My good friend Ginny Anderson taught me how to turn palm fronds into “breastplates of protection” – palm fronds being the branches from palm trees, which grow here in the Bay Area. Sometimes you can find them by the side of the road, where they have fallen off the trees. The best time to look for palm fronds is after a storm, when the strong winds blow them off and they end up littering streets and yards.
After gathering the fronds, one cuts off the branch and leaves, leaving the “sheath”… the triangular hard piece at the base of the frond, which attaches it to the palm tree trunk.
This sheath then becomes your “breastplate”… and I must say, it does remind me somewhat of the breastplates that ancient warriors and Roman soldiers once wore.
Granted, a roman breastplate generally doesn’t have a big gaping hole in the middle. But to me, that hole is very much a part of the whole concept of protection – it represents the Divine Feminine; the power and strength of the Goddess. She is the warrior, not afraid to go to battle and fight for what she believes in. She is also the Mother, fiercely protective of Her children, and willing to do whatever is necessary to keep them safe.
Interestingly, depending on how much of the branch you choose to leave attached to the sheath when you cut it, you can end up with a rather androgynous-looking breastplate – complete with breasts, vagina, and penis. I like to think of this as symbolic of the polarization of male and female energy; an honoring of both Goddess and God.
Last spring we had one of those windy days that left plenty of palm fronds littering yards, so I took advantage of the situation to gather up several to decorate and hang up on my wall. With the help of a friend, I cut the branches completely off each sheath, to make it easier to display them – while I do enjoy the androgynous look, it’s easy to poke yourself on the “phallus” jutting out from the wall.
Because of my close affinity for the elements, I decided to make a series of “Elemental Breastplates” to represent the four elements of Air, Fire, Water, and Earth. I used all natural products for decorating each breastplate, choosing them carefully to assure they accurately reflected the theme of that particular breastplate.
Here are each of the individual Elemental Breastplates:
For Air I used hundreds of small feathers, glued together onto felt pads and then glued onto the sheath itself. The feathers of course represent the birds of air. Air generally corresponds to the direction of the East, and represents the mind – intelligence, knowledge, teaching and learning, thinking. It is also the element of communication; thus not only does it symbolize those thoughts and ideas, but also the ability to express them in a creative and intelligent manner. From Air we learn how to synthesize various concepts into something that is cohesive and comprehensive.
Fire is actually the last of the four breastplates which I created. When I first began this series, I was stumped as to what I was going to use to decorate this particular sheath. Then one night it came to me while I was sleeping… I awoke as if I had been dreaming, and sat upright in my bed. Chili peppers, of course! They’re red, hot, and firey… and with a little imagination, they even look like flames. And since I live in an area with a strong Hispanic community, they’re easy to find and cheap to buy. I used several different varieties in my breastplate. Fire – which corresponds to the direction of South – is the element of energy and spirit; of passion and desire; of change and transformation. If Air represents the concept of “to know”… then Fire represents the concept of “to will” – to find that force within us that allows for that knowledge to transform itself into actions that move us towards our goals.
As can be expected, it wasn’t difficult to come up with a concept for Water. Being that my name is Ocean and I was born under the sign of Scorpio – which is a water sign, I have always felt a strong affinity to this element. I used ropes of small seashells and starfish to decorate the sheath. It’s still not quite finished to my satisfaction… I’d like to get some sand dollars, shells, etc. to cover up the lower edge of the breastplate. Still, I think it’s a pretty good start. Water, which is the element of the West, corresponds to emotions and feelings. It is the element which rules matters of the heart… not only the joy and celebration of love, but also the pain and sorrow of heartbreak. From Water we gain the power “to dare” – to face our feelings and allow ourselves to truly experience them to their fullest.
Finally, we come to the element of the North – Earth. This is the element of the Body. Earth to earth, ashes to ashes, dust to dust. It’s not hard to understand how the earth is often referred to as our Mother – we all come from Her and to her we shall return. In creating this breastplate, I have used such symbols of the earth as moss, rocks, small pine cones, and dried flowers. Earth not only represents the body, but also the concepts of permanence, stability, and security. It also relates to prosperity and abundance, and thus the work that goes into gaining such. But lest we think of this as a materialistic element, let us also remember that Earth also represents nourishment and healing… from the rich soil of the earth grows the plants which not only nourish our bodies, but also heals them.
So there you have it… my four breastplates representing the four elements. As I lovingly made each one, I could feel the Elementals installing their powers upon me – gifts of knowledge and expression; energy and desire; love and compassion; stability and prosperity. With such gifts, I can feel safe… I can feel protected.
Thus they become my Breastplates of Protection.
Protection means different things to different people. We each must define for ourselves what protection means, and identify our own sources of protection. Once we have done so, we can express those sources in a variety of ways… such as making breastplates.
My breastplates hang on my apartment wall overlooking my staircase… where I can see them and pass by them on a regular basis. I can sense their energy, and draw it into me as necessary. I enjoy them, and what they represent to me.
And I thank the Elements for all their blessings.