from BARDO

The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.

Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made

is star-stuff too?

– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –

dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.

Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.

Roselle Angwin

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

the spirit of the ash tree

I feel a tug of sadness now as I walk through the avenue of young ash trees planted along the footpath by the stream (photo from March this year). 

If you live in Britain, you'll know what a huge threat the ash (fraxinus excelsior) is under, with some arborists suggesting we might lose 80% of this ancient and iconic species to fungal disease. The Government has acted far far too late to ban the import of foreign ashes apparently responsible for importing the disease from Eastern Europe – some would say completely unnecessary, given how well the ash tree grows, or has grown, here, and how prolific it is. And it seems there's little that can be done. All we, the public, can do apparently is to wash our hands after visiting woodland in order to try and halt its spread. (It's rather reminiscent of the Government's instructions for the event of a nuclear disaster in the 70s/80s: paint yourself white and hide under the kitchen table. But it may, may possibly, help halt the spread.) 

If the oak is the king of the forest here, the ash is the queen. Elegant and ethereal, her slender feathered leaves allow more light through the canopy than many British trees, so nurturing a host of species of flora and fauna.

Earlier this year I wrote:

'Because of the time of year here in the UK... I've been noting with joy a kind of green aura around each of the young ash trees in an avenue along the brookside path (I say 'aura' because they are not in any visible way actually leafing, but from a distance there is a very distinct green tinge to the whole stand, as well as each tree).'

Now as I walk through them I speak to them, I tell them I care about them, wish them vitality and longevity. What else can we do? My friend Fred Hageneder, who has dedicated his life to trees, says: 'All over Europe people have traditionally talked to the tree beings...'* In Sweden, for instance, there was traditionally a guardian tree of home or farm, an ash, elm or lime, most commonly. This tree was greeted, and libations of milk or beer were made at certain times to, for instance, the Ash Woman spirit.

If we are interconnected then it may be that at some level they 'receive' the care we put out, and are affected by it, as we are reciprocally by them, whether or not we're conscious of it. I remember Lyall Watson's research in the 70s showing that, for instance, some plants, like geraniums, responded noticeably positively to eg the music of Bach (I do, 'n' all!), and failed rather if played disharmonious music (I do that too). Lots more to say about all that, but not here.

If trees are the lungs of the planet, as someone once said, we are in trouble (as we know already) through deforestation, and desertification as a result.

I'm reposting here an excerpt from a blog of mine last year (

'Both oak and ash, sacred to the Celts, occur also in the list of the seven ‘chieftain trees’ in mediaeval Ireland; the unlawful felling of one tree from any of the species in this list (as opposed to the lesser ‘peasant’, ‘shrub’ and ‘bramble’ lists) was punishable via a fine of one cow (in the earlier Triads of Ireland, the death penalty, says Robert Graves, was the price of unlawfully felling a hazel or an apple, two other chieftain trees). The ash mythologically is associated with Poseidon, god of the oceans, (though I am sure there would also have been a female deity associated with the ash) and ‘cloud making’, and also with Gwydion, the master Druid of Britain...'

The ash, along with the hawthorn, is the tree most commonly found near a holy well. Further research suggests it's connected with a number of water gods and goddesses.

Hageneder in another of his books, The Spirit of Trees, reminds us that the old Irish name of the ash in the ogham alphabet, nion, links it with Nuada of the Silver Hand, a king of the elfin Otherworld's Tuatha de Danaan (Nodens in England). As the third tree in the tree alphabet, which also has been seen as a description of the unfolding of the progression of the human soul through an incarnation, it represents our connection with others, our 'right relationship', you could say. I experience it as a threshold tree, concerned with the liminal and with the boundaries – or lack of them – between self and other. I wrote a mnemonic many years ago, a kind of ditty, to help me remember: 'Ash tree dancing on the edge / show me the secrets of the hedge. / Keeping in and keeping out / boundaries are what you're about.'

It's not for nothing that the druid's wand was sometimes made of ash; and the choice of the 'ashplant', stick or staff, with its vaguely mystical overtones even today, carried by a countrydweller was, or is, a nod to the old sacred status of trees...  

* The Heritage of Trees: history, culture and symbolism (Floris Books)
See also


No comments:

Post a Comment

Blog Archive