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

Tinne (Holly) II

“Since early times holly has been regarded as a plant of good omen, for its evergreen qualities make it appear invulnerable to the passage of time as the seasons change. It therefore symbolizes the tenacity of life even when surrounded by death, which it keeps at bay with strong protective powers.” Jacqueline Memory Paterson (Tree Wisdom: the Definitive Guidebook)

The Roots:

As discussed previously, Holly is a tree often associated with warriors, battle and death.

Holly is a leaf bearing evergreen tree, which has come to represent both the Wildman and the darkening of the year as the Holly King[i]. Perhaps both of these images are related to one another? The wild beast that exists within us is also repressed or destroyed at the height of that darkness within us – just like the Holly King  so that we are not consumed and swallowed by our own animalistic nature. Just like the Holly King is killed by the Oak King on the darkest night of the year, the Wildman, who hugs the shadows, is repressed – or temporarily killed – during our own darkest hour.

John Mathews in the Celtic Shaman leaves is with a clue regarding the Holly as being “a third of…” something that remains unstated. Previous writers have explained this third portion that is mentioned to represent either chariot wheels (Holly axle,) or the third part of a weapon (maybe a spear shaft?).

Robert Ellison in Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids says that Holly represents “justice and balance.” He also mentions the wheel and the weapon when he quotes previous Word-Oghams within his book.

Caitlin Mathews’ divination system found within Celtic Wisdom Sticks equates Holly with a type of cyclical wisdom. Her interpretations for Holly are all related to previous experiences holding answers for us in the present. As history repeats itself, the individual should know what actions are needed either logically or intuitively. In this way, Holly is always guiding us forward.

Holly represents half of the year from the summer solstice to the winter solstice. Holly, then, may also represent all that is dark or unkind such as our animalistic natures, battle and death. Any cycle can be seen as being symbolic of the cycle of life and death. By keeping this knowledge in perspective we simplify life and become wiser.

The Trunk:

Holly has an unusual role within Celtic mythology. It is a role which is not often discussed and may be overlooked. Holly often seems to be the mediator between the world of humans and that of the beasts.

Jacqueline Paterson quotes Pliny when she says that “if Holly wood was thrown in any direction it will compel the animal to obey.” While the reference to Pliny may not be as reliable as some of the Celtic sources, it deserves to be mentioned as support for the argument that Holly had special powers over beasts.

In the Mabinogion[ii] we bear witness to some unexplained magic. Taliesin helps Elphin (who saved him from the salmon weir) win a horse race with the use of Holly. We are not told exactly what the Holly does, but it seems to be instrumental in helping Elphin win the race.

“Then he (Taliesin) bade Elphin wager the king, that he had a horse both better and swifter than the king’s horses. And this Elphin did, and the day, and the time, and the place were fixed, and the place was that which at this day is called Morva Rhiannedd: and thither the king went with all his people, and four-and-twenty of the swiftest horses he possessed. And after a long process the course was marked, and the horses were placed for running.

“Then came Taliesin with four-and-twenty twigs of holly, which he had burnt black, and he caused the youth who was to ride his master’s horse to place them in his belt, and he gave him orders to let all the king’s horses get before him, and as he should overtake one horse after the other, to take one of the twigs and strike the horse with it over the crupper, and then let that twig fall; and after that to take another twig, and do in like manner to every one of the horses, as he should overtake them, enjoining the horseman strictly to watch when his own horse should stumble…”

The youth is also instructed to throw down his cap when his own horse (actually Elphin’s) stumbles. They dig where the cap has fallen and cauldron of gold is found. Taliesin then hands the treasure over to the “unlucky” Elphin as a reward for saving him.

In Gods and Fighting Men by Lady Gregory we find more Holly references. We are given a poem attributed to Finn (like Taliesin he was possessed with all knowledge). The poem seems more like a riddle for the initiated than a simple reflection. Its true meanings may elude us. The mention of Holly is interesting though.

“There is a hot desire on you for the racing horses; twisted Holly makes a leash for the hound.”

While this reference could have many other possible explanations or interpretations, we should remember that good Celtic poetry was often rife with double meanings. The songs of these enlightened bards were meant to be studied and contemplated. This reference to Holly could easily be a statement of its perceived powers.

Within the same text we find that Diarmuid and Grania are on the run from Finn. For a short while they are accompanied by a servant named Muadhan who seems to be a beast man of some sort.

Muadhan enters the story suddenly and leaves suddenly. He carries Diarmuid and Grania on his back over rivers and when they are too tired to walk. He pulls a “whelp” from his pocket and throws it at one of Finn’s hounds killing the canine enemy. Every night he also catches salmon for all three of them. Muadhan lives very closely to the land and his methods are very interesting.

“And he went himself into the scrub that was near, and took a straight long rod of a quicken-tree, and he put a hair and a hook on the rod, and a holly berry on the hook, and he went up the stream, and he took a salmon with the first cast. Then he put on a second berry and killed another fish, and he put on a third berry and killed the third fish. Then he put the hook and the hair under his belt, and struck the rod into the earth, and he brought the three salmon where Diarmuid and Grania were, and put them on spits.”

Here we see that Muadhan seems to live more closely to the land and be somewhat of a beast himself. He also seems to be carnivorous. Interestingly, Muadhan always keeps the smallest portion for himself.

(Wild men support coat of arms in the side panels of a 1499 portrait by Albrecht Durer[iii])

The story of Cuchulain – whose name means “the hound” – also has some interesting Holly references. Joseph Dunn’s translation of the Tain Bo Cuailnge is the source of this quote:

“On the morrow Nathcrantail went forth from the camp and he came to attack Cuchulain. He did not deign to bring along arms but thrice nine spits of holly after being sharpened, burnt and hardened-in fire.”

Nathcrantail casts all of these “darts” but does not kill Cuchulain. He does, however, manage to interrupt his bird hunting and scatters his prey.

“It was then, when Nathcrantail threw the ninth dart that the flock of birds which Cuchulain pursued on the plain flew away from Cuchulain. Cuchulain chased them even as any bird * of the air.* He hopped on the points of the darts like a bird from each dart to the next, pursuing the birds that they might not escape him but that they might leave behind a portion of food for the night. For this is what sustained and served Cuchulain, fish and fowl and game on the Cualnge Cow-spoil.”

We see then that Cuchulain is more of a beast than a man due to his ability to leap through the air and his need to capture his own meals. Cuchulain also seems to be carnivorous.

When Cuchulain is asked why he did not kill Nathcrantail he says it is because his enemy was unarmed. Clearly the Holly “darts” are not viewed as weapons by Cuchulain in the conventional sense.

“Dost not know, thou and Fergus and the nobles of Ulster, that I slay no charioteers nor heralds nor unarmed people? And he bore no arms but a spit of wood.”

Also found in the book, it is a “spit of holly” that finally wounds Cuchulain. The wound is self inflicted during a bout of rage. There is a suggestion, then, that Holly may be a sort of Kryptonite to Cuchulain. Where his enemies could not succeed with swords and spears, he accidently accomplishes with a sharpened piece of burnt wood.

Paterson speaks at length of the Holly King and the Wildman within Tree Wisdom. She explains in which ways she sees them as being one and the same.

“Thus we see that the Wildman expressed the procreative essence of Nature, the Godhead. And from his primal beginnings and through translations of his manifold energy he came to personify specific aspects of the energies of Nature, from which forms like the holly and oak kings evolved, embodiments par excellence of the seasonal forces associated with the dark and light periods of the year.”

It is not beyond the realm of possibility that Holly had a more specific use to the Celts of old. It seems to be the gate keeper and the guardian of the wild aspect of nature as well as the ruler over all of those that are wild.

In both Ireland and Wales, the wood of Holly is burnt before it is used[iv].

The Foliage:

The following information is from Cat Yronwode’s Herb Magic[v] website. The wording is very detached to protect them from possible lawsuits. It may also be possible that Holly is not a common herb used in Hoodoo. These uses for Holly seem to be mostly protective.

Holly can be burned with incense to protect the home and to bring good luck. Holly can also be placed above the door for protection and to invite into the home benevolent spirits.

As these are all qualities that we wish to attract to the home, Holly would best be used during the waxing phase of the moon.

“The Holly is best in the fight. He battles and defends himself, defeating enemies, those who wish to destroy him, with his spines. The leaves are soft in summer but in winter, when other greenery is scarce and when the evergreen Holly is likely to be attacked by browsing animals, the leaves harden, the spines appear and he is safe.”  – Liz and Colin Murray (The Celtic Tree Oracle)

[i] Jacqueline Memory Paterson. Tree Wisdom: the Definitive Guidebook.

[ii] Lady Charlotte Guest translation.

[iv] As related in the tales involving Finn and Taliesin.


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)

Nuin (Ash) II

“My old nurse, Betty Grancan, used to say that you could call up the troll at the Tolcarne if while there you held in your hand three dried leaves, one of the ash, one of the oak, and one of the thorn, and pronounced an incantation or charm. Betty would never tell me the words of the charm, because she said I was too much of a sceptic. The words of such a Cornish charm had to pass from one believer to another, through a woman to a man, and from a man to a woman, and thus alternately.” – W.Y. Evans Wentz (the Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries)

The Roots:

The fifth letter of the Ogham, as a tree alphabet, is Nuin the Ash tree.

Robert Ellison in Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids gives the meaning for this few as “ancient knowledge and weavers beam.” He also says that Nuin is representative of strength and courage as well as luck associated with battle. This, Ellison believes, is due to the fact that spears and arrow shafts are made from Ash wood.

Caitlin Mathews in Celtic Wisdom Sticks equates the Ash to a possible ending of peace for the same reasons. The Ash is closely associated with the spear. Her divination system reveals that the Ash is the promoter of exploration. Her meanings seem to state this through various directions such as “your way is clear”, “there is more to discover”, seeking the freedom of your “full potential” and investigating uneasy intuitions.

John Mathews in the Celtic Shaman interprets the letter’s word-Ogham “checking of peace” as meaning “opposition.” In this way, battle does not always have to be literal or upon a designated battle field. Peace, or the absence of, may be metaphoric descriptions of any of life’s many challenges.

Nuin is a difficult letter for many reasons. First and foremost it was not actually originally representative of the Ash tree at all[i]. Secondly, due to the rare mentioning of the Ash tree in Celtic folklore and legend, many Ogham users bring up the common misconception that Yggdrasil, the world tree of the Norse, was an Ash. This can be a point of frustration as the poetic “evergreen-needle-ash” translated in the Eddas eventually becomes the Ash of the Celts[ii]. It is rare for any Ogham writer to not spend time discussing Yggdrasil in relation to Nuin despite there being no connection to the Ogham alphabet at all. A closer look at the Norse world tree reveals that it is likely a Yew.

Unfortunately the Ash is usually promoted as the world tree, despite its seeming absence as such in the Celtic records. For this reason, however, many interpret the Ash as representing the microcosmic and macrocosmic[iii].

The Ash tree represents both the beginning and the end of peace. Especially in this day and age, this may be metaphoric and not a literal battle as one might expect.

The Trunk:

It is an old belief that wherever the Ash, the Oak and the Thorn grow together that the fairies will be present[iv]. These trees were also used together in certain types of magic as was revealed in the introductory quote above.

In Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race by T.W. Rolleston, there can be found some interesting lore regarding the Ash tree. The author says that the following was originally taken from the Irish Mythological Cycles. The little people, or fairy folk, give this bit of advice to King Fergus:

“The ash-tree of the black buds burn not—timber that speeds the wheel, that yields the rider his switch; the ashen spear is the scale-beam of battle.”

The Ash with the black buds seems to be a reference to the tree in early spring when it first begins to bloom and show signs of life. The above poem restricts the burning of Ash wood maybe at just this one time of year- and is reminding the king of the reasons for the Ash’s high value. Clearly the Ash wood was important for the Celtic people.

(Ash Flower. Photo by Donar Reiskoffer)

In the book Tree Wisdom by J.M. Paterson we are told that the Ash root has similar powers as the mandrake root. The root itself, apparently, can also take on a form resembling that of a human –like the mandrake- and can be enchanted with various types of sympathetic magic.

Regarding the Ash, it should also be noted that there were five magical trees that were said to once guard over Ireland. Of these trees three were Ash while one was an Oak and the other a Yew. Christians cut down these old growth trees in a symbolic gesture of their conquest over the native pagan beliefs; as the living world was not revered or respected at the time[v].

According to James MacKillop, Ash keys -or seeds- were used for divination. The Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology also claims that Ash was used, especially on the Isle of Man, to “ward off” fairies.

In the previous Alder post, Fearn, we talked about the Battle of the Trees. It was revealed that Alder was connected to Bran the Blessed. By guessing Bran’s name –as the hero was invincible until his identity was known- Gwydion was able to defeat the champion and triumph over his enemies. Similarly, the Ash is connected to Gwydion in much the same way as the Alder is connected to Bran[vi]. Paul Kendall in Mythology and Folklore of Ash shares some of the ways in which the Ash was used for healing[vii]. Apparently, it was common to split an Ash tree and have a sick child pass through it. The tree was then lashed back together and was expected to heal. As the tree repaired itself the child was supposed to recover from their illness. Ash sap was also given to newborn babies though it is unclear if this was for healing or protection purposes.

Spear and arrow shafts were made from Ash wood. The Beltane may pole could also be of Ash[viii]. The reference to Ash being related to both war and peace may be connected to either one of these uses. A wielder of a weapon is capable of destruction as well as restraint. Beltane, usually May 1st, marked the beginning of the light – or more accurately the warm- half of the year. This would have also, for people with conflicts to settle or lands to defend, ushered in the beginning of the fighting season. Perhaps there is something to that connection as well.

Whatever the reasons, it is clear that the Ash is closely associated with the concept of peace, or the coming of war.

The Foliage:

In Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids we are told that Ash can be used in “protection, healing, or creation spells or as a symbol of male energy.” Ellison also says that Ash can be used in magic for strength and courage.

Ellison also says that there is an old charm that uses Ash to cure warts[ix].

A pin is first taken and stuck into an Ash tree. The wart is then poked with the needle while the following phrase is chanted:

“Ashen tree, Ashen tree, pray buy these warts off of me!”

“For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to break down and a time to build up; a time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance; a time to cast away stones and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing; a time to seek and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; a time to rend and a time to sew; a time to keep silence and a time to speak; a time to love and a time to hate; a time for war and a time for peace.” – Solomon (Ecclesiastes. Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version)

[i] Caitlin Mathews, Robert Ellison, Eryn Rowan Laurie, etc.

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

[iv] J.M. Paterson. Tree Wisdom.

[v] Nigel Pennick. Celtic Sacred Landscapes.

[vi] Caitlin Mathews. Celtic Wisdom Sticks.

[viii] J. MacKillop. Oxford Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology.

[ix] Ellison himself references Ellen Hopman’s Tree Medicine, Tree Magic.

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