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BURSTING FORTH WITH WISDOM: Learning through Trees Spring is truly upon us. The sun is warmer. The light lasts longer. And the one thing we anticipate with expectant eyes, is the arrival of the first shoots of green, sending the message that life has indeed returned to the Land. To the ancient peoples, including the ancient Celts, the relationship to the Land was more than symbolic and representational. The Land was alive and everything that grew from it and upon it was imbued with Spirit. The Celts saw the Land as the Divine Feminine and the survival of the Tribe was dependent upon honouring and nurturing that relationship. The Clan or Tribe Chief was viewed as the representative of the Divine Masculine responsible for the welfare of the Tribe through his relationship with the Land. But even the Head of the Tribe deferred to the Druids who were the true leaders of a people who really had very little else to bring them cultural cohesion. The Druids oversaw the dynamic interplay of Land and Tribe through their knowledge of the workings of both spiritual and mundane realms. Festivals celebrating the turn of the yearly cycle were definitely a part of that. But going even deeper, the relationship that the Druids had with Nature and particularly with trees brought the perception of the Land as Divine to a level of ongoing relationship touching all aspects of life. Before delving into an exploration of Druidic concepts of the Divine, of Nature and of trees, it is important to point out that not much is actually known of what the Druids believed and practiced. Part of the Druidic concept included a belief that those things of a sacred nature should not be committed to any practice that would lock them down to stagnation and possible dogma. Hence, the Druids relied on an oral tradition rather than committing sacred practices to any written form. Much of what is known of the Druids comes either from Roman writing (around 55 BCE and later) which is undeniably, though perhaps understandably, biased or from medieval writings (around the 13 th – 14th centuries) which run the risk of having a true image clouded by the mists of time and have a different sort of bias imposed. Much of what is written of the Druids and their beliefs comes from piecing together mismatched puzzle pieces: trying to find underlying truth in myths, discerning ancient practices in folkloric traditions and much reading between the lines. Anyone who says they know absolutely and for a fact what the Druids believed and practiced is standing on very shaky ground indeed. However, there have grown to be


certain established “acceptances” which form a certain foundation for the modern Celtic and neodruidic movement. One of these “acceptances” involves the meaning and root of the name “Druid” itself. It is now commonly accepted, through etymological study, that “druid” is connected with various words in different tongues for “oak”. In Greek “oak” is “drous”, in Welsh “derw”, in Gaelic “duir”, in Gaulish “dervo”. There is a thought that this root “dru” was combined with the Indo-European word “vid” which means “to know”. “Dru-vid”, thus, becomes the word signifying “one with knowledge of the Oak” or “Wise One of the Oak”. The Druids were the Celtic priestly class intimately connected with the language of the trees. There are 3 traditions that can be explored from the perspective of this special druidic relationship with trees. Two of these traditions do have their roots in the ancient past and there is evidence to support that they formed a significant part of ancient druidic tradition. The first is the Celtic lunar calendar. This ancient astrological calendar was based on 13 lunations of 28 days each with one additional intercalary day. Hence, the term: a year and a day which is often found referenced in ancient writings as a time frame connected with contracts, agreements and commitments. Each of these 13 lunations was associated with a tree which carried certain energies, gifts and challenges. This is not to suggest that the ancient Celts went around identifying each other’s personality traits by the tree in whose month they were born. But that, particularly with the Druids, there was a recognition that each month held a special energy that would be taken into consideration when planning for rituals, ceremonies or transactions. The trees (in English and Gaelic) and their monthly and energetic associations are as follows: Tree

Gaelic

Month

Birch Rowan Ash Alder Willow Hawthorn Oak Holly Hazel Vine Ivy Reed Elder Mistletoe

Beth Dec 24 – Jan 20 Luis Jan 21 – Feb 17 Nion Feb 18 – Mar 17 Fearn Mar 18 – Apr 14 Saille Apr 15 – May 12 Huath May 13 – June 9 Duir June 10 – July 7 Tinne July 8 – Aug 4 Coll Aug 5 – Sept 1 Muin Sept 2 – Sept 29 Gort Sept 30 – Oct 27 Ngetal Oct 28 – Nov 24 Ruis Nov 25 – Dec 22 (Nameless Day) Dec 23

Basic energy Tenacious and hardworking Far-sighted and inventive Sensitive and artistic Courageous and energetic Resourceful and resilient Communicative and multi-talented Optimistic and determined Trustworthy and generous Perceptive and idealistic Methodical and analytical Artistic and conciliatory Mysterious and forceful Adventurous and outspoken Dedicated and persistent

There is, clearly, far more depth to each tree than can be presented here. Each tree in itself is more than deserving of an entire article. The Druids themselves had particular traditions and uses for each of the trees. With the resurgence of interest in Druidry and the particularly pagan focus on correspondences,


an entire system of associations including myths, gods and goddesses, animals and so on has grown up around each of the trees. It is a fascinating area of study well worth the time spent exploring and discovering. Connected to the tree calendar although separate, is the second tradition with its roots in the ancient past. The Ogham is an ancient alphabet in which each letter is associated with a different tree. The 13 trees of the Celtic tree calendar make up the 13 consonants of the Ogham. An additional 7 trees complete the 20 letter alphabet with vowels and complex consonants. They are: Apple (Quert), Blackthorn (Straif), Elm (Ailm), Gorse (Onn), Heather (Ur), Aspen (Eadha) and Yew (Iodo). There is some speculation that if the 13 consonant trees make up the 13 lunar months of the calendar, then the remaining 7 letters of the Ogham relate to the 4 Celtic Holy Days (Samhian, Imbolc, Beltane and Lughnasad) and the 3 Realms of Land , Sea and Sky. This system of 20 letters was originally established as 4 sets (tribes or “aicme”) of 5 letters each and was written as horizontal or slanted lines in relation to a central vertical line. Beth, as the first letter of the alphabet is a single straight line jutting out on the right side of the central column. Luis, as the second letter, is 2 straight lines to the right. Reaching Huath, as the 6 th letter and the 1st letter of the second set sees a switch. It is written as a single line jutting out to the left of the central column. The third set of 5 letters consists of increasing numbers of lines drawn on a slant right across the central column. The last set is also drawn across the central column but they cut straight across, rather than on a slant. 1st Aicme

2nd Aicme

3rd Aicme

4th Aicme

Birch (Beth)

Hawthorn (Huath)

Vine (Muin)

Elm (Ailm)

Rowan (Luis)

Oak (Duir)

Ivy (Gort)

Gorse (Onn)

Alder (Fearn)

Holly (Tinne)

Reed (Ngetal)

Heather (Ur)

Willow (Saille)

Hazel (Coll)

Blackthorn (Straif)

Aspen (Eadha)

Ash (Nion)

Apple (Quert)

Elder (Ruis)

Yew (Iodo)

A medieval text, “The Book of Ballymote” makes extensive reference to the Ogham in 2 significant ways. The origins of the Ogham are explained as having been invented by Ogma, a Celtic God of Poetry and Eloquence. Ogma was one of the Tuatha de Danaan, the original tribe of Ireland and literally, “The Children of the Goddess Danu”. He created the Ogham (to which he gave his name) for the wise and learned to be used both for inscription and for sign language, as the deceptively simple system of lines can be signed across a palm for silent communication. But also, this ancient text outlines a 5 th set of letters which had seemingly been included with the original 20. These are not made up of straight lines but are more complicated patterns to one side or across the central column. These five represent dipthongs “ea”, “oi”, “ui”, “oi” and “ae” with the Ogham letters for Koad (Grove), Oir (Spindle), Uilleand (Honeysuckle), Phagos (Beech) and Mor (The Sea) respectively. These 5 are also referred to as “The Crane’s Bag” which probably gives a clue as to why Mor (The Sea) is included in a system which otherwise consists entirely of tree-related energies. In Irish myth, Manannan mac Lir, the Celtic God of


the Sea had a magical Crane’s Bag which held all his precious possessions. It was said to include all the letters of the Ogham alphabet. From this connection it is said that one could read ogham in the patterns made by flying cranes’ legs. Interestingly, “The Book of Ballymote” also references another way of placing the trees of the letters into sets with Chieftain Trees, Peasant Trees and Shrubs. The Chieftain and Peasant Trees are fairly wellnoted, leaving a nebulous “all others fall into the Shrub category” message. It is here that we see descriptions of tree energies beginning to appear with very lovely, although somewhat cryptic descriptions of their characters. Chieftain Trees

Peasant Trees

Shrubs

Alder (Fearn)

Birch (Beth)

Elder (Ruis)

Oak (Duir)

Rowan (Luis)

Reed (Ngetal)

Hazel (Coll)

Willow (Saille)

Spindle (Oir)

Vine (Muin)

Ash (Nion)

Honeysuckle (Uilleand)

Ivy (Gort)

Hawthorn (Huath)

Elm (Ailm)

Blackthorn (Straif)

Apple (Quert)

Aspen (Eadha)

Gorse (Onn)

Yew (Iodo)

Beech (Phagos)

Heather (Ur)

Holly (Tinne)

Grove (Koad)

There are many references to the Ogham in myth. The famous “Cattle Raid of Cooley” saw the Irish hero Cuchulainn writing in ogham letters on a hoop which he then placed around a stone in the path of an approaching army. In “The Wooing of Etain”, the Druid Dalian inscribes Ogham letters on 4 sticks of yew and casts them in order to determine where Etain is hiding. Ogham writing is also still evident on many standing stones in Britain and Ireland. Working with tree energy, whether through one’s astrological sign or the Ogham is powerful work. There are few systems that are so grounded in tangible aspects. From a divinatory perspective, it is easier to lay one’s hand on a piece of apple branch to create a Quert Ogham than it is to put a cow in a bag for a Fehu Rune (as a silly example). There are traditions that hold specific uses for different trees that we can easily reclaim in this day and age. Using reeds as writing tools, hazel branches as wands or apple branches as signals to enter meditative space are a few examples. Connecting with others through an awareness of symbolic levels can give deep dimension to relationships. Gifting heather to a new home for blessings and prosperity or honeysuckle to bring sweetness to one working through challenges is a blessing whether the receiver is aware of the added nuances or not. Working with a Druidic eye to trees will definitely move one to embrace tree-hugging, if one is not already moved to do so. And feeling the particular energy of that tree meeting one’s own energy and coursing through is a truly beautiful


experience indeed. One may even begin to hear the ancient Language of the Trees that the “Wise Ones of the Oak” could hear! There is a third tradition involving tree energy which has grown beautifully out of a deep cultural and intuitive understanding of Celtic Spirituality and working with energy. This is the modality of Celtic Reiki. Many of us are familiar with traditional or Usui Reiki. Developed in 1922 by the Japanese Buddhist, Mikao Usui, Reiki is a method of healing by using energy, or “ki” transmitted through the palms of the practitioner to the receiver of the treatment. The teachings of Reiki were received by Usui during a retreat involving meditation, fasting and prayer. In the short time he had left on this Earth plane, he taught the practice of Reiki as he had received it to many others who continued to teach and share the wisdom. In the past number of years interest in the practice of Reiki has blossomed into a very active modality of energywork with an ever-growing community of Reiki practitioners. Martyn Pentecost, based in the U.K. of Welsh ancestry, trained in the traditional Usui Reiki method after recognizing the limitations of his previous scientific, analytical approach to life’s circumstances. The deeply moving experience of holding a friend’s cat as it passed from this world to the next made him realize that some things are too profound to rest on the explanations of pure science. Working with Reiki opened him to the transcendent and the healing power of “ki”. It was through his work in traditional Reiki and, what one might call a pioneering accident that Celtic Reiki came to be. In his book Celtic Reiki: Stories from the Sacred Grove, Martyn shares of how, many years ago in a cemetery in Wales, he came across a lone Fir tree that had been cleaved in two by lightening. One part of the Fir was still standing, but the other was lying on the ground a short distance away. Something in the scene or the setting compelled Martyn to use his Reiki training to help heal the part of the tree that was still standing. He describes feeling the tingle and energy that signaled the activation of Reiki energy flowing through his hands, but that, as he neared the Fir tree something happened. The energy began to wane. Thinking perhaps this indicated the need was for the broken part of the tree, he shifted his focus. But the same experience of not feeling the Reiki energy flow occurred with this part of the tree as well. Considering the situation and with a stroke of inspiration, he placed his left hand on the broken part of the tree and his right hand on the still living part. As he describes: I was overwhelmed by the sudden jolt of vibrancy that felt as though it were clambering up the inside of my left arm. Concurrently, the right arm became alive with a contrasting sensation; similar to the Reiki connection I was familiar to, yet somehow different. These two vibrant feelings converged in the heart and head areas of my body and at once I was wrapped in the most indescribable joy. (Celtic Reiki: Stories from the Sacred Grove, pg 27) It was in this healing treatment of the damaged Fir tree that Martyn heard the Lost Language of the Trees. He recognized that what had happened was the life-force of the tree had passed through him from the dying part of the tree into the surviving part, creating wholeness even as the parts lay separate in the material world. And a voice that echoed and boomed inside his head said “thank you”. From this experience, he spent years traveling the countryside of England, Scotland and Wales working with all varieties of trees, building upon druidic understanding with his own energetic experiences. From his extensive work, Celtic Reiki was created.


Celtic Reiki focuses on the energies of trees as doorways into and Essences through which to create healing and change in one’s life. As each tree has a different energy, teaching and wisdom, working with Celtic Reiki allows the practitioner to use these energies individually or in conjunction with each other to enhance a powerful healing environment. It is a tradition deeply connected with Earth energies, allowing for a grounded experience of working with higher energies. One of the most wonderful aspects of working with Celtic Reiki is that it opens one to the Lost Language of Trees. Coming to a place of moving full circle back to the experience the Druids must have had, working with trees through Celtic Reiki opens a dialogue between the practitioner and the trees. They truly become our friends. They are truly alive and have wisdom to share. If one were to look at just one tree through the 3 different facets explored in these articles, it is easy to see how different the approach is for each. But also how they serve to support and enhance each other. For example, the Hawthorn is a gorgeous May tree associated with the Festival of Beltane and opening the doorways to the faerie realm. In the Celtic Tree Calendar, it presides over the period from May 13 to June 9. It brings in energies of fertility and chastity, how to honour being in relationship, offering prosperity and protection. One born under this tree might be concerned with protection and guardianship of one’s home and family, how to allow one’s creative juices to flow while maintaining focus on the guiding intention and balancing living in the mundane world while experiencing a sensitivity to Otherworldly realms. In Ogham work, the appearance of this tree might signal that you are entering a time of dramatic change and growth during which your wild energy may feel out of sync with the more cultivated aspects of your journey and that it would be wise to listen to both your heart and to the symbols in your dreams. It may prompt you to clarify your vision for the future and put that intent into a ribbon to hang from a branch. In Celtic Reiki, using Hawthorn Essence helps clear the way of negative thoughts and obstacles in order to open the way to new ventures (in a somewhat similar way to Birch). Of working with Huathe (Hawthorn), Martyn writes: It is not the easiest of species to work with and has taken its fair share of blood (which surprisingly is the way of Huathe). There is a price to be paid, but the rewards are great! Huathe is unlike any other species of tree that I can mention. He is abrupt, to the point, acerbic and can be fickle – yet his wisdom and ability is second to none. He offers wisdom and magic from a very different perspective. In times of real need, this can be exactly what we need to get us through. (Celtic Reiki: Stories from the Sacred Grove, pg. 196) It is evident that each of these approaches to trees offers similar information in a slightly different way. In exploring how to work with all 3, I tend to see the Celtic Tree calendar as connecting more to the informing energy that brings us to the place we now stand. It may be connecting to our current mindset or character. It may be the place of standing in the flow of life – the energy around the time of year and season. In a 3-card Tarot spread, the Celtic Tree calendar would be akin to the first card drawn: the Past or that energy which is feeding into the Present. The Ogham on the other hand points the direction or intend of where one is going. It is the energy of future-making: analogous to the last card pulled in a 3-


card Tarot spread or that which is flowing from our Present to the place we are moving towards. Celtic Reiki acts as a beautiful bridge between these 2, drawing on the very Essences of the trees themselves to shift, align and heal our energy (or that of our clients). It places us squarely in the Present moment: the central card of a 3-card Tarot spread. The position of true creation. The only place, really, where change can occur. There is a thought that the Druids believed the human race was descended from trees. That there may have been a time when true communication between the race of humans and the race of trees was not beyond the realm of comprehension. On the contrary, it was the wisdom of trees that formed the very foundation of ancient Celtic spirituality. So perhaps it is not that surprising that modern DNA research has discovered a link through scientific exploration. And in our very own country of Canada, no less. In 1996, after an 800 year old cedar was tragically cut down, Dr. Eleanor White, a Natural Resources Canada scientist began research into tree DNA as a method through which to solve the problem of illegal tree harvesting in British Columbia. Not only did she discover that it is possible to solve these crimes by linking DNA stump samples with harvest samples, she found that tree DNA is surprisingly similar to human DNA. She noted that the DNA building blocks are the same. The bases to the DNA are the same and they are arranged in the same way. In basic language, Dr. White determined that the genetic code is the same in trees and humans. Working with the energies of trees through Celtic Reiki and opening ourselves to hearing once again the Lost Language of Trees could very well be bringing us closer to our true nature than we imagine. Certainly the trees have much to offer in terms of awareness, enlightenment and connection to ourselves, the Earth and our highest potential. And so, as Spring continues to unfold, is it really that surprising after all that we look expectantly and hopefully to the trees to see evidence of the first light green buds? Perhaps, harkening back to ancient, ancient knowledge that we still carry within our very DNA, we respond to a kinship and, as the trees reawaken, we respond with a reawakening of our own. How lovely it would be to greet these fresh buds with a “Welcome back, dear friend”! Recommended reading: A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine by Ellen Evert Hopman Celtic Astrology: How the Mystical Power of the Druid Tree Signs Can Transform Your Life by Phyllis Vega Celtic Reiki: Stories from the Sacred Grove by Martyn Pentecost Celtic Wisdom Sticks (divinatory system) by Caitlin Matthews Magical Alphabets by Nigel Pennick Ogham: The Celtic Oracle (divinatory system) by Peter Pracownik The Mastery of Celtic Reiki by Martyn Pentecost Tree Wisdom by Jacqueline Memory Paterson The Wisdom of Trees by Jane Gifford 

“Tree of Life” by artist Willow

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Bursting Forth with Wisdom  

Do you have a special connection with trees? Do you speak the "Lost Language of the Trees"? This essay describes three approaches to underst...

Bursting Forth with Wisdom  

Do you have a special connection with trees? Do you speak the "Lost Language of the Trees"? This essay describes three approaches to underst...

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