I live in an animated universe, where everything has a spirit. In my world, living things each have an indwelling spirit, or self-hood, as well as the collective spirit of the larger designations to which they belong. For example, in my home, each of my 5 cats has a distinct personality, color, body shape, name, and voice. Yet they definitely also all share certain qualities of 'cat-ness', including 'catitude', the love of chasing string and feathers, and wide, haunting eyes of doom that will bore into your soul when the food dish happens to be empty. So, when I think of the 'spirit of cat', I tend to think of those shared characteristics. And when I think about an individual cat, say my little Obi-Wan, I think of his particular version of catness: fluffy, opinionated, middle-of-the-night-singing, fetch-playing, prancing-with-joy-at-his-own-cleverness.
The same goes for my understanding of humans, other animals, crystals, and plants. Each has its own unique nature, but is also part of the great chorus of our kind in Gaea's song. The spirit of Willow has been an ally to me since I was a small child, and would swing in her branches with my friend Molly. Although I now live across the country from that Willow and she may even be gone from that yard by this point, I still consider her spirit, within the larger spirit of Willow, to be my friend. I have a good relationship with the whole family of Willow, wherever I go, with specific Willow friends in many cities and along country roads where I have pulled over and stopped the car, or departed from the footpath, to hug and greet these beautiful, gentle, healing trees. I made friends with the Willow on Allston Way in Berkeley when I lived near there, and would go visit her frequently, making full moon tinctures from the bark of her withes. There is a gorgeous willow above a gazing pool in Mountainview Cemetery in Piedmont where I go to commune with the dead water women and make wishes. There is one in the middle of a cow pasture in Occidental that I can't touch because she's on private property, but I gaze upon her each time I am on that lonely road and feel her comforting arms reaching out to me on the breeze. There is one in Avebury, England, that took my breath away, which I long to visit again.
Willow is known for many magical and practical purposes, and from a quick look at the lore, it is easy to see why she is quite a historical favorite among witches and other practitioners of folk spirituality as well as those who practice organized religions. Robert Graves writes in The White Goddess that Willow is sacred among the early Jews, who celebrated a festival called Day of Willows. The Willow is associated with the Underworld in Greek myth, particularly sacred to Hekate, Hermes, and Persephone, but also to Hera and Zeus. Myth proposes that a Willow grew outside the cave on Crete where Zeus was born. Willow makes a strong fiber and her bark eases pain. The dramatic majesty of her trailing, sighing branches are a haven for those who speak the language of trees and hear the music of the wind. She is the tender granny to children who build forts, sing the afternoons away, and play hide-and-seek among her locks. Paul Beyerl reports that, "planting a willow during your lifetime is said to protect you when taking final leave of your body. The willow (or direct descendant through a cutting) must be thriving at your death."