What could be more breathtaking than our Earth, impregnated with life by cosmic glitter? She is traversed in a web of improbable silken threads of energy. Cloaked in a many-layered, multi-dimensional mantle of overlapping worlds, Her mystery moves and changes like fog seeking with intention. And yet Her secrets, seemingly unknowable wonders, reside just beyond the sheerness of nothing more than gossamer, swathing the ancient beginnings of magic in the remoteness of antiquity. It is all around us, all the time, concealed in everyday things and the delicious stuff of earth, wind, water and fire.

Everyday things. There is sacredness there, long forgotten by most, disregarded by many. Everyday things have ancient roots, sacrosanct origins, shrouded in prayer, incantation and ritual. And deeper still are the secrets safeguarded by the plants that offered themselves up to everyday things such as weaving, basketry, tanning and tools. There was no separation between the mundane and sacred in antiquity because life, every last molecule of it, was held as sacred. Everyday things were not only saturated with prayer they were imbued with the extraordinary qualities of the plants from which they were rendered. I have included several passages from Ancestral Airs that resonate with the depth of spirit of my convictions.

“I was invited to examine baskets, mats and nothing less than masterpieces entirely woven from indigenous fibers. Each of them held profound mystical significance that eluded my mind but could be fully comprehended by my hands. They contained secrets about life, some dark, some light, and a kind of magic that tingled in its majesty. Article after article moved its transcendence into my body, lighting up ancestral memories and ancient wisdom about our Mother. The knowledge had been snared like a covey of tiny birds by the old women’s industrious fingers. I could read their work with my own with greater depth than my eyes could ever hope to reveal. As though asleep and dreaming I felt at once the extraordinance of the Infinite Present that moved through us from the beginning and into forever.”

When I consider the art of weaving, for example, I am compelled to take into account not only the mystical properties of the plants that yield the fibers but also the dyes and mordants as well, all of which have magical attributes. Mysticism such as this convincingly supports my belief that the selection of species was chosen with deliberation and not randomly culled from natural surroundings. The piece was created by the artist with intention and purpose, to be used for doctoring, ritual transcendence or as an everyday thing that brought beauty, security and mystery to her home.

Spinning and weaving were considered by some to be spider medicine tied to sacred cycles and the mystical wheels of the cosmos. Similarities have, since antiquity, been made to braiding hair and tying knots as crafts that exercised control over human destinies and natural forces alike.

And finally, let us not forget that the very act of weaving was believed sacred and mysterious unto itself. Weavers were regarded as practitioners of a magical craft where fates and futures were visible and even manipulated by the weaver. The tools that she worked with such as looms and shuttles were regarded as sacred and the selection of patterns as powerful, ritual medicine.

“My attention was drawn to the baskets containing medicine plants. Each had been intricately woven with designs that were remedies unto themselves. It staggers the imagination to suddenly realize that such magic alone would have consumed lifetimes of practice. Every ancient configuration of handwork held knowledge and purpose just as surely as the written word itself. The women had literally woven every detail of their history and culture. Clan secrets and wisdom were plainly visible for all to read. Some patterns were prophetic; others were keys that unlocked doors to the Shadowland. When not a remedy the designs could have easily been catalysts to conjuring or windows into the world of the Unborn. My speculation was suspended suddenly when I realized that within each of these baskets was woven the applications of the species it contained. Astounding. My scrutiny took on fabulous depth.”

It has always been my contention that every plant safeguarded a unique and specific spirit that was invoked when that particular plant was chosen. Sadly, what has been dismissed, relegated to folklore or even ridiculed was once the foundation of absolute belief. Consequently I can offer no proof even as I tend to assert that I believe absolutely what I have unearthed in a lifetime’s of study. At its very best I can only call it informed speculation, with which you are free to decide if it holds any meaning for you. But it comes full circle where it can be seen that spirits, spirit handling and everyday things integrate precisely and beautifully.

There are tens of thousands of species that have ritual implications. I have studied merely the hundreds indigenous to the British Isles and want to explore one of them here.

Well-known and popular, oak (Quercus spp.) is a terrific example. Both oak bark and oak galls can be rendered into mordant that sets color during the dye process. The same tannic acid found in oak is an essential component to tanning leather. As a dye plant oak can be used to create a range of colors from black to brown, yellow and red. Soaking acorn caps in iron rich water makes an excellent black dye for baskets and the root bark can be boiled to create red. Oak wood can be split thin enough to be woven into vessels as can shoots when split into strands. Thin oak branches make stout basket rims for vessels woven with finer fibers. All of these processes bring the hidden secrets of oak to the finished article. And there are numerous.

In ritual Solstice combat with holly (Ilex spp.), oak is the keeper of winter to summer. The tree is sanctified and burned at midsummer to fuel the sun and the ashes are spread in fields to empower new growth. Smoldering oak coals are carried from home to home, exorcising and blessing the dwellings in the new season. The acorn is a tantric symbol, the cap is female and the kernel is male, linking it to fertility and Creation. Foliage is braided into crowns and worn by ritual lovers, fostering the fertility of the Earth. Because of its inflexibility oak is not regarded as a symbol of strength but is instead the symbol of endurance. It promotes courage to exceed one’s perceived inability, guards against the limits of logic and fuels the energy needed for achievement. As the sacred first food of mankind the acorn is the symbol of security and abundance, left at gravesites for ancestral feasts. It counteracts loneliness and guards against lightning. It is the keeper of lineage and history, entreated for resolution of issues with the historic knowledge it safeguards. It is believed that the forces of Creation are concentrated in oak. Oak is linked to expansiveness while standing as a boundary or gateway marker to the spirit world. The extraordinary scope of oak makes it easy to understand why the entire range of components was handled in rituals that included prophesying, divination, spirit handling, ancestral invocation, perhaps anything for which one could imagine a need. Oak enhances sexual potency as well as sacred songs. It is an abode of the spirit of protection, a keeper of the details of sacred cycles and history, and a guardian of rebirth. Every bow and arrow, mortar and pestle, lodge and cradle, basket, weaving or tanned hide that is created with oak is imbued with its power.

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