Trees are the creators and maintainers of our reality.
– Simon & Sue Lilly, Tree: Essence, Spirit, and Teacher. Capall Bann Publishing, 1999.
I was lying in a park one summer, looking up through the branches of trees at the sky, and it occurred to me how much the branches resembled the formation of nerves in the human brain. It seemed to me that the trees were providing a connection for communication between earth and sky. Since then, I have been more and more interested in the magical properties of trees.
Britain, like most of Europe, was once covered in thick forest. Now that most of our woods have been cleared, the presence of trees in the British psyche may have diminished, but it is not entirely gone. The role of the tree in mythology, religion and history is undeniable, and in this country, we seem to have a special bond with trees, no doubt due in part to the respect our ancestors paid them. Sacred groves, nature Gods and Green Men abound, and it’s not only pagans who enjoy their presence.
What becomes apparent when looking into the role of trees within religion and mythology is that they have long been considered capable of creating, sustaining and structuring life.
Trees witnessed our very beginning. In Eden, the Tree of Life and the Tree of Knowledge shape the fate of mankind. The Nordic Gods created the first man, Ask, from an ash tree, and the first woman, Embla, from an elm. Yggdrasil, the Nordic World Tree (also an ash), sustains the three planes of heaven, earth and underworld, and at one of its three roots we find Mimir, the spring of wisdom. There are world trees present throughout a variety of cultures, and, much like a regular tree, they sustain many beings at their branches, trunk, and roots.
Deep down, no matter how far modernity takes us from nature, we understand that we have a sacred connection with trees. Tolkien understood it when he wrote about Lothlorien and the woodland elves. Sully came to understand it the longer he spent in Pandora with the Na’vi, the race who worshipped Eywa at the sacred tree in James Cameron’s Avatar.
Using tree power in your magical practice could not be simpler. The stories of the ancients provide the clues you need. Fruit, for example, is often representative of bounty, fertility, love, and creation. Many fruits have entered myth – Persephone’s pomegranates which bound her to Hades and the underworld, Hinduism’s sacred fig, and Idhunn’s golden apples of immortality – food of the Gods. The apple in particular is relative to Western magic, associated as it is with Eden, Avalon, and the golden apples of the Hesperides. Simply cut an apple in half widthways and you’ll be left with two perfect pentagrams – I often adorn my altar with apple halves, particularly when working on prosperity spells.
Trees have long been associated with knowledge, wisdom, and things unseen or unknown. The mighty oak is one of the most revered in Celtic mythology, because its roots, which reach deep into the ground, are equal to its branches, which brush the sky – thus is links the heavens, the Earth (symbolised by the trunk) and the underworld. It was also considered to provide doors, or portals, to other realms, and was sacred to some of the most powerful ancient Gods, such as Norse Thor, Greek Zeus, and Irish Bile. To connect with the potency of the masculine divine, make a wand from a tree that has been struck by lightning – preferably oak. You can also dress your magical space with dried oak leaves or acorns.
Scented woods have been deemed sacred and used in temples throughout the ages. Cedarwood and sandalwood boxes can be used to dress your altar and store your most valuable magical ingredients or items that hold a special significance for you.
In love magic, why not use a piece of ash and a piece of elm to symbolise the coming together of masculine and feminine energies? Careful though, this sort of spell, which utilises age-old magical associations, is sure to be powerful!
The Symbolism of Trees
The Runic and Ogham alphabets (the former is based on elements of nature and includes several trees such as Birch and Thorn; the latter is based entirely on trees and their meanings) can be used to represent your magical intent in spells, charms, talismans and amulets. Supercharge your rune or ogham stave on your pentacle, wear bindrune jewellery, or mark magical tools with symbols from these alphabets. I have even been known to temporarily tattoo myself with runic symbols in henna, when I felt the need to draw certain powers to me.
If in doubt about how to use the power of trees in your spellwork, refer to this simple list of basic correspondences:
Apple – Love
Ash – Man
Birch – Beginnings
Bramble – Perseverance
Cinnamon – Fire
Elder – Fairies
Elm – Woman
Hazel – Divination
Holly – Eternity
Oak – Strength
Rowan – Protection
Willow – Water
Yew – Death
Remember, the simplest magic can be the most powerful. Meditating under the expanse of a favourite tree can bring clarity and strength. Planting and nurturing trees is rewarding and beneficial to the environment – even if you only have room for a few pots. Write your wishes on a piece of paper and bury it at the tree’s roots. As your tree flourishes, so too will your dreams. Perhaps your tree will one day grow tall enough to brush the sky with its branches, carrying your message to the heavens.