Reblog: Trees as Teachers

Here is my latest blog post for my channel Druid Heart at SageWoman on Witches and Pagans. Welcome to the greening of the land!

P1070665 (1024x666)The trees are almost in full leaf now, with only the ash and aspen yet to join in the greening. It’s been an odd Spring, with the oak trees in leaf before the hawthorn has come into flower here in Suffolk. Only now are the first blooms of the May tree coming out, and with it the signs that herald for me the coming season. The warm days have certainly been a blessing, and the light rain that falls today is equally welcome after long hot days of full sunshine and cool sea breezes.

It’s at this time of year that I am reminded of just how important trees are to me, not just in their life-giving properties but also in their spiritual presence. The deciduous trees with their lush foliage always bring a smile to my face, and after a long winter of sleep to see the beech tree at the bottom of my garden joining in the party that the younger birch trees have started fills my heart with joy. The grass is lush and green, and everything just feels so very much alive. I welcome the greening with all my heart and soul.

Trees are magnificent teachers. They are so much larger than we are, both spiritually and physically. They remind us of what it means to live a life in service to the whole, to live a life filled with integration and harmony, sustainable and at peace. Trees teach us of communion and integration, both at the deep root levels of our soul and reaching out towards the heavens of our soul’s awakening. They teach us of symmetry and asymmetry, of co-operation and anarchy. They are a legion of souls across this land, swaying in the wind, living their intention and benefiting all those around them by doing so. There is no sense of “I” with a tree; rather, it can instigate a better sense of “You” (or “yew”, pun intended).

When we develop a relationship with trees, we think about ourselves less, rather than think less of ourselves. We are reminded that we are a part of an ecosystem, that the ecology of our spirituality is all important to our everyday lives. This ecology is absolutely integral to who we are as a species, and part of a place and environment, as part of life on this planet. We cannot separate this ecology in any shape or form. It is in everything that we do.

We are not far removed from our cousins who still live in the trees. We’re all just monkeys with car keys, after all.

Lessons in Pain

These last three months have been quite challenging, and I rarely talk about it, but today I would like to share some views on dealing with physical pain.

I have had rheumatoid arthritis for about twenty years now. Usually it’s just a day or so of aching hands and swollen fingers, but this year it has been different. At the end of May, a “trapped nerve” in my hip rendered me nearly incapable of walking – even sitting was painful. After a month long recovery (and a good osteopath) we managed to work it out, only for me to experience the worst arthritic flare up I have ever experienced. This lasted nearly a month.

Painful hands, fingers so swollen, sharp aching elfshots running down the fingers. Unable to make a fist or hold a coffee cup with one hand. Hands just held on my lap, tingling, tired. Unable to write very well with a pen or pencil. Typing was difficult, but better than writing. Not sleeping due to pain.

When that flare up died down at the beginning of this month, my back then went out. Now, this too isn’t a rare occurrence – I have fallen off too many horses in my lifetime, and it’s always a weak point. But this time was different. This time the pain was so severe my legs were shaking, I felt dizzy and sick. I have a high threshold for pain, and this tested that limit.

The back is now on the mend, and I am able to sit here at my computer and type this. I can only sit for about 15 minutes – but that is better than yesterday, by a whole five minutes. Little steps.

Pain is not just a physical challenge, but a mental one as well. It can so easily lead to depression, our human minds unable to see beyond the day when the pain will ever stop. Luckily for me, right now I know that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, but for those whom constant pain is their life, and for whom there is no end in sight, I have the utmost sympathy and empathy. I have come to terms with the fact that as I age, this too may be my plight in life.

Pain can be a great teacher though. It can teach us of our limits. It heightens our awareness, if we are not pushing it away. Being in the moment with your pain is the last thing your mind wants to do, but may just be the best thing you can do at that moment.

Pain also teaches us to slow down. This past week I have not been able to sit upright for five days. I’ve learned a whole new way of looking at things – from a horizontal perspective. I’ve learned patience. I’ve learned the resolve needed in order to heal.

My husband set out our inflatable camping bed in the backyard on Sunday, so that I could go outside and lie down (I tried on the grass, but needed cushioning for my hip). I spent all afternoon lying on my side or on my back, underneath the beach tree that shelters my altar, communing with the tree and learning lessons of what it means to stay in one place, to be unable to move. Glorious insights, and the blessings of the world around me filled me with such awe. I always knew trees were great teachers.

The pain is now coming back, into my lower spine, and I will now be signing off, to lie down and let the muscles and spine stretch out again. Learning, listening, patience and endurance. Lessons in pain.

Here we go A’Maying…

kentwell hall may day

This weekend at Kentwell Hall the Tudor Re-enactment team were in full swing.  Celebrating May Day, they brought to life old customs and traditions for all to enjoy.

First of all, we had to go A’Maying, which is where the tree is felled for the May Tree.  (The maypole with ribbon dancing is a Victorian invention).  With drummers drumming and pipers piping we followed the procession into the woods to where our chosen tree stood.  As we neared the spot, the music stopped and voices were hushed.  The Woodsman and several other men went forward to fell the tree in silence, for they did not want to awaken the Forest Spirit, Jack in the Green.  It was all to no avail, for as soon as axe touched wood out sprang Jack, with green cloak billowing and mossy hair and beard bristling beneath his hood.  He attacked viciously the Woodsman, but the men managed to pull Jack away, and finally subdued him enough to send him back into the heart of the wood.  The tree fell slowly, and I whispered a prayer of thanks to it for its sacrifice.

All the men then gathered around the fallen tree, picking it up and heaving it onto their shoulders to take back to the village.  The music started again, and we followed in procession through the fields to our destination.  Once there, we were invited to tie ribbons onto the May tree, with the intention of making a wish that would come true in a year and a day.  The men then attached ropes to the May tree and hoisted it into a hole they had made into the ground, and wedged it tight.  The May Tree now stood proud in the centre of the village.

Later that day the main procession went from the village to the Hall – and what a sight it was.  The May Queen, a young girl of about 9 or 10 years of age sat bareback upon a beautiful Suffolk Punch horse, that had daffodils plaited into mane and tail.  The young girl was dressed in a simple white gown, and her golden hair shone in the sunlight – indeed, her whole being shone with pride and excitement as she lead the procession.  Behind her in a wagon were her maidens, more young girls dressed in white, waving to the crowd.  The musicians followed, singing their traditional May songs, and the banner bearers with their colourful standards brought up the rear.  It was truly spectacular, with the flags waving in the wind, the music lifting hearts and souls.

Once in the courtyard of the Hall, the May Queen dismounted, and followed the Lady of the Hall into the wagon with the handmaidens.  The Lady of the Hall the crowned the May Queen with a wreath of flowers, to much applause. As the May Queen descended, a fury in green swept through the crowd, and Jack O’ the Green came flying in, grabbing the May Queen and hoisting her over his shoulder. The men ran after him, finally capturing him once again and rescuing the May Queen.  They forced Jack to kneel before her and asked the May Queen if she forgave him.  The young maiden went forward and placed her hand upon Jack’s head, and forgave him, sending him back into the deep woods where he belonged.  “Hail Jack,” I whispered.  “Know that you are honoured”.

The mummers then performed a hilarious play about St George and the Dragon, and then the procession moved back to the village.  There, the music kicked up again in full tilt, and we began the spiral and circle dances around the May tree.  I could feel the energy humming through the crowd, into the ground, making my feet want to move.  A handsome young lad grabbed my hand, asking if I wanted to dance – I said yes, and we swept into the circle, laughing.  I was later joined by my husband, and we performed a traditional tudor dance with many others, where the men and women each have their turns to run, jump, clap and turn.

After the dancing I sat upon the green sward, listening to the musicians and feeling the energy that was created in that spot.  It was joyous, and marked a very important time when winter was bid farewell, and summer was welcomed.  I’m sure the Tudor Re-enactors will have a splendid evening to themselves tonight once the crowds have gone home and the gates are closed.

I wish we had more of these celebrations where I live – I have danced a Victorian Maypole but once, and love the energy that these rituals create.  If you have a chance, go to Kentwell Hall this weekend, and join in the festivities.

For more information on Kentwell Hall activities throughout this summer, please see www.kentwell.co.uk.