Ever since I got given the Gorse Ogham few at Druid Camp in August, this spiky little shrub has been teaching me lessons.
Gorse (Ulex europeana) is not exactly the stately, ancient, tall tree of the forest one might first associate with Druids and with wisdom: that title surely goes to the mighty Oak. But, it is not without insight.
Gorse thrives on the margins: clifftops, coastlines, scrubland, cleared forest, waste ground. For those of us on our own margins, for ethnic and religious minorities, LGBT folk, eco-activists, 2016 has been a hell of a year, and 2017 looks set to be even worse. The UK and US have been turned upside down in a wave of xenophobia, sexism and right-wing extremism. Fascists, racists and ecocidal maniacs are in the ascendancy and much of what we now hold dear will be laid waste over the coming year.
Yet Gorse teaches us to dig in, to put down our roots and not be moved. Gorse is a tenacious bugger, and survives harsh weather, poor soil, cutting down, and even wildfires, always springing back up, spikes raised up like so many middle fingers, as if to say “I’m still here, you sods, now what are you going to do about it?”
To say that Gorse is prickly is an understatement. It is covered in spikes, every leaf is a needlepoint blade. This spikiness is its great defence. Small animals, who can slip through or under the spines, shelter in Gorse bushes from predators and use its protection. Gorse teaches us to protect ourselves and those we love when predatory politicians or dangerous ideologies threaten us and our world. Whether through learning self-defence, joining a group or cause and gaining strength in numbers, protesting, being present as an ally for oppressed people or just locking your doors and protecting your hearth and home, Gorse reminds us of the importance of protection and defence.
These spines also remind us of the importance of allowing ourselves to be prickly, to be angry, to not have to be “nice” and polite accommodating and docile in the face of blind hatred.
Gorse can be used in healing, and the wood is a great kindling for a hearth-fire. Gorse teaches us the importance of staying warm and healthy, of practicing self-care. In times of turmoil, self-care is not selfish, it is self-preservation and a form of defiance against those who would seek to diminish us.
Gorse has bright yellow flowers even in winter, and is rarely out of bloom. Gorse teaches us hope in the darkest of times, and reminds us to “bloom” even when the odds are stacked against us. Gorse gives hope that even when all seems lost, the sun will shine again and life always prevails. There’s a tradition to kiss when the Gorse is in bloom, which reminds us to hold our loved ones close, to enjoy love and to be in control of our own sexuality.
For 2017, let’s try to be more like this hardy, tenacious, stubborn, spiky little shrub. Let’s raise our spines against the forces of hate and put down our roots, bloom brightly, and always, always grow back.