The Cartomancer: How to Speak with your Tree Ally

The author and her dog before a tree.
Photo: Camelia Elias

I’m spending the week in the woods of the island of Bornholm. This is a power place full of stone circles and twisted pine trees. Pine tree spirit is one of my strongest allies, so I cherish the possibility to stay at a cabin that’s surrounded by this spirit.

two tarot cards placed on the ground before a tree root
Louttre B Tarot, 1981 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

As I was calling the nature forces this morning using a powerful drum, I looked up and asked the pine: ‘What offering can I make you today,’ thinking of something special. I felt a strong pain in my ovary, on the right-hand side. The sharpest sword couldn’t have been more bloody. ‘Blood?’ I asked pine spirit, and it quickly went, ‘Yes, blood’. I tried to negotiate with it: ‘Well, good luck with that source,’ thinking of my recent joining of the crone club where that kind of blood is not an option any more.

The tree was just standing there, looking at me with anticipation, as if saying, ‘Finally you get what I want very fast, so what are you waiting for?’ ‘Well, Pinus Contorta,’ I said to it, suddenly feeling importantly Latin, ‘I suppose I will just have to prick myself in the finger, and make that offering.’ Pinus Contorta gave me a whiff of its smell. We had a deal. By my word, not my act, for I didn’t rush to perform the venerable act of stabbing myself.

an young evergreen tree
Photo: Camelia Elias

Later in the day I went for a hike. I spotted an old bushy pine, and rushed towards it. On my way I got caught in some brambles. My calves got pricked badly enough for me to see the blood come out of them. Then I remembered. Bloody hell. I said to the Pine: ‘Ok, here it is, thank you for not taking my head or my whole limb.’ The pine leaned towards me, so I could sniff it.

This is always an erotically sublime affair. The more I smell the pine, its cones and resin, the more I travel on my senses to places that understand alchemy. Pine spirit makes my senses colorful, hot and cold at the same time, while also breezing a dry and moist air into my lungs.

My cards out there in the woods were also very clear:

I used the Louttre B Tarot for the affair, as this one likes to be taken to the woods: The 5 of Cups, Knight of Coins, and the Sun were very eloquent in their visual message:

three tarot cards -- the 5 of cups, the knight of coins, and the sone -- placed on a mossy rock
Louttre B Tarot, 1981 (Photo: Camelia Elias)

If you make a promise for a drop of blood while riding the horse in your drum, then make sure to say, ‘Hell, yes’ to the immediacy of the act. You wait too long, you may find out that your promise will be the last. Indeed, I actually thanked the brambles for nudging me, for who’s to say what might have happened had I persisted in my amnesia?

tree bark
Photo: Camelia Elias

Sacred Language

This made me think of the pacts we make, the devotion we show, and the tuning into nature we do. How do we listen to the voiceless and the inarticulate? One of Hunter S. Thompson’s often quoted phrases came to my mind: “When the going gets weird, the weird goes pro.”

I think of what Socrates and Plato would have made of that, what with their distrust of everything spiritual and artful. Art is no good, they both declared, because it allows for too much unconscious desire to emerge. Voice needs an origin, they further believed, and then they showed even more distrust of the Greek drama and its oracles.

In his thoughtful book, The Infinite Conversation, Maurice Blanchot points to an essential aspect in his comparison of works of literature to the articulation of the sacred voice of oracles. They both have the potential to deceive truth itself. Socrates, for one, wanted only true discourse. No nonsense, such as listening to a tree, water, or image. And yet. Says Blanchot:

“Like sacred language, what is written comes from no recognizable source, is without author or origin, and thereby always refers back to something more original than itself. Behind the words of the written work, nobody is present; but language gives voice to this absence, just as in the oracle, when divinity speaks, the god himself is never present in his words, and it is the absence of god which then speaks.”

gnarled tree roots
Photo: Camelia Elias

Topos

In my conversation with the Pine spirit, I think that what I hear is an indictment that I pay closer attention to that which evades truth. I must pay attention to the discourse of absence, silence, and the mute image. These things don’t operate with truth, but with topos. They are there. They map our judgments against our desires; which is the reason why exploring their territory involves taking risks. The risk of miscommunication, the risk of betrayal, deceit, the risk of promising and not delivering, and the risk of appearing out of balance: ‘You talk to trees and they demand blood? That can’t be good…’

But this risk is also a necessary price we pay if we want to follow the oracle: Know thyself, which is to say, know thy place. You get to know thyself by placing yourself in a state above signification. Thus you are free from having to talk or from having to make gestures. This is something that the pre-Socratics have understood. Heraclitus, for instance, believed that the oracle “neither speaks out nor conceals, but points.” The oracle thus never predicts. I think of this when I read the cards. But then I remember that I practice awareness of the nondual kind, so I don’t worry about what is not NOW.

I also like to think that what I was listening to while communing with Pine spirit was the idea that as a consequence of knowing myself, or rather, my place, I can begin to trust the people in my life more; their acts, their beliefs, and their love. As I can hope that they trust me. Within this trust, the question: ‘Who speaks beyond the text,’ or ‘Whose voice is there behind the words?’, becomes more nuanced as I stretch the elastic of my finitude and of what I can know about myself and others into realms that are vaster than my gratitude and blood. Pine spirit teaches me the lesson of the dead.

§

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