|Illana Berger, PhD||
SISTER OF THE TREES
My relationship with the natural world began when I was fourteen and I was communing with nature in a place called Tampa-land, in Los Angeles. This land was located out in the north valley at the very end of Tampa Avenue in Chatsworth, California. The land was “owned” by Getty Oil and it consisted of beautiful grasslands with ancient Oaks abiding there. There was a lovely creek that wandered the landscape and offered water to the trees, brush, animals and birds. The year was 1968. There were no houses or businesses then, just Chumash indigenous land. Beautiful. Peaceful. Inviting. Awakening.
I remember being there one particular day with a couple of friends. We use to go there to be with the land, to write poetry and to find ourselves. I loved going and went there as often as I could. One day I climbed into one of the ancient oak trees – shimmied out across a giant limb, cradled in the literal arms of this Mother and rested. Absolutely at peace. When it was time to go, I found myself suspended over the ravine of the creek, high off the ground and I became afraid. Terrified in fact. I was afraid of heights and I became paralyzed by my fear. I didn’t know what to do to get down and no one could assist me. I laid down on my belly, hugging this giant mother Oak and in my absolute fear I asked out loud for her help. I don’t know what made me do this, or imagine that she, (what I perceived to be an inanimate object), could help me in any way. But then I heard her voice and she told me, “ I won’t let you go. Keep your arms around me and you will not fall.” I did as she instructed and made it down to the earth. That day began, what I remember to be, my kinship with “Tree.” I tell this story because it is the beginning moment when I entered into indigenous mind, relationship with place. I did not know, could not have known, that eight years later I would be given the Hebrew name, Illana, or tree by someone who did not know this story.
Though the natural world called to me, most of my teen years were spent in the dance studio rather than in nature. I danced water spirits, swans, plum fairies and goddess myths. I did not know how to literally commune with them then.
Those childhood days are long past, but the memory of that kinship guides me every day of my life. I often ask, “what has brought me out of middle class Los Angeles, out of the indoctrination of the American Dream, and the imposed cultural dogma insisting on my place as mother, wife, and daughter to be a sister of the trees with an indigenous mind? What brought be to be called by the trees, the rivers, the mountains? What could provoke owl woman to ask me to care for her dead? Why would I be called upon by the owl nation to bring forward, once again, the sanctity of the winged nation’s place in the order of life?” I believe, must believe, that the circumstances and story that follow are part of the answer.
There were years, beginning in 1994 that I invoked Lilith everyday of my life. Lilith is the Goddess of the Hebrew tradition who, according to the mystical, oral tradition was the first partner of Adam in the story of Genesis. Why did I invoke Lilith? Lilith who patriarchal legend tells us, and ancient texts call, “the night monster who haunted the ancient tribe of Edom, tickling the feet of babies and strangling them in their cradles?” During the witch hunts of late medieval times, women were tortured and killed after being accused of killing infants, copulating with demons and seducing men. These were sins historically attributed to Lilith. Why would I welcome in this kind of spirit?
Lilith, in Hebrew means woman of the night and her image is that of a screech owl surrounded with lions on each side of her. She is also the first woman made from the dust of the earth along with Adam but who would not surrender her equal status with Adam and diminish herself to the role of obedient woman. Instead she was given the power to speak the name of the sacred, the holy, the mysterious name of the Creator and receive the medicine of the wind to fly West to the place of merging. Some say to the milky way, some say to the Western Desert – perhaps to Los Angeles or the Bay Area, to me and every other woman who is courageous enough to be open, to call to the ancestors and listen to the call, like Lilith, when the world seems wrong and out of balance. Open to the mystery, the sacred and holy and receive the medicine of the wind, or tree, or hawk, or ant. Open to do what is need, even at personal cost, to bring back in every way possible, equanimity, homeostasis, ecological balance, peace, harmony and love.
Lilith refused to lie beneath Adam, refused to be less than the male aspect of the Divine. In her refusal, she uttered the ineffable name of the Divine and, was released from this earth realm. I did not know this was why I invoked Lilith. I thought I invoked her because I wanted to know her true story. I wanted to know her courage. To know, at my own core how to stand in the face of adversity, for what I know to be Divine Truth. I remember being warned by others about the danger in doing this and indeed my life has changed profoundly since that first invocation. I had no idea I was promising myself to the Owl Nation. Knowing that now, in this present moment, I would not change a thing.