Elder: Preparing for the Dark Times

I am elder. Tree-gift. Medicine.

Yet, beware, you who seek my lessons. Do not come to me unprepared. Have you come for learning? Then remember that learning requires the ability to hear. Have you come for healing? Then ask yourself whether you are prepared to become whole.

True wisdom, true healing will change you. It will force you to remember who you are, to reforge the net that connects you to the world around you. What is heard cannot be unheard. What is seen cannot be unseen. It is the story of Cerridwen’s cauldron, and it is my lesson as well.

So, come closer if you dare, and accept my healing.

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Are you ready for initiation? For that is my mystery. Those who are called to work with me are those who consciously step into the darkness to explore the inner mysteries. This is not a letting go like yew, but rather a deepening. My darkness is not one that needs to be healed and transcended, but one that calls to be embraced.

I call you to yourself. I call you to the otherworld. I cal you to the quest for understanding.

I am the tree that protects those that choose to put themselves in service to these mysteries. This is my gift to you. I will not make the path easier, but I promise you my medicine. In going deep, you are forced to let go of your defenses. And so I offer you mine instead.

Take my hand. I will help you step forward and honour your calling.

elderberries

The first step: gathering resources

Nobody should try to enter the deeper forest unprepared. Before you go, take time to gather ingredients and tools for the quest.

You may already have done that, and reached this point after years of preparation. Or it may be that you were only called to this quest a short time ago, and had little time to prepare. And even if you took a long time getting here, it may not be clear to you whether you managed to gather the right things.

So, let us start there now.

Ritual of gathering

  • Open ritual space (in your own way, or by using the suggestions given in the introductory section of this book)
  • Visualize yourself walking through the forest. The sun is shining, it is a beautiful late-summer day. However, you are very much aware that the first signs of autumn will be around soon, and you need to be prepared when that time comes. So, you call out for guidance.
  • As you look out in front of you, you notice how a particular pathway suddenly looks very appealing. Walk in that direction.
  • Follow the narrow trail. A very non-assuming tree on your left-hand side catches your attention. You notice a little old lady standing right next to you. She introduces herself to you as elder-woman.
  • She asks who you are, and what brings you to this place. So, you explain: what does the coming (metaphorical) winter mean to you? How have you prepared so far, and in what ways do you feel underprepared? What scares you?
  • She points to the berries on the elder-tree, explains their purpose to you, and invites you  to pick some. She adds a warning that, while a potion made from these berries will protect you against some of the hardships of winter, you should not eat them raw.
  • She offers you her help in brewing that potion. She gives you a list of further ingredients for you to gather, and asks you to return when you have found them.
  • You thank her, gather some of the berries, then walk back home, promising to return when ready.
  • finish the ritual in you usual way.

In the days that follow, take time to think more about the instructions you received. Do you understand the meaning of the extra ingredients you have been told to gather? Do some further meditation/questing on this if necessary.

These may be practical acts to perform, like talking to certain people, going places, learning about specific things. Let your intuition guide you. Be aware that the purpose behind an action may only become clear to you after you have performed it.

Another thing to keep in mind is the need for self-care.  Especially when a situation is difficult, it is important that you take good care of your own mental and physical health. There is no point in seeking healing while neglecting the needs of your body at the same time. Think about this, and how this also is a necessary ingredient for a potion intended to help you survive through difficult times. In what ways are you currently ignoring your own needs, and what could be added to the potion to help with that?

Of Birch and elder, and the magic of beginnings.

And then came the challenge to write my first blogpost. 

For this first post, I would like to share some musings about what Birch and Elder have to teach us about new beginnings and the quest for inspiration.

Imagine walking through the forest. You aren’t really paying all that much attention, it’s been a long day at work, and while this is supposed to be your break from all that, you find it hard to relax. Tomorrow there’s again so much to do, and there’s this dinner party you are organizing, and you urgently need to go to the supermarket because you ran out of milk, and, and…

Thump. Hitting a stone on the path with your foot almost makes you fall. As you regain your balance, finally you take a moment to look around you, to actually SEE the forest around you. 

Birch

And your eyes are drawn towards a little clearing in the forest ahead of you, and in particular to the birch trees standing there. There’s just ‘something’ about the quality of the light that draws you in, that makes you want to be there…

And so you approach.

And as you get closer, you start to hear a faint music… And just as you reach the edge of the clearing, magic happens. It is as if a portal to another world opens in between the birches, and then a group of fairies come out, and start dancing. You watch them, mesmerized by their beauty and their joy. After a while, they notice you and invite you to join them.

And you dance, you dance…. Completely blissed out and losing all sense of time and space.

…Until the fairy queen announces that it is time for them to return back home. She asks you what you intend to do. Will you go with them to fairyland, or will you return home?

What will you answer?

Starting something new requires you to catch a glimpse of a dream first, it means having that yearning, that foolish idea that maybe, just maybe, it is possible to step out of your ordinary world and create beauty where now there exists none.

That first moment of intoxicating insight can be likened to stumbling onto a fairy dance and stepping out of this world just for a moment. And yet, tales like this usually come with a warning at the end: those who succumb to the temptation of the fairy queen are usually never seen again, or risk losing their grip on reality.

So what to do then? Let’s not leave the forest just quite yet, but go in a little deeper, to the older and darker parts of the forest.

And there you see a little tree that looks ancient, with a very gnarly bark.  She has a bit of a witchy vibe around her. But between the leaves, you notice how she’s loaded with black berries. This is elder. 

elderberries

You want to pick some to taste them, but at that moment the tree magically transforms, and you see an old wild woman standing before you, holding a basket of berries.

She warns you. I have much to offer you, my child, yet my gifts are not free. Eat these berries raw, and they will only make you sick. But take the time to transform them into wine or syrup, and they can become a powerful elixir that can heal many of your ills.

She hands you the basket of berries, and explains you what to do. You take the berries home and get to work, and discover that it is indeed hard work. For some of the recipes, you even need years of patience before the brew is finally ready!

…. And what is going to get you through that period of hard work? The realization that to start the magic, all you need to do is close your eyes to hear the fairies sing again.

Remember the lessons from these trees. Truly creating something new and worthwhile will always be hard work, and it can be very tempting to just stick with dreaming and trying to escape this world. So, let the knowledge that fairies do exist inspire you, and give you the stamina to create something really amazing and long-lasting!

And so I’ll pray to Birch and Elder that they may bless this blog-project, and that I may always remember this first lesson…