12 – P: Eadha – Poplar
Time – Autumn Equinox
Metal – Iron
The shield-maker’s tree. Tree of old age. Elders, wizards, cunning men.
- I am the shield to every head
A major characteristic of the tree, Poplar, is that she is always moving. The slightest whisper of wind set her to rustling, we have two outside out bedroom window and the whisper to each other all the time. To dance, to always be moving, is a way of defence, of shielding, and a way of being invisible. Dancing gods are known all over the world – Shiva, Krishna from the east are quite well known, for instance. This is another form of shielding to consider.
The Latin name of the aspen is Populus tremula, the trembling poplar. Though other poplars have a similar habit of shimmering in the breeze, the aspen’s distinctive canopy of round leaves with serrated edges and pale undersides, mounted on long, laterally flattened stalks gives the tree the unique appearance of shimmering or quivering in the wind. They also make a distinctive rustling, whispering sound “. . . as if they were spattered by rain.” (R. Mabey, Flora Britannica 1996).
Many traditions associate the wind with the voice of Spirit. The moving, rustling whispering of the polar can give you this if you sit still with it and listen. The shadows the ever-moving leaves cast on the ground gives a flickering landscape to stand in, it is like standing between the worlds … at the interface where all worlds meet. The movement of the shadows can be your journey-horse, transporting you to otherworld if you allow it.
Aspen crowns have been found in ancient burial mounds. It may be that this ability to transport is part of ther reason for this, transporting the spirit across the threshold from Thisworld to Otherworld.
The word “aspen” comes from the Greek Aspis meaning shield. The Celts used this light wood for making their shields, combining the physical wood with the spirit properties of the tree to ward off enemies. It is called the “shield tree”.
The Scottish Gaelic name is critheann (pronounced cree-an), the Gaelic verb for tremble is crith. As with Thomas the Rhymer, an aspen leaf placed under the tongue would make the bearer more eloquent, traditionally a gift of the Faerie Queen. Highland folk taboos say the wood must not be used for fishing or agricultural implements, or in house construction, which makes the poplar a faerie tree on a par with the rowan. Unfortunately, Christianity had a go at trees, along with all things Faerie, making them evil. In this case the shimmering aspen tree was said to tremble in shame because its the wood made the crucifixion cross was made. Other Christian tales give the same accusation to holly and oak. All these trees came to suffer fear and loathing because of this.
The Bach Flower Remedies aspen is used to treat fears and apprehensions.
All of these ideas suggest forms of “shielding”. So what is shielding, what is a shield?
Shield = protect guard defend shelter screen safeguard buffer defence armour
This is much more than just a piece of wood between you and your foe’s sword. Perhaps one of the most important concepts here is that of boundary. In order to effect any of the suggested actions there must be a boundary, a distinction between self and not-self. If you do not know what is you and what is not-you, what is your flesh and what is the wooden shield, or the enemy’s sword, then you haven’t a snowball’s chance in hell of escaping being cut down in battle.
So, the goddess’ watch-words for this season, and this vowel-sound, is about knowing self. To know yourself, and to know otherness as the other side of that coin, is to provide a shield for your head.
The poplar, the aspen, trembles and whispers, hearing and speaking with spirit constantly, keeping the channels open, and knowing itself for what it is, where its roots live, and where its branches reach,
Elder = senior, leader, organizer, guide
The thesaurus offers us these as some possible interpretations of the concept of elder. Some folk think that they can call themselves elders, even that they may get a certificate that calls them such … this is all pie in the sky. You can indeed come to know yourself to be an elder but by that time you won’t have the slightest inclination to talk about it. You know far too well that, although you know a great deal and have much experience there is a great ocean of knowing and wisdom out there – as Isaac Newton (alchemist) put it – that makes your knowing only the size of a tiny pebble on the beach.
Elders are known to their people, or some of them at least. Again, the elder has the supreme confidence of self-knowing that means they do not mind if the whole world is against them. What are the advantages of this?
If no-one and nothing can undermine you then you are not blackmail-able. You cannot be cowed into agreeing with someone/thing when you know it is wrong, you cannot condone wrong actions, you cannot collude. Do you see the advantages of this?
What if no-one could force you to do something that you knew was wrong, they had no hold over you, there was no peer pressure, no need in you to be a part of the group, no fear of being ostracised? Is this not what governments fear? A population that they cannot cow? A population that will say, ‘Oh come off it! Show us your rabbit!’?
Come to that … how much do you fear being left out, being ostracised, excluded? Mmm … more difficult to admit to ??? Then sit under poplar, watch the shadows flicker through the many realities, allow poplar to transport you to worlds where you can be true to yourself. Then … learn how to carry this knowing back across the worlds so that you can BE it here, in Thisworld.
Wizard = wyze-ard, wise one, one who has absorbed wisdom.
The wizard has done this. No, not just the Harry Potter version although he does make a fairly serious attempt to do this. But the real wizards have done this, go and look up the stories about some of them, the most famous British one is, of course, Merlin. Read about him with open eyes. Remember he is only half mortal. Realise that many storytellers dumb down the tales to fit them to the ears of their audience and so collect more pennies in their hat and more kudos for their tellings. Consider too if the storytellers really had much concept of the magnitude of Otherworld … many don’t but try to reduce it all to human-size.
To absorb wisdom is hard work … like eating and surviving the poisoned apples as Merlin does in the Caledon forest. It also means getting a very real picture of yourself and you place in the scheme of things. In general human perceptions seem to go wide of the mark, either to large … we were all Cleopatra or Napoleon in our past lives rather than the slave who emptied the chamber pot! Or too small in that we believe we can’t do anything and are continually saying we must wait until the time is right, the moon in the right quarter, etc … waiting for the eternal “round tooit” and, as we all know, these are in extremely short supply!
The wizard does not wait but gets on with it, gets on with the next job. The Zen adage to eat your rice, then wash your bowl is a good example of this. The tenet of how to gain wisdom is known worldwide but it has little Hollywood appeal so most people don’t go there. Steiner said (rightly) that good spirituality is eminently practical and was always exhorting his followers with, “The deeds, gentlemen, the deeds!’. Deeds, doing and not doing them, and knowing when is appropriate – as the elder does – is wisdom.
Cunning = skilled, ingenious, creative, dextrous, adroit, ability, inventive, resourceful,
Again, in order to be any of these you must know yourself. You cannot work magic if you are muddled as to what you are working it on, where you are working it, what it will effect. Well, you can … but it will end up like Mickey Mouse and the Mops in the film Fantasia! And you will need a skilful, adept wizard to rescue you before you drown!
In the British language the name Cunningham comes from “cunning man”. This picture of a cunning woman from the Boscastle Museum of Witchcraft shows such a person. The link, to Wiki, gives a good outline of them. I favour historian Emma Wilby’s description to the (perhaps) better known Ronald Hutton’s – he too often, for me, explains away and also tends to denigrate those who don’t follow his own spiritual path. Emma Wilby identified what she believed were a number of shamanic elements to the magic of many cunning folk. For more about her work look here.
The cunning folk of Britain worked with familiar spirits – the witch trials testify to this where cats were hanged and burned alive along with their mistresses. The natural world was no enemy but a friend and ally … a shield for the head. Nowadays people tend to fear the world, nature, that which is not human – see daft TV programmes called such things as “Dangerous Planet”! There is a specially human sort of arrogance that believes the world is out to get them – as though we were that important, instead of the most junior in age as well as intelligence of all the animal species that in habit Mother Earth.
The ways of nature were and are still open to the cunning folk. It is part of the ability to “work with” rather than the need to control, to defeat, to overcome … all words much more often used in modern society. Again there is that stupid arrogance that we might be able to overcome the planet. Oh yes, we can make her life hell, make her creatures extinct, but in the end we will die and she will recover … possibly having decided not to make the mistake of letting humans aboard her again.
The cunning folk are skilled in many ways but perhaps most in their ability to discern what action is appropriate for the time and place where they are at that moment. They are resourceful and ingenious in being able to change that mode of being, acting, as soon as they perceive that it is no longer appropriate. They are creative and inventive in the ways they find to change, again suiting means to need. They are adroit in being at the right time and place and dextrous in how they handle situations, people and spirits. They have ability. All this comes from that initial knowing of self … which may take a long, long time to learn.
Poplar as AllyPoplar is an ally, a great ally. Allies are those who help and befriend us. Like the cunning folk, you too can discover this and poplar will help.
Ally = Friend Supporter Assistant Partner Collaborator Helper co-worker colleague sponsor defender champion guardian
These are some of the Thesaurus’ offerings for the word ally and all are well worth pondering on. How do you find each of theses word-concepts? How do they in-form and enlarge your idea of “ally”?
Take all of this into your pondering for the time Eadha, the poplar month and consider how “I am the shield for every head” is true.
- The pictures I’ve used this time are from the wonderful photographer Ansel Adams; he had a way with aspens that gives the magical feel of the tree.