It was a fine English summer’s evening, in other words the sun was threatening to appear and it wasn’t yet raining. A good enough excuse for me to go and visit a local beauty spot and see what I could learn. “Every day”, as they say, “is a school day”. I obtained a meagre repast from a mini-market in Alderley Edge and pointed the car up the hill towards the Druid’s Inn car park alongside Alderley Edge forest.
My goal? Tonight, as I began to walk into the trees, I instructed the dowsing rods to direct me towards “something that will advance me on my spiritual quest“. Vague, yet promising. The rods twitched and I began to follow them ‘blindly’, trusting that some other forces understood the directive better than I did and would work on my behalf as they had done so many times before. As I walked I asked a quick question – “Would it be wise for me to put up some protection in the forest?” YES, said the rods. I was already doing it! Only positive helpful influences tonight, please!
I was brought into the forest by the usual path, even though I still don’t recognise it until I have reached the first high point! I was taken by yet another alternate route but the destination was familiar – a small rise covered in pine needles where the rods twirled around on a nondescript spot that I knew was probably full of powerful energies. Could I not sit on the nearby lovely mossy mound, I asked the rods. No, they chided, this was the spot to sit on. I sat.
At first I admired the view, wondering why I had been led to this place, and toying with the idea of ignoring this bit and carrying on. Three or four minutes later I was still wondering, when I realised that I could feel my “modern world” energies being stripped from me, and my senses attuning to the sounds and sights of the forest. I was hearing distant wildlife. I was sensing the movement of the gentle breezes as they played with the higher branches. I was feeling the flavour of the forest. I was attuned! Wonderful. NOW I could proceed.
After being cleansed and attuned I felt … really good. I didn’t want to move, but I forced myself onwards with this evening’s work – where should I go next? The rods began to lead me down a familiar off-road track through the dense forest and I was walking on to my next intriguing encounter.
Meeting the Oak Spirit
I was taken off my usual path to walk at the edge of one of the pre-defined paths. Soon the rods were circling around next to a small oak tree no taller than I was. I sat down at the indicated spot and made myself comfortable on the thick carpet of lime-coloured moss. Despite the slight dampness it was incredibly pleasant. I faced the tree and began to tune into the essence of the small oak. As my eyes de-focused a familiar shape emerged from the moss that grew around the base of the tree – there was a set of eyes, a nose and a mouth! I was imagining the dryad of the tree, I felt. Now I was in connection with it I dared to ask a question, “Do you have any information that will help me on my spiritual quest?” I asked as politely as I could. Silence. I tried again. Nothing. Hmmm…I felt I was approaching this all wrong.
I switched tack with the spirit, instead asking it, “Is there something you wish to communicate to me?“. Now I got a response! In my mind I heard two words eliding into and out of each other – “Glyph“, “Ward“. I didn’t understand. “Why a ward?” I asked. “Protection.” came back the response. OK, well it was a lead, and something I could work with, I supposed. I confirmed the idea, “Do you want me to make a ward to protect you?” I asked while I still had the connection. “From Winter.” came the affirmative response. Now I understood, but of course I had no clue how I would do that! I’ve never made a ward before, well, not intentionally!
What is a ward? It is from a branch of magick called apotropaic magic. Yes, those were my thoughts too when I read that. “What?” Apotopaic magick is arguably one of THE MOST DISCREDITED and ridiculed aspects of magickal practise. And possibly one of the few items left in my “loony bin” where I keep a store of ideas that I have instructed myself never to get involved with. Oh dear….I was about to be challenged again! Aportopaic magick is concerned with putting charms and spells on items, or with writing glyphs to ward off evil spirits. Nowadays this is simply ridiculed as superstition, and the whole concept is seen as a bit of a joke by western minds. I was such a western mind at that moment when I was asked to make a ward – I wondered why I would even bother. But then, perhaps I might learn something useful?
After agreeing to the oak tree’s request I gathered my belongings and began walking through the forest in that attuned state of mind again. As I walked I found that I was bending down every now and again to pick up an item that literally insisted itself upon me - either because it was hopelessly and obviously out of place, or it was making itself known to me. Sometimes the object would just appear in my path, or the dowsing rods would spin around making me stop to assess what was around. Soon I had four items :
- a white thin Rowan twig,
- some fallen Rowan berries,
- a sprig of oak snagged in a tree branch,
- and a palm-sized piece of sandstone rock.
Looking at the four articles together I realised I had:
- stone for earth,
- red berries for fire,
- oak for water,
- and a white Rowan twig for air.
Well, it made sense to me at the time. I don’t think the correlation has to have any particular ‘recognised’ correspondence to be effective, because all magick is a product of intention, so it was only important that I personally understood and believed the association for the duration of the work.
Interestingly, reading the definition of apotropaic magic in Wikipedia later I would find this sentence:
“To further discourage witchcraft, rowan wood may have been chosen for [the purpose of creating a ward]“. (Source: Wikipedia)
I don’t like this rather glib statement that it protects against witchcraft. It’s such a Christian concept – God is good, the Devil is bad; Vicars are good; witches are bad. Petty dualism. I would have preferred if the author had re-worded that to say something like, “Rowan guards against unhelpful spirit forces.” as this other Wikipedia author states:
“The European rowan (S. aucuparia) has a long tradition in European mythology and folklore. It was thought to be a magical tree and protection against malevolent beings.” (Source: Wikipedia)
Semantics, semantics. I think we get the idea. Inadvertantly I had picked up two items renowned for their warding capabilities – a rowan twig and some rowan berries.
Tuned to the forest
I sat eating my tea and energising with an incense stick and the sounds of the forest. Of course I was sitting on a power centre. Why woudl you sit in an ordinary place when you can power up on a power centre? I never just sit somewhere these days. It has to be somewhere special. I was feeling really attuned to the forest as I munched an apple when suddenly there was a completely incongruous blast of air through the nearby tree-tops right above me. I knew this was an air sylph, and probably a warning that the weather was about to change. The air felt a bit damp now, and was cooling slightly. Ahead of me were bright blue pathces dappled with white could. Behind me there were darkening brooding rain clouds.
I continued to eat, but thanked the sylphs for their warning. I began to pack as I ate, getting ready to move soon. I got my coat ready to wear. Two minutes later there was a longer and louder, more violent thrust through the tree-tops and I stood up to acknowledge the warning, thanking the sylphs again. This time I packed everything away and put my coat on. As my zip reached my chin the first heavy droplets of rain hit my coat. Just in time! It was time to head back to the oak tree with my booty and fulfil a recent promise of protection.
Returning to the small oak tree I placed the four elemental items on the cardinal compass points around the tree in turn, dedicating them and requesting the help of the elemental spirits to protect the tree though the Winter months. As I placed each of the four elemental objects I made a brief but heartfelt intonation to whatever forces were listening:-
- From the sandstone rock I asked for stability from the earth to hold the roots of the small and vulnerable tree
- From the red Rowan berries I asked to keep the spirit of the tree alive in its withdrawn sap until the first rays of Spring rejuvenate it
- From the acorn sprig I asked that life-giving nourishment be given, not too little and not too much. Don’t flood the tree over Winter, I asked.
- From the white Rowan twig I asked the air elemental to pass over this tree and to ignore it when they wanted to play with the forest trees and their limbs. I asked them to be gentle to it, and I felt a little shield go up around it.
As I looked at the twig I realised it symbolised the small oak tree if it were stripped of all its leaves and branches. This stuck me quite forcefully. Then I stood back and put love and gratitude into the work, thanking the elementals for their co-operation in protecting this special little tree.
For making this ward I got a re-ward. I learned that I could create wards, had a method now for how to do it, and understood that they were useful to protect anything form the ravages of the elements providing I went through this exact process again – the finds must present themselves to me, and I must place the around the thing to be protected selflessly, without thought of reward.
The dowsing said that all was done, so I left the forest a happy druid. I was, however, left with another example of a difficult philosophical question: Should the spiritual practitioner learn from experiences, or continue to let themselves be guided along the path? Was I being guided to learn about wards, or shown that I could be helped to create one whenever I asked? I’ll leave that debate for the comments section.