All too frequently in the Pagan community I hear people advising others to ‘ask permission’; from spirits, from trees, from rocks, from oceans, from Deity, or whatever else have you. I came across this idea of asking permission most often when discussing wands, but it happens in so many other instances, and I have never fully understood it.
When making a wand, I’d been instructed to search (inside myself, and out in nature) to find the perfect source for my wand. I was told the dimensions it traditionally should have, and some ideas as to the symbolism of certain woods, but in the end it was an exercise that lead me to a local tree, species unknown. But that is beside the point. Once there, I was expected to sit and commune with the tree and ask permission to take one of its branches to create a wand with. The is all very well and good, except that I couldn’t help but feel that it was a touch futile.
Here’s why; what are the chances this tree is actually going to tell me “no”?
Obviously there is a certain group of people, gifted with skills most people glamourize and covet, that can actually receive messages from spirits and the energies of a place or object, but anyone with sense in their head realizes how rare these people are. So, why am I expected to ask a tree permission to take a branch? Why would I suddenly develop the ability to speak with this tree just because I want to take something from it, even though in my day-to-day life I have never communed with nature in the literal sense?
I mean, honestly think about this. When was the last time a Pagan ever said “I went hunting for a wand, and I found the most beautiful apple tree you can ever imagine. It lured me in, and I was breathless as I gazed at it. I knew I wanted this branch for my wand and no other branch would ever be right except this one! And then I asked its permission and it was like ‘No way’ and I was like ‘Cock tease!'”
I’ve never heard someone (other than truly gifted mediums or spirit-workers) say that they’ve been refused a request when they’ve asked permission.
So, to what end do we perpetuate this practice? Isn’t it just a drawn out session of giving yourself permission, with some glitter and sparkles glued on for that ultra-magick feeling? Yes, it is. But only if you don’t actually consider the exercise beyond the literal “ask permission”. Because the idea isn’t to actually expect a response from a tree, or the ocean, or a garden path, but rather that you stop and reflect on your actions regarding these things. If everyone went around hacking, willy-nilly, at apple tree saplings, then your orchards would surely suffer. Also, as they taught me in Scouts “If you take every pretty shell home with you, soon there is nothing beautiful left at the beach!”
Asking permission isn’t just a conversation with a tree, but rather a conversation with yourself (sparkles or no sparkles). “Is there anything living in this tree?”, “Can I take one from the ground rather than cut one off?”, “Will this tree be able to survive the trauma of losing a limb?”, “What about it drew me?”, “Look at the beautiful landscape it is part of. Can I keep that intact?”, etc.
Think about your effect on the world around you, because that is your final intention, isn’t it? Your wand is part of your magical practice, a tool of your intent, to work your will on the world. To affect the world directly. So don’t just pay lip-service to that idea! Act in accordance!
When you ask permission, don’t just imagine an Ent in your mind groggily telling you “Okey-dokey!”, but consider instead why it would say yes. Why wouldn’t it? If you think your magic is real, be realistic about your magic…although, I suppose that leads into a whole other post. Maybe some other time.