Celtic Lifestyle: Time For Our Souls…

20170518 TIME FOR OUR SOULS CELTIC LIFE4STYLE

‘I know you’re a Type A personality, but right now you really need to slow down, or even stop for a while’, was a phrase I overheard recently. It wasn’t directed at me (as I think I probably qualify as being a Type B personality), but it was well-intended, and in hindsight it was probably exactly what that person needed to hear.

I know we all live in a busy society, but my encouragement to myself and yourself (so far as is possible and practical) is to slow down and find the opportunity to stop for a while. Ofcourse, this is not a reason to do this when we’re working in paid employment clients depend on us, or when it is otherwise inappropriate, but a ‘nudge’ to find time at other times, or even ‘gouge’ out time, then, to slow down and even stop for a while, may be beneficial to each of us.

‘Busy is the enemy of peace. Busy takes us away from our purpose…Busy means life’s joys and surprises can’t find a way into our lives because we’re moving too fast to see and experience them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to move so fast that I miss my life.’  [Lara Casey]

The ancient Celts, Druids, proto-church Christians and other ancient people lived life to a much different timescale to us, and we have many things to (re-)learn from them. Indeed, they even to a different time-measurement than us. Could it be that we really are missing out by being so busy all the time?

‘Faster is fatal, slower is safe.’ [Amit Kalantri]

A half-way decent fictional movie – I do like Robin Hood – was on tv recently, and  it was spoiled for me when one of the protagonists lined people up and gave them orders to see him, privately. Each one was told by him to report to him ‘ten minutes later’, that is ten minutes after the previous one! Would the Sheriff of Nottingham, some six hundred years ago, be using time in that way? I don’t think so. Time measurement may have been in hours, then, or even half hours, but probably not quarters of an hour or so many minutes. It’s only since the advent of clocks and wristwatches (and railway timetables, apparently) that we, as a society, have been obsessed with the measurement of time to the minute, to such a precise scale. And yet, in looking back it ‘feels’ like it may have always been this way. To the film’s script-writers it obviously seemed like a normal thing to do – to schedule visits to the Sheriff of Nottingham down to ten minutes – but it wasn’t always that way. Nor for our society.

‘Stop talking, stop thinking,
and there is nothing you will not understand.’ [Seng Ts’an]

There’s an interesting story, that goes like this: An archaeologist once hired some local  tribesmen to act as bearers  and paid the to lead him to an archaeological site deep in the mountains. After they had been moving for some time the tribesmen stopped, put down their cargo they were carrying, and insisted they would go no further. They sat down and waited. The archaeologist grew extremely  impatient, and then  became angry. But no matter how much he cajoled them, or even bribed the tribesmen with more money, they would not go any further. Then, some hours later, and without any prior announcement the local tribesmen changed their attitude, picked up the cargo and set off once more. When the bewildered archaeologist asked them why they had stopped earlier, and had refused to move for so long, the tribesmen answered in matter-of-fact manner, ‘We had been moving too fast, and had to wait for our souls to catch up.’

‘…life  always seems vacant and diminished when I accelerate beyond my capacity to feel what is before me.’ [Mark Nepo]

Could it be that we’re all too busy? It may not be the case for you, but it’s always worth periodically checking to ascertain if we’re moving to fast, and need to ‘wait for our souls to catch up’. A busy diary is not necessarily the mark of an efficient or important person, though our egos would like us to think that.

Here’s something you might like to consider: Take some time to think of four things that you must do today. Carefully, relinquish three tasks. And then give yourself fully to that one task.

I admit writing the abovementioned is a risk, and I do advocate using ‘sanctified common-sense’ in doing this exercise, as it may need to be adapted, or it may not be feasible to do it today, or because doing it will cause great offense or pain to others. That’s where we may need to adapt, but I’m sure you get the point. But, if not today, what about tomorrow?

What is this life if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare.
No time to stand beneath the boughs
and stare as long as sheep or cows.
No time to see, when woods we pass,
where squirrels hide their nuts in grass.
No time to see, in broad daylight,
streams full of stars, like skies at night.
No time to turn at Beauty’s glance,
and watch her feet, how they can dance.
No time to wait till her mouth can
enrich that smile her eyes began.
A poor life this if, full of care,
we have no time to stand and stare.

[W H Davies]

Maybe it’s time to wait for our souls to catch up?

 

Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Hawthorn Tree [13 May – 9 June]

20170511 CELTIC MONTH OF THE HAWTHORN TREE EPHEMERAWe’re coming to the end of the Celtic month of the Willow Tree, and Saturday, 13 May 2017 sees the start of the new month, the Celtic month of the Hawthorn Tree.

So, this is a great time to celebrate in some way – and don’t forget that the ancients started their day the evening before, from our perspective – so if you want, you can celebrate the event this coming Friday evening, but for me, this time, it’s Saturday evening.

Essential Data
Month: Hawthorn Tree
Dates: 13 May – 9 June
Common Name: Hawthorn
Celtic /Gaelic Name: Huathe (pronounced ‘oo-ah-huh’)
Scientific Name: Crataegus Monogyna.

About The Tree
The Hawthorn can be a shrub in a hedgerow, or grow into a  tree, with mature Hawthorn trees reaching a height of about 15m, and they are characterised by their dense, thorny habit. The bark is brown-gray in colour, and is knotted and fissured, and its twigs are slender and brown, and covered in thorns.

‘Poetry and imagination begin life.
A child will fall on its knees on the gravel walk
at the sight of a pink hawthorn in full flower,
when it is by itself, to praise God for it.’

Florence Nightingale

The flowers of Hawthorns trees are hermaphrodite, that is, that both male and female reproductive parts are contained within each flower. Flowers are highly scented, are white or occasionally pink in colour, and have five petals, and grow clusters.

hawthorn_flowers

Hawthorn tree flowers

Once pollinated by insects, flowers develop into deep red fruits known as ‘haws’.The Hawthorn is of great value to wildlife. It can support more than three hundred varieties of insects. It provides food for caterpillars of many moths, its flowers are eaten by dormice, and provide nectar and pollen for bees. It provides food for many migrating birds such as redwings, fieldfares and thrushes, as well as small mammals.

The dense foliage also makes it a fantastic nesting shelter for many species of bird.

Health Benefits (Complementary)
The flowers, leaves and fruits of the Hawthorn are said to have properties that reduce blood pressure and stimulate the heart. They can act as a mild sedative, and can assist with relieving migraine, menopausal conditions, angina, and insomnia. Ofcourse, the aforementioned is from a traditional (and non-scientific) standpoint, and should you wish to try Hawthorn as complementary medicine do consult a qualified herbalist, and in all cases check with your (allopathic) health practitioner, first.

Oh! come to see me, when the soft warm May
bids all my boughs their gay embroidery
wear,
In my bright season’s transitory day,
While my young perfume loads the enamoured air.
Oh, come to see me, when the sky is blue,
And backs my spangles with an azure
ground.
While the thick ivy bosses clustering through,
See their dark tufts with silvery circlets
crowned.
Then be the Spring in all its pomp arrayed,
the lilac’s blossom, the laburnum’s blaze,
Nature hath reared beyond this Hawthorn glade
No fairer alter to her Maker’s praise.

George W.F. Howard

Folklore
Many consider it unlucky to bring it into the house, and others equate it with illness and even death. In Britain, for instance, in medieval times it was said that hawthorn blossom smelled like the Great Plague. Botanists, interestingly, have since found that the chemical trimethylamine in hawthorn blossom is also one of the first chemicals formed in decaying animal tissue. And, so it comes as no surprise that hawthorn flowers are associated with death.

But, for me, the Hawthorn is, and should be considered, a wonderful, holy tree (especially, but not only, when treated with respect). I do think the Hawthorn has received ‘bad press’ over the years.

In Ireland, for instance, Hawthorn trees have always been thought of as faery trees. And, so as not to attract the attention of the fae, unnecessarily, nor wishing to upset them, the Hawthorn was sometimes known simply as ‘gentle bushes’, or ‘May’.

Clouties_near_madron_well

Cloths tied to a tree near Madron Well in Cornwall

Hawthorns also often stand over holy wells, and these were viewed, traditionally, as  thresholds of the Otherworld, where pilgrims festoon them with ribbons, rags and other votive offerings. These wells were called Clootie wells and the strips of cloth or rags tied to branches were part of a healing ritual, or as a prayer-token on half of someone else.

Hawthorn, it is said, can be used for protection, love and marriage.

Britain’s most famous Hawthorn Tree is the Holy Thorn of Glastonbury. It is said that Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of the Virgin Mary, arrived at a hill overlooking Glastonbury Tor with two holy vessels containing the blood and sweat of Jesus. Joseph thrust his staff into the ground, where it sprouted and immediately grew into a Hawthorn tree, where ‘descendant’ trees still stand on that hill. These particular hawthorn blooms twice a year; in May and again about Christmastime. Traditionally, a sprig of one of these Glastonbury Hawthorns trees is sent to the Queen, who is said to decorate her breakfast table with it on Christmas morning.

And, there are legends that the crown of thorns worn by the Christ at his crucifixion was made of Hawthorn, which makes it both ‘lucky’ and ‘unlucky’ depending how you interpret that Paschal event.

Celebration?
Tomorrow, we’ll look at a few ways to celebrate the upcoming new month.

Blessings of the Hawthorn, Tadhg

 

20170511 CELTIC MONTH OF THE HAWTHORN TREE EPHEMERA

Celtic Thought: Beltane Fire, Reflections.

20170427 BELTANE FIRE REFLECTIONS CELTIC THOUGHTBeltane (1 May) is almost here, that time of celebration as we usher in a new season: summer.

For many it probably doesn’t feel like summer, or even spring at the moment – it’s about the temperature of the inside of a fridge in London at the moment as temperatures have plummeted over the last few days. But, summer is on its way.

Beltane, then, marks the entry-point to summer, and summer (as with the southern compass point) is associated with fire. So, here some words on the seasonally-apt theme of fire.

‘Fire is the most tolerable third party.’ ‘Henry David Thoreau

Beltane, along with rituals of old to protect cattle, crops and people, was also a time of celebration involving a community bonfire. Think of Druids of old around a bonfire, ancient and latter-day Celts, or St Patrick and other Christians celebrating the coming of Light. Bonfires have long been associated with this time – though there is no reason why you can’t celebrate the event in a special way, if at home on that evening, with the lighting of a symbolic candle.

But, it’s a time of fire.

‘Beltane is a wonderful time for expressing who you truly are.’ Carole Carlton

There is an intimacy about fire. Figuratively, we might describe a couple deeply in love as burning with passion, with fire in their hearts for each other. For those burning with ambition (pun intended), we might describe them as having fire in their belly.

‘Desire is a bonfire that burns with greater fury, asking for more fuel… ‘ Sri Sathya Sai Baba

Fire is alive.

At school, albeit many, many years ago, I well remember learning about the seven processes that underpin all life.

Firstly, living things move to find food, and fire moves especially rapidly during forest fires, house fires to find and consume material for fuel.

Living things undergo respiration – they need oxygen. Fire ‘breathes in’ oxygen, and needs it to sustain its energy. Starve a fire of oxygen and it dies.

Exodus 19:18 ‘Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire…’ Exodus 19.18a, The Book

Sensitivity is another process of life as it detects changes in its surroundings. Fire also is sensitive to its surroundings, as it responds to the materials it encounters, favouring some and moving away from others eg wood and water, paper and metal etc).

Fire, like living cells, grows. The more fuel fire finds, the larger and more expansive the flames.

That naturally bring us onto nutrition. Living cells, animals, trees, plants etc need food to live, and fire is no different. Take away its fuel source and it dies.

Reproduction? Yes, just as life reproduces itself, so does fire. In many rituals one candle is initially lit, and from that many others are lit (with the former being diminished in any way). Fire can make umpteen copies of itself – forming ‘offspring’ of its own kind.

I smoor the hearth
as Mary smoors it.
The vigilance of Brighid and Mary
be upon the fire and upon the floor
and over the whole household.

{Celtic prayer)

And finally, something that is not spoken of in polite company is excretion.  Living things excrete. Explore a landscape after a fire, look into a hearth when a fire has died, or has been smoored, and ash is the result. Ash, the excretion left behind by the fire.

Fire is alive.

Fire is intimate. If you’re fortunate enough to have an open fire, a hearth in the living room, a wonderful and deep meditation is to just sit and gaze at it for an hour without artificial light.  As a child, and even today, I meditate in such a way whenever I can. I heartily recommend it. The fire draws you in. It invites you to cosy up, relax, douse all other thoughts and to look deeply into it. And then, a myriad of ‘liquid’ fire shapes erupt, dance about, grow, are diminished and then disappear, only to be replaced by other fantastical, yellow, orange and red ‘ignitic beings’ who dance in their place. Shapes appear, heat is felt, thoughts amble and time is ‘consumed’ in a pleasant and wonderful way. And then one looks around. The rest of the room looks darker, cooler if not colder and altogether different. It’s then, and only after the event, that you realise that such a deep mediation took you into that liminal realm, that altogether-other place, sacred space, and what some would call a ‘thin place, a caol áit (pronounced ‘kweel awtch’).

Communion. Connectedness. Caol áit. Candle?

Beltane is a time of the new season of summer, whose element is fire, and it is a time to celebrate in large ways and small, to light a bonfire or candle, but a time to draw aside, consider the intimacy of the fire-season and celebrate – to mark the occasion is some joyful, positive, pleasant and memorable way. Do something special this Beltane.

‘We are all born with a divine fire in us. Our efforts should be to give wings to this fire and fill the world with the glow of its goodness.’ Abdul Kalam

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.

Tadhg’s Ephemera & More: The Growing Moon: 11 April 2017

20170410 THE GROWING MOON 11 APRIL 2017 EPHEMERAFull Moon
Spring is truly here, and this month’s full moon takes place on Tuesday, 11 April 2017, in the constellation of Scorpio, the latter being seen, traditionally, as a water element.

This full moon rises around sunset, and sets around sunrise. This is the only time in the month when the moon is in the night sky all night long. The rest of the month the moon spends some time, at least, moving across the daytime sky.

‘The moon was reigning over their world, glowing its full splendour to all those willing to look up.’ Irina Serban

To the ancient and latter day Celts and Druids, such as myself, this full moon is known as the Growing Moon. Others regard/regarded it as the Seed Moon, the Pink Moon, the Awakening Moon, or the Egg Moon. Whatever we call it, this is a wonderful time of the month, and a time to sit, gaze up and ponder at our Earth’s wonderful companion smiling down at us.

On This Day: 11 April
1814 Napoleon surrenders unconditionally, and is exiled to the island of Elba.
1968 President Lyndon B. Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act.
2015 President Obama meets Raul Castro, the first meeting between USA and Cuban heads of state since the Cuban Revolution.

Further Ahead
On the evenings surrounding April 20, Mars, that red planet, traverses across the sky and will pass close to the Pleiades star cluster, the Seven Sisters. After the sky darkens, they should be visible as a faint group of seven stars to the naked eye, as several dozen stars within a binoculars’ field of view, and with a telescope you might see several hundred stars.

The name Pleiades comes from Ancient Greek, and is probably derived from plein (‘to sail’) because of that star cluster’s importance to the sailing season in the Mediterranean Sea. The name was later mythologised as the name of seven divine sisters, whose name was thought to be connected to their mother Pleione.

Also, look out for the annual Lyrids meteor shower which runs from 16 to 25 April, and which peaks before dawn on Saturday, 22 April.

‘The moon will guide you through the night with her brightness, but she will always dwell in the darkness, in order to be seen.’ Shannon L Alder

Soon, Earth Day
This year, Earth Day, occurs on Saturday, 22 April. Details of how you can get involved in a practical way can be viewed at the Earth Day website here.

And/or you can read their webpage and send out some positivity, good-energy, prayers and maybe hold an appropriate ritual, or meditate silently upon the Earth, extending love and peace to it and all its wildlife, and give gratitude.

‘And forget not that the earth delights to feel your bare feet and the winds long to play with your hair’. Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Also, in doing this by yourself or with others, you might like to consider turning off all lights and unnecessary household equipment to stop or reduce your electricity usage for an hour (refrigerators/freezers etc exempt), and, perhaps, spend that time in darkness, or use a candle for light for your meditation, ritual etc.

May you have a blessed full moon celebration. Tadhg.

Celtic Mythological Beasts: Bestiary: Y Is For Ysgithyrwyn

20170329 Y IS FOR YSGITHRYWYN MYTHThere is a wonderful story from ancient times, full of pathos and meaning – the legend of the Ysgithyrwyn (pronounced ‘iss-gith-thigh-rin). It means ‘white tusk’.

It was common, once, to tell the story of the Ysgithyrwyn to children. The beast was a monstrous wild boar, with huge, gleaming white tusks, and a body, so it is said, to be the size of a cow. It was a  ferocious creature that roamed the wilds of north Wales, and some said it had magic powers, others said that capturing it would confer a wish, and others said that it was an just old boar that had a ‘charmed’ life. It was a beast, however, that one should not approach.

But, seeing it from afar was much safer, and the story I was told was such that if you saw it from a distance, then it would bring about a marriage between you and the one you were thinking of, your loved-one.

The reason for this is embedded in ancient myth, in that story from another time, beloved by Celts and Druids, and others of old.

The story, recorded in Arthurian legend, tells of a young warrior, Culhwch, who is madly in love with Olwen. The problem was that Olwen’s father, a giant of a king called  Ysbaddaden, would only allow the marriage if Culhwch succeeded in overcoming thirty-nine difficult tasks. A series of quests. The most difficult of these was the  killing Ysgithyrwyn, the wild boar, taking a tusk from it, and then fashioning it into a razor, and then for King Caw to shave the head of Ysbaddaden.

Culhwch succeeded all the tasks except the killing of the boar. After many attempts, Culhwch eventually exhausted the beast, succeeded in capturing the beast, and it was killed by Aedd. The tusk of the boar was fashioned into a razor, Ysbaddaden received his haircut and Culhwch was able to marry his beloved Olwen.

Even today, it is said that if you go out into the wilds of north Wales – not far from where I live – that on the night of the full moon, you might catch sight of the beast from a distance. If you do, you may be as fortunate as Culhwch. Legend says that if you spy the beast at this time – but don’t get too close – then the person you’re thinking of, and love, will indeed by the one that you will marry.

Ofcourse, it’s just an old tale, but you never really know about these old stories. The promise of marriage if you see the beast might just have some power still left in it, and that was exactly so for one couple known to me.

 

 

Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Alder Tree [18 March – 14 April]

20170315 month of the alder tree EPHEMERASpring is in the air, and this Saturday, 18 March sees the start of the next Celtic tree month. It’s the start of the month of the Alder Tree.

Essential data
Month: Alder Tree
Dates: 18 March – 14 April
Common name: Alder, common alder, black alder, European alder
Celtic name: Fearn (pronounced: fair-un).
Scientific name: Alnus glutinosa
UK provenance: Alder is native to Britain and is also found throughout Europe as far as Siberia.

About the tree
The alder tree is noted for its important  relationship with a nitrogen-fixing bacterium called Frankia alni. This bacterium is found in the root nodules. The bacterium absorbs nitrogen from the air and makes it available to the tree. Alder, in turn, provides the bacterium with sugars, which it produces through photosynthesis. Symbiosis.

As a result of this mutually beneficial relationship, alder improves the fertility of the soil where it grows, and as a pioneer species, it helps provide additional nitrogen for the successional species which follow it.

I think that I shall never see
a poem lovely as a tree.

Joyce Kilmer

The alder tree is conical in shape, and mature trees can reach a height of around 20m and live for about 60 years. The bark is dark and fissured and is often covered in lichen. Twigs have a light brown spotted stem which turns red towards the top. Young twigs are sticky to touch.

The tree’s leaves are purple or grey leaf buds form on long stems and the 3–9cm long dark green leaves are racquet-shaped and leathery to the touch, with serrated edges. The leaf tip is never pointed and is often indented.

Flowers are on catkins which appear between February and April. Alder is monoecious, and so both male and female flowers are found on the same tree. Male catkins are yellow, whilst the female catkins are green and oval-shaped.

Usage
The Alder tree provides good wood for building materials. The sap, leaves and bark of the alder were all used to make dyes; green from the leaves, red from the sap and brown from the bark. The dyes were often used to tan leather. Wood of the alder is flexible and resistant to the rotting effects of water, and, so very good for building materials in a temperate climate.

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.

Robert Frost

The alder tree’s root system is often submerged in watery areas. In such places, the ancient Celts observed that the roots served as as intricate shelter system to fish, specifically trout and salmon.

Myth
The alder tree is generally seen near streams and riverbanks, and it’s for that reason that the ancient Druids called this tree ‘The Water King’.

The alder tree, and this month, is said to be associated with enthusiasm, courage, spiritual maturity, giving, risk-taking and adventurousness.

Although, primarily associated with the element of water, the alder tree gracefully crosses into the realm of air and fire, also. For instance, ancient legend indicates the wood of the young alder tree was traditionally used for crafting whistles, pan flutes and recorders. Note the air element, here. Within the realm of fire, the alder’s colouring transmutes into a fiery orange after it is cut, indicating to the Celts that the alder secretly harbours a sacred flame within. As if to prove this point, the wood makes a pristine grade of charcoal, and was perfect for steadily hot conditions utilized to forge fine Celtic weaponry.

In Irish mythology the first man was said to have been made from the alder tree. It is also considered a tree of the fairies, protected by the water fairy-folk but also representing fire and earth. Some believe faeries like to dance under these trees, especially, when they are flowering.

The trees along this city street,
Save for the traffic and the trains,
Would make a sound as thin and sweet
As trees in country lanes.

And people standing in their shade
Out of a shower, undoubtedly
Would hear such music as is made

Upon a country tree.

Oh, little leaves that are so dumb
Against the shrieking city air,
I watch you when the wind has come,—
I know what sound is there.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Celebration
If you wish to celebrate, I’d recommend an evening celebration on Saturday evening, though ancient tribes (and some, today, still) would celebrate the evening before, reckoning that the new day started the evening before (from our point of view). So, you might want to celebrate Friday evening.

Celebration can take many forms. At home, it could be lighting a candle in honour of the alder tree and the One behind it; and/or gazing at a picture of an alder tree and then gently meditating, or recitation of a favourite tree-honouring poem. Outdoors, if you have an alder tree nearby, you might like to visit it, gaze at it, and dwell there for a few minutes, giving thanks for nature in general, trees especially, and the alder tree in particular. Whatever you do, my encouragement is to keep it simple, keep it tree-honouring, and take time just to think, meditate and ponder on the wondrous alder tree. And, enjoy it.

Tadhg’s Ephemera: The Moon Of Winds: 12 March 2017

20170310 moon of winds1 EPHEMERAIt’s that time again. I love full moons, and this Sunday, 12 March 2017 sees the  third full moon of the secular year.

‘You have to be able to appreciate these things. How many people can say it was a full moon last night and appreciate it?’ Sandy Miller

Moon: This full moon will be in the constellation of Virgo, on the cusp of Leo, and in close proximity to the Virginids – a timely meteor shower that seems to originate (its radiant)  from the constellation of Virgo. The moon’s brightness, however, may ‘overpower’ the meteors (expect about 5-10 per hour) and dull the spectacle somewhat.

To those of (medieval) England this full moon was/is known as the Lenten moon, to others it was/is known as the Chaste moon, or the Fish moon. To ancient and latter-day Celts, Christian Celts, Druids like myself, many know it as the Moon of Winds.

The full moon will be very near the bright star, Alaraph, sometimes called Zawijah. The name ‘Zawijah’ comes from the Arabic phrase meaning ‘corner of the barking dog’. That star is slightly larger and more massive star than the Sun, and is comparatively metal-rich (that is, it has a higher composition of elements heavier than helium).

‘The moon looks upon many night flowers; the night flowers see but one moon.’ Jean Ingelow

Planets: And, a few days later, for those interested in the planets, there is a conjunction of the moon with the planet Jupiter in the very early hours of 15 March.

Story: There are a number of fables and myths about the moon. Here’s one story from the Buddhist tradition, and which is prevalent in China, Japan, South and North Korea.

This tale is about a monkey, an otter, a jackal, and a rabbit who decided to extend charity on the day of the next full moon, believing they would receive a great reward. At that time, an old man met them and begged for food.

When the old man asked the monkey for food, it gathered fruit from a tree and gave it to him. The otter collected fish and presented them to the old man. The jackal stole a lizard and a pot of milk, and gave them to the old man. When the old man encountered the rabbit, the rabbit was embarrassed and upset that he only knew who to gather grass and believed the old man wouldn’t welcome that as food. Immediately, the rabbit threw himself into a fire  – self-sacrifice, to provide the old man with some tasty food. However, the rabbit didn’t die, and wasn’t even burned!

The old man then revealed himself to be Sakra – the embodiment of the Universe or Heaven – and blessed the rabbit. In honour of the rabbit’s intention, Sakra drew the likeness of the rabbit on the Moon for all to see, for all eternity.

Though we look up at the full moon and see a benevolent face looking down at us, many Asian people see that rabbit. Interestingly, China’s first probe to land on the moon in December 2013 was called Yutu, translated as Jade Rabbit.

‘Praise Him, sun and moon; Praise Him, all stars of light!’ Psalm 148:3, The Book

Celebration: You may want to celebrate this full moon. I do, and I’d heartily recommended it.  In many ways the best way to celebrate and/or give thanks is to go out and gaze in awe and appreciated the wonder of that full moon, and the One who made it, in the stillness of the night. But, in addition,  you might like to:

  • say a few words out loud or to yourself – perhaps one of the phrases/quotes in this article, in gratitude, or
  • remember a loved one who has passed-on, and bless them, and remember good things about them, or
  • send up good-thoughts or a prayer about an upcoming event or for someone known to you that might need energy, expecting the One Behind  It All to hear and respond.

Ofcourse, you might like to (re-)arrange a home altar, and indoors (or outside) have a more elaborate ceremony. There are some occasions when this is good, but don’t feel that you have to do something elaborate. In many cases I prefer simplicity – realising that elaborate and wordy ceremonies can sometimes detract from simple, dare I say ‘child-like’, wholesome and deep praise of the moment.

‘When I admire the wonders of a sunset or the beauty of the moon, my soul expands in the worship of the creator.’ Mohandas Gandhi

 

Celtic Thought: When Life Is A ‘Storm’

20170228-when-life-is-a-storm-1-celtic-thoughtAs we’re still in the season of spring, the cardinal point is east, and for latter-day Christian Celts, Celts and druids (and others who are aware) the primary element is air or wind.

An, for me, the latter is apt.

As many of you will know, my Dad was rushed into hospital recently – and, it feels as though I’ve been hit by a tornado, or buffeted about like a sail boat on a wind-tossed sea. Of course, it has been much worse for my 91 yo Dad (but the good news is, he is well on the road to recovery, and each day is getting stronger, and it is hoped he’ll be home within a few days).

Life, especially over the last week, then, has been a roller-coaster ride of emotions and physical ‘duress’ for me, a time when the body seems to ‘kick into automatic’ to get things done, and then exhaustion (of all kinds) comes upon oneself in the evening, in those times of rest or at least of requested rest.

For those who are acquainted with the old UK tv comedy program ‘The Vicar of Dibley’, you may remember an episode where the few attendees at the church council were meeting during bad weather. For several minutes the debate turned to previous instances of bad weather, and recollections: ‘Do you remember the great storm of…..?’, only for that title to be contested by someone because others knew it as the ‘Great Wind of….’, and so they went on to explain that for it to be a storm there had to be wind and rain.

This last week life for me feels like a great storm – wind and rain – and at sea, too!

I mention this, because I know you will have faced similar ‘storms’ in life, albeit with different events, and in different circumstances, and at different times, or maybe, you are going through just such a ‘storm’ right now? .

‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ John 3:8, The Book.

No one can wave a wand and conclusively say that such ‘storms’ will go away. I know, if that were possible friends would do that for me, and I would do that for my friends, just as I would do that for my dear Dad. [Though, never stop asking, praying or engaging in ritual, please. There’s more].

But, I have been ‘buoyed up’, comforted and empowered (as has my Dad, especially), by the large number of dear friends from all backgrounds and ‘tribes’ who have sent well-wishes, good-thoughts, positivity-energy-packages and prayer, and maybe that has had a tangible effect. It feels that way, and that is sufficient. And, in some mysterious way (that we won’t discover for some time) maybe it has had other positive effects. And, maybe, that’s what it is all about?

Endurance in a ‘storm’. Journeying together. Caring for each other.

The fact that, in different ways we do travel together, support each other across the distances between us, and want to do good things, is important. I do believe that intentionality counts in the universe. We must never think that our well-wishes, good-thoughts, energy-packages or prayers etc are too small or insufficient. We must never stop our good deeds, out good-thoughts sending, rituals and prayers. These are  important. They work (albeit in ways we may not immediately expect, or even see now), and they are products of intentionality in practice.

Love in action.

From my sailing days – a small sail boat, borrowed from a friend, and sailed off the coast of Anglesey – I know that when a storm blows in, it’s time to trim the sails (that is, to reduce the area of sail exposed to the wind) and if its a bad storm to move to ‘bare poles’ and have no sail at all. It depends on the storm. As the waves ‘hit’ the sail boat, there comes a point where instead of running with the wind and waves, one quickly turns the sail boat about and faces into the wind and waves, depending on circumstances, and faces, head-on, into the oncoming surges.

At sea, how we react  depends on the storm.

In life it is much the same. The analogy holds true, for there comes a point where we hold resolutely to the tasks in hand and ride the ‘waves’, and then later we turn to face the oncoming storm. It’s almost damage limitation then and endurance. We accept some change in circumstance, but try to ward of the worst. We become more honest with ourselves, and accept the confusion (and maybe express anger and unfairness) that abounds, we become more resolute, and yes, we acknowledge our vulnerability.

So let the wind blow us
to wherever it says
we are supposed to go’
Let the wind blow us
to wherever it says
we are supposed to go
(Joshua Radin)

Nevertheless, at the end of that day, I do believe that the Source of All is Master of all, and aids us.

I want to express my gratitude to all those who sent well-wishes, good-thoughts, energy-packages or prayers. I do believe these have made a difference, and I’m humbled by your love and concern for my dear Dad. Thank you to all my dear Christian, Celtic, Druid, Pagan friends and others to numerous to mention. ‘Thank-you’ seems to small a word (or is that two?), but it’s all I have right now and it comes from my heart to you. I hope you understand. Blessings, Tadhg

‘May all the Light and Wisdom of your work
return to bless you a thousand times.’ John O’Donohue

Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Ash Tree [18 February-17 March]

20170215-ash-tree-month-ephemeraTime to prepare. This Saturday, 18 February 2017, sees the start of the new Celtic month of the Ash (though, common with ancient cultures and their calendar you can choose to start the new month the evening before, from out point of view, if you wish).

So, here’s some information about the  Ash tree, something about the ancient origin and myths associated with this glorious month, and something to do by way of celebration.

Common name: Ash, Common ash, European ash
Scientific name: Fraxinus excelsior. (Fraximus means firelight, in Latin)
UK provenance: native
Interesting fact: Ash trees can live up to 400 years – even longer if coppiced.

About The Ash Tree
When fully grown, Ash trees can reach a height of about 35m. They are tall and graceful, and often grow together, forming a domed canopy. Their bark is pale brown to grey, which fissures as the tree ages.

‘The ash before the oak, choke, choke, choke;
The oak before the ash, splash, splash, splash.’

ash-tree-ncI am told that the leaves have the ability to move in the direction of sunlight, whilst, sometimes the whole crown of the tree may actually lean in the direction of the sun. Another characteristic of ash leaves is that they fall when they are still green.

The Ash tree is dioecious: that is, male and female flowers typically grow on different trees, although sometimes a single tree can also have male and female flowers on different branches. Flowers are purple and appear before the leaves in spring.

Once the female flowers have been pollinated by wind, they develop into conspicuous winged fruits, or ‘keys’, in late summer and autumn, commonly known as ‘helicopters’ to children!.

‘Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak and Ash and Thorn.’

Rudyard Kipling

Usage
In ancient times Ash wood was used to make the shafts for arrows and spears.

The Ash trees wood ability to flex meant it was used to build wagons and coaches, as the wood could easily absorb bumps and shocks. It was also used as a veneer for furniture.

And, today, Ash is still used to make high quality sports goods such as hockey sticks, billiard cues and tennis rackets.

Myth
ash_yggdrasil_by_friedrich_wilhelm_heineMany believe the Ash to be a very important tree, magical. For instance, in Scandinavian countries the world tree, Yggdrasil (see right), was thought to be a giant Ash tree. In Ancient Greece, Ash trees were sacred to Poseidon (the God of the sea), and wood from the Ash tree was frequently used to make charms to protect the wearer against drowning.

And, Hesiod, a Greek philosopher,  believed the first man was born from the Ash tree. This gave rise to the planting an ash tree at the birth of each baby. Of course, then, the state of the tree was thought to serve as an indicator of that person’s health and strength.

‘I was that ash tree that grew flowery
and strong as any among it;
and you were the meadowlark who sought
a safer shelter in its shadow.’

Juan Cristóbal Romero
Translation: Erin Goodman

In many ancient cultures Ash was renowned for its healing properties, and sick children would be passed though the branches of the Ash tree for healing and speedy recoveries. And, it was thought to cure warts.

Indeed, the Ash is associated with the Welsh Magician-God Gwyddion, who bears an Ash staff or wand, a potent symbol of healing, transformation and empowerment as regards matters of destiny. And, whilst talking of staffs or wands, St Patrick, it is said banished all the snakes from Ireland with an Ash stick, which, in Irish mythology, was the preferred wood for a magic wand.

With the advent of Christianity the Ash tree took on other holy associations. Ash tree wood’s unique ability to burn well (hence its Latin name Fraximus excelsior) whilst green was attributed to the fact, by some, that it was the very wood that warmed the stable where Jesus was born, and ever since then it has held that ability. Some believed that it was an Ash fire in the stable where Jesus had his first bath in the warmth of its fire, and then went onto believe that it was therefore beneficial for new-born babies to have their first bath in front of a fire made with Ash logs,  in the hope that they would have a long and pious life. An interesting story, don’t you think?

Time To Celebrate
So, this Friday evening or Saturday evening, why not celebrate the new month. Many regard this new month as the month of self-renewal, deep thought, inspiration-by-nature and a time of creativity.

‘Creativity is piercing the mundane to find the marvellous.’ Bill Moyers

keyboard-1395316__340So, why not draw aside and do something creative, such as start a daily journal (if only for the month), write a poem or two that day (and, why not try your hand at writing a haiku. See here for the basic idea and examples). Science, too, many say is ‘encompassed’ in the general mood of this month – so why not visit a science museum or watch a science-related movie or read a science-related book (see here for a recommended book), all focusing on the wonder of nature and the universe we inhabit. Or visit a local building or site of historical interest, or treat yourself to a visit to a local art gallery – do something different.

‘You can’t use up creativity. The more you use, the more you have.’ Maya Angelou

Of course, in addition (and highly recommended as I enjoy liturgy and ritual), you can always enact a rite at home: light a candle, recite some wonderful,  relevant words to usher in the new month and Spring, and/or meditate in silence on the moment, and pause. And enjoy that pause, that liminal moment.

 

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