Every time I read a book I’m struck by how few trees are represented. Everything is based on a few selected trees in the UK but there are so few books on the sacred properties of other trees. Even in books written outside the UK. It’s as if Druidry can only see those selected trees by Robert Graves. Every place on earth has healing trees and magical trees so why aren’t they being written about?
Here in California you won’t find a hawthorn growing except maybe in the Northern reaches. We have trees like the redwood or the Sequoia both extremely magical trees. We were lucky enough to grow up with a towering redwood in our backyard growing up. It was one of two left in the neighborhood from when it was part of the Spanish land grant. It had seen so much. My sister and I both loved that tree more than anything else about the house we grew up in and the small pond that was at its feet. It was a magical thing to grow up around and where I went for comfort in my teenage years.
We have two enormous sycamores growing in front of our apartment building. They are tall and graceful and sing in the breezes. They drop limbs and branches when they are no longer of use to them and shed their beautiful silvery bark to reveal the beauty of their trunks. How is that not magical?
A Joshua tree or the native Yuccas that stand tall as sentinels with nothing else around them. The Spanish called them Candelaria del Dio or candles of the Lord for their spring time beauty but they also are useful to make baskets out of and their sharp needle ends of the leaves were used for needle and thread by the native peoples.
Or what about some of our visitors that have become integral pieces of our landscape like the eucalyptus? One of the best oils to break up respiratory congestion I know of and they are everywhere in Southern California. Some have colourful tassels in spring in every warm colour of the rainbow. They have seed pods that we used to use as signet stamps when we were kids and they have a wide variety of leaf shapes and silhouettes. They are amazingly graceful and stand as guardians on many roadways around the land.
We have the camellia, a visitor from China from whence comes my morning tea and right now ours are starting to come into bloom. Lovely delicate pink blossoms that nod in the breeze outside my window this morning.
Or even the plant that looks most like a hawthorn here – the pyracantha.. Right now its berries are a brilliant red and I’m afraid when the weather starts to warm a bit they will ferment and give us the entertaining vision of drunk birds. It’s thorns protect wildlife and birds and it’s shiny green leaves and berries are cheery on a grey day.
If Druids indeed live all over the planet then we need to know the magical trees and their lives and uses more than we need to know the trees of Britain I would think. Indeed I think it’s kind of lazy not to know what is around you and waiting for your attention. So who is outside your window waiting for you to notice?
I’m an old school photographer. Back when I got my minor in photography almost everything happened in the camera. You could correct a few things but for the most part the camera was the tool and you took what you saw and framed it in the camera if you could. You could play with types of film like UV which was really fun or run the gamut from Kodachrome 25 (my favourite) to Kodak 400 for speed. There was no Photoshop.
I suspect my Photography professor would hate Photoshop as much as I do. I have it but the most I use it for is cropping and occasionally improving contrast on a photo I love but couldn’t get quite right. What you see of my photos is what I saw. Nothing more or less. I learned back in school that the magic was in the camera and in the photographer and am just enough of an ‘old school’ snob to still and will probably always feel that way.
Everything I need is in my camera and how I use it. I still remember listening eagerly to find out how to make lens stars appear in my pictures and the joy I felr developing my film and achieving the perfect star in a snowy picture. And my glee at winning an award in the Kodak College Photographic Contest for that photo. It was camera technique pure and simple and translating what I saw and wanted onto the film.
I may use a digital camera now but I still feel the technique is in my eyes, hands and brain and not in fooling with it afterward. I want to show what I saw and not what I wanted to see. So when you see one of my pictures you are seeing what I saw and not any fussing afterwards. You can be with me in my pictures and see exactly what I was seeing. I have no desire to fool with Instagram or learn any more of Photoshop than I already know. I’m ‘old school’ that way.
I read a lot of blogs and I read a lot of blogs on Druidry and lately I’m struck by how few are present in their body and exist only in their minds, or at least that’s the way they write. I’ve done a lot of research and I’m a voracious reader but I am most spiritualy grounded when I’m outside and if I can’t be outside I can “be” for a moment in one of the photos I’ve taken.
My Druidry and spiritual practice functions best when I’m out in the natural world and when I’m using my senses to ground and orient myself in the world and it’s where I’m happiest. This includes being with my friends and fellow priestesses or when I’m alone.
Its also where my memory seems to function best. Give me a photograph that I have taken even thirty or more years ago and I can tell you exactly what I was doing, the weather, who was with me and how I felt. Ask me a random day out of the blue and I may pull a complete blank.
My camera is very much part of my spirituality especially when I’m out and about at places like the wildlife refuge. It makes me focus on the sun or lack there of and what the light is doing. I makes me notice the plants and how they are growing or on the animals and birds and gives me a way to connect with them in their space and it gives me a way to share what I am seeing or doing with others. And maybe drag them vicariously into the nature world.
It makes me aware of how the world smells and how things feels. How does the air feel on my skin? How does the breezes move the leaves or the feathers on a bird? What is the weather doing and how is it changing? How does the mud or dried clay of the earth feel beneath my boots? How does the air taste? (yes, air most definitely has a taste.) Who is singing in that tree or making that noise in the underbrush?
It some ways it connects me to the hunters of my ancestors. I may not kill animals and birds for my table but I have learned the tracks they make and their scats. I’ve learned to follow them with my ears and my eyes and by feel. I’ve learned to respect their beauty and the sight of them fills me with awe and I’m grateful when I can capture them in digits to share my ‘catch’.
I’ve learned to stop and just breathe for a moment. To consider what is around me and really be in the now. To exist in a time and moment of place that won’t come again. Sometimes it can be a struggle such as while coming to and from the bus in the rain or cold. I have the hardest time when I walk every night in the dark from the bus but even then I can be hyper aware but not to nature but to the intent of the people around me. And I’m aware that is sort of a negative (as in photographic negative) to the spiritual life of my day awareness. At camp is the only time I seem to be able to just “be” in the night or behind the iron fence of our yard because sadly the city is not safe to open yourself fully to the nature of the world around me without the necessity of the extra awareness for my personal safety.
I’m a double Gemini. I live in my head enough in the job I do or when I’m writing or reading. I try to live the rest of my life sensually aware of my world. I couldn’t or wouldn’t live it any other way.
We’re supposed to be a religion of the trees as well as a religion or spirituality of knowledge. So right now, do you know what the weather outside feels like. Is the air soft or is is brisk? Have the trees lost all their leaves? Are they wet and damp from yesterday’s days rains? Or are there any leaves on the ground at all? Do you hear birds? Do you smell the earth? Does it smell damp and clean? Or does it smell of city and your neighbor’s cooking smells? Are you oriented to your places “spirits of place”? Did you greet them this morning? Is your body and all the marvelous things it does aware of your world or are you just your brain walking around in the body that is a vessel?