Ioho (Yew) II

(Yew Tree Farm. 1936 postcard[i])

“A yew-tree, the finest of the wood, it is called king without opposition. May that splendid shaft drive on yon crown into their wounds of death.” – Charles Squire (Celtic Myth and Legend. 1905)

1) The Roots: Background information

2) The Trunk: Celtic Mythology and Significance

3) The Foliage: Spells using the Plant

The Roots:

The 20th letter of the Tree-Ogham is Ioho[ii], the Yew tree[iii].

Yew is the tree found most often in mythology as the Tree of Life or the World Tree[iv].

Eryn Rowan Laurie in Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom said that Ioho (Idad) is the few of longevity, reincarnation, the ancestors, history and tradition. Laurie also said that the Yew is the tree of immortality[v].

Robert Ellison in Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids said that the Yew represented “death and rebirth.” He also called it “the Ancestor Tree.”

John Mathews interprets the word kennings taken from the Ogham Tract[vi] in his book the Celtic Shaman. There, the phrase “oldest of wood” was given the quality of “wisdom.”

In Celtic Wisdom Sticks Caitlin Mathews said that the Yew “is often found in churchyards, where its association with death and longevity are living symbols of mortality.” She also said that the tree shared the same status as the Oak in Ireland. In her divination system, Caitlin gives the interpretations for the Yew tree as broadening horizons, standing tall, deep memory and observation.

The Trunk:

The Yew is the hollow tree spoken of in folklore and fairytale. In fact, it is one of the most commonly mentioned trees within those Celtic stories.

The Yew tree is often associated with death, dying and the dead. There’s an old Breton legend that said that the roots of the Yew tree grew into the open mouth of each corpse[vii]. Yew branches were also said to have been buried with the dead[viii].

The Aspen may be seen as the tree of death and finality within an Ogham divination system. The Yew, on the other hand, can be seen as the tree of rebirth.  The Yew does not simply represent change, however. The Yew represents the rebirth that follows death. This is an important distinction.

Lady Wild spoke of the Yew tree as being “sacred” within the 1887 book Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms, and Superstitions of Ireland.  In the 1904 Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Gregory we are told that the Yew was “the most beautiful wood.” In 1877, Lady Charlotte Guest stated in her Mabinogoon notes that the Yew tree was “sacred to archers.”

Alternately, powerful creatures of nature – like the Yew tree – were just as likely to be shunned as embraced. In British Goblins by Wirt Sikes, 1881, we find the following tale:

“Near Tintern Abbey there is a jutting crag overhung by gloomy branches of the Yew, called the Devil’s Pulpit. His eminence used in other and wickeder days to preach atrocious morals, or immorals, to the white-robed Cistercian monks of the abbey, from this rocky pulpit. One day the devil grew bold, and taking his tail under his arm in an easy and degagee manner, hobnobbed familiarly with the monks, and finally proposed, just for a lark, that he should preach them a nice red-hot sermon from the roof-loft of the abbey. To this the monks agreed, and the devil came to church in high glee. But fancy his profane perturbation (I had nearly written holy horror) when the treacherous Cistercians proceeded to shower him with holy water.”

Elsewhere in the same text we are told of couples dancing beneath the graveyard Yew in relatively recent times. These couples would dance beneath the branches on the side of the tree that people were not buried beneath.

Jacqueline Memory Paterson in Tree Wisdom: the Definitive Guidebook said that, “Ghostly faces seen on the trunks of peeling graveside Yews, were thought to be signs of the rising spirits of the dead freed from earthly restraints.”

(Estry Yew in Normandy. Photo by Roi.Dagobert[ix])

The Yew is not just a tree of rebirth, though. It has a direct connection with the Ogham in John Rhys 1900 Celtic Folklore: Welsh and Manx.

“Take for instance the Irish story of a king of Erin called Eochaid Airem, who, with the aid of his magician or druid Dalan, defied the fairies, and dug into the heart of their underground station, until, in fact, he got possession of his queen, who had been carried thither by a fairy chief named Mider. Eochaid, assisted by his druid and the powerful Ogams which the latter wrote on rods of Yew, was too formidable for the fairies, and their wrath was not executed till the time of Eochaid’s unoffending grandson, Conaire Mor, who fell a victim to it, as related in the epic story of Bruden Daderga, so called from the palace where Conaire was slain.”

In some versions of this story there were only three Yew Ogham sticks, or few. In other texts there were four[x].

The Yew tree was also often symbolic of romance. In the Irish myth the Tale of Oenghus, the beautiful Ibormeith (Yewberry) transforms into a swan every second year during Samhain. Oenghus, in order to win over her love, becomes a swan as well. The two are then able to fly off together, back to his kingdom[xi].

In Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race by Thomas Rolleston written in 1911 we are told that Cuchulainn would meet with the fairy maiden, Fand, beneath a Yew tree. The lovers meeting beneath a Yew tree in Celtic folklore was a recurring theme. Dead lovers would also often reconnect with one another after death. This was often accomplished by a touching together of branches between these two growing Yew trees.

There are many more examples of the Yew found in folklore. Some of these can be found in the previous Ioho (Yew) post[xii].  This previous post also contained tales of death, fairy abduction, and the story of the passing of “neopagan” father of Ogham, Colin Murray.

The Foliage:

The following spell is found within British Goblins and is used to bring someone back from “fairyland.” The missing person was taken in the early hours of the morning from beneath a magic Yew tree. It was there that he had been sleeping. This particular magic tree was found at the very center of the forest:

“The conjuror gave him this advice: ‘Go to the same place where you and the lad slept. Go there exactly a year after the boy was lost. Let it be on the same day of the year and at the same time of the day; but take care that you do not step inside the fairy ring. Stand on the border of the green circle you saw there, and the boy will come out with many of the goblins to dance. When you see him so near to you that you may take hold of him, snatch him out of the ring as quickly as you can.’ These instructions were obeyed.”

 But these sorts of things don’t always work out so well, at least not in this tale:

“Iago appeared, dancing in the ring with the Tylwyth Teg, and was promptly plucked forth. ‘Duw! Duw!’ cried Tom, ‘how wan and pale you look! And don’t you feel hungry too?’ ‘No,’ said the boy, ‘and if I did, have I not here in my wallet the remains of my dinner that I had before I fell asleep?’ But when he looked in his wallet, the food was not there. ‘Well, it must be time to go home,’ he said, with a sigh; for he did not know that a year had passed by. His look was like a skeleton, and as soon as he had tasted food, he mouldered away.”

Maybe his friend should have just left him dancing?

For a more practical use of the Yew, Robert Ellison said that the tree could be used in divination or in spells. The Yew, he said, represented the ancestors, re-birth, death, and could be used “for its powers to cast an arrow a great distance, with strength.”

 

“And at the same time the poets of Ireland were gathered at the Yew tree at the head of Baile’s strand in Ulster, and they were making up stories there of themselves.” – Lady Gregory (Book of Saints and Wonders. 1906)


[ii] Ioho was the Murray listing. Most Ogham users spell this letter Idad.

[iii] The Ogham is not a tree alphabet, but many use it as such. For more information on the Ogham see previous posts.

[iv] A most common misconception is that the Norse world-tree was an Ash but this was a translation error from the Eddas. Yggdrasil is described, through translation, as either “winter green needle-ash” poetically or as “winter green needle-sharp” as being more literal. I discuss this further in my Nuin (Ash) post. The Nordic World Tree is generally believed to have been a Yew by those who are aware of this original error.

[v] Laurie does not use the Ogham as a “tree alphabet” but shares some tree-meanings in her book for those that do.

[vii] Liz and Colin Murray. The Celtic Tree Oracle.

[x] John Rhys also proposed that these translations that used the Ogham to find the queen might be referring to actual messages sent in Ogham to other druids during the search for the missing bride – as opposed to the magical divination system usually assumed to have been used.

[xi] Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm. The Druid Animal Oracle.

Eadha (Aspen) II


“The people of Uist say … that the hateful aspen is banned three times. The aspen is banned the first time because it haughtily held up its head while all the other trees of the forest bowed their heads lowly down as the King of all created things was being led to Calvary. And the aspen is banned the second time because it was chosen by the enemies of Christ for the cross upon which to crucify the Saviour of mankind. And the aspen is banned the third time because [here the reciter’s memory failed him]. Hence the ever-tremulous, ever-quivering, ever-quaking motion of the guilty hateful aspen even in the stillest air.” – Alexander Carmicheal (Carmina Gadelica. 1900)

1) The Roots: Background information

2) The Trunk: Celtic Mythology and Significance

3) The Foliage: Spells using the Plant

The Roots:

Eadha, or Aspen, is the 19th letter of the Ogham in its tree form.

Aspen are very closely related to White Poplar. In many places the names for the two trees are used interchangeably. The species are so closely related, in fact, that they can intermarry resulting in the Grey Poplar species.

Aspen’s the only tree that dominates two letters from the list found in the Ogham Tract or Scholar’s Primer[i]. Eadha is associated with Aspen but so is Ebad. Writers who use the tree version of the Ogham have worked around this in various ways. The Murrays use the second Aspen, Ebad, to instead represent “the Grove”, which they also call Koad[ii]. Several other writers have since used this association.

The word-Ogham kennings are interpreted by John Mathews in the Celtic Shaman. Mathews interprets the phrase “distinguished wood” for Aspen as representing “insight.”

Caitlin Mathews has a slightly different approach to the Ogham. In her book Celtic Wisdom Sticks Caitlin says that some of the kennings relate to death while others may have more to do with the corpse-measuring rod we will discuss below. Her divination system uses a war-like theme for Aspen. The interpretations for the letter are retreat, attack, survive and persevere for love.

Robert Ellison in Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids says that the Aspen is associated with “healing and communication.” He also claims that the tree can also be associated with old age “due to it’s shivering.”

The Trunk:

At one time, the quivering leaves of the Aspen were believed to be mediators between this world and the spirit one. Their shaking leaves helped the spirits of ancestors to speak  with the living. The shaking leaves also carried the inspiration of poetry.

The Holly and Oak are often accused of being the trees used for the crucifixion, but the Aspen also shares this role. Eryn Rowan Laurie in Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom claims that in Scotland people would throw stones at the Aspen to punish it. This was a tradition that was even practiced into recent times due to the trees great burden of “evil.” As a result, the quivering leaves of the tree have been equated to guilt, or to fear, in anticipation of the justice it will receive for betraying Christ.

In the 1881 book Notes on Folklore of the Northeast of Scotland by Waltor Gregor we also find that, “The cross is said to have been made of the wood of the aspen – ‘Quaking Aish’ hence the constant motion of the leaves.”

The many dark association for Aspen may be due to one of its historical uses. In Cormac’s Glossary we are told of the Aspen wand called a Fe which was used to measure the graves of the dead[iii]. Accordingly, there was even an Ogham inscription cut upon these rods. The Fe wands and their users are both called “pagan” in the glossary. We are also told that it was not advised for anyone, other than the grave measurers, to handle these wands. These Aspen measuring-sticks were said to hold bad spirits.

Despite this particular macabre reference to the Aspen, the tree is spoken of as “friend” within the Ogham Tract.

In mythology, one of Cuchulain’s great victories was over three of his enemies who had also armed each of their charioteers with Aspen wands. He killed all six of them[iv].

If the Aspen wand was used for measuring the grave, then the symbolism found within the tale is both direct and haunting. The three threes, including the wands, remind us that all of the old myths are just as likely to be secret riddles as stories. The story becomes a metaphor, then, in which Cuchulainn has overcome death once more. The charioteers had only intended on measuring his corpse.

(Still Life With a Skull. Philip D. Champaigne. 17th Century)

As well as being affiliated with the dead, the Aspen is also connected to ghosts and to the “undead.”  The following example is taken from Tales of the Fairies and the Ghost World by Jeremiah Curtain in 1895:

“The malignant ones are dead persons who rise up bodily and go around at night devouring people. When one of these has eaten a victim he rushes back to his grave, for he is obliged to remain wherever he may be at cock-crow; if outside his grave, he falls stiff and helpless to lie there till the next night. There are two ways of giving a quietus to such a ghoul. One is to pin him to the earth by driving a stake of aspen wood through his heart; the other is to burn him to ashes.”

So the Aspen turns out not be so bad after all. Perhaps, it is only seeking redemption? Perhaps, it wishes to aid us in our fight against evil spirits and the undead? The Aspen may even wish to help us battle those deathless creatures wandering the dark forests and deserts of our planet?

Every land is haunted. All countries have ghosts. In fact, we are all united as one people beneath the shadows of these global cultural beliefs.

The Celts, as well as most other cultures, had a respect for nature whose royalty was the pantheon of trees. Within a few generations, however, those kings and queens were literally “stoned.”

A strange reversal of belief.

The Foliage:

According to Robert Graves in the White Goddess, French witches used Aspen or White Poplar in flying spells.

In Survival in Belief Amongst Celts published in 1911, George Henderson reports that mare’s milk taken from an Aspen spoon was a cure for whooping cough.

In Scotland, an Aspen leaf “placed under the tongue made the bearer more eloquent.” According to the source, Paul Kendall, this magical shift was a gift from the fairy queen[v].

In Tree Wisdom: the Definitive Guidebook by Jacqueline Memory Paterson, we are told that Aspen crowns have often been buried with the dead to “enable these spirits to be safely reborn”

And just in case someone you know were to ever catch palsy, Alice Vitale in her book Leaves in Myth, Magic, and Medicine shares with us an easy cure. Apparently, a piece of the sick person’s hair was pinned to an Aspen tree and this chant was spoken in place:

“Aspen tree, aspen tree, I prise shiver and shake instead of me.”

The person would then walk away from the tree, but they would not speak as they did so. If they did talk, then the spell would be broken. If they succeeded in walking away in silence, however, then the palsy would be gone forever.

Jacqueline Paterson claims in her book Tree Wisdom that French witches used five pointed Poplar leaves in spells. She says that the tree was believed “to bring good luck in the monetary sense.”

 

“In her head was one deep pool-like eye, swifter than a star in a winters sky; Upon her head gnarl brushwood, like the clawed old wood of the aspen root.” – J. F. Campbell (Popular Tales of the West Highlands. 1890)

* All images used in this post are from public domain. Wikipedia.com


[ii] The Celtic Tree Oracle. Liz and Colin Murray.

[iii] Cormac mac Cuilennain was an Irish bishop and a king of Muster. He was killed in battle in 908ce. The glossary is attributed to him after his death but was probably not actually written by him.

[iv] Cattle Raid of Cualnge. Ulster Cycle.

Quert (Apple) II

“Manannan, king of the Land of Promise, gives Cormac a magical, sleep-inducing silver branch with three golden apples and, before long, Cormac travels to the otherworld where he discovers a marvellous fountain containing salmon, hazelnuts, and the waters of knowledge.”  – Erynn Rowan Laurie and Timothy White (Speckled Snake, Brother of Birch; Amanita Muscaria Motifs in Celtic Legend)

The Roots:

The Apple tree, or Quert, is the tenth letter of the Ogham in its tree form.

According to Robert Ellison’s Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids, the Apple represents both the Otherworld and choice. In spells, Ellison elaborates, the Apple can be used for love, fertility, divination and faerie contact.

The Apple is often associated with “madness” as well[i]. Caitlin Mathews expresses this connection in a quatrain found within Celtic Wisdom Sticks. Some of the divination interpretations found within her system also seem to relate the Apple to harmony.

John Mathews studies some of the word-Oghams within his work the Celtic Shaman. The statement “shelter of the hind” is here given the meaning of “caring” as a solution to the word-Ogham riddle.

The Apple is one of the only symbols found within the Tree-Ogham that carries a universally acknowledged magic. All over the world humans have associated the Apple with properties and attributions that went beyond those of most other plants.

The Christian religion almost always portrays the fruit of knowledge, and sin, as an Apple. In other cultures the Apple is associated with love, beauty, the gods, and of the Otherworld itself[ii].

Celtic myth and legend also complies. The Apple is often associated with otherworldly love, travel to the Otherworld, music, birds, wealth, and of divinity itself[iii].

Quert, the Apple, is also representative of peace and harmony.

The Trunk:

The Apple is almost always a symbol of the Otherworld in Celtic mythology.

In fact the Apple seems to act as a doorway to the other side. Sometimes it is the fruit of the tree itself, at other times the key appears to be a single branch, often silver, from the Apple tree.

The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries by W.Y. Evans-Wentz contains many such examples:

“To enter the Otherworld before the appointed hour marked by death, a passport was often necessary, and this was usually a silver branch of the sacred apple-tree bearing blossoms, or fruit, which the queen of the Land of the Ever-Living and Ever-Young gives to those mortals whom she wishes for as companions; though sometimes, as we shall see, it was a single apple without its branch.”

“For us there are no episodes more important, than those in the ancient epics concerning these apple-tree talismans, because in them we find a certain key which unlocks the secret of that world from which such talismans are brought, and proves it to be the same sort of a place as the Otherworld of the Greeks and Romans.”

The Otherworld is a paradise-place of peace and happiness. It can be described as a place where the men are bold and the women beautiful; where the food is plenty and the villains scarce. The Otherworld is found described within Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Gregory as such:

“To be without grief, without sorrow, without death, without any sickness, without weakness; that is the sign of Emhain; it is not common wonder that is.”

In most of the stories this paradise is ruled over by, or connected to, Manannan Mac Lir. Despite being a “god of the sea[iv],” Manannan can more easily be compared to father-type gods such as Odin or Zuess.

(Adam and Eve by Albrecht Durer. 1507)

The paradise of the Celts was more likely, in their minds, to be on the horizon of the sea than high up in the air[v]. There are many examples of this found within the lore. The following excerpt, for example, is taken from Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race by T.W. Rolleston:

“When the white horse with its riders reached the sea it ran lightly over the waves, and soon the green woods and headlands of Erin faded out of sight. And now the sun shone fiercely down, and the riders passed into a golden haze in which Oisln lost all knowledge of where he was or if sea or dry land were beneath his horse’s hoofs… they saw a young maid ride by on a brown steed, bearing a golden apple in her hand.

These two examples, on the other hand, are taken from the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries:

“The branch sprang from Bran’s hand into the hand of the woman, nor was there strength in Bran’s hand to hold the branch. The next day, with the fairy spell upon him, Bran begins the voyage towards the setting sun. On the ocean he meets Manannan riding in his magic chariot over the sea-waves; and the king tells Bran that he is returning to Ireland after long ages.” 

“Finally, at a feast, the warrior-messenger sings Cormac to sleep; and when Cormac awakes he sees beside him his wife and children, who had preceded him thither to the Land of Promise. The warrior-messenger who took them all is none other than the great god Manannan Mac Lir of the Tuatha De Danann.”

The Apple tree was clearly cherished by the Celtic ancestors.  Whether it was the fruit that was eaten, or the branch that was shaken to make music, the Apple clearly had universally recognized powers within the Celtic tales. What exactly were those powers however?

One could say, perhaps, that we know that the wand belonging to Manannan Mac Lir was made from the Apple tree[vi]. We also know the Apple in these stories, with or without Manannan, had the ability to bring the traveller to Emhain or the land of the departed.

This land of the dead, in a symbolic sense, mirrors the death of the ego found in Zen Buddhism. It is this same ‘death of the self’ that many spiritual practitioners would call enlightenment.

Maybe then the word-Ogham by Morann Mac Main found in the Ogham Tract might begin to make a little more sense? This is what he said while describing the Apple tree[vii]:

“Shelter of a hind, i.e., a fold: to wit, lunatic, that is death sense, it is then his sense comes to him when he goes to his death.”

Perhaps this why the Apple was considered sacred in law and lore alongside certain other trees? Perhaps the Apple represented, or was an aid in achieving, enlightenment? This could only be possible if one could say that the Celtic form of enlightenment was to accept death, release sorrow, and experience peace. Then this connection seems more than feasible.

Certainly the Apple imagery would have found its way into ritual and folklore if this was the case.

There is no way to know with certainty. As always, we can only speculate. This is not an exercise in futility, however. Reflecting on anything often helps us understanding it better.

The Foliage:

The following is taken from Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland by Lady Wilde:

“It is said by time-wise women and fairy doctors that the roots of the elder tree, and the roots of an apple tree that bears red apples, if boiled together and drunk fasting, will expel any evil living thing or evil spirit that may have taken up its abode in the body of a man.”

There is also some interesting Apple magic found within Charles Godfrey Leland’s 1891 study Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling. According to the text, one way to determine love is to slice an Apple in half with a sharp knife. If no seeds are cut then the wielder of the knife shall have their “heart’s desire” fulfilled. In one version a girl then eats half of the Apple before midnight and half of it after midnight. She will then dream of her future husband.

 

“Although few contemporary herbalists consider the apple to be an herb, it has a venerable tradition as a healing agent. So much of what the ancient herbalists believed about the therapeutic powers of this delectable fruit has been scientifically supported that its time to let the apple resume its respected place on the herbal roster.”  – Michael Castleman (the New Healin



[i] This “madness” is often prophetic or Otherworldly in itself.

[ii] J.C. Cooper. An Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols.

[iii] Such as the relationship found between the Apple and Manannan the sea god.

[iv] Mac Lir means “son of the sea.”

[v] There are many Celtic stories, such as those of the Tuatha De Danaan, where the Otherworld may just as likely be underground, beneath the surface of the Earth. These sites, though not always, are often water entryways as well. These lands are usually not as peaceful.

[vi] What might it mean that the branch is usually described as silver or almost white?

[vii] http://www.maryjones.us/ctexts/ogham.html

* All images found within this post are from wikipedia commons.

Coll (Hazel) II

“Another form of divination was called coelbrini or ‘omen sticks’ in which the Druids used sticks, in some cases wands of hazel inscribed with Ogham, which were cast upon the ground, their fall then being interpreted.” – Peter Berresford Ellis (The Druids)

The Roots:

The ninth letter of the Ogham, in its tree form, is the Hazel.

Caitlin Mathews in Celtic Wisdom Sticks says that the Hazel is associated with wisdom. This is generally a universal interpretation for the tree as discussed previously.

Caitlin Mathews also assigns Hazel some divinatory interpretations within the system found in her book. The Hazel, it would seem, is also related to peace.

Robert Ellison speaks of the Hazel’s many magical uses within Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids. The Hazel, he informs us, can be used for shapeshifting, protection, or to have wishes granted. Ellison also relates Hazel to wisdom. He adds intuition as well.

In the Celtic Shaman we are told by John Mathews that the word Ogham – kennings – say that Hazel is “the fairest of trees.” He equates this poetic phrase with beauty.

The Hazel, or Coll, is often associated with wisdom. This interpretation refers to the nuts of the magical Hazel tree, as well as to their direct, or indirect, ingestion resulting in wisdom.

In the previous post regarding Hazel we discussed this topic in detail. This time, we will focus instead on the wood of the Hazel tree itself instead of on the nuts.

While the nuts of the Hazel that are found in legend have properties of wisdom, the wood of the tree itself is associated with peace. Some might claim that this wood has shapeshifting properties as well.

The Trunk:

The white Hazel staff, or wand, is a symbol of peace.

Found within the Tain are references to the herald of a king bearing a staff of white Hazel[i]. This herald is seen as a non-combatant simply because he carries the Hazel.

In the Celtic Tradition by Caitlin Mathews we are also told that the Hazel signifies peace:

“Samhain was a feast of peace and friendship, during which no weapon was lifted. Midir advises Oengus to approach Elcmar on this day, since Elcmar will be carrying only a staff of white hazel, signifying peaceful intention.”

Within Joseph Dunn’s translation of the Tain we find that Cuchulain was forced to fight and kill three enemies at the same time. This was normal enough for him, but he was also forced to fight their three charioteers! Charioteers were usually seen as non-combatants, like heralds, in war. These charioteers not only attacked Cuchulain, however, – making it six on one – but their weapons of choice were staffs of Hazel.

The story found in the Tain seems to indicate that not only did Cuchulain continue to fight against impossible odds, but that his enemies refused to honour the Celtic customs of combat and etiquette practiced at the time.

Furthermore, this symbol of peace may have had a more significant meaning than we realize during the testing of the Fianna. These Fianna were the High King of Ireland’s elite soldiers and they were under the command of Finn. The selection process for the Fianna was arduous. One of the tests that prospective Fianna had to pass involved the wood of the Hazel both directly and, possibly, indirectly.

During one of the tests the Fianna prospect was buried in a pit up to his waste. He was then given a Hazel “stick” and a shield. 9 spears were then cast at the young recruit. None of them could hit him or mark him in any way.

If we see the Hazel as a symbol of peace then the message seems clear. Despite being a warrior, one should also be able to wield the weapons of peace.

There is another link to the Hazel found within the tale as well. This connection is much more indirect and its meaning can only be contemplated.

It was Balor, the one-eyed, whose head was cut off and hung from a Hazel tree by Lugh. The head dripped poison into the ground and the roots of the tree soaked the liquid up. After some time, the god Manannan saw the tree and had it taken down so that he could have a shield made from it.

Taking the tree down turned out to be costly. The poison was so great that many of Manannan’s men were killed (two sets on nine[ii]) while many more (nine as well) were struck blind[iii]. A shield for the god was crafted from the wood. Manannan’s magical shield would eventually become the inheritance of Finn.

If we consider that the Fianna undergoing these tests were emulating Finn himself, then the significance of the shield may also bear reflection. The shield used during the trials could have also been made from, or have represented, the Hazel as well.

What this would mean, though, may not be so clear. Instead of promoting peace or wisdom this item seemed to give only death.

As Robert Ellison noted the Hazel can also be associated with shape changing. This statement seems to initially be a comparison between the shape-shifting Taliesin and his Irish counterpart Finn. While Finn ate the salmon that had ingested the nuts, Taliesin only ingested a few drops of the content from a cauldron. The similarities between the two stories are apparent. The story of Taliesin never directly mentions the Hazel nut, though. Finn does not seem to have the same power to shape shift on command. The stories may have a slight apple to oranges feel to them when they are compared directly.

There is another story that may solidify the shape shifting argument, however. This is also a story involving Finn. It can be found in Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race by T.W. Rolleston, Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Gregory, and in other places as well. This is the story involving the Dark Druid.

While the story is actually somewhat lengthy, the facts regarding the Hazel may easily be summed up. The “Dark Druid” is obsessed with Finn’s wife Sadbh. To steal her the druid – who sometimes seems to have possessed her in the first place – strikes Sadbh with his wand. Not only does she turn into a deer, but she’s forced to follow him as the holder of the wand. Sadbh becomes lost to Finn forever.

While the Hazel nut may give its consumer the power to shift forms, the wielder of the Hazel wand seems to be able to shift the forms of others. While the information seems scarce regarding this matter, the prospect is not entirely unlikely. Hazel seems to be linked to shape shifting.

The Hazel is also given a very high place in Irish mythology. It seems to be one of the three great treasures of the Irish landscape in at least one tale.

When Amergin meets the three women of the Tuatha De Danaan he is given their names and the names of their husbands[iv]. One of the husbands is named ‘Son of the Plough,’ another of the husbands is named ‘Son of the Sun,’ and the final husband is named ‘Son of the Hazel[v].’

Thus the women were married to the sons of abundance. In the harsh and often tumultuous lives of the Celts the symbolism would have been apparent.

Ireland was a land of fertility and of peace.

The Foliage:

Jacqueline Memory Paterson shares an interesting spell that uses Hazel in Tree Wisdom: the Definitive Guidebook. Paterson states the following to be a seventeenth century spell used to see “faeries.”

One must first gather some wild thyme from the side of a hill where “fairies still live.” Mix a half litre (pint) of salad oil with rose and marigold water (these flowers should be picked from the east). Shake the mixture until it is white. Put the liquid into a glass container.

Now add the wild thyme, buds of hollyhocks, marigold flowers, and the buds of young hazels. Finally, add the grass of a fairy throne (tussock). Allow all of the ingredients to dissolve for three days in the sun.

The concoction can be stored and used when it is needed. Paterson says that this can either be used by, “anointing the body and/or ingesting.”

 

“The nuts would fall into the water, causing bubbles of mystic inspiration to form, or were eaten by salmon. The number of spots on a salmon’s back were thought to indicate the number of nuts it had consumed.” – James MacKillop (Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology)



[i] Joseph Dunn, Lady Gregory, etc.

[ii] Coll is also associated with the number nine. This would have been an important number to the triad obsessed Celts. The number nine is composed of three threes.

[iii] Lady Gregory. Gods and Fighting Men.

[iv] Ibid.

[v] Not necessarily in this order.

* image at top of post is from superstock.com

Duir (Oak) II

“Keeper of knowledge, master of the wood, uphold the tribute of the tribe’s great good. Standing at memory’s door with darkened eyes, bringing forth fragrant peace that never dies.” Caitlin Mathews (Celtic Wisdom Sticks)

The Roots:

The seventh letter in the Celtic Tree-Ogham is Duir the Oak.

The Oak is one of the most revered and respected trees in Celtic mythology. Some of this reverence is the direct result of Pliny’s writings and his description of various Celtic and druidic practices as observed by the Romans. Many people doubt whether or not these observations were accurate. Despite these possible misinterpretations of various facts it is still obvious that the Celtic people had great reverence for the Oak tree.

John Mathews in the Celtic Shaman interprets the various Word-Oghams, most especially “the highest of bushes” as being related to “seeking”.

Robert Ellison relates the Oak to “wisdom and strength” in his book Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids.

In Celtic Wisdom Sticks, Caitlin Mathews seems to equate the oracular meanings of the Oak to the use of our innate spiritual gifts. Like John Mathew’s interpretation of “seeking”, the wisdom of the Oak seems to be coaxing us to move ahead in order to emerge more fully. While moving forward the highest quality that one can have seems to be an ability to trust the process itself.

The Oak, as stated in the previous Duir post, has strong connections to many cultures and is usually related to strength, virility, honour and wisdom.

The Trunk:

In the Carmina Gadelica by Alexander Carmichael we are told that the fire of an Oak is especially sacred. This is a theme that comes up in other places as well, as the Oak is part of the fairy triad along with the Ash and the Hawthorn.

The Oak is often, much thanks to Pliny, considered to be the king of the trees or the woods. Similar to the lions status amongst the beasts of Africa, the Oak is often considered second to none. In Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Gregory, for example, the Oak is called the “king of the woods.”

The Oak blossom has a special place as well. In the Mabinogion it is listed alongside the meadowsweet and Broom as being one of the flowers used to create Blodeuwedd, the bride of Llew. In Gods and Fighting Men we are told that one of the names for the harp of the Dagda was “Oak of two blossoms.”

After Llew had been betrayed by Blodeuwedd he fled wounded into the heights of a giant Oak tree in the image of an eagle. Gwydion sang an englyn[i]  to Llew to bring him back to the ground so that he could be healed. The englyn consisted of references to the Oak tree that Llew sat perched upon. This is also found in the Mabinogion.

In the Fairy Legends and Traditions of the South of Ireland by Thomas Crofton Croker, we are told that our ancestors used to make a wreath from Oak and Ivy that was used to heal the illnesses of family members.

“On the east coast of Scotland, the people resort to a peculiar method to avert the danger. During the month of March, when the moon is on her increase, they cut down branches of oak and ivy, which are formed into garlands, and preserved till the following autumn. If any one of the family should grow lean, or a child pine away, they must pass three times through this wreath.”

 

(Cuchulain in Battle, Joseph Leyendecker. 1911)

Finally, there are several references in various texts to Cuchulain inscribing his Ogham warnings for his enemies upon sticks of Oak. At one point he fells a log of Oak to block the passage of his enemies. In the Winifred version of the Tain Bo Cailnge the Ogham message states that “no one should go past until a warrior leaps it with one chariot.” This ends up costing his enemies thirty chariots and thirty horses.

In the Lady Gregory version Cuchulain creates a ring out of a branch of Oak and places it over a standing stone with a separate message inscribed on it. This is a completely seperate incident. The Ogham -read by Fergus who understood the Ogham – stated Cuchulain’s name and a warning. It said “that that the men of Ulster should not pass the pillar-stone that night, for if they did, he (Cuchulain) would do a great revenge on them at the sunrise of the morrow.”

The Foliage:

In Tree Wisdom by Jacqueline Memory Paterson, we are given a system of divination from the sixteenth century herbalist John Gerard that involves the Oak.

One needs to break open an acorn at a certain time of the year. Paterson believes that this would have likely been in spring or autumn. The contents of the acorn would then determine what would manifest for the following year.

If an ant was found inside, it foretold of an abundant harvest. If a spider was found, on the other hand, it foretold of “pestilence amongst men”. If a white worm was found within the nut, it warned of disease amongst cattle or other domestic beasts. If the worm flew away (if it became a wasp or maybe flew away in the wind?) it signified war. If the worm “crept” it signified that there could be a light harvest. The plague, on the other hand, might be predicted if the worm turned about.

Many of the above conditions -such as the plague- may seem unlikely in today’s day and age, but like all forms of divination the message may also be seen as metaphoric or symbolic instead of literal.

“In times before Christ there were Druids here who enchanted one another with Druid rods made of brass, and metamorphosed one another into stone and lumps of oak. The question is, where are the spirits of these Druids now? Their spirits are wafted through the air, and the man or beast they meet is smitten, while their own bodies are still under enchantment.”  – W.Y. Evans-Wentz (Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries, 1911)



[i] A traditional Welsh poem with particular structure.

Huathe (Hawthorn) II

“Every hair on him was as sharp as a thorn of hawthorn, and a drop of blood on each hair. He would not recognise comrades or friends. He would strike alike before and behind. It is from this that the men of Connaught gave Cuchulainn the name Riastartha.” –Winifred Faraday (Cattle Raid of Cualnge, 1904)

 

1) The Roots: Background information

2) The Trunk: Celtic Mythology and Significance

3) The Foliage: Spells using the Plant

 

The Roots:

The sixth letter of the Ogham is Huathe, which is known as the Hawthorn within the Tree Ogham.

As previously stated, the Hawthorn makes up part of the fairy triad along with the Ash and the Oak tree.

In the Celtic Shaman, by John Mathews, the Word-Ogham of Morann Mac Main – “a pack of wolves” or terror- is interpreted as representing “challenge.”

Caitlin Mathews in Celtic Wisdom Sticks has a similar interpretation for Huathe’s meaning. Her divination system’s interpretations for the few navigates around those times when ‘facing fears’ is necessary. “Through terror, ancient heroes came again, unapprehending of the danger or the pain.”

In Ogham: Secret Language of the Druids Robert Ellison interprets Huathe as being related to counselling, protection, and cleansing. He reflects upon other writers’ interpretations as being connected with “horror” or “terror.” Unfortunately, he does not elaborate on his own unique interpretation.

Huathe, or Hawthorn, is a very magical and respected tree. Individuals gain great power through its blessings, or unveil a world of horror. Metaphorically, we can face our challenges, our fears, and unleash a greater part of ourselves than we had ever imagined existed.

The Trunk:

The Welsh giant Yspaddaden Penkawr (Giant Hawthorn) is associated with the Hawthorn through his name[i]. His daughter, Olwen, is said to leave white flowering trefoils behind her in her footprints. This story is found in the Mabinogion.

In the 1911 book Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race by Thomas Rollesten we are given a connection between Merlin – Arthur’s Druid – and the Hawthorn. As various myths and legends often vary in their details, we are given different descriptions of Merlin’s home within the text. The abode of Merlin, we are told, can be described as either made of “glass, or a bush of whitethorn laden with bloom, or a sort of mist or smoke” or to have been composed of air.

This is not the first time that the Hawthorn has been associated with the Otherworld. It is a tree that is both respected and feared because of its power. This may be why there are comparisons between the tree and the wolf.

(Grey Wolf. Photo by Gunnar Reis Amphibol )

Fairy abduction is a common theme in Celtic myth and folklore. Oftentimes a person, like Anne Jefferies, returns with gifts of healing or mediumship. The Hawthorn having a direct connection to the fairy realm is often mentioned.

Thomas the Rhymer – who would later have seer-like gifts – would meet with the Fairy Queen “by the Hawthorn bush from which the cuckoo was calling[ii].” Likewise, Biddy Early, attributed at least one of her healing gifts to the sleeps she had beneath the Hawthorn tree. Her brother’s spirit had taught this to her.

Biddy Early was an Irish witch and folk healer. She is said to have lived until 1874. In 1920 Lady Augusta Gregory published the book Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland. In it, there was a whole section dedicated to Biddy Early. The accounts were from various witnesses who knew her or from those that had observed certain incidents in which she had used her power.

There is a story about Biddy Early in which a boy in Feakle “got the touch in three places.” This fairy touch had him going out and walking in the night. Predictably, the boy became very sick.  In Visions and Beliefs in the West of Ireland the family asks for help and Biddy Early provides it. The ritual used is also explained as is its source.

 “And they asked Biddy Early and she said, ‘Watch the hens when they come in to roost at night, and catch a hold of the last one that comes.’  So the mother caught it, and then she thought she’d like to see what would Biddy Early do with it. So she brought it up to her house and laid it on the floor, and it began to rustle its wings, and it lay over and died. It was from her brother Biddy Early got the cure. He was sick a long time, and there was a whitethorn tree out in the field, and he’d go and lie under it for shade from the sun. And after he died, every day for a year she’d go to the whitethorn tree, and it is there she’d cry her fill. And then he brought her under and gave her the cure. It was after that she was in service beyond Kinvara. She did her first cure on a boy, after the doctors giving him up.”

The hen having died in exchange for the boy’s health is a type of sympathetic magic similar to that found in many aboriginal or shamanic traditions. The concept of a life for a life dates back to the earliest recordings of human existence. The sacrifice is usually more overt, but the basic principle found in Biddy Early’s healing in this case is at its core the same.

The examples above illustrate how Hawthorn may act as a portal to the Otherworld. Once this portal is opened knowledge and power may be gained. This belief was not isolated but widespread. Thomas the Rhymer was from Scotland, the story of Merlin in Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race is from Wales, and Biddy Early lived in Western Ireland.

Clearly the Hawthorn, or Huathe, is a tree of great power.

The Foliage:

The Celts were not the only ones that had uses for Hawthorn.

On the Lucky Mojo website we are given some Hoodoo uses for the Hawthorn. Hoodoo is an American form of folk magic which also has many shamanistic elements. It is separate from Voodoo, which is a religion.

Hoodoo has strong African, Christian, and European influences. It seems to have been created in the Americas when individuals of various cultures were introduced to one another and when their beliefs were sown together. Hoodoo is usually practiced by people of African descent, however, despite the various other cultural influences.

According to Hoodoo practitioner and author Catherine Yronwode, Hawthorn has many protective qualities[iii]. A tea made from Hawthorn berries can be sprinkled around the home “to shield the premises from evil.”   Drinking the brew offers personal protection. The berries kept in the house will also prevent “evil” people from entering the home.

“HAWTHORN BERRIES are also used in an old-time spell to Keep a Woman From
Coming Around to See Your Man. It is said that if a woman-friend of yours is trying to steal your husband, HAWTHORN BERRIES sprinkled across her path will block her from entering your house for that purpose, although she may still come around as your friend.”

The information on the website does not say what a husband should do under similar circumstances. I can only imagine that a man might find a different way to deal with this particular problem.

“…he happened one night to be on the top of a tall ivy-clad hawthorn tree which was in the glen. It was hard for him to endure that bed, for at every twist and turn he would give, a shower of thorns off the hawthorn would stick in him, so that they were piercing and rending his side and wounding his skin.” – Mad Sweeney (Robert Ellison, Ogham: Secret Language of the Druids)