Speaking with Nature: Awakening to the Deep Wisdom of the Earth - Sandra Ingerman, Llyn Roberts 2015
Lady of the Sycamore - Llyn
Juniper Tree and Lady of the Sycamore
Sandra’s writings on the Juniper tree bring back the pristine smells of the northeastern Juniper of my childhood in New Hampshire. They inspire me to relate freshly with the Juniper of the Pacific Northwest, which carries those same crisp scents.
Sandra shares about prayer tree ceremonies, which are close to my heart. I have facilitated such rituals in the United States for many years since first performing them with shamans on the Asian steppe.
Some shamans’ trees in Mongolia and Siberia are so covered by prayer ties, called chalimars, that you cannot see the trees underneath the ties. Prayers that are infused into the recycled strips of cloth are energized by the tree, rain, sun, and the spirits of the land. Like Tibetan prayer flags, the prayers and wishes in chalimars are flung far and wide by the winds.
Picture in your mind’s eye a Eurasian Juniper prayer tree adorned with multicolored ribbons.
Now conjure the sharp, fresh smell of Juniper berries and needles.
Imagining these trees reminds us of winter solstice or Christmas. As a child I loved having a tree in the house for the winter holidays. I used to lie close to the lighted tree in the evenings, gazing up at it and taking in its fragrance. These days, as special as it is to have a tree in the house, I can’t bear to cut one down to enjoy it for a couple of weeks. Instead I find some fallen boughs or ask the evergreens in the forests where I live if I can cut a few branches to grace my cabin with tree energy.
Bringing trees and greens inside in the “dead” of winter during the darkest times, the shortest days of the year, is an ancient custom that cleanses the space and reminds us that life and light will return.
My Ukranian friend, Ludmila, has told me that in the Ukraine fresh greenery is brought inside again in the spring. When light and growth return outside, fresh grasses and branches with new growth are strewn onto the floors inside the home. As people go about their daily activities in their homes, they walk barefoot on the tender greens.
Take a moment to really envision this, as it is such a lovely custom. You may be inspired to ask the nature beings surrounding your home to donate a little greenery next spring so that you can walk barefoot on it, as people have done for centuries in the Ukraine.
Walking barefoot on nature’s new growth and inhaling its fragrance is invigorating and healing. Just think of how you feel when you walk with bare feet on the earth, smell a freshly cut lawn, or sniff a wild rose. Perhaps you were lucky enough to get nose-level to the earth as a child, and do now as an adult, and know her sweet scent of renewal.
It’s not surprising that so many cultures equate trees with purification, as trees continuously bathe all life on our planet with life-giving oxygen and cleansing waters.
Enriched water travels up a tree’s roots and trunk to its branches and leaves. Much of the water releases from the tree, up to hundreds of gallons a day. Tree condensation and shade cool the planet and invite rain to the land; trees make clouds.
Increased carbon dioxide in the air causes trees to release less water, which, combined with the clear-cutting of forests, makes it difficult for clouds to build up steam. The result is that the land becomes dry.
Find a tree you admire on your land, in your backyard, or at a nearby park.
Stand on the earth next to this tree, barefoot if possible. Gaze at the tree and sniff the air. Try to sense the misty, nutrient-dense waters that evaporate from this tree being. Although you may not see moisture, you can imagine its release.
Breathe in the rich vapors that flow from the tree like a fountain.
Then breathe out sustaining energy to the tree.
As you continue to “tree-breathe,” attune to this tree’s essence. Feel its spirit.
Telepathically, or speaking aloud, thank this nature being for its beauty and for everything it offers. Importantly, feel your gratitude. Just as its invisible waters and oxygen nourish you, the love you release with each exhale is food for the tree; appreciation is a nourishing force.
This is a good time to commit to do what you can to promote healthy trees and air, with the tree as your witness.
Water that flows from the Earth to trees and to us is like milk that flows from mother to child. It’s similar to the love that pours from ancient mother goddesses to assist people through every phase of life, including death.
One such mother goddess who ushers us through death’s doorway is the Egyptian Lady of the Sycamore Tree. The Lady rejuvenates those who are dying and refreshes the souls of the dead in the afterlife by offering them water from the branches of her sacred tree.
The Nordic deity, Freya, as feared as she is revered, also tends to the souls of the dead and to those who are dying. Nomad and seer, guide to the afterlife, Freya is a volva, the ancient Norse word for shaman. She tells us, “Don’t think it coincidence that the word volva resembles the word vulva.”
Goddess lore is steeped in the sensual and in the themes of renewal, creation, and birth. The deep feminine also cleanses and nurtures at death’s creative threshold, which is, in so many ways, like the portal of birth.
The earth and goddesses do not fear demise; nature eats dead matter. Tibetans may even chop up the corpse of a person who has recently died and feed it to the birds. Most of us can’t imagine this; we perceive it as gory. Ancient peoples believed that consciousness continues when the body returns to the earth. Children raised in such cultures have a folksy relationship with dying. The smells and sights of birth, life, and death aren’t hidden but available for all to experience. Not too long ago, in my grandparents’ era in New England, people still birthed and died at home. It was not uncommon to lay the dead body out in the parlor for people to visit and pay their respects. These events were no longer happening by the time I was born. When I was a child, animals offered my only direct exposure to death.
I always loved animals and, upon finding a small dead one, often carried it home with me to do a burial ceremony. Other children some times joined me in these rituals.
Once on my walk to school, I found a baby bird that had fallen from its nest. I took my sandwich out of my lunch box and removed it from its bag, placing the sandwich back in the box. Then I put the dead bird inside the now-empty waxed paper bag. I slipped the bird bag inside my desk when I arrived at school, so that I could take it home at the end of the day and do a ceremony for the little creature.
Our Catholic school had desks with tops that didn’t lift; we had to bend over to look inside of them. If something got shuffled to the back of the darkened desk, it could have been lost for weeks. This is what happened to the baby bird. It’s possible that the smell of the decomposing bird was what inspired the nuns to clean out all of our desks after school one day. Guess what they found in mine.
After the Sisters of the Holy Cross discovered a rotting bird “hidden” in a lunch sack in the back of my desk, school life became difficult for me for a while. Despite this the natural curiosity and empathy I held for dead and dying animals lived on.
As an adult I have sat with many animals as they lay dying. Some lost their lives to my own machine—my vehicle. Not long ago, when driving my daughter to my cabin, I hit a rabbit that hopped onto the road. How horrible that felt! I turned the car around to see if the bunny was still alive. It lay there panting, blood dripping from its right eye.
Using a towel, my daughter Sayre and I gently placed the rabbit into a cloth sack. We walked out onto the land, and Sayre placed the bag on the ground and carefully opened it. I cringed as I watched the injured rabbit attempt to hop to what I hoped would be safety.
I dropped to the earth on my knees, emptied myself spiritually, and quietly chanted a Buddhist mantra. In these moments I was Freya. As I softly sang to the rabbit, I was the ancient woman who waters from the Sycamore Tree, and simultaneously I was a tree flowing with renewing waters. In those moments I became inseparable from death’s alchemical goddess-midwives, pouring out nourishing energy just as the Lady of the Sycamore offered water to the dead and dying from her sacred tree.
The animal grew calm at the sound of my voice. It actually turned around and struggled to make its way back to me, then sat still and quiet. The rabbit and I gazed at each other for some time until the animal gently fell over onto the earth.
I chanted for a while longer until Sayre and I agreed that we felt complete. We took in the beauty of this being, then left the body where it lay. Other animals would return it to the land.
A few days later I visited the spot where the bunny had died. A mostly eaten carcass remained, rabbit fur strewn helter-skelter.
All of us in modern times encounter hurt or dying animals on the road. Freya would not walk or drive by without stopping. Lady of the Sycamore would sit with the dying one and bestow refreshing waters to prepare the being for the next journey.
During his nomadic days my forest guide, Mick Dodge, walked the highways and byways of Washington State. One time a car sped by and hit an elk that sprang out in front of the vehicle. The car sported Earth-honoring bumper stickers and the driver, a woman, was mortified to have hit a wild, innocent animal. Other people stopped their cars to see if the driver was okay. The elk lay panting in the road.
We do not call ambulances for animals.
Several people helped to carefully move the elk off the pavement onto the earth. Then, Freya, the Lady of the Sycamore, and Mick Dodge sat with this elk for three days until it died.
Trees invisibly channel and diffuse waters. Most of us have numerous fears, ideas, and judgments about death. The trees and goddesses teach us how to sit at death’s portal by grounding in the Earth and being present. As we settle our minds and open our hearts, nourishing energy will flow from us like the waters of the goddess’s sacred tree; it is a natural force of love.
Freya reminds us, “Honor death as in life and remember who you are. The ancient pathways of the goddess—threads of light and wisdom—will become visible to you.”
Is it compassionate to kill a suffering, dying animal? I have struggled with this. Buddhism teaches us to be aware as we die, and the same is true for animals. Pain is often part of the experience. I’ve witnessed pure grace when sitting with a being as it takes its final breath. Tending a suffering loved one, animal, or person through a long and drawn-out dying process is equally powerful and not without its challenges. The threshold goddesses—Freya and the Lady of the Sycamore—can help.
Freya and the Lady of the Sycamore Tree, alchemical goddesses, encourage us to open space within our hearts (and in our schedules) to resurrect the archetypal death-midwife.
The watering goddess, who provides nourishing waters from the Sycamore Tree to rejuvenate those who are dead and dying, says: “To nourish one who is at death’s gateway, hold the space as sacred by having a calm mind and an open heart in the final moments. This is easier when you view dying as birthing—shifting from one experience to another. Support person or animal to die wakefully, and the blessings will shower down upon all.”
Like the cleansing water of trees, the clarifying scent of Juniper, and the purifying energy of nature’s fresh greenery that promise life and light will return, the Lady of the Sycamore is a watering mother goddess who refreshes each person or animal for the next journey.
The Lady of the Sycamore and Freya teach us how we can be present and open with our loved ones as they are dying to revive the power of death’s passage in modern times.
Freya, the feared one, and the Lady of the Sycamore Tree, watering goddess, can also help restore vibrant qualities within us that are languishing. For instance, the threshold goddesses can nourish angry, hurt, and fearful parts of us so we can live with less angst. Walk out into the forest on a dark, windy night, and notice what you feel. Nature’s intensity stirs dread for many, stimulating whatever lies in shadow or unresolved within us.
I used to be afraid of the dark.
I was afraid of me.
Freya, the shaman nomad, tells us that the forest is an alchemical mirror. Trees and goddesses nurture death equally as they nurture life. Hence, nature reflects what is threatening, wounded, or untamable in us—the vibrancy we’ve stunted.
Care for the trees and also sit with them. Lie on the earth and gaze up at them. Sleep atop their silent roots and against broad or spindly trunks and under leafy or conifer canopies. Go deeply into their mystery to find the deep mystery of you. The feminine wisdom-waters that flow through and from the trees will transform your water consciousness. You will discover who you are. Greet the power that stalks you. What is shrouded in us and in our world yearns to return to light and life.
Take some undisturbed time sitting indoors or outside near a robust tree. Close your eyes for a few moments, and take some luxurious breaths.
When relaxed, consider Lady of the Sycamore, protector and guide, sacred midwife who births and resurrects life.
Feel the Lady’s energy; sense her eyes upon you. See the turquoise waters with which she renews. Sense the sacred Sycamore Tree or your own favorite tree nearby.
Take time to really imagine the Lady of the Sycamore and the tree; see how they appear to you. Or simply sense them.
When ready, look into the goddess’s eyes. What color are her eyes?
What do you see and feel as you gaze into the eyes of the goddess?
Take your time.
When you are ready, notice the ancient mirror the Lady holds. The Lady offers a look at your life. If you accept, take some time to gaze into the mirror, considering what reflects back to you. Look deeply.
What do you see?
What do you feel?
What wants to come back to life that you have lost or forgotten? It may be joy. Silliness. A favorite pastime or craft.
It may be dancing or stillness. Or prayer.
It may be time in nature or time with friends.
These are just examples; it may be anything, small or lofty.
Look deeply into the Lady’s handheld mirror and feel the goddess compassionately watching. What has been put aside?
Allow whatever feelings are coming to the surface. Let them wash through with each breath. Keep returning to what is being restored—brought back to life. Take all the time you like.
When you feel complete with this experience, allow the image, mirror, and Lady to fade.
When you are ready, notice the sacred tree—the Sycamore, or a tree of your own lands. In your imagining sense the clear turquoise refreshing waters that shower from the tree.
Imagine that you stand next to this tree and immerse yourself in these waters. Feel the tree’s spirit and its restorative force. Envision and feel this water, like liquid light flowing over and nourishing you.
Go deeply into this experience. Feel your spirit. Feel the vitality you have forgotten. Allow it to flood through every part of you.
Take all the time you like.
When and if it feels right for you, do the same practice for the collective field. Sense the trees of the Earth, healthy and strong. See their cleansing vapors renewing and restoring the Earth. Also know that they revive for humankind the ecstasy of living in harmony with nature.
Again, take all the time you like. Make this imagining real.
Close the experience when you feel complete. Do some gentle movement and stretch to help your transition back to everyday consciousness. When fully back in the present, close your eyes as you drink a glass of pure, fresh water. Feel the water touch every part of you; nourish what has come back to life. Take time to write about your experience if you’d like. Include concrete ways to honor what you have revived, and to restore and renew your daily life and that of the Earth. A newborn being must be fed and nourished. Start small, but commit to giving energy to your dreams. Commit to vibrancy. Feed it every day.
Take an offering out to feed the land or your favorite tree. Feel the watering forces, the nourishment and light of the trees and the Earth. Speak your gratitude freely, also a nourishing force of love. Thank the threshold goddesses. Say yes to nature and to life.