It's Earthy Thursday once more, our weekly news post about nature and science. This week we bring you stories about those magnificent, high-reaching biological structures we commonly know as "trees." Can you email a tree? How about build a church out of living trees? And are trees good for your health? All this and more for the Pagan News Beagle!
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A Victorian nationalist wrote the lyrics. The king of British folksingers wrote the tune. The father of modern witchcraft made it part of the Book of Shadows. And across the English-speaking world, pagans sing and dance to it every Midsummer's Day.
How good is that?
Poet Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) first published the poem A Tree Song in his childrens' novel Puck of Pook's Hill in 1906. Folk-singer Peter Bellamy (1944-1991) wrote a musical setting for the poem (you can hear it here), retitled Oak and Ash and Thorn; it was released on the album of the same name in 1970.
Meanwhile, some time in the 1950s, Gerald Gardner (1886-1964) had written the last verse of the song into the liturgy for Beltane. How did a Midsummer's song (“Sing Oak and Ash and Thorn, me love/all of a Midsummer's morn”) end up at Beltane? Well, the cross-quarters were the original sabbats of Gardner's revived “witch-cult,” as in Murray, and the quarter-days (solstices and equinoxes) didn't come in until later. That explains the truncation of the lyrics in the BoS version as well.
Of all life forms, the deciduous tree appears to be the one most in synch with the solar events of the year. Sleeping in winter, budding in spring, resplendent with leaves in the summer, fruiting in the autumn and then back to sleep. There are of course also an assortment of tree calendars (mostly owing to Robert Graves) which put different trees as being prominent at different times. Based on what, exactly, I am seldom sure.
The more time you spend with trees, the less this whole idea of a single wheel of the year narrative for trees holds up. For a start, it only works if you live somewhere that has the kind of climate that delivers summer and winter. You have to have deciduous trees, not pines or cacti. If your seasons are all about wet and dry, the solar year and the tree year are not going to be the same. The solar/tree year is fairly Eurocentric, and will fit anywhere with similar conditions, but not everywhere....
When I was a kid, I loved picking up the bright red seeds that littered the ground each fall. I was used to seeds being various shades of brown or black, and the riot of color that marked each passage into winter was always thrilling. I never really knew what to do with them; I'd usually carry them around for a bit and then discard them. But they were fascinating.
When most people think of the Southern Magnolia, they think of its huge white blossoms, which are currently in bloom. They think of the South, not Los Angeles. But we have them everywhere here, and to me they feel just as integral to Southern California as palm trees or pines....
May in Britain sees the hawthorn ( Crataegus Monogyna) in flower, frothing down the lanes in clouds of white tinged with the deepest pink. So important is the hawthorn that in our indigenous traditions, the festival of Beltane cannot happen until the full moon after it blossoms, highlighting its significance to the goddess of Beltane the lady of sovereignty who goes by many names in British and Irish lore. At Beltane the goddess marries the sun god Bel, or sometimes oak king, or jack in the green, to bring fertility to the earth, and this is a highly erotic tree, associated with female sexuality and life force. Known as the May tree, and the goddess tree, it is also the original Faery Thorn, marking places sacred to our Otherworldly kin. In Britain and Ireland there are many 'faery thorns' which are honoured as sacred magical places, and are protected even from roads and other development by their local villagers even to this day. Hawthorn blossom should never be taken inside the house lest the faeries wreak havoc on your home. However, the hawthorn is a powerfully magical tree to have as an ally and friend.
One of the greatest Celtic seers, Thomas the Rhymer, who lived in the early 13th century met the Queen of Elfland beneath a hawthorn tree, growing near his home in the Eildon hills in Scotland, revealing its nature as a marker between the worlds and a tree beloved to the faery queens, preserving its place in our traditional sacred faery lore....
Harmony. It's something most of us want in our lives but it can be difficult to achieve in practice. How do we live in harmony with nature? Can we create a world that's sustainable and prosperous for posterity? These questions and more are the subject of this week's Earthy Thursday.
Croi - pronounced kree - is the Irish for heart. At Brigid's Day I picked that word from a basket and tied it as a clootie to a hazel tree. It was a well wishing tree. A plea for renewal at Imbolc.
It has seemed over this past year that so many people have had had their hearts broken. People are ill. The earth is sick. Women are systematically violated in perversely imaginative ways. Men are imprisoned by the mythic expectations of strength....