Initiation in the Wildwood Mysteries
Wildwood mysticism does not mean only the mystical experiences we may have in connection with trees. It is about rivers and streams and seas and faerie presences, all nature spirits of plants and beasts and also communion with the Sun, Moon and stars, and even far constellations. It is the mysticism of all that is natural and Pagan, of all that exists around the symbolic world tree. However, if you want initiation upon the path of the wildwood mysteries — the spirituality of the solitary witch — it is best to begin with a pilgrimage to a tree. Choose one that seems, to you, especially magical. It might be an oak, or a silver birch, or an apple or ash tree, as each of these was revered as a living example of the world tree by European ancestors. If you do not live in Europe, or are not of European descent, then there may be some other type of tree that feels more appropriate to you. However, in the end, the species of tree does not matter half as much as the fact that it is a tree. Any tree will do, to symbolize the connection between the three realms — and the unity of life. Any tree can resonate, for you, with nature spirits and underground streams and rivers and stars between branches.
Choose the wildest place that you know of, for your pilgrimage. If you live in a large city, this may not be easy. You might have to look on Ordnance Survey maps to find an area of woodland outside (or even within) the city boundary. Or can you remember some place you visited as a child and it seemed enchanted? You might go there again, or perhaps return to an old orchard that you know, somewhere. Finally, though, if you have restrictions on your mobility and live somewhere far from the country, you may have to settle for a tree in your own or a friend’s garden, or in a park. This may not seem much of a pilgrimage, but if you are sincere and are able to spend time alone, uninterrupted, beside the tree, to say your initiation prayer, then this will do.
Great forests once covered most of our island, and any garden tree — elder, apple, hawthorn or holly, whatever you have — can still evoke the wildwood that existed for us, as a phantom presence. Trees in parks can be large and long established. Many were there before the park was created, when the place was still fields and woods. Consider the following:
The God Odin is said to have hung upside down for nine days, upon an ash tree, in order to learn the magic of the Triple Goddess of Fate, who dwelt beside a spring underneath the tree. She gave him the secret of the runes, which he brought back to aid suffering humanity. For the runes could be used to weave healing spells, as well as to foretell the future.
The Goddess Nimue used enchantment to create a tower out of hawthorn, as a magical retreat for the prophet Merlin, who is the guardian of Britain’s inner treasures — that is, of the magical resonances found within the land.
The Faerie Queen (another way of naming the Goddess of the Underworld) traditionally gives to poets an apple, as she did to Thomas the Rhymer. This confers upon them the powers of bardic utterance and prophecy.
The Goddess Brigid, the poet, healer and craftswoman, is especially associated with rowan trees.
The oak is known, traditionally, as ’doorkeeper to the mysteries’, meaning those of the spirit realms and also of all plant magic.
These are just some of the themes that may be evoked by a wildwood initiation. You are attempting communion with deities and spirits of the above kind. You may therefore become a weaver of unusually powerful word spells, or a seer or healer. More humbly, you may be asked to ’tend woodland altars’ by looking after some plants or animals. Who knows? At any rate, your life will change, gradually but for good, if you stay upon this path. And the changes may be unexpected.
At the time of a new moon (or within a few days after that) go to the tree you have chosen and sit under it quietly, and alone. So as not to be interrupted or distracted, you may have to choose an unpopular time for this, like early in the morning, to get the place to yourself. But if you are a woman, and feel vulnerable alone in the country, or in a park at dawn, then you might like to take a friend to sit not too far away, and watch over you.
Sit quietly, with your eyes closed. Visualize the insects and creatures that may fly or crawl or run round the trunk: butterflies, beetles, flies and bees, mice and voles, perhaps toads, slow-worms or even, very late at night, the occasional fox. And then there are the birds that nest in the branches, or fly past. All these are the representatives of the whole living world. Picture, too, wildflowers, mosses, ferns or grass. If you start to picture other creatures from more watery environments, or from a far-off land, then this is good. You are, after all, sitting beside an example of the world tree. You might like to picture some people around it, or even mythical creatures. But you should begin with the wildlife that is local.
Next, visualize the tree roots going down into the earth, perhaps going down as far below as the branches grow high above (this is said to be the case with oak trees). Picture them reaching between cracks in the rock underneath the soil, snaking their way down to underground caverns. Wherever you are, park or garden or wild forest, the roots go down to the caves below. Down to the underworld. Imagine this cavern stops being dark, grows dim as twilight, and then bright and brighter. You are seeing with underworld eyes. Perhaps there is a small pool or lake, with a glass-bottomed boat on it. In the middle of the lake is a green faerie island, with a green mound or hill there, a faerie tor. The island is huge. It looked quite tiny, when you first noticed it, but it contains a whole realm of elves of many kinds and of creatures, trees, places. Fish are in the waters around the island. Four streams leave the lake — one going east, one south, one west and one north, each taking the waters of renewal to the world.
Finally, visualize the branches above you. Between them, see the sky. The Sun is up there, radiating warmth, light, life and healing. A golden gift, all day. Illumination, even when it rains. The Moon is there, also (for at new moon, she is above us in the sky, along with the Sun). Feel her strong magnetic pull, upon the tides of fate, the seas, our feelings. The Moon’s light rules our inner and dream worlds, bestowing visions. (No wonder witches revere the Moon.) Now the light fades, the night sky appears high above you. Picture the stars, the constellations. They are glowing with mystery and power. They speak of infinity, the untold reaches of space, its immensity.
Next, try to picture or sense the three realms at once. The sky above us, between branches, all creatures round the trunk, the faerie realm below and within. See how the tree links them, how powers from each may affect the whole tree. How there is just unity.
When you are ready, say something like this:
I am one with all creatures around the world tree.
I serve the Goddess and God of wildwood mysteries.
Pagan and untamed, may I become wise and free.
Now say the following prayer, (which it is better to have memorized, but you may read it) or say your own version of something like it. Wildwood mysticism is meant to be wild — that is, it is your spirituality, which no one can foist on you, or tell you how to do. This book is supposed to point the way, with suggestions. It is not a final version, as if there ever could be one! Unlike the conventional faiths, Paganism does not have a holy book or a fixed liturgy — just the one we are all writing continually, in our own spirits, changing and amending it as we learn. So say what you want to say. Add to this prayer if you want to do so, or leave out any line which does not feel right.
Prayer for Initiation as a Wildwood Mystic
Great Lady and Lord of all creation, I call upon you. Goddess and God of the three realms around the world tree, I ask you to hear me. Grant me an entry to Pagan realms of mysticism. Let my spirit enter. I ask your blessing and protection and I seek wisdom. Let me find friends among the denizens of the bright faerie realms and nature spirits, and among the winged presences that bestow exaltation. I seek to learn from them about your truth. I seek assistance from them, that I might serve life. Great Goddess and God, I turn to you. May I become wise and free, upon the wildwood path. So may it be.
Bury a lock of your hair within the earth, beside the tree trunk.
Pause, with your eyes closed, and see what you feel, what you experience. Notice any feelings in your body or any sense of spirit presences. You may not feel anything dramatic right away. Becoming aware of the spirits of nature, or of the faerie realm and the powers and energy fields from stars, planets or luminaries, is a gradual process. You may not meet with the elves just yet (though if you stay upon the path, you will in the end). Magical prayer is a gentle method, so normally, there is a slow awakening over years. It is both thorough and safe. However, you may be surprised by what you do now experience. It should be subtle but quite unmistakable. A sense of meaning, an awareness.
Close with a prayer for your soul’s protection, as it is not wise to return to everyday life in a state of too much psychic openness. The flood of impressions from television and radio, other people’s thoughts and words, and psychic resonances in the atmosphere, can be too much for anyone recently sensitive to very subtle impressions. Say something like this:
In the names of the Goddess and God, I now cast around me the aura of protection. May the guardian spirits who attend upon all wildwood mystics watch over and guide me. And may no ill will come near me, but let me walk always in love and wisdom.
Picture yourself surrounded by a sphere of blue light, a protective aura like that around Mother Earth. Always end any mystical experience, magical prayer session or any work of spellcasting, with some word-magic for protection, and the casting of a blue aura around yourself.
To help you along the wildwood path, the following studies can be undertaken.
1To honour the Goddess and God of the underworld, learn of the roots of things. Read about psychology and mythology, for these show archetypal patterns that underlie all our lives. Faerie tales are our Northern European myths. So is the matter concerning King Arthur and the Grail, especially the older, pre-Christian versions. If you do not feel like studying these things in scholarly depth, that is fine. It is far better to read a few books, or even a few tales, that appeal to you and hold your interest, than wade through whole boring libraries.
Try to remember your dreams. Perhaps keep a dream journal. Practice trying to see underneath. That is, to discern the real issues, in dreams or any situation.
What is profound? What is most meaningful? What are deep matters and what are superficial? Meditate on these themes.
2To honour the Goddess and God of middle Earth, study the natural world and her creatures. What is the wildlife in your area? Do badgers live in your town? Are there hedgehogs and foxes? If you live in the country, are there many birds? Bats? Hares? What about wild native trees? Or wildflowers? Are you able to recognize them and to name them? Find out what the issues are for wildlife, in respect of conservation, near to where you live. In cities, there are often surprisingly large amounts of wild plants and wild animals — along canal and river banks, railway embankments, and in people’s gardens. For instance, in our garden, we have frogs and toads, bank voles, butterflies, slugs and snails and a large variety of wild birds, which we feed regularly. Our garden, in a city suburb, is only about twelve feet by twenty-five, yet all this goes on in it.
It is also important to get to know any ancient, magical sites in your area. Where are the holy wells? Guide books or local knowledge can often tell us where the wells known for healing, or the wishing-wells, might be. These are the ones that were held sacred by Pagan ancestors, and known for the fact that the waters held more than just minerals, but were a potion that affected the spirit. Long before such wells or springs were given Christian saints’ names, they were revered and visited.
Similarly, do you have local hills associated with folklore? Or stone circles or any long barrows? Any such sites as these are good to visit, as a pilgrim in search of communion with the spirits of the place, and with Pagan deities. They are also ideal places for working magic. The only rule when you go there is not to leave evidence that you have been. In other words, obviously, do not leave litter. But also, do not leave offerings or other traces of ritual activity that are not biodegradable.
3To honour the Goddess and God of the upperworld, think about what we aspire to, as a species. Is it good enough? Do you agree with most people’s aims? What about your own highest aspirations? Your best ideals?
Physically, do you think we are alone in the cosmos, the only inhabited planet? If there are, or have been, others, what might they be like, or have been like, at their best? There are a lot of theories about some of our own ancestors coming from other worlds that revolved around stars other than our own Sun — interesting material to read and think about. Have you seen crop circles? Been in one? What do you think of them? Hoax or not?
Above all, can we conceive of other beings, from other more highly developed worlds, who might be more spiritually and morally evolved than we are? Whether or not they have literally existed is not the issue here. ’Real’ or not, they can serve as role models, in order to help us define what we think ’right living’ might be like. So what are their values? Do they preach about sin and punishment? Do they have compassion and wisdom? Would they eliminate a wrongdoer or heal and transform them?
Imagine the most wise, creative, adventurous, passionate and loving race that could exist. Write about them, paint or draw them, dream of them. They might be untameable. What a vision to help us!
Remember, also, that although we would normally associate Mother Earth with middle Earth, she can also be seen as an upper world Goddess, in the sense that she can exemplify astounding beauty and creativity, resourcefulness and a rich natural wisdom. She has our highest ideals within her, and is an example to us all. The point of looking to the stars and other planets is not to transcend her, but to attune to a level of idealism and a cosmic perspective.
Pursuing the study of the three realms is a lifelong commitment for wildwood mystics. It leads to many magical adventures and realizations. It underpins and empowers any spells that we want to do, as hedge witches. Also, the desire to practise enchantment gives a purpose to mysticism. It gives frequent and sometimes quite pressing reasons to visit a sacred site, or to enter, by Pagan prayer, the realms of spirit. This means that we have momentum upon the path, for there are always reasons in life to cast constructive spells: we may want to heal ourselves or each other, or wild creatures; we may wish to invoke for good fortune, or for safe travel for our friends or children; for lasting love; for new inspiration and so on. Each time, we must fly between the realms, as though on our broomsticks or winged stags or horses, to seek the help and guidance of spirits, under the protection of Pagan deities. We do this by means of the consciousness-altering power of magical prayers.
For those who wonder if such beliefs are really an authentic European tradition, it might help to consider the following passages.
Underworld spirituality, concerned with fate-spinning faeries from hollow hills, long barrows and sacred islands, is clearly indigenous, as explained by W.Y. Evans-Wentz, in The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries written in 1911.
Reverence for the magical, mystical properties of plants and the wisdom of animals — the spirituality of middle Earth — is obvious in our folklore, and in beliefs descended to us from our forebears, concerning healing and spellcraft.
Belief in the importance of Moon, Sun, and stars is very strongly displayed by stone circles. Our ancestors built them to align with the sunrise (or set) at the solstices, or with the Moon’s nineteen-year cycle in relation to the stars. Some of them are also orientated towards stars or constellations.
The idea of the world tree, that links the three levels, seems to have been worldwide and was certainly prevalent in Europe.