The three cardinal essences derived from the tree are refined from the leaves, bark, and wood of the donor plant. It is necessary to harvest these three cardinal components in the correct proportion so that they will each yield the desired amount of cardinal essence for our use. The tree exerts its influence over a much larger area than do the smaller flowering plants.
Here follows an account of the harvesting of a branch from the oak tree (Quercus robur). This particular oak is growing in a secluded grove deep in the heart of the oldest oak forest in Europe, a place of supreme significance to me. This huge, ancient oak has donated much to the physical and spiritual development of my work. The tree is surrounded by many other oaks, each of which reinforces and strengthens its energies. In the spring, large numbers of bluebells, foxgloves, and primroses grow under the dappled sunlight of its canopy.
Because I know this tree intimately, it was not difficult for me to pick out one of its new branches as an ideal candidate for harvesting. Oak branches are best harvested in April and May, when tender new branches appear all over the tree. The oak is a tree of the sun, so I planned my harvesting to take place early in the morning.
For the harvesting ritual we need the following materials:
Your stave to cast the Protective Circle before harvesting.
Your dagger or triple-knotted rope to seal the cast Circle.
A sharp knife or pruning shears to cut the branch from the donor tree.
Your ritual robe.
A suitable wood sealant or natural beeswax to seal the stub of the branch left on the tree after harvesting and the end of the harvested branch.
A length of string or natural twine to tie the harvested branch into a loop.
A compass. It is essential that you be aware of your orientation as you begin the harvesting ritual.
An earth gift. A small token to leave at the harvesting site in return for the plants harvested. I often use the remains of libations or incenses used in previous rituals.
A small cloth or working stone cover on which to lay out the ritual tools.
Having gathered all my essentials, I soon found my way to the familiar glade and my favorite oak. I had established earlier that the branch I intended to harvest was growing due north out of the northern side of the oak, so I positioned myself and my cache of tools to the south of the tree, facing the tree and the north.
I changed into my ritual robe and, facing the tree with both my hands on the head of my stave, I adopted the power position of the inverted pyramid stance. Having raised my sensory awareness to a level where I felt prepared for the task ahead, I held the stave in both hands, lifted it high above my head, and began the ritual with the opening words of every Druidic ritual:
“And so it begins.”
I then cast a Protective Circle around the base of the tree, allowing enough room for its perimeter to enclose my cache of tools, laid out on the cloth in front of me.
I put aside my stave and removed my robe before sitting at the base of the oak with my spine resting against the tree’s trunk. As I sat, I began to focus on the sensory experiences I had heightened a little earlier, exploring my five senses and their interaction with the sounds, smells, airborne tastes, and feel of the forest that surrounded me.
Having established myself as part of the nature of the forest, I turned my attention to the donor oak. My spine became the conduit for the tree’s latent energies as I “plugged in to” its core. I searched my inner feelings to see if there was any negative emotion placed there by the tree and continued to do so until I was convinced that the tree had no objection to my harvesting. Returning to a state of worldly consciousness, I stood up and walked to my cache to collect the pruning shears.
Back at the tree, I cut off the branch about one inch from the tree’s trunk. I then quickly sealed the open ends of the stub on the tree and the end of the harvested branch to contain its natural energies. As I did so, I said:
“Thank you for your gift; I will use it well.”
Next, I looped the harvested branch so that its tip touched the cut end at its base and tied it in position with the twine. This serves to contain the natural energies of the branch as it circulates around the closed loop. If the branch ends are left open, the energy quickly disperses. If, in looping the branch, it breaks or cracks, it is interpreted as a significant indicator that the branch has not been gifted to you in the proper way. Broken branches are returned to the base of the tree as you say:
“I take what is given freely and return to you what is yours. May it always be the way.”
I then hung the looped branch from the stub left on the tree and walked back to my cache to collect the bottle containing my earth gift. Scattering a little of the earth gift onto the ground as I walked around the tree, I said:
“I take what you have given and return to you what was once yours. May this always be the way.”
At this point the harvesting is complete. The ritual is closed in the usual way. Picking up the stave in both hands, I raised it high above my head and said:
“And so it ends, at the beginning.”