As I walked briskly through the Forest Umbra—part of the Gargano National Park in the Puglia region of Italy—I could feel the healing come in through my lungs and spread across my body. It was like a ray of golden light filtered through the thick canopy of centuries-old European Beech trees (Fagus sylvatica) with a sprinkling of oaks, mainly Turkey oak (Quercus cerris) and Italian oak (Quercus frainetto). As the light collected on the leaves, the trees took what kin needed, letting the rest pass down to us creatures below. Truly, it was a sanctuary.
I have no doubt that the Beeches could sense my need. Towering high above me with thick roots below covered in Butcher’s Broom (Ruscus aculeatus), Holly (Ilex L.), and the occasional Belladonna (Atropa belladonna)—a species often used in spells and tinctures—the plants are probably used to receiving requests for safe haven.
And I needed sanctuary.
Exposure to the elements was taking its toll. Input was coming from every direction: new plant companions, conversing limestone, active spirals, insects galore, human chit chat… a constant gabber.
Being away from home is beautiful, but it comes with its own set of challenges, especially when you are with a large group of people. Persons have needs, whether they are human, animal, plant, or other. And as my mother always told me, when you’re strong, people look to you for support. So they often look to me for containment.
Add to this a magickal place infused with subtle—yet loud—significance plus a changing season, and it was easy to become saturated. Without a safe, quiet place to escape and be alone, the sensitive Taurus in me was straining under the pressure.
I was born by the sea under a sun so bright I didn’t understand that my birthday was in the spring season until I moved far away from home. I had always just assumed it was summer. Breathing salty air blowing across a crystal blue ocean fills my reservoirs with much-needed essential minerals. As a child, I would routinely go out on our boat and spend hours sitting at the bow as we rushed to neighboring islands. I thought I was a reptile, warming my blood in the sun.
Lately, I’m starting to wonder if instead of a lizard, I’m more of a well-adapted plant who gets her fill when exposed to full sun and has simultaneously learned to thrive in low-light conditions. I can happily spend hours basking in sunlight without burning, soaking up everything this environment has to offer. Then I need to be brought back into sheltered conditions so I can slowly integrate what I have in my stores to get me through the darker periods.
I should clarify that by dark, I don’t mean negative. I mean dark as in those periods when you are consciously not letting in a new light in order to take inventory of what you have and discover their uses. The shade that gently holds you as you release what no longer serves then contains you as you integrate the remaining into your core being. The waning light of autumn gives way to the darkness of winter, a period of reflection, release, and renewal.
The forest taught me how to do this.
Sanctuary, A Forest Gift
While my childhood was spent by the sea, my adult life has mainly been near mountains. And in the last 10 years, I have made the woods my home.
It is under her canopy that I have learned some of the greatest lessons of my life. I’m not really sure if “learned” is the right term. I think it would be better to say, “understood” or maybe “recognized my evolutions”. Clemens G. Arvay once wrote, “To breathe in the air of a forest is like drinking a healing potion.” When you study alchemy, you quickly realize that a potion does not work right away. It takes time for the tincture to make its way to its necessary destination, oftentimes breaking through layers of obstacles and taking on new shapes for its curative properties to be absorbed.
So while it is by the sea that I replenish much-needed reservoirs of nutrients, I go to the green sanctuary for them to be fully assimilated. Hence why I found myself called to the Forest Umbra when my senses reached their saturation levels instead of taking another walk on the bay beaches of Gargano. I needed forest stillness to work through the overwhelm.
Shaded by the canopy, the Beech brewed up an enriching cocktail of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) I drank in with every breath. Each inhale expanded my lung capacity, taking even more of the moist smells into my lungs, tenderly slipping into my bloodstream. As the VOCs coursed through my body, I could feel three gifts arriving directly from the forest:
- My mind became calm and clear, seeing the world around me like swirls of energy each with their perfect place. As my positivity levels rose, opportunities and solutions once again became the lens through which I saw the world before me.
- My ability to receive increased. You’d think it would be the opposite, shielding me from taking in too much, but instead the plants constantly whispered, “There is much for you to receive in this sacred place. Take it in, we are here to support you. And when you are home, our kin in the woods will help you assimilate what serves you best.”
- My inner vessel reopened its doors and was ready to return to its role accompanying others as they navigate the rough sees of their worries and fears. I came into this life with a purpose to help others achieve their dreams. And the plants collaborate with me in bringing that purpose to life.
By the end of that walk, I felt like a kid with a giant pillowcase ready to go out trick’o’treating on All Hallow’s Eve. I wasn’t supposed to understand or know or even recognize what my True Nature was attracting in Gargano. It was the end of summer, and I was in a special place that was giving to me what I needed to evolve into my next level of being in the coming months. While at the same time, holding me as I support those that needed my help on their own journeys.
Accept these gifts from the forest sanctuary with gratitude and trust. By winter, you will know why they were given and how to use them.
So that’s exactly what I did…
Sea Squill (Drimia maritima), Clustered Carline Thistle (Carlina corymbosa), Prickly Juniper (Juniperus oxycedrus), Sand Aloe (Aloe hereroensis)
Conscious Acceptance of Forest Gifts
Every day, I would listen to those around me. Each species spoke openly of their wants and needs. Thanks to the gifts of the forest, I was able to build a mini-sanctuary for them to safely explore the reflections being offered, as is my life’s work.
Then every night, I would use my breath to bring the day’s messages into my body. I didn’t take notes or journal or use any external device to record these gifts. In the morning when I awoke from an active night of dreaming, I let those slip into my reservoirs unguided, as well, along with all the other feelings and sensations.
Now that the season has changed and I am back home, it is easy to slip into the anxiety that I need to recall everything I’ve been gifted right away or lose it. For so many of us, processing has become an active pursuit measured by how much consternation you put into it. But it is not yet the right season. We are in the fall, and I still have more stores to consciously fill before the time will be conducive to reflection and planning. The winter will come soon enough.
No need to rush. I am still assimilating the ingredients for my next seed of creation.
The forest, the sea, and all the beings that inhabit these southern lands have given their gifts to me. Their potion courses through my veins working on obstacles to break through and areas to evolve before a new evolution coalesces together. As the woods teach us, a seed must wait for its season and optimal conditions in order to germinate.
I have plenty of time to create my seed before it needs be planted in the earth.