Wednesday, December 1st, 2010
“I think that I shall never see a poem lovely as a tree” – source unknown
“Every green tree is far more glorious than if it were made of gold and silver”
– Martin Luther - Theologian
My story began one hot summer’s afternoon in a small park in South London where I live. I was with a friend having lunch when we headed for the shade of a small tree to shelter from the unusual heat of a summers day in London. After about an hour or so of chatting and catching up we began gathering up our stuff when I noticed a small plaque in front of the tree. Something urged me to read what it said – “ This tree is an Elder Tree and is a tree witches turned into to escape persecution.” For no real, logical reason that I could explain I hurriedly copied down the information on a scrap of paper where it laid for almost a year living in several piles of paper on top my desk. Like I said earlier there was no logical reason why I wrote this information down and no strong reasons for why I held onto the scrap of paper. Sometime not knowing why can be more powerful than the knowing itself.
When we write we bring what is on the inside to the outside. I like to think of that day as the day I planted the roots for this story. Roots that I had no idea how deep they plunged from and what stories the branches of this story would bear. Eventually I did type the information up and filed it away.
Meanwhile other parts of the story were beginning to come alive. Following the time after my first visit with the Elder Tree I came across a wonderful book, ‘Tree Wisdom,’ by Jacqueline Memory Patterson. It was a wonderful book, which I still enjoy reading today, which described the sacred and healing energy of trees. The Elder Tree was included in its content. This not only surprised me but intrigued me as well. But again I had no logical evidence about why this was.
Gradually over the next three years I became very interested in the sacred and spiritual energies of trees. Whenever I could I would find out about the trees in my local area. I began including trees a lot more in my spiritual work with women on weekend spiritual retreats and workshops. I would identify the biggest Oak Tree in my local Park or the park closest to where the retreat was begin held and under the shelter of the huge Oak we would pour libations to our ancestors and carry out Forgiveness ritual and ceremonies. Unbeknownst to me I was doing my intuiting gathering of the seeds of this story, which was yet to unfold.
There were lots of changes happening in my life during this time. I felt a strong urge to rename myself as a way of affirming the new identity I felt I was growing into as a woman. The biggest urge was to let go of my Christian name of Jackie and my surname Holder and rename myself with a name that was steeped in the roots of my ancestral belonging, with an African name. However I knew that being given a name was a process and a journey and that I would need to trust, allowing the name itself to be revealed. What I didn’t know was that deep inside me my surname was strengthening it’s roots and holding on and my first name was loosening itself for a small but significant shift.
The name change turned out to be small but significant. Inspired by the name of an African American actress I changed the spelling of my Christian name from Jackie to Jackee. This small change made big waves. The name felt balanced almost as if it contained a strong connection to the good things of my past and good things of my present and my future.
It was not the same for my surname. Though desperate to relieve myself of it, try as I would to let it go it just didn’t feel right. Even the throw away comment from a spiritual teacher a few years earlier who suggested that I get rid of the name because it meant I held onto things wasn’t a strong enough motive. So the surname stayed.
Over the next few years I did not question my curiosity about the Elder Tree. I simply kept searching, discovering and gathering any information I could about that Tree and other trees. I started a growing collection of books about trees, which fed my hunger for more myths, and stories about Trees from around the world.
Finally in 1999 an incident brought the fragmented pieces of this story together. I was entering the last leg of completing my first book Soul Purpose – self-affirming rituals. Meditations and creative exercises to revive your soul. As my deadline to complete the book was fast approaching I would head off to one of the local libraries where I would occupy almost the same spot everyday. This became a daily ritual. However on this particular day I arrived to find that my spot was occupied forcing me to go find another spot to camp out for the day.
Very quickly I found myself engrossed in my writing and editing when I eventually stopped to take a break and without thinking stretch my arms backwards and casually brush against some books on the shelf behind. Probably on the look out for some form of distraction which it is so easy for us writers to engage in. I turned around and grabbed a book to distract myself for a minute or two. One in particular caught my eye. It was a book of names. Almost immediately I started leafing through the book searching for the meaning of the name Jackee. I found nothing but instead of putting the book down I felt compelled to continue my search. I turned it over to look at the cover and realized this was a book of surnames rather than Christian names so I did the next logical thing and headed towards the “H” section to see whether my surname was listed. I really didn’t expect to find much. If you remember earlier in the blog of all my birth names Holder is the name I most wanted to rid of.
So imagine my surprise when I saw Holder staring back at me from the page. I was stunned as my eyes took in the words of print. What became the icing on the cake was when I took in the words of what it said: “The name Holder has German origins and was the name given to people who lived nearby an Elder tree.”
Stories, Myths and legends associated with the Elder Tree – Source Tree Wisdom by Jacqueline Memory Paterson
Elder Tree Stories, Myths & Legends
When you think of the Elder, think Witches and magic. Folklore surrounding the Elder Tree includes the legend of witches turning into the Elder Tree to escape persecution. That’s what was on the plaque next to my first sighting of the Elder Tree. Like the Baobab Tree of the plains of Africa and Australia the Elder Tree has many medicinal purposes.
• Rubbing an Elder stick on warts cures them.
• Young shoots of boiled elder can help heal the lungs and head of phlegm
• Oils distilled from Elder flowers can be used in eye infections.
• Elder flower ointment was used to heal horses wounds during times of war.
• An Elder in full bloom was said to herald the arrival of the summer.
• Virtually every ailment of the body is cured by some part of the Elder Tree.
• In ancient times Elder bark was used to cleanse the stomach and system in case of food poisoning.
• A farm with Elder trees growing is considered blessed.
• The juice of fresh elder leaves eases inflammation of the eyes and if sniffed, clears a stuffy nose.
• For blessings, of people, places or things use the leaves or berries of Elder and scatter them to the four winds.
I hope you enjoyed my story about the Elder Tree. This story could be your story. If you were moved by this story and have one of your own why not share it with us. Send us your story with photo (if possible) as a Word file and we will share it on the Tree wRites blog, which will be live next week on my website www.jackeeholder.com
In the meantime why not schedule in some time over the next seven days to spend time with a Tree in your neighbourhood. You could stop and admire a Tree for a few minutes. You could walk in closer and rest your back against her bark. Or you could name a Tree you live or work close to. For your final inspiration why not take a photo of your favourite Tree.
A week before finishing this piece I took a trip back to the home of the Elder Tree which I first visited so many years back. I was with Robin, a great photographer who is working with me on Tree wRites. I was looking forward to seeing the Elder Tree again whilst holding some anxiety in my body, remembering how frail she had looked at my last visit a few years back. I was also excited as Robin was with me to take some new photos for this blog post. We wandered around for several minutes searching for her amongst a lot of debris (the park where she lived was being re-developed) when it finally dawned on me that she was gone. A few minutes later we found the vacant hole where she once lived. Thank goodness I still had three Polaroid photos I took on my last visit a few years ago that I could use for this post.
Many of our Tree’s will not survive us. So let’s honour them by planting their stories and sharing them with each other on the page and with our online communities.
Welcome to Tree wRites. Welcome to the tribe of Tree and nature lovers.