A Spell in the Forest: Book 1 – Tongues in Trees, by Roselle Angwin
Moon Books, 1789046300, 288 pages, July 2021

Through and through I believe in awakening our connection to nature through intentional relationship, creativity, and mindfulness. A Spell in the Forest: Book 1 – Tongues in Trees by Roselle Angwin is a beautiful synthesis of all those things, drawing the reader into an ethos of tree wisdom and healing. Angwin also teaches the reader about the Ogham alphabet calendar and how to track the year through the wisdom of trees. Reading this book was a true pleasure that made me excited for my next trip to the forest, as well as interested in how my initiation into working with the Ogham calendar this month will go.

Even though I do not get to indulge in forest time daily, being out in nature is a very important part of my lifestyle. I even went on to get a master’s degree in environmental humanities, intending to further educate myself on the relationship between humans and nature. Trees have always been an ally to me, watching their branches sway, feeling their mighty presence, noticing the many animals that depend on them for sustenance and shelter.

I was delighted to see that Angwin shared my passion for nature, along with philosophy on the need for people to reconnect with the wisdom of trees (albeit remorseful about the calling stemming from horrendous ecological destruction currently occurring). In the introduction, Angwin acknowledges the current crisis that has stemmed from viewing trees as a resource, fostered by the modern Western consciousness that is greatly disconnected from the natural world. She praises the trees, acknowledging their gifts to the environment, healing powers, and spiritual attributes.

“In the moment when we pay attention to the being of the tree, we are also opening a channel for a reciprocal relationship between human and tree. Our job is to be awake to all this: to practise the art of tuning-in to these general and specific qualities; to try and be aware of the exchange of prana and the interrelationship of consciousness.”1

I feel like I experience this interconnection every time I step outside, and I know exactly what she’s describing. And to be honest, never have I felt so transported when reading a book. I truly felt like I was walking through the woods of Britain as I read Angwin’s vivid description of her experiences.

Part I Forest is a brilliant reflection on what she’s learned from trees, mixed in with creative musings that have sprung from her time in the forest.  Blending her memories of times in the woods with her current yearning to connect and heal through her relationship with the trees, her poetry brings to life both mythic and mystic sensations.

“But there are always two forests. And I don’t mean ‘Paimpont’ and ‘Huelgoat’. One is the physical wood and forest we encounter — or don’t, but know they exist — ‘out there’. The other is the abiding forest of our imagination: a pristine (because unaltered – and unalterable – by humans) wildwood; the one we encounter in myths, legends, fairy stories.”2

Angwin describes how much of human’s learning has come through trees. She notes the many mythologies that feature the Tree of Life in cultures around the world, where trees are entry points into different realms of consciousness. Some examples are the Buddha who attained enlightenment by sitting under the Bodi tree or the World Tree in Norse mythology.

My favorite part of the book is near the end of Part I where Angwin discusses the Ogham alphabet, which supposedly was a method for initiating Druids to memorize wisdom teaching and the sun-god Ogma created it by watching the flight of cranes. The crane was a sacred bird to the Druids and “the letters were ‘written upon the sky’ not only by the birds’ wings and legs, but also from their flight patterns and the way they changed when the tired lead bird swapped with another.”3 Like how cool is that?

However, not only is the Ogham an alphabet, it is also a calendar, which marks the different times of the year. Angwin continues to provide more information on the Ogham from the standpoint of it as a calendar. She details the possible connection to a moon-goddess, linking the Ogham to lunar time.

Then Angwin delves into why she chose the thirteen Ogham that she did for this book, based primarily on the work of Robert Graves, although she makes substitutions that resonate based on her personal experience. I really appreciate the way Angwin thoroughly details her choices and thought process throughout the book, making it easy to understand her perception, while also acknowledging it is a multi-faceted topic that has spanned centuries so obviously there’s different points of view.

Part II Tongues in Trees: The Tree Months moves into exploring the thirteen sacred Celtic trees month by month. To begin, Angwin explains “The Song of Amergin,” which is a “spell-like sacred incantation with profound ecological, shamanic and shapeshifting resonances.”4 She created her own version, providing a poetic line for each month, describing an aspect of the tree’s wisdom or its mythological significance.

I was quite delighted to find I was reading the book just as the season transitioned from Hawthorn (May 13th- June 9th) to Oak (June 10th-July 7th). This gave me the opportunity to start my explorations with Oak and then proceed with the rest of the year.

For every tree month, Angwin first provides the genus/species, dates, key words, and line of poetry. Then she delves into very thorough descriptions of the trees’ history, habits, gifts it provides, mythology, symbolism, associations of the tree (ex. Oak Tree has an association with a story in Genesis), Celtic mysteries of the tree, and honestly, so much more!

As far as books about the Oghams go, this one provides the  most background information, well-researched and thoroughly woven together by poetic creativity and detailed historical information. I appreciate this approach immensely because it blends the history, science, mythology, and spirituality of each tree to provide a holistic perspective. It’s a multi-layered approach that is really impactful in creating a connection with the trees.

The final section, Part III Practical, has been a great resource for beginning my journey of connecting with the Oak tree during this month. Angwin offers ideas on how to establish these relationships and begin to map the year through the Ogham calendar. From finding the tree in your own ecosystem (if possible) to sitting with it and meditating, a template for establishing these relationships is created.

Angwin also puts out a call to save the trees, which are rapidly being depleted through foresting, impacting global climate temperatures, by becoming stewards for the trees. Options such as replanting trees, growing your own food, and lobbying are all suggestions she makes to be an active agent on behalf of the trees’ well-being, along with many other useful suggestions. I immensely appreciate her dedication to preserving the natural woodlands, and it made me realize there’s more I could be doing within my own community.

All in all, A Spell in the Forest, is a true gem filled with the essence of trees. This is almost embarrassing to admit, but even just holding the book seems to create an opening with  my heart to the trees. I have hardly wanted to put the book down because it’s so grounding and packed with information. I will certainly be reading it time and time again, as I make my way through the year in accordance with the Ogham alphabet calendar.

I highly recommend this book to those who are seeking more information on the Celtic tradition, particularly the Ogham, or those who simply value the wisdom and sacred nature of trees. I truly believe that by reuniting with nature, on all levels, as this book helps one to do, healing will begin to occur. In the meanwhile, I agree with Angwin that it is essential for us to protect the wildness of the forest, both physical and symbolically. A Spell in the Forest is a wonderful place to begin. I very much am looking forward to the next book in this series!