(Note: This post was actually published on June 25, 2013. I’m placing it here for purposes of searchability.)
I grew up on five acres of maples and pines in Northern Michigan, and as a child I spent a lot of time wandering around outside.
I loved the trees, the quiet, the birds and squirrels and rabbits. There was a path worn by many feet that I often followed into the trees. But the woods were dim and secretive and sometimes unwelcoming: I was sure during those unfriendly moments the forest was attending to business that had nothing to do with humans. I’d read enough not-quite-child-friendly folklore to know that faeries aren’t always nice, and the woods seemed just the place for the unnerving other.
Especially in summer, when the bracken ferns grew thick and tall in any open spaces between the trees. When I waded through them, I imagined all sorts of terrors waiting to attack my legs and feet. Anything could hide under the dense green foliage–spiders and snakes and strangers oh my.
But my unease didn’t detract from the magic of the ferns themselves–it might have even intensified my perception of their magic.
When I came to Oregon I fell in love with the ubiquitous sword ferns. They grow in shade under pines and firs, and spread cool green fronds over the ground where few other plants can thrive due to the lack of light and highly acidic soil. And they still seem to me like magical guardians of green secrets.
Ferns, to me, will always be markers of sacred spaces, an indication of the presence of mystery. They are sacred enough to me that it almost seems sacrilegious to think of picking them or using them for anything without very specific guidance, possibly of the voice-from-a-burning-bush variety. A good reminder that magical herbalism isn’t always about use. The deepest magic of plants is often the gift of their presence, one you can enjoy without taking anything from them.