Tree of Heaven
In A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, Betty Smith wrote:
The one tree in Francie’s yard was neither a pine nor a hemlock…Some people call it the Tree of Heaven. No matter where its seed falls, it makes a tree which struggles to reach the sky. It grows in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps. It grows up out of cellar gratings. It is the only tree that grows out of cement. It grew lushly, but only in the tenement districts.
Despite her ubiquity and her status as an invasive species in many areas, the fast-growing tree of heaven has been treasured in Chinese medicine since ancient times. Interestingly, her alternate Western name, Ailanthus, is derived from an Ambonese word that also means “tree of heaven,” while her Chinese name, chouchun, means “foul-smelling tree.”
So is she beautiful or commonplace? Invaluable or invasive? Heavenly or foul-smelling? The answer is all at once or either polarity, according to your perspective. Just as what is infinite excludes nothing by its very definition, this tree’s personality brings to mind Walt Whitman’s famous lines, “Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. (I am large. I contain multitudes.)”
Adaptation to Urban Living
As a small-town girl who tried for years to adapt to big-city living, I can attest that it’s not the easiest thing to do. In fact, while many seem to feel right at home in booming metropolitan areas, even people who have lived in cities their whole lives don’t always feel totally at home in them. But you know who does? The hardy and unflappable tree of heaven. Even in compromised urban areas such as dumps and demolition sites, she’s known for not merely surviving, but actually flourishing. So if you feel the need to live in a city right now (for financial, career, or relationship reasons, for example), tree of heaven is just the magical ally for you. Consider her your personal guru when it comes to blossoming in even the smoggiest and most bustling environments.
For this purpose, spend time with a tree of heaven, call her up in a visualization exercise, or sleep with one of her leaves under your pillow for a week. (Refresh the leaf weekly as needed.)
When we only see beauty in what is generally believed to be beautiful, we are missing out on true beauty. True beauty encompasses the full spectrum of human life: the tarnish and the gold, the grimace and the smile, the rubble and the rolling hills. In fact, when we can learn to let it all in—every mood, every polarity, every loss or gain, everything—we become constantly joyful, whether or not we are technically happy. Tree of heaven’s wisdom is about living bravely through it all, and appreciating the intrinsic beauty of the eternal now. (Incidentally, this may be why tree of heaven was employed in ancient times as a remedy for mental illness.)
To perceive true beauty within yourself, others, and any situation, spend time with a tree of heaven or visualize her in your mind’s eye. Breathe (even if you’re inhaling her infamous odor), relax, tune in, and then say or think this or something like it:
Tree of heaven, help me see
The splendor in everything: A—Z.
Blackness, brightness, blindness, sight
In all I find beauty, joy, and delight.
If you’ve read the preceding sections, you’re probably getting the picture that tree of heaven is a survival expert. Perhaps the fastest-growing tree in North America, people who manage outdoor areas often feel compelled to come up with elaborate plans to eradicate her, despite the fact that this is widely believed to be impossible.
From a magical perspective, tree of heaven teaches us to survive as well. So if you engage in any sort of activity or lifestyle in which literal survival is an aim (such as mountain climbing or prepping), making tree of heaven into an ally would be an excellent idea. Maybe even stock up on literature about wildcrafting Chinese herbal medicine ingredients—this would come in handy if, for example, you needed to employ tree of heaven to prevent malaria or treat asthma, epilepsy, dysentery, or hemorrhaging during a zombie apocalypse. (But seriously, don’t try this if you don’t have to: the plant can be toxic if it’s not prepared correctly or taken in very small doses.)
Tree of heaven actually contains toxins in her roots, bark, and leaves that kill surrounding plants so that she may have a better chance of surviving. Is that evil? No! It’s simply a nifty survival skill that’s conveniently built into her DNA.
The word “winning,” more than “victory,” implies vanquishing a foe and actually triumphing over someone else. Because, let’s face it: there are times when triumphing over and vanquishing are totally appropriate. Like when you’re involved in a court case with someone behaving maliciously. Or when someone is bullying or threatening you or another member of your household. In both these cases, the wisdom of tree of heaven would come in mighty handy.
So, if a foe needs vanquishing (and you really have to be morally in the right here, or rest assured that karma will swiftly retaliate), try this:
TREE OF HEAVEN FOE VANQUISHING POTION
On a sunny day during a waning moon, visit a tree of heaven and sit in quiet contemplation. When you feel tuned in, express through your feelings and thoughts what’s going on, why you need her help, and exactly the outcome you’d like to experience. (Important caveat: choose a desired outcome that’s about you or your loved one’s safety or well-being and not about bringing about any sort of revenge on other party. So instead of “Billy gets what he deserves,” choose “I am totally safe and free from any harassment.” Then you would feel feelings and see visions in your mind’s eye that involve a life without this foe causing harm in it.)
When you have the inner sense that the tree understands and wants to help, approach and gently gather exactly fourteen leaves. On that same day, at home or somewhere where you won’t be disturbed, place a glass bowl of water in sunlight, outdoors if possible (if not, a sunny window is fine). Float the leaves on top of it and let the water absorb the light and the energy from the leaves for twenty to forty minutes. Write the foe’s name on a small strip of dissolving paper (available online and at illusionist supply stores) and drop it into the water. As it dissolves, feel/imagine/sense the tree’s energy completely exterminating this person’s power over you. Say:
My mind, my body, and affairs
Are freed from all your former snares.
As I vanquish, I now see
Peace and safety; so mote it be.
Feel victorious and free, and know your ritual to be a success. Thank the powers that be and pour the water and leaves into the earth or around the base of a tree.