1/26/2021 0 Comments
I'm shocked and slightly embarrassed by my lack of knowledge.
Walking regularly, hiking, gardening, spending time in nature, I thought I knew most of the British common tree species. Yet I have been shocked to discover how little I know! There are trees that I've walked past for years and not noticed that I didn't know what they were. And the history and folklore have been beautifully revealed as I've delved deeper.
So I thought I'd share my experience of one app I've come to rely on for my explorations and discoveries. It has helped me find out more about familiar trees, as well as find trees at nearly every time of year. This has become more urgent and more meaningful as I've explored working with the Ogham alphabet.
If you've ever used oracle cards, runes or tarot you may still be surprised to learn about Ogham sticks and the Ogham alphabet. The Ogham alphabet is 20 letters, based on tree types, developed by our Celtic ancestors, and it is used for divinatory as well as protective or supportive purposes.
I've worked with core shamanism for over 20 years, but working with the Ogham alphabet has been a wonderful way to deepen my deep connection with trees on the British Isles. In fact, this connection with trees in a shamanic way is so inspiring I now share these teachings with those I teach, with regular Ogham workshops. By making full use of the shamanic journey we can gain a deeper, heartfelt and personal connection to the spirit of each tree.
However, as I said, not all trees are equally easy to identify! Especially at different times of the year such as winter. And you might find this app helpful.
The 'British Trees' App
This is the first page of the app - the choice of identifying trees by feature, or a simple A to Z.
If you open up the whole guide it lists trees in alphabetical order, with photos of the entire tree.
If you wish to explore trees by feature as I did with the alder I pictured top, it is great for narrowing down options.
It gives you the options you can explore
So, for example, discovering an unknown (to me) tree in December, I could look at the bud (shown in top photo) and the fruit (a little pine cone shaped appendage) as well as the catkin which comes under the flower category.
I also had the bark as a guide, and the location of the tree, which as you can see below, was next to water.
When you select fruit type as a way of identifying the tree you can choose from these options, with helpful drawings as shown here:
With the leaf or needle type option you can select
One bit of it I loved, and never expected, is being able to choose a colour of the different aspects from a list.
It seems to be forgiving, a best guess is good enough too. It also helped me focus more on the tree in questions.
In winter I discovered the unknown tree I was investigating had purple catkins. Without this focus I would have just assumed they are brown. I've since discovered this is not just a colour for alder, but birch has purple or burgundy buds. I'm grateful for this deeper awareness.
Once the British Trees App had analysed my observations it gave two possibilities.
The gallery below shows how clearly the photos pointed to alder, not aspen. And the write up of each species tells us about its natural history, key features and its historical and current uses.
Alder is a pioneer species, the 3rd tree in the Celtic Ogham alphabet. I was amazed to learn that it not only loves to have its roots in water, but the wood from this tree is stronger in water than in the air. This makes it ideal for building boats, such as Viking longboats, bridge supports in rivers and clogs. In fact, it is such a strong wood that the whole of Venice is built on it. What gifts each tree species offers us on a practical level.
On a spiritual level we can spend time meditating on how this pioneer species fixes nitrogen into the soil. It turns boggy landscapes into dry ones, firms river banks and other species can grow drawing off the nitrogen fixed by this tree.
We can learn to have strength, boldness and firm foundations in our spiritual lives, even with watery changing surrounds and emotions. This is all good knowledge, but the best step is to take a shamanic journey to meet the spirit of alder. With our main helping spirits at our sides we could ask it how to become spiritually stronger, or what we need to strengthen our spiritual commitment or foundation.
This personal practice of shamanically relating to the spirit of the tree is what makes the connection shift from a mental experience to a felt, all sensation experience. A true knowing of what this tree means for us, individually and uniquely. To have this connection with just one species is remarkable and can change an everyday walk to a deep, meaningful, heart-expanding experience.
To travel to meet the spirits of the 20 trees in the Ogham alphabet, and to work with them profoundly, clearly and with dedication and commitment is life changing. From time to time I have shared this work in my monthly Shamanic Practice Gatherings, and a full programme in this work is coming very soon.
All in all, I rate this app:
So here's what you can do to connect to the spirit of the trees near you.
In the meantime, you can
1/25/2021 4 Comments
20 years ago I had never experienced a shamanic journey. I hadn't met my power animal or spirit helper, and had certainly not found a reliable way to get spirit guidance, insight and connection. Maybe this is you now? Maybe you're curious but don't really know what it is, or why bother.
Read on, for my top 5 reasons to do a shamanic journey and meet or connect to your spirit helper (and how to go about it)
#1. Adventure and travel - despite lockdown!
I wouldn't normally put this one first. In fact, I may not have included it at all in a pre-Covid list. But during lockdown a sense of wanderlust is something many of us have as an unmet yearning in increasing doses.
In a shamanic 'journey' we have the chance to go on a 'soul-flight' to another landscape. Planes may be grounded, flights not Covid-safe, but we can set off to the 'Lower' or 'Upper World' of the shamanic cosmos to meet our spirit helper. Have you travelled this way yet?
Your spirit helper will often be in the form of an animal. This helping spirit is called a 'power animal', although any form is possible: human, mythological, tree spirit, angel. You can find this loving, wise and all-knowing being by listening to a shamanic drumming track, having a clear intention and starting from a place you know in nature using your mind's eye or imagination and all of your senses.
Never underestimate your imagination. It is the portal between the ordinary and non-ordinary realm, and as you gain more experience you will come to know this as the language of the spirits without a strand of doubt. And the drum shifts your brain from its normal 'alpha' state into a 'theta' state. This means that you can communicate better with spirit, facilitating better connection between the left and right hemispheres of the brain. It also allows us to connect with our subconscious as well as the collective consciousness, sometimes called the great or one universal mind, or collective consciousness. This is the realm of spirit, which we can perceive from this altered state of consciousness.
If you are guided well in your early journeys by a more experienced human helper, this is a totally safe way of working as you can snap out of theta state straight away into alpha by turning off the drumming track.
#2. Love, Connection & Belonging
At first glance this may also seem an unusual reason. On reflection it is often the main reason we are seeking to connect with spirit, and an incredible experience if you've not yet had it!
Your spirit helper is the wisest, most loving being that you have ever met. This being knows you 'inside out' and chances are they've been waiting years for you to get in touch with them. Whether it's a tiny bird or a huge mammal, an ancestor or spirit of a rock, this 'person' knows every part of you and loves you anyway. Unconditionally.
This being also knows what's best for you and how to go about telling you what it is you need to hear. I find I usually get told what I need to hear which is not always the same as what I want to hear but is much more helpful. We only get told what we can handle. I have never been given anything to do or be that was beyond my ability.... and we can always say no as we always have free will.
When I miscarried my first child, my spirit helper was the one who gave me the love, understanding and insight to move beyond my grief. My friends and family had done their best. Sometimes they did this well, sometimes clumsily. Still, I couldn't find a way to understand and integrate the experience of losing this hoped for child. My spirit teachers took me on a journey to meet the spirit of this unborn baby, and start to understand her path as one that did not require her to be born in this life. I had a full and felt experience of meeting this child spirit using all of my senses, with my heart fully present. I came back from that shamanic journey helped, healed and forever changed, having experienced the deepest love imaginable.
Most of us experience times in our lives when we want more love, need forgiveness or a sense of purpose, but just can't find it. Often my clients report the first thing they experience on meeting their spirit helper is a sense of deep love, of feeling like coming home. It's a beautiful sensation. We only get one life in this body, why not choose to experience this right away?
#3. Help for ANY situation. And just a drum beat away.
When we go on a shamanic journey it is important, or even critical, to have a clear intention or focus on what we are doing. I encourage all my clients to frame a journey with a mission that states where they are going, who they want to meet and what help they need in their life.
The help they seek can be varied. For example, we may go to the lower world to meet our power animal to ask for: 'Help to find a great job'; 'Help to find my ideal partner'; 'Help to find a nurturing home for me and my family'; or 'Help to improve my relationship with Aunt Bess'.
You'll notice that all the help is about the person asking for help. We're not asking to change other people, just help for us to get closer to what we yearn for. A good shamanic practitioner can help clients experience journeys more deeply by exploring the deep, whispering yearnings of the heart to come up with a clear and powerful intention. This turns interesting journeys into powerful, life-changing experiences.
By asking our spirit helpers for their help we are really asking that the tectonic plates of the spiritual universe be shifted in our favour. Miracles and magic are entirely possible.
Sometimes the help we are shown makes no sense in the moment. In one session a client went on a journey to ask for 'help to make healthy food choices' after years of battling with food. She had a pleasant experience, listening to the drum and going to the Lower World via her familiar tunnel and coming out into her usual meadow landscape with her power animal. They danced awhile, and sunbathed. She felt his warm fur and loving presence. The sunset and her spirit animal told her it was done.
When she returned from the journey she was glowing and relaxed. She'd had a lovely time, but it didn't give her any answers or insights into her food situation. I explained that 'help' journeys often need no analysis or understanding, but to just keep her connection with her spirit helpers through her daily practice, reconnecting with her whole body felt experience of the journey.
A couple of days later I received a delighted answerphone message. "It's amazing! This might not sound much, but on the way home I stopped off to get some food. Usually I'd have gone straight over to the dessert aisle, and picked up a treat with some excuse or other about how I deserved it. I felt myself being pulled towards the fish counter, ordered some salmon and went round to the veg coming out with some broccoli and kale. It was like I was being moved without me thinking about it. I cooked it at home and it was delicious, and I had no cravings for chocolate or crisps or biscuits afterwards. It's been like this since the journey. It doesn't sound much but it's truly incredible!"
I have countless other examples. Being shown things that make no sense until a few weeks later which turn out to be premonitions that guide us to our next steps. Healings that take place within a journey so that the pain is instantly relieved. Relationships that start to improve almost miraculously after the journey. True, 'asking-for-help' journeys aren't always mammoth in their results, but they always take us a step closer to freedom, joy and connection.
#4. Insight. Spirit guidance and perspective at your fingertips
How would it be to take each step in life, knowing you're going in the right direction?
So often I have asked for advice or guidance from my spirit helpers. Along with clients, common themes emerge such as "How can I find my ideal partner?"; "What is my next step in finding my perfect career"; "How can I be a better parent to my daughter?"; or "What should I focus on this full moon?"
By asking our spirit helpers we get much deeper answers than we can imagine. In fact, in my experience, in a journey we get much deeper answers even than in meditation or visualisation.
One recent example was when I led a visualisation on my Facebook Heart and Spirit circle, for free, last lockdown. I asked people, once in a deep state of relaxation, to focus on the 'treasures of lockdown' to see what gems we could find within all the darkness of this time which was difficult for many. I also did this visualisation for myself, and came up with lots of wonderful insights such as peace, calmness, a connection to nature and more. It was beautiful and insightful and as many people shared their findings in my group I could see the power of taking this time to be still and reflect. However, there was much more to come.
I lay down to do a journey with a friend. We had chosen to ask our spirit helpers to "Please show me the gifts of my lockdown and how to weave them into this next phase" (a slightly more complex journey than I'd recommend for beginners as it has 2 questions in one, but a good one if you have a very clear connection to your spirit helpers and lots of experience to know what is 'normal' for you on your journey or not).
I had the experience of feeling my heart fill, my heart being fed and nurtured. This was powerful and beautiful, and entirely relatable to my experience of lockdown if I viewed it from the perspective they showed me. But I was worried about school restarting and some stresses with the situation we'd been experiencing at the school. My spirits showed me how being in the car for 20 minutes each day with the new situation of just one child was a complete joy, not the anxious experience I was expecting. I was shown how to be present and experience stillness in the drive home on my own, an experience only possible in lockdown as in normal times I would have two children in the car.
My spirits and I did a ceremony of burning the energy of unwanted school gate conversations. This showed me how to have the discussions and meetings even with people I found stressful while knowing how to burn the lingering energy.
Until this journey I hadn't even been aware that I was concerned about the return to school, or that the meetings with anxious Covid-wary parents was something that worried me. They showed me how to stay in my 'power' and not leak it to others, or allow them to take it from me. I had a true and felt experience of letting go of contagious anxiety, and finding a practice in the car to both improve my relationship with one child and to find my inner peace. There were several more teachings in this journey too.
So much more information, insight and power is available to us than we realise. We just need to make a little time for a shamanic journey. And this only takes 20 minutes or so.
#5. Your individual path: life purpose or moment to moment.
Knowing we have all the answers and all the love we need, forever and unconditionally, has to be the main reason to invite spirit connection through the shamanic journey.
The shamanic journey is an ancient, time tried and tested method. It doesn't come from a single culture, does not 'steal' a way of working inappropriately. What I love is how individual and unique our experiences are.
One person meets a mouse, another a hawk, another a narwhal. One person meets an ancestor or a religious being or an angel. Another meets the spirit of the land, or a rock, or a tree. We get exactly what we need.
One person is taken into the jungle, another the sea, another the mountains. One flies into the sky another ascends into realms of light and crystal. One person is told to eat less meat, another to eat more meat.
One person is told to meditate daily, another to dance to a drum, another to apply her makeup as if she were applying it to the most beautiful and loved being in the world. One is told to visit a church service, one is told to walk in nature each day.
We get the answers we need, at the very time we need them. Whether we originate from the UK, USA, Canada, New Zealand, Europe, Africa, anywhere.... we meet our own ancestor spirits. Sometimes we are guided to follow practices that turn out to be traditional shamanic ways of working that we knew nothing about. Sometimes we are guided to follow routines that seem very much of our own time and culture.
We get what we need. Every time.
We are loved. Every time.
We know we belong. And we are home.
What more could we want from our lives?
Final thoughts and your next steps
If you are intrigued by the shamanic journey I have some ideas for you to get started.
It's time to really get to experience the joy of connecting to spirit in this ancient, grounded way.
"What on earth is an Omen walk?" I pondered.
I've been doing shamanic work for over 2 decades, and yet had never heard of Omen walks.
I've been dabbling in Oracle cards and Tarot for even longer - but seeking omens on a walk, rather than in cards, had also never occurred to me.
"So, you mean, going out in nature and asking for an insight into one event is a 'thing'?"
And it's a very specific thing indeed.
Different to medicine walks which seek deep and winding answers to help answer our life questions, where nature acts as a mirror in coaching, or the spirits work with us through our interconnectedness in the web of life if we look at it from a shamanic/animistic perspective..
It's different, and it seems its roots are in the 12 Days of Christmas.
And I'm wondering about extending this beyond the 12 Days - if you'd like to find out how YOU can get involved in this, read on!
It starts with a walk...
This rather unprepossessing leaf, is my Omen for January.
On 26 December, Boxing Day in the UK, I left my house for a walk. At a certain point in the walk I set about crossing a 'threshold' to start on my walk with the intention to be shown an omen for January.
I wasn't alone.
I knew there were many others, most based in the UK, setting off with the same intention on the same day of the year. What's more, I was with my husband and dog.
Our walk was fairly uneventful, but I recorded the main points to refer back to.
It was unusually stormy weather...
Magpies scuttling up, suddenly....
A chat about his work and mine...
Cora barking at a pheasant...
His work didn't seen fun...
It felt really good to talk....
As I crossed the threshold, it seemed little had happened. But I noted these points. And in the name of experimenting, I opted for one more.
I decided to apply the principles of my shamanic way of working in nature, and cross another threshold, with the same intention, but to open my heart and allow nature to lead me.
Within seconds, I could not shake off the 'pull' of a cluster of birch trees around the corner. I walked towards them and was stopped suddenly.
Black and squidgy mud, squelch after squelch. And in the high storm and darkening afternoon a tiny, bright green, perfectly fresh leaf shone against the black sludge of the path. I stopped to look, and my heart's craving for the birch ceased.
This was another omen for January. I knew it. I knew it in my heart, in the same way I know when I search on a medicine walk, or seek a power place in nature. Beyond any intellectual doubt my heart and soul were sure, as if the whole resonance of nature, me and the Universe aligned in that moment.
Stealing a photo to remind me (above) I turned and crossed the threshold.
And yet there was more!
And then there are the the dreams...
That night (in fact, the night before as this seems to most naturally fit the date of the 26th to me, I had three main dreams. Dreams can be part of the omen, if we set the intention before we sleep.
Phone unusually by my bed, ready to record my whispers without having to turn on the light or speak loud and wake the household here are the 3 gists of my nocturnal travels:
The third, slightly different, but involving me being in charge, and getting support from someone (the secretary).
Give it a title
The trick to pulling it all together is to give it a title.
So mine, at least the (rather cumbersome) working title is: "It all turns out way better than expected: A storm, muddle and confusion, I do it on my own and in the end I get more help than I ever expected."
"It all turns out way better than expected: A storm, muddle and confusion, I do it on my own and in the end I get more help and it's better than I ever expected."
Work in Progress...
So, January is still work in progress - but I can see some of it falling into place.
The jury is out. Like Tarot and Oracle card reading, runes, Ogham sticks and other divinatory tools it's feeling into the experience for the answers that helps. Sensing, trusting intuition, or being aware of spirit guidance along the way.
So where does it all come from?
I have had a few sources for this work. One is Caitlin Matthews, who wrote a blog on this part of her work. I believe her partner, John, has also written on this Celtic animistic practice too, but his book is out of print and rather expensive! Another is Mandy Pullen, who has been doing this work for a few years.
Although I've been doing shamanic work with many, many teachers for over 20 years, I never stop wanting to learn more! I often as my helping spirits directly, and sometimes I get inspired by what's around. Mandy offered a short online course this Christmas. I felt keen to join a group to experience this more deeply (and the accountability was helpful on wet, windy, darkening days!).
Its roots are basically medieval. In the medieval liturgical calendar, Christmas Day stood out as a supreme holy day. After this day the 12 days of Christmas were counted as 'time between time' before the starting of the next calendar. These days were known as 'intercalary days' in Brittany and Wales, and fell between the two years ending on the 6th of January - or Twelfth Night. These days were used for finding omens, or auguries, for the forthcoming year.
Caitlin has more background here, in her blog on the topic.
It is rather wonderful to think of our ancestors doing this animistic practice. Trusting in the spirits of nature to show omens to help guide and warn them of future events. Insights, open to anyone, regardless of background, mystical training (to some degree at least!), or education.
So how can you get involved?
So, you may have missed Christmas for a year or so but here are some options you could play with.
Tell me how you get on...
And I'd love to hear how you get on! Do let me know in the comments if you give it a go, or if this inspires you in any way. And feel free to share any photos you collect along the route.
And you can find me, and wonderful like-minded people, over in my Facebook Group - where you're very welcome to post pictures and comments too!
Joanna Shipley - I help you find joy and freedom by connection to your heart's desires and spirit guidance so you can live your life on purpose.