Luis (Rowan) II

“The Queen went to the Stone House and took Morag out. She asked her how she had fared and thereupon Morag put the Rowan Berry in the Queen’s hand. She hastened to her own chamber and ate it, and her youth and beauty came back to her, and the King who had grown solitary, loved the Queen again.” – Patraic Colum (The King of Ireland’s Son, 1916)

The Roots:

The Rowan tree is one of the most significant trees found in Celtic mythology.

In Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids Robert Ellison states that the Rowan is a tree of protection, magic, and control of the senses.

Caitlin Mathews in Celtic Wisdom Sticks: an Ogham Oracle claims that the Rowan is “popularly credited with being the most magical of trees.” As well as being a protective tree, the Rowan in her divination system is also associated with staying on course and not getting lost.

In the Ogham Tract[i] the word associations given to the Rowan are “delight of the eye… flame” and “friend of cattle.”[ii] John Mathews in the Celtic Shaman interprets the first word riddle as being a reference to Love.

The instances found of Rowan’s protective nature against fairies, witches, and the evil eye are extensive in Celtic folklore. Besides being a protector, Luis is also a tree of magic.

The Trunk:

J.C. Cooper in an Illustrated Encyclopedia of Traditional Symbols calls the Rowan the “Gallic Tree of Life.”

The use of the Rowan for protection was very widespread. The tree was said to offer protection against fire, lightening and witches and also to protect cows and milk products. Rowan was often planted in graveyards, like Yew, to prevent the dead from rising[iii].
In Irish legend the corpse might be staked with a Rowan branch bearing berries to prevent the ghost from wandering[iv]. Rowan was also used in shapeshifting spells[v]. When the tree grew close to the home it was considered very auspicious.

The Rowan tree is said to have been brought to Ireland by accident from Tir Tairngire, the Land of Promise, by the Tuatha De Danann[vi]. Etain is turned into a pool of water by being struck by a wand of Rowan and the Salmon of Wisdom is sometimes found to be eating Rowan berries instead of hazel nuts[vii].

The unfaithful wife of Finn Mac Cool, Graine, hides in a Rowan tree with her lover Diarmaid to avoid being captured. In the pursuit of the lovers the Fianna stopped beneath the same Rowan tree to rest. They started to play games to fill the time. Diarmaid was one of Finn’s men and it was said that when he was nearby, due to his magic, Finn would win every game. While playing beneath the tree, Finn loudly proclaimed that he wished that Diarmaid was present so that he could win every game. Hearing this, Diarmaid dropped one Rowan berry from the tree down to Finn who then won. This was done four times in a row for four separate games. After the fourth game Finn realized that Diarmaid was nearby and called the lovers down from the tree. A battle was then fought[viii].

In the King of Ireland’s Son, by Padraic Colum, a giant and his fearsome black bull guard the Rowan tree from mortals. In the tree itself are also found 24 vicious angry yellow cats. The giant who guards the tree has two servants, more like slaves, named Flann and Morag. Morag has placed herself in the service of the giant because she intends to steal a Rowan berry for her queen. Flann is an unwilling captive.

Morag is described as being very unattractive in the earlier portions of this tale. When she finally manages to steal a Rowan berry for her queen she also takes one for herself. Flann and Morag manage to escape and a series of adventures begin. This is not before Morag eats one of the Rowan berries and becomes beautiful. Flann and Morag then fall in love as a direct result of her eating the Rowan berry. They will eventually be together after many hardships.

It should be noted that the 24 cats, plus the Rowan tree itself, could easily represent the 25 letters of the Ogham.

Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm in the Druid Animal Oracle link the Blackbird to the Rowan. They also speak of the protective nature of Rowan in regards to the Cow. In many ways the traditions involving the Rowan have been carried forward to modern times.   One example would be that Luis, the Rowan or Mountain Ash, can still be found on the clan badges of Malcom and McLachlan[ix].

The tree itself is not supposed to be cut down or hurt with a blade of any sort. Although the Rowan is a great protector, there is a suggestion in the stories that to harm the tree would be to court disaster.

Rowan sometimes grows from another tree like mistletoe. These branches are considered especially magical[x].

The Foliage:

Ivo Dominguez, jr. includes some interesting lore on the Rowan tree in his text Of Spirits: the Book of Rowan[xi].

“Moreover, the Rowan’s true element is probably light of which fire is one manifestation. Rowan has the power to open and to close gates, to summon and to banish, to protect and to sustain. All parts of the tree are useful for the making of incense or magical tools.

“The berries were used by the druids and the Welsh witches in brewing wines and potions that increased the power of the second sight. The blossom end of the berry is marked with a natural pentacle. If the berries are charged in a ritual they achieve special vital energy potency so that if one berry is consumed it gives the prana of nine meals. Very useful for healing, strenuous work, and fasting. Even without the ritual, 1 berry quartered and brewed as a tea greatly increases second sight.”

It should be noted here that the raw fruit does contain parasorbic acid which if eaten in quantity may cause indigestion or kidney failure. This can be neutralized through cooking or freezing[xii].

“In the Highland version of the legend of Fraoch, given in the Dean of Lismore’s book, the rowan tree is a sort of tree of Life; it bears fruit every month and every quarter, and the virtue of its red berries when tasted was such as to stave off hunger for long:

Its berries’ juice and fruit when red For a year would life prolong.

From dread disease it gave relief If what is told be our belief.

Yet though it proved a means of life Peril lay closely nigh;

Coiled by its root a dragon lay Forbidding passage by.”

– George Henderson (Survival in Belief Amongst Celts, 1911)



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

[ii] This line is confusing as it also mentions the Elm tree.

[iii] Fred Hageneder. The Meaning of Trees.

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

[v] Robert Ellison. Ogham: the Secret Language of the Druids.

[vi] James MacKillop. Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] J.F. Campbell. Popular Tales of the West Highlands, 1890.

[x] Ibid.

[xi] The newer updated version of this book titled Spirit Speak does not include this information on Rowan. Both books lend understanding to “the nature of discarnate beings” and I cannot recommend them enough for anyone interested in the spirit world.

Ur (Heather)

“When we reflect upon the many unique characteristics of the Heather- its stern beauty of delicate purple bells nestling to a green mantled burly growth of brushwood; its distinctive vitality and strength of endurance; the wild rugged solitude of its native home in the Scottish Highlands, and the untamed spirit of independence which over broods this hermit flower of the mountain crags- it is not to be wondered at that the Heather should have been adopted as a symbol, or badge, by several of the leading clans of Scotland.” – Alexander Wallace (Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay)

The Roots:

Ur is the eighteenth letter of the Ogham. The tree or plant that Ur represents in the Tree Alphabet[i] is the Heather.

In Magical Alphabets Nigel Pennick claims that this letter represents luck and is an entry point to the inner worlds.

In the White Goddess, Robert Graves also says that Heather is lucky. He goes on to state that Heather has a strong connection with the bee. This is a observation that is made by many other writers including Stephanie and Philip Carr-Gomm[ii], Alexander Wallace[iii], as well as Liz and Colin Murray. The bee represents industriousness, family, community and social interactions. The Heather is not only frequented by bees, but can also grow in Heaths. This growth pattern represents its own gregarious nature.

In their book the Celtic Tree Oracle, the Murrays also say that Heather provides a link to the inner self. Strangely, they also claim that the Mistletoe can be a representative of Ur as well.

Eryn Rowan Laurie in Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom seems to have quite a different take on Ur and the Heather plant. She claims that the Ogham letter Ur is representative of death, fate and finality; by its connection to the soil[iv]. Laurie also claims that Heather independent from the letter- is linked to poverty[v].

John Michael Greer brings the various beliefs together in his explanation of Ur found in the Druid Magic Handbook. He says that Ur represents “Power, creation, death and rebirth, symbolized by the Heather bush; spiritual power and creativity, a door opens in the inner world.”

Besides being linked to the bee, Heather is connected with mountains and the country of Scotland. The plant has links to fairies such as the Cluiricaune. Heather is also connected to witches, apparitions and also makes an appearance in at least one Cailleach tale.

Ur, or Heather, is the plant of death and the dead, luck, family and community, and can also help us to connect with the inner worlds.

The Trunk:

“Heather is the four leaf clover of the Scottish Highlands.[vi]

Heather, or Ur, does not appear very often in recorded Celtic folklore.

The Cluiricaune, who we spoke of in Ngetal, knew the secrets of brewing a heather beer. We also looked at an apparition that touched and killed a cow in Ohn; the Ogham letter covered last week. This apparition rose from the Gorse and Heather plants to bring about the destruction of the hapless creature. Both of these stories were discussed previously and can also be found in Fairy Legends of the South of Ireland by Thomas Croker.

The greatest wealth of memory regarding the Heather plant is found in Alexander Wallace’s 1903 book Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay. There is no greater resource than this book for anyone interested in a study of the cultural significance of Heather to the Celtic people.

Throughout the book there are many poems and stories related to Heather. In folklore the white Heather represented unselfish love. It was considered very unlucky for anyone to bring Heather indoors. The plant could, however, be used as protection against witches. At Beltane, Rowan and Heather branches were carried around the sacred fire three times before being raised above dwellings to protect the house’s occupants against the evil eye. On the other hand, throwing Heather after a person was supposed to bring them good luck.

Heather is often seen as a Scottish national symbol. The plant is associated with ancestors and is found on many clan badges.

“Macgregor as the rock, Macdonald as the Heather.”[vii]

Fairies are said to live in Heather bells and Heather honey is supposed to be one of their favourite foods. Apparently Heather, like Ivy[viii], does not grow in the land of the fairies. This may explain the fairies great affinity for the flower.

There is a story from Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay regarding a Heather fairy that I will share in its entirety due to its unique nature. It was originally told by a Mrs Grant of Laggan. The tale regards one of the fairy hills that Highlanders would often hear “fairie music” from.

“A little girl had been innocently loved by a fairy that dwelt in a tomhan[ix] near her mother’s habitation. She had three brothers who were the favourites of her mother. She herself was treated harshly and taxed beyond her strength; her ’employment was to go every morning and cut a certain quantity of turf from dry, heathy ground for immediate fuel ; and this with some uncouth and primitive implement. As she passed the hillock which contained her lover, he regularly put out his hand with a very sharp knife of sudi[x] power that it quickly and readily cut through all impediments. She returned cheerfully and early with her load of turf, and as she passed by the hillock she struck on it twice and the fairy stretched out his hand and received the knife.

“The mother, however, told the brothers that her daughter must certainly have had some aid to perform the allotted task. They watched her, saw her remove the enchanted knife and forced it from her. They re-turned, struck the hillock as she was wont to do, and when the fairy put out his hand, they cut it off with his own knife. He drew in the bleeding arm in despair; and supposing this cruelty was the result of treadiery[xi] on the part of his beloved, never saw her more.”

This is not the only dark story regarding the Heather plant. Witches in Scotland at Samhain were supposed to ride over Heather on black tabby cats. Heather can also be connected to the Cailleach; the primordial Celtic hag goddess.

It is said that whenever a hunter sees the Cailleach singing and milking the hinds upon a hillside, it is a warning. The vision is telling the hunter that he should not go, “roaming the Heath that day.” To ignore the warning was to invite a swift and merciless death[xii].

Heather, or Ur, is a magical herb indeed. The stories in Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay do speak of death, apparitions, family and luck. Perhaps the “inner worlds” that the Ogham authors speak of are simply more references to the Spiritworld or the lands of the fey?

If this is true, then the above stories verify this Heather connection as well.

There are too many tales of the fairies to list, which speak of them as being “the dead”[xiii]. If this were to be the case, then all of the various associations given to the Heather plant would not be as different from one another as they would at first appear.

Heather is a key to the realms of the mysterious. Some may see these lands as being external and separated from oneself, while others may choose to dive into the deepest hidden worlds that are found within.

Perhaps they are one and the same.

The Foliage:

The Heather plant that represents Ur is Calluna Vulgaris.

Calluna Vulgaris is considered an invasive species in British Columbia as it is sometimes found to have naturalized. This non-native immigrant, however, is the Heather that is the same plant referred to in Celtic myth and legend. What we call Heather in British Columbia is not the same plant.

These are the native types of mountain Heather from the Cassiope  and also the Phyllodoce Genus . The Mountain Heathers are close relatives of Calluna Vulgaris belonging to the same family Ericaceae[xiv]. Some of the species, such as White Mountain Heather or Yellow Mountain Heather, are common throughout the Pacific Northwest and BC.

The Heather of myth is usually a purple flower.

“According to the classical writers, the Druids taught three important things: Honor the gods. Do no evil. Live courageously.” – Tom Cowan(Yearning for the Wind)



[i] The Ogham was not originally intended to be used as a Tree Alphabet. See previous posts.

[ii] The Druid Animal Oracle.

[iii] Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay.

[iv] The Ogham Tract.

[v] Laurie is the Ogham expert that I probably respect, and agree with, the most. I disagree with her on this point, however, which may seem strange as she is much more knowledgable than me on Celtic mythology and the Ogham. I do not understand the poverty connection to Heather, however.

[vii] Heather in Lore, Lyric and Lay.

[viii] See Gort post.

[ix] Fairy dwelling.

[x] I am not sure what this means.

[xi] Breech of faith.

[xii] We should be thankful that Alexander Wallace preserved so much of the lore associated with the Heather in a single place. I have merely skimmed the surface of this highly recommended book.

[xiii] Katherine Briggs. The Fairies in Tradition and Literature.

 

Luis (Rowan)

“While the more easily available material equates each ogam letter with a tree, most of the letter names aren’t, in fact, the names of trees at all. Conceptually, they are far more akin to the Norse runes. Lus may be associated with the rowan tree but the word itself derives from a root that refers to either a healing herb or to the brightness of a flame, and it is from these definitions that a depth of meaning can be developed and appreciated.” – Erynn Rowan Laurie (Ogam: Weaving Word Wisdom)

The Roots:

Stepping into the forest can become disorienting. There is a moment, of adjustment, where one’s perception begins to shift. Direction can become confused. There is a humming silence, steady and persistent, that exists behind the bird’s song. Time now seems to move in a different manner altogether. Reality becomes blurred.

Although there are many differences in opinion as to the meaning of this second tree we may still find that many of the experts agree on certain aspects of luis[i]. It is commonly agreed upon and understood that this is the tree of protection against evil. This was what our ancestors petitioned for from the rowan tree in generations past.

The Rowan then becomes an ally on the journey that we will undertake into the forest, and into the darkness of the unknown.

The Trunk:

There are two important questions that we must now ask ourselves. The first is about protection itself and the second is about evil.

What is protection? To understand protection we must look within and at our own belief system. One way to view protection is to see it as a shield around ourselves, or as some sort of a guardian spirit that aids us and shelters us from harm. There may be problems with this paradigm however. How would this type of protection aid one who may be on a path of power towards growth or recognizing the divine within? When the shield is gone the traveler will once more be susceptible to harm and attack.

A second way to look at the concept of protection is to view it as a request to be given the strength to overcome whatever roadblocks are discovered on that path before us and to repel evil. In this way protection is summoned from outside of ourselves as a way of fostering a deeper relationship with the divine and with ourselves. With every step that we take we become more and more connected to everything around us. Protection does not become a shield around us but the energies become a part of a process within us. In this way we step into relationship with the rowan and are not merely asking for a favour but working in cooperation with it.

This second way of viewing protection allows me to experience and grow. It allows me to stay in a place of power and not to submit to the ideas of helplessness which may eventually lead to a belief in being a victim. It is asking for help but not asking to be carried.

What is evil then? What is it that we need to protect ourselves against?

This is one of the oldest questions known to us as humans. At one time in our history wolves were considered evil and at another time they were sacred. Many plants and animals share this historic past. One could say that many things found in nature were at one time considered evil and perhaps even more things that are found in the realms of civilization.

To some the night and darkness are evil. To others evil only exists externally. Many believe in the concept of sin. What one believes to be evil can be deeply personal and a very frightening thing to look upon.

To ask for protection however we must understand the answer to this question even if it is a private matter, for we need to know what it is that we need protection from. Ravenous beasts or manipulative salesmen? Stalking witches or adulterous women? The devil of Christianity or the woes of addiction? Perhaps it is merely the allures of apathy?

There is a common belief amongst many on a spiritual path that evil is fear, which is the opposite of love, and that only love is real. There is something pleasant and divinely innocent in this belief and it is one that I look upon with some degree of fondness.

There is a dark side to this belief however. Many in our Western society who embrace this belief choose to turn a blind eye towards injustice simply because it does not exist within their immediate sphere of perception.

It may be true that the murderer and the thief deserve love and forgiveness. It may also be true that I should find a way to love my enemy. Should I then turn a blind eye to the rape on the street corner that is taking place NOW? Should I stay inside of my safe abode, seated upon my couch, so that I do not have to bear witness to starvation and poverty extreme? At what point does my acceptance of fear, or evil, by not validating its existence become enabling? One must also ask oneself what is the purpose of meeting the divine if one is not ready to protect their fellow man or woman? Is it to be a caretaker of both Earth and beast, to be a leader, a protector, a parent of children, a brother, a sister or a neighbour? Are we incarnated so that we can ignore the patterns of life around us? Why were we even born then?

Focusing on love alone is a drug. We can also focus on the noon day sun and deny that same sphere sets at night. We can have ‘minders’ if we are gurus, deny the existence of sickness, stay in the comfort of our own homes, and live in a fairytale where sickness, hunger, pain and suffering do not exist. While eventually this may become one’s reality the truth is that one would be disconnected from the whole. We exist as one. What happens to one of us happens to all of us. What ails the Earth also ails us. Apathy does not erase this truth but only allows the injustice to continue unhindered and unrestrained.

The universe is microcosmic and macrocosmic. What exists inside of me also exists outside of me. When my body becomes sick my immune system will fight it. The toxins will pass out of my body and the healing process will take place. It does me no good whatsoever to ignore the lump under my skin.  By being in denial there is a very real possibility that the sickness will spread, eventually to a point where healing is no longer very easy at all.

We tell ourselves, in this society, that the adult entertainment industry is okay but the evidence is undeniable that this business supports organized crime and human trafficking. We may tell ourselves that recreational drug use is okay, but again the evidence is undeniable that there is a machine in place that validates murder and takes advantage of some of the most vulnerable people in the world. These are the easy ones to spot too. What about our mass consumerism in the West and how this affects the rest of the world. What about the wanton abuse and depletion of the Earth’s resources? Not easy things to look upon.

So should we turn a blind eye? Should we carry on with love in our hearts and a smile on our faces? Have we truly transcended evil if we focus exclusively on love while others toil to repair the house in which we live? We are then nothing more than a guest. We are not a participant in the community in which we live but a self absorbed tourist. Ultimately the focusing on love alone while denying the existence of evil, or fear, or darkness, is an exercise in selfishness.

So evil may exist then. To each one of us that evil may be completely different and wear a unique face. But what exists outside of us also exists within. This is the difficult thing to stare at. For all things on this journey may be, and sometimes are, a mirror.

The evils that we see outside of ourselves are reflections of the ignorance that exists within our own hearts and minds. These are the most difficult meditations of all.

The Foliage:

A piece of rowan wood may be carried as an amulet of protection as could some leaves or berries (which possess a five pointed star). According to Robert Graves, rowan can be burnt to summon the Sidhe (faerie) to help in battle. Rowan stakes sometimes were also pounded through the hearts of corpses to incapacitate their ghosts.

Rowan crosses were made to ward off evil, and the trees were grown outside of houses, churches and in graveyards.

In the second part of the Prose Edda, Skaldskaparmal, believe to be written around 1220 by Snori Sturluson, the rowan tree is even said to have saved the life of the god Thor. Although the story does not seem to exist in the time of myth before the recording of this tale (Viktor Rydberg) it has become a very popular story of the protective and aiding nature of the rowan tree.

During a great journey to the frost giant Geirrod’s keep Thor had to cross the Vimur River. At one point while crossing the tumultuous river it seemed apparent that he would drown and be swept away and that his quest would not be completed. It is said that it was the rowan tree that leaned over and helped him to the opposite bank of the river by pulling him from the dark and raging waters, thus saving his life by offering him its branches. It is for this reason that the rowan tree may sometimes be called Thor’s Helper, alongside other names such as the quicken tree or the mountain ash[ii].

There is a very old tradition in which the rowan tree was asked for assistance. As we move into the forest we should not be afraid to ask for help and companionship from luis, the rowan tree. To ask for help though, we first need to be aware of our own shortcomings. We need to know what evil it is that we are facing and in what ways we may be weak to its influences.

We should also remember that every time we take something from the forest we should give thanks and offer something in return. In this way our relationship to it strengthens and develops.

Our minds become clearer now for the rowan is not a tree of protection alone. She is also a companion. She is a friend and an aid that offers clarity of mind and awareness as well.

These are also things that are important to possess, when a journey such as ours, or of any size for that matter, is undertaken.

Past the seeker as he prayed came the crippled and the beggar and the beaten. And seeing them…he cried, “Great God, how is it that a loving creator can see such things and yet do nothing about them?”…God said, “I did do something. I made you.”  -Sufi Teaching 

 


[i] Robert Graves in the White Goddess speaks mostly of rowan’s protective qualities. Liz and Colin Murray offer “control of the senses” besides protection as an aiding attribute of the tree. John Michael Greer says the rowan is also a tree of “discernment” and “inner clarity”. Nigel Pennick says that the rowan can protect one from psychic perception and be “used for developing the power of second sight and protection against enchantment”. According to respected Ogham author Erynn Rowan Laurie luis offers “sustenance”, “teachers and teaching”, and is very closely linked to inspiration.

[ii] The Western mountain ash and the Sitka mountain ash are both shrubs native to the West coast of North America. According to the book, Plants of Coastal British Columbia, “Where ranges overlap these two species will hybridize with each other and with the introduced rowan tree (S. Aucuparia), which is found mostly near settlements”.