In my last post I spent some time thinking about the concept of World Trees as cosmological maps. These maps are vital to the evolution of our theologies and also the mechanisms via which we see personal transformation happening. Whether we view such change as “magick”, initiation or psychological change, the maps provided by these mythic trees often highlight those key components that allow the shifts to be both balanced and sustainable.
Living in North Devon (in South West England, close to both moorland and rugged Atlantic coastlines), it’s hard to escape the impact that the winds of winter have on trees. With many stripped of leaves and being forced to bend in the face of sharp winds, they rely on flexible trunks and deep roots in order to survive. This combination of being flexible while retaining depth seems to hold wisdom for those of us feeling buffeted by gusts that we feel we have little control over.
To find our roots means to journey into the dark and the soil from which we sprang. When I seek to help families and individuals understand their current behaviours in therapy, it is inevitable that we have to adopt some archaeological moves in uncovering past role models, patterns and stories. When we dig down into these places that often feel lost and poorly understood, so the shape and speed of our growth can be understood more fully.
These roots are often unseen (or unconscious) and their depth and critical role is easy to underestimate. Anyone who has ever tried to uproot or move a tree will know of what I speak! Approaches that focus on present tense problem-solving and changing day-to-day cognition are of great value, but even these have to attend to those deeper roots in order to address more longstanding issues.
This journey of descending, searching and then ascending is hardly new and the Eleusinian and Orphic mysteries bear witness to the human need to contend with the dark, the animal and the chthonic in order to provide a more mature blossoming of any initiatory work. This motif of descent became crucial to Jung’s depth psychology, the grand mythic arcs of Joseph Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” and in turn the scripts of the first Star Wars trilogy. In order for our transformational work to be both rich and sustainable, we need to be drawing on nutrients that only darkness and decomposition can produce. The alchemical stage of nigredo and Jung’s concept of the shadow provide us with insights into this realm; as much as we might aspire to transcendence and states of eternal permanence, we must ground our endeavours in the reality of death, the body and our struggle with uncertainty.
In the face of such stark challenges it can be easy to seek false refuge in either metaphysical projections or our technology-driven attempts to control and escape from discomfort. Both of these approaches are fully understandable, but often prove to be fragile and disappointing in the face of life’s brutality. In having previously considered the example of Odin on the World Tree Yggdrasil, we can see the something of the cost involved in seeking those mysteries (Runes) that seek to capture the wholeness of human experience. Whether we see his gaining of gnosis as being of triumph (“I took up the Runes roaring”) or terrifying revelation (“I took them up screaming”) it is clear that these insights came via ordeal and struggle and that such travail was lengthy.
With the degree of hyper-acceleration that seems so endemic within Western culture, it can be hard to hear that something is going to take both time and significant effort. I’m sure I’m as guilty as anyone in wanting things faster and wanting them now, but when we journey to the roots we can begin to appreciate a slower approach. For me it feels that this more gradual, organic form of emergence takes us beyond the realms of spiritual consumerism and seems to allow what James Hillman describes as the “soul making”.
My own attempts to slow things down and locate deeper roots have recently been via a reconnection to the path of Druidry. When I started exploring the path of magic over twenty years ago it was to Druidry that I was initially drawn. Perhaps because of the apparent gentleness of its style, and the way in which it allowed the Christian and Pagan to converse with each other, it provided me with a less jarring route into occult practice. Alongside my more daring adventures in Chaos magic and Tantra, I have had this slow burn affection for a path that seeks to hold together creativity, magic and wisdom (bard, ovate and druid).
Of the little we know about the druids from early sources (interested readers may like to check out the excellent The Druids by Ronald Hutton), it seems likely that it took at least twenty years to complete one’s training. For me this is good news as I’m just about on schedule! If all this was about was some obsessive attempt at Celtic reconstructionism I’m sure it would have taken far less time, but my hunch is that my deeper relationship with the druid tradition has been about the discovery of what my own expression of Wisdom and Soul should look like in the world around me. The roots of this work are deep because they are as much about my creativity, my social work and my relationships as they are about some well-choreographed wand waggling.