Note: Alferian will be at Eye of Horus Saturday, July 30th, to for a wandmaking demo, booksigning and Q&A
The dryad is the spirit of the tree, its essential pattern. It is a living being linked to the tree and growing with it, but at the same time it is a trans-temporal and trans-spacial creature, living in the Astral dimension as much as in the mundane world. When a branch falls off a tree or is pruned, the dryad spirit is still in the wood. It is not really correct to speak of “parts” of a spirit, but one might consider the spirit of the wand to be part of the tree’s consciousness. Some writers suggest that trees withdraw their life from a branch when they sense it is going to be cut and there is doubtless something to such observations. Nevertheless, in my experience, the spirit always remains in some degree and can be awoken by enchantment when the branch is crafted into a wand.
Now, of course, orthodox mundane botany does not usually accord consciousness to trees. In the Alferic tradition and in most schools of Druidry, trees are considered to have spirit, mind, and consciousness, as well as will and emotions. Indeed, in my experience, trees have a larger proportion of emotion than intellect in their souls. They do not ratiocinate the way we do, but they do ponder and brood. As Tolkien so rightly observed in Lord of the Rings, many trees today are sleepy. If the druid touches them and makes contact with their dryad spirit, they sometimes at first seem sluggish and hard to reach. Other trees respond immediately to such attention with the same kind of reaction many of us would have if suddenly touched by the mind of another being.
Still, it is misleading to anthropomorphize dryads. They share many of the spiritual qualities with us, but they do not think or live like human beings. In their present incarnation, trees are fixed and immobile. A great deal of their attention is directed into the ground through their roots and outward into the air through their branches and leaves. They do move, of course, in the process of growth and in harmony with the winds, rain, and sunlight. Deciduous trees drop their leaves and grow new ones, many drop seeds or flowers. So there is a great deal of activity in trees but it is the sort that, in humans, remains largely unconscious. We too produce seeds and eggs, grow hair and nails and new skin, and throughout childhood our whole body is growing. Even in adulthood the body changes shape. But trees have very different bodies and their spirits are diffused throughout their bodies without the distracting narrow focus of a brain steeped in language. Thus trees, unlike humans, have never suffered from the dichotomy of mind and body. If their consciousness dwells on different parts of their being, it is on the roots, the trunk, and the branches. The leaves are the most sensitive organs of trees, but the bark is also very sensitive, flowing with tree-blood underneath, just like skin.
Although many of the woods are traditionally associated with one of the four classical elements (Air, Fire, Water, Earth), dryads are spirits that do not fall simply into one of these elements. Rather, they embody the fifth element recognized in the Taoist system: Wood. They are representative of all of the four elements combined into a fifth that is a living organism. Trees are the pinnacle of the plant kingdom, as humans are often imagined to be the pinnacle of the animal kingdom, filled with nobility, grandeur, often great age, and wisdom that comes from a long life in one place. We are indebted to them in ways that are often incompletely realized: in the gift of oxygen, wood, and paper trees have made human civilization possible. They are, thus, mystically speaking, the midwives of all intelligent life and human creativity. The Quintessence is often described as Spirit, but it is enlightening to consider this “Fifth Element” as Wood for the trees point upwards to the sun, stars, and heavens, to the invisible Spirit, which is not an “element” at all, but the essence that underlies all manifestation.
©2006 The Bardic Institute, reprinted from www.bardwood.com by permission