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Silver Birch -Lightening rod connecting Earth and Sky

Updated: Nov 5, 2022

or


'Don't Jump off the roof, dad'


Things don’t always happen the way they are planned! I had intended to write this piece to publish on November 1st, and it has been a powerful learning for me in patience with myself to wait while it took its own time.


Silver Birch is the Tree that we are walking with this month in the Take it to the Trees Journeying group and this is a point where our calendar intersects with the calendar offered by Sharlyn Hidalgo in her book 'The Healing Power of Trees' . Birch is the first letter in the Oghan Celtic tree alphabet, which her calendar is based on, and it is the perfect tree to take us through November, as we come into Winter.


Not being a practising pagan or druid myself, the calendar I offer to explore the trees is rooted in another wisdom tradition - the nine archetypal points on the Enneagram, a symbol used for self discovery and inner unfolding. However when I made plans to offer this project over our Gregorian calendar year, it made complete sense to honour this placing of the Birch, as a symbol of hope and regeneration at the gateway into winter for those of us dwelling in the northern hemisphere, and to arrange the rest of the trees from there.


It’s worth taking a moment here to consider what walking with a tree calendar might offer us,


Linear time gets things done and puts us clearly on a timeline headed from birth to death. Implicit in it is perhaps a conditioned overlay of 'quantity'. How much did you manage to achieve in between? We can lay this version of time out in a calendar format, which, like a book, has pages to turn and a sense of a beginning and an end. By contrast, the turning wheel of the year is an ancient metaphor still offering us moderns a more earth-bound sensibility of time passing in repetitive and precictable ways through the seasons of the natural world, marked by the path of the sun and the equinoxes. It somehow feels to me as though quality of life is more embedded in this view of time, and the question of how can repetitive experience teach us to be more fully human?



The symbol I share here is a gathering up of what we know of the the folk traditions and celebrations of the Anglo-Saxons and the Celts, and is a calendar observed by many modern pagans, druids and wiccans. Under the auspices of this tradition it was a kind of a new year that arrived on 1st November. A renewal that was possible, after the mythical veils between the living and the dead became thinner over Samhain or Hallowe'en on October 31st, and as we pass into the dark half of the year.


Of course, a wheel doesnt really have a beginning and an ending, but, if we consider a spiral as holding something of both sensibilities, it could be seen that each time the circling of the year passes itself, there is an opportunity for review and renewal. And this deepening wisdom of experience at least partly possible because of our capacity to imagine and create into connectedness with this cycling of the earth, and because of its particular place in the universe that bring these awe-inspiring solar and lunar cycles along with it..


If you scratch the surface, it turns out that there has been more collective spiritual energy around this time than you can shake a stick at! All-Saints day, from the Christian calendar, also falls on 1st November, and this is a day to celebrate the lives of all past saints, known and unknown. Furthermore, Dia de los Muertos, The Day of the Dead, falls on 2nd November, and is celebrated in Mexico and by those of Mexican heritage, as a celebration of the lives of all those that have died. Further south still, in Haiti, their Jour des Morts, takes place, based around the Gede spirits of the dead, brought to life in a raucous ritual . So we are just emerging from a time across the Northern Hemisphere, and rooted in ancient spiritual traditions of Europe,South America and Africa, of intense recognition of life and death....because of course, you don’t get one without the other.



Honoring life and death as part of a shared ritual, can help us be more present in our lives, and for our felt sensing to become sharper, at least for a while. My reason for writing to you as a part of this community of creative unfolding, which has deepened as i have allowed these past days to do their work on me, is to wish you the freedom and release of letting go that come with this deep seasonal turn, and the fortitude to go into winter when there is always the potential for a lot of our lives to happen in the dark. Embodying this potential to slow down to the speed of winter, and the renewing nourishment it can offer us, is no small thing. Its so poignant that it comes after such celebration of our mortality, In the face of the default tendencies of modern life to speed up right up until the end of December,it requires a fairly radical shift into a core valuing of life itself over anything else that might be pulling at us and declaring itself to be more meaningful, more important. Winter's invitation can be to keep who and what we love close at heart and to keep life very simple.


What slowed me down in writing this, was the impact of the death on me of a very significant person in my life. November 1st, was also the date of the funeral of John, my beloved workmate from the early days of my time working as a decorator, and the husband of my dear soul friend, Linda. This sense of having been slowed down, in tending to my grief, and honoring his life, taken by prostate cancer, gives me the strong sense that this incredibly skilled and practical man, still has my back, and knows whats important and exactly what order things need to happen in. It’s something I feel very grateful for.


If we attempt hold to the default habits of modern life that i mentioned before, of extroversion, efficiency, productivity and constant expansion and display of an image of a beautifully projected surface, this can of course be a very difficult time of year. The clocks have changed, the nights are drawing in, temperatures are falling, and the trees are doing their big drop. If we try to keep up with the big spinning wheel of socio-economics, then its likely we will become depleted and even exhausted.


But nature offers us these different invitations. Look down at the beauty of fallen leaves littering the forest floor, and see how they give witness to a letting go of what has served its purpose on an incredibly inspiring scale. With nature as a living metaphor offering its affordances to your imagination, by walking in the forest as we transition into winter this turning of the wheel, you really can allow this message to settle down and back into yourself to permeate your being, whenever you feel you need it.


And then we have the Silver Birch. And, if you dont have this tree near you, the Aspen, a kind of poplar that shares many traits of the energy signature of Birch. As the glorious trembling goldened leaves fall, the white silhouettes of these trees remain in defiant lightening rod relief against grey November skies, like inspiration that we can do this letting go thing beautifully, and stand, naked and divested of belief in need of all these endless fake trappings, and unashamed.Not striving and heaving ourselves uphill any further, but surrendering into a gentler quieter season of going more into heart space, and nesting within a pared back sense of simplicity, of whats really important, as the wheel of the year turns.



These trees are known as a pioneer species. This is because they are the first trees to come and populate a barren landscape. After the ice age, it is these trees that came to inhospitable places and made them welcoming for other species to grow and live. The Birch provided the affordances for other creatures to survive and even thrive. Social trees, they grow in stands rather than alone, and they grow fast, shedding lower branches as they go, leaving their characteristic 'eyes' behind as they seek ever upwards toward the light.


For me they offer an archetypal presence that has many similarities with point seven on the enneagram of personality. People with this personality signature are adventurers, free spirits, and generators of positive life force energy wherever they go.

They are also complex characters. Focussed on chasing after the light so hard, they often neglect themselves and find it very difficult to tolerate suffering - their own or that of others. They are masters of the re-frame, the bright side, the use of distraction and even addiction to avoid the landing into the full impact of the present moment of life. The holy idea of this archetype, is holy work (sobriety) according to David Daniels and the holy wisdom that offers. Something of this wisdom Oscar Ichazo is quoyed in Facets of Unity by Almass :'[T]he awareness that Reality exists as a succession of moments, each experienced as 'the present', and that it is only by existing in the present that the constant unfolding of the cosmos [can] be experienced. Only by working in the present can real work be done and real results achieved'.


I visit a birch tree when I want to witness that lightening rod of presence connecting sky and earth, and when I want to remember remember just how expansive and spacious my heart can be. And when I meet a person who lives close to this archetype seven, I catch glimpses of this holy idea nestled inside of them.



And, then, also so close to my heart as I write this, my friend John, with so much of this archetypal patterning in him; indeed, the most vitally alive person I have ever known. He has exited this world, and the legacy of his lifeforce and its traces that he leaves behind makes him unforgettable. Another pioneer spirit with more than a little defiance and refusal to go quietly. We heard the music he wanted us to hear on Tuesday - a beautiful aria from The Marriage of Figaro, followed by an incredible sequence of events where the curtains in the crematorium went free-style, and refused to close, spontaneously re-opening again as the first apologetic and later amused celebrant tried to get the button to comply. We exited to Johns final choice - the Tommy Cooper song im sharing here, and we emerged crying and laughing at the same time. 'Don't jump off the roof Dad', perhaps the ultimate laughing in the face of the challenges, and the fragility, of life as a human on this planet. A reminder to not to take it all too seriously.


John had his hand in it - we were in no doubt.


..........


With the spirit and uplift of Birch very much in mind this season, I have two events to share with you. Please do follow the links to learn more.


On Saturday 12th November. There is a free community gathering and taster session on Zoom at 4-5pm where we will share experientially something of the Deep-Mapping Process.


Then on Saturday 3rd December, Im offering an online SoulCollage event focussed on Seasonal Self Care and re-soursing yourself by going within and creating the imagery that will nourish you this holiday season.


It would be wonderful to welcome you to one of these.


References.


Hildalgo, S. The Healing Power of Trees. 2018. Llewellyn publications.

Almaas, A.H. Facets of Unity. The Enneagram of Holy Ideas. 1998. Shambhala.


Images:

Photo of Birch in Alton Cemetry. Samantha Taroni

Wheel of the Year - Shuttershock.

Dia de los Meuertos. The day of the Dead Celebrations. Shuttershock.

Forest Floor - photo by community member Jan Yardley. See also her interview: Forest Photography as a Spiritual practice

Birch Trees . Unsplash. Ryan Tasto























































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