Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Willow Tree [15 April-12 May]

20170414 CELTIC MONTH OF THE WILLOW TREE EPHEMERAFriday, 14 April is the last day of the Celtic month of the Alder Tree, and 15 April sees the start of the new month of the Willow Tree (though some like to start that day, in common with ancient cultures, at sunset on the evening of 14 April).

Essential Data
Month: Willow Tree
Dates: 15 April – 12 May
Common Name: Willow
Celic /Gaelic Name: Shellach
Scientific Name: Salix

The Gaelic words for willow are shellach, or suil, and its name features in Scottish place names such as Achnashellach in Ross-shire, Glensuileag in Inverness-shire and Corrieshalloch on Speyside. It is also called sallow (from Old English sealh, related to the Latin word “Salix“; Willow).

‘Notice that the stiffest tree is most easily cracked, while the bamboo or willow survives by bending with the wind.’ Bruce

About The Tree
Willows, also called sallows, and osiers, and come from the genus Salix. Willows have abundant watery bark sap, and soft, usually pliant, tough wood, with slender branches, The roots are remarkable for their toughness, size, and tenacity to life.

The leaves are typically elongated, but may also be round to oval, frequently with serrated edges. Most species are deciduous or semi-evergreen.

Willows are dioecious, that is they have male and female flowers which appear as catkins on separate plants; the catkins are produced early in the spring, and often before the leaves.

Willows are used as food plants by the larvae of some Lepidoptera species, such as the mourning cloak butterfly, and ants, such as wood ants, and it is common to find aphids coming to collect honeydew, as sometimes do wasps.

Willow is used to make charcoal (for drawing), willow stems are used to weave baskets and three-dimensional sculptures, such as animals and figures and are also used to create garden features. Willow is grown for biomass or biofuel, in energy forestry systems, and large-scale projects to support willow as an energy crop are already at commercial scale in Sweden.

Willow is one of the ‘Four Species’ used ritually during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. In Buddhism, a willow branch is one of the chief attributes of Kwan Yin, the bodhisattva of compassion. And, Christian churches in north-western Europe, Ukraine and Bulgaria often used willow branches as a substitute for palms in the ceremonies on Palm Sunday.

By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there we hung up our lyres. Psalm 137:1-2, The Book

Folklore
Because many willows grow close to water, legends, magic and folklore associated with the willow tree include many references to water. The moon, too, is often linked to the willow tree. Indeed, Culpeper says in his Complete Herbal book says, ‘The moon owns the willow’.

Hecate, for instance, the powerful Greek deity was goddess of the moon and of willow. Associated with water, her priestesses used willow in their water divination.

The willow muse, called Heliconian was sacred to poets, and the Greek poet Orpheus also carried willow branches (wands?) into the Underworld, having received his gift by touching the Willows in a grove sacred to Persephone.

Willow groves have been used by many types of artisans to gain eloquence, inspiration, skills and the gift of prophecy.

There is a wonderful creation myth in Druidic mysteries. Two red snake eggs were hidden within the willow tree, and it was from these eggs that the Universe was hatched. One egg contained the Sun, the other the Earth.

Also, Hildegard, the Christian mystic spoke of creation and the universe as an egg, when she recounted her third vision, and wrote: ‘After this I saw a vast instrument, round and shadowed, in the shape of an egg, small at the top, large in the middle and narrowed at the bottom; outside it, surrounding its circumference, there was bright fire…’

Traditionally, in spring rituals, these red eggs were replaced by hens’ eggs, coloured scarlet for the Sun and eaten at Beltane. This act transferred later to the Christian celebration of Easter.

Interestingly, Greek Orthodox Christians, even today, dye hens eggs red on Holy Thursday to symbolise the Christ’s blood poured out to death on Good Friday, and that egg also symbolises the new life of Easter Sunday. There is also a game called tsougrisma and played in Greece, today, in which two people take one red egg each in their hand, and alternately try to break their opponent’s egg – the winner being the one whose egg doesn’t crack first.

All around my hat I will wear the green willow.
All around my hat for a twelve-month and a day.
And if anyone should ask me the reason why I’m wearing it
It’s all for my true love who’s far, far away.

Steeleye Span

Healing
The cunning folk used the willow tree, extensively, for healing. It is said (and, please do not try the aforementioned) that they made an infusion from the bitter bark of the willow tree as a remedy for colds, fevers, and to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. They also chewed young willow twigs to relieve pain.

In the early nineteenth century modern science isolated the active ingredient responsible, salicylic acid, and from this the world’s first synthetic drug, acetylasylic acid, was developed and marketed as Aspirin.

Celebration
The willow is known by some for its wisdom-instilling and creativity-giving properties, and so, whatever you do to welcome in the new month, perhaps you could light a candle and meditate for a while and seek a creativity-boost, and/or read a few apt poems about the willow tree or trees in general, or visit an art gallery in person or online, for inspiration. Awen.

Wishing you, and those whom you love, a very blessed new month.

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