Wednesday, 16 March 2011


The ash tree is the tree that the Celts associated most with the month of March. In Norse mythology, it was Ygdrassil, the World ash. This ancient and shamanic image illustrates three levels of consciousness, as well as the journey of a human life.

The roots of Ygdrassil are found in the underworld, the unconscious self. Because it contains all the material that we have chosen to repress it is also our past and in particular our childhood. It is our foundation, the place that we are growing from. In the myth, the world serpent gnaws incessantly at these roots. As a symbol of the dark feminine, the wounded feeling self, this is the gnawing of our wounds demanding attention. This dark material is the compost from which life blossoms.  The alchemists call it the prima materia, the dark lead that lies heavy on our hearts.

At the beginning of March, down among the dark roots of the World ash, we can connect very deeply to this prima materia and feel it as raw and intolerable once again. Up among the branches at this time, the buds of the ash tree are black as lead.

The trunk of Ygdrassil is the here and now, this world that we live in, the present. It is here that the alchemical transformation of the prima materia takes place. When we allow ourselves to be in relationship with our feeling self we begin the transmutation of our wounds, changing the lead into gold. This is conscious adulthood, our life work. Here the trunk of the tree becomes the sealed container in which the process unfolds as naturally as the spring.

In the branches of Ygdrassil, we find the future and those elders who having worked their alchemy are now harvesting their gold. In the myth, the lower branches are the home of deer, which graze upon the leaves while the eagle, the higher self looks down from above. As symbols of love and gentleness, the deer are an indication of the nature of this harvest. We may strive for material wealth, but it is in the fruiting of relationship, both with ourselves and others, that we find real gold. This is a harvest of the heart and it can be there in all our futures.

Ian Siddons Heginworth is an environmental arts therapist, founder of the Devon-based Wild Things community programme and author of Environmental Arts Therapy and the Tree of Life, Spirit’s Rest Books.
Photograph: Ash Tree Marmit