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.