Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Arbor Day: A Uniquely Pagan Holiday

This Friday is Arbor Day, a day set aside in the U.S. and many other places to plant, care for, and honor trees. It comes just after Earth Day and just before Beltane. Must be something in the "air."

If you're Pagan, this is the holiday for you! My little county is asking people to discuss their "favorite" trees. What's yours? Have you ever planted a tree? Hugged one? Worked with one to help you ground?

There was a pine tree deep in the forests of the Rocky Mountains. I sat at its base when I was, I think, four years old and realized that my life was going to be mostly about connecting to nature. My memory's hazy. I was "alone" (mom was inside the nearby rented cabin, dad was off fishing, and, well, there were the trees and, I've always believed, a brownish bear nearby) for maybe one of the first times in my life, and I adored it, I was alone and I expanded out into the Earth and ran what I did not know then to call my roots down into the rocky soil to twine around the pine tree's roots.

In A Pagan Ritual Prayer Book, Ceisiwr Serith writes:
You share the joy of your marriage bed unashamed,
Eternal Lovers, with the whole world.
Each opening flower, each leaf unfolding, is your cry of ecstasy.
Each bird or animal mating, each man and woman making love,
Is not a reflection, pale or otherwise, of your lovemaking,
but your lovemaking itself.
Each hug, each handshake, each smile,
between lovers, or family, or friends, or strangers:
children conceived today on this Beltane,
on this happy Beltane.

This time of year, almost all of my sex magic goes to the herb bed and the seven magical trees that I've planted since I moved here. Shortly before they moved, the people who sold this cottage to me planted two fig trees. Every summer when I harvest their fruit, I see sex magic manifest in trees. Where does your magic go this time of year? Is there even a single tree that manifests it?

Last Mabon, my wonderful job took me out to San Francisco and I spent (not enough!) time with some of Mamma Gaia's oldest trees, the Redwoods in Muir Woods. Those trees make my lovely oaks, which have only been around since, oh, say, 1711 when Handel was composing, seem juvenile by comparison. In Muir Woods Meditations, Dag Hammerskjold is quoted as saying that:
Here man [sic] is no longer the center of the world, only a witness but a witness who is also a partner in the silent life of nature, bound by secret affinities to the trees.

I think that's about right. Almost not a week goes by that I don't dream of taking G/Son out there some day so that his little Pisces soul can experience those ancient land wights as I did. One of my most mundane goals this year is to bring my physical health to a level where that will be possible. I'll sit down at the end of this month -- one third of the way through this calendar year -- and evaluate my progress on that goal.

In Second Nature: A Gardener's Education, Michael Pollan quotes Russel Page as saying that, "To plant trees is to give body and life to one's dreams of a better world." As Pollan notes:
It's a sobering responsibility, picking the site for a big tree; get it wrong, plant it too close to the house or an electrical line, and you will someday force a terrible decision on someone. [People who lived here before I did, please take heed!] To plant a big tree is to throw a long shadow across the future of a place, and we're obliged to consider its impact carefully.

This shouldn't make you reluctant to plant trees, it should just make you look up and also consider the Element of Air. Where will this tree be in 20, 30, 40 years? Where will it be when you are gone? Surely, it will be making oxygen, giving wildlife a place to thrive, and, maybe, making fruit. But will it also have room to grow?
Pollan goes on to note that:
[T]he etymology of the word true takes us back to the old English word for "tree": a truth, to the Anglo-Saxons, was nothing more than a deeply rooted idea. Just so, my version of a planted tree -- envoy to the future, repository of history, index of our respect for the land, spring of aesthetic pleasures, etc. -- is "true"; it has deep roots in the culture and serves us well.

Pollan notes how important trees have been within the American, and other, landscapes:
The American Indians were not the first or the only people ever to consider trees divine; many, if not most, pre-Christian peoples practices some form of tree worship. Frazer's Golden Bough catalogs dozens of instances, from every corner of Northern Europe as well as from Ancient Greece, Rome, and the East. For most of history, in fact, the woods have been thickly populated by spirits and sprites, demons, elves and fairies, and the trees themselves have been regarded as the habitations of the gods.

Well, yes. I go to work every day through the Spout Run Woods and, I can assure you, the woods still are.

There are, to my mind, two trees famous and important to American history. First, there is a story, and Goddess, does it ever capture American history, of George Washington admitting that he chopped down a cherry tree. I imagine that Pappa Jung would have had a lot to say about this. And, then, there are all those apple trees that John Chapman (Johnny Appleseed) planted all over America, providing cider for generations of Americans,. Are there others that I'm forgetting?

One of my most favorite groups is the American Chestnut Foundation, a group working to re-establish chestnut trees, which once covered most of the MidAtlantic, to their landbase. If you ever want to donate to a great cause, I think that theirs is one.

I'm not suggesting that you add an extra holiday to your calendar between Ostara and Beltane. We're all too busy to ground and pay attention as it is. I am suggesting that you talk to your Circle, Coven, Grove, etc. about how you can, next year, incorporate Arbor Day into your rites.

May there be acorns, pine cones, large trees, weeping willows, dogwoods, redwoods, cherries, and figs in your future. May you and the trees spend this incarnation learning how to breathe each other into your cells and how to encode messages to your grandchildren, etc. into each other.

Blessed Arbor Day.

(Yes, that's John Denver. I'm old. It's gotten a whole lot better since then?)


Anonymous said...

You may wish not to post this one at all: "Frazer's Golden Bought" is where I went to learn Stuff Paganism (you know, the more Pagan Stuff you have, the more Pagan you are). Perhaps you meant "Golden Bough"?

If health is a struggle for you, consider making the acquaintance of d'Adamo's "Eat Right For Your Type," which links diet to blood type. I started following this diet at 62, and feel better than I have since I was in my mid-twenties.

Makarios said...

Re. trees in American history--one that comes to mind is the Liberty Tree in Boston.

In my part of the world, we're within sailing distance of some magnificent old-growth forests. Haida Gwaii, which is separated from the mainland by Hecate Strait, is breathtaking. Even in Stanley Park, which is in an urban environment, there are trees that are hundreds of years old. To sit beside one of these old-timers and simply listen is to return, both figuratively and literally, to one's roots.

Myster said...

Wow. I absolutely LOVED this post. With the recent pass of Earth Day I realized that this year, more than ever before, I was celebrating and connecting with Nature in such a close way... it was fascinating... and with Arbor day coming up... I have already made plans to go out to the park and venture through the forest trees.

When I was younger I participated in environmental competitions with my high school and one year our prize was a baby Silver Maple to plant for Arbor day. I took it home and planted it right in my front yard. Since that day it has grown to be about 4 feet tall and it is stretching up towards the sky more and more everyday. After planting it I've realized that it is way too close to the sidewalk and driveway, but I have no idea where to transplant it to... it's been there for about 7 years now? I don't know that I can really transplant it... and it is sprouting up in other areas of my yard.

this is one reason why I am always afraid to plant trees, because I have NO idea what will happen to them in the future... and where can I plant such gorgeous beings? I have no idea...

but I know Arbor day is so important in my heart... goodness I love my path.

Take care and I can't wait to see the blog post about when you are well and can take your grandson out to those gorgeous trees. I know it will happen and I am excited for that day. They are a destination that I have in mind as well.

Love and Light,

- amanda*

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