Rune Activism for Fallen Trees
In Germanic regions, it was believed that mankind was created from tree trunks, echoing the perception that people and trees have much in common.
In Sweden, some trees were considered ‘wardens’ and could guard a home from bad luck. The warden was usually a very old tree growing on the lot near the home. The family living there had such great respect for the tree that they would often adopt a surname related to the name of the tree.
A well-known sacred tree in Norse mythology was Yggdrasil, a giant ash tree that was said to link and shelter the nine worlds that were believed to exist.
Earlier this year I wrote a blog titled Novena for Fallen Trees. This blog follows on from that article.
My (Swedish) surname is Almqvist: it means branch of an Elm tree.
My maiden name is Berendsen : it means son or child of a bear.
A few days ago I walked up the forest track right next to our house. I was looking for large smooth rocks that might volunteer themselves as spiritual boundary markers for our property (I am collecting 24 of them and painting the 24 runes of the Elder Futhark on them).
In horror movies there often is a scene where an unsuspecting person is walking in the forest and feeling completely relaxed, but ominous music starts playing (obviously not heard by this person!) – the viewer grips their seat and fears the worst…
As I saw one particularly suitable rock and started making my way to it I heard a roaring noise and saw a massive machine rolling out of the forest towards me. I took another leap aside but it veered too and continued to come directly at me.
I am all alone in the forest in a pretty remote place. What now?!
The machine stopped. A set of green metallic steps was lowered and a large man climbed out. We were face to face, the Logger and I. He offered me his hand and said: I am Sten – who are you? (The name Sten means Stone!) I stood there cradling one large rock like a baby and said: “I am Imelda, I am collecting large rocks”. He nodded as if a woman holding a big rock as if it is new born baby was a normal event in his life. He then proceeded to tell me that he had not seen a human being for four days. He had been working 14-hour days logging away, all on his own. He was desperate for some conversation and a human face.
This encounter reminded me of coming face to face with a pack of hunters in the same forest, in October last year. This was after waking up to a gunshot outside my window and then finding a dead young deer on the track in front of our house. I set with this deer for a while and spoke some prayers.
The forest that surrounds our house is owned by two large local country estates (essentially two aristocratic families). Everyone who owns forest land must file a plan with the forest authorities (a family friend who owns forest land has explained this to us). Sten is just doing his job. He works for the logging company that was hired to turn mature trees into logs. Those logs might then become buildings (or IKEA furniture).
There exist many myths throughout the world that say human beings are descended from trees, and these are particularly prevalent among Indo-European cultures. In Völuspá the first humans, Askr and Embla, are created from pieces of wood, and in Gylfaginning Askr and Embla are created from driftwood logs found on land by the sea. The three gods credited with their creation include Odin, and either his brothers Vili and Ve or companions Hœnir and Lóðurr (believed by some to be Loki or, by others, Frey). Each god endowed the first man and woman with different attributes.
I had briefly contemplated doing something heroic, like dramatically throwing myself in front of his death-machine. However, Sten doesn’t call the shots, he does not have the power to reverse any decisions. He is only doing his job….
Yesterday evening I decided it was time to check how far the destruction had reached. I brought a candle, red paint and a huge drum with 24 runes painted on it.
Things were even worse than I thought. My youngest son has a favourite hang-out in the forest that he calls Lynx Rock. – Lynx Rock is no more – it has been raised to the ground.
This week I had a dream where I was painting the rune Eoh (Eihwaz in the Anglo-Saxon system) on the tree stumps of fallen trees. Eoh represents the world tree and world pillar or axis mundi. So I used my red paint to do this. I turned one large tree stump into an altar where I had my candle burning while drummed loudly enough to raise the dead. I half expected the loggers (holed up in their caravan) to come running and investigate what was going on – but they stayed away.
I drummed. I chanted. I prayed. I asked the spirit of the world tree for regeneration and healing of this land. I apologised to all the animals, plants and creatures that had just lost their homes.
I took a moment to connect to tribal peoples all over the world who have lost their trees and way of life to loggers and deforestation.
As the world axis, the World Tree runs vertically through the centre of the cosmos and links the heavens, earth and underworld together. Holding the many worlds within its boughs, it is the connecting point between all realms. Its branches (or, in some cases of inverted world trees, the roots) stretch into the realm of the gods while its roots reach into the depths of the world of the dead. It also functions as an anchoring point – a sort of “world nail” or “spike” (Old Norse veraldar nagli) – around which the firmaments revolve. It is sometimes represented by the Pole Star, or North Star, since the skies do appear to revolve around this central, fixed point. As Åke Hultkrantz mentions in a discussion about world trees and pillars in shamanic cultures, the world tree and world pillar/nail were probably two distinct concepts initially which eventually merged together.
When all that was done, I made my way home down the forest track. The daylight was going. I was still extremely upset but I felt better for having performed my vigil and “rune activism”.
In Old Europe there were many ancestor cults involving trees. It was believed that after death the souls of the ancestors took up residence in trees. This is why many forests and groves were so sacred and there were severe penalties and punishments for messing with trees.
What if the Old Europeans were right? What if Heaven does not exist or Heaven turns out to be a forest in this world where our souls take up residence in trees after death so we can continue to watch over the living (and pray that they pay attention to our loving guidance)?! Do we give this ancient belief any thought before we decide to decimate forest land?!!
Today I will take my son to where Lynx Rock used to sit in a forest glade and where he would tune into Forest Magic and Lynx Medicine teachings. You can see him in action here and hear him explain what he is doing here:
I am not looking forward to seeing his face…
About the Author:
Imelda Almqvist is an international teacher of Northern Tradition shamanism and sacred art. Her book Natural Born Shamans – A Spiritual Toolkit for Life: Using Shamanism Creatively with Young People of All Ages (Using shamanism creatively with young people of all ages) was published by Moon Books in 2016. She is a presenter on the Shamanism Global Summit 2017 as well as on Year of Ceremony with Sounds True. She divides her time between the UK, Sweden and the US. Her second book Sacred Art: A Hollow Bone for Spirit (Where Art Meets Shamanism) will be published in March 2019. She is currently working on her third book: Medicine of the Imagination.
(Youtube channel: interviews, presentations and art videos)
(Year of Ceremony)