Inspired by the Catalpa

Snow is one of my most favorite things. I am ecstatic when the first flakes fall and wish fervently for snow on my birthday at the beginning of December. Luckily, I live in Wisconsin which is known for it’s deep, snowy, winters and large snowflakes that glisten as they drift slowly through the skies to land on our thick evergreen trees. On the other hand, the humid Summers in Wisconsin mean that I do not get to enjoy snow nearly as much as I’d like to. For one week each Summer, though, a very special snow falls.

The Catalpa Tree (Catalpa speciosa) is a gloriously tall, strong tree that produces a white, orchid-like flower that falls and covers the ground almost like it was a first snow fall during the week of Summer Solstice. The flowers are on the tree for only a short while and they last even less once they’ve fallen, but the glory of that snow fall is something I savor each Summer. When I was little I’d invite two or three special friends over for a tea party under our huge Catalpa tree in celebration. How I savor those memories! This is the tree that has most strongly resonated with me and my life from childhood onward.

It is a tree that represents potent joy. What other tree do we have in North America that responds to the height of Summer with an out-pouring of big, white, showy flowers? It is a tree that represents perseverance. It can grow quite tall and straight, flexible to the wind and storms but never forgetting that it grows tall for something larger than the whims of any given season. It is a tree that serves a home for uniqueness. Catalpa sphinx moth uses it as their sole food source and can even destroy the tree if the moth population becomes too high. This beautiful tree is the inspiration for developing my own interpretation of Ogham.

Ogham is the Celtic tree alphabet and divination tool attributed first to the Druids in ancient Britain ( created roughly ~300 BC). Each symbol has come to mean a different letter, tree, and message. Modern practitioners carve the symbols onto sticks or stones and use the meaning attributed to each tree to discern the message coming through from the Otherworld, Ancestors, or the Spirit of the Place. It is a system that has evolved through the years and adapts to each practitioner.

While I’ve thoroughly enjoyed working with the traditional trees of the UK, some of the trees do not resonate with my landscapes, outer or inner. There are trees like the Catalpa that have always had much more meaning in my life and experiences. They are the teachers that I’d like to see when working with Ogham. So, like many a Druid before me and many after me, I’ve decided to devote some time to adapting the Ogham for my region and practice.

The Ovate grade through OBOD touches on this idea and the order has some great things posted already from those who have done similar projects (like Australia and Tuscany). I’m excited to see what develops and nervous about being able to devote the time necessary to this work. The ideas are not altogether new, though, as I’ve felt and seen spinets of what fits more naturally with my environment.  I hope that with some devoted meditation, nature walks, and experimentation I, too, will find a version of Ogham that represents the fabulous teachers in my natural world.

If anyone else has ventured down similar paths, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear words of wisdom or hilarious mishaps!

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