Ever since we were forced into lockdown by this pesky virus I’d been enjoying watching Julian Vayne’s YouTube mini-interviews, called “My Magical Thing”, in which various magicky people talk about an object that is magical or otherwise special or significant to them. I thought it was a really good idea, magical practitioners talking about an object that was not necessarily (but could be) what we might specifically classify as overtly “magic”, as in a ritual tool or components of a spell. The people interviewed were always really interesting and it was a fun surprise to see what their magical thing was and hear them talk about it.
As I watched the interviews I’d wonder what magical thing I’d talk about if I was ever interviewed like that. Then, lo and behold, Julian Vayne contacted me and asked me if I wanted to participate! Well, being such a fan of the series, of course I did. But then I had the dilemma of deciding what magical thing to talk about. Should I talk about, say, a specific ritual object like a cauldron, wand, cup, or broom? A statue? Magical jewellery? I considered talking about my Church of All Worlds “Thou Art God/dess” mirror (used in CAW rituals)… But then I decided to talk about a tree. And this is the basis of, but not exactly, what I said:
My magical thing is a tree, well, a model of a tree that I got several years ago in Israel. So, let me fill you in on the back story…
I was in Israel working on a dig – an archaeological excavation – at a place called Caesarea, a huge Roman port, on the beach. And we were working on material from Herod’s palace at Caesarea - one of his palaces.
So this is King Herod I (73 – 4 BCE), or Herod the Great, Herod of the Massacre of the Innocents, client king of Roman Judea. He is the Great Uncle of Herodias (who became a goddess of witches during the medieval period and comes down to us as Aradia), and the Great Great Uncle of Herodias’ daughter Salome of the dance of the seven veils and the killing of John the Baptist. That dance was performed in front of Herod I’s son Herod Antipas, who Herodias was married to (her cousin once removed).
So the palace we’re working on dates to before Herodias and Salome. The reason I am there is because I am interested in Garden Archaeology – the excavation of gardens – and I was working with one of the world experts on Garden Archaeology. And Herod’s palace at Caesarea had these rock cut planting pits around a pool so I was interested to look at those.
There was also a well in the palace which was full of what may have been curse tablets. Curse tablets are usually made of lead and have writing on, these were stone and any writing would have had to have been painted on. They were all sorts of different shapes, square, circular, triangle, and I was sorting them into typologies and photographing them.
Anyway, how did I get the tree? We are staying on a moshav, which is a cooperative agricultural community, and there was an artists’ studio where they made these brightly coloured naïve art objects and that’s where I got the tree.
But why is this a magical object to me? A talismanic object. Long before the Herodian kingdom of Roman Judea, and before the codification of Judaism, the ancient Israelites were polytheistic and worshipped a goddess called Asherah who was in the form of a tree.
Asherah is a Canaanite goddess who is married to the god El. They have 70 sons, one of whom is Yahweh, the monotheistic god of Judaism and later Christianity. In the biblical text Asherah is sometimes paired with Yahweh, or with Baal, but these are actually her sons.
Ancient Israelite religion was described in the Bible as occurring “on every high hill and under every green tree”. We know that Israelite religion occurred at a cult place called a Bamah, or High Place, which featured a sacred tree called an Asherah, a sacred stone called a Massebah, an altar or Misbe’ah, and a built structure called a Bayit, house or shine.
I love how if you go back in time through the Middle Eastern Judeo-Christian spiritual tradition that so many of us have inherited, that you will come upon a Nature Religion centred around a Tree of Life.
Pagans tend to dismiss biblical religion, but within it is a Nature Religion. Within Ceremonial Magic which has more of a connection to Biblical religion we use the Tree as a conceptual diagram with the Kabbalistic Tree of Life, and of course the Tree is relevant to Thelema as well because Nut – or Nuit – is often in the form of a life giving tree.
I’m really interested in communicating with trees, often in a divinatory capacity, like at Dodona in Greece where you listen to the sounds of the tree – "a word of tree and a whisper of stone" – as the Ugaritic text says. Now with scientific instruments we can also hear sounds that plants make that were formerly beyond the capacity of human hearing.
The most important thing about a tree is that we share the planet with them and are dependent on them, and we need to forge relationships with them and NOT chop them down.
You can watch the interview with me about My Magical Thing on Julian Vayne and Nikki Wyrd’s Deep Magic YouTube page.