A grandmother is a really special person. I remember going to my grandmother’s house when I was a little girl–it was literally my favorite place to go. My grandmother and I would go to the thrift store and buy used clothing, then spend the morning sewing doll clothes and repurposing those old clothes for amazing new clothes for me–skirts that swirled out wide and colorfully printed tops. We’d go out into the garden and pick herbs, and she’d cook up an incredible pot of mushroom soup. She was full of generosity and love and always fostered my creativity and joy. My other grandmother was quite different–she was a bit of a firecracker, sassy and short-tempered. A steel mill worker’s wife, she knew how to make do with nothing and taught us the importance of honoring what we had and taking time for family. She nurtured her grandchildren, bringing us plates of crackers with peanut butter and butter, sitting on the porch watching us play, and simply being present. Perhaps you have your own fond memories of your grandmothers, or you have others who have served a similar role in your life.
I start with a discussion here about human grandmothers because in talking about developing deep tree relationships, associating tree work to things we already understand can be helpful. Today, we are going to talk about finding and honoring the “grandmother” trees that you may have encountered, those ancient wise trees that nurture and support you in similar ways to a human grandmother.This post is part of my Sacred Trees in the Americas series. In this series, I explore the magic, mythology, herbal, cultural, and divination uses, with the goal of eventually producing a larger work that explores many of our unique trees located on the US East Coast. For the methods for how I research these posts, see this page. Other trees in this series include Spicebush, Rhododendron, American Hazel, Witch Hazel, Staghorn Sumac, Chestnut, Cherry, Juniper, Birch, Elder, Walnut, Eastern White Cedar, Hemlock, Sugar Maple, Hawthorn, Hickory, Beech, Ash, White Pine, Black Locust, and Oak. For information on how to work with trees spiritually, you can see my Druid Tree Working series including finding the face of the tree, communicating on the outer planes, communicating on the inner planes, establishing deep connections with trees, working with urban trees, tree energy, seasonal workings, and helping tree spirits pass. This material will all be part of my forthcoming Tree Alchemy oracle project!
What are “Grandmother” Trees?
I first was introduced to the concept of “Grandmother” trees by a group of ancient beech trees I had found in the forest. I had spent two days before doing some deep and pretty painful spiritual work as part of a spiritual retreat, and the grove of ancient beeches welcomed me in and invited me to stay and rest for a few hours. The photo here is of one of these amazing grandmother beech trees. I put my blanket down in the middle of the grove of ancient grandmothers, and they nurtured me. I dozed off, and the grandmothers appeared more human in my dream, offering me visions and tending me with their gentle hands. They gave me the message to recall other grandmother trees and share this concept.
Grandmother trees are special trees that function in many ways similar to a human grandmother. They nurture you and feed your spirit. They are there, welcoming and wise. These trees are usually some of the oldest trees that you meet–kind, loving trees, full of the weight of wisdom. They have the weight of centuries upon them and in their old age, they have much to share. Like a human grandmother, these trees have their own personalities–some more nurturing, some sharper, some quieter–but they are always there to give and to experience the connection with you.
The nice thing about grandmother trees is that you can have as many of them in your life as you want. Some of these trees may become a long and stabilizing presence for you, and some may come or be in your life only a short while. Either way, they are a blessing and an excellent way to cultivate deeper relationships with trees and the living earth.
Finding Your Grandmother Trees
Now that I’ve shared the concept with you, you can take this idea in a number of different directions. Here are some options:
Identifying Your grandmother trees. The first thing you could do is think about the really meaningful trees that you’ve had interaction with that might fit this category. Create a list of those “grandmother” trees, those trees that may hold a special place for you. If you don’t yet have any grandmother trees, then skip to some of the later steps.
Interaction in spirit for those that were lost. Some of your grandmother trees may be left only in your memory. An ancient crab apple tree was my first grandmother tree. She was, ironically, located behind my grandmother’s house on an adjacent property that was delightfully overgrown with weeds and that was an old cider apple orchard. When I was small, my cousins and I spent a lot of time with this tree–she had amazing branches with different “rooms” that you could climb into and it was so enjoyable to play in this tree. We would eat her sour apples and gather them up in quantity to take to our grandmother, who would turn them into pies. Sadly, this incredible tree was cut when I was still a child, where a neighbor decided to turn this abandoned wild orchard into a lawn. Even though this grandmother tree is gone, her memory is with me, and I return to the spot where she once grew. I remember her, and I honor her, and the nutrients that she shared with me I carry in my bones. Thus, it is easy to do a spirit journey to reconnect with grandmother apple and still sit at her feet and hear her wisdom.
Seek out new grandmother trees. A grandmother tree is usually easy to spot–she’s the largest and oldest tree. If she’s in a park, you’ll often find people congregating around her simply because they seem to want to be near her. Or you might find one of the more remote grandmother trees, those trees that are found hidden away in forests. Here where I live in Western PA, nearly all of our forests were logged repeatedly, and thus, the oldest grandmother trees are almost always found along what was abandoned fence rows or in the middle of a rock pile (which at one time, would have been a field). It might be that your own landscape has its own ways of finding grandmother trees. In truth, they are not hard to find, at least not in areas with natural wood cover–just go hiking or to a nearby park and you will find them.
Working with Your Grandmother Trees
Find the face of the grandmother tree. Many grandmother trees, being the oldest and wisest of trees, have faces (more on face of the tree here). If you look, you can see their amazing faces. These faces may lend you insight into the personality of this particular grandmother. Speak to the grandmother, looking at her faces and different expressions. Look also at her bark patterns, root patterns, and how the branches in her crown branch out. You can learn quite a bit about this grandmother tree from these simple observations.
Build a relationship. Like all relationships with nature, you should focus first on reciprocation and gratitude. See if the tree is willing to communicate (these trees nearly always are, and welcome communication). Offer gratitude and offerings. Sit beneath your tree and look at how she grows, how her branches come in different directions. If she is willing, sit against your tree and exchange energy, allowing her energy to flow into you and yours into her. Play music or sing for your tree, and listen to her own song in the wind. As you cultivate this sacred relationship, your tree may have gifts for you–a branch, a leaf, or her nuts/seeds. She may ask you to do things or bring her things. She may have words of wisdom for you.
And like all things, consider how your relationship is reciprocal. Don’t only come when you need something–come just to spend time. When you do, consider bringing gifts for your tree–a song, a poem, a story. These ancient trees may be so old that they once had other such friendships over time, and they will certainly value yours.
I can’t underestimate this kind of regular interaction. Every time that I visit one of my own grandmother trees, even if it has been years (say, from a place that I moved away), I feel that both the grandmother tree and I are enriched by the experience. And even when I can’t visit them physically, I visit them in spirit!
Learn. The most important thing you can do with these grandmother trees is open yourself up to their wisdom. Some of the oldest grandmother trees remember times before, times before colocalization and cultural genocide destroyed the land’s native peoples; times before the land was stripped bare for greed and industrialization. In their quiet voices, they will teach you: of their medicine, of their magic, and of how to relearn how to be connected to the wisdom of the landscape and tend the land. They have more to teach you than any human possibly could, just take the time to listen.
While the grandmother tree idea seems like a simple thing, it is an amazing way to help you cultivate deeper relationships with trees all over your landscape. I have several trees that I am as close to as my own human friends, that I visit often, and that we share much together. I would love to hear from you and perhaps you can share some of your own experiences with these grandmother trees and the blessings they offer!
News – The New Druidry Handbook!
As a final note, I’m excited to announce that I’ve written the new forward to Weiser Classics edition of The Druidry Handbook by John Michael Greer. I am honored to be asked to write the introduction and share how much The Druidry Handbook and Greer’s work have shaped my own druid practice. It is now available so I hope that you’ll check it out!