Opening the Oak Door

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Six moons into Mystery School, I set out to the woods of Druid Hill Park looking for raw material for an arts and crafts project: Although you can simply purchase a pre-made wand online…we highly encourage you to craft your own. The wand is the sacred instrument of magicians, wizards, little girls in fairy costume, and urban priestesses-in-training who are behind on their coursework. I’ll say this: no matter how madcap the curriculum, there’s always a practical component that finds me boots on the ground, tromping around in nature.

With wands, we direct our will and intention; we clear and focus our energy. Wherever we point a wand, there too flows the juice. Wands give our life force directionality. Wielding a wand, we imagine ourselves omnipotent, capable of producing shifts in energy fields. My own energy needed some sprucing up. Spring, with its many calls to adventure and unpredictable weather patterns, had left me vaguely depressed, wanting to hang back in winter to climb on the couch and binge-watch The Americans.

I entered the park from the Woodberry side, along Parkdale Avenue. Hanging a left at the fork, I was soon huffing up the first of several killer hills, keeping an ear out for owls, hawks, and the more exotic voices of zoo animals. A Nor’easter had blown through the day before, shaking loose enough dead wood to arm every last priestess and fairy princess in the land with wands and walking sticks. Every few steps, I was tempted by some new windfall and found myself stopping often to weigh the attributes of various prospects–waving them in the air, testing them for soundness, then casting them aside. I was refining my specs. Something between a switch and a baton–light, but sturdy. It had to feel right in my hand. I wondered if it was more a case of the right wand finding me.

I was taking a roundabout route to the “God tree,” a towering old oak in the vicinity of the disc golf course, with “God” carved into the trunk so high up that you had to wonder how someone had ever pulled it off. I liked the idea of my wand coming from the God tree, or at least the general vicinity of that enduring specimen.

Druid Hill Park. I hadn’t given much thought to its name before. The Druids were, in Celtic lore, the visionaries, magicians, and wisdom speakers of their time. They held their sacred rituals in oak groves. I imagine the park earned its name because of its many oak trees.  One possible etymology of the word Druid is “dru-wid,” knower of the oak trees. “Duir,” another possible root of Druid, means door in Sanskrit and Celtic. Oak trees were, for the spiritually advanced Celts, portals to other realms. Seekers accessed the great mysteries by “opening the oak door.”

Even if the spiritual realm isn’t your goal, consider this: Time spent among the trees is said to improve immune function, reduce stress, elevate mood, lower blood pressure and blood sugar levels, enhance energy and creativity, and support our ability to focus. We urban dwellers would be wise to beat a path out to the woods on a regular basis to combat the toxic effects of modern living. The Japanese call it shinrin-yoku, forest-bathing, basking in the salubrious environment of the woods. In this city, you’ll find no finer woods for basking than those of Druid Hill Park, home to some of the oldest growth forest in the state.

My wand found me not by the God tree, but along the sidewalk closing in on the zoo entrance. Why this one, I couldn’t rightly say. It met my specs—length and heft–but mostly it just felt good in my hand. At the stout end of its tapered span, it had a gnarly wound, a calloused area that fit my thumb just so. Also, I was tired of looking. If I found something better at the base of the God tree, so be it. In the meantime, I walked along waving my wand in each of the cardinal directions, exploring the scarred place with my thumb and index finger, searching for the right grip. I thought of Rumi’s famous words: “The wound is the place where the light enters you.”

I considered the many places in my life I’d like to transform with the merest touch of a wand—pounds and wrinkles, poof, gone! Relationships righted, history corrected, dreams realized, a world rescued from madness. If only.

An hour into the walk I reached the God tree and circled it, eyes trained on the ground, finding no better stick than the one already in my hand. I remembered that Winnie the Pooh’s adventures had often found him, too, at the base of a giant oak in the Hundred Acre Wood, nosing after beehives or tracking the Woozles he imagined were after his honey supply. Hewing the air with my wand, tromping through dead leaves, sensually engaged with the world, I’d entered a liminal space and found my child self, yet another well-known portal to healing.

I paused to take in the full measure of the God tree. It was a bit ragged, perhaps blighted by urban toxins, invading microbes, or too many drought seasons. Or maybe it was just old age, a natural progression that had claimed some of its major limbs. The Druids, those knowers of oaks, understood the trees as living beings. This old soldier looked like it could use some love. For that matter, so could I. I climbed up on its elephantine footing and opened my arms wide to receive the gifts for which the oak has been eternally revered—wisdom, endurance, strength, steadfastness, and courage, all of the noble virtues the spiritual aspirant needs to journey to other psychic realms.

With one cheek pressed against the rough bark, I craned my neck to look up into the canopy, budding with new life. In the Tarot deck, Wands is one of the four cardinal suits, representing the element of fire—our desire, will to manifest, and creative energy. Wands, in the Tarot, are a symbolic connecting link between the physical and the spiritual realms.  They are depicted in various Tarot deck as sticks sprouting new growth.

It’s hard to argue with the power of a walk in the park to set things right. I’d started off the day a little mean of spirit, grumbly and vaguely depressed. At the end of the walk, I felt fully linked in, myself again. Back at home, I wrapped silk ribbon and a strand of semi-precious beads around the shaft of my forest foundling to finish up the project.

To be honest, I don’t see myself using a wand with any serious intent. Then again, I believe deeply in the power of creativity and symbols to produce magical shifts in thinking.  When we craft, imagining with our hands, we enter a space between the worlds where the whole brain–right and left sides, conscious and unconscious–are in fruitful dialogue. The conscious mind, with its doctrinaire ways, pursuing its worldly agenda, is watered, fertilized, and enlivened by the unconscious. It’s a place of possibility.

Magic is just a shift in how we see things, after all, not really so woo-woo.

Lindsay Fleming

Lindsay Fleming

Lindsay Fleming is a graduate of the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars. Her essays and short fiction have appeared in Scribner’s Best of the Fiction Workshops, Room to Grow and more. She writes Little Magic every fourth Wednesday in the Baltimore Fishbowl.
Lindsay Fleming

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