The Magic of Western Hemlock

Entering the woods on a sunny day, breathing in the cool, earth-smelling air, I looked up to see an airy, slender evergreen of a variety I didn’t recognize. The short needles were soft and hung in graceful, drooping swags. The lower branches were thickly draped in green moss. The cones were tiny–about the size of my thumbnail, maybe a bit bigger. I touched the scaly bark in greeting and moved on.

Western Hemlock Foliage

Later, when I started walking regularly in Forest Park, I noticed these trees everywhere, and the deeper into the woods I went, the more they were covered in moss. I was captivated by the way they seemed only minimally dependent on the soil for survival: in fact, I noticed one young tree growing out of the top of a tall tree stump, some of its roots pouring down the sides of the stump for three feet before plunging into the soil.

Hemlock on a nurse stump

Searching through my books on native plants and trees, I finally found a name for this mysterious tree: Western Hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla).

My first encounters with Western Hemlock happened while I was in the process of building a new life atop the lessons and experiences of an old one. It’s hard when things fall apart not to view the past as a rubbish heap. Western Hemlock is a good ally to show us how ruin and destruction can nourish the roots of a beautiful new life.

Hemlock thrives in the shadows of larger trees, growing slowly, biding its time until a gap appears in the canopy–usually when a larger tree falls. Once the forest canopy opens up, the small Hemlocks can grow rapidly. I see hemlock as a good friend to those of us who have to dwell in the dark for a time due to circumstances beyond our control. Hemlock reminds us the world can change dramatically and barriers can topple all at once–so we should use our time in the dark to prepare ourselves for the moment our opportunity to grow arrives.

Mossy Lower Branches of Hemlock

The best way to work with hemlock for the purposes of rebuilding a shattered life or surviving in the shadows is to seek out the trees in the forest and sit with them quietly, with or without using any meditation techniques. During my most difficult times, when I was too scattered to focus on any form of meditation, sitting on the ground beneath the feathery branches of western hemlock provided deep comfort and healing.

Carrying any part of the hemlock would be a good way to continue the healing process after you leave the forest. One could also dry and smolder the needles on charcoal, or create an infusion or infused oil to work with the tree’s transformative and rebuilding energy.

I feel an incense or elixir of western hemlock would be helpful in making peace with one’s shadow side, or for those whose work requires they deal with the shadows of others’ such as therapists and social workers.

Hemlock cones

The cones of hemlock bear abundant seeds, which are designed to be carried on the air over a large radius. For this reason, I believe one could use cones of western hemlock in any form of prosperity magic.

John Michael Greer recommends western hemlock as a replacement for holly/tinne in his proposed Pacific Northwest Ogham.

Want to learn more about making magic with plants? Contact me with your questions!

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