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.

 

20170215-ash-tree-month-ephemera

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]

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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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Ephemera: 28 October 2016: The Celtic Month Of The Reed

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Yes, today, 28 October 2016 is the first day of the Celtic month of the reed, which is one of the thirteen months that comprise the ancient Celtic year.

And, ofcourse, we’re just days away from Samhain and the season of winter (and tomorrow I’ll post details about that and the end of the forthcoming Celtic year, and the start of the new year).

‘In November, some birds move away and some birds stay. The air is full of good-byes and well-wishes.’ Cynthia Rylant

Because we’re about to move into a new season, the element for the new month, and indeed for the impending season of winter, is earth.

English name: Reed
Latin name: Phragmites australis
Month: 28 October – 24 November

The Celts believed that each tree, and the reed was regarded as a tree as it has a tree-like woody stem, had great significance, and for many, the reed represented: purpose,  protection, purification, and communication.

From a practical point of view, reeds are versatile, and in the distant past the reed was used to make fast-flying arrow shafts, using them against enemies, and game for food.

Many early musical instruments were also made of a reed, and the unique sound created  haunting music that accompanied many Celtic rites of old. And, ofcourse, reeds are still used (in the mouthpieces) of some modern-day wind instruments.

‘November’s sky is chill and drear, November’s leaf is red and sear.’  Sir Walter Scott

In the past, reed used for the thatching of rooftops, and during the winter months, especially, it’s properties of protection were appreciated by ancient Celts.

From a traditional point of view, and to ancient Druids especially, the reed was revered for its connection to the elves. And, so, it was called, ‘The Elf Friend’. Some believed that if you blew across a reed and made it to emit a rasping-whistling sound, then you would summon an elf. Oh, the number of these I must have summoned them as a child, unawares, then

And a bit of very ancient history: In ancient Egypt, papyrus was made from the reed family of plants.

Even today, the (common) reed is valued. In many wetlands around the UK, they form important habitats for birds including rare and threatened species such as Bittern, Marsh Harrier and Bearded Tit.

‘Fear not November’s challenge bold—
We’ve books and friends,
And hearths that never can grow cold:
These make amends!’

Alexander L. Fraser

And, so it’s time to celebrate the new month of the Reed. Perhaps, light a candle? Say a prayer?  Meditate on the theme of gratitude? Go for a thoughtful walk? Have a special meal? Or, just take a few minutes of quietness to ponder the changing months and to welcome the month of the Reed.

‘The little reed, bending to the force of the wind, soon stood upright again when the storm had passed over.’ Aesop

Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Ivy (And What You Need To Know)

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Yes, we’re moving out of the Celtic month of the Vine. And, so 30 September is the first day of the month of the Ivy; so it’s time to celebrate with a special meal, special event and/or an awesome ritual. The Vine is the 11th month of the 13 month Celtic year, and the Ivy is renowned for being somewhat of a ‘survivor’ plant.

English name: Ivy
Latin name: Hedera Helix
Month: 30 September – 27 October

Ivy is a popular ornamental plant, much valued for its ability to thrive in shady places, is used to provide excellent groundcover, and to cover unsightly walls, sheds and tree stumps.

Long collected for winter decorations, Ivy is associated with Christmas and frequently features in festive designs. It is also an important source of food and shelter for wildlife during winter, but is used by them, it is said, as last resort when other food cannot be found.

‘Oh, a dainty plant is the ivy green, That creepeth o’er ruins old! Of right choice food are his meals I ween, In his cell so lone and cold. . . . . Creeping where no life is seen, A rare old plant is the ivy green.’

Charles Dickens

Ivy gets ‘bad press’, and is often described as a parasite. It’s not. Although it uses trees and buildings for support, it’s not a parasite as it has its own root system and derives nutrients through them, and not through a ‘host’. Neither, so I’m informed, does it (normally) damage sound buildings or walls where it looks amazing, and it is rarely a threat to healthy trees.

In days of old, Ivy used to be carried by women, and especially brides, for friendship, good luck and fidelity. It is said to protect against negativity and disaster. It is also ‘paired’ with holly, especially at Christmas-time, and mentioned together in the old Christmas carol entitled, ‘The Holly and the Ivy’. This, it is said by some, represents man (represented by Holly) and woman (the Ivy), bringing harmony between them at Christmas-time.

Going back further into English history, English taverns would display a sign with an Ivy bush on it, over their doors to indicate the excellence of the ale and spirits supplied within.

‘For ivy climbs the crumbling hall To decorate decay.’  Philip James Bailey

And going back even further, and into Greek history, their priests, who considered it a holy plant, would present a wreath of Ivy to newly-married persons. Ivy has throughout the ages been regarded as the emblem of fidelity. Ofcourse today, many latter-day Celts, eastern-European Christians, Druids and pagans (still) use head-wreaths for special occasions (myself included, at hand-fastings etc. In Welsh such head-wreaths are called dorchau pen. And, I can also make them for you as I do for others, for any special occasion).

Ivy, then, is a hardy survivor, and as this month progresses and the temperature drops, and winter draws ever nearer, it is a great plant to remind and encourage each one of us to maintain deep spirituality in the face of change or adversity.

 

Ephemera: The Celtic Month Of The Vine & The Swan Story

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The new month is almost upon us. Leaving the month of the Hazel (tree) behind us, we start the new Celtic month of the Vine* (known as Muin to ancient and latter-day Celts, Druids etc) on 2nd September. The Celtic calendar being named after trees and the like that they would have seen growing around them.

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)

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 also of wrath, 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.

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

Interestingly, as a matter of history, the swan was sacred to the Druids. They saw it 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 – it is fictitious – but it’s a lovely story about love and swans, is 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, we 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.

The month of the vine is also the time of the autumn equinox [literally ‘equal night’ and day], when light and darkness are in perfect balance.

Try to remember the kind of September,
when life was slow and oh so mellow.
Try to remember the kind of September,
when grass was green and grain so yellow.
Try to remember the kind of September,
when you were young and a callow fellow.
Try to remember and if you remember, then follow, follow…

(Lyrics by Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt

This month then is, or can be, a time of reflection for each of us, when we look back at the ‘light’ and dark’ in our life (however we define those words); at what has occurred in our life, in say, the last year, that has been positive and what, seemingly, has been negative; and a time of deep contemplation as to what action we (still) need to take to produce ‘fruit’ in our lives.

Something to do: On or near the start of the new month, maybe with a glass of wine (or soft drink, fruit juice) to hand to sip, take some time one evening to reflect on the last year or so. Make a list if you wish of what has been accomplished (and so, are grateful for), and what still needs to be done this year (and that list can form part of your ‘to do’ list).

This month is about reflection and balance.

 

Note: * based on the Beth-Luis-Nion version of the Druid/Celtic calendar.