The Juniper Tree


When I first arrived In Abiquiu, which is situated in the northern mountains of New Mexico, I discovered a very small (about 2 foot tall) juniper growing just outside my windows that overlook the southwestern horizon. Native grasses had all but obscured the small tree, the only one in the front of Guadalupe’s (almost) round house.

Immediately I decided that this little tree needed my attention, so within a week I had cut down the thick grasses and ringed the tree with river stones. At this point I began to water, and after fertilizing the tree once, I continued this practice throughout the summer and early fall. I watched in amazement how the juniper flourished, sprouting new blue green spiked needles. By mid-autumn this tree had added about two inches to each branch, and had filled out considerably. A few birds began to land in the lengthening branches, and some days I would discover a praying mantis tucked into her center close to the slender trunk. This little fellow would start waving his legs and washing his face as soon as I started watering! Every morning I touched her boughs tenderly, commenting on how beautiful she was becoming. I told the tree that when winter came I would festoon her with tiny white lights to celebrate the low shadowy light and the coming of the winter solstice. Whenever I spoke to the little tree she seemed to listen; we were developing a reciprocal relationship that I could sometimes feel.

Although I soon had small cottontails eating seed I left around the tree each morning, I noticed that the rabbits never chewed on the tree. Researching junipers in general I read that they are dimorphic, meaning that they have two growth forms. One is upright, and the other much more common is bush-like opening to the sun like a flower. Even the biggest trees are not taller than 40 feet. The seedlings (like mine) bear bluish green awl shaped leaves that are pointed at the tip probably to discourage herbivores like my cottontails. Mature leaves are a darker green and scale – like in appearance. The older leaves are borne in pairs or whorls of three and are rounded at the tip, I noticed, while examining older junipers around the house and in the washes. The arrangement of the adult leaves in a circular pattern gives the twigs and uncanny resemblance to coral.

Although juniper and cedar are related – both belong to the cypress family – cedars produce small woody cones like the white cedar I have in my yard at home (my  northern winter solstice tree), while junipers produce a bluish berry –like cone. Junipers bear both male and female cones although the female cones look like highly polished blueberries and take two to three years to ripen. Most junipers are dioecious, meaning that male and female cones are found on separate trees and once you observe the difference it is easy to differentiate between the two. The male cones are brownish in appearance and very small. These latter produce pollen sacs that release pollen grains in spring and summer. As the trees age some of the trunks become twisted and gnarled (no one knows why). Stout single trunks or multiple stems originating from the ground are the most common forms the trees exhibit.

Junipers are one of the top ten plants for wildlife. Many birds love their berries and around here the Cedar waxwings, Townsend solitaires, Scaled quail, and American robins flock to the sprawling juniper cluster (one tree, many small trunks) that shades the ground outside my back door. Last fall the branches were loaded with ripe berries and now they are scattered everywhere on the ground beneath the juniper. I also see Dark Eyed juncos, Canyon towhees, and House finches scratching the ground under the tree. I sometimes see the thrasher with his curved beak hopping around. Does he eat the berries too? Collared doves, the Pinion jays, Magpies, and Western bluebirds gather in these trees for protection from hawk predation. And now that winter winds are fierce and deadly, birds of all kinds seek protection from the bitter cold in the junipers’ thick branches.

What I love best about junipers is that most of them get to live out their natural lifespan of a few hundred to a few thousand years of age. In Maine our mature (a tree is now considered mature at 20 – 30 years old) trees are logged and great swathes of raped mountain forest surround me on all sides. My guess is that the next generation of Maine children will not know what an old tree looks like.

Coming to Abiquiu for the winter has given me a reprieve from my grief around ongoing tree slaughter. I notice that most folks around here don’t pay much attention to junipers except to think of them as trees that are used for fuel, while I am almost obsessed by them, their colors and shapes, their thickening (sometimes) reddish stringy trunks, the way they can endure the effects of wild winds, and the tenacity with which they cling to cliff edges, or bend over washes with their roots exposed, inhabiting places where nothing else can grow. And it is also true that they can be a “pioneer” species since they most definitely thrive in poor soil. To survive in dry climates, like the high desert I am living in, junipers have long taproots and extensive lateral root systems that can efficiently obtain moisture where none seems to exist. I think junipers are heroic!

I tried to identify the species of my little juniper and reached the conclusion that she was probably a Utah juniper (Juniperus utahenis) because this species is the most common in the mountains of the southwest and northern New Mexico growing at elevations of 3000 – to 8000 feet. Together with the pinion pine these two comprise most of the trees in this area and are common on our mesa tops and ridges. Adult junipers define the landscape with their glacial growth, half dead half alive appearance and fragrant aroma. Because of their intolerance to shade they are always spaced apart.

These hearty trees have been used by pueblo people for millennium for firewood, building material, roof poles or vigas, as a food, and medicinal source. The fibrous bark can be woven into sandals or substituted for tobacco. Leaves and berries were/are collected and brewed to make herbal teas to treat colds, headaches, and stomach ailments. Even the hard seed shells discarded by ground squirrels provided a source of beads that were sown into clothing.

Junipers have a potent anti-viral compound – deoxypodophyllotoxin (DPT) – which as been shown to be effective against viruses that cause flu and herpes. Today, when the overuse of antibiotics has made us resistant to treatment we need to think about using natural alternatives. Juniper is certainly one possibility.

Juniper is probably most well known for its berries that produce the distinctive bitter flavoring in gin (ugh).

Juniper is used in Earth-based rituals that call for the literal manifestation of some kind energy and/or information. It is also used as an incense to welcome new animals into one’s home. As a smudge it is used for purification as it puts negative ions back into the air much like balsam or sage does. For long-term protection, a sprig of juniper is hung over doorways.

Last summer I brought in bouquets of juniper branches to scent the house, and to express my gratitude for living in a place where these old trees thrived. On hot days a sweet pungent aroma wafted through the air and my dove Lily B would fly down to the table, pull off bunches of berries and roll them across the stone floor! Outside I continued to care for the little juniper…


When I first read that the juniper tree was a symbol for the goddess Astarte, I was amazed. How many times have I discovered after falling in love with a particular kind of tree that she first belonged to a goddess? The ancient Phoenician Astarte is one of the oldest Middle Eastern goddess’s dating back to the Neolithic period (5-8000 BCE) and the Bronze Age. According to legend Astarte descended to earth as a fiery star. She was also associated with the moon. A celestial goddess, she was a bringer of life.


Last evening when I was walking home from a party I was stunned by the clarity of the starry firmament over my head. I immediately thought of Astarte as a star goddess because this was her realm, and yet, when I passed the little juniper I thought of this same goddess as a tree rooted securely in the ground. With the winter solstice just four days away it seemed fitting that both sky and earth were included in this turning of the wheel as aspects of Astarte who (I imagined) fell to earth and was shining her light through the thick branches of a prickly young juniper tree, a tree that loved and held her tight. So ends my story of what happens on this Winter Solstice Night.

The Mountain Mother



When I picked berries in the mountain field that first summer I could sense wave after wave of feeling rising up – seeping into my feet from the ground below. The sun spread blue heat over the hills and I bathed in summer’s glow. For the first time in my life I felt visible, witnessed for who I really was and accepted: I was loved –unconditionally loved by a Mother. That She was a mountain field didn’t seem odd at all. I loved her back – fiercely. I marveled. To be in love with my goddess, the one that lived in this field, brook, young forest, the one who inhabited each of these rolling hills and mountains seemed so natural. Remarkably, She celebrated my presence not only by gifting me with a love that ran like a great underground river beneath me but because She created a palpable sense of belonging. I belonged to Her. She loved me just because I was. I couldn’t get over it. My gratitude knew no bounds. All I wanted to do was to serve her…

She was visible in so many ways – in the riot of purple and green jack in the pulpits that sprung out of the sphagnum moss behind the camp in the moist valley that often filled with water, through the solitary pink lady slipper that appeared by the bridge that crossed the brook, the tiny white swamp violets, the blue fringed gentians and pearl-white turtleheads that popped up in the meadow fed by it’s own spring in the center of the field.

I glimpsed her face in the cedar that sprung to life in the rich wooded soil that bordered the brook, she sang to me from the wild apple branches that bowed over rippling water, she blinked through each firefly night, burst into a “high” when thunder and lightening churned up the waters and the brook overflowed – White Fire crackling out of her clouds and slamming into me.

I moved here from the seacoast to live at the edge of the wilderness so I thought. The “power of  place” had her own agenda. She decreed I had come here to re-claim childhood memories in these beautiful round tree studded granite mountains, and later to endure and make peace with the Dark Mother. During those first days I was flooded with images: My little brother and I playing in the brook, finding frogs and salamanders in the woods, chasing butterflies in the field, watching blue birds and fireflies, sinking into sleep under a star swept sky. How much I missed Davey! Sometimes it almost seemed as if he was hiding just out of sight. One blue morning the hawk circled over my head and I heard my brother calling. When I discovered her feathered wing in the field I believed that he lived again through me. Miracles happened here. Even his ashes found a resting place by this brook after 32 years spent in my mother’s stifling attic. Here the Mountain Mother will watch over him until the earth is no more. Is it any wonder I felt peace?

Whenever I walked down the hill through the field the intoxicating scent of fresh water pulled me like a lodestone towards the brook. Water, my first love was water; without it I shriveled like plants do in the late summer heat becoming dry lifeless heaps. Spring was my favorite season in the mountains because water was the only music I could hear around the camp – sometimes deafening in intensity it tumbled over the falls and cascaded over lichened stone – granite boulders rarely impeded the flow. The sounds of the swollen brook soothed me, quieting my racing mind, allowing images to flower into words, poems, or prayers of gratitude. Oh, I loved her so. And so it continued for a number of years…

I began to experience a darker side of the Mountain Mother when two intolerable family losses piled up on me like a cairn of heavy stones. I first saw her in the stark cliffs, in the ice that came too early and lingered to long, in the fierce winter winds that blew mercilessly, split tree limbs, in the mountains of snow that froze solid ripping off roof tops and caving in old homes. My dreams became dark and ominous full of dark men and darker women. I was full of rage and sorrow.

When the rape of the forest began I was in a state of disbelief, unable to process that so much tree destruction could occur with such relentless precision, could blot out ‘the peace of the wild things’ so absolutely without anyone noticing what was happening. This is when I learned that the “Tree of Life” is not a metaphor: rather trees are life because they not only provide most of Nature with the oxygen needed to breathe but they support  wildlife by creating a “home place” for all. While the trees screeched and shuddered as they fell, owls and hawks disappeared. The gouged out earth flooded and the rain swept rich topsoil in great weeping rivulets down the now distorted face of the Mountain Mother. Many birds were silenced; all suffered habitat loss. Bears, deer, coyotes, beaver, woodcock and grouse, ducks and wild geese, fox and moose continued to be hunted down, shot and trapped by those who believe they had “god-given” rights to kill – not primarily for food, but for the thrill. A cranky mob of crows croaked and cawed from the tops of old snags, their numbers stable, perhaps a testament to Nature’s tenacity? Or were they a caucus of old bird women in disguise uttering unintelligible omens of what lay ahead? Nature was under siege and I couldn’t bear it. Her mirror was cracking. When the Mountain Mother turned her darkest face toward me I questioned my own sanity.

Year after year I struggled to make peace with the ongoing slaughter of trees and animals, with neighborhood bullies, with myself. When the gunning began in the valley, despair mushroomed even as I closed my windows to keep summer out. Hours of mindless target shooting, roaring trucks, earth-gouging machines, and belligerent thugs devoured the silence. Peace was on the run. Noise shattered what was left of the mirror. I grieved. Leave taking became reality. I put my house up for sale.

A month ago feeling overcome by sorrow I co-opted a song and re –wrote it. When I read it out loud with my two dogs, dove, and log cabin as witnesses, my voice cracked.

My Lady of the Shadows


All year long she touched me

Gathered me to her soul

Shrouded in moon and stars

She held me thorns and all


And the Light came through her body

And the Night fell through her grace

All year long she touched me

And I knew her face to face


 I find her in the Shadows

Where I thank her with my heart

For keeping me so close to her

When I believed I stood apart


And the Light comes through her body

And the Night falls through her grace

All year long she touches me

I know her face to face.

I wrote the words in the past and the present tense to remind myself that I do know her as the benevolent Mountain Mother, although it is getting so much harder for me to reach her beneficent side. I need relief from personal suffering and human induced noise to hear Her voice. It was late in the afternoon when I hung the words up on the wall next to Guadalupe’s shrine. When I walked over to “her “ window as I call my plant window because it looks out over the eastern mountains, I was stunned because those glorious mounds seemed to light up of their own accord – in all these years I had never gazed at deep golden light so intense that the mountains seemed to have been lit with it from within. I gasped. The sight affected me on such a visceral level that I just stood there with my mouth open…miracles still happen here.

Later I understood: this Lady of the Shadows is the sorrowful side of the goddess. Because rage and sorrow are conjoined as one, together they encompass the dark aspect of the Mountain Mother (Demeter’s rage and sorrow express this aspect well). Although her joyous side has been suppressed in me for many years I was comforted.

I also think that this narrative is about something greater than my own story. I believe the Spirit of Nature has been separated from her Soul. Her body is in mourning, her body is burning. We have stripped our Mountain Mother of sentience – of deep knowing, deep feeling, and natural wisdom. At present Her only function is to serve the devouring maw of patriarchal culture as a commodity, or worse, as a sacrificial mother. Is it any wonder that grief pours out of me? What happens to the Earth is happening to me.

I will always love this land but I have reached the conclusion that I must find another place to live. At 70 I plan to visit the mountainous region of Abiquiu, New Mexico where I hope to meet the Wild Goddess in her desert form. There are rivers there that flow down from the mountains… A desert is by natural inclination open space but it is also a place where the earth meets the sky, a place perhaps where a wounded spirit, soul, and body can heal? Deserts, I recall, are blissfully silent most of the time. ‘The peace of the wild things’ still exists in cactus flowers, roadrunners and ravens, lizards, pinion pine, mesquite and rabbit bush. Perhaps a mountainous desert made from crushed stone, the first life form on earth, is a place to start over?

Persephone Rises



While researching Minoan Crete I learned that each autumn young girls once gathered blue violet saffron crocus to leave as an offering for the Wild Crocus Goddess as they prepared for adolescent female initiation rites. I was intrigued by the reference to autumn because I associate flowers more with spring than any other season. From other sources I discovered that in Minoan Crete young girls also gathered bright yellow crocus to celebrate the Great Goddess and the return of the growing season and that yellow was the color associated with the Great Goddess because of the golden color of the dye made from the precious saffron crocus. Later in Greece during the Lesser Mysteries, flowers, especially yellow crocus were also picked to celebrate Persephone’s return from the Underworld. I was particularly delighted by the reference to Persephone picking bright yellow crocus because my relationship with this goddess has been a somber one; I have always associated her with death. And yellow is a joyous color that I associate with early spring.


I felt a wild sense of hope as a volcanic fire erupted inside me when I first imagined Persephone picking spring flowers because of my uncomfortable relationship with this mythical figure and also because I love flowers.


Suddenly, riveted by childhood visions I was swept up and momentarily tumbled out of time… Crocus and snowdrops appeared out of the snow at my grandmother’s feet like magic, lilacs and violets embraced me through scent, the intoxicating aroma of lily’s of the valley opened the door to mysteriously shaded desert canyons and to rushing rivers rippling over stone, lupine sliced their way through mountain gorges. Giant sunflowers pulsed wildly against a deep blue sky…


Flowers have been a guiding force in my life since I was a baby. My grandfather named me Buttercup because my first word was “cups” for flowers, not mama or papa; my second word was “Baba” for grandmother. As a child I was enchanted by the story of my first two names, too young to consider the implications behind choosing a flower as my first word, and my grandmother as the second. My grandmother also told me that I loved the delicate yellow wildflowers that grew in the grass that lay around me when she placed me on the ground that first summer of my life. I was crawling on the sweetly scented earth surrounded on four sides by roses, lobelia, and the deep purple violets that my grandmother grew in her English garden. I held buttery yellow flower petals in my curled fists while my grandmother took moving pictures… it’s almost as if I can remember the joy I felt bubbling inside me, the impish and irrepressible grin of my innocent self, the feeling of being loved by the world – my two grandparents, the grass, the sky and perhaps most of all by the flowers. Almost…


I was a volatile and overly sensitive child with an unruly temper who loved Nature passionately. In retrospect, I see that my mother’s emotional neglect/rejection of me and the fear of my father’s explosive temper probably helped me develop a more intimate relationship with Nature that was based on a fierce love that had no other safe place to go. Flowers came to symbolize my joyful feelings and flowers also seemed to be a most natural way to express my yearning to be loved… I remember showering flowers on my mother and grandmother on Mother’s Day and throughout the summer, and when my little brother was old enough he joined me in this practice. At mid –life with my children grown I was free to grow as many flowers as I could care for and wild unkempt gardens appeared everywhere on my property. Now at 70 I am still a “plant woman” although I no longer want to make a career out of outdoor gardening!


When researching Persephone’s spring ascent I learned that she was perceived as the power of vegetation to burst forth in the spring and to die back in the fall. Persephone follows other more ancient chthonic agricultural deities who received the souls of the dead into the earth, and acquired power over the fertility of the soil over which she reigned. Some say that yellow crocuses sprung out of the earth at Persephone’s feet when she returned in the spring. Persephone was also described as the Great Goddess of all Nature and associated with water and springs. Others portrayed her as the seed of the fruits of trees and the grain of the fields and the former reminded me of the fruit that Persephone was depicted as carrying during the Mysteries – the pomegranate.


The earliest depiction of a goddess who may be identified with Persephone growing out of the ground is on a plate from the Old Palace period (actually these were court buildings) in Phaistos, Crete. Two girls dance between blossoming flowers on each side of a similar but armless and legless figure. Persephone is bordered by snake lines that give her a vegetable like appearance but are also similar to the snake tubes found in Minoan sanctuaries. She has a large stylized flower turned over on her head! That Persephone/Demeter/Eleusinian Mysteries continued a religious practice that began in Minoan Crete in 3500BCE with the worship of the Minoan Great Goddess seems quite probable because the two cultures overlapped. The Eleusinian mysteries were celebrated in Greece for almost 2000 years, not dying out until around 400BCE crushed by the advent of patriarchy.


I would also argue that Persephone was a snake goddess like her predecessor the Minoan Snake Goddess. Snakes are believed to embody the life force, rebirth, transformation, and the wisdom of Nature so it makes perfect sense that Persephone would have a serpent aspect to her. Anyone that has ever witnessed the spring phenomenon of hundreds of snakes slithering out of their underground home on a warm spring day might make the connection between snakes rising from the underworld and Persephone’s return just as I have. Persephone was abducted as a young girl but returned to the upper world as a Queen in her own right transformed into a Life-Death-Life goddess because she inhabited both realms – that of the living and the dead.


During the Lesser Mysteries the participants were taught about Persephone. These were also purification rites. Some Greek artwork shows initiates choosing to handle a serpent while Demeter looks back at Persephone which suggests to me that initiates had to choose Persephone in her serpent form before they could participate in the Eleusinian Mysteries in the autumn when they would experience her. At the culmination of these Greater Mysteries Persephone freed the participants from a fear of death though no one knows how because all participants had to take a vow of silence.


I don’t know if the snow around the house will melt enough this March so that the first spring blooms will appear during the “Month of the Mothers” but I will surely be on the look out. In pre-patriarchal goddess mythology the first mother’s day was March 25th; perhaps this year it will be the day I first peer down at the delicate cups of the spring crocus as they poke their heads and spiked green leaves out of the ground. When that day comes I plan to sing a little song of praise to Persephone welcoming her back…


Part 2


For those folks in the southern hemisphere who are entering fall as we the northern climates enter spring I offer this next personal narrative.


Every Autumn I buy a smooth skinned crimson pomegranate to celebrate the Fall Equinox. But until this fall I have never intentionally bought a pomegranate to acknowledge the Persephone in me although her cyclic journeys to the underworld have also been my own. I have resisted my alignment with Persephone because I have come to fear my own descents. In the last few years these periods of depression have become more severe.


This September I turned 70 on the last day of the ancient celebration of Persephone’s Eleusinian Mysteries. Quietly I spoke out loud as I set my birthday intention. I am aligning myself with Persephone. I held a pomegranate in the open palm of my hand, thinking of the fruit as a symbol of my willingness to take this step. I also saw the beautiful round fruit as the Earth, imagining the ruby –like seeds imbedded in the soft white flesh as Earth’s possibilities. As I surrendered and finally accepted my mythic identity/alignment with Persephone, I experienced a subtle energy shift. I thought about the maiden goddess who becomes Queen of the Dead, and the one who makes predictable cyclic descents into the Underworld. As I breathed through my body I experienced a palpable sense of relief… I recalled the recent dream that informed me that the “Way of the Goddess” was my way, and that I had to choose her again. Not surprisingly within a few days I once again entered a state of profound depression during which time I suddenly remembered my first encounter with a pomegranate…


I must have been about five or six the night my father brought home the lush red fruit with its silky skin. He sliced the pomegranate in half.


I was transfixed by the sight of this fruit that was also full of seeds and entered some kind of non – ordinary state as I took half the pomegranate from my father’s hand and ate the first bitter-sweet ruby seed.

This memory of the two of us is so sharp and clear and ends so abruptly that I realize now that it was a mythic story that the child tapped into. I entered Persephone’s “field” for the first time as a young girl… This fall when I accepted my mythical alignment with Persephone I crossed her threshold as an adult, and with a lightening flash of insight understood the meaning behind my compelling childhood memory. When I took the pomegranate out of my father’s hand I accepted the fate that was mine to own albeit unconsciously. On an archetypal level the young child entered into a mythical contract with her father, a Hades figure. She took the fruit and ate the seeds insuring that she too would become an underworld figure. My identity as a Persephone was sealed by that encounter though it would take a life – time to live it and to unravel the threads.


To perceive Persephone as an archetype is to understand that a pattern of energy/information is attached to the figure. Archetypes work as attractor sites pulling a person into a particular alignment with an archetypal pattern or field. The nature of these fields is unknown but they work on the same principle as other known fields like the field of gravity. Archetypes are impersonal, they are patterns of energy that carry specific information and each one has a specific region of influence. Archetypal patterns often live through us without our knowledge but if we are sensitive to their energy charge we may have the feeling that we are living a more authentic life once we are pulled into a particular field because like attracts like. In this way of thinking as a child I already had personality traits and had been born into a specific field of influence that left me vulnerable to being drawn into a death field as a Persephone. I remember vividly how I reacted when I first read the myth; I was enthralled by all the characters and inexorably drawn into the story almost against my will. The character I was most reluctant to align myself with was Persephone. And that was more than twenty years ago. Last fall when I accepted Persephone in me it opened a mythic door to my most authentic self. What I didn’t realize then was that by accepting Persephone in me as the woman who made cyclic descents, I also gained access to the story of her joyous ascent in the spring.


Blessed Be


A Brief Overview of the Myth of Demeter and Persephone:


The story begins with Persephone gathering flowers (saffron crocus or poppies) in a field one autumn with Demeter watching over her beloved daughter. Suddenly the earth splits in two and out of the chasm comes Hades who scoops up Persephone and in a flash descends back into the Underworld. Demeter searches frantically for her daughter and eventually meets Hecate, goddess of the crossroads who takes her to Helios. Helios the sun explains that Persephone has been chosen as the bride of Hades, who is King of the Underworld. Demeter is in such a fury that she causes the Earth to become barren. Eventually Persephone is released from the Underworld to appease Demeter’s wrath. In some early versions Hecate rescues Persephone. Demeter is overjoyed to be re-united with her daughter and the Earth once again becomes fertile. When Demeter learns that Persephone has eaten the seeds of the pomegranate she realizes that Persephone will have to return to the Underworld for a few months of every year because she accepted the seeds from Hades, who tricked her. During the months of the year when Persephone is once again Queen of the Underworld, the land becomes barren. Both Demeter and her daughter accept Persephone’s fate and in the fall of the year every five years the Eleusinian Mysteries are celebrated with Persephone leading the procession. The mysteries are secret so nothing is known of what transpired at Eleusis for almost 2000 years except that those that participated were freed from the fear of death. snake_goddess_figurines378px-Heraklion.jpg