Sensing Nature

The Yew:  Sacred Tree of Transformation and Rebirth

by Glennie Kindred, 2019 Celestial Planting Calendar

The Yew, Taxus baccata, is an ancient tree species that has survived since before the Ice Age and as such as been revered and used by humankind throughout the ages. All races of the Northern Hemisphere, especially the Celts, the Greeks, the Romans and the North American Indians, have an understanding of this unusual and remarkable tree. Because of its longevity and its unique way of growing new trunks from within the original root bole, it has been estimated that some English Yews are as much as 4,000 years old. No wonder the Yew is associated with immortality, renewal, regeneration, everlasting life, rebirth, transformation and access to the Otherworld and our ancestors.

Because it is a slow-growing tree, it has a tight-grained wood, is tough and resilient, and was used in the past for spears, spikes, staves, small hunting bows and eventually the famous longbows of the Middle Ages. The arrows were tipped with poison made from the Yew. The entire tree is poisonous—wood, bark, needles and seed. The only part which isn’t is the fleshy part of the seed. Be aware of the dangerous aspects of the Yew if you handle the tree or work with the wood. It is one of the reasons why it is known as the death tree.

Magically the Yew is used for summoning spirits and any Otherworld communication. It is linked to Samhain (October 31), when entry to the Otherworld is easiest, dreams are most potent and access to the ancestors is most possible. The Yew is ruled by Jupiter and the positive benefits of transformation. According to a modern encyclopaedia of magical herbs, the Yew is feminine, its element is Water and its planet is Saturn. However it seems to me that Pluto is a more appropriate planet as it is the planet of death and change, transformation and rebirth. The Yew connects through the Water element to Scorpio, ruled by Pluto.

In recent years, there has been an upsurge of interest in the Yew. It is possible to make pilgrimages to visit these magnificent trees and touch their awesome connection to ages long ago.

Glennie Kindred is the author of eleven books on Earth wisdom, native plants and trees, and celebrating the Earth’s cycles. She is currently writing a book called Walking with Trees, which comes out in the spring of 2019.

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Conversations with Trees Listening with Heart and Hands

by Elyse Pomeranz, 2019 Celestial Planting Calendar

“Where are you going next?” asked my five-year-old goddaughter, as I tiptoed out before dawn trying not to awaken the sleeping household.  “The trees are guiding me.  I’m a tree listener.  I follow their guidance,” I told her.  She nodded, then paused. “And I’m a heart listener,” she said emphatically. Then she hugged me and went back to bed.

In spring, summer and autumn, you will find me somewhere on the planet with my back against a tree silently drawing, paper balanced on my lap.  Using what Rudolf Steiner called “Imaginative Cognition,” I listen with my heart. 

This heart-guided perception enables me to be directed by the tree as to what to draw. Little by little, for over an hour or so, the drawing reveals itself.  The tree “speaks” through images that are mysterious and pregnant with meaning, although I often do not fully understand what it is that I have been shown.  I have over 500 of these tree-guided drawings. Some trees I have sat under are thousands of years old. 

What is it that trees hope for?  They wait patiently to be included in our earthly work of healing, reconciliation, forgiveness and transformation. I call it co-evolutionary work. 

There are potential new partnerships with trees that can be offered in various areas of healing endeavors, for example, in the area of counseling and assisting people with Alzheimer’s and for those in trauma recovery.  There is also the more practical work with what the trees call “treeforestation.” This term refers to what most of us call reforestation but recognizes that trees are well suited to guide the humans who plant and monitor them.

Trees belong to groups as well as types, each growing in particular landscapes and ecosystems.  Some trees grow as singular beings, while others grow together in woodlands or forests.  Some are far from human habitation, while others are next door to world-renowned cultural centres.  

All of these factors play into the tree experience and their readiness to develop new capacities to relate to human beings in new ways.

As Steiner points out, the landscape can shape the activity that arises there. To quote from his lecture, Evolution of  Consciousness, “The wise men of the Druids, or others of that kind, sought out regions for their temples and sanctuaries where the conditions were such as to allow Imaginations to remain and not immediately vanish away like clouds.  In this region it has always been felt that the difficulty of holding an Imagination is not so great as in other places.”

The sites where ancient Yew trees are found were chosen by the Druids and later by the Church as locations for building sanctuaries for worship.  The drawings shown here were made in conversation with ancient Yew trees that are 1100 to 5000 years old. The ones on the lower left were made near two 5000-year-old Yew trees in Wales responding to my question regarding Steiner’s threefold social organization.  I deeply value my experiences of working with these beings in England and Wales.

Stefano Mancuso, an Italian experimental botanist, in his book Brilliant Green, helps us understand that tree senses are distributed over the entire tree, unlike the human senses, which are concentrated mostly in the front and sides of our head.  At one point, I realized that trees can see 360º all around!  With their amazing sensitivity, they are particularly vulnerable to the thousands of human-produced electromagnetic signals that are now creating a kind of electrical smog in our environment.  They have asked me to advocate for cell phone free zones in parks!

Elyse Pomeranz is a former Waldorf School teacher.  For the past 10 years, she has mentored and trained Waldorf teachers in Canada and China. She offers workshops and presentations on her work with trees.

There is so much to learn from and with trees.  I look forward to this ongoing research for the rest of my life!
Elyse refers the reader to Steiner’s Anthropsophical Leading Thoughts, pages 196 to 199. This leading thought is entitled “The Sense- and Thought-Systems of Man in Relation to the World” and dated March 1925.
For more of Elyse’s art, visit

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Tree Meditation

by Alanna Moore, 2019 Celestial Planting Calendar

The following meditation develops one’s ability to become sensitive to nature, while balancing one’s own energies.  This meditation brings enhanced balance of the Earth and Sky forces.

Sitting under a friendly tree, first having gained its permission, visualize that you are reversing space with it.  While breathing slowly and deeply, imagine your body as the trunk, your arms as branches reaching up high to touch the Sky.  Feel the sunshine on your leaves, the breeze in your branches.  Visualize your spine stretching downwards through the ground, becoming roots that travel deep down and spread out in all directions, connecting with other roots and fungal networks.  Let your roots reach further down, deeper into Earth’s core, to the transformative, vitalising power that begins to rise up into your field of awareness.

As you breathe in, visualize that the energy your tree/body is collecting from the Sun is being brought down the trunk/spine into your heart center.  At the same time, Earth energy is drawn up the trunk/spine from deep down, with both streams meeting in your heart.  On the out breath, visualize this energy radiating outwards in all directions, cleansing and revitalising your tree and yourself.  When you feel complete, slowly open your eyes, give thanks and come out of this meditative state. 

Adapted from Alanna Moore’s book Plant Spirit Gardener, available for purchase at

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Importance of Trees and Forests

by Hugh Courtney, 2019 Celestial Planting Calendar

When do trees become a wood or woods and ultimately a forest?  To answer this question, we can use a dictionary, in this case, The Random House Dictionary.  

A tree is “a plant having a permanently woody main stem or trunk ordinarily growing to a considerable height and usually developing branches at some distance from the ground.”

The definition of woods or wood is described as “a large and thick collection of growing trees, a grove or forest.” 

When we examine the word forest, it is defined as, “a large tract of land covered with trees and underbrush.” 
When we try to sort out the difference between forest, grove and woods, we understand that all these terms refer to an area covered with trees.

These definitions do not take us to a real understanding but lead us in circular directions. It’s no wonder that such sayings as “I can’t see the forest for the trees,” and, “I can’t see the trees for the forest” continue to permeate our way of speaking. 

To remedy this lack of understanding, it may be useful to look at trees from a spiritual perspective rather than merely from a physical aspect. For that spiritual view, let us turn to Rudolf Steiner’s Agriculture Course, most specifically, the Adams translation. Steiner’s insights on the role of trees in nature are both numerous and eye opening. Before detailing some of those insights, it is helpful to review some of the terms he uses.

He describes nature as consisting of four basic kingdoms, each of which adds a particular physical quality and/or spiritual aspect. The Mineral Kingdom presents only the realm of physical substance here on Earth. The Plant Kingdom adds the quality of livingness or life, or to use Steiner’s term, the plant possesses an etheric body as well as a physical body. When we look at the Animal Kingdom, in addition to a physical and a life body, a soul or an astral body is included which brings forward the qualities of movement and feeling. The fourth kingdom of Nature, the Human Kingdom, adds a spiritual or ego body to the other three bodies. It is this body which allows us to express a unique individuality or personality here on Earth.

This view conflicts with the Darwinian concept of the human being as a mere higher animal.  Steiner’s view raises humans to a level of spiritual importance in the universe. Perhaps, also, that view repositions Planet Earth from a mere speck in a vast cosmos to a unique experiment of an entire hierarchy of spiritual beings.   
With this brief introduction to Steiner’s vocabulary, let us return to his description of the importance of trees in Nature. We are given a special glimpse into the nature of trees in his seventh lecture of the Agriculture Course delivered on June 15, 1924.  Steiner reminds us to view the subject from a macrocosmic perspective rather than a microcosmic one, and in particular, that we understand that within Nature everything is connected with everything else.

To help us better understand the unique expression of trees, Steiner asks us to grasp that the buds, leaves, flowers and fruit on a tree exist with a root as well. He suggests that plants growing out of the soil essentially share a common root below the soil. In the tree, which he tells us to view as though it were earth heaped up, the root zone for what grows out of the tree is actually the cambium layer. The cambium layer is analogous to the common root zone shared by herbaceous plants underneath the soil.

Steiner goes on to describe trees—particularly fruit and deciduous trees—as “gatherers of astral substance.” That astral substance expresses itself specifically through the world of insects in the form of beings, such as butterflies, bees, other flying insects and birds. Steiner then embarks on a wide-ranging description of the myriad interconnections within nature that would not happen if there were no trees. The amazing spiritual insights he provides puts trees in a category by themselves, to the extent that trees can almost be seen as a separate kingdom of nature, residing somewhere between the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom. 
Indeed, if we look to the Chinese system of elements, we find five elements labeled as Fire, Earth, Water, Metal and Wood. This is in contrast to the system we are accustomed to in the western world with the four elements, namely Fire, Earth, Air and Water.  

Through the unique function of the cambium layer within trees, Steiner goes on to say, “a relative poverty of ether is engendered in the tree, [which] makes the earthly soil rather more dead in the environment of the tree.” Without the rich astrality in the tree tops, the insect world would not exist. Without the poverty of ether in the vicinity of tree roots, the larval stage of the insect world would not exist. Ultimately the earthworm is able to regulate the vitality in the Earth. Without trees and the refined etheric body within the cambium layer, no birds, butterflies, insects and earthworms would be present. He states that “the regulation of woods and forests is an essential part of agriculture.”

At a certain point, Steiner indicates that “a regular division of labor between the bird world and the butterfly world” has come about in that the world of herbaceous plants and shrubs is served by “the butterfly world and the whole realm of trees is served by the bird world.”  

From a somewhat distinct perspective, I also need to quote from Karsten Massei’s book, School of Elemental Beings, on page 36, where he explains the role of trees in relation to the elemental beings, “The trees are extremely important for the beings of the elemental world. Elemental meetings take place under the vaulted and peaceful roof of the trees, during which they receive instructions from higher beings. Trees also stand between the other world and this one. This is connected with the substance of wood. The living wood is the substantial foundation for the other world and this world meeting in the trees. The fact that trees stand at this threshold of worlds is also the reason that very specific elemental beings are born in the trees.”    

Hugh Courtney - Writer, Mentor, Teacher, Researcher 

In addition to contributing articles, Hugh Courtney has taken on the advisory role of forecasting favourable and unfavorable times for this calendar. He has devoted more than 40 years to perfecting the art of making biodynamic preparations. Taking a cue from his own mentor, Josephine Porter, who declared, “These preparations are no secret, I will teach anyone who wants to learn how to make them,” he has mentored hundreds of people on the finer points of making quality preparations. 

Ever concerned about keeping this special art form alive into the future, in 2009, Hugh founded Earth Legacy Agriculture, LLC to provide quality preparations for discerning practitioners.

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