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Posted Under Paganism & Witchcraft

Simple Rituals to Connect with Sacred Trees

Trees in Forest with Sunlight

So many times when we talk about using herbs in our rituals and spell work, we mean small plants like rosemary, sage, or vervain. Even when we turn to shrubs like roses or shrublets such as rosemary, we are talking about some of the smaller members of the plant kingdom.

That's unfortunate, because it leaves out the giants of the plant kingdom: trees. Of course, you probably realize that frankincense and sandalwood come from trees. However, these aren't exactly the kind of trees most of us can readily access when we look around our own landscapes.

I'll admit it: I'm big on using plants in my immediate environment if at all possible. I harped on this quite a bit in A Witch's Guide to Wildcraft. Working with plants that we see and can touch everyday brings the magick closer to us, in my opinion. You come to better understand the special qualities and energies of the plant when you explore the environment it lives in. This in turns leads to better rituals, better magick, and a better you.

I’ve continued this line of thought in my latest book, Under the Sacred Canopy: Working Magick with the Mystical Trees of the World. And, I'm not just talking about gathering leaves, flowers, roots, or bark to use in incense or spells. Trees can be our allies in meditations and rituals, too. What follows are three examples of how to call on trees to aid us with a few very real concerns and situation in modern life.

Planting for Survival
We are all struck by sadness from time to time in our life. We all experience loss, grief, and depression that results when a relationship ends or a loved one passes or our lives take a gut-wrenching financial turn for the worse.

Prayers help. Counseling helps. Daily meditations help. But sometimes we need something more tangible. We need something that shows us day-by-day how to grow beyond the despair of the moment. That is when the simple act of planting a tree can be a benefit. Many trees have been used to represent a determination to "grow strong." Oaks are often a good choice. Cypress and willows have been planted to become a connection to a lost companion. But when it comes to pure grit and iron will, we can find a solid example in the American elm tree (Ulmus americana) that survived the bombing of the Alfred P. Murray Federal Building in 1995.

On April 19 of that year, a domestic terrorist bombed the building, leaving 168 people dead and over 600 injured. The site has since been turned into a memorial to the victims. The elm tree in the park across the street from the bombing was a popular site for downtown visitors and building employees to sit and relax. Despite the power of the bomb blast, the elm held its ground, becoming a symbol of resilience in the face of tragedy. Today the Oklahoma City National Memorial Museum sells elm seedlings to support its mission. If you have the space available, planting one on your property would be a way to bring a symbol of resilience and strength into your own life. Seedlings from the Oklahoma tree are U. americana and in theory may be susceptible to Dutch elm disease. However, the fact that the tree survived not just the bombing but also the ravages of the disease may indicate it has a greater resistance to the blight. Such resistant elm trees have been found in remote areas of the US. If this is a concern, however, blight-resistant elm trees species have been developed by the nursery industry and are readily available. Planting and caring for one would be a good way to invite strength and determination into your life.

Honoring Our Deities
So many times, when we do ritual or magickal work, we are asking for something from our patron deities or our ancestors. Sometimes we need to simply honor those who we rely on every day.

As I discuss in Under the Sacred Canopy, you can do this with yew trees. Yew (Taxus) is a plant that reaches out beyond the mundane world. It reaches out across time, frequently living for hundreds of years. This is another tree that was frequently planted at cemeteries because of its longevity. Visitors could get a sense of connection to their past as they imagined their ancestors having touched the very same tree trunk that they were touching in the present.

I think of yews as chthonic plants. Like chthonic deities, they can tap into realms of deities and into the underworld. As such, they can be the "phone lines" that allow us to contact both deities and ancestors.

You can carefully gather a few needles from a yew to blend with some boxwood leaves and myrrh resin. Yew plant material can be toxic in large enough doses, but a few teaspoons of needles will not cause you harm. Dry the needles and boxwood leaves in the oven or air dryer. Once they are fully dried, grind the foliage together and hold for your ritual. If you like, you can add your favorite resin to the blend like frankincense, copal, or dragon's blood. This activity should be done in the waning moon. It can be done with any deity you wish to honor or for any ancestors with whom you regularly work.

Before going to your ritual space, gather a white candle and a black candle, your herb mix, and a food and drink offering for those you wish to honor. Most deities have foods and libations that they prefer. You should also have an idea what kind of foods your ancestors might enjoy.

Once at the ritual space, establish your sacred space according to your tradition. Settle down on the ground, if possible. If not, sit at your altar. You need to be in a comfortable position. Once the ritual begins, there will be no speaking. Light the candles and begin to burn the incense. Sit the food and drink out and, to yourself, say a prayer to those you wish to honor. Then, wait.

While you are waiting, you can pray for your loved ones who have gone beyond or silently meditate on the positive influence your patron deities have had in your life. You may feel their presence. You may not. Either way, when you can no longer focus on your intent, thank those you reached out to for their help in the past. Wish them peace in their current existence. Know that you have done your part to respect those who have always been there for you. Ground yourself and open your sacred space.

Journeying on the Universe Tree
When I speak of the Universe Tree I am talking about a concept that you may be familiar with as the World Tree or Axis Mundi. I use this term to better match the way modern people think. For our ancestors, the term "world" encompassed the ground below them, the Underworld, the sky above with its accompanying deities, and the vast expanse of stars and planets in the darkest. When we say "world," we tend to mean the blue marble in space on which we live.

So, for me at least, saying Universe Tree instead of World Tree is more inclusive of all the concepts with which our ancestors would have been familiar.

astrally, from one dimension to the next. You simply begin your journey on the trunk and either follow along the root system or the branches to get to where you need to go, depending on the answers you seek.

This may seem to be a trite instruction, so let's look at it a bit closer. Begin your journey by first clearly determining what you are seeking. Take some time to write out what you hope to get help with. Focus on one goal at a time. Wandering around this territory with a laundry list of wants or needs may leave you confused when you return. Let's say you start your astral journey with a list of five questions. Did the insight you receive pertain to question #1 or question #5? Who knows?

Ward yourself in whatever manner your tradition advises. In my case, I would cast a circle and call guardians. In preparation, I advise seekers to use appropriate incense and ask their ancestors and/or patron deities to watch over them.

You can begin by focusing on a particular tree in your landscape. I like to use one special beech tree near my home. You can also use the mental image of a favorite tree in a park or a picture of a grand tree on a poster or computer screen. Gaze at it intently as you breathe deeply. Slowly let your eyes close. Approach tree. Determine whether the guidance you seek is likely to come from above or below. Let your mind's eye lead you along a major branch or root.

As you follow either part towards its end, you should find the surrounding images beginning to soften in color. Exterior sounds fade away. Let yourself explore this space. Do you see any entity or animal in the vicinity? If so, go to it. See if it leads you further along. If you don't see anything, that doesn't mean you have failed. Wait a bit. Something could show itself. If still nothing appears, check out the landscape around you. Make mental notes of what you see, feel, and/or hear. When you can't maintain your focus any longer, turn around and leave the same way you came in.

When the journey is over and you leave the spiritual plane, be certain to thank whoever or whatever attempted to help, whether you understood what was presented or not. By all means, when you leave the area, mentally close the door or opening you used to access the tree in the first place. Back in the mundane world, while still in the circle, take time to have some sort of food and drink. This is called grounding. It is meant to reorient you to the mundane world. This is also a good time to write down your impressions of what you experienced or what you learned if a guide presented him- or herself to you. List even the simplest of impressions. Something that seems trivial at first could be quite important as you think about your experience later.

You can repeat your trip to the Universe Tree whenever you like. However, I don't advise wandering willy-nilly around the astral landscape. Preparation and safeguards are important. The astral plane is thought to be inhabited by entities of all sorts, according to current and historical experts. These include low-level thought forms, spirits of those who have not completed their journey to their next level of enlightenment, angels ,and demons. Some of these entities may be helpful; others could not care less about earthly visitors. Still others are said to be perfectly willing to screw around with whoever they encounter.

Finally, as a word of caution, don't try to live in this other world. I once knew a lady who wanted to learn to travel on the Universe Tree in order to keep an eye on her ex-husband. She felt she had to know what he was doing and who he was seeing at all time. She claimed that she didn't want to physically reconnect with him, just keep tabs on him. This is no way to live, in my opinion.

In this case, the woman had clearly not been able to cut her ties with her old life. She seemed to feel that journeying on the Universe Tree would allow her to maintain that former reality. The journeys we can take to access the Universe Tree, or any spiritual plane, can be good for us, but they are meant to augment the life we live on this plane, not replace it. Like it or not, we live in the mundane world. To get the most out of this life, we actually have to live it.

Conclusion
These are just a few examples of how you can incorporate trees into our spiritual lives. Trees are more than physical resources. They can be allies, teaching us how to be strong in the face of trouble; how to be patient in a hectic world and how to be present in this life, moment to moment. All we have to do is open our minds and bring them into our daily practices.

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About JD Walker

JD Walker is the vice chancellor of the House of Akasha, a North Carolina pagan group. She is an award-winning author, journalist, and magazine editor as well as a frequent contributor to the Llewellyn annuals. Walker has ...

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