Trees

I’ve already done a lot of creative work around trees.  In 2016 I chose trees as my year long art focus and I blogged about aspects of that.  As part of this, I created my own tree themed deck of oracle cards which I think speaks volumes about the symbolic gold there is to find when it comes to trees.

I have also written a few plant spirit posts about particular trees and also trees which have been important in my life.

There are approx. 100,000 species of trees which we identify by looking at their leaves, tree shape, bark, bud and flowers, fruits and seeds.  There are native and non native, coniferous and deciduous, tall and small and all have their own marvellous qualities and associations.  For example, Oak, quercus robur, means strength.

“Be like a tree and let the dead leaves drop”
– rumi

We find trees scattered throughout our language.  We have family trees, we have tree hugging, we can’t see the wood for the trees.  We have trees which commemorate, we have trees which are engraved with long dead relationships.  We have trees which act as landmarks.  We have witness trees and trees in place names.

Trees inspire and shelter, they are majestic and wise, reliable and reassuring, a solid presence throughout a human lifespan.

They are habitats and food, with their own complex web of predators and pests, parasites and symbiotic relationships.  They are layers of life, rings of the years, memory keepers, teachers.

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.

A tree says: A kernel is hidden in me, a spark, a thought, I am life from eternal life.

A tree says: My strength is trust. I know nothing about my fathers, I know nothing about the thousand children that every year spring out of me. I live out the secret of my seed to the very end, and I care for nothing else. I trust that God is in me. I trust that my labor is holy. Out of this trust I live.”
– Hermann Hesse

6 of cups

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In the wild unknown tarot, the six of cups is depicted with a tree.  As with other examples I’ve discussed, this is one case where the wild unknown card feels so much more poignant to me than other decks.

In a lot of tarot decks, the six of cups is about childhood, nostalgia, naïve happiness, and generosity but this has never been a meaning that has chimed with me.  Instead I choose to look at it from a different perspective, asking myself what fuels me, what brings me to life, what grounds me.  If you look at the image of the tree with it’s multi coloured roots, you’ll hopefully get a sense of what I mean.  Where other people look to childhood memories to make them happy, I chose to look at anything which makes me happy, which feeds my soul.

“Storms make trees take deeper roots”
– Dolly Parton

In order to stay strong and to thrive in this world, you need to pay attention to your roots.  Dig deep, ground yourself and nourish the very core of your wonderful self.

There is also an aspect of balance in the 6 of cups – the outer world of the tree mirrors the inner world of the roots.  This reminds me strongly of the bear animal spirit card and the idea that there is a time for everything, but no time can be a time for everything.  A link I’ve shared quite a bit is one to Terri Windling’s blog post about bears and it feels so relevant here.

For [Terry Tempest] Williams, the bear embodies “opposing views, that we can be both fierce and compassionate at once. The bear is above ground in spring and summer and below ground, hibernating, in fall and winter — and she emerges with young by her side.

The winter months have always been a challenge for me. I love sunshine, dry weather and warmth… now, however, I am learning to appreciate winter’s stark gifts: it slows me down, turns my thoughts inward, keeps me closer to hearth and home, strengthening the introverted side of my nature, without which I couldn’t write or paint. I am learning at last to follow the bear; to trust in the process of hibernation and gestation. I am learning patience. Slowness. Stillness.

All things have their season. And spring always comes.

– Terri Wilding

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From tiny seeds…

Aside: this has turned into a post with a lot of quotes… Not my normal style but I couldn’t decide which ones to cut…

We’ve seen a lot so far about the harmful and healing properties of plants, about plants as active agents who stand their own ground.  Now I thought I’d take a closer look at the plant itself, starting with at the beginning of the story with the seed.

Seeds are like teeny tiny tardises.  They often look insignificant but give them time and the right conditions and they can grow up to be giant redwoods or an endless tangle of thistles.

What is a seed?

A seed is an amazing package of plant food and growth instructions carefully enclosed in a protective coat.  Once the seed starts to grow, this food will nourish the plant embryo.  Seeds are on their own in this world.  No parent to protect them and love them and tuck them up in bed at night.

What happens to a seed?

Left to their own devices, seeds wait.  And they wait.  And they wait.  Until conditions are just right for them to grow.

There is a perfect time for everything. If the tulip surfaces in the heart of winter, the bitter winds won’t give her a chance.
Rebecca Campbell

Most seeds wait a year at least and one seed is known to have waited over 2000 years.  They have to time things just right.  If they start to grow too soon they will die and if they wait too long they will die.  Life is tough for seeds.  And whilst they wait, they are alive.  They may look like dried out dead things but this isn’t the case.  They have to be able to sense conditions so they know when the wait is over.  Sadly, most seeds die before conditions are right.

The first thing a seed needs to do when they decide the time is right, is anchor themselves.  Then the root grows down into the soil to find water.  This leaves a critical few days where the remaining food is used to start growing upwards.  At this time the plant can’t produce its own food and this is one reason why humidity, light and other conditions must be perfect.

To help the plant out, the embryo contains two tiny leaves which are used to help the plant limp along until it has enough food to grow proper leaves.  Once the plant has leaves, it can start to photosynthesise and produce sugars.  Meanwhile, the root network below ground will have been developing.  Both as an anchor for the plant and to find water.  The roots also intertwine with other plants’ roots to create a web through which messages can be sent to alert neighbours to danger etc.

But as we have a tenancy to do, humans interfere with seeds.  We use them as food – sunflower seeds – and as medicine – poppy seed heads – and even in paints (linseed oil), preventing yet more seeds from living out their long lives.

How do seeds differ?

Size is an obvious way that seeds differ.  We have coconuts which are seeds as large as your head and we have orchid seeds who are so tiny that a million of them is the equivalent in weight of a paperclip.  They also come in a variety of shapes; bean shaped, square, triangular, egg shaped, ovals and more.

They vary in appearance depending on how they are dispersed.  For example, those spread by wind need to be lightweight and include fluffy seeds like dandelions or aerodynamic ones like sycamore seeds.  There are seeds which are carefully contained within yummy fruits so that animals eat them and spread them.  Some seeds even need to be digested to maximise their chances.  I can’t remember what species but some seeds have a protective coating on them which gets stripped by stomach acid.

Once fire has cleansed and healed the land, new life is born.  Seeds that require intense heat to burst them open start to grow and blossom.
Speaking with nature

Seeds of different plants also need different conditions to flourish in.  For example there are some plants who’s seeds spring into action following intense heat such as a forest fire.  This means they take advantage of increased light and reduced competition.

Metaphors

Seeds also provide us with a huge array of metaphorical value.  We have the concept of men sowing their seed through to great things grow from tiny acorns.  They feature especially in religious contexts and in personal growth.  They are also used a lot to depict a small action today having a huge impact in the future and doing work now for future gains.

Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap but by the seeds that you plant.
― Robert Louis Stevenson

A tree is no more valuable than a seed. Both are simply at a different stage in their development.
― J.R. Rim

There is also something awe inspiring and almost magical about what is contained in a seed.

From one seed a whole handful: that was what it meant to say the bounty of the earth.
― J.M. Coetzee

Dreams are the seeds of change. Nothing ever grows without a seed, and nothing ever changes without a dream.
– Debby Boone

Resentment buried is not gone.  It is like burying a seed – for a season it may stay hidden in the dark, but in the end, it will always grow
– Beth Underdown

Ace of Pentacles

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Whilst we’re looking at seeds and their imagery, I’d like to turn briefly to the ace of pentacles from the wild unknown tarot deck.  This card, for me, sums up the power we all have within us.

Side note; I compare different ace of pentacles cards in my post about the RWS deck which gives a flavour of the other ways of looking at this card.  I find the wild unknown version to be very empowering and relatable.

The ace of pentacles asks me what is it that must be planted, what is it that is growing inside you and needs nurturing?  It is about the potential for strength, greatness and manifestation.  A reminder that it takes time and effort for a tiny seed to grow into a might tree as well as practical resources like light, food, water and love.

Right now that spark of an idea or a plan is carefully protected from the outside world, waiting for the right time to venture out.  Equally, they will only grow if we let them out into the world.  We cannot keep the magic curled up inside us forever, to do this is to deny ourselves of our potential.

Within my homemade little white book, as well as meanings of cards, I include quotes which feel relevant for each card.  Here are a few for the ace of pentacles:

“May we ground the seeds of light that are in our hearts.  May we anchor them into the earth.”
– Rebecca Campbell

“You have an acorn in you, you are a certain person and that person begins to appear early in your life, but it’s there all they way through your life”
– Thomas Moore

“All plant life starts with a seed.  A seed is filled with potential.  Nature’s intelligence has created a blueprint that programs each seed to thrive and be healthy.  When we learn about the power, potential and inner wisdom that each seed has, we learn a lot about ourselves”
– Speaking with nature

Animal Allies Oracle Deck

Today, in the post, I received a present from past Helen, a beautiful, inspiring oracle deck.  From the early days of Jessica Swift’s animal paintings I have longed for one, or all, of them.  They are amazing pieces of art which she is now selling as originals and as prints.  But even better, she is selling them as oracle cards.

Even if you don’t use oracle or tarot cards, the decks are a great way to own a lot of art work but not have to find space for it all.  And somehow, this deck feels like it’s more personal.  As I’ve followed Jessica’s blog and developments, I’ve seen her paintings grow from a small daily project to get some art in each day with a new born to become an entire oracle deck.

They arrived in pretty packaging and my moment of “oh helen what have you accidentally bought and forgotten now” was soon replaced by delight as I got the deck open and started to see the cards.  You can buy the deck from Jessica’s website along with prints and original paintings.

And those astute readers will probably already have guessed, but this will mean some more animal spirit posts!  There’s a lot of duplicate between the animal allies deck and the wild unknown and animal dreaming decks so I’m only going to look at the different cards.  And that includes the amazing armadillo, the captivating crab and the smelly skunk.  Stay tuned!

A birthday in the house of Helen’s

Check back at other posts for context:

Coming up this week is the birthday of one of my Helens.  Hennie, the teenage-ish version who has a cat called Charlie, is the quietest and shyest of the house.  She has had a tough past and struggles a lot with identifying and meeting her own needs and is still getting used to being in a house full of love.  That’s all I’m going to say about her, she’s very private and wouldn’t like me much if I said much else.

However, she has no problem with me sharing a bit about how we’re planning on celebrating her birthday.  She is a Scorpio which places her birthday anytime between October 23 – November 21 this year and as I’m a pisces we figured we’d go for the time when the moon is in Pisces, that is 29th to 31st October.  This year that means we’ll be going for Tuesday although ideally we’d have avoided Halloween…

When we first started talking about her birthday, she was clear it was to be a low key event, not surprisingly.  She wanted a bonfire, herbs burning and poetry.  Ideally outside and with only people she felt really comfortable with.  A bit more chatting and she thought maybe storytelling would be nice too, hopefully the story of Ceridwen.  And a private tarot reading, just the two of us.

How this translates is not always an easy matter.  I can’t have a bonfire for example.  But we’re having candles, incense and mulled wine or mulled apple juice.  Ideally there would be lots of nice autumny food as well but I’m having trouble swallowing at the moment…

Whilst this isn’t a Samhain celebration, it does drawn on elements of the fire festival.  Hennie inhabits a liminal space between light and dark and can find herself in either very quickly, more so the darkness.  And this has been a darkness that has caused us both a great deal of anxiety and fear which makes this time of year a great chance to transform and reframe it.

Death and darkness are important, they are necessary parts of the cycle of rest, regeneration and rebirth.  As I wrote about in my post on the bear spirit card, we all have periods of activity and inactivity, of light and dark, of external and internal and we can benefit a lot from seeing them both as important and not fight against them.

Instead of battling the darkness, we can use it as a time to dream and ponder and plant seeds for the year ahead.  We can be rejuvenated by this period and be thankful for the space to rest and nurture ourselves and our ideas.

“Increasing darkness and cold means we must accept that winter is fast approaching and we must adjust to this changing season.  Leaves have fallen off the trees, birds have migrated, animals have gone into hibernation, and frosts have come.  It is a time of death and decay, death of the cold, and within this, knowledge of rebirth.  It is a time of forced adjustments that, once accepted, reveal a new set of possibilities, a new phase, a new power to life.” 
– Glennie Kindred

Right now, for me, forced adjustments seem very much present and seem also like they’re here to stay…

We will embrace this time of year as a chance to go into our unconscious self, to heal and to renew ourselves.  To incubate our potential and keep ideas and dreams safe until the winter months are over.  It is a time to go back to our roots, to plant seeds and to accept that life comes from death.

We will be looking at the year that has passed, the gifts it has bought, the sorrows we’ve seen and looking ahead, making wishes and dreaming.

We might use leaves to embody those things we want to let go, burning them as we release the past.

We will be trying to incorporate elder, a plant of regeneration and renewal as well as feminine power.  And apples, as Hel’s apples represent a journey to the land of death and rebirth.  We’ll also be using some spices, cinnamon feels appropriate, a firey spice for the cold winter months and ginger, another firey spice which grows underground.  If my eating was better, I’d be including some seeds here as well.

The tarot spread we’ll be doing will have three cards which will roughly correspond to:

  1. The past, the underworld, things which are hidden
  2. The present, now, material things
  3. The future, the otherworld, possibilities and direction

Wish her happy birthday and I hope winter treats you all well!

Tarot updates

I’ve not written about tarot in a while so just wanted to get down a few things.  I’ve not actually managed much tarot because I’ve been so tired and Aug was stained glass month.  Did I tell you about that?  I did an amazing course with a fantastic and thoughtful teacher and made a piece of stained glass from scratch!

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A card a week

Ok, back to tarot.  I’ve almost reached the end of my sort of a card a week thing.  It was inspired by Carrie Mallon’s memento mori post and I had wanted to blog about it each but that never happened. What did happen though was that I developed a deeper understanding of the cards.

Each week I reflected on the previous card and how it had featured over the week for me. I also used it as an opportunity to read Seventy Eight Degrees of Wisdom for the card and I updated my little white book with what I had discovered. Mostly so that it would fit better with a year cycle, I only used the minor cards and some weeks drew two and others life took over and I didn’t draw any.  This means that assuming I manage the remaining weeks, I will have completed the minors over the course of a year.  I’m starting to think about how I can use the major cards, all 22 of them, this coming year (October to October).  Had there been 24 I’d have perhaps drawn one at each full and new moon… Thoughts are welcomed!

Brady Tarot Deck

I am very excited about the Brady Tarot deck which is being created.  It is drawing on natural history and uses print making which is one of my favourite forms of art.  The images so far are beautiful and offer a lot of scope for getting to know the card as they are detailed and evocative.  The images draw of North American flora and fauna and part of the profits will go to a conservation charity.  They are clearly a work of love and passion and because of this, they are taking longer than expected, but I don’t mind at all.  I love getting the updates and am excited about seeing all the cards!

Alternative Tarot Course vs 78 Mirrors

I recently had an email from someone who was reading my blog (I love emails, go for it if you want to get in touch!) and was wondering about whether the Alternative Tarot Course or 78 Mirrors would be best for her.  As we were pinging emails, Beth from Little Red Tarot announced her new course which sounds amazing!  I can’t comment on that as I’ve not done it but I thought it might be helpful for other people to hear about the other two courses.

78 Mirrors and the Alternative Tarot Course (ATC) are both great.  And they are totally complementary.  I did the ATC very early on in my tarot journey and the 78 Mirrors as a more established self reader and this obviously affects how I engaged with the courses.  The first thing I would say is about money.  ATC is considerably cheaper than 78 Mirrors and a lot of that is because they are delivered very differently.

ATC is self guided so if you learn better on your own, or can’t commit to a set time scale course that might be best for you.  78 mirrors has more of a structure in terms of when emails get sent etc but if you get behind or whatever you still have all the info to catch up with.  What you would miss to a certain extent if you couldn’t keep up would be the value of the facebook group (I joined facebook just for the group) which was good for getting other people’s ideas and things.  Because of the number of people on the course and the way facebook groups work, I think if you got really behind in the course you’d find it hard to find the relevant bits of conversation and could miss out on the interactive side of things.

78 mirrors covers things more from a card by card perspective which builds up your own version of the little white book. On the other hand little red is more about helping you get to know the cards in your own way. for example she looks at the way elements interact with each other and what sort of a reader you want to be.

I couldn’t possibly say which was best and as I think I’ve made clear, a lot will depend on how you learn and what time you have available etc.  I’d love to hear from anyone who’s started Beth’s new course which is taking a card a day and could possibly be a sort of bridge between ATC and 78 mirrors.

Same card, different deck

The final thing I wanted to mention was a post over on Little Red Tarot about using different decks to deepen understanding.  This is one of the most powerful things I got out of Susannah Conway’s 78 Mirrors course.  For the course, she advised we had a Rider Waite Smith (RWS) deck, a take on the RWS deck (in my case Tarot Of Pagan Cats: Tarot Deck) and a third more independent one (of course this was going to be my beloved Wild Unknown).  I did not chime at all with the RWS deck but using it along side the cat deck helped me deepen my understanding of the cards and helped me to see the wild unknown cards from a different angle.  There are so many decks out there that it can feel overwhelming and you can struggle to know which one to use.  I trust my gut when I turn to my cards and whilst I almost always go for the wild unknown, from time to time I feel compelled to either combine it with another deck or use another deck entirely.  It can be expensive but there are various tarot apps which can reduce the cost.  Or if your hope is to compare cards and meanings, you could try one of the many many websites which offer interpretations as well as images of the decks.

Tipping the balance 

Yesterday was the autumn equinox. The day when night is as long as day. From today until March, days will be shorter than night.

Yesterday, I did a tarot reading. A four card draw with no particular question. The cards I drew were very relevant to how I feel about this time of year.

 

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There are two cards, the six of cups and the hermit, which are both about the unseen, about going within, about going underground.  They echo the turning of the season, the way nature is closing in and hibernating and plants are losing their leaves and focusing on their roots.

In a lot of tarot decks, the six of cups is about childhood, nostalgia, naïve happiness, and generosity but this has never been a meaning that has chimed with me.  Instead I choose to look at it from a different perspective, asking myself what fuels me, what brings me to life, what grounds me.  If you look at the image of the tree with it’s multi coloured roots, you’ll hopefully get a sense of what I mean.  Where other people look to childhood memories to make them happy, I chose to look at anything which makes me happy, which feeds my soul.

I love that this resonates with how I interpret the hermit card.  I feel that it’s about taking time out from other people’s thoughts and views and finding out what my own are.  As part of my nature and writing project, for example, I’m doing a lot of reading and learning and watching documentaries which is great and I love it.  But I need to ensure that there is space within that for me to mull over ideas, to form my own opinions and to draw together my beliefs.  We live in a world where we get a lot of external stimulation, we take in a lot of information every day and that’s great.  But we also need to balance it with internal stimulation and creating (in a very loose sense of the word) our own offerings.  We cannot just take from the world, we must also give.

There is also an aspect of balance in the 6 of cups – the outer world of the tree mirrors the inner world of the roots.  This reminds me strongly of the bear animal spirit card and the idea that there is a time for everything, but no time can be a time for everything.  A link I’ve shared quite a bit is one to Terri Windling’s blog post about bears and it feels so relevant here.

For [Terry Tempest] Williams, the bear embodies “opposing views, that we can be both fierce and compassionate at once. The bear is above ground in spring and summer and below ground, hibernating, in fall and winter — and she emerges with young by her side.

The winter months have always been a challenge for me. I love sunshine, dry weather and warmth… now, however, I am learning to appreciate winter’s stark gifts: it slows me down, turns my thoughts inward, keeps me closer to hearth and home, strengthening the introverted side of my nature, without which I couldn’t write or paint. I am learning at last to follow the bear; to trust in the process of hibernation and gestation. I am learning patience. Slowness. Stillness.

All things have their season. And spring always comes.

– Terri Wilding

That all things have their season is a pertinent reminder for those of us who struggle with winter and the darkness.  And this sentiment is echoed in the second half of my tarot reading with the Wheel of Fortune and the frog.

Both of these cards remind us that we live in cycles, like the bear, and we should embrace them rather than fight them.  You feel the turn of the circle more if you are battling to keep it still than if you go with the flow of it.  For me, this means accepting that winter means early nights and less activity and preparing for this.  So gathering documentaries I want to watch and books I want to read, in preparation for days when I don’t necessarily want to get out of bed or leave the house.

And both of these cards, in reminding us of the cycle of life, remind us too that as Terri says, spring always comes.

Nature and writing, the prep

On the full moon in August I did a tarot reading to shine some light on my nature and writing project. The eight of pentacles came up which, astrologically, corresponds to the sun in Virgo. Which just happens to be about the time I was planning on diving in. It feels like a nice reassurance that I am following my path.

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I also selected a crystal I was drawn to to help me hold my intention around this project. I’ve talked before about this (although I can’t find the post) but essentially by doing this, the crystal (in this case rose quartz) acts as a reminder, a touchstone, an inspiration and something to turn to if I need help.

I also recently got a message from the lovely Crystal Cornwall UK saying they were having a summer sale and was instantly drawn to labradorite and ended up buying three stones as well as some other lovely crystals.  They have amazing names, are fascinating to look at and are a beautiful part of geology. Different parts of the world are home to different gemstones. For example, Whitby is well known for its jet.

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Other preparations I’m making include writing up a month by month vague curriculum as well as creating a poetry jar as words call to me.  It’s a great way to warm up if you’re going to write but also little gems come straight from the jar without too much polishing.

Winter magic
twists sun beams
to night

In terms of my plans (which are entirely flexible and reactive to both my health and what I find along the journey), I am currently thinking of the following:

  • September
    • Starting the Future Learn: William Wordsworth – Poetry, People and Place course.
    • Starting the Future Learn: Learn about weather course
    • Hopefully a day trip
    • Focus on: What is nature writing?  Why do we read and write it? How has it changed? And what makes good nature writing?  Looking at all genres.
  • October
    • Future Learn: Environmental challenges – rights and values in ecosystem services course
    • Local one day course – From Ovid to Oz: A Brief Cultural History of Werewolves
    • Marking Samhain, or Halloween, 31st October
    • Focus on animals in (human) society – their roles in our lives, our roles in their lives, how we interact, how we complement each other and how we see animals?  And then honing in on animals (living, extinct or supernatural) as scapegoats.
  • November
    • Future Learn: Environmental challenges – human impact in the natural environment
    • Local one day course on the human history of York
    • Focus more on plants and/or geology this month.  It may be winter and cold and dark and it may feel like everything is closing up and going into hibernation but what are plants up to and which plants are in the spotlight?
  • December
    • Local seasonal traditions
    • Mark the winter solstice
    • Focus on weather
  • January
    • Poetry focus – reading, analysing, looking for themes, writing it…
  • February
    • Focus on rewilding.  It keeps crossing my path so I’m gathering reading and links and videos as they find me.

As always, I’d love to get to links and references and suggestions and opinions and ideas!