Modern Pagans have continually sought ways to honor the natural world and live more closely with the rhythms and spirit of the land. Many of us find that drawing close to nature provides access to different levels of energy and awareness, which brings deeper meaning and spiritual satisfaction to our lives. Trees can function as a gateway to these different levels of being as they provide us with a better understanding of ourselves.
One way of working with tree energy is with cards, which are easy to make using 3 x 5 index cards. These can be cut in half if you prefer smaller cards. Your cards can be as simple or decorative as you like. You can include the name, attributes, and an Ogham character if it is a member of the Ogham tree alphabet. Alternatively, you can put all this information on one side of the card and glue a picture of the tree on the other to create a colorful deck. Be creative—make the cards personal and meaningful to you.
Figure 1: Ogham cards can help acquaint you with the attributes associated with each tree.
The cards are a tool for expanding your relationship with the natural world, deepening your self-awareness, and initiating personal transformation. They can help you define your place in the web of life and explore its timeless mysteries. Trees provide multiple pathways to tap into this web for magical and spiritual purposes, as well as to simply embrace and enhance life. Like music, trees speak to something deep and primal within us. They can open our souls to the power and spirit of earth's rhythms.
Although the word "trees" is used throughout in reference to the cards, the Table of Attributes contains other types of plants, which have been included to accommodate the Celtic tree calendar, as well as of the plants that I felt had a place here.
The cards can be used for affirmation, inspiration, reflection, meditation, and guidance. Whichever way you choose to work with them, first take time to close your eyes, take a couple of slow deep breaths, and calm your mind. It is important to work from your heart center and be on guard against the ego sneaking in and trying to take control. Always be true to yourself and follow your intuition. If something doesn't seem right, then it probably isn't. Information comes softly and sometimes slowly. Be patient and open.
The depths of the soul can be reached only through quiet, soft moments. By exploring this depth, we learn about ourselves and where we fit within the web of existence. Trees can be our companions and guides in this exploration. Extending in two directions—one towards the dark and the other towards the light—they are great living symbols of the yin/yang principle of harmony and balance. Just as our spiritual energy needs to move inward for development and renewal, it also needs to extend outward to the light for growth. As we learn to detect the subtle levels of awareness in this flow of energy within ourselves, we begin to discover the macrocosm of sacred source and to define our unique path to its wisdom and grace.
Oracular Guidance from Trees
Like the Tarot or runes, spreads can provide information and guidance. Following are several basic card spreads. As you become more familiar with tree energy you may want to develop more elaborate and personal workings. When working with this deck for oracular purposes, some card positions in a spread may be designed to indicate an opposite aspect. For example, "healing" on the chestnut card could indicate a need for healing, or "abundance" on pine could mean that you have had a lack of abundance. Don't try to psychoanalyze it; your first impression is usually the right one.
The basic three-card spread is a popular way of working with many types of decks as well as runes. Pause with the full deck in your hands, close your eyes and quiet your mind. When you feel calm and centered, shift your attention to a situation or challenge that you are currently facing. When you are ready, shuffle the deck, randomly select three cards, and then lay them side by side, face up. The card on the left represents the challenge or situation for which you seek guidance. The card in the middle is an aspect of you that effects the situation. It could be an aspect that has caused the situation or challenge to come about, or it could represent as aspect of you that will help resolve things. The card on the right represents the potential solution or source of resolution. Study all three cards before ascribing meaning to them.
Sample Reading: The cards blackthorn, cedar, and cherry are drawn. The issue or challenge may have to do with truth or lack of truth (blackthorn). A personal aspect that could have caused an untruth to be told could have been preservation of public image, or protection to keep a job or save a friend from an insult (cedar). The potential source of solution could be action to correct an untruth, or it may be important to learn that by not telling the truth, more harm than good will result (cherry).
When you are working with the cards and cannot find a meaning that seems appropriate, look for a wider application beyond your current circumstance. It may be important for you to look at broader life patterns, in which case the cards from left to right could represent the past, present, and future.
Sample Reading: Ash, mesquite, and maple are drawn. This could indicate an issue of stability (ash). This can mean that you had stable circumstances in the past or the opposite. The second card indicates persistence (mesquite). Either something you are doing or you need to be doing could bring about stability and abundance (maple) in the future.
Like the three-card spreads, this one can help resolve a situation, or point you in the right direction if you are unsure of how to proceed. Shuffle the deck and then take four cards and lay them out in the order illustrated in Figure 2.
In this spread the four cards represent the following:
Sample Reading: Aspen, bamboo, beech and elder are drawn. The first card, aspen, could indicate that in order to move toward your goal you may need to work on your communication skills. Setbacks could be caused by inflexibility (bamboo). Impatience could be the cause of obstacles or distractions (beech). Even though elder has a wide range of associations, the simplest yet unexpected assistance it could indicate might be sleep. Perhaps the reason for communication issues comes from a lack of adequate sleep. Inflexibility and impatience could also stem from the same source.
Four-Card Elemental Spread
This card spread can tell you things about the foundation of who you are. This is a spread with which you can assist others as well. Lay the cards out as illustrated in Figure 3.
Their positions indicate the following:
Sample Reading: The following cards are drawn: Magnolia for earth, heather for air, maple for fire, elm for water. Spirituality and groundedness comes from self-awareness (magnolia); wisdom and knowledge is best gained through transitions (heather); creativity is the source of great passion (maple); empathy and compassion are the keystones to emotional health (elm).
Six-Card Crescent Moon Spread
Each time you add a card to a spread, the interpretation becomes more complex and allows you to move deeper into self. This spread builds on the previous ones. I like portraying this as a waxing crescent moon because it is a symbol of growth. Draw six cards and place them in the configuration illustrated by Figure 4.
The card positions represent the following:
Sample Reading: The following cards are drawn: Laurel, cedar, magnolia, mimosa, fir, and sycamore. The interpretation: The present issue may be a need for healing (laurel). In the past, the lack of balance may have created unhealthy emotional situations (cedar). Your current perspective is that you have a need for truth in self-awareness (magnolia)—not letting the ego mind get in the way. The obstacle to your healing may be that you don't put enough energy where it is needed, or a lack of perseverance (mimosa). A breakthrough may come in realizing and acknowledging that it is necessary to be protective of one's vitality (fir). In other words, judiciously choose to put your energy where it is needed and does the most good, which may not necessarily be where you think you want to invest energy. The overall lesson is that through perseverance, or putting energy where it is needed for oneself, harmony and balance can be reached. In the long run, this harmony is a shelter that can buffet the rough seas of modern life (sycamore).
No matter how you use these cards, it is worthwhile to take time afterward to contemplate and process the information. Sometimes through a retrospective moment, information can "click" into place. Keeping a journal of your interpretations can be an invaluable source of reference over time.
These cards are a tool for integrating the rhythm of the natural world into your everyday life. The more we open ourselves to the energy around us, the deeper our relationship with self and others, and the Divine becomes. It is as though the more we learn, the more we find that there is to learn. As we learn (and speed is not important), we are able to see and appreciate the mysteries of the natural world. It is not important to know everything so much as it is to acknowledge and appreciate the beautiful mystery and wisdom of the soul for we all carry a spark of the Divine within us.
My hope is that these cards will assist you in exploring your inner soul-scape as well as help you live in connection and in harmony with the natural world. If you are interested in further exploration, the original book, Whispers from the Woods: The Lore and Magic of Trees, contains a diverse range of methods for tapping into tree energy. These include the creation of your own Ogham, spellwork, feng shui, and shamanic journeying. May you hear the gentle whispers from the woods.