The Medicine, Magic, and Spirit of Trees: A Druid’s Garden Guide

To say that most druids and those practicing similar nature-based paths love trees is an understatement. Trees are some of the most magical and friendly of people in our landscape, almost always ready to share wisdom, teach, and provide shelter and nourishment. Trees are also some of the most gentle and accessible of nature’s teachers and when people start the druid path, it is often due to a connection with trees. One of my best friends is an over 400-year-old Eastern Hemlock tree that resides in the Old Growth Hemlock grove at Laurel Hill State Park in Pennsylvania.  When I visit, sometimes we laugh, sometimes we cry, and sometimes we do powerful ceremonies together. As you grow in your own druid or nature spiritual path, the connection deepens as you learn about different trees and make friends with many trees. Trees can be our best friends, close companions, and steadfast allies. Those in the druid tradition are particularly connected with trees due to their connection in Ancient Druidry as described by the Roman writer, Plyny the Elder in the 1st century AD. In his discussion of the Gaulish Druids, he describes the only surviving druid ritual: the druids, dressed in their white robes, under the light of the crescent moon, go to a tree that is growing mistletoe. They reverently cut this mistletoe with a golden sickle, catching it in a white cloth, and make a sacrifice of a bull in thanks. They brew this sacred medicine into a potion said to cure all ills. In the same passage, Plyny also notes that the ancient Druids met in groves of oak trees. From mythology, we know that while there were many sacred trees in Ireland, none were more sacred than the Oak, Ash, and Hawthorn. Other trees that play into sacred mythology include the Hazel (the tree of Wisdom), along with all the trees tied to the Ogham (ancient Celtic tree alphabet and modern divination system) which include everyone from Yew to Apple.

In this Druid’s Garden guide, I offer a wealth of information on how to connect spiritually to trees, information on the many different sacred trees in North America, tree-based practices you can do, and much more. I think this blog is about 20% dedicated to trees and their sacred work, so this is going to be a pretty hefty guide.  This guide and the material contained here are rooted in the druid tradition, exploring an animist, reciprocal practice of honoring trees, working with them, and learning from their sacred wisdom.

Druid Tree Workings: A Wide Range of Spiritual Practices to Connect, Communicate, and Learn from Trees and Spirits of Trees

“Druid Tree Workings” is my name for a range of practices to connect with trees in a magical or spiritual way.  These are practices inspired by the druid tradition, but largely, they are practices I developed myself (unless otherwise noted in the post) in my almost 20+ year history doing sacred work with trees. There’s a great deal of material here, and I’ve put the posts in reading order so that if you want to work through it, it progresses in a logical way (reading order is different than the order in which I wrote them!)

Introduction to Animism: All of the practices and approaches I offer on the blog for working with trees work within the foundational framework of Animism.  Animism is the belief in spirits–if you want to have a spiritual, meaningful relationship with trees, plants, or other beings in nature, you have to believe that they have spirit.  Animism also focuses on core qualities that build good relationships: reciprocation, respect for the sovereignty of all beings, and the need to honor and respect those you are working with.  If this concept is new to you, please start here before digging into the tree post specifically.

Cultivating Reciprocity in Tree Relationships: Moving along from a foundation in animism, if we want trees to work with us and offer their teachings, we need to learn how to be good humans who offer respect and reciprocate.  You can think about this like any other relationship.  This post outlines ways you might build these relationships as you begin.

Finding the Face of the Tree: Sometimes the trees themselves share lessons with us about how to work with them, to talk with them, heal with them. Finding the face of a tree is a fun practice that can help get you started on the path to deeper tree work!

Four Principles for Developing Relationships with Trees: This post features principles for how to develop relationships with trees over time exploring four principles (care, reciprocity, right action, gratitude) as well as key principles for understanding tree relationships (change, seasonality, time, and putting in effort).

Connecting with the Tree on the Outer Planes: Many people want to learn from the trees themselves as teachers and guides, but aren’t sure how to communicate.  I developed a two-part post that serves as a primer on how to communicate with trees using “outer” approaches like observation and movement–this helps you get started with communicating with your tree friends.

Connecting with The Trees on the Inner Planes: The second post shares how to communicate with trees through spiritual and esoteric means, such as using your body-based intuition, meditation, journeying, and inner communication with trees. This is a necessity if you want to cultivate deeper relationships, but many of these things take a lot of work.

Cultivating deep connections with trees: A step-by-step guide that can help you decide which trees to work with, seek out trees, good offerings for trees, and more.

Connecting to Trees in Urban Settings: Some of the most wonderful trees can be found in urban settings–and here are some tips to get you started for those who live in a city or visit there often!

Seeking out and working with grandmother trees: The oldest and wisest trees, the grandmother trees, have so very much to teach us.  This post details how to find and honor these most ancient of tree beings.

Offering January Tree Blessings for abundance:  Offers suggestions for how to provide abundance blessings using the framework of Apple wassailing traditions.  This is a blessing for all of your tree friends and is a great way to give back to the land and support the land.

Apple Tree Wassail – An Orchard Blessing: Offers an overview of one type of Wassailing ceremony that my friends and I in Michigan did every year. Again, a way of providing blessings and good health for our fruiting friends.

The Breath of the Earth and  Role of the Seasons in Sacred Tree Work: Exploring the carbon-oxygen exchange through the yearly breath of the earth, and also considering what seasons to work with trees in, based on their qualities.

Tree for a Year Challenge: Get to know your tree friends better by spending regular time with a tree for a year.  This practice is profound and you won’t regret trying it.

Druid Tree Workings: Holding Space and Helping Tree Spirits Pass: There comes a time when one of your tree friends–or many of your tree friends–may have to face the cruel reality of the chainsaw. What then, does one do when one hears the cry of the forest? This post is designed to help you nurture and hold space for those who have been cut down or will be cut. Because many times, trees need our help as much as we need theirs.

Witnessing the Death of an Old Tree: If our tree friends are lucky, they can grow old and die, not being cut down.  I explore this with the death of a dear old white oak friend.

Druid Tree Workings: Initiation from the Trees: A very advanced tree working, this focuses on how to explore and eventually undertake initiations with your closest tree allies.

Tree-based Magical Tools

Trees can be wonderful to work with to create various magical and spiritual tools.  Here are some ideas to get you started!

Tree of Life featuring Tanoma Ochre

Allegheny Ogham: An Ogham I designed specifically for the Allegheny Mountains of Western PA. This can easily be adapted to many parts of the Appalachians up and down the Eastern North American seaboard!

Creating intuitive tree sigils and working with tree magic:  Look at the tree and the patterns, create sigils, and work magic with trees.  A fun approach to some tree magic.

Druid Tree Workings: Connecting with the Tree on the Outer Planes: Many people want to learn from the trees themselves as teachers and guides, but aren’t sure how to communicate.  I developed a two-part post that serves as a primer on how to communicate with trees using “outer” approaches like observation and movement.

Druid Tree Workings: Connecting with The Trees on the Inner Planes: The second post shares how to communicate with trees through spiritual and esoteric means, such as using your body-based intuition, meditation, journeying, and inner communication with trees.

Tree Incenses and Tree Resins:  Local trees can provide you with amazing sap, pitch, and resin, which can be used as a local and unique replacement for many gums and resins that are being overharvested globally (such as frankincense, myrrh, and dragon’s blood).

Tree-based Decks and Oracles

Perhaps unsurprisingly, because I’m such a big fan of trees, I also have three decks/oracles that are all tree-themed! Here they are!

The Tarot of Trees: My original tree-themed tarot deck, published in 2009.

The Plant Spirit Oracle: First published in 2017, this watercolor-based deck and book set features many of my favorite trees including Hawthorn, Spruce, Eastern Hemlock, Apple, and more!  This is my favorite of the decks I’ve produced.

The TreeLore Oracle and Compendium of North American Sacred Trees Published in 2022, This is my magnum opus project on sacred trees in Eastern North America (guides on many of the trees included in the compendium are also in the “Sacred Trees of North America” posts below; what is included in this book is heavily revised and expanded from my posts on the blog).

Sacred Trees in Eastern North America

The Sacred Trees in the Americas series of posts is a series I wrote for over 10 years on this blog.  The goal of the series was to explore (using the approach in my very first link on this page) the magical and spiritual qualities of trees where I lived in North Eastern North America.  As I began to deepen my work with sacred trees, it was the Ash tree that taught me that I needed to understand not only the history of Europe but also the specific local concerns and contexts, and thus, I began this work.  It took me much, much longer than I anticipated to be able to explore trees but it was so fun and interesting to do. This post series eventually led to my book A Magical Compendium of Eastern North American Trees, which is the companion to the TreeLore Oracle, where I expanded the content of these posts. If there is a tree you’d like to see me cover not on this list, please reach out! Each of these posts features the following: ecology, range, habitat, allies in the ecosystem, food, medicinal virtues, magical virtues (old world), new world mythology, and other human uses. From that list, I offer divination and magical meanings for each.  And while these trees are specific to North America, you will see many crossovers with related species around the globe.

A Guide to Wildcrafting Your Own Understanding and Relationship with Trees and Plants. This first post offers my overall method for working with trees (and plants, mushrooms, etc) in North America as a way of building and growing a new tradition surrounding trees.   Through this guide, I offer information on a range of different ways to ascertain the spiritual, magical, or energetic qualities of trees including the doctrine of signatures, ecology, herbalism, mythology, and the various uses of trees. I consider this foundational reading if you want to do tree work local to you, especially if there is A) not an existing magical tradition, B) an existing tradition in place that you have access to, or C) a magical tradition that has been lost. Thus, this guide is particularly good for people who are living in areas that were heavily impacted by colonialism.

Making Things from Trees: Acorn Bread, Maple Sugar, and More

Ceremonies bring the enchantment back into the land
Ceremonies bring the enchantment back into the land

Trees can offer us a wealth of wonderful foods, drinks, medicine, and more! Here are some of my posts about tree-based things you can make.

Building a Maple Sap Boiler:  How to build a homemade, very effective maple sap boiler with some basic supplies.  This is what we always boil our sap on each year–and it doubles as a nice grill for the summer months if you have a large group!

Making Acorn Flour:  The hard and yet very rewarding process of turning acorns into bread, pancakes, and more! I include the complete process with photos and my favorite recipes.  Every druid should do this at least once!

Eastern Hemlock Bud Recipes:  Some wonderful spring recipes for Eastern Hemlock buds–you can also use other conifer buds, such as spruce, for these recipes.

Tree Hydrosols:  Using trees and an alembic to make amazing hydrosols. This can also be done without an alembic using this method.

Spruce Salve from the Trees: Spruces and Pines have an amazing resin that you can use to heal wounds.  Here’s one way of producing a spruce salve for healing.

Four Sacred Trees – A Magical Brew: what do you get when you combine Shagbark Hickory, White Pine, Black Birch, and Maple syrup? Ambrosia! Learn how to make the amazing recipe here.

Acorn Ink:  Acorn ink is a fun and wonderful ink to make that is quite easy.  It is a good introduction to any ink-making!

Miscellaneous Tree Writings

The Way of Wood: This is a post exploring how to shift from more metal, mass-produced things into more homemade or locally-made wooden things.

The Magic of the Understory: I feel like when we talk about trees, we often focus on the massive, huge trees that are towering over us.  But the understory trees, especially in the winter months, have so much to teach us.

Ode to the Maple: Working with the Nywfre/Energy Flows of Trees through Sap Flows One of my favorite ways to work with the Sugar Maple trees here in Eastern North America is with the sap flows.  I share the magic of this incredible practice.

Old-Growth Groves as Sacred Sites: Being able to visit and spend time in an old-growth forest is an incredible way of deepening your connection with trees. This post shares how to explore this practice.

The Importance of Trees on Human Health: A short reflective piece exploring how trees are great for human beings and our health.

Story of the Ancient Grandmother Maple: This is a story that one of my dear tree friends offered me–from her perspective over many long decades and centuries.

 The Mystery of the Stumps, or How I Became a Druid: My own path into the druid tradition has everything to do with the Eastern hemlocks and a forest that was logged and later, regrew.

Books and Further Resources on Trees

No list would be complete without my suggestions for my favorite tree-based books.  There are just so many good books about trees.  I’m going to just share a few of my favorites that allow you to get started in learning more about trees.  If you have suggestions to add here, please share!

A Reverence of Wood by Eric Sloane. This is hands-down one of my very favorite tree books.  Eric Sloane takes you through the centuries to explore how Europeans’ relationship with wood changed dramatically with the increase in technology, which eventually led us away from wood altogether.  It is a fascinating, historical book with beautiful images, which is indicative of Eric Sloane’s other work.

The Man who Planted Trees by Jean Giono. I love this book and the message it sends–great for children and adults alike.

The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben. This is a great introductory book to starting to understand the complex relationships that trees have in their ecosystem.  It is a great beginner book for someone who wants to learn more about trees and their magic.

Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard. A great book that weaves together narrative storytelling with scientific cutting-edge research about trees.  I love the way this book outlines forests as social, cooperative, and connected.

Field Guides for Trees: I really recommend John Eastman’s triad of books (Book of Forest and Thicket, Book of Swamp and Bog; Book of Field and Roadside). These are not exclusive to trees but they offer a great deal of information about the rich, symbiotic relationships between trees and their larger ecosystem. They also offer rich information on many other common plants and their relationships with other plants, insects, animals and more.  I learned a great deal from these books, and that knowledge went into many of the posts in the list above.

 

Conclusion!

Whew. These guides take more to write and compile than I thought they would, but I’m really happy to be undergoing this project.  I’d love to hear your thoughts on the kinds of writing on trees you might like to see in the future, dear readers! Please share your insights :).

Dana O'Driscoll

Dana O’Driscoll has been an animist druid for almost 20 years, and currently serves as Grand Archdruid in the Ancient Order of Druids in America. She is a druid-grade member of the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids and is the OBOD’s 2018 Mount Haemus Scholar. She is the author of Sacred Actions: Living the Wheel of the Year through Earth-Centered Spiritual Practice (REDFeather, 2021), the Sacred Actions Journal (REDFeather, 2022), and Land Healing: Physical, Metaphysical, and Ritual Approaches for Healing the Earth (REDFeather, 2024). She is also the author/illustrator of the Tarot of Trees, Plant Spirit Oracle, and Treelore Oracle. Dana is an herbalist, certified permaculture designer, and permaculture teacher who teaches about reconnection, regeneration, and land healing through herbalism, wild food foraging, and sustainable living. Dana lives at a 5-acre homestead in rural western Pennsylvania with her partner and a host of feathered and furred friends. She writes at the Druids Garden blog and is on Instagram as @druidsgardenart. She also regularly writes for Plant Healer Quarterly and Spirituality and Health magazine.

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2 Comments

  1. oh my goddess! what an amazing resource you’ve compiled here. As one in covenant with the Tree of Life, I am going to keep and share.

    1. Thank you, Cynthia! I’d love to hear more about your covenant with the Tree of Life :).

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