Tree Spirits

The wind stirs the leaves of a tree. There are rustles, whispers, unnerving movements, suggesting the voices of past spirits, current presentiments.

In TREE SPIRITS workshop, let your imagination roam among the branches. I’ll introduce you to MONOTYPE – in this case the use of acrylic paint on glass, onto which we press paper, which when peeled off, creates a foliage of rich texture and exciting potential. Within it we place “tree spirits” – collages of the quirky, dark and humorous, from faces to improbable creatures; transferred from the printed page to a habitat of dreams.

The process is simple and satisfying with endless possibilities you will want to explore further.

The tradition of tree spirits is centuries old. In Greece there were believed to be dryads and hamadryads linked to the lives of the trees they inhabited, especially oaks. Dryads were gentle and shy, always to be found near their tree and were related to fertility and worship of the tree itself. They might range from a sprite to a goddess. The Meliae were ash tree nymphs.

In Somerset, England, felling trees could be hazardous, if you believed local superstition. Coppices growing from the trunks of felled oaks were thought to be haunted by angry tree spirits and people avoided them after sunset.

Even creepier, willows were said to walk, muttering after people in the dark. And from a birch coppice, it was believed a female spirit emerged, her clothes rustling like dead leaves and with a skinny white hand like a blasted branch. There was said to be one on the moor near Taunton, who drifted after travellers so fast they could not escape. If she touched a man’s head with the hand he went mad. She was eventually defeated by a man with a handful of salt!

Yakshinis were Hindu, Buddhist and Jain tree spirits, found particularly in ashoka and sal trees. They were usually kind but could be malevolent.

Taalavaasini was the palm deity. Originally Tamil, it was however related to all palms and the tamarind. It was thought to ensure a good crop of fruit.

Hathor was known as the Lady of the Sycamore in ancient Egypt, while Kurozome was the spirit of the Japanese cherry. The wild banana was inhabited by Nang Tani, an ambiguous female spirit and Penghou was an edible dog-shaped spirit in the Chinese classic “Mountains and Seas.” This was a compilation of mythic geography and myth from  the 4th century BC and images include a giant human-headed snake and a nine-tailed fox. It was thought to have been written by several people. Pi-Fang was another Chinese deity and Rakapila, a sacred tree spirit of Madagascar.