The Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More - Arin Murphy-Hiscock 2017
The Magic of Trees
Live Closely with the Earth
Walking the Green Path
Trees are the pillars of our world. They anchor our ground and seem to hold up the sky. They form the backbone of the green witch’s practice. While we tend to focus on herbs, we also work with wood, often when something more physically stable or permanent is required. The green witch’s staff and stang, for example, are made of wood, as is the more traditional witch’s tool, the wand. Sticks and twigs form the basis of many protective amulets, as do rounds cut from the cross-section of branches and inscribed with symbols. Trees also have many practical uses, such as supporting plants and serving as natural fences. Wood is also used to build homes and furniture.
Following are sixteen trees of use to the green witch, plus some associated lore. These trees grow in various areas of North America. The parts of trees used include bark, leaves, and inner wood.
BIRCH (BETULA SPP.)
The traditional witch’s broom is made of birch twigs. Magically, birch is associated with cleansing, protection, and purification. It is also associated with children; cradles were often made of birch wood.
OAK (QUERCUS ROBUR)
Oak is one of those traditional woods that are firmly entrenched in folklore; it is magically associated with defense, thunder, strength, courage, healing, longevity, protection, and good fortune. Because the wood is very strong and durable and possesses a certain reputation for indestructibility, oak has been used in home construction and in shipbuilding. The bark is used to tan leather and as a dye. Acorns, the fruit of the oak tree, are symbols of fertility. When found growing in oak trees, mistletoe was considered to be particularly potent by the druids and important in their magical work.
MAPLE (ACER SPP.)
Maple is another popular tree used for cabinetry and by artisans. It is also a source of dye and maple sugar. Magically, maple is used for love, prosperity, life and health, and general abundance.
PINE (PINUS SPP.)
Commonly used in building and construction, the pine is one of the most widely found trees in North America. Its resin is used for the creation of turpentine and soaps, and the production of rosin. Amber, one of the most beloved gems for magical jewelry, is fossilized pine sap. Pine oil, another product of the pine tree, is commonly added to household cleansing products, proof that the scent is associated with a sense of purification. Magically, pine is used for cleansing and purification, healing, clarity of mind, prosperity, and protection from evil.
CEDAR (THUJA OCCIDENTALIS—WHITE CEDAR; CUPRESSUS NOOTKATENSIS—YELLOW CEDAR; JUNIPERUS VIRGINIANA—RED CEDAR)
Another precious wood that is recognized by many cultures as magical and powerful, cedar has been known throughout the ages for its protective qualities as well as its ability to repel insects and pests. With its aromatic scent, cedar was often given as an offering. Yellow cedar, found in North America, grows in a roughly conical shape and is often used in hedges. The other kind of cedar found in North America is the red cedar (Juniperus virginiana). Magically, cedar is associated with healing, spirituality, purification, protection, prosperity, and harmony.
ROWAN (PYRUS AUCUPARIA, SORBUS AUCUPARIA)
Rowan is also known as quicken, hornbeam, witchwood, and mountain ash (although it is technically not a true ash, it is so called due to the similarity of the leaves). Rowan berries have been used in brewing and the bark has been used for tanning and as a dye. Curiously, rowan is said to be either a favorite of witches and fairies or anathema to them. Magical associations include improving psychic powers, divination, healing, protection from evil, peace, creativity, success, and change and transformation.
POPLAR (POPULUS SPP.)
Also known as aspen, poplar’s magical associations include prosperity, communication, exorcism, and purification.
ASH (FRAXINUS EXCELSIOR)
Ash is one of the trees considered by some European cultures to be the World Tree. Magically, ash is associated with water, strength, intellect, willpower, protection, justice, balance and harmony, skill, travel, weather, and wisdom.
WILLOW (SALIX ALBA)
The white willow, also known as the weeping willow, has long flexible branches that are woven into what we know as wicker-work. Long associated with the moon, the willow has a great affinity for water and is often found growing near it. In folklore, the willow is associated with the Goddess and feminine cycles. Thanks to the ability of cuttings to easily and quickly recover from trauma, willow is also associated with growth and renewal. Magical associations of willow include love, tranquility, harmony, protection, and healing.
WITCH HAZEL (HAMAMELIS VIRGINIANA)
Also known as snapping hazelnut, for the spontaneous cracking open of its seedpods, witch hazel has long been used as a poultice for bruises and swellings. Witch hazel extracts are used for their astringent properties. Magical associations include protection, healing, and peace.
HONEYSUCKLE (LONICERA CAPRIFOLIUM, LONICERA PERICLYMENUM)
Also known as woodbine or hedge-tree, the honeysuckle is associated with liminal or transitional states. The scent of honeysuckle flowers is strongest in the evening. Magical associations include psychic awareness, harmony, healing, prosperity, and happiness.
APPLE (PYRUS MALUS)
Apple trees are found all over the Northern Hemisphere. Their widespread availability and fertile abundance bring to mind their association with life, longevity, and fertility. The fruit is used in cooking, baking, and brewing. Folklore associates the apple with the afterlife, fairies, creativity, and the otherworld. Magically, apples and apple trees are associated with love, healing, harmony, and longevity.
ELDER (SAMBUCUS CANADENSIS, SAMBUCUS NIGRA)
Elder is also known as witchwood. It is said that bad luck will fall upon anyone who does not ask the tree’s permission three times before harvesting any part of it. Folklore associates the elder with the crone aspect of the Goddess and with witches, and thus elder wood is rarely used to make furniture or as firewood for fear of incurring their wrath. Medicinally, elder bark is used as a diuretic, purgative, and emetic. The berries are used as a laxative and diuretic and also induce perspiration, and the leaves are used as an external emollient for irritated skin, sprains, and bruises. An infusion of elderflowers taken as a tea encourages the body to perspire, thus helping the body to work through a cold or illness, and also helps loosen chest and sinus congestion. Elderflower water makes an excellent topical application for irritated skin, including problems such as sunburn and acne, as well as an eyewash. Magically, elder wood is associated with protection (especially against being struck by lightning), prosperity, and healing.
YEW (TAXUS BACCATA)
Yew is poisonous, which may be one of the reasons it is so closely associated with death. It is a European tree that figures largely in the lore of witchcraft and natural magic. The yew produces a very hard wood and was used where construction required an unyielding, inflexible structure. Magically, it is associated with spirits and the otherworld.
HAWTHORN (CRATAEGUS OXYACANTHA)
Also known as may tree, mayflower, thorn, whitethorn, and haw, the hawthorn shrub was often used as a boundary marker. In fact, “haw” is an old word for hedge. Hawthorn is a magical tree. If it grows together with an oak and ash tree, it is said that the fairy folk can be seen among the trees. Even where it grows alone, hawthorn is considered to be a fairy favorite. Like oak, the hawthorn produces hard wood and great heat when burned. Magical associations include fertility, harmony, happiness, the otherworld, and protection.
HAZEL (CORYLUS AVELLANA)
The hazel tree has long been associated in European folklore with wisdom. Gods and mythological figures associated with the hazel include Thor, Brigid, and Apollo. The nuts and branches are used for magic, and the hazel is associated with luck, fertility, protection, and wish granting.
TREE ATTUNEMENT EXERCISE
Before you begin, refresh your memory on sensing energy techniques in Chapter 3.
1. Pick a tree. Stand next to it. Hold one hand about 1 inch away from the bark. Extend your awareness and feel the energy of the tree. After you’ve finished this exercise, make notes in your journal.
2. With the same tree, touch the bark. Explore how the tree feels to your hands. Bend close and smell the tree. Close your eyes and listen to the sounds the tree makes in response to the environment. Look closely at the tree and see the different textures, colors, and markings. If it has fruit and you know it to be safe, taste it. Make notes in your journal.
3. Conduct these exercises with different kinds of trees. Compare and contrast your experiences.
4. Do these exercises with different trees of the same genus. What are the similarities between the trees? What are the differences?
COLLECTING AND USING WOOD
Some people have difficulty with the idea of cutting live wood away from a tree or bush because they don’t know how to do it properly. When you use fresh wood, you capture a lot of life and energy, which may be exactly what you’re looking for in your ritual work or any practice that will involve this wood. Deadfall is wood the tree has discarded as no longer useful. This may not be the kind of vibrant, living energy you’re looking for. It depends on your personal view of working with the world of nature. If you cut fresh wood, you’ll likely have to let it dry, as sap and juices can gum up your saw and sandpaper.
So why use fresh wood? The answer is simple: your magical intent is implemented as soon as you choose the tree from which you are going to cut some wood. By selecting the tree, you are presenting your request to the energy of the tree itself. As you cut, you’re focusing on your goal. From the very first move, you’re empowering it in conjunction with the tree, if it has agreed to donate its wood to your cause.
How do you ask the tree for help? Put your hands on the tree and present your intention to it, speaking either aloud or in your mind. Think through why you need the wood, exactly how it will be used, and for what goal. All these thoughts and feelings will flow through your energy into the energy of the tree. Then wait. Trees often need a bit of time to absorb your request, for they function at a different rate than we do. Sometimes the tree will accept your request right away, though at other times, you may not get a prompt sense of acceptance or denial. In that case, thank the tree for its time, and tell it you will return in a day or two. When you come back, place your hands on the tree again and reach out with your energy. Restate your need and wait for an answer. Sometimes all the tree needs is time.
The tree won’t tell you in words, of course, if it’s all right to cut its branches. Instead, you’ll gain a sense of peace or agreement. Or, alternatively, you may get a sense of maybe this isn’t such a good idea. In that case, thank the tree again for its time and consideration, wish it well, and find another tree to ask.