Book Review: The Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew

birchoakyewBillington, Penny. The Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew: Connect to the Magic of Trees for Guidance and Transformation. Llewellyn, 2015.

Penny Billington is one of the most experienced, knowledgeable and interesting Druids I have had the pleasure to meet. Her Druidry is a magical blend of down to earth practicality and thoughtful philosophy, which takes ideas central to modern Druid thought and places them right in the centre of the real world of everyday life.

The Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew is not a book about Druidry per se, nor is it a book to be read cover to cover in one go. It is, instead, an experiential “course” in connecting to the three titular trees over an extended period of time – several months in fact is recommended.

Taking inspiration from three trees sacred to the Druid tradition, Penny explores both the physical and symbolic role of these trees in the ecosystem and within our own lives. Part field guide, part personal development, part applied Druidry, this is a book which gives the reader a lot to think about, a lot to learn, and a lot to do.

From a central Druidic idea that trees can be seen as our elder siblings and as teachers, Penny explores how we can draw on our connection with the trees to expand our awareness of ourselves and our place in the world, how we can grow with the flexibility of the birch, stand with the strength of the oak and know the mystery of the yew.

There is magic in this book, but not of the supernatural spells and smells kind. The magic of the trees is the natural, living magic of growth and transformation. Throughout the book, and especially through the exercises of going out and meeting the three trees, repeating daily affirmations, writing and doodling ideas, Penny guides the reader into a deeper connection with that magic, so that we can adopt a “tree perspective” when life gets tough and draw on the wisdom and power of the trees to see situations with detachment and with new vision.

The back cover of the book states:

“Tune in to the wisdom of three trees sacred to Druids – birch, oak and yew – and use their powerful lessons and natural gifts to transform your life…Experience within yourself each tree’s positive attributes, gain perspective by taking on each tree’s role as “witness” and find respite from the frenetic pace of modern life”.

This is a book that I’ve lived with and sat with for a good while now, reading a small bit at a time, working some of the exercises, taking time to process it, and it’s a book that rewards that sort of reading. I have no doubt that I may revisit this book next year, five years, ten years from now and find new insights within its work.

If you are tired of the usual entry-level books about Druidry and Paganism, are put off by rituals and spells, and want instead to find a guidebook to walk your own path through the forest with the birch, oak and yew as your companions, then I would highly recommend The Wisdom of Birch, Oak and Yew as a starting point.

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