Trees and Understanding Nature

Tony Fearnside (from Theosophy in Australia March 2013)

Theosophical literature contains some notable works about devas and the angelic kingdoms by respected clairvoyants such as CW Leadbeater (The Hidden Side of Things) Geoffrey Hodson (The Kingdom of the Gods and Fairies at Work and at Play). However literature about the occult nature of trees and plants is mainly from sources outside the theosophical movement, and includes accounts of Nordic and Celtic legends and gods associated with trees and accounts of trees as symbols, merging into ethno-botanical accounts and some recent scientific studies.

I am not aware of any similar written descriptions of Australian tree spirits but there are several contemporary Australian authors who have written extensively about nature spirits and related phenomena. Examples are: Alanna Moore’s many articles in the electronic magazine Geomantica; Geoff Campbell’s very extensive descriptions in Angels of the Botanic Gardens, Melbourne ( and Steven Guth’s many contributions to the Kheper web-site ( There is also the compilation Devas and Men[i] an intriguing book which takes work from several different authors and seamlessly melds them together to form an anthology of theosophical writings on nature spirits.

Botanical science has long known that chemicals are transported within plants which can be considered to be a form of communication comparable with the transmission of pain in humans from, say, the toe to the brain. Recently there has been a distinct trend towards the study of communication in plants – Communication in Plants – the neuronal aspects of plant life (Springer) presents a collection of papers on communication within and sometimes between plants. Also, in 2012, scientists at Exeter University (UK) contributed to a BBC TV programme which showed that cabbage plants emit a volatile gas to warn other plants of danger, such as leaf-eating caterpillars or garden shears.

Communication with Trees

I cannot lay claim to any developed clairvoyant capabilities (and indeed am quite happy not to have them) while perhaps admitting to a degree of sensitivity. Several years ago, one of the senior members of a Theosophical Society lodge told me about a message that one of her much-loved trees, an oak, gave her. This was just after a devastating bushfire which left large areas near her rural home blackened and seemingly killed. The tree’s message was “do not worry I will grow new leaves in the spring” which it did. Later one of my favourite garden trees, a rare spinning gum (Eucalyptus perriniana) asked me to remove the adjacent wattle. I did not understand, and did not do so – to my sorrow the tree died not long afterwards and I assume that the wattle’s roots had grown over the eucalypt’s roots as is often the case. Too late, all I could do was use parts of its trunk to form garden beds. Later, an orange blossom shrub said a “thank you” to me after I had pruned a neighbouring tree to give it more space.

I have often worked with arborists, not all of whom are “urban lumberjacks”, and one of them told me that he once had a strong feeling (received a warning) from a tree not to step on a branch as he was about to climb it. It turned out that the branch was rotten and would not have held his weight if he had stood on it as he had planned. He probably escaped a serious fall. Others have spoken about particular feelings they have towards special trees.

In about 1999, two friends and I received a small grant from the ACT government to prepare a heritage nomination for “Blundells Arboretum[ii]” which was the most impressive in a series of arboreta that had been established by the Forest Research Institute from 1926 onwards. My task was to assess each plot of trees and I looked forward to my first day working in the arboretum. When I got there, there was a distinctly unwelcoming atmosphere – the trees did not want me and I noticed some signs of recent vandalism: labels had been removed and a fence post had been driven into a termite mound and so on. On subsequent visits the atmosphere became more welcoming as if the trees were recognising that I was not out to harm them.

Several accounts by Dora Van Gelder (later Dora Kunz) describe tree spirits and associated fairies. These are about tree spirits and associated fairies. For example in her paper Tree Spirits[iii] she told of a malevolent tree spirit associated with a remnant tree in Indonesia and of tree spirits in North American woods and forests. She said that, by and large, tree spirits are kindly disposed to people but have a lower degree of consciousness, and a slower reaction to stimuli than humans and that they are able to leave the tree which they inhabit, for short distances. This account complements Geoffrey Hodson’s description of a gnome associated with an ash tree in England which could leave the tree in which it “lived” for short distances and then return, perhaps to re-energise itself. (Note that Hodson described his nature spirits in anthropomorphic terms and sought to classify them as fairies, gnomes, mannikins, et cetera.) In The Hidden Sided of Things, Leadbeater pointed out that:

Strong influences are radiated by the vegetable kingdom also, and the different kinds of plants and trees vary greatly in their effect … trees- especially old trees – have a strong and definite individuality, well worthy [of] the name of a soul.iv[iv]

Trees have feelings

So it seems that trees do have feelings, that they are sentient beings and in some cases are able to convey messages which we are sometimes able to interpret or understand. How can trees and plants introduce us to the “unexplained powers of nature” without calling on those with well-developed clairvoyant abilities to see and describe tree spirits and fairies?

Let’s start with Kirlian photography, accounts of which can be found on the internetv[v]. In short a Russian scientist Semyon Kirlian found, in 1939, a way of photographing leaves and human hands to show fields of energy around them. This was claimed to show that auras existed, which was (and still is) greeted with a degree of scepticism even though most of us can feel energy, often as a tingling, in our fingertips if we rub our hands together briskly, shut our eyes and hold our hands in front of us, fingers pointing to, and close to, each other. Kirlian also showed that if parts of the leaf were cut off there was still an energy field around the space previously occupied by the part that had been removed, which is reminiscent of amputees’ statements about being able to feel a foot or a hand after it has been removed (‘phantom limbs’).

Another way of demonstrating energy in plants is to hold a pendulum or a divining rod over a live plant – the pendulum will begin to rotate (if it is not held too firmly) or a divining rod will start to swing. The same thing happens if they are held over a hand or a head. This leads us to tree hugging to feel energies in trees which is best done in older clothes that are perhaps ready for the laundry. It is important to approach the tree with a feeling of sympathy or respect, in the same way that an interview with another person will be more fruitful if the conversation is empathetic or compassionate rather than unfriendly. Speak quietly to the tree if that will help, then hug gently and firmly, you should then be able to feel a similar energy to that passing between your finger tips.

These energies are not as strong as, for instance, electrical energy in our domestic power sources, nevertheless they are there, subtle though they may be. They remind us that prana (or fohat or chi) really is a fact and may begin to explain how at least some of the unexplained forces of nature are transmitted, for example the feeling of well-being that we get when gardening or walking among trees in parks and nature reserves.

Meditating when sitting with one’s back to a tree is another aid to understanding the unexplained forces of nature. The tree’s subtle energy can help the sitter’s meditation. One does not need to be a Buddha in search of enlightenment under a Bodhi tree to gain some benefit – just do it!

In conclusion, it is appropriate to consider another excerpt from The Hidden Side of Things:

…trees exercise much more influence over human beings than is commonly supposed, and … he who sets himself to cultivate sympathetic and friendly relations with all his neighbours, vegetable as well as animal and human, may both receive and give a great deal of which the average man knows nothing, and may thus make his life fuller, wider, more complete[vi].


[i] Devas and Men – a compilation of Theosophical studies on the Angelic Kingdom by the Southern Centre of Theosophy, The Theosophical Publishing House Adyar, Chennai, India 2000.

[ii] Arboretum: a collection of trees established for scientific or other purposes.

[iii] In Gaia’s hidden Life: The Unseen Intelligence of Nature by Shirley Nicholson and Brenda Rosen, The Theosophical Publishing House, Quest Original 1992.

[iv] The Hidden Side of Things, CW Leadbeater, The Theosophical Publishing House, Ayar, 1912, p.94.

[v] Eg, Wikipedia at:; and The Skeptics Dictionary at:

[vi] CW Leadbeater, op. cit. pp. 96-97.

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