Traditionally, Imbolc is a celebration of the first stirrings of spring coming back into the land. For people living in temperate parts of North America, particularly on the eastern seaboard, the timing can be challenging–we are in deep winter and there aren’t always clear and visible stirrings of spring. But looking to our dear friends, the Sugar Maple trees, offers a wonderful focus for this season. Today we’ll explore a bit about the maple tree’s magic and connections to creativity and the flow of awen, and I’ll share a ritual for celebrating Imbolc that honors the maple tree and invites the flow of awen and creativity into your life.
For more posts on Imbolc, you can visit any of the following posts: reflections on the landscape in the Northeastern USA at Imbolc, healing waters of renewal ritual at Imbolc, the butzemann tradition at Imbolc, 21st-century wheel of the year–reskilling at Imbolc, energizing snowy spaces with sacred geometry at Imbolc. For more posts on the maple tree, including tapping the tree and honoring the maple, please see: January Wassailing for Abundance, Building a Maple Sap Rocket Stove Evaporator, Tapping Maple Trees, the four sacred trees brew, and the Maple tree’s mythology and magic.
Maple and the Awen
As a new animist druid learning the wheel of the year, I actually had the most difficulty with connecting to Imbolc–we did not have flowers coming up, I did not have the traditional sheep herd, I’m not a polytheist (so no work with Brigid) and it was still really frozen most years. Over time, and being involved in AODA, I learned to adapt Imbolc and other holidays to a more ecoregional approach–where I would pay attention to what was happening on my land instead of following a wheel that was meant for a different ecosystem. Thus, when I started learning about the flowing of maple sap in the trees at this time of year, it allowed me to engage in a multi-year exploration of the celebration of the maple and her flows at Imbolc–and today’s post explores the energy of the maple tree by offering an Awen ritual for the celebration of Imbolc.
In the Druid tradition, we honor the Awen (Ah-wen), which is Welsh term that means creative inspiration or creative flow. Awen can mean both a spark of a new idea or getting into a creative flow with a work (including what psychologists would call the flow state). This can be a very powerful, mystical experience. Awen as a concept is central to modern revival druidry–it is present in our symbol (the Awen symbol, detailed here), we chant it, and one of our three major paths focus on the bardic arts or sacred creativity. Awen can be personified through a deity or muse, can be a mystical force, and it also can be an experience. I detailed the history of this term in an earlier post, so you can see more there. Thus, if you want to connect with your creativity, bring life to a new project, get back into the groove of something you had to put down–connecting with the Awen at this time of year th
In my work with maple trees, and as I published in the Magical Compendium of North American Trees, Maple has deep associations with the Awen for several reasons: first, the maple is associated with flows and the flowing of the sap. The sap is rich in vital life force, in energy, in what we druids would call Nywfre (see my last section for more on this). This powerful force can inspire new things into being. Maple also has firey energy in the fall (sugar maple in particular), decking the land with bold colors and being the brightest and most colorful of all the fall trees. Thus, maple is a creative force in and of herself. Maple encourages us to get into our own flow, show our own bold colors, and express ourselves creatively.
This ritual is typically done at Imboc, when the maple trees flow with sap, to tap into the energy of this time: the stirrings of new beginnings and inspiration. You could do this at another time of year as well, with the blessing and permission of the maple.
Imbolc Maple Ritual for Invoking the Awen and Creativity
The Sugar Maple tree flows in the spring in the Northeastern part of North America. It is this tree that can be tapped to produce maple syrup and maple sugar; it has long been associated with the flow of energy, and in the druid tradition, this tree is also associated with Nywfre, the vital life force of the earth and the force of creativity. This ritual taps into the energy of the maple tree to offer a powerful Awen blessing upon your creative endeavors. While you can perform this ritual at Imbolc (traditionally on February 1 or 2) you are also welcome to perform it any other time when you feel the need to ritually invite the awen into your life.
Further, if you do not have maple trees in your area but you have other trees that produce sap (Walnut, Birch, Sycamore) you can use one of these trees in place of the maple.
For this ritual, you will need
- Maple syrup, maple sap, or maple sap water (tapped fresh from trees) with a goblet or cup for drinking. If you are using maple syrup or maple sugar, put 1 teaspoon of maple syrup in one cup of fresh, cold water. This will give an approximation to real maple sap. The water should be very cold and invigorating, just like you were drinking it from a tree in early February when the temperatures are low–put it in the freezer for 1/2 hour before the ceremony.
- Journal for writing down creative ideas or tools for creation (used at the end of the ritual)
- Offering made to maple trees (herbal blend, song, dance, drumming, etc.)
- Anything you want to include to open up your sacred space.
- Oracle or tarot deck for divination
Ritual Part 1: Offerings and Reflections
Prior to the ritual and in order to enlist the maple tree’s help, you should make an offering to a maple tree (any in the Acer family) or a related deciduous species in your region. Maple trees, being connected with the bardic arts, love bardic arts offerings—singing, dancing, music, poetry, and other bardic crafts. Once you have done this, explain to the tree that you would like to perform a ceremony to invite the awen into your life, and see if the tree agrees to help (ask directly using spirit communication or use a divination system — a pendulum works very well for this). If you receive permission, you may proceed with the ritual. If not, find a different tree and ask again. If the trees don’t agree, don’t proceed forward with the rest of the ritual. If possible, after the tree has agreed, bring something from the tree into your ritual space (e.g. old leaf, fallen branch, etc.).
If you would like, you can sing this song that I wrote to honor the maple. It is done to the tune of “Edelweiss” from the Sound of Music:
Maple Tree, Maple Tree
Every morning you greet me
Strong and wise, burning bright
You look happy to meet me
Flowing in snow, may you bloom and grow
Bloom and grow forever
Maple tree, maple tree
Bless this dear friend forever
Reflecting on Awen and new projects
Optionally, you can also take time before the ritual to reflect on how you might want to call to the awen and direct the flow of awen in your life. Do you have a project that you are starting that you would like creative energy for? Do you need ideas and inspiration more generally? You can take some time to reflect, meditate, or set intentions prior to the ritual–as you will be asked to state your intentions as part of the ritual.
Ritual Part 2: Invoking the Awen
Setup: Place the goblet of maple water in the center of your space. You may also choose to have the elements present. You can use your Awen altar for this ritual.
Begin by opening up a sacred space in whatever method you prefer. I use AODA’s Solitary grove opening. You can also use an oracle or tarot deck to open up a sacred space, as I detail using this method.
Begin with an Awen chant: “Awen, Awen, Awen” (pronounced Ah-Oh-En and drawn out as you chant).
Say, “Sacred Awen, flowing inspiration from nature and the divine, I ask for your flow within me. May you find me a worthy vessel for the sacred act of creation. I specifically ask for your assistance with ___________ “ (Describe in your own words what you are seeking inspiration for.”
Pick up the goblet and hold it above your head.
Say: “Sacred maple tree, I call to you for the blessing of Awen in my life! Please fill this cup with the Awen, the divine force of inspiration. As your sap flows in this most sacred time of year, so too, let the Awen flow into my life and overfill my cup!”
Envision the liquid glowing green-gold in the goblet, radiating the energy of the Awen. Chant three or more Awens as you envision this.
Lower the cup and say, “Maple tree, each spring, your sap flows deep from your roots into the tips of your branches. These branches swell and bud, and a new season of abundance and growth is upon us. This flow connects to the Awen, the divine inspiration within all living things. May I be a worthy vessel for the gift of Awen!
Drink the water in the goblet, feeling the gold-green energy of the maple flowing into you. If you feel led, chant the awen again.
Enter into a meditation where you seek the flow of awen. Envision you visiting a maple tree, and being able to directly walk into the tree and travel down into the roots, flowing with the sap flow of the tree. Follow that journey and see where it leads. As you do the journey, you may be inspired with new projects, ideas, and energy. When you come out of your meditation, use your journal to document ideas.
Optionally, you can use a divination system (Tarot, Ogham, etc) to gain further insight as to the path ahead.
Close your sacred space. Go start creating!
Awen and Nywfre
Another close tie to the maple flowing and the sap is its connection with Nwyfre (NOOiv-ruh). Nwyfre is one of the druid elements representing the vital life force and consciousness within each living being. It is a middle Welsh word that translates to “sky” or “vigor”. Nywfre refers to the spirit of life that flows through the plants–the energy that allows a plant to grow. This is not a physical thing, but a metaphysical thing. I also think that drinking sap from a maple tree is the closest thing you can experience to physical Nywfre–it is vitalizing, rich, and intense.
Nywfre and Awen are complementary but not the same–the druid revival texts distinguish them as follows: Nywfre is the spark of life, that which separates an inanimate thing from an animate being and allows life to exist. Awen is the spark of ideas and the flow of creativity that allows sacred creations (which also have spirit and a different form of life). These distinctions are helpful because if you wanted to adapt the ritual below to connect to Nywfre instead of Awen, it would be certainly possible to bring Nwyfre and that energy into your life.
PS: I’m doing a free live webinar with Nate Summers about the Sacred Actions journal on Tuesday, Jan 31st at 2:00 pm EST. You can sign up here!