both of them growing right on the banks of streams and rivers. If Willow is the Water Queen, Alder is its King. Its purple buds give it royal status and are brightest between Imbolc and the Spring Equinox.

The Alder is famous for its ability to produce coloured dyes. From its flowers come the greens most associated with elven and faerie garments, from its bark comes bright red and from the young shoots in March come a wonderful auburn-gold.

This is another reason for placing Alder in the third month of the calendar. Its ability to produce differently-coloured dyes links it to the craft of weavers and spinners and the Goddess of both spindle and loom in ancient Britain was Brigid. As we saw last month, Brigid’s tree is the Rowan Tree (rowan wood often being used to make spindles with) so it is right that the Rowan Tree Month is followed by the Alder Tree Month. To compliment this, Irish legend says that the first man was created from Alder, the first woman from Rowan. So, the two months rightly walk hand in hand.

The Alder is unique amongst trees in that it relies on water to disperse its seeds (as opposed to using the wind or birds). It is also the only broadleaved tree to have cones. These grow out on long stalks, which is also unique.

Brehon Law states that those who fell the Alder without permission will be punished by fire, in much the same way as those who build on faerie mounds will be. This tradition is still largely respected in Southern Ireland. Just recently a man decided to build his house on a “fairy fort” (a flat area said to be the home of the Sidhe, who live underground) only for his house to be damaged first by flood and then by fire! So, it pays to take heed of the old lore.

A peculiarity of Alder is that if you strip away its bark you will find an inner white wood which turns red when exposed to the air, which is why it was sometimes called The Bleeding Tree. This association with the colour red linked the Alder with the fires of inspiration, making it the tree of the god Bran, one of the giants of old who was “too big to fit into a house”.

Alder wood was renowned as the best for making whistles and pipes and the music created by them was said to aid divination and clairvoyance. Bran was as an oracular god, one who could see into the future. His totem was the Raven (see my post A Raven Solstice Message), symbol of the Magus or Magician whose primary role was to look into the seeds of time and tell which one will grow and which will not.

Ravens make a lot of sounds that are surprisingly like those made by pipes and whistles. The valley where I live is home to several hundred of these birds, which makes it a special place (it’s more normal to see them only in ones or twos). When they gather to roost in the evening, their calls are much more like the musical notes of (wooden) whistles than the regular “caw” of the crow.

In the Celtic poem The Battle of the Trees, Bran is displaced by the arrival of a goddess, showing the movement in Ireland away from the patriarchal Church back to an earlier Goddess-based worship. And a return to old ways it certainly was. You’ll find out more about this when you read the Tilly Greenway series, because there is an important truth wrapped up in this particular riddle!

Druids valued pipes made of Alder wood highly and used them during healing rituals. Its leaves can certainly be used to ease rheumatism and soothe inflammation of the skin, but I think the main reason it was seen as a healing tree was because it grows on the border between land and water. With its roots often trailing beneath the surface of streams, it acts as a bridge between the seen and the unseen, connecting us with our inner feelings, soothing the whirling thoughts that burn our heads by reconnecting us to the universal spirit.

In today’s busy world, Alder-magic reminds us that it’s when we delve beneath the surface and look to our hearts for guidance that we become stronger, more grounded and more able to deal with the challenges of everyday life. This much-ignored tree is one to seek out next time you visit a river. Sit beneath it a while, set your head against its trunk and listen to the water flowing past.  The inspiration of the Water King awaits you!

With best wishes,

Essi.

PS – If you enjoyed this post, you might like my book Tilly Greenway and the Secrets of the Ancient Keys, which includes lots of Tree Lore. Find out more at any of these links. Thank you!

Paperback amazon.co.uk      Paperback amazon.com

Kindle: amazon.co.uk         Kindle: amazon.com

A Merry Imbolc to You!

Today marks the Festival of Imbolc, one of the four celebrations that intersperse the four Equinoctial Festivals of the old Celtic Calendar. Imbolc was the Festival sacred to Brigid, a key aspect of the Triple Goddess. Her colour is white: white for the snowdrops that drizzle the woodlands at this time of year in the Northern Hemisphere. White for the White Goddess, muse and inspiration of so many poets.White for the virgin bride. And white for her crescent moon.

White too for the fleeces of the lambs born at this time of the year (the word Imbolc is said to refer to the lactation of sheep who so often give birth in the coldest months), symbols of the emergence of new life from the darkness.

The Anglo-Saxons called this festival Solmonath. It was now that they ploughed the first furrow in the fields, placing into the furrows either a cake or the corn dollies that were woven at last year’s harvest. It is a time of change, the midwinter-spring that TS Eliot calls “sempiturnal though sodden toward sundown”. There may be frosts in the morning, snow may even dust the ground, but things are stirring beneath the hard outer crust of the earth at our feet. Gentle tremors of new life are creeping along root and stem. Seeds are beginning to itch. The way is being paved for another spring.

The Church, following its usual pattern of creating a Holy Day to coincide with the pagan festival days, gave Imbolc the name Candlemas.

Whatever your religion (and wherever you are in the world), you might like to light a candle tonight. Watch its flame flicker and dance, knowing that the dawn always gives way to the day, giving thanks for the cycles of the seasons and the richness of the earth at our feet.

With best wishes,

Essi.

A Winter Walk at Dusk

I love the colours in the woods at all times of the year. Right now, there are drifty greys, fawns and silvery greens:

At my feet are rich browns and greens:

And then, as the sun dips towards the distant hills,

The trees are silhouetted against a pastel sky:

Once the sun has gone, the light grows richer:

and richer…

Then it’s back home through the woods:

By Moonlight!

With best wishes,

Essi.

Oak Moon Message

Tonight’s full moon is the last one in 2011. In various cultures it is/was known as the Cold Moon, the Snow Moon, the Bitter Moon – but my favourite name for it is the Celtic “Oak Moon”, with it’s echoes of times past when the year-end was a transition between the time of the Oak King (summer) to that of the Holly King.

Whatever you are doing tonight, see if you can find time to look out of the window, or pop outside and look up. It will be a clear, cold night and the stars will be shining brightly: just as they have for many thousands of years. As the particles of light from those stars enter your eyes, rays that travelled all the way across the galaxy to reach you, they will become particles of you…embedded inside the miraculous vehicles with which you view the world.

We’re all history in the making!

With best wishes,

Essi.