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Trees

Many peoples all over the world have considered trees sacred. In the East, yakshas — ancient earth divinities associated with trees — provided important symbolism within both Hinduism and Buddhism. Ancient Mesopotamians linked the sacred tree with the Goddess Inanna and her successor Ishtar, and this symbol eventually came down to us in the Bible as the tree of life. The ancient Hebrews worshipped the Goddess Asherah in the form of a sacred tree. And in Germanic tradition, we find the world tree Yggdrasil, while the Celts venerated all trees as holy. In fact, our superstition of “knocking on wood” probably stems from the Celts, for whom reverently touching trees brought wisdom, protection, and the luck we expect from rapping on the closest table.

Given this background, it shouldn’t surprise us to discover that trees afford a wonderful source of oracles. In fact, dendromancy was an ancient form of divination using either an oak tree or mistletoe. The great oak at Dodona in northwest Greece became famous for whispering answers to ancient petitioners who approached it with requests for divination. And the Bible recounts that David listened to a grove of mulberry trees for a signal to attack the Philistines (Samuel 5: 20 – 25).

Tree Hugging
Hugging or communing with a favorite tree, sense the answer to your question.

Next to a tree • Anytime • Standing • Sensation

Tools and Ingredients
• A tree

My favorite tree divination begins by befriending a tree that grows near my house. Although most trees welcome our questions, an ongoing relationship makes a tree more likely to respond to our divination needs. I discovered, in fact, that once I had hugged my favorites a number of times, they greeted me from then on as an old friend. To cultivate such friendships, I also leave an offering of loose tobacco, something the trees seem to appreciate.

Since people have formed different associations with the various species, I always choose a divinatory tree based on the type of issue my question involves. At the end of this article a list of Common Associations with Tree Species gives you some ideas about how to choose an appropriate tree for your oracle.

When I perform a Tree Hugging divination, I usually begin by singing to the tree. My favorite chant for this purpose is entitled “Green God” and was written by Donald Engstrom. It’s what I call a “zipper song,” since you can zip in the tree you’re invoking and the quality or qualities it represents. I recorded it on my CD Singing the Promise[1] if you want to hear it. The lyrics are:

“Green God, oak (or maple, etc.) God,
Sacred God of                             (insert quality associated with the tree),
Hey ho, hey ho,
Come unto me,
I beseech thee.”

Alternately you could begin with the famous couplet by Joyce Kilmer, “I think that I might never see / A poem lovely as a tree.”

Steps

  1. Formulate your question.
  2. Locate your divinatory tree.
  3. Ground and center near the tree.
  4. Greet the tree by singing, with poetry, or simply by saying, “Hello.”
  5. Embrace the tree. Press your forehead against its bark, and then tell it your question telepathically.
  6. Listen intently for an answer for up to 10 minutes.
  7. Interpret the outcome, perhaps with the help of Free Association.

My Experience
Experience with my favorite neighborhood trees has been very positive. I associate maples with practical magic, and almost every time I walk by an old silver maple near my house, I ask it a question, for which it has a ready answer. When I was sick, I often visited a nearby cedar, and when I needed spiritual guidance, an ancient ash helped me out. But my favorite tree has been a large sycamore in a nearby park, under which I’ve often sat writing. Several times I experienced synchronicities there. It wasn’t just the shade of its canopy that drew me to this tree, but also the fact that sycamores are associated with receptivity and communication, two of the most important elements in writing.

When I ask a divinatory question, I usually I hear the tree’s answer within my mind in my own voice, but sometimes it comes as a fruit dropping, or a stick, or a leaf. And sometimes while I’m waiting, something catches my attention as I embrace my oracular tree. I’ve found that if I’m open to the universe, it will respond.

Tree Qualities
Walk in the woods or a nearby park until you feel drawn to a particular tree; then identify what type of tree it is, and let its symbolic qualities answer your question.

A Park or Forest • Daytime • Walking • Movement & Symbols

Tools and Ingredients
• A natural area with trees
Tree Finder: A Manual for the Identification of Trees by Their Leaves[2] or a similar book, if you can’t distinguish different types of trees

Steps

  1. Formulate your question.
  2. Locate the natural area where you want to walk.
  3. Ground and center in the natural area.
  4. Focus mentally on your question as you begin to walk.
  5. Feel yourself drawn to a particular tree.
  6. Identify the tree.
  7. If you have no immediate association with the tree, look up the qualities it typically embodies in the list of Common Associations with Tree Species.
  8. Interpret your oracle, perhaps with the help of Free Association.

My Experience
I recognize many tree species. As a result I need to be careful to follow my intuition and not try to identify the trees around me as I walk. Otherwise I can skew the outcome of this type of oracle.

Touching Twigs
Meditate on the texture of a backyard twig, until an answer comes to you.

Anywhere • Anytime • Sitting • Sensation

Tools and Ingredients
• A twig

If sensory oracles work for you, this third tree divination may offer special insight. The rough or smooth texture of the twig you hold will evoke certain qualities in you. In fact, if this oracular method speaks to you, you may want to create wands or staffs from one or more types of tree to awaken certain energies or abilities that you wish to cultivate. Many generations of mystics and shamans have used such rods for magical purposes. Of course, if a twig isn’t available, you could also touch a wooden door or sit in a wooden chair.

Steps

  1. Formulate your question.
  2. Choose a twig, wand, or staff with which to commune.
  3. Ground and center while holding the twig, wand, or staff.
  4. Communicate your question mentally to your twig.
  5. Meditate on the twig’s texture for 10 minutes.
  6. Interpret your oracle, perhaps with the help of Free Association.

Common Associations with Trees[3]

Common associations only loosely apply within a specific culture. If these don’t resonate with you, use your own connotations.

Apple. Happiness, a choice to be made, magic — especially of the Faerie realm — youth, beauty, Garden of Eden
Ash. Sacrifice for greater wisdom, sensitivity, strength, protection, connection of inner and outer worlds
Aspen. Whispering, overcoming doubts, fears, misunderstandings, resurrection
Beech. Past knowledge, power of the word, self-expression, tolerance
Birch. Sacred tree of the Goddess, new beginnings, need for balance, cleansing
Cedar. Cleansing, healing, purification, protection
Cherry. Life, birth, new awakenings, rebirth, the Phoenix tree
Cypress. Tree of the underworld, facing fears, primal feminine energies, exploring sacrifice
Elder. Tree of the Celtic religion, end of a cycle, regeneration, revival of the Faerie realm
Elm. Tree of intuition, council tree, majesty, elfin magic, strength
Eucalyptus. Healing, protection, soothing, exploration of dreams
Fig. Sacred tree of Buddha (Bodhi tree), enlightenment, intuitive insight, abundance
Hawthorn. Tree sacred to the fairies, fertility, creativity, cleansing, patience
Hazel. Stimulation of creative energies, great magic, transformation, hidden wisdom, dowsing
Hickory. Persistance, endurance, strength, flexibility
Lemon. Cleansing, aura balancing, clarity of thought, invitation to protective spirit guides and teachers
Lilac. Beauty, balance of intellect and spirit, strong link to nature spirits, healing
Linden. Mystic spirit, pursuit of personal dreams, transformation, beauty, joy
Maple. Practical expression of the psychic, balance of yin and yang, awakening intuition
Oak. Strength, endurance, yang energy, a gateway to the mysteries
Olive. Tree of peace, inner strength, rejuvenation
Orange. Sweetness, sensitivity, development of astral projection, cleansing, calm in tense circumstances
Palm. Calm, protection, celebration, the past as part of the present
Peach. Sensuality, reactivation of the life force, longevity, stimulation of artistic energies
Pine. Emotional protection, soothing, mysticism of Mithras & Dionysus, psychic sensitivity, alleviation of pain
Poplar. Manifestation of personal dreams, overcoming personal fears, endurance of hardships
Redwood. Sensing the sacred, old soul, perspective on life, activation of brow and crown chakras, protection
Rowan (Mountain Ash). Sensory control, protection, cleansing, strengthening the aura, dowsing, development of judgment, strong link to Faerie realm
Spruce. Yule, detoxifying, healing, trusting intuition, stimulation of dreams, calm
Sycamore. Sacred tree of ancient Egypt, tree of Hathor, love, communication, receptivity, nourishment, connection with Nature, abundance, ghosts
Walnut. Help for transitions, power of rebirth, initiation, freedom of spirit, hidden wisdom
Willlow. Flexibility, grief, moon and water magic, dreams, links to Gods and Goddesses, especially Brigid and Orpheus, clairaudience, awakening of feminine energies, intuition, dowsing

Notes

  1. Available from my website Mama's Minstrel or from the Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.
  2. May Theilgaard Watts, Tree Finder: A Manual for the Identification of Trees by Their Leaves (Rochester, NY: Nature Study Guild, 1991). You can purchase this little booklet for $3.95 from Nature Study Guild, Box 10489, Rochester, NY 14610.
  3. This list was compiled from my own experience, as well as from a number of books, especially Ted Andrews, Nature-Speak: Signs, Omens and Messages in Nature (Jackson, TN: Dragonhawk Publishing, 2004). I also consulted D.J. Conway, By Oak, Ash, and Thorn: Modern Celtic Shamanism (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1996) and Ted Andrews, Animal-Speak: The Spiritual and Magical Powers of Creatures Great and Small (St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn Publications, 1996)

Graphics Credits

  • Trees Card, © 2009, Linnea Vedder Shults. All rights reserved.
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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