I go to the Church of Trees

I go to the Church of Trees

That magnificent nature poem was written by my Bardic Buddy Arthur Hinds and to me sums up in just a few verses the reverence we Druids hold for these beings. If ever I feel upset, or disconnected from my Path, if ever I need to remember what it is all about, all for, it is to the woods my feet take me. Just as a Christian will make a pilgrimage to an ancient church, there to sit in the pews and to soak up the atmosphere of that sacred space, to be in a place where they can speak, and then hear the voice of their God reply, so I go to the woodlands, and walk among the trees.

My feet touch the earth, and the smell, that forest smell, makes me feel so alive. The aroma of the woodland is something that changes from season to season. I think, even though I love Spring and Summer the most of all seasons, it is the aroma of the woodland in Autumn, wet earth and leaf-fall, that fills my heart within the forest. Yet as I consider those words the sight of the snowdrop, of young primroses, dog roses and may flower, elder and rowan; the taste of the woodland air as the first warmth of Spring warms the earth, suggests that is not entirely true – there is always some glorious sight or smell within the trees.

And as the woodland is the Church of Trees, so there are places that are Cathedrals. One such place here in Sussex is Kingley Vale. It’s near West Stoke, just outside Chichester, and is the largest yew forest in Europe. 30,000 yew trees cover a huge part of the South Downs, and as you enter the forest of yew the light changes to monochrome, the birds stop singing, and the earth is bare beneath your feet. It is magical, head-swimmingly strange, and deeply sacred.

But before you get to the yew forest you must first walk through a large deciduous woodland, and within that typical English woodland there are older yew trees, ancient beings who have known this land for millennia. These trees knew a world without the combustion engine. A world much more peaceful, yet they also have seen wars, and plague. People on horseback have ridden past wearing tricorn hats, and poets have doubtlessly walked among their bows, listening for the Muse.

But there is more.

Here within the deciduous woodland of Kingley Vale there is a Grove of Yews. And this, to me, has always been a Cathedral. I have visited many times, and each time I cannot enter without a huge wave of emotion overwhelming me. Sometimes I have been there and there have been families picnicking in the Grove, their children climbing on the ancient branches and, although my immediate response is negative, I soon realise that I am placing my own construct upon the place, and that in their own way these children are learning to love nature, just as I did at their age. I sit, and enjoy their delight, as they climb, and laugh together.

At other times there is no-one there. Upon entering the Grove the silence is so empty that it surely must have been filled just moments before with the voices and music of the Fey. My hands touch the bark of those ancient beings. And soon that silence is filled once more with the voices of the Old Ones. One of my most favourite experiences is taking people to see the Grove for the first time. No amount of description can explain the atmosphere, the power, that place holds.

Trees, with their roots in Annwn, their trunks in Abred, and their branches in Gwynvyd, span all Three Realms. If I were to follow my Druid path right back, to what drew me to the Druid tradition, it would be the Sacred Grove. When I heard that the ancient Druids met in Groves of trees, something awoke in my soul. I completely understood why they would have done that. I had felt that reverence myself, although I had no name to hang upon it until I heard the word Druid.

I go to a Church of Trees.

10 responses to “I go to the Church of Trees”

  1. A lovely posting Dave. I have been to Kingly Vale only once, with Colin Hambrook about 15 years ago, and it was a truly magical place and indeed as you put it a cathedral of trees. You are lucky to have it on your doorstep. The nearest I get to anything remotely like that here is Stanley Park in Blackpool, but it has recently been called the best park in Britain. Bright blessings

  2. Yes, after the busy-ness of the Mistletoe Ceremony on Saturday, yesterday I went to the Yew tree near where I live. She guards a well, and a churchyard now encircles her. But I felt so welcome, so still, so held, by that wonderful tree. Her lower branches reach out and touch the earth, rooting themselves, keeping her alive. She is ancient and she has seen so much. To be there with her for a moment is sheer joy.

  3. Bright blessings, Dave.
    Oh, I know this place well. I grew up in Chichester and have taken many walks through the Vale. Up and beyond the cathedral, up to the clear views beyond. I have been there at dusk in winter, at the height of summer. It never fails to inspire.

  4. This post definitely resonates with me, and makes me think of my late grandmother, who passed on earlier this year. She was a poet in her own right, though I hadn’t known any of her work until after her passing. She’d nearly stopped writing by the time I was born, so it was just always something that was mentioned in passing and never really dwelled upon.
    It was decided one of Grandma’s poems should be read at the funeral, and its words still remain firmly with me. I’d been struggling with the idea of balancing the traditional Christian, anti-pagan mindset my family holds to, and my own pull towards druidry, and its words reassured me so much that Christianity and druidry don’t have to be mutually exclusive, though I know Grandma never would have thought of her poem that way. The first two stanza came to mind so clearly as I read your post:

    “In these days of trial & sorrow
    As I view the faults of man
    In tears I ask my Maker,
    ‘Oh Lord, what is thy plan?’
    Then I seem to hear Him whisper
    ‘Come with me child, you will see’
    And I’m drawn down woodland pathways
    ‘Neath the beauty of His trees.

    I am in my ‘Green’ Cathedral
    And I feel Him near my side
    I’m enclosed by nature’s beauty
    So my tears I do not hide.
    As I kneel beneath the oak tree
    And I cry to Him in prayer
    A sweet & gentle peace comes ‘ore me
    For I can see Him everywhere.”

    Thank you for reminding me of this, and of her, with your words.

  5. Feraferia Affirmation Song

    Wild and free, Feraferia calls to me,
    The Festival of Life,
    The Sacred Living Tree.

    Singing and dancing and chanting Her name!
    In the Wild, Magick Forest,
    We’re never the same!

    Kore, the Maiden, returns at our Call!
    The Velvety Forest,
    Is our Sacred Hall.

    The Moon with Her shadows,
    The Sun with Her Light,
    All are part of Kore, The Maiden Delight!

    The Wilderness Festival is Our Way of Life!
    We live with the Maiden,
    Free from all strife!

    If you like, you may join in our “Realized Dream”
    We’ve created our future
    From a “Rainbow Light Beam!”

    Dedicated to my Beloved Friend & Mentor; Fred McLaren Adams (Diadalos).

    B. A.-Copyright 1987, All Rights Reserved

  6. A very lovely moving piece of writing to meet my eyes on this grey overcast day here in Suffolk.
    There have been certain tree’s that I have met over the years that have had a profound and unexplained power to get right into your soul and move the emotions.
    Thank you

  7. such a lovely poem and blog 🙂 thank you for sharing them both! i love trees. just plain old ordinary trees and trees that seem special in one way or another. i cherish the ancient ones. their tales are old and run deep in your soul….peace and blessings to you and yours.

  8. You know I once had contact with a Tree Witch. His name was Dusty Miller. I have always loved trees. As a child, to my parents’ bewilderment, I would cry for days if one was sawn down.

    Anyway, C.S. Lewis talked of the Dryads in his Narnia books, another childhood favourite. Then, years later I got to know of Dusty. And remembered well the teachings about the Spirits of Trees. Dusty is now an old man, but he still listens to the trees talking. Like Lucy, in the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, he can hear their voices. Lucy had been asleep, and then suddenly, they shivered and whispered to her in her half dream state, those trees.

    How like old friends they are. The yew has always been such a favourite of mine. And the holly, and the blackthorn and hawthorn. But the list goes on, how could you chose between such individual souls?

    A lovely post Damh thank-you.

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