This is some of my hand embroidery work from a few years back. Originally made for sale, this ended up being one of those pieces that I just couldn’t give up. The World Tree or Tree of Life is nearly a universal symbol found in cultures around the globe. This is one of my favorite views of this symbol. I imagined an Oak as I stitched, especially good friends to me and more reflective of my Ancestors… but the feeling behind this image is best expressed in this work written for and inspired by the Lakota Tree of Life… the Cottonwood…
“Awaken and listen
to the sacred voice within.
I will teach you how to heal
burns on soul or skin.
My wind-wise rattles
teach the rhythm of Mystery,
as I quake with power.
Self-reliance and spiritual evolution
can be learned within my shady bower.
With the wisdom of Ancestors.
from cradleboard to shield,
I will protect and guide
Secrets of astral travel,
triumph over adversity,
and righteous living I confide."
Who sings now?
“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn, or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.” ~ Denis Waitley
Cottonwoods are related to Aspens and Poplars belonging to Family Salicaceae (Along with Willows) Genus Populus. There are only three species of Cottonwood in their own section called Aegiros. Cottonwoods can be found in North America, Europe and Western Asia. Cottonwoods are associated with spiritual growth and awakening, prayers, blessings, purity, creation, truth (especially the seeing of truth), endurance, higher communication, hope, rebirth.
Species of Poplar or Aspen, like Cottonwood, can be found in North America, Europe and Asia. Cottonwoods typically reach a height of 40 to 80 feet! Male and female Cottonwood flowers are in separate catkins, appearing before the leaves in spring. The seeds are borne on cottony structures which allow them to be blown long distances in the air before settling to ground. Cottonwoods are quite tall trees, the Plains Cottonwood reaching a size of 60-100 feet tall with a canopy of similar proportion. Prone to wood decay, Cottonwoods can become potentially dangerous once they begin to get on in years, around 60-70 depending on the kind of Cottonwood and the conditions. I know I wouldn’t want one of those huge limbs hurtling in my direction!
Most Cottonwoods can live up to 100 years, but a few have been fortunate enough to be placed in conditions that have allowed them even longer lives. There is a Rio Grande Cottonwood (or possibly a Fremont Cottonwood) growing in the Ruby Canyon along the Colorado River near the Utah border. This lovely tree was measured and examined in 1995, and was found to be just over 200 years old and still thriving!
The Fremont Cottonwood has many uses. The active biochemical constituents are salicin and populin, the precursors of aspirin that are useful wherever a fever needs reducing or an anti-inflammatory is appropriate (Moore 1979). The bark is the most effective part for tea but is rather bitter; for this reason the leaves are often preferred. Leaf buds make an excellent ointment for burns and skin irritations. A wash of the bark is applied externally for cuts, bruises, abrasions, burns and fetid perspiration, as well as healing chafing sores on horses.
A poultice has been used for sprains, muscle pain, and swollen joints. A salve can be made that cleanses and conditions the skin when used regularly. Internally, it is considered to be an anti-inflammatory agent, reduces fever, indigestion, aids coughs from colds, expels worms and intestinal parasites, is effective against scurvy, heart troubles, back pain, excessive menses, and urinary tract infections. It is a diuretic, and has been used to prevent premature birth.
“Native American isn’t blood. It is what is in the heart. The love for the land, the respect for it, those who inhabit it, and the respect and acknowledgement of the spirits and elders. That is what it is to be Indian.” ~ White Feather, Navajo Medicine Man
The young catkins, inner bark and sweet sap are all edible (a helpful food source to Native Americans, especially during lean times, as it could feed man or horse), the wood was often used as the roof beam for lodges, and Cottonwood was rather popular for basket making. The Hopi of Arizona make Kachina dolls from this Teacher’s roots. Chumash skirts, cordage and cradle padding were made from the inner bark, and this Teacher was also very popular for the making of cradleboards.
Cottonwoods are also drawn to water, and grow only in wet soil. They were a welcome site to pioneers on the Oregon trail which supported few trees. The shade they provided must have been almost as welcome as the water so often found nearby. They are found along lakes, riverbanks and irrigation ditches and do very well surviving flood conditions. Their leaves are often described as triangular. Personally, they look like spades to me, and I have to say that the sound of their leaves is quite unlike any other tree that I’ve heard thus far. They “twinkle” in the slightest breeze and turn a brilliant shade of yellow in the fall. While this Tree is not considered high-grade for building or as fire wood as it doesn’t split or burn well and rots easily, it is currently being consider as a “fuel crop”, along with the Willow. They hope to develop a more efficient and cost effective fuel, cellulosic ethanol, with which to wean us off of oil. It is also favored by artisans for carving.
“May my life be like a great hospitable tree, and may weary wanderers find in me a rest.” ~ John Henry Jowett
To many Native Americans the Cottonwood tree holds great significance and is considered to be the Tree of Life. It is said that to tell a lie under a Cottonwood will bring illness to the liar. The “Shield-maker’s” tree, Cottonwoods are associated with old age, the wisdom of our elders, and the many eye shapes found upon it’s surface indicate an ability to see truth or perhaps even into the future and dreams.
The Cottonwood is essential to the Sun Dance ceremony, and some study of this may be useful to those who feel called by this Teacher. The study of Medicine Shields, another Native Tradition, as well as other sacred ways may also be beneficial. These “quaking” trees are much respected. From my own experiences I can say that Cottonwoods speak clearly and loudly, and have a great sense of responsibility from a very young age. Tucked away I have four Cottonwood leaves from a very special friend I made one year. She placed them in my mouth herself as if to say, “Shut up and listen already! Close your mouth and look!”
I’ve tried to do just that ever since, and my own spiritual growth since that day has risen by leaps and bounds. Life is a dance; sometimes we stumble or even break a bone, sometimes we miss a turn, or just want to give our aching feet a rest. The point is to dance with all your heart, and remember that you aren’t dancing alone. Every day is a challenge, it is up to us to turn our lives into artwork. Truly, an excellent friend for anyone looking for spiritual awakening, healing, and the strength or inspiration to simply live a good life. Be warned though, that road is never as easy and untroubled as it oft times appears! Cottonwood will help you bear the load and make the best decisions possible though. Belonging to the Family Salicaceae, Cottonwoods can be good as pioneer trees in an unwooded area, and they will even tolerate dry soil if they begin their lives in area with dry soil.
Awareness, walking our talk, and maintaining a spiritually healthy life are important topics to the Cottonwood and those called by this Teacher. Without these things, we too may begin to decay and become a potential hazard to others! Owning and expressing our emotions properly is equally important to being well grounded, and acting as a vessel of Divine will is vital. Honoring our Ancestors and exploring their wisdom are also key Cottonwood concepts. Perhaps more than any other lesson, Cottonwood would like us to choose to live every moment to the best of our abilities by being a good example to others.
“Friend do it this way – that is,
whatever you do in life,
do the very best you can
with both your heart and mind.
And if you do it that way,
the Power Of The Universe
will come to your assistance,
if your heart and mind are in Unity.
When one sits in the Hoop Of The People,
one must be responsible because
All of Creation is related.
And the hurt of one is the hurt of all.
And the honor of one is the honor of all.
And whatever we do effects everything in the universe.
If you do it that way – that is,
if you truly join your heart and mind
as One – whatever you ask for,
that’s the Way It’s Going To Be."
Translated from Lakota, passed down from White Buffalo Calf Woman
Potential Balancing Energies: Horse, Bison/Buffalo, Deer, Rabbit, Bear, Wind, Water, birds from the Hummingbird to the Eagle, Willow, Poplar, Aspen, various Fungi, Prarie dog, Gopher, various Lepidoptera, Bees, Ants, Swan, Citrine Quartz, Sapphire, Swan Fluorite, Dragonfly and other Insects
Key Concepts: Sun Dance ceremony, spiritual growth and awakening, prayers, blessings, purity, truth (especially the seeing of truth and spiritual vision), endurance, higher communication, hope, soul work, creation, death, rebirth, healing, transcending fear, Ancestors and living as an example to others.
Associated Gods/Goddesses or Mythic figures: A World Tree of North America, Creator and the individual spirit of the Tree, Balm of Gilead, and through European connections Hercules, the Heliads, the nymph Leuce, Inanna,Persephone, Hecate, Ua-Ildak, Jesus