Trees have been known to offer themselves up in sacrifice—they will fall, or succumb to felling, in order to serve another purpose or achieve a higher balance for the greater good. We also recognize that trees have many times become the place or vehicle for the sacrifices of others. In Chapter Ten of Up A Tree, young Aidan Whitford dies in a car crash, and the tree he strikes is an Alder.
Alder has a strong link to sacrifice. It “bleeds” when cut and the wood turns from white to red. The hero with whom this tree is associated is Bran the Blessed. Bran was a warrior and a leader, “blessed” with the gift of prophecy. This gift permitted him to foresee his own death in battle, and he accepted his fate with courage. He told his followers to remove his head after he was killed; his body would create a bridge for them to cross the River Shannon, and his head would guide them safely home.
This association to sacrifice inextricably links trees to the “thin places,” or what the Celts called the betwixt and between, those places where the elements blend (in mist or the foam of the water), and those times when darkness and light blur and bind to one another (at dawn and dusk). Here in these places is where we come into contact with the veil between the worlds and the Land of the Dead.
Whenever we sacrifice something, the implication is that we are letting go of what is precious, including quite possibly, life itself. In any sacrifice, something must “die”—an old way of being, a relationship, a fear, etc. And in the letting go, there is an expectation that we will be rewarded in some way for the sacrifice, and that the greater the sacrifice, the greater the reward.
This is why Alder has such a strong connection to release and forgiveness. Forgiveness itself is a sacrifice—we let go of something precious like our pride or our attachment to being right, in favor of forgiving the perceived wrong.
Alder teaches us that it is unnatural and unhealthy to continue to hold on when the time comes for something to end—for something to be sacrificed. In the cold grip of what has transpired, we experience struggle and pain, but in the letting go, we find release, relief, and yes, reward.
The passing of Aidan into the spirit world, with the help of Clare and many attending and loving spirits, reminds us of this promise. We observe through the story that until he is helped, Aidan is stuck, confused and lost. His mother, Sally, senses his distress. There are tears throughout this great hardship, but there is also a promised peace and hope for Sally, because Aidan has found his peace and reward.
Alder medicine is all about the strength to step forward whenever we are called upon to do something difficult. In the resistance to challenge, we will find struggle and heartache. In the letting go, we will discover our magnificence.
Think of something it is time for you to let go of. Imagine the exquisite relief of being without it. Give it your blessing. Blow it into an Alder stick and sacrifice it to the fire.