Books on Herbalism and plant lore are many and quite often repetitive in the information they give to the reader, but this is not the case with Corinne Boyer’s two publications on Troy Books, Under the BrambleArch (2019) and Under the Witching Tree (2016). These two books are the works of a practitioner of the Green Path that accomplished intense communion not only with the Green world, but Nature herself.
Her work reads as warm and vibrant description of the green treasures she found and she manages to replicate the energetic pulse of the talkativeness of plants and the silent wordiness of the trees in ways captivating and stimulating. Corinne’s work I would place in the succession of writers going back to Nicholas Culpepper’s Complete Herbal (1652), through Erasmus Darwin (yes the father of Charles) in his intense ode to the Greenwood called The Botanic Garden (1791) and in particular the second of the two poems, The Loves of the Plants through Richard Folkard’s Plant Lore, Legends and Lyrics (1892). Works I always cherished more than most written on plants and herbalism out there.
The organization of the book is also very inviting as the entrances to each tree and plant are marvellous parted into an almost erotic description of the greenwood itself, followed by its use in folk medicine with its ethnobiological myths and legends. This generous information is then expanded upon by the personal experiences of Corinne dealing with these virtues whereas she gives us ritualistic and medicinal suggestions and sharing in an incredible bounty the teachings she reaped from the work in bonding with the many genies and guardians of the Green.
The work of Corinne is of such outstanding calibre that it is nearly impossible not getting curious on the author herself and seeking to know better how she managed to establish this rapport with Nature herself, and so, instead of recommending her books by delving into her work I invite you to take part in a short interview we did and which I here share with you in order to understand better the voice beneath these two publications that for me became instant classics in their field. Enjoy!
Could you share with me what was the epiphany that made you being drawn to trees?
I think that it came from childhood, you know something that happened over time… I was drawn to the forests in Michigan where I came from and lived in a wooded neighbourhood with a large lot… but beyond that, I always felt drawn to any place with a forest. The peace that I felt and feel there is unlike any other. It seems to me that the trees hold many secrets that are not made for humans, yet we can feel them if we spend the time. The beauty and mystery that a forest holds, even just a small wild space, is so inspiring on all levels. It is my favourite environment.
Also, being raised reading fairy tales I learned early on that the quintessential witch lived in the forest or at the edge of the forest. This always resonated for me, having an active imagination, making the connection that the witch and the forest were one, in the sense that they both understood the other. I have always loved this connection.
You write about trees as medicine, why the trees are medicinal for humans, where is the connection between men and trees?
Trees have the ability to give humans most everything that they need to survive- in a sense. Oxygen, building materials, fuel, medicines, foods, even clothing; The evolution between humans and trees (and plants in general) is so old, I believe that we have a psychic response to them; even in modern times, in industrialized cultures there is a recognition of their beauty and importance, at least on some level. Without them, there would be no wood- nor coal. Other plants provide some material and fuel, but nothing like what wood provides, as a whole. We exploit them so heavily, yet certain cultures in time and space did and still do venerate specific trees as spirits. Old trees cause reverence and fear in many humans, we can sense their power. And folklore tells the stories- for example how an old cherry tree that no longer bears fruit was supposed to be haunted by demons, a German superstition. Trees are inseparable with human history, we have evolved with them and they with us.
In what ways do you see trees mirror man?
That is a good question. Maybe more like how can we see ourselves in trees, and I think in many ways trees give a beautiful example of the spectrum of light and dark powers that exist. For instance, looking at an old hollow apple tree that is gnarled and covered in lichen verses observing a stout and strong oak tree, gives totally different impressions. Elder trees and linden trees feel both feminine to me, but with very unlike aspects. I think that trees give a mirror for humans to peer into, plants in general do this. We can find somehow all human emotions expressed with the trees, and resonate with them. It is as if there is a sympathy there, between humans and trees. For example, after a very significant death, I spent a lot of time with willow trees- it was as if they could understand my grief with no need of language. We can sense our humanness in our environment, if we only take the time to look for it.
What is it that trees can teach us about life?
Sometimes the most obvious things are the most precious, and easy to overlook. I think trees teach about the ability to change. When I learned to identify different trees in my area, I realized how difficult it was. They look so different at different stages of growth. It took a long time of watching them at separate seasonal times of the year, and at various ages to see how much they can change as they grow. I love that as a metaphor, however simple it is. And also, that they finally fully grow into what they are destined to be. I think humans need to remember their sense of authenticity and trees can teach us about that.
The witch icon surfaces as important in being able to form relationships with trees, what is demanded on part of the ‘witch’ to generate a communion with trees?
I love this question. Letting go of what one thinks one knows- humility would be the first thing that comes to mind. Secondly time and space to observe and sense. Time alone in nature is perhaps the most important teacher when walking a magical path. How often do people really take the time to spend with specific trees? It is so important to learn the differences and direct transmissions that will eventually come if one takes the time and can remain open to the experience. Also, observing how trees come in night dreams and what messages they bring has been an important aspect of understanding them for me. Noticing what one is drawn to and what one is not, is always good when working with plants in general. If we can pay attention to that, we will learn a lot.
How would you explain the mystery concerning ‘the spirit that inhabits the tree’, or, how the tree became ‘enspirited’?
There are a few different ways to look at this. First is to imagine that any group of trees or plants have their own innate spirit power. This can be their entire history surrounding their uses, magical, medicinal and material. It is as if you can see and feel this on a particular tree or plant. Second is that certain trees that are old or in some way are distinct from others, will be like an enhancement of power on the land. Of course, they will have a different feel than a younger example of the same tree. In this wise, they are tied to the place they are in and will in many ways reflect this. Then it is possible that other spirits inhabit the tree. Such as spirits of the dead or other nature spirits. These kinds of trees also feel very different and one can get the sense that the spirit power there is not just the trees innate power; but something else.
You speak of trees as witnesses, how do you perceive the trees as witnesses – and ancestors – having value for mankind today?
I think of them as witnesses, because they have seen so much change occur. They know things that we do not, and have an intelligence that is unlike our own. I don’t assume that they ‘see’ or ‘hear’ as we do, but in their own ways that we cannot understand. And it is arrogant for me to think that they care for the problems or concerns of humans, but I think they witness from another perspective. I live in a place where logging is the industry rather than agriculture. The invention of the gasoline powered engine changed everything for trees, and therefore the environment as a whole. Witness is a passive stance, in some regards, to destruction and irreversible change. I believe that trees have memory, but it is not in a way that humans do. They may be passive in some sense, but we need trees to breathe and survive. Our fate is linked with theirs, most certainly.
What is your advice to those who seek to commune with trees? What are your recommendations to people who seek communion with plants, how should they go about with this?
I think that approaching trees and plants in solitude with offerings is the first step. By speaking to them and praying to them, we open up to them. Sitting with them in silence and spending time with them is a powerful practice. Stepping out of the mundane is essential. Paying attention to all visions, dreams, body sensations, and emotions is all information to note. The key is discernment- to identify what is yours and what is coming from the tree/plant… This takes time. Plants and trees are really amazing for detecting energy and power, as they are generally very approachable in the sense that they can be found in a place and then observed over the seasons.
Some trees or plants may be hostile to humans, not all trees or plants are friendly. This may be the land itself, other spirits or the particular stand of plants or tree. It is important to respect unwelcoming trees and plants and to give space to them. In the same wise, sometimes it feels like a plant or tree is courting you, also pay heed to this. If it keeps showing up in dreams, places, conversations, seemingly random synchronicities- it is helpful to pay attention. I recommend writing down experiences, observations, dreams, transmissions, thoughts, often time we don’t regard our experiences as valuable enough to record, but they are. In time, things may make more sense and without a record, it is easy to forget.
Learning to even identify plants and trees let alone work with them in medicinal or esoteric ways is a grand but totally possible endeavour. We are all wired to learn plants and trees. It is just a matter of taking the time and setting some of our human nature aside to be receptive. Spending time without harvesting from them is something totally different then picking fruit or harvesting branches to make something with. Both are valuable ways to learn. I recommend the practical and sensory aspects as much as the observant and visionary techniques. All of the ways to have them in day to day life are helpful. Rather than just worship, we need to interact. Develop specific not just general relationships. My question often is- how intimate can we be with trees and plants? And what are the possible contact points? These are ongoing questions with changeable answers. The most effective way to answer them is to continue to work with plants and trees, as an ongoing practice.
What is it about the greenwood that defines what we often nominate as ‘witch’ or ‘cunning one’?
That one becomes infused with a wild magic if one is immersed enough within the greenwood… by association to become a vessel of the forest and her secrets. But beyond just the forest, a witch is one with the land, whatever land it happens to be. This sense that a magic worker goes beyond human boundaries and ordinary parameters, and includes the powers of the land itself, within. The land will speak its language and its secrets and a witch has the ears and soul to hear and understand. And to work with that information directly.