Reading the Tree Leaves

Reading the Tree Leaves

The Arcane Art of Dendromancy


Practice dendromancy by reading tree leaves and branches for insight, creating runes, brewing faux mistletoe tea, and more.

For me, winter has always been a very spiritual time of year. The corridor of darkness between dusk and dawn stretches ever wider as we draw closer to Yuletide, and these cold, sparkling nights inspire me to explore my spiritual side more deeply, particularly when it comes to divination.

Dendromancy: Mystical Messages & Mistletoe

Dendromancy—from the Greek root dendro meaning tree and mancy meaning divination—is a method of reading trees’ leaves and branches for insight into the future. Dendromancy is particularly potent during the cooler months when the leaves begin to turn and drop from the branches. Once the branches are bare, we can derive any number of mystical messages from them by looking for runes or other signs.

Widely practiced by the ancient Celts across Europe, dendromancy may also refer to the specific tradition of harvesting mistletoe from oak trees. The Celts held both the oak and mistletoe as sacred, believing them to be imbued with healing and protective properties. Oak branches were often used in wand-making, and mistletoe was harvested to make medicine or to be burned so that druids could read signs and warnings in the smoke.

While we may have lost some of the ancients’ devotion to the natural world, we can still use dendromancy to connect to trees and benefit from their wealth of ancient knowledge.

Dendromancy for Beginners

Going for a tree walk is one of the simplest ways to get started with dendromancy. For this ritual, the focus is on allowance and observation. You’ll want to quiet your mind as much as possible and pay close attention to your surroundings.

Perform a Tree Walk

  1. Find an area with plenty of trees. This can be a forest, park, or simply a street lined with ornamental trees.
  2. Set an intention—anything from gaining wisdom about a weighty decision to simply using the walk to relax and connect to nature.
  3. Ask for a sign. This could be something like having an acorn fall in your path or seeing a single orange leaf on a branch.
  4. Walk at a normal pace, observing the trees around you as much as possible. Try not to look for your sign. Allow it to come to you, if it’s meant to.
  5. Journal about the results of your walk to help you derive meaning from your experience.

Make Faux Mistletoe Tea

Though the Celts revered mistletoe as medicinal, it can be extremely toxic if handled or ingested incorrectly. However, you can still connect to the ancients by brewing a faux-mistletoe healing tea. This blend is similar in flavor to mistletoe tea and contains some of the immune-boosting and inflammatory properties the ancients hoped to gain from it.

To make it, you’ll need:

  • 8 oz water
  • 1 tbsp dried raspberry leaves
  • 1 tsp dried mint
  • 2 drops vanilla extract
  • 2 tsp honey (or more, if desired)
  • 1 rooibos (red) teabag


  1. Bring the water to a low boil and pour it into a ceramic mug.
  2. Add all ingredients except honey to the water.
  3. Steep the tea, covered, for 5 minutes. Covering the tea helps preserve oils from the herbs that might otherwise escape with the steam.
  4. Sweeten to taste with honey and enjoy!

Craft Homemade Runes

Any discussion about dendromancy would be incomplete without a section about runes! Runes have a very close connection to trees, as each symbol is formed from straight lines that reflect the many configurations tree branches naturally produce.

This ancient alphabet was used throughout ancient Europe as a form of written language and as a powerful divination method. Each rune symbol contains layers of meaning that make them a simple-yet-powerful divination tool.

Making and using your own set of runes is a good way to get started with both divination and dendromancy. To make them, you’ll need:

  • A rune base (flat pebbles, small wood slices, glass vase filler, or even cinnamon sticks)
  • Paint markers, or a sharp knife
  • Sealant spray (optional)


    1. Draw, paint, or carve the runes into the medium of your choice.
    2. Seal painted or drawn runes with clear sealant spray.

    Use Runes for Divination

    • Throwing divination. For this method, add your runes to a bag or other container and shake while thinking of a question you’d like to answer. Toss all of the runes onto a clean, flat surface. Put away any runes that landed facedown and read the remaining symbols.
    • Intentional divination. Begin as above, shaking your runes and thinking of a question. Close your eyes and reach into the container, pulling out runes one at a time and placing them on a flat surface in front of you. When it feels right, open your eyes and read the resulting configuration.

    Looking for more tree connections? Read about a shamanic tree lover’s encounter with wounded ponderosa pine.


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