Tadhg’s Ephemera: The New Month Of The Holly Tree [8 July – 4 August]

20170706 THE CELTIC MONTH OF THE HOLLY TREE

This Friday is the last day of the Celtic month of the Oak, and Saturday, 8 July is the start of a new month – but remember the ancient Druids and Celts, and many other ancient peoples, too, started their new day in the evening. So, you can celebrate the new month this coming Friday evening if you wish, or Saturday evening.

The upcoming new month is the Celtic and Druid month of the Holly, and it’s a wonderful month.

About The Tree

Common Name: Holly
Scientific Name: Ilex aquifolium
Family: Aquifoliaceae
Miscellaneous Information: The name ‘holy’, which probably derived from the Prot-Indo-European language for ‘prickly’, came to us through the Old Norse word ‘hulfr’. In German it’s hulst, French it’s houx, and Welsh as celyn.

Mature trees, can grow up to 15m and live for about three hundred years. The bark is smooth and thin with numerous small, brown ‘warts’, and the stems are dark brown. Its leaves are dark green, glossy and oval in shape, with younger plants have spiky leaves.

The holly is dioecious: male and female flowers occur on different trees. Flowers are white with four petals. Look out for its bright red berries and shiny, leathery leaves that usually have spiny prickles on the edges.

Love is like the wild rose-briar;
Friendship like the holly tree,
The holly is dark when the rose briar blooms,
But which will bloom most constantly?

(Emily Bronte)

The tree is native in the UK and across Europe, north Africa and western Asia. It is commonly found in woodland, scrub and hedgerows, and especially in oak and beech woodland.

Holly provides dense cover and good nesting opportunities for birds, and its dry leaf litter is used by hedgehogs and other small mammals for hibernation.

The berries are a vital source of food for birds in winter, and are also eaten by small mammals such as wood mice and dormice.

Holly wood is the whitest of all woods, and is very heavy, hard and fine grained. It can be stained and polished, and is used, sometimes, to make furniture or used in engraving work. It is also commonly used to make walking-sticks. Holly wood also makes good kindling, and burns with a strong heat.

Mythology And Symbolism

For centuries, holly branches have been used to decorate homes, especially in winter. In the Christian tradition the bright red berries represented the blood of Christ, and was a reminder at Christmastime of the Christ’s impending crucifixion and that new life springs from that.

The Holly and the Ivy
When they are both full grown,
Of all the trees that are in the wood,
The holly wears the crown.

(Traditional carol)

For ancient and latter-day Celts and Druids, the tree was also seen as a fertility symbol and a charm against witches, goblins and the devil. It was thought by many to be unlucky to cut down a holly tree.

It is said the oak tree attracts lightning, but the holly tree repels lightning, and so it was often planted around homes for protection from lightning strikes, and for this reason it is viewed as a symbol for protection. But, please don’t shelter under one, nor any tree, in lightning storm!

Interestingly, science has actually discovered the distinct leaf-shape of the holly acts as a natural repellent for lightning’s electricity, allegedly, making the holly’s protective significance more than just lore, perhaps.

I’ll bid the hyacinth to blow,
I’ll teach my grottos green to be;
And sing my true love, all below
the holly bower and myrtle tree.

(Thomas Campbell)

As the ‘ruler’ of winter, the holly is also associated with dreams and the subconscious. Druids would often invoke the holly energy for assistance in dream work.

In Celtic mythology the Holly King was said to rule over the half of the year from the summer to the winter solstice, at which time the Oak King defeated the Holly King to rule for the time until the summer solstice again.

In heraldry, the holly represents truth.

Celebrating The Month Of Holly

However you would normally celebrate a new Celtic month, it would be a good idea, perhaps, to:

  • spend some time contemplating on a holly twig, if you’re able to buy some, or print out a photo from the internet of holly, and have that on your table near a candle, and
  • think about the various associations that holly has: fertility, protection, the blood of the Christ, and what this means to you and others – always good to know what others believe, even if you have a deep-seated belief, and
  • perhaps use some of the quotes above in your time of celebration (which can be incorporated into a meal or similar, or token meal), but make it a good time of celebration as we move into a new month, a new start.

And, there’s also a full moon too, this weekend, so that is also something that can be incorporated into your new month celebration – but more about the upcoming new moon, tomorrow.

Blessings, Tadhg

 

 

The Art Of Encountering: Celtic Thought

20170614 THE ART OF ENCOUNTERINGAnd so there I was last evening, sitting in my little inner-city garden – some would call it a yard, but this is Fulham – with a lit candle on the garden table. The sun was now below the horizon, the sky was cloudless and a most wonderful deep, deep blue. Even a few swallows could be seen darting overhead, near the bridge.

All was fairly quiet. Peaceful. Lovely.

With my eyes closed, I said some silent prayers to send light, energy, well-well-wishes for family, friends, and, yes, for those who will be reading this, like you. And, then I stopped. Quite abruptly.

‘During each encounter, ask yourself: How does this incident bring greater awareness into my life?’ Azim Jamal & Brian Tracy

As I sat there, at that garden table, now with thoughts racing, I wondered at how easy it is to engage with people when they look like us, speak like us, have the same views as us or come form the same tribe as us. That’s encountering, I guess some would say. But, it shouldn’t stop there, I’m saying to myself, too. There’s more. Mae mwy.

What about the ones who don’t look like us, don’t sound like us, and who are marginalised and sometimes dehumanised? What about them? Ofcourse, they must be included. Yes? Isn’t that the meaning of philoxia? [Philo, an ancient Greek word for love, xenai meaning stranger].

Sometimes, it’s not until we’re the excluded ones, not until we are the strangers that the penny drops, and we realise how awful such distancing can be.

‘You shall love the stranger first of all because you know what it is to be a stranger yourself. Second of all, you shall love the stranger because the stranger shows you God [the Source of All, The Great Spirit]’, Barbara Brown Taylor

When travelling I sometimes like to visit churches on a Sunday, and though I’m a mature person, not easily ‘thrown’ and very inclusive and chatty, it is often the case, sadly, that I’ll worship alone even when the building has dozens of worshippers in it, and afterward drink coffee alone, surrounded by others who are obviously of the ‘in’ tribe. Not always the case, but it is sometimes the case. To them, I’m guessing it felt like I was an ‘it’. They were persons (an ‘I’) and it felt like I was regarded by them as less than a person. An ‘it’.

Being in an I-It relationship is no real relationship at all. A jug of water is an ‘it’. Apple peel is an ‘it’. A paving stone is an ‘it’. And, ‘it’ can be ignored and discarded.

However, just to even things up, I did have to laugh, inwardly, when at one particular church service some time ago, a person came up close and sat next to me, explained everything, absolutely everything that was going on and in great detail (although I knew the Anglican form of service very well), found the hymn for me each time (yes, I know the hymn book is arranged numerically for ease of use and the numbers are up there on the board), and then found the Bible passage for me (even though I’ve been a Christian for over forty years), but I felt welcomed, at that’s the point. To that person I was a person. Not an ‘it’, but a ‘thou’ (a ‘you’, a person approachable in some kind of relationship). They were an ‘I’ and I was a ‘thou’ from there viewpoint. From mine I was the ‘I’ and they were the ‘Thou’, and there was the relationship, the bonding,  and it worked.

Another reason I stopped praying as I sat in my little inner-city garden was that my prayer had turned into a mere shopping-list of wants, albeit for other people, but in some way I wasn’t encountering them, even spiritually. I had turned these good people into ‘its’.

‘I am not a number, I am a free man!’, ironically said #6 in the old tv series ‘The Prisoner’.

How many times have we sat in a glade or a church building and communed with the elements, elementals, angels, or God, participated in a ritual without meaning it deeply, and unknowingly distanced ourselves by doing things by rote, and regarding one or all of the aforementioned as an ‘it’, instead of focussing on the relationship between us and them, and so forging an ‘I’ to ‘thou’ (I to another ‘person’) bond? How many times have we prayed a shopping-list of prayers or conducted a ritual and speedily worked through it, only to feel a little ‘hollow’ at the end and have to acknowledge that we had been a bit glib and superficial. That we had accepted the ‘liminoid’ rather than the liminal. Sometimes that happens, doesn’t it?

Still sitting at my garden table, with rampant thoughts now subsiding, I encouraged myself to move into the ‘le point vierge’ (the virgin point), liminal space, sacred-space, that area deep within each one of us where, in silence, we can come closer to others (in an I-Thou) relationship, and indeed into such a relationship with the Other. Isn’t that what the Caim is about?

Martin Buber wrote that we may address existence in two ways: (1) The attitude of the “I” towards an “It”, towards an object that is separate in itself, which we either use or experience. Or (2), The attitude of the “I” towards “Thou”, in a relationship in which the other is not separated by discrete bounds.

Ofcourse, if the other person is a ‘person’ then I should imagine none of us would have a problem in being able to relate.  If the other is the Source of All, that which some call God, an angel or elemental etc then, even then,  if we have the right mind-set and are ‘open’ then we can encounter deeply.

But, what about an animal? A tree? An insect? A star? Ofcourse, that is up to you to work through, depending on your theology. I must profess to finding it easier to forming an ‘I-Thou’ relationship with another person or God, than, say a tree. But, I can’t end this here. Nevertheless, in some profound way the tree, and all of creation is still more than an ‘it’. So much, much more! And so I do try to regard them, too, as part on an ‘I-Thou’ relationship. After all, I am a panentheist (like most Christians are (or were), and some Druids and others. Please note that I’m not a pantheist (but some of my best friends are pantheists), but am proud to declare that I am a panentheist).

‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’. Acts 17:28, The Book.

Still, in my garden, it is now late evening. A cup of hot chocolate sits on the table – a ‘reward’ to myself and a great way to end the evening. I have now finished sending well-wishes, light, prayers, energy and positivity to others, and feel power has, indeed, gone out. And it feels good. It took some time to move into an ‘I-Thou’ relationship tonight, to move into that ‘inner sanctum’, to encounter, especially but not only when people are some geographical distance away, but that exquisite task, nay privilege, was accomplished, and it is so worth it. This is my encouragement to you, to encounter.

Relationship. Bonded. Oneness. Sameness. Achieved. Deep, deep satisfaction.

Encountering, then, is a soul-to-soul connectedness, a oneing, a relationship, rather than just proximity or geographical location, and it embraces the whole of creation.

The Art Of Physicality: Celtic Thought

20170613 THE ART OF PHYSICALITY

‘My name is known: God and King. I am most in majesty, in whom no beginning may be and no end. Highest in potency I am, and have been ever. I have made stars and planets in their courses to go. I have made a moon for the night and a sun to light the day also. I have made earth where trees and grasses spring, beasts and fowl, both great and small, all thrive and have my liking. I have made all of nothing for man’s sustentation. And of this pleasant garden that I have mostly goodly planted I will make him gardener for his own recreation.’ Godspell prologue.

The development company near where I live in London, sponsored by the big banks, felled trees, bulldozed the earth and flattened everything in sight. To watch them skilfully and easily go about their business was thought-provoking to say the least. They had a job to do and they got on with it.

Their ‘theology’ allowed them to do this willy-nilly, and they did so with an ‘evangelical’ fervour.

Why, is this so important?

One of the trees at the far end of my garden at Ty Gwyn was dead. It had started to decay, and was more of a hazard now. It needed felling. Because of its size a tree feller was needed and he skilfully cut it up piece by piece, but not before I had spoken a few words to the tree (before he had arrived). I know to many people, saying a few words to a tree is nonsensical, but there were several reasons for doing so: the tree was alive (at one time) and I wanted to acknowledge that – as a Druid I value trees and what they embody, as a Christian I accept that the Logos is ubiquitous; I also wanted to remind myself that this tree was alive well before I was born and was probably double my age when it died; I also wanted to mark this change in the garden.

‘How dear the woods are! You beautiful trees! I love every one of you as a friend.’ Lucy Maud Montgomery

Why, is this so important?

It is heart-breaking sometimes that the ‘development company’-style of regarding the environment can be embraced by some people (and some of them are people of faith). There are a number of reasons for this, I believe.

Perhaps, some take to heart the imperative in the first book of the Book where humankind is commanded to, ‘…fill the earth, and subdue it…’, Genesis 1:28b. How words are interpreted and make it into print, and how they are defined depends on the reader. And those that subdue the earth have a ‘development company’-like attitude. Rip! Strip! Flatten! Bulldoze!

If we’re commanded to subdue the earth, then why not? Except, that ‘steward’ is a better and more accurate word. If one acts as steward to the earth then one has a responsibility to care for it. And, it is my firm belief, backed up by research, that ‘steward’ is a more appropriate translation of that word in that Genesis verse.

I love my garden. Even in the city, I adore city parks. I saw a tree on a street corner, and a branch had been caught by a high-sided vehicle and ripped off. Not completely, but almost. My heart sank. I had to inform the local borough council. Trees are wonderful. Nature is beautiful. We’d be poorer without them.

But, some prefer ‘subdue’, as it’s easier to rip than plant, easier to flatten than build, easier to be reckless than accept responsibility. And maybe, some have been led to think that that’s the way it’s always been. It hasn’t.

‘A wrong concept misleads the understanding; a wrong deed degrades the whole man, and may eventually demolish the structure of the human ego.’ Muhammad Iqbal

Why, is this so important?

It’s important because the physical world matters. There is no Plan(et) B as an alternative. For Druids, like me, the forest is all important. A place to remind ourselves where we come from, what life in all its green-ness is all about (do check out Revelation 4:3 in the Book), where we are going, and a place to meditate deeply and commune. Nature is important. Ofcourse, this is not the sole preserve of Druids, and those of other faiths have a deep reverence of nature, too. After all, for Christians, like me, it all started in a garden! And, what’s more…it was ‘good’!

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

There are some who ‘distance’ themselves from this physicality and the body, too, as though it were inferior. I once had a conversation with a pastor who was shocked by a news broadcast that talked of a political figure who may (or may not) have ‘sexed’ up a document to make it more appealing to the electorate. I agreed with him about the distastefulness of the alleged fact, only to be corrected by him as he said I had misunderstood him. His anger wasn’t at that awful re-writing of facts, but at the word ‘sex’ in the term used by the reporters, who talked about ‘sexxed-up’ document!

Why, is this so important?

Much of some peoples dislike of the word sex being used in a sentence, or perhaps even talking about sex, or the notion of procreation, is based on the understanding that it is ‘dirty’, or base or something inferior. It hasn’t always been this way.

Quick history lesson follows. Please don’t ‘switch off’. Augustine was a Manichaean, and they had some strange ideas about sex and the body, thinking that both were somewhat inferior and distasteful. Over a short period of time the (then) Pope had made it awkward and then dangerous to be anything but a Christian. Setting aside that that may have been a wrong move by the Pope, it had the effect of an over-night transformation by Augustine, who converted to Christianity. Well done Augustine. Just like that. Amazing. He was safe from persecution, and was now zealous in spreading the new faith. I apologise for upsetting some, but not all of what he preached was Christian. Old Manichaean ways die slowly, and sometimes not at all. The low esteem that the body and sex was held in, was what Augustine preached. And those that came after him adopted those Manichaean ways thinking they were, and are Christian views; and many today, think it has always been that way. It hasn’t.

‘Your breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.’ (Songs of Solomon 4:5). Interestingly, I’m told no part of the Book should be esteemed higher than any other…and yet, I’ve never heard a sermon on anything from the wonderful love poetry of the Songs Of Solomon.

Why, is this so important?

Because nature is good. The physical world is good. Humankind in body-form is good. Genesis and nature inform us of this. And those who demean nature, disregard the physical world and downgrade humanity’s physical form are missing out on what the Incarnation was, and is, all about.

So, I said ‘thank you’ to that faithful tree. It had to go. I know I won’t have convinced many that talking to a tree in this way isn’t a sign of me being feeble-minded, but bear with me. It focussed my attention on nature. It reminded me of Original Blessing. It led me to think of how easy it is to destroy, and that when that is necessary, absolutely necessary, we should do so slowly, considerately and reluctantly. And, it gave me time to pause. It encouraged me to plant.

‘What we are doing to the forests of the world is but a mirror reflection of what we are doing to ourselves and to one another. Chris Maser

And so I’ve planted two more trees in its stead, and I feel happier already.

 

 

Encountering Silent Teachers: That Ancient Oak Tree / Coeden Dderw Hynafol

20170517 ENCOUNTERING SILENT TEACHERS

Go out, go out I beg you
and taste the beauty of the wild.
Behold the miracle of the earth
with all the wonder of a child.
{Edna Jaques]

Near the perimeter of my garden in north Wales, before you reach the rivulet which is the unannounced boundary of my garden, just 20 yards/meters short of it is a wonderful, old, somewhat gnarled oak tree, standing slightly apart from other trees. Of all the trees in the garden, it is the oldest and most majestic, commanding respect from all.

My grandmother called it ‘coeden dderw hynafol’ (pronounced ‘goh-dun dare-ooh hin-af-foll’, which is Welsh for ‘ancient oak tree’, and that’s what I’ve always called it.

Interestingly, the word Druid, also comes from that Welsh word, dder, pronounced ‘dare-ooh’, for oak, and shows the high esteem that that tree was, and still is, held by them.

Oh, coeden dderw hynafol is a sight to behold. Even when ‘speaking’ to it in English, I’ve always addressed it, as though by a title, by its name in Welsh. I want to be respectful, after all.

Whether one believes that it has a dryad, an associated elemental, a spirit (or a spirit in the metaphorical or romantic sense), or wishes to personify or anthropomorphise this splendid tree, that is beside the point in many respects. It (still) has a presence, a nobility about it, and as it creaks and ‘moans’ in the wind it seems to ‘smile’ and declare to me and others that it was here long before we were born, and…and, yes, it will be here long after we’ve shuffled off this mortal coil.

It is a tree that evokes awe and humility in equal measure.

And so, there I was…nothing on tv….slowly walking, barefoot, toward coeden dderw hynafol at some time shortly after 11.30pm. There was hardly any light, the air was damp and cold – such is springtime in north Wales at this time of night – and the faint outline of  coeden dderw hynafol was etched, flat, without three dimensions apparent, against the dark, cloud-filled sky. The clouds seeming somewhat low and moving briskly, caught by an easterly wind.

I sat on the log just under the outstretched arms of the coeden dderw hynafol, and waited. The wind picked up and it started to rain, and the desire to run back indoors and avoid the rain was almost overpowering. Almost.

‘Only when we stop…do the stones begin to speak’. Mark Nepo

I love the rain, and though there was part of me that didn’t relish the thought of getting drenched, the ‘dominant’ inner voice was content just to let nature take its course. Any, why not? And so I sat on that log, gazing at coeden dderw hynafol and got drenched. Fortunately, there was no one around, and neighbours live some distance away,  so no one noticed my apparent foolishness.

Coeden dderw hynafol creaked, and groaned as it swayed in the wind, ‘moaned’ as the wind caught the top of its branches, and it provided only momentary shelter from the rain – its leaves now conveying downward all the rain it had ‘collected’. But, I will let you into a secret: it felt wonderful.

As I sat there with rain running down my forehead, onto my nose and running off the end of it, this ancient oak tree taught me: that regardless of what forces impact upon it, it stands. When buffeted it moves just a little, is pliable, and doesn’t stand so rigid that it breaks. Oh no. It ‘gives’ just a little. The noise it made wasn’t a cry of pain, but a delight that it was ‘dancing’ to the tune of the wind. And the rain it collected and which fell down on me was like the effect of a shaggy dog shaking itself to get dry and soaking everyone else in the process – something which ‘includes’ me, rather than excludes me, and which can bring on a wry smile. It was as though there was some giant, invisible aspergillum ‘flicking’ holy water on me, and blessing me. And it was comforting.

‘For a true contemplative, a green tree works just as well as a golden tabernacle’. Richard Rohr.

Now drenched, I realised that whatever life sends us, we are in control of our reactions and have the ability to come through the storm. As I sat there I could have been angry at being drenched, and angry that that oak had not provided sufficient cover to keep me dry. However, positive thoughts flooded my mind like warm honey. Coeden dderw hynafol had, in its own way ‘instructed’ me that I (and you, so ‘we’) have the resources to face adversity, and though we might ‘bend’ a little and feel the wounds, we will prevail. Coeden dderw hynafol also blessed me with the rain it had collected and which was now falling on me at quite a pace. It was a though this ancient friend was blessing me with holy water and including me. To be befriended by an oak tree is an amazing thing.

‘We inter-breath with the rain forests, we drink from the oceans. They are part of our own body.’ Thich Nhat Hanh

Soggy, cold, drenched but feeling blessed, I headed back to the house. I hadn’t gone too far when I stopped. It seemed wrong just to walk away. And so I stopped, and as mud oozed between my toes, I turned, and for just half a minute gave my silent thanks to coeden dderw hynafol, nodded and acknowledged my indebtedness to the lessons it had taught me that night.

Ofcourse, some might say it was crazy and puerile to regard that tree in such a way. A tree is just a tree, they might say. But, it didn’t (and doesn’t) feel like just a tree, in its presence. Ofcourse, if people regard it as just a tree, I would add that something deep still stirred within me, and I learned invaluable lessons.

However, I’d like to add that it is more than just a tree to me. There is more. Mae mwy, as they say in these parts, there is more. Coeden dderw hynafol is a silent teacher, and if you and I give ourselves time to draw aside and be still (wherever we are), each day we can learn something from these (and it may not be an oak tree) silent teachers that cross our life-paths.

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

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.