I was born into a family of awenyddion, spirit keepers in the Brythonic language, and began learning the trees of the goddess as sort of nursery rhymes from uncles and aunts, and the village elders as well as dad and mum. Dartmoor, where I was born, might be thought not to have a lot of trees. When you’re up on the tops it’s the wide, wide view that grabs the soul and the slight curvature of the horizon you can see on a clear day. Yes, we really do live on a round ball of a planet, third rock from the sun. But there are trees there, lots and lots of trees, forests full in fact and plenty for a curious and adventurous child to play with. You could find all the sacred trees of Britain somewhere on the Moor and, from when I was knee-high to a grasshopper, my woodsman uncle would take me out to meet them. We would bring pieces home for me to look at and add to my collection. Dad, along with uncle, began to teach me to carve as well as how to burn patterns into the wood with a bent nail from the fire or even an old soldering iron, and so my love affair with trees began.
I quote Jung at the beginning of the book: … Trees in particular were mysterious, and seemed to me direct embodiments of the incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason, the woods were the place that I felt closest to its deepest meaning and to its awe-inspiring workings.
That’s me, was always me and still is, although obviously I didn’t meet Jung’s writings for many a year after those first experiences in Dartmoor forest.
Forests are deer-places too. Deer like most ruminants enjoy forests and their diet is partly made up of tree leaves (as should the diet of our cows be too). In winter trees and woods give shelter as well as breaking the cold winds, they provide green food too although this can be very sparse in the snow. In summer deer will come up onto the tops to escape the flies and get different food but still use the forest for shade and shelter and a place to hide from the hot sun. Deer are the animals that have adopted me, they are my totem and my clan. Following the deer trods is what I do and work with trees is part of this.
Our sacred trees, the trees of Britain, each carry an energy that is peculiar to them and that they will help us to learn, to know … to ken as we say in Britain. There are twenty British trees that work very comfortably with the goddess and link us humans to her. They are …
Birch, Scots Pine, Rowan, Ash, Furze (gorse in Devon-speak), Alder, Willow, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, Heather, Oak, Holly, Hazel, Apple, Poplar, Bramble, Ivy, Yew, Guelder Rose and Elder.
They each teach us different things, different aspects of the goddess. Through stories this is what I learned from when I was a small child with the elder folk where I grew up.
Growing up happened in several places around Devon and Somerset. We moved from the southern to the northern edge of Dartmoor when I was about four, from a farm out in the wilds to the town of Okehampton. It was very odd for me at first but way back then Okehampton wasn’t a large town, there were plenty of wild places around its edges including a very good park and the grounds of the ruined Norman castle. People even had the space to keep hens and ponies and ducks in the back gardens of some of the houses along our street. When dad was home at the weekends we’d be off out. He taught me archery in the woods and tracking; we walked miles on the Moor and one of our favourite places was above Meldon Pool – no, not the new reservoir, that wasn’t even built then! You can still find Meldon Pool if you look on the map, it’s a magical green lake, a gateway to otherworld; we met lots of spirits up there.
And dad, of course, had no trouble talking spirit with me, he’d grown up with it and his folk before him. I never got the “you’re making that up” stuff that many kids do. This has its good points but also its bad! I had to learn to zip my mouth shut at school or I got one helluva teasing and some nastiness from the other kids who had long ago lost all contact with the spirit world. You do learn, and fast, that some things you can talk about with some people … learning who is who is really useful.
When I was about eight we moved to North Devon, a little village not far from the western edge of Exmoor and Exmoor became my favourite place to be. Dad gave me a pony so I was independent, could travel on my own and go places. The pony, Jewel, was an Exmoor with a lovely mealy muzzle and she could go one helluva lick too, dad once drove the car alongside her trotting at 30mph! She was an angel, we got on so well. I learned how to carry stuff attached comfortably to her saddle, like a sleeping bag and a tarp, some food, and we were allowed to stay out overnight. This was just about always in the woods. Like the deer, Jewel and I found it easiest to pitch camp in the woodland. In those days nobody much worried as long as you left no trace and the laws on wild-camping might not even have been in existence then.
Have you ever sat under a tree for the whole night? This was something I would often do. I had enough stamina then to not need an awful lot of sleep and, in any case, if we got tired during the following day Jewel and I would stop for a doze somewhere quiet. She did her doze hip-shot, head hanging and off pony-napping (a version of catnapping!) in otherworld while I curled up to do the same in the heather. But to sit under a tree, all the night, oh that’s something else. If you’re quiet and still, don’t have a fire, then animals and night-birds will come very close. You’re not threatening to them, not moving quickly or making a noise. I’ve had woodmice, hedgehogs, voles, owls, foxes, badgers and the deer come right up and even stand on my boot or trouser leg or sometimes even on my hand. Trees are whole worlds to the creatures living in them and each species has different beasties who like to live with it.
Yes, learning about nature really does helps you learn about spirit. Humans are mostly very cut off from nature; they often find it frightening which is a hoot in Britain as a red deer is probably the biggest thing you’ll meet. Really, truly, honestly, foxes and badgers do not eat, or even bite, humans! The scariest thing you’re likely to meet in the woods is another human being. Back in the days of my childhood even that was pretty unlikely, after all there were only half (or maybe even less) as many of us on the whole planet then as there are now. Sitting under a tree, sitting with a tree, is wonderful and so well worth doing, you learn so much just by sitting and listening and watching.
The old ones who named the places around us up there on the edge of Exmoor knew what they were doing. One of the names that crops up is Nymet or Nympton; they’re Devonshire words for nemeton meaning a sacred space. Trees, individual trees, small groups of trees, groves and whole forests are all sacred places. The beasties know this still, even though so many of us have forgotten, so sitting in the sacred space of a tree and having the creatures come up to you, sharing wordless vision and feeling, teaches all of us so much. I still do it now. I’m lucky enough to have places, private permissions belonging to friends, where I can camp out for several days, sit in the woods, walk in them, be with them. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s a breathing space, a time when you can relax and allow nature into your life … and through nature spirit. Like I said, the animals and plants haven’t forgotten, to them it’s natural and normal that all life is en-spirited, animated, has soul. They will show us the way back to knowing our own true nature and the nature of the spirits with whom we share this planet. Go sit with a tree …
Trees of the Goddess from Moon Books, Shaman Pathways Also at Amazon.uk, Amazon.com, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble