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“religious revolution” (Eliade, 1993: 45). The Christian concepts of the sacrifice
of the innocent son of God and the mater dolorosa who mourned him and held
him in her lap also have their roots in the myths of the sedentary Neolithic
farmers. The community was increasingly guided by the priests, who ruled over
the ritual calendar and who determined when to sow and harvest and when to
make offerings and sacrifices according to the position of the stars, and less by
the shamans, who could talk to the forest and animal spirits.
The unified world of the primitives was gradually separated into two
realms: the cultivated land on one side and the wilderness behind the hedgerow
on the other; the tame, working animals and the dangerous wild animals; the
friendly spirits of the house and farm and the forest spirits one must be careful
of. And so the era, which people remember as “golden,” dims—“By the sweat of
your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground / since from it
you were taken” (Genesis 3: 19).
The Power of the Wilderness
The hedgerow that surrounded the clearing was by no means an impenetrable
wall. People were conscious of the fact that their small islands of communities,
which had been carved out of the primordial forest, were in and of themselves
weak and powerless. Thanks only to the boundless power of the wilderness were
life and survival possible. From the wilderness came the firewood that burned in
the hearth, in the heart of the farm, and with its help the meat was roasted, the
soup cooked, and the cold kept at bay from body and soul. Deer, boars, and other
wild animals that completed the diet came from the wilderness, as did the
medicinal plants and mushrooms that the old women collected. And in a few
years, after the fertility of the soil had been depleted, the community had to turn
once again to the primordial forest and clear a new place and make it habitable.
But the expended earth was taken back into the fold of the wilderness, was
overrun with fresh green growth, and her fertility was regenerated.
“To the hill I wended, deep into the wood,
a magic wand to find,
a magic wand found I …”
—THE LAY OF SKÍRNIR
From beyond the hedgerow came strength. From the wilds came fertility.
The human race also renewed itself from one generation to the next through a
stream of energy that the dead mediated from beyond the fence. The ancestors came from there seeking rebirth in the circle of the clan. For a long time the
hazel tree, a typical hedge tree, was considered a conduit for wild fertile energy
from the dimension beyond.
Hazel Tree (Corylus avellana)
Man has always expected the hazel tree to protect him from the chaotic powers
and energies of the beyond, energies such as lightning, fire, snakes, wild
animals, diseases, and magic. In the last century the anthroposophists planted a
“protection wall” of hazel trees around the Goetheanuma
to ward off negative
spirits. However, it is precisely the dimensions beyond that the small tree
connects to. According to René Strassmann, if you fall asleep under a hazel, you
will have prophetic dreams (Strassmann, 1994: 174). And the alchemist Dr. Max
Amann advised that “contact to friendly nature spirits can be easily gained
beneath hazel branches.”
Hazel branches had probably already been used by Stone Age magicians to
tap into the powerful energies of the world beyond and transmit them to the
everyday world. It then becomes clear why the magical stave with the snake
coiled around it, the caduceus of Hermes (the shamanic god of antiquity who
crossed boundaries), was cut from a hazel tree. This stave became the symbol of
trade, medicine, diplomacy, and the river of Plutonic energy that revealed itself
in precious metals (money). When Hermes touched people with the hazel
branch, they could speak for the first time.
Dowsers still consider hazel branches to be the best conductors of energy.
With them dowsers can detect the sensitive water veins in the earth, as well as
precious metals (silver and gold). The ancient Etruscans knew of dowsers
(aquileges) who were able to find buried springs with hazel branches. The
Chinese feng shui masters of more than five thousand years ago also knew how
to use these wands in order to detect the flow of the “dragon lines” in the earth.
Hazel branches still work today for this purpose, and are much faster and
cheaper than technical instruments.
The ability to influence the weather is a shamanic trait recognized throughout
the world. The ancient European shamans used hazel branches in order to make
rain; such weather-makers still existed in the Middle Ages. A law from a
seventeenth-century witch trial reads, “A devil gave a hazel branch to a witch
and told her to beat a stream with it, upon which a downpour followed.” It also
says, “A witch-boy flogged the water with a hazel switch until a small cloud rose up from it. Not long thereafter a rainstorm began” (Bächtold-Stäubli, 1987: vol.
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