Relationships with Trees
I am currently reading Zora Neale Hurston’s book Tell My Horse – Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica (1938). It contains the following interesting passage “… the medicine man… and the ‘God wood tree’ (Birch Gum) . He had a covenant with that tree on the sunny side… One day we were there to prevent the enemies of the medicine man from harming him. He took a strong nail and hammer with him and drove the nail into the tree up to the head with three strokes, dropped the hammer and walked away rapidly without looking back. Later on he sent me back to fetch the hammer to him. He proved to me that all you need to do to poison a person and leave them horribly swollen was to touch a chip of this tree to their skin while they were sweating. It was uncanny”. Reading this, it occurred to me that if that was the sunny side of the tree, I wouldn’t be at all keen on meeting the person with a covenant with the shadow side.
What does it mean to have a covenant with a tree? Western en-visionings of shamanism very frequently focus on relationships with animal spirits guides. What about relationships with plants?
Inspired by the folk Tantra tree marriages described in June McDaniel’s book Offering Flowers, Feeding Skulls: Popular Goddess Worship in West Bengal (2004) I fell in love with a tree in 2006 and began visiting her regularly, in all seasons, and taking offerings. Those visits became a relationship, and whenever I visit I hug her, feeling/ imagining a conversational exchange through that touch. Trees are given spiritual significance in many traditions, from Yggdrasil the Norse world tree to the Bodhi tree under which the Buddha attained enlightenment. I have been visiting the great palm wine tree in the hothouse at Kew gardens since I was seven, watching her watching me growing older, peering down to remember. The more I talk to people about relationships with trees the more I find people have them, not necessarily modern pagans but all kinds of folk, quietly, persistently. But be careful before you sign on the dotted line with a tree. Trees live long; a covenant with a tree is not to be taken lightly.