Ephemera: The New Month Of The Vine: 2 September – 29 September

20170831 CELTIC MONTH OF THE VINEThe new month is almost upon us. Leaving the month of the Hazel (tree) behind us, we start the new Celtic month of the Vine on 2nd September, and it finishes on 29 September.

Seasons of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
close bosom-friend of the maturing sun,
conspiring with him now to load and bless
with fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run…

(John Keats)

There are different calendar variations, and different calendars much loved by different ‘tribes’, some calendars older than others, and the oldest (which will be the theme of an article soon) and most loved by purists is also one that some would say seems to be the least ‘workable’ for every day living.

It’s because of that that I use this tree calendar, which some call the Beth-Luis-Nion Celtic Lunar Tree Calendar/alphabet.

No spring nor summer’s beauty hath such grace
As I have seen in one Autumnal face….’.

John Donne

The Beth-Luis-Nion calendar consists of 13 lunar trees. The calendar is based on a lunar year as opposed to a solar one, and so there are there are 13 lunar months in each year. Being tree-based it also reminds us of our love for trees and nature, and all things green, and is life-centred. I love it. And, it’s understandable. And, as we move into September, the month of the Vine, we greet the changing season and the colour changes in nature, and we can gaze upon the vine and give gratitude to nature and nature’s never-ending cycle, express love and appreciation to That Which Is Larger Than Ourselves, The Holy One.

‘Ah, September! You are the doorway to the season that awakens my soul… but I must confess that I love you only because you are a prelude to my beloved October.’

Peggy Toney Horton

The month of the vine, and romantics amongst you may know, is the month is associated with happiness and wrath. The sceptics may wonder whether this has something to do with the fact that the vine harvest would occur this month, and wine may indeed be the bringer of happiness, but it can also be the bringer of wrath, especially when imbibed to excess.

Nevertheless, wine, as well as having a social aspect, was and still is used in ritual to bring us closer to all that is Holy, and usher us into sacred time of communion.

This month of the Vine, September, also sees a full moon on the 6 September, and the time of the autumn equinox on Friday, 22 September – that time when with the diminishing day light, the length of day and night are equal in length for a brief period as we move toward winter.

‘Equal dark, equal light
Flow in Circle, deep insight
Blessed Be, Blessed Be
The transformation of energy!
So it flows, out it goes
Three-fold back it shall be
Blessed Be, Blessed Be’.

(Unknown)

Now, swans are seen as a symbol of love and fidelity around the world because of their custom of mating for life, and, for many, this month is associated with the swan.

It is said that ancient Druids saw swans as representing the soul. In ancient Ireland, the bards, for instance, would wear a special ceremonial cloak called a tuigen, which was made of songbird feathers, but the cowl would consist of the skin and feathers of a swan.

The Celts also loved their stories. Here’s an ancient Gaelic/Celtic story about love and swans, it’s so relevant to the start of the new Celtic month, and is full of meaning:

Aengus had fallen in love with a young woman he had seen, seen in his dreams. Each night he would close his eyes, fall into a deep sleep, and dream only of her.

It took him three years of searching the length and breadth of the land before the young woman of his dreams was found by him. Her name was Caer Ibormeith. Every second year, she and over a hundred other young women, were chained in pairs, and were transformed into swans for a year.

Aengus was madly in love with her, and was told he could indeed marry the young lady of his dreams, but only if he could identify her in her swan form. Aengus looked at all the young women who were now swans, but to him, they all looked the same.

Inspiration came to him. He immediately turned himself into a swan, and recognised her at once. Much in love, they flew away together, singing beautiful music that put all listeners asleep for three days and nights.

I find that story quite charming, and appropriate for this month. Swans. Love. Two souls, finally, in a bond of togetherness, forever. Love wins!

May the Blessings of the Sacred Three be upon you and those whom you love as we move into the month of the Vine, Tadhg

 

The Celtic Month Of The Hazel Tree (5 August – 1 September)

20170802 CELTIC MONTH OF THE HAZEL TREEIn a few days time, on 5 August we leave the old month of Holly tree and move into a new Celtic month – the month of the Hazel tree.

Now the ancients started their days (and, so new months) from the prior evening from our reckoning, and so that would make it the evening of 4 August,  but the choice of which evening/day to celebrate the new month is up to you). But do celebrate and mark the time in some way. The month of the Hazel tree ends on 1 September.

Did you know…Turkey is the largest producer of hazelnuts in the world with approximately 75% of worldwide production.

Celebration
It’s always good to celebrate a new month in large ways or small. I would encourage you, at the very least, to draw aside one evening to ‘welcome in’ the new month, even if for say, twenty minutes. It’s can be a deeply moving, profound, spiritual event.

Slow down, and maybe read and/or recite some poetry and spend some time mulling over the words, and meditate upon them. A glass of wine or two might assist. The Hazel tree is connected with knowledge and wisdom, and so a poem or quote associated with knowledge or wisdom might be appropriate, or maybe use a quote from here  that evening. There’s also a link to a great and relevant story, below.

And, also, how about giving thanks for all the good things that have happened in the previous month, and think ahead to what might happen this month, seeking light and love and energy, and guidance for the month ahead from the Source of All.

‘All our wisdom is stored in the trees.’ (Santosh Kalwar)

The Tree
The hazel tree, corylus avellana, itself, is a deciduous broadleaf tree native to the UK. Usually coppiced, but when left alone they can grow to a height of about thity-five feet (12m) and can live for up to eighty years (and, perhaps, four times that age, if coppiced).

The hazel tree has a smooth, grey-brown bark, which peels with age, and has pliable, hairy stems. Leaf buds are oval, blunt and also hairy.

‘The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.’ (John Muir)

Bees usually find it very difficult to collect hazel pollen and can only gather it in small quantities. This is because the wind pollinated hazel has pollen that is not that sticky and actually repels one grain from another.

Once pollinated by wind, the female flowers develop into oval fruits, which hang in groups. They mature into a nut with a woody shell surrounded by a cup of leafy bracts (modified leaves).

Hazel trees grow across much of Europe, as well as parts of north Africa and western Asia. In the UK it’s often found under the canopy of the lowland oak, ash or birch woodland, and is also found sometimes in scrub and hedgerows.

Did you know…The hazelnut became Oregon’s official State Nut in 1989.

As with the harmony of nature, hazel tree leaves provide an abundance of food for the caterpillars of many moths, including the large emerald, small white wave, barred umber and nut-tree tussock. They may support many species of butterfly, particularly fritillaries. Coppiced hazel trees also provides shelter for ground-nesting birds such as the nightingale, nightjar, yellowhammer and willow warbler.

Hazel nuts are also eaten by woodpeckers, nuthatches, tits, wood pigeons, jays and a number of small mammals. Hazel flowers provide early pollen as a food for bees. And the tree trunks are often covered in mosses, liverworts and lichens, and the fiery milkcap fungi grows in the soil beneath.

‘She said that the planting of trees, like the education of children, was a gift to the future.’ (Cassandra Danz)

Myth & Symbolism
The Hazel is associated with ‘knowledge’ and there is a wonderful story about a young man named Fionn, which includes the hazel tree and the salmon of knowledge, and is a story to tell, retell at this time of the year or on the evening of your new month celebration, and to quietly ponder upon it (see here).

Hazel has a reputation as a’ magical tree’. In many parts of Europe, a hazel rod is supposed to protect against evil spirits, as well as being used as a wand and for water-divining. In some parts of England hazel nuts were carried as charms and/or held to ward off rheumatism. The hazel’s connection with the Well of Wisdom is evident by the tree’s frequent presence at holy wells throughout Britain and Ireland, where pilgrims. still continue to this day, festoon its branches with votive offerings in the form of pieces of cloth.

‘Trees are poems that the earth writes upon the sky.’ (Kahlil Gibran)

The hazel’s association with wisdom extends to other cultures of the ancient world. In Norse mythology it was known as the Tree of Knowledge and was sacred to Thor; the Romans held it sacred to Mercury; and Hermes’ magic rod may have been made from hazel.

Conclusion
Whatever you do, my encouragement to you is to celelebrate the new month one evening as we enter the new month of the Hazel tree.  Appreciate the marking of time, the new month, and trees. Yes, love trees. Wishing you and yours a blessed Hazel tree month, Tadhg.

‘Make peace with people, make peace with animals, make peace with trees!’ (Mehmet Murat ildan)

 

Tadhg’s Ephemera: The Full Moon & Month Of The Oak Tree [9 June 2017]

20170607 THE FULL MOON AND THE MONTH OF THE OAK TREE EPHEMERAThis Friday, 9 June 2017 it is time for a double celebration. There is a full moon and it’s also the last day of the Celtic month of the Hawthorn tree. On 10 June we move into the Celtic month of the Oak tree (and if you want to follow the lead of the ancients, the new month starts on the preceding evening from our point of view) so it, too, can be celebrated on 9 June, if you so wish.

The Full Moon

Thus upcoming full moon, rising low in the sky (from a UK aspect) takes place with the moon moving toward the constellation of Scorpius, and with the planet Saturn nearby.

To some this full moon is known as the Dyan or Dyad moon, to others it’s the Strawberry moon, or the Flower moon. To many Celtic Christians, Druidic-Christians like myself and other Druids it is the Moon of Horses (or the Mead moon). But, whatever you call it, it is a time to celebrate.

God made two lights – the greater light to govern the day, and the lesser light to govern the night….’ ( Genesis 1:16a, The Book)

For many the time of the full moon is an ideal time to let go of anything that is holding you back. To do this, particularly for those that know the power of ritual, enacted-prayer and symbolism, you might like to:

  • Create sacred time-space by lighting a candle.
  • If possible, put yourself in a position where you can gaze at the moon. You may be indoors and this may not be possible (or, indeed, the moon may not be visible from where you are…but don’t worry). It’s still a good exercise to go for a night walk, later on, maybe after this little ceremony.
  • Quieten your thoughts. Move into that silent-for-prayer realm, or a state of being grounded. You’re now in sacred-time space.
  • Place a large water-filled bowl in front of you.
  • Write the name of everything that is holding you back and that you reasonably surrender, on a small piece of paper. Read it out loud. Fold the paper. Place it in the bowl of water.
  • Close your eyes. Relax. Imagine the ink dissolving because of the water. Water cleanses, it purifies. It is used in various ancient tribes and religions to signify a new start, a washing away of the old. Whatever you wrote, picture the writing disappearing. Imagine in your mind’s eye that you’re releasing whatever was holding you back.
  • Relax (even more so) and enjoy the moment.
  • When ready, slowly open your eyes and extinguish the candle. You’re now out of sacred time-space (or are you? Perhaps it goes on and were unaware of it, and yet, still benefit?).
  • Celebrate this release by going for a walk that evening under the full moon, if it’s visible, but even if it’s not, then a nice, awesome, night walk is still beneficial.

Celebrate. Give thanks. Enjoy.

‘Tonight the moon kisses the stars.
O beloved, be like that to me!’ (Rumi)

The Celtic Month Of The Oak Tree

The upcoming month is the Celtic month of the Oak Tree. It starts on 10 June (but 9 June if you start the new day the evening before from our modern perspective) and it runs until 7 July.

‘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)

The Oak month falls during a time when the oak trees are beginning to reach their full blooming stages. The Oak is a strong, powerful, and typically larger-than-its-neighbouring trees, towering tree.

It is a tree that is sacred to all Druids. Linked by name as the word ‘druid’ comes from a proto Indo-European root word meaning ‘to see’ or ‘oak-knower’.

‘This oak tree and me, we’re made of the same stuff.’ Carl Sagan

To some the Oak tree symbolises durability, purity, constancy, life, loyalty, wisdom, resilience, power or strength. The latter three themes, tying in with the full moon at this time, as power and strength will be needed to surrender what might be holding you back, and to forge ahead.

‘Storms make the oak tree grow deeper roots.’ George Herbert

So, happy new month of the Oak tree, and a happy full moon. Asking blessings from the Three-In-One to you and yours. Love, Tadhg.

 

Ideas, Liturgy & Ritual For The Celtic Month Of The Hawthorn Tree

201705012 IDEAS LITURGY RITUAL FOR THE MONTH OF THE HAWTHORN TREESaturday, 13 May 2017 sees the start of the new month, the Celtic month of the Hawthorn Tree, and it’s a great time to celebrate. 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 evening, but for me, this time, it’s Saturday evening. You get to choose. And some depending on what they’re doing are celebrating over the whole weekend. So, why not you?

Essential Data: Celtic Month of the Hawthorn Tree: 13 May – 9 June. Celtic /Gaelic Name: Huathe (pronounced ‘oo-ah-huh’).

I’m sure you have some great ideas for celebrating the new month, but if you haven’t, or if you wish to add something different, do consider the following ideas, liturgy and ritual (as suggestions, and adapt as best suits your requirements).

This new month, now officially summer (in the northern hemisphere) is about power, spiritual growth, God-given sexuality (apologies to the ‘children of Augustine’), and God-blessed fertility. To ancient Celts, Christian Celts, Druids, Pagans and others it was a great time for hand-fasting, engagements, marriages and the starting any kind of creative activity (eg new work, new projects, new hobbies, new starts etc), and to latter-day ones, it still is!

My beloved is like a gazelle or a young stag.
Behold, he is standing behind our wall,
Song of Solomon 2.9a, The Book

IIDEA1DEAS
Why, to celebrate this new month, you might like to:

  • undertake anew hobby (you know you’ve always wanted to do [insert here the positive hobby, pastime etc- take up a sport (or lose weight (for yourself, if you wish, and not because of media or societal ‘pressure’, or indeed put on weight)
  • make a definite time and date to visit a local art gallery or museum (and take in the creativity of others, and appreciate great art), or go to a jazz band evening (or equivalent)
  • give yourself quality time by visiting a park or one of those ornate gardens (or even a forest), and why not go with family and/or friends and make it into a picnic too, and appreciate good company and being in the midst of nature
  • slow down and choose one task that you do, dare I say an everyday task, such as drinking tea, cleaning the toilet or washing your face, and so it slowly, joyfully and with awareness, as a holy act of serving
  • watch an eco-conscious movie or documentary on tv (one evening or anytime if you’re unable to leave the house easily)
  • make a donation to a woodland-orientated charity, or an animal charity for threatened species etc if able to, and/or send a blessing.

IDEA2LITURGY
You might like to take some time to use (and/or adapt) some of the following liturgy and poems to celebrate the new month, and take time to savour the turning of the wheel in everyday life and ‘mundane’ tasks.

I will wash my face
in the nine rays of the sun,
As Mary washed her Son
in rich fermented milk.
Love be in my countenance,
benevolence in my mind,
dew of honey in my tongue,
(and) my breath as the incense.

[From: Carmina Gadelica]

And/or

God, we are truly bearers of the light from above, within and around us. Help us to be bearers of that light to others who seek a vision of the goodness and beauty of Your Creation. We ask that you help us and our creative work to be witnesses to your love, your kindness, and your care for us. Continue to inspire us with the gift of your imagination. Amen.

[Grace Episcopal Church, Paris, TN (USA))

 And/or
Today as the new month begins
I hope for (you) wonderful things
That a new page is turning
And fresh times will come
I wonder what this month will bring.

I pray for (your) days to feel bright
For (your) sleep to be sweet in the night
For (your) health to be full
And (your) dreams to come true
May your/my heart feel happy and light.

Used with the permission of Prayerscapes

IDEA3RITUAL
If you’re a ‘solitary’, or finding yourself alone at the beginning of this new month, here’s an idea of celebrating this month of creativity and new starts in a simple and profound way. Such as:

  • Initially, draw aside and find a space where you won’t be disturbed (for a short time, perhaps half an hour or so).
  • Perhaps darken the room, make yourself comfortable by sitting on the floor (a cushion might be a good idea, too), and enter into sacred space, and so, after a few minutes…
  • light a small candle
  • close your eyes and ‘centre’ yourself (by not dwelling on extraneous thoughts, and by breathing slowly and deeply (and perhaps concentrating on your inhalations. Some, at least for the first minute or so like to ‘focus’ on a single abstract word (like love, or grace, or peace)), but only for a short while
  • for the next few breaths (and, don’t count them, because you’ll ‘jump out’ of sacred space), say the word of one thing creative act, project or achievement that you’re grateful for as you exhale, and as you exhale that spoken word imagine it as ‘energy’ going out to the Universe, the Source, God with gratitude, and then after a few minutes…
  • for the next few breaths (and, don’t count them, as it doesn’t need to be precise), imagine that you’re inhaling energy, positivity and creativity from The Universe, the Source, as a metaphor of ‘topping up’ and increasing your creative energy (and you might even want to speak the word ‘increase’ or similar), and then after a few minutes…
  • for the next few breaths, as you exhale, say the name of one person (or two or so in following exhalations, but don’t rush anything) that you would like to send some of that creative energy onto, so that they might benefit, and then after a few minutes…
  • spend a short time just being still, and then slowly open your eyes, perhaps say a word or two (or three) to close this sacred time/sacred space (such as ‘Amen’, ‘So be it’ or similar), and then,
  • extinguish the candle. It’s a good idea to wait another minute or so, to fully enter into the physical realm again, as there’s no rush, and the longer you linger, the more you spend in that blessed.

An after thought: Don’t worry or be concerned about giving away some of that creative energy, as I do believe that life is about sharing, and whatever energy and blessings(s) you give out will come back to you and in abundance.

‘If you send out goodness from yourself, or if you share that which is happy or good within you, it will all come back to you multiplied ten thousand times. In the kingdom of love there is no competition; there is no possessiveness or control. The more love you give away, the more love you will have.’ John O’Donohue

So, enjoy this new month of the Hawthorn Tree, and blessings to you and those whom you love, Tadhg

 201705012 IDEAS LITURGY RITUAL FOR THE MONTH OF THE HAWTHORN TREE

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

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.

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.

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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Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Rowan Tree [21 January – 17 February]

20170120-rowan-tree-month-ephemera-222Today is the last day of the Birch tree month, and tomorrow, Saturday, 21 January 2017  is the first day of the Celtic month of the Rowan tree.

So, here’s some information about the tree, the month, folklore, and some encouragement to do something to celebrate the new month, the month of the Rowan tree.

Name: The name ‘Rowan’ tree is recorded from 1804, and before that it was known as the ‘rountree’, though going further back it is derived from the old Germanic verb ‘raud-inan’, meaning ‘to redden’, in reference to the trees wonderfully red berries.In Old English the tree was known as the cwic-beám, and some, maybe a very few, still refer to the tree as the quicken, or the quicken-tree.

Oh! Rowan Tree Oh! Rowan Tree!
Thou’lt aye be dear to me,
Entwined thou art wi mony ties,
O’ hame and infancy.
Thy leaves were aye the first o’ spring,
Thy flow’rs the simmer’s pride;
There was nae sic a bonny tree
In a’ the countryside.Oh! Rowan Tree.

Part of a traditional Scottish poem/song, by Carolina Oliphant. She was descended from Clan Oliphant, an old family which had settled in Perthshire in the 12th century.

rowan-tree-wiki-common-licence-800px-rowan_tree_20081002bAbout the tree: Rowan trees occur widely throughout Europe, in western Asia in Russia and the Caucasus region, in north Africa in the mountains of Morocco, and in north America (where they may be called the Mountain Ash).

They are fast-growing trees, a short-lived pioneer tree in the rose family, Rosaceae. They reach a maximum height of about 10-15 metres. The flowers blossom after the leaves have appeared, usually around May or early June. They’re  creamy-white in colour. Individual flowers have a diameter of about 1 cm, and they grow in dense clusters or corymbs, each containing up to 250 flowers, and measuring 8-15 cm. across. The strong, sweet scent attracts pollinating insects, including many species of flies, bees and beetles.

The Rowan tree is a tough tree. It is a strong wood that has been used to make spinning wheels, spindles and walking sticks over the years.

rowan-druidess-alexandre_cabanel_004Celts & Druid views: Held by many of the ancients, Celts and Druids to be sacred, the Rowan tree was often planted in or near places of worship, and so you may find them (still) growing close to stone circles, groves, or where ley lines cross, or near houses.

Imbolc, the festival associated with the Goddess Brigid and known by some as Candlemas falls within the Rowan Tree month (in about ten days time), and is another time for celebration.

Rowan was the prescribed wood on which runes were, and still are, inscribed to make rune staves.

Folklore: The Rowan tree is said to be one of the most protective of all trees, and is first and foremost a protection against negative influences. The Rowan has protected homes for centuries, and many today are delighted to see a Rowan tree (or several) growing nearby houses.

According to folklore, the dragon is the Rowan tree guardian. It appears frequently in Celtic myth often depicted as a snake-like creature or a worm. When the dragon swallows its own tale it symbolizes immortality, which is another attribute of the Rowan tree feature.

The Rowan is yet another tree sacred to Brigid of the Tuatha Dé Danann, patron of crafts and spinning.

rowan-tree-wiki-common-licence-rowanberries_in_late_august_2004_in_helsinkiGreek mythology tells us  how Hebe, the goddess of youth, dispensed rejuvenating ambrosia to the gods from her magical chalice. When, through carelessness, she lost this cup, the gods sent an eagle to recover it. The feathers and drops of blood which the eagle shed in the  fight with the demons, who had the cup, fell to earth, where each of them turned into a Rowan tree. Hence the Rowan trees leaves took on the shape from the eagle’s feathers, and the appearance of its berries from the droplets of blood.

In Norse mythology it is regarded as the tree from which the first woman was made, (the first man being made from the Ash tree). It was also said to have saved the life of Thor by bending over a fast-flowing river in the Underworld which was sweeping him away, and helped him back to the shore.

Celebration: The way in which some celebrate, in ritual, the beginning of each Celtic month is many and varied. Whichever way you celebrate, I would encourage you (particularly if you’ve never set out to celebrate the new months) to, at least:

  • make yourself a drink to sip and enjoy (wine, coffee, hot chocolate, water etc) to get into the mood of peace and calm, and to make this a good, comfortable and blessed time, and
  • with your eyes closed, let your thoughts quieten, and meditate deeply on giving thanks for the month that has ended (and maybe list, mentally, some of the good things), and to think ahead to the new month (and maybe, think (but, don’t worry) about some of the challenges ahead and where energy will be needed – it’s okay to ‘drift’ in and out of meditation, here, and
  • because the Rowan tree is the tree for protection and positive energy, do something relevant, maybe lighting a candle, seeing its energy displayed as light, and imagine/prayer/send protective energy to where it is needed (in your life, in the life of your family or friends, or anywhere in the world or cosmos, and
  • when you come to the end of this time, extinguish the candle, but take a few minutes to contemplate the new month in a positive way.

Happy Rowan tree month to you and yours, Tadhg.

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Ephemera: The Celtic/Druid Month Of The Elder Tree [25 November – 22 December]

161122-elder-month-ephemera

The year is progressing and we’re about to leave the Celtic and Druidic month of the Reed, and enter the month of the Elder on 25 November (although, the ancients and the oldest religions would celebrate the new day the evening before  ie the evening of 24 November). And so, a new month draws nearer.

English name: Elder Tree
Welsh name: Ysgawen (pronounced ‘us-gaw-wen’)
Latin name: Sambucus Nigra
Month: 25 November– 22 December

This month of the Elder is the thirteenth month, and therefore the last month of the traditional Celtic calendar. It’s a time of endings and beginnings, a tree and therefore a month, of contrasts.

‘If winter comes, can spring be far behind?’ Percy Bysshe Shelley

Etymology: There is a view, and a plausible one at that, that the word Elder comes from the Anglo-saxon word ‘aeld’, meaning fire, because the hollow stems of the tree were used as bellows to blow air into the centre of a fire, in ancient times.

sambucus_nigra_004Dendrology: A mature Elder tree grow to a height of around 15m, and can live for about 60 years. The tree is identified by its short trunk (bole), and grey-brown, corky, furrowed bark. it has relatively few branches.

Its leaves are pinnate, resembling feathers, and probably don’t smell too good. Individual trees flowers are creamy in colour, highly scented, and have five petals. After pollination by insects, each flower develops into a small, dark purple and a somewhat sour berry.

Tradition: The Elder has long been associated with symbolising life and death (and re-birth), judgement and protection. Elder leaves have even been found carved onto Celtic flints that were used in funeral sessions. And, Druids would (and still do) pronounce judgement(s) under this wonderful tree.

Traditionally, the Elder has been thought to attract the fae. Elder branches were hung over horse stables to keep evil away, and its leaves are thought to be good as an insect-repellent. And, any ancient house-builder would have told you that it’s best to build your house near an Elder tree as they are said to afford some protection against lightning strikes (but, maybe not too close to any tree, now, just in case).

It is also associated with creativity, regeneration, and transformation.

The Elder tree, then, is a versatile and most powerful tree, and maybe it’s from this that prompted J K Rowling to weave the Elder wand into her fictional and most entertaining Harry Potter stories.

For Harry Potter fans, of the Elder wand, ‘It is said to be the most powerful wand that has ever existed, able to perform feats of magic that would normally be considered impossible, such as mending another wand damaged beyond normal magical repair…’

hearth-1Promptings: The Elder month is the month when it grows darker and colder than ever before, and energy is depleted; it’s therefore a good time to finish old projects and ‘tie up lose ends’ as we move towards the winter solstice (23 December).

But, it is a month of contrasts, and so as new energy is ushered in, new life begins, so there’s an encouragement to stat new projects, or at least plan them.

As you huddle around that hearth of home, or maybe light a symbolic candle and gaze into its flame, it’s a time to look back, yes, but it’s also a time to look forward with anticipation and hope.

‘Winter is the time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for the touch of a friendly hand and for a talk beside the fire: it is the time for home.’ Edith Sitwell

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