Gnosis Diary: Life as a Heathen

My personal experiences, including religious and spiritual experiences, community interaction, general heathenry, and modern life on my heathen path, which is Asatru.

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Wild Tea Experience

“Old trees, wild trees.” That’s something Treebeard the Ent says in Lord of the Rings. And it’s what excited me about trying new tea varieties. Or rather, old kinds—very old. Just ones I had not tried. 

I heard about the tea varietal Purple Joy on social media. A fellow tea lover posted his experience trying a wild tea, that is, a tea from wild trees. I had to try it too. Purple Joy is a black tea, and the purveyor Tea-Side also has wild green, oolong, and white tea, so I ordered one of each. I’ve seen photos of tea farming before and the tea plants looked like the clipped shrubbery in the knot gardens of English castles, laid out in mathematically precise rows, but the photos on Tea-Side’s website were pictures of huge individual trees, growing as they will in a jungle of random other plants. They looked a bit Entish. 

I brought my usual afternoon tea crowd along on my virtual adventure to Thailand to try the tea of wild tea trees. We tried them on subsequent days, at our usual tea time of 3 in the afternoon. 

The first one I tried was Purple Joy. I found it to have such a floral, fruity nose that I wondered if all the tea blends that include flowers and bits of fruit were instinctively trying to get back to this, the original tea. The first cup had earthy flavors in addition to the floral and fruit flavors that matched the scents. It had a strangely mentally calming effect, and another of my tea drinking ladies agreed. 

I connected with the spirit of the tree. It presented as a wise old Ent. 

The second cup brought the acid notes to the fore. Just like the tea enthusiast on social media, I also experienced a tongue sensation that lasted a while after drinking the tea. With the flavor shift to acidity came a shift in the tree spirit. Now it seemed more like a Huorn, the darker version of Ents. Trees don’t always have nice thought about human beings, with justification. The tannic flavor seemed like the tree was about to eat me back, and yet, I was still mentally calm, and this thought did not stop me from finishing my cup. 

As usual, one of my tea companions collected the cups when everyone was done. As usual, another tea participant put her hands together and bowed and thanked me for the tea. As usual, I bowed back, and said “You’re welcome.” Everything seemed normal on the surface. But I could still hear the tea tree spirit in my mind. 

Purple Joy instructed me that that variety should not be resteeped. Next time I make this variety I shall only make enough tea for a single cup for each participant, and brew an entirely new batch if we want a second cup. I think this instruction may have been given to others before; it may even have been long enough ago to be one of the roots of tea ceremony. I usually do tea the Western way and make a big pot but I will have to try it this way next time.

With the tea spirit’s permission, I went outside and shared the leftover tea with the gnome. I did that in my usual way, by pouring my drink out in front of the gnome statue and saying, “Presents for the Gnome!” The tea tree spirit was quiet while I did this. Perhaps he recognized another nature spirit and had respect for him. When I went inside, I didn’t really notice at first that his energy and presentation had shifted back to being wise, positive, and polite. I’m not sure he seemed Entish again, or if he just seemed like a very old wise tree, which is a very similar idea. 

Back in the kitchen, I asked the tea tree spirit if there was anything special I needed to do with the leaves, or if I should just dispose of them as usual. 

His voice was gentle, deep but not oddly so, sounding more like a normal man’s voice than like the Ent voice in the movie. He said, “Nothing special. They are just leaves now. Goodbye.” 

Then he was gone.

After the tea crowd left our living room, little Sweetheart kitty was still on the couch, so I sat down and petted him. I got onto the net and communicated with the original poster. We had both connected with the tree spirit of this wild tea.  

I think to a certain extent the spirit works with our expectations. Before I even ordered the tea, I had already read the original poster’s experience in which he called the tree spirit Camellia, and to him the spirit was a she, and had qualities related to tea ceremony. But I didn’t experience the spirit the same way. My internal reference for a wise tree is Ent, so it presented as Entish to me, with a male sounding voice. To me the spirit was named the name of the variety, Purple Joy. The two presentations were very different, and yet, surely it was the same spirit. 

The next day I tried Giant Single Tree Oolong. Like Purple Joy, it has a fruity nose and an acid note that develops more strongly on the second cup, and gives a lingering tongue sensation, though it was milder and just less weird than the flavor profile of Purple Joy.

I was expecting either no spirit or its own spirit. With the first cup, I thought there was no one there. But the spirit connected when I began my second cup. "It's me, Purple Joy."

I didn’t know if, now that I'd made that connection, Purple Joy was going to come through any wild tea, or just some, or any tea at all. I asked him and he didn't know either. I said, It will be an adventure finding out! Tomorrow I try a wild green tea.” 

I tried Wild Mango Green. Again I had an unexpected result. I was expecting one of three possibilities: no spirit, its own spirit, or Purple Joy again. I sipped, and mentally asked, “Is anyone there?” And heard a distinct “Nope.” 

As if it were Purple Joy speaking, it went on to say, “Not coming out for that. You’re on your own.” But it didn’t sound the same and I found myself mentally chasing the phantoms of my own expectations. My gods were present while I was mentally going round and round but I’m not sure if it might have been one of them talking, or just me inside. I’m still not sure if that was my own subconscious, but what matters is Purple Joy does not connect with every single tea, or even every single wild tea. 

Wild Mango Green had a strong mango aroma to the raw leaves before it was brewed, but only a faint fruity mango scent after brewing. It was mostly just green tasting. The first cup had strong grassy notes which mellowed in the second cup. I wonder if this variety might retain its mango fragrance more strongly if brewed at a low temperature; perhaps it would make a good sun tea. I shall have to try it that way.

My adventure continued the next day when I tried a wild white tea. It was the most normal in flavor of any of the wild teas I’ve tried, although it did go a little acidic on the second cup like the black and oolong wild teas did. When I sipped and asked “Is anyone there?” again I heard a “Nope” but this time the voice was identifiably one of my usual gods, having a bit of fun. 

“Is that you, Loki?” I asked. It was. Odin was around too. They had been there during the oolong and green tea experiences too. I had not noticed them when I first encountered Purple Joy, but of course they could have been there then too and I just didn’t notice. Usually I hail the gods with morning coffee and the goddesses with afternoon tea, but the wild tea experience seemed to draw Odin and Loki pretty strongly. I shall have to see what happens when I return to drinking domesticated tea.

So, I did not connect to any tea spirits while trying the wild white. The wild white tea was not only the most normal tasting but also the most normal tea drinking experience. I don’t want to end this journey on a let-down so let me just say I still have more of the Purple Joy and will be communing with it again another time. Perhaps it will become one of my plant friends. 

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Erin Lale is the author of Asatru For Beginners, and the updated, longer version of her book, Asatru: A Beginner's Guide to the Heathen Path. Erin has been a gythia since 1989. She was the editor and publisher of Berserkrgangr Magazine, and is admin/ owner of the Asatru Facebook Forum. She also writes science fiction and poetry, ran for public office, is a dyer and fiber artist, was acquisitions editor at a small press, and founded the Heathen Visibility Project.

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