(Fagus sylvatica)

We've all seen the hearts and messages carved into the patient, silver-grey trunks of beech trees. 'FT. was here 18.3.1865', 'M loves S', and so on. The tree takes the message and retains it for hundreds of years. But the beech tree's association with the written word goes back much further than its being used for scrawling upon.

In all cultures, alphabets were originally created not as mere lists of phonetic symbols, but as systematic maps that express both the elemental forces of creation and the laws of nature. They were used by priests and shamans, principally for divination and prophecy. Much later in 'historical' times, new alphabets started to be used. Although they partially grew out of the ancient symbolic systems, individual symbols lost their meanings and only retained a phonetic function. Writing lost its solely religious dimension and started to be utilised to describe the contents of storerooms, for tax collection, and to record the great battles and conquests of powerful kings. This transition, then, marked the beginning of 'historical' time as compared to 'pre-history'. In pre-historical times the written word was magic: it retained the power of the spoken word by giving it duration through time. From the beginning, stone was used to facilitate this end; however, over time, lighter materials came into use. In Europe, for example, thin boards made from light-coloured beech wood were used. The Old High German word buohhin, 'from beech wood', became the word for 'book' in German and English. And the German word for 'letter', Buchstabe, literally means 'book stick' but also possibly 'beech stick', a reference to the divinatory runes that were carved on wooden sticks.

But even without the avid scribbling of humans, beech is the memory store of the woods. Naturally this is partially true of all trees, but more than any other species beech seems to retain the vibration of past events, whether they be battles, storms, or moments of beauty.

Interestingly, beech is also intimately connected with the planet Saturn, the astrological symbol of the force responsible for preservation, contraction, compression, and isolation. Trees that are connected to Saturn tend to create their own space: think of the dark stillness in spruce plantations; or of the sublime cathedrallike spaces within a beech wood, containing hardly a whisper of undergrowth, just the pure density of their unified energetic field. It is this compressing, concentrating quality that is responsible for changing leaves into needles, an excellent way of living in harsh climates. The beech obviously has leaves not needles, but its leaves are unusually small for a broad-leafed tree of such size and stature. Another difference is seen in the woody, slightly spiky seed casings of the beech, in contrast, for example, to its relation the oak and its exposed acorns.

At the same time as being connected to Saturn, beech is, like all broadleaved trees, ruled by the planet Jupiter. Jupiter is the force of expansion. Perhaps it is by embodying a balance of these two powers that the beech has become one of the most successful trees of the ancient forests of Western and Central Europe.

Beeches are full of vitality, and many people feel utterly invigorated just by walking among them. Their concentrated, condensed energies make them valuable and joyous companions. They can help us find clarity and inner purpose.

The key words to attune to the spiritual qualities of the beech are concentration, preservation, alignment and discipline.

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