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.

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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?

Exploring our soul forest

Mankind has always been afraid of darkness. For good reason, as this is indeed a place where danger may hide. And yet…

There are other animals that prefer the dark of night, precisely because it offers them safety and allows them to hide from their predators. Or sometimes because they are the predator, and they like to hide in shadows when they stalk their prey.

This post is about darkness of a different type. The type that we find within our very soul. And which we all fear. Or do we? Maybe sometimes we like to hide there, contemplate irrational fears so as not to have to confront the very real challenges that life offers.

My posts are usually about trees, and how they have helpful messages for us. This one is no different, only the protagonist this time will be the forest itself rather than a particular tree. If the woods could speak, what would they have to say about this? Listen then, and hear what they have to say:

I am forest. I am made up of many separate beings, all individuals, but together, they are me. That makes me not so different from you… For who are you, really? Made up from so many different aspects of your psyche, with sad thoughts stalking happy thoughts and trying to eat them…

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Now I would like you to try this little experiment.

Start a meditation. Close your eyes. Take some time first to relax, then open your inner eyes.

You find yourself in the middle of a woodland. Look around you. What do you see? Is it dry or wet forest? How close together are the trees? Deciduous or coniferous? What about the wildlife? Do you see any? Mostly birds or mostly ground animals? Or is your focus more on worms and insects?

This is your inner forest. Walk around in it. Greet the trees, connect with the animals. Is this a place where you would like to live? Why?

Now, sit down. Concentrate on your own feelings. Notice how changing your focus changes the forest around you. Not just in obvious ways. For your forest is an ecosystem that constantly tries to restore its balance.

Think an unhappy thought. Focus, just for a moment, on something you worry about. How does the wildlife in your forest react? Do the seasons change? Anything about the vegetation?

Try to see this as a method of divination, a way to speak the language of your soul.

How is this helpful? The forest is a representation of you, your subconscious self, but is more than that: it is you, in a way that is disconnected from your everyday self. That makes it more neutral. You may notice that for some negative thoughts, the forest barely reacts. This can tell you which of your worries are illusionary, while others may actually threaten the survival of the forest, even as you downplay them.

Learn to speak your inner language. Use it to connect to your roots. And may it help you remember that the nonhuman world is so very closely connected to you. And as you learn to connect to your inner forest, do not forget that the ones growing on this planet need your attention as well. And maybe, just maybe, your newfound communication skills will serve you out there as well?