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Roots of Life

Some years ago, my husband, our two small daughters and I were camping, as we often do, on the west coast of British Columbia, Canada. On a summer day we were walking a narrow dirt path beside one of those streams, so common to our coast, that flow from the forest into the ocean. The forest was lush, lush green, with huge ferns and cedar trees. Sunlight filtered casually down through the treetops to the brown velvet forest floor strewn with tree debris.

Still inside the cover of the forest, just before the stream met the open sands of the beach, we approached a huge, fallen cedar lying parallel to the trail. The giant tree, perhaps blown over in a winter storm, had peeled back the earth, and a chunk of the forest floor now stood sideways in the air, its highest edge a story above our heads.

As I looked at this upturned tree, admiring its huge, splaying, earth-covered roots, I was struck by the similarity of these forms to the human placenta. I observed how the roots of the tree spread through the circular clod of upturned earth like the red and blue veins that filter, root-like, through the circular, mushy, blood-filled mass of the placenta. In a pregnant woman, the placenta is attached to the inside wall of her enlarged uterus — home to her growing baby. Like a grand communicator, the placenta and umbilical chord define the paradox of connection, yet separation of two bodies. It is a continual dialogue of blood, a liquid abundant stream of life’s fluid and necessary substance between mother and baby.

Often in my midwifery work, people had expressed their disgust at the placenta’s blood filled mass. Now I wondered if, upon seeing this sacred cedar, people would understand the life-giving mystery of the placenta. These roots reached into the earth mother, just as we reached for nourishment into the bodies of our own mothers, through the root-like veins of the placenta. Form within form, transforming form, a synchronicity of forms where oxygen and nutrients are transported from mother to child, from earth to green fronds of the cedar tree and back again, a continual dialogue of liquid love, respiration, life’s regeneration and gift, held and offered by the mother.

Starhawk, an American earth and social justice activist and witch-woman, led a tree meditation in a workshop I attended. Through trance, I experienced how the trees occurred and developed as beings on Earth earlier than mammals. Over the millennia, trees absorbed and transformed atmospheric conditions, shifting the available oxygen supply for other living beings. Mammals began to thrive and avail themselves of this finely tuned balance of oxygen and carbon monoxide, the measured breath of soft fleshy lungs. We breathe out carbon monoxide, trees breathe it in, trees breathe out oxygen, we breathe it in — in and out, an invisible dialogue of life-fulfilling dimensions.

The symbolic ritual of incarnation is a story written in the female body, and in the hidden roots of trees.

Our human breathing has grown past our own lungs and into the engines of our creations, the cars, machines, factories, and “big smokes” we call cities. And we are cutting down the trees to fuel this mechanical breath, cutting too soon our umbilical cord to Mother Earth, our source and literal ground of being. This is so like a birth where the baby's umbilical cord is clamped and cut before the blood has stopped pulsing between mother and child. This cutting stops the flow of oxygen from mother to child and creates an artificial need for resuscitation: rub that baby, get that mask, pass that oxygen tank. Cut the ancient connections of women and trees, our common ancestors, our awareness of the earthy conditions in which we need to live — or restore those connections. The symbolic ritual of incarnation is a story written in the female body, and in the hidden roots of trees.

Graphics Credits

  • Fallen Tree at Stanley Park, © 2007 patti donnahee. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
  • Upearthed Tree at West Hylebos Wetlands Park, © 2008 singingjana. All rights reserved. Used with permission.
  • Waiting for the Placenta, courtesy of premasagar. Published under a Creative Commons license.
Copyright / Terms of Use: Contributors retain the copyright to their work; please do not take art or words without the author's or artist's permission. Other graphics and reference materials are used and attributed as per the Fair Use Provision of The Copyright Act and individual terms of use.


MatriFocus Cross-Quarterly
is a seasonal web journal (zine) for Goddess Women and others interested in Goddess Lore and Scholarship, Goddess Religion (ancient and contemporary), Feminist Spirituality, Women's Mysteries, Paganism and Neopaganism, Earth-based Religions, Witchcraft, Dianic Wicca and other Wiccan Traditions, the Priestess Path, Goddess Art, Women's Culture, Women's Health, Natural Healing, Mythology, Female Shamanism, Consciousness, Community, Cosmology, and Women's Creativity.

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