Yew

Week 50 of the PBP.

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Skunk Cabbage

Week 39 of the PBP.

Skunk cabbage. It’s ubiquitous in the swamps and marshy parts of the forrest. This plant is about asserting yourself, holding your own and finding others like you. It also holds a valuable lesson about being indiscriminately repellant—mosquito and human alike avoid its aroma.

Skunk cabbage is one of those unglamorous plants that probably wouldn’t make it into your typical neopagan herbal, but it’s unparalleled in its effectiveness when it comes to keeping out the bad stuff. Personally, I like to include it in protection and banishing spells when I really need some extra oomph. (It is a good idea to check in with your housemates, though, as to when they’ll be out if you’re going to use it fresh in ritual!)

Sycamore

Week 38 of the PBP.

There’s just something about the scaly, leopardy bark of the sycamore that I’ve always found irresistible. When I visited Portugal in 2011, one of the most memorable experiences of the trip was sitting beneath the giant spreading branches of a sycamore in the courtyard of a Templar monastery. It was almost as if the branches still held the chants of the monks rustling amongst its dry winter leaves.

Sycamore is of the deep Earth, rooted in the sturdy realm of Saturn. A sycamore gifted me a branch this past Samhain, and rarely have I felt nwyfre flow so freely in an impromptu tool. The branch is quieter now, but no less grounding.

Pine

Week 32 of the PBP.

Pine. The native peoples of this area called the white pine the “Tree of Peace.” Standing in the white pine grove on the shores of Brewer’s Brook, it’s not at all difficult to imagine how the name came about. There is a deep stillness in the swampiness of the pine grove.

My home state is famous for its Pine Barren in the southern reaches. It’s where the dreaded Jersey Devil lurks. I’ve camped down there more than once, and it’s a powerful place. There’s little wonder that tales of otherworldly beings continue to perpetuate.

Now entering the deep of winter, I’m struck by another pine, this time a balsam, gracing my household. The scent is so wonderful, filling the room with memories of song and feasting. Every year my landlady does her traditional Danish tree, complete with live candles and paper ornaments. We went and cut it from a local tree farm on the Solstice, something I had actually never done before, but which I found quite moving. The evergreens of the holiday season bring families and friends together in peace, if only for a little while, as they watch over our celebrations of the light reborn.

Hemlock

First off, in case anyone here is reading from Europe, I’m not talking about the stuff Socrates used to end his days. Why the shared name? Supposedly, when the needles of Eastern/Canadian hemlock, or Tsuga canadensis,  are crushed, they produce a smell similar to that of poison hemlock. However, Eastern hemlock is a slow-growing, long-lived tree that, unlike many conifers, actually needs the shade of taller hardwood trees to grow well. It is very sensitive to sun, wind and moisture variation, all of which can cause die-back during the winter.

name? Supposedly, when the needles of Eastern/Canadian hemlock, or Tsuga canadensis,  are crushed, they produce a smell similar to that of poison hemlock. However, Eastern hemlock is a slow-growing, long-lived tree that, unlike many conifers, actually needs the shade of taller hardwood trees to grow well. It is very sensitive to sun, wind and moisture variation, all of which can cause die-back during the winter.

Sadly, Eastern hemlock faces a moderate level of threat from the wooly adelgid, which was introduced from East Asia (those Tsuga are resistant to it, happily). The major problem with the death of a single hemlock is its shallow and wide-spread root system: if a large tree falls, it is very likely to take many younger trees with it as well.

Because of its longevity and love of damp places, Hemlock is what I replace Yew with in my Northeast ogham set. Interestingly enough, none of the magical authors whose books I own address Tsuga, though plenty mention poison hemlock. Astrologically, because of its slow development, I associate it with Saturn, and with the element of Earth, though she embodies Spirit as well to my mind, particularly since male and female cones are formed on the same tree. I’ve always found Hemlock to be very open to humans, both curious and sassy. She’s a wonderful tree under which to meditate, and for those working the Ovate grade of OBOD,  she can be a wonderful candidate to watch over both the Rite of the Tree and the Rite of the Ancestors.

The Planets: Saturn

Saturn

I somehow feel like the further out one goes in the solar system, the longer it takes for the energies of a planet to reach us. I have a suspicion this is all in my head, but for the moment, it seems to take ten to twenty minutes for me to synch with the larger planets, even after their planetary hour has begun.

I’m quite pleased with the way Saturn turned out, to say the least, even if it took some wrangling to get it there!