Juniper Tree - Sandra - Juniper Tree and Lady of the Sycamore

Speaking with Nature: Awakening to the Deep Wisdom of the Earth - Sandra Ingerman, Llyn Roberts 2015

Juniper Tree - Sandra
Juniper Tree and Lady of the Sycamore

As I drank my breakfast tea one morning a year or two ago, I was entertained by robins outside my window feasting on an abundance of deep blue-purple Juniper berries. Typical to Santa Fe the sky was clear blue, which created a beautiful contrast to the light, fluffy snow covering the branches of the piñon and Juniper trees. The Juniper branches were filled with red-breasted robins eating the blue berries and ingesting the snow for water.

That year the fruit trees bore more fruit than had been seen here in many years. Branches were heavy with apricots, peaches, apples, and plums. I have an apricot tree that had never produced fruit in seventeen years, but that year it was filled with apricots.


The piñon trees were heavy with pinecones, and there were more Juniper berries than I’d seen in thirty years of living in Santa Fe. Some of the branches of the Juniper were so heavy with the small hard berries that they drooped almost to the ground.

Many years ago a Native American friend taught me that when nature produces a wealth of fruit, nuts, and berries in the summer, it is an indication of a harsh winter to come. Nature in all of its intelligence always provides what is needed so that life might thrive.

Having seen this abundance of food that nature provided during that summer, I did not need a weather report to be prepared for an intense winter. I did not know if we would receive much snow, but I surmised the temperatures would be cold and the animals would need more food.

During that winter we did experience very cold temperatures. As the weather is getting extreme due to climate change, the weather here has gone back and forth between warmer and colder than normal temperatures, but that year we mostly had days of extreme cold.

Robins love to eat Juniper berries. It was great fun to see the migrant population of robins grow to numbers rarely seen in the past, attracted by the wealth of food. And they had enough snow to provide them with drinking water.

Juniper trees and pine trees are both evergreens. Junipers are native to the Southwest, and Native Americans use Juniper’s ripe blue berries and dark green needles in herbal medicines. There are a variety of ailments that Juniper berries and their needles are known to cure. Incense is made from Juniper that is used to cleanse one’s energy before performing or stepping into a ceremony.

The one-seed Juniper is native to this area. It grows at altitudes of 5,000—7,000 feet, is extremely drought hardy, and is a wonderful example of a tree that has adapted to long dry periods in its native environment.

This Juniper grows very slowly above ground, maybe just three to six inches a year, depending on how much rainfall there is. Although Juniper is slow growing above ground it rapidly grows long, deep roots. Juniper trees that range from five to thirty feet in height produce tap roots almost two-hundred-feet long.

The curve of the Juniper and the texture of its gnarly branches conjure the feeling of ancientness. It survives extreme temperatures, blazing sun, and big snowfalls. There is a deep wisdom in these trees, and they seem to have a knowing of how to survive in a wide range of conditions.

The shorter Juniper trees where I live are interspersed among piñon pines. I love to walk through the piñon and Juniper, inhaling the distinctive scent of their needles. The fragrance is sweet and fresh and is cleansing to my energy. If green were a smell, I would say they smell green. In summer the pine needles blanketing the earth tickle my bare feet. Feeling the needles on the soles of my feet gives me a sense of strength, comfort, and peace flowing through my body. And I continue to be in awe of how old the Juniper trees are.

One of the amazing things about Junipers is how fast they move into pollination. We can have very cold temperatures accompanied by snowstorms for weeks or months. And then the one day the sun comes out and the temperatures warm, suddenly the fine red-orange pollen that all residents of Santa Fe come to dread is seen on the trees. As the spring equinox gets closer, the red-orange pollen floats in the air covering cars and homes.

People’s eyes start to water, and the sneezing begins as “Juniper fever” affects all the residents. It is a time that all of us resist. We love the beauty of spring, but most people in Santa Fe fall prey to extreme allergies to Juniper pollen. Common wisdom is that once you move to Santa Fe, you will have a five-year grace period before the allergy takes hold. Once it is activated, for many people the seasonal allergy affects them almost like clockwork.

Although some years I suffer from severe allergies to Juniper pollen, I cannot help but feel excitement at their great power of procreation. As I watch the deep-red pollen emerging, I find myself feeling a deep joy that bubbles up within as my nose runs, my eyes tear, and nonstop sneezing begins.

Juniper tree pollination reminds me of the abundance that nature always provides for us. As I wrote in my essay on Artesian Spring, in today’s world we often focus on scarcity. It is quite healing for us to observe how nature is a great teacher of abundance.

In some native traditions trees are called “the standing ones.” All native people have great respect for the “tree people.” In Siberia trees are seen as the most sacred beings, as they bridge heaven and earth through their branches and their roots.

In Siberia there is a wonderful shamanic tradition of creating “prayer trees.” Typically a Juniper is used for the prayer tree, although sometimes another type of evergreen might be used in this way. Traditional food and drink offerings are left by the tree. The shaman in the community chants and gives thanks to the helping spirits for carrying the prayers of the people out to the universe so that their dreams manifest back on Earth. The ceremony of chanting, praying, and leaving offerings may continue for many days.

Brightly colored cloth ties are hung from the branches of the prayer tree to blow in the wind and carry prayers of individuals for the community and for the world. The cloth ties are hung loosely so as not to choke the branch as it continues to grow. Some prayer trees in Siberia have branches so laden with brightly colored strips of cloth that they just about touch the ground.

Along the same lines Melissa Reading, a colleague of mine, was trained by a Buryat shaman to create a “peace tree” on which ribbons are hung bearing prayers of peace. The peace tree acts as a representative of the World Tree. The World Tree is the “axis mundi,” which is the central axis of the cosmos. It represents the center of our world and the connection between heaven and earth.

Melissa had volunteered to create a peace tree where I was leading a workshop at the Sunrise Springs retreat center in Santa Fe. She came early to walk the land and find the right Juniper tree. A Juniper on the edge of the property was found, and there was an agreement that the tree would not be disturbed, because once ribbons containing prayers for peace are tied onto the branches, they cannot be removed.

Melissa led chanting and ceremony for many hours as the tree was honored in a traditional way and prepared to receive prayers of peace. Traditional foods were left as an offering, vodka was offered, and shiny luminescent beads were scattered around the tree. Juniper is the sacred incense herb of the Buryat, and is potent in purification and protection, so it was also burned as incense as part of the ceremony. It was quite lovely to be part of such a powerful calling in of spiritual powers to help send our prayers for world peace. About thirty people were present to support the drumming and ceremony.

The tree was honored in 2006, and it still stands today. I’ve taught many workshops at this retreat center, and during every workshop we bring ribbons or yarn to the tree and add to the prayers for peace that have been left over the years.

My friend Kappy Strahan and I also taught workshops at this retreat center on the art of spinning fiber into yarn, using spinning wheels and drop spindles. Shamans weave the fabric of reality into being through their spiritual work, and so do people who spin. There is a mystical process that happens during spinning where you know that energies created while spinning affect the entire web of life. And as you spin you move into a place of oneness with the spirit that lives in all things and a door opens into the invisible realms that allow visions, great wisdom, and healing to infuse the work. In spinning the yarn weaves together the physical and spiritual aspects of life.

The focus of our spinning workshop was on learning how to bring spirit into what we make so that we empower our homes and the world with clothing, scarves, and other fiber arts made with intention, power, and beauty. It is important to bring spirit and the sacred into the clothes that are manufactured, the plants we grow, the food we prepare, the objects we make for decoration, and the homes and structures we build.

It was very powerful to spin yarn that was imbued with prayers for peace and then walk together as a group to the Juniper tree and tie on our yarn with intention.

Sunrise Springs closed in 2012, but the prayer tree still stands, sending out prayers of peace to the creative power of the universe. The colors of the ribbon and yarn are faded from the strong sun and intense winds, but the tree still looks majestic and exudes the presence of great spiritual power.

One year when I was teaching in Scotland, I visited a forest in the Trossachs known as the Fairy Forest. People from all over the world had come to the forest to leave letters, drawings, pictures, gifts, and prayers for personal and planetary healing. These were left on the ground by a tree or tied to the branches. It was extraordinary to see this forest of trees filled with colored ribbons, photos, gifts, and a variety of beautiful objects carrying love and hope.

Simin Uysal, a brilliant Turkish teacher of shamanism and dream work, shared with me that in southeastern Anatolia there is a wishing tree on a hill called Gobekli Tepe. This site dates back 12,000 years, and local women still go there to pray and tie their ribbons.

I imagine there are prayer trees, wishing trees, and blessing trees all over the world.

Image Practices

I love encouraging people to create prayer trees in their communities. I am such a tree person, and I can feel the powerful energetic connection between a prayer tree and the creative forces of the universe.

Close your eyes and imagine the power and beauty of a tree that has colorful ribbons tied loosely on branches and a variety of offerings left on the ground at its base.

Feel your heart opening to the power of nature, the earth below, and the heavens above. Feel yourself being a bridge between heaven and earth through your heart. Feel your compassion grow as you imagine people stepping up to the tree and tying on a prayer tie with the intention of manifesting a wish or dream for themselves, a loved one, the community, or for the planet and all of life.

You can create a prayer tree in your yard, where you can place on the branches ribbons or yarn that are imbued with prayers, wishes, and blessings for yourself, loved ones, friends, nature beings, and the planet. Also, creating a prayer tree in your local neighborhood or community is a powerful way to bring people together in support of each other. Invite children in your community to participate in this activity. This is a way to teach them about the power of joining together to support each other, all of life, and the planet.

Find a tree in nature that would be appropriate to designate as a prayer tree. Start by giving thanks to the tree in a way that calls to your heart. Intention is the key. Bless this tree with the love in your heart as this living being works in partnership to carry prayers to the creative forces of the universe.

Invite people where you live to tie ribbons loosely on the branches or suggest that people craft their own prayer objects through knitting, crocheting, or carving that contain prayers for themselves, loved ones, others, nature beings, and the planet. Remember that as the branch of the tree continues to grow, you don’t want to choke it by tying a ribbon too tightly around it. Ask people to leave an offering of gratitude filled with love such as a good thought for the tree. You might also teach people about leaving an offering such as cornmeal, flowers, or water. Imagine the good feelings and the sense of belonging you will create by bringing people together in this way. When people come together to pray for and bless one another and all of life, their positive energy creates healing for the whole planet.

You can create a prayer tree, wishing tree, or blessing tree at Christmas or another holiday time, and instead of decorating with ornaments, invite your community to place ribbons, letters, drawings, and other objects that include prayers on it.

If you cannot use a tree in nature to create a prayer tree, use your imagination to design and create a tree out of natural materials. There must be a balance between thinning our forests for the health of the forest and cutting down trees simply for use as holiday decorations. This is an issue for all of us to reflect on as we learn how to live in harmony with nature. We must honor the trees that share the Earth with us. They are living beings and vital to the health of the web of life.

If it seems appropriate, you can even create a prayer tree in your work place. This is a great way to bring coworkers together to support each other’s prayers, show appreciation, and bless all of life.

Use your imagination. The key is the intention and love that you put into creating this ceremony.

When we experience our gratitude for life, we transform our perception about what is occurring in our own lives and on the planet. For when we feel grateful, we can experience the beauty instead of the pain. We want to acknowledge those who are suffering and feel compassion, but at the same time experience the beauty and gifts that life brings for us. This is an ancient teaching that has been passed down through many cultures and generations.

Let us together hold a positive vision for the planet. Let us embrace ourselves, our loved ones, and all of life with love.