Death and Suffering in the Forest

A White Coral Fungi – Photo by Grey Catsidhe, 2013

Originally, Northern Rivers Protogrove was going to meet today for a workshop and discussion.  That’s going to be rescheduled, but it gave me some free time to engage with Druidism in other ways.   I did something I’ve not felt up to in months – I took a walk in the forest. That’s right! It’s nice and cool so I donned a sweatshirt, long pants, and sneakers and crossed the hedge with offerings stuffed in my pockets.  I’ve missed the forest greatly, especially the clarity that comes from visiting.  It has the ability to put all of my petty worries into perspective and calm me into a more rational state when the less-than-petty things pile up.  Not to mention, I really needed to reestablish contact with the local wild spirits.  It had been way too long.

I spent a majority of my spring and summer focused, as many other Pagans, on birth and life.  Indeed, there was much life in the forest – white coral fungi, the chattering of chipmunks and squirrels, green leaves clinging to trees, and lots of ravenous mosquitos!  Returning to the forest, I was suddenly struck by so much decay.  There were large gray mushrooms littered across the forest floor that had been partially eaten by other creatures.  I’d never really thought about it before – the fungi that feed on the dead are, in turn, food for the living.  Life and death are two sides of the same coin and exist together in a dance we often don’t witness or care to admit knowledge of.

Driving the point home, I came across a very sad sight – a dying red squirrel.  He or she startled me at first because I frightened the poor thing.  S/he struggled to move, flopping clumsily, face pressed into the ground, before once more collapsing into a heap.  I watched, scared stiff that I might have stumbled onto a rabid creature, yet also deeply sad for the tiny life that was passing before me.  I didn’t see any wounds or foam at the mouth, so I’m not sure what brought about the squirrel’s demise.  I recognize the fact of death, and I think I’ve come to a certain mature understanding of it despite the sadness it still brings me.  It’s the sight of suffering that impacted me so.  I don’t often feel that when I see half-eaten mushrooms and I couldn’t help but wonder – were they also suffering – in stillness?  After all, the sight of a maimed tree makes my heart tighten – so why not a mushroom?  Even while recognizing the reality of death, there is nothing wrong with feeling sorrow that another must suffer.

Yet how to deal with that suffering?  Sometimes people talk about starfish washing up on the beach; you can’t put them all back.  Watching the squirrel writhe in pain then collapse, I felt helpless. I did what most people in such situations do – I prayed.  I wasn’t sure who to pray to.  I prayed to An Morrigan.  I prayed to An Cailleach.  I prayed to the spirit of the forest.  I prayed that the squirrel would not suffer long and would find peace in the Otherworld.


Published by M. A. Phillips

An author and Druid living in Northern NY.

2 thoughts on “Death and Suffering in the Forest

  1. I just found your blog spot and wanted to say hello, it truly resonated with me t the core …all I can say in light of your pain is that I find our compassion as Druids sometimes a two edge sword …we can only hope what you have hoped that no creature suffer needlessly or long and that they pass to the Otherworld in peace. May you too find peace in your Grove …Penny (OBOD member (Bard)

  2. I think it’s a natural response in the face of suffering to want to alleviate or end it. Recently I accidentally injured a spider whilst removing it from a room at work because another girl’s terrified of them. After putting it down outside hoping part of the reason it had scrunched it’s legs up was shock I left it for a while yet returned to find it crippled and twitching and felt the right thing to do was to end its misery. I felt awful. Even wishing it safe passage to the Otherworld felt lame. I determined never to attempt to move any spiders again.

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