Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Weep With the Willow

Tuesday April 8, 2008:

Willow comes in many shapes and sizes. In her tall guise, she sits by the riverside, her roots reaching out towards the water, her branches bowing in the wind. Her thickly gnarled bark flakes under the hand. In Spring, goat willow, more of a bush than a tree is the one to produce the irresistibly tactile pussy willow, silky globe-like catkins covered in silver down, soon to be replaced by pyramidal sprays of yellow catkins.

Associated with water, the moon and the underworld, her goddesses include Persephone, Hecate, Belili, Artemis, Cerridwen and Helice. Willow connects both joy and grief and with light and life in spring and with death and the underworld in autumn. She can heal those deep difficult to face emotions; especially the long laid buried ones from childhood.

She is a tree of fertility and in groves is inspirational. Willow gives us aspirin, is a powerful protector against diseases associated with dampness. Immensely flexible, willow is used to make all manner of woven goods from baskets to coracles.

Winter had returned. Two days on, the snow still lay in frost pockets deep in the forest. The muddy ground beneath my feet softened with my weight and clung as though to pull me down into its dark silence. I lifted my feet higher and climbed over the fallen trunks, pushing my way through the matted grasses and briers.

I was in Epping Forest, on the outskirts of London, on a witchcamp intensive spring retreat. The earth had turned and shown its winter face once more, in defiance of the sun that poked through the fast chasing clouds. I’d had far too much water in my life in recent months. I longed for the sun. It was for this reason that I had chosen to associate myself with the Salamanders as my affinity group this week. But today, I was out walking with the undines and of course, they were in search of water.

It had just turned willow time. Small vigorous streams swollen with the recent snow bubbled into the many ponds lacing the forest’s parameter. We wove our way unsteadily through the trees to the edge of a still green pool.

My companions knelt to scry into the murky waters. I stood and sniffed the dank air, the mouldy wet wood, the trodden old winter grasses and felt the earth beneath my feet tremble slightly, so watery was it.

And there was a willow tree; standing still by the green pool, leaning over the mat surface, like a great woodenasterix, her many trunks splaying from her thick rough base. She stood solid yet vital. I climbed amongst her and was held in her green arms.

She stood, tall and green beside the water. Her hair falling across her face and down, its ends just breaking the surface of the pond as she studied her reflection. I watched the face in the water, watching the face that was its reflection. Dark hair moved in the trembling water, tendrils across pale cheeks, dark eyes a deep mysterious green, gazed at the eyes that were their mirror, shining with unshed tears.

And as I watched, another face rose from the depths of the pool, a rounder, high cheek-boned shadowy eyed face, framed in neat short hair. This second face, with deeper skin tones looked sadly up. ON her round cheeks, the tracks of tears glistened.

A light wind shivered the water and both faces shook. A tendril of dark hair floated across the second face, and I felt something tickle my cheek. I looked harder and saw that she was me and felt the tears still wet on my cheeks. Beside me in the water the other one gazed up at herself and at me, her eyes now overflowing, tears shining, beginning to trickle down her pale cheeks.

“Quack!” The water shook, rippled and the faces swayed, distorted and broke into a million pieces. I moved and felt the rough trunk beneath my hands. A finger of sunlight came to touch my cheek.

On the other side of the pond came a splashing and a fluttering of damp feathers as a duck presumably took a bath. I quacked back at her and carefully climbed out of the tree.

Crouching down beside the tree, I felt for a lithe piece of new growth. Taking it in my hands, I stroked it gently, explaining what I wished for and why. Carefully I tied a loose knot and said:

“Lady of the willow; let me learn to allow intimacy with others, without shame, guilt or fear.”

I gently let go of the knotted willow and straightening, began to sing softly to the tree.

“Weep willow weep, then I’ll no longer need to
Grieve willow weep, and I’ll let go of shame.
Weep willow weep, and I’ll let go of fear and
Guilt willow weep willow weep, hear my prayer.

It was done. Bowing to the tree, I turned to join my companions. Together we move back through the quiet forest, our encounters with water complete for this day.


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