I am planting a Sacred Grove in my garden, in the shape of a horseshoe. The opening of the horseshoe in facing West. The garden is already seeded with wild flowers and the ones already there are being encouraged. I plant for the Birds, Bees and Butterflies. There are also many old roses already established and I am planting a few more and a lavender hedge which will take quite long to establish. My fathers ashes are beside a rose called Sunset.
But now here come the trees…………
As you entered the Grove the first tree you greet is the Birch. This one planted itself very soon after I performed a Druid ritual there, and, just as it signifies new beginnings, all else has been inspired by it. The Birch was my fathers favourite tree. My father died in this garden in 2006 and the tree seeded itself right in the heart of a rose bush that was planted to commemorate my parents Diamond Wedding.
The next tree is a Wild Service Tree, a relative of the Rowan, or the most ancient of Rowans. This has been given to me by a friend who works in an ancient woodland in Gloucestershire. The life span of these trees is about 120 years old and this tree is a 100 generations descendant of the first tree to return to Gloucestershire after the last Ice Age. These trees are quite rare in Britain and are mostly found in pockets of ancient woodland and occasionally hedgerows.
Next comes the Olive. This one is already nineteen years old (as long as it used to take to become a Bard, it’d said). Symbol of Peace. For me it is also a reference to Sufism.
Soon to be planted, there next comes a Scots Pine. In years to come it will tower above all else as it stands like a sentinel. Chosen for it’s beauty and in honour of my Mother who has a life long love of the Scots and Scotland and because it is a tree of the mountains. My ancestors come from the Welsh mountains.
And next will come the Apple. It’s to be a Cox’s Orange Pippin – the first Apple name I ever knew. This tree to me symbolises a feeling of being home and a sense of security and comfort. There was an old apple tree in my childhood garden and the first time I ever heard a poem read was as I sat with my older cousin beneath its branches for shade on summer days. I have no memory of the poems she read but I have never forgotten the tree. I like to think the first poem may have been Fernhill by Dylan Thomas.
I planted the Hawthorn this week. One or two of its thorns stuck into me but I don’t mind that – the Fair Folk quite rightly protect themselves and the tree had been a little ill-treated and abused by bad packaging. I felt as if I was letting a prisoner out of a very tight and airless place. It now looks far happier by the garden wall. I look forward to when it will blossom one May.
The final tree will be the Hazel. This one is for the Fair Folk and the Squirrels and it’s also my favourite nut.
All the trees, except the Olive, are trees of the Ogham.
The Four Directions ~ there is water in the West and a bird statue in the East ~ I have yet to mark the North & South
Other trees in the garden – outside the Grove – Holly, Lilac, Loquat (which was grown from the fruit stone of a Moroccan tree) and a Round Robin (also known as Christmas Berry)
The meaning, tales and gifts of the trees…………..
Birch – Beith (pronounced ‘bay’)
Ogham letter B ~ first letter of Ogham alphabet
Ruler of the 1st Lunar Month
Powers: Purification, Guardian of New Beginnings, Bringer of Hope, Channels Emotion, Protection.
Ruling Planet: Venus
The birch is known as a ‘Pioneer Tree’ – meaning that it can restart the colonisation of woodlands after long term natural disasters.
As the sap rises in early March, it’s possible to cut the bark, tap the trees and use the sweet liquid collected neat, or as the basis for a birch wine or beer.
The white bark is very unusual, thin and loose it can peel away from the tree like paper. Even the layers can be carefully peeled apart and it’s thought that the name Birch came either from the Sanskrit word ‘bhurga’, which literally meant ‘a tree whose bark is used for writing upon’, or from ‘bher’ – meaning ‘shining white’.
Both the tea obtained from leaves, and the fresh drink made from the sap are high in Vitamin C.
The tree carries ancient wisdom and yet appears forever young. The Druids were believed to have used the sap to make a spiritual cup for the celebration of the Spring Equinox.
The Birch goes by many names ~ The White Goddess, The Lady of the Woods, The Ribbon Tree, The Silver Maiden and The Birchen Maiden
Goddesses associated with Birch are the fertitlity goddesses of Northern Europe – Oestre, Frigga and Freya – and Venus, the Roman goddess of love, who rules over her. From Greece we have Ariadne, from Ireland Brighid, and from Wales the owl goddess Blodenwedd.
Many of the festivals feature the use of birch wood, bark, leaves or branches.
At Imbolc the white bark is used to symbolise the return of light.
At Beltane (May Day) the birch was first choice as the tree to make the Maypole, cut at dawn to be decorated and danced around in old fertility rituals, later to be burned with ash logs at the Beltane fire.
At Samhain the Birch is used to beat out the old or evil spirits from the hearth.
At Samhain too when the witches fly, they will get out their best birch wood besoms! Besom brooms are still often made with birch wood handles and twigs
Birch twig brooms were also used in the ritual of ‘Beating the Bounds’. Members of a Parish would walk the ‘bounds’ of the village, beating various landmarks along the way to mark out the boundaries.
The Wild Service Tree (or Chequer Tree)
The bark is brown and patterned with cracked square plates, and the twigs are slender, shiny, grey-brown and straight. Leaf buds are rounded and green, like little peas, and form on short leaf stalks. The leaves are similar to maple, and turn a rich, coppery red before falling in autumn.
The wild service tree is hermaphrodite, meaning both male and female reproductive parts are contained within each flower. They form in clusters in late spring to early summer, and are pollinated by insects. Once pollinated, the flowers develop into green-brown oval fruits (sometimes called chequers).
The fruits were traditionally used as a herbal remedy for colic, and the tree’s botanical name, torminalis, means ‘good for colic’.
The flowers provide pollen and nectar for insects, while the berries are eaten by birds. The leaves are eaten by caterpillars of the moths.
A popular dessert fruit in some areas up to the beginning of the 20th century, its berries, which are round or pear shaped and the size of small cherries, can be eaten once they have softened, or been ‘bletted’ by frost. They used to be gathered, strung up in clusters around a stick and then hung up indoors, often by the hearth. The fruits were picked off as they ripened by children and eaten like sweets. They taste of dried apricot, some say like figs.
The fruit is well known by the name of ‘Chequers’, as a result of its speckled appearance. There is a very high number of Chequers pubs in some areas of England, many with Wild Service trees in their gardens. Before the introduction of hops, the fruits were used to flavour beer, which may be related to the ancient symbol of a pub being a chequer board. The drink was said to keep away the plague.
Recipe for Chequerberry Beer
Pick bunches of Wild Service fruit in October. Hang them on a string like onions until ripe. Cut the berries off. Put them in stone or glass jars. Add sugar – 1 lb to 5 lb of berries. Shake up well. Keep airtight until juice comes to the top. The longer it is kept the better. (Brandy can be added). Drink. (Then eat the berries!)
The Rowan is prominent in Norse mythology as the tree from which the first woman was made, (the first man being made from the ash tree). It was said to have saved the life of the god Thor by bending over a fast flowing river in the Underworld in which Thor was being swept away, and helping him back to the shore. Rowan was the prescribed wood on which runes were inscribed to make rune staves.
The Olive Tree
The olive tree was respected and revered as one of two of the most important Greek mythical trees (the other was the Oak).
The origin of the Olive tress in the city of Athens is explained through the intervention of the Goddess Athena. This goddess was the daughter of Zeus (supreme God of Greek mythology) and Metis who symbolised prudence and cunning. Athena was a warrior Goddess and Goddess of justice and wisdom and protector of arts and literature. Her sacred animal was the owl and the olive tree was one of her most recognised symbols. The reason that the olive tree symbolised the Goddess is explained through the following mythic passage:
Poseidon, God of the seas and Zeus’ brother, coveted earthly kingdoms and so claimed the possession of Attica, driving his trident into the Athenian Acropolis which became a well of salt water. Later, Athena came to town and took it in a very peaceful way calling Cecrops, first King of Athens, as a witness. Athena made an olive tree spring from just next to the well. Poseidon, in anger, challenged the goddess, but Zeus intervened and ordered the formation of a divine tribunal to decide which of the two Gods should be enshrined in the city. Thus, the tribunal formed by the Olympic deities, after listening to the testimony of Cecrops decided to side with Athena. It was determined that it was she who had the right to own the land because she had given the city the greatest gift: the first olive tree. Thenceforth, the city adopted the name of Athens and the olive tree planted by Athena was revered for centuries in the Acropolis symbolising the victory.
In Greece the olive tree symbolises peace and prosperity, as well as resurrection and hope. This was demonstrated by the events after the burning of Athens by the Persian King Xerxes in the V century BC. Xerxes burned the entire Acropolis city, within which was the centenary of olive trees of Athena, which was also burned. However, when the Athenians entered the scorched city, the olive tree had already grown a branch, symbolising the rapid recuperation and renovation of the Athenians in the face of adversity.
Hercules also is related to the olive tree. Even though he was very young Hercules managed to kill the Cithaeron lion which was ravaging the countryside, using only his own hands and a wooden stake from a wild olive tree. This act indentified the olive tree with strength and resistence. Hercules is also famous for his twelve labours (“Herculean labours”) commissioned by his cousin Eurystheus in order to atone his sins after he killed his family in a blind frenzy. During these labours he used various weapons, including a club, which is one of the most significant attributes of Hercules, along with the lion skin. This club was made of the wood from an olive tree and if it was dug into the ground it began to take root to until it converted into tree.
The olive tree, being considered a sacred tree, was often used as an offering to the Gods from the mortals. This is demonstrated in the story of Theseus, the national hero of Attica, who also has the presence of the olive tree in the story of his life. Theseus was the son of Aegeus, king of Attica, and throughout his life he had many adventures. On of them was the confrontation with the Minotaur on the island of Crete. Before beginning his adventure, Thesus begged protection of Apollo in return he gave an offering to the God of a sacred olive branch from the Acropolis of Athens. This custom came from the Roman culture as testify the writings of Livy.
Also Orestes (the son of Agamemnon) and Clytemnestra who, by order of Apollo, killed their mother and her lover Aegisthus after they murdered his parents. Orestes prayed to Apollo to atone for his crimes and gave as an offering an olive branch.
One of the most famous celebrations in Athens was the Panathenaic festival, celebrated in the honour of the Goddess Athena, protector of the city. It used to be celebrated in the month of July and lasted various days, during which they had horse races, gymnastic exhibitions, competitions and various musical and literary shows. To the winners of the competitions they gave them a prize of an amphora (ceramic vase, as below) with olive oil that had been cultivated in the Attican olive fields sacred to Athens.
The central act of this celebration was the procession that went through much of the city and culminated in the Parthenon Temple situated in Acropolis. This procession was immortalised in the hands of sculptor Phidias, all along the Parthenon frieze. The objective of the procession was to extend the offering of a robe or mantle to the goddess Athena to cover her. All members of the community participated in the procession, including the magistrates, priests, the winners crowned with a crown made from olive branchs, the maidens from the most important families bearing the offerings, the elderly carrying olive tree branches.
During the celebration in Olympia, one of the challenges that took place was the Pentathalon which consisted in five separate challenges: a running race, long jump, discus, javelin and wrestling or boxing. As well as the Pentathalon there was chariot racing, horse races and wrestling competitions. During the Olympic Games, not only were there physical tests but also intellectual tests. This is shown by the existence of literary and oratory competitions. The olive tree was present in the Games through being the prize. It was a braided crown of wild olive branches that were handed to the winners of the games, identifying itself again with victory. The athlete was recognised as a true hero and his triumph was a source of pride for his home town.
The goodness of the olive tree was also demonstrated with the tradition that Higinio presents in his texts relating how the Greeks situated in the bays of the main entrance to their houses and small olive branch as a symbol of protection from evil spirits on the outside.
Fertility was another one of the olive tree’s attributes. Athena was Goddess of fertility and as has been previously mentioned, her symbol was the olive tree which was one of the trees most cultivated in Greece and its fruit fed the Hellenes for centuries. As a result, the families who looked to gain fertility in their soils, looked to this tree. Testimony of this identification of the olive tree with fertility are the processions which were held in honour of the God Dionysus in which the community carried flowers, fruit and olive branches.
Ogham letter A – Ailm
Ruling Planet: Mars
Associated with the Festival of Yule
Powers: Healing, Protection, Pointing the Way, Fertility, Purification
Tall, dark, unmistakably conspicuous the Scots Pine stands proudly in its place, marking the rebirth of the year in the Ogham Calendar.
The age old folk-lore of Winter Solstice twins Pine with Yew – each evergreen ruling one day in December. Yew symbolising the death of the old year on December 21st, the darkest day – and Pine, a sign of the return of light and pointer towards new paths – on December 22nd.
Pine forests on hills and mpuntains gradually ‘move’ over the centuries as the pines die and as cones roll downhill into the sunlight or are redistributed by animals or seeds fly on the wind.
They commonly grow to around 65 feet or 20 metres high, but old specimens may be much taller. They can, if allowed, live for up to 350 years.
Gods associated with the pines are the Greek Dionysus or Bacchus, God of wine and grapes, and the Phrygian–Roman pairing of Attis, God of vegetation.
As an evergreen, pine is looked to in winter as a symbol of the green earth, which will bloom once more after the snows, darkness and death of the greening – a symbol of birth, a sign that there will be rebirth, and possibly resurrection after death by fire.
As a symbol of birth the cone fruit from the pines was used in antiquity as a symbol of fertility, and we have pictorial evidence showing the cone used in ceremonies from many ancient civilisations.
Dionysus and his followers are often pictured in ancient art, carrying a staff which is topped with a pine-cone.
There are two schools of thought about this – the first, age old and most likely, being that cones were a symbol of fertility. The priests of the cult would light the cones atop of the staff at night, making fire-torches as processions wound up hillsides to the temples.
The other suggests that the cone is a symbol of ‘other-world-thought and journeying’ – the cone was carried or burned – the wine of Bacchus drunk- to facilitate stimulation of the cone-shaped ‘pineal gland’ at the base of the brain.
In European folklore Freyr, Norse God of fertility is said to have had a staff topped with a pine cone
There’s much evidence that single Scots Pines were kept as ancient way-markers, and later in England to show the paths of ‘drove roads’ which are said to follow ley-lines, where sheep and cattle were walked long distances to market.
Tall, ancient pines can still be seen at ‘node-points’ – marking where trackways cross, particularly on high ground. The Highland people of Scotland used the tall pine to mark the burial places of warriors where their strong spirits went into the trees, climbing up to other worlds.
Ogham letter Q
Associated festival: Samhain Oct 31st
Powers: Healing, Protection, Rejuvenation, Love, Immortality
Ruling Planet: Venus
“The silver apples of the moon
The golden apples of the sun.”
These words from ‘The Wandering Aengus’ by W.B.Yeats – encompassing the ‘Silver Bough’ from Celtic mythologies, and the ‘Golden Apples’ of Greek and Norse legend.
The Silver Bough, token of the Queen of the Fae herself, the apple tree – Malus domesticus – and the Crab Apple – Malus sylvestris – are steeped in legend, myth and magic.
Native crab apples were found in the remains of a bronze-age burial – and cultivated varieties were brought with the Roman ships – the types growing and pollinating together, gradually becoming the apples familiar to the kitchens and apothecaries of medieval Britain
“I am the ancient Apple Queen,
As once I was so am I now.
For evermore a hope unseen,
Betwixt the blossom and the bough.
Ah, where’s the river’s hidden Gold!
And where the windy grave of Troy?
Yet come I as I came of old,
From out the heart of summer’s joy.”
William Morris – Pomona
Apple – a healing gift of the Gods, an age-old symbol of eternal youth, long life and renewal.
As so often happens with the cures used by the old ones, modern research has proved the medicinal worth of the apple. In 2000, work done at the University of California showed that apples contain a powerful anti-oxidant. Oxidation causes aging in body tissues.
‘The Apples of the Hesperides’ concerns the hero and anti-hero Hercules. Procuring three of the fruits for his cousin the King Eurystheus is one of his twelve labours of service to the King – undertaken as a penance for slewing his own chidren.
The apples were originally a present from Hercules’ grandmother, earth-goddess Gaia to his mother Hera, to mark her wedding to Zeus.
Hera planted the apples in her hidden garden of bliss. She set the three Hesperides, apple nymphs – or nymphs of evening – to guard them and the trees that later grew there – along with Ladon, an immortal serpent-like dragon, who in some versions of the myth has a hundred heads.
After many adventures and trials, Hercules gained three apples and returned to the court of the King. Eurystheus hadn’t expected Hercules to succeed and knew that the law of the Gods insisted that the apples must remain in the garden of Hera. He consulted with Athena, and she managed to replace the apples without making the other Gods angry.
In Celtic and British myth, from Ireland, Scotland, Wales, Britainy and England, many heroes, kings and knights of old were lured away from their earthly realms by fairy-women or sometimes by the Gods of the Race of Fae. These immortals carry a key to the Otherworlds – a silver apple branch, with magical powers – usually with little silver bells and perhaps a golden apple or two.
One such Irish tale, which appears in ‘The Book of Ballymote’ concerns Cormac, The High King, who was lured away to the promised land – the kingdom under the sea. He was taken by none other than the God of the Tuatha De Danann (the faery peoples) Mannanan Mac Lir – also said to have been a Druid.
Cormac was given a branch with golden apples by Mannanan, disguised as an aged warrior, in promised exchange for anything the God desired. ….” A branch of silver with three golden apples on his shoulder. Delight and amusement to the full was it to listen to the music of that branch, for men sore wounded, or women in child-bed, or folk in sickness, would fall asleep at the melody when that branch was shaken.” From ‘The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries’ W.Y.Evans_Wentz
Over time he took first Cormac’s daughter, then his son and wife. Each time, Cormac was able to still the grief and anger amongst his people by waving the silver branch. Eventually, Cormac himself obtained a time in ‘The Land of Promise’. There he was given both wisdom, by drinking at the five streams and the well with the hazel trees, and the Golden Cup of truth and justice. Cormac was returned to rule Ireland with his family.
In ‘The Voyage of Bran’, Bran was lured away over the sea after years of an odyssey by a fairy-woman with a silver branch of apple blossom. He too meets Manannan, goes to lands over the water, and returns to Ireland, perhaps as a spirit after centuries have passed.
In another tale Ossian was lured away by a fairy with a golden apple, and in Breton tradition, the beautiful knight Lanval rode into fairy-land behind her, mounted on a white horse.
The English tales also refer to King Arthur, going at his death into Avalon (Affel – the welsh word for apple) until he returns.
Ogham letter H – Huath(e)
Ruler of the 6th Lunar Month
Ruling Planet: Mars
Powers: Fertility, Chastity, Protection, Caution, Relaxation, Happiness
Queen of the May or The Faery Tree- wild and enchanted – wound about with powerful fairy magic from its slender thorns to its deepest roots.
It has many, many folk names ~ May Tree, Quickthorn, Whitethorn, Quickset, Thorn-apple Tree, Arzy-garzies , Gaxels, Hagthorn, Ske, Azzy Tree, Holy Innocents’ May, Thorn-bush, Bread & Cheese Tree, Awes, Asogs, Aglets, Agags and Boojuns!
With its gnarled and twisted trunk Hawthorn was employed to enclose fields when the common folk were no longer allowed to graze their animals and cultivate crops on any available piece of land. Wooden fences were often too expensive, and stones for walls unavailable and so hedgerows were planted – and what better than the common but thorny and impenetrable Hawthorn?
In spring it’s smothered in clusters of tiny white, starry blossoms, making long, flowered boughs for picking for the Beltane or May Day celebrations.
Hawthorn – in folklore and magic opens the Heart
Leaves, flowers and fruits all have their place in herbal cures – infusions being used as a tonic to help with heart problems, angina, irregular or slow heart beat, poor circulation and high blood pressure (BUT do not use if you are taking tablets for high blood pressure). The berries contain Vitamins C and B complex.
Preparations of fruits and leaves have been proved to gradually improve and stabilize the movement of the heart muscle and to dilate small the blood vessels so enhancing the circulation.
Part of the ancient and sacred triad of ‘Oak, Ash and Thorn’ the Hawthorn is a tree of magic and enchantment, though throughout the ages it has given very mixed messages of fertility and chastity.
In the past, a real fear of faerie folk was common, and the scraps of ragged cloth and other little trinkets tied on the branches were gifts to appease them.
Often planted to mark and protect holy wells, the thorn trees are still decorated, petitioned and venerated as ‘Cloutie Trees’ to this day.
A lone hawthorn tree, growing on a hill is a portal to the world of faery, and tales of kidnapping and re-emergence of mortals after a statutory seven years abound. They will be angered if damage is done or one is felled – take heed!
Branches of may blossom are gathered early in the day on May 1st (it was important to catch the dew and bathe your face for beauty’s sake) with great reverence and ceremony, with the proceedings are often blessed by the presence of a ‘Green man’ or ‘Jack in the Green’ .
The sprays are taken to decorate the outside of houses, barns and May Queens! They were carried in procession from house to house so that each will be given a share of the Thorn Spirit’s blessing.
The best known Hawthorn tree in Britain is the ‘Glastonbury Thorn’ or ‘Holy Thorn’, said to have originated when the staff of the visiting Joseph of Arimathea was struck into the ground and sprouted. The biggest descendant of this legendary tree stands on Wearyall Hill, but was badly vandalised in 2000. There are other big trees, seedlings from generations of Glastonbury Thorns in the area.
Westminster Abbey in of the site of a group of ancient hawthorn trees, evidence once more of Christianity using pagan sites of worship in order that the people could simply continue in their place whilst being taught different values.
In Roman and Greek lore, rather than being a symbol of fertility, the hawthorn was a sign of chastity and purification and marrying during the month of May was thought very unlucky – in some European countries it is still avoided.
For help with a difficult situation take seven (a faery number)strong, sharp thorns found at the tip of hawthorn twigs. Whisper to each one the problem that needs solving. Wrap them in a leaf and bury them under the hawthorn bush.
A hawthorn wand is especially effective against malevolent spirits. The wand is best cut ‘green’ in order that the bark will peel easily, so, when choosing your wood, ensure a suitable gift for the faery defender of the tree.
At Beltane, or May-day, weave a small crown of Hawthorn blossom and leave it for the faeries before festivities begin. If a faery should find and wear it, the giver will be granted untold blessings.
Ogham letter C ~ Coll
Ruler of the 9th Lunar Month
Powers: Granting Wisdom and Inspiration, Wishes, Luck, Divination of hidden things, Protection, Fertility
Ruling Planets: Sun (also associated with Mercury and Venus)
Gender: Masculine (sometimes described as ‘Other’ meaning it will appear male if you are a female, and visa versa, or is of no defined gender.
The Hazel is one of the very oldest British native trees. Traces of hazel nut shells and pollen have been discovered in cave settlements, dating from around 10,000 years ago.
The tree is associated with the Goddess Brighid, goddess of wisdom and divine inspiration.
Hazel is the Tree of Wisdom and Knowledge and one of the ‘chieftain’ trees of the Irish Celtic tradition. The cutting down of an ancient hazel could once have been punishable by death.
The several legends of the sacred ‘Well of Knowledge’ surrounded by the ‘Nine Hazel Trees of Wisdom’ are a part of Celtic Lore
Seven Streams of Wisdom flow out from the Holy Well (said to be Connla’s Well or fountain near Tipperary) or The Otherworld Well, found on an island under the sea – as the source of seven Irish rivers. Nine hazel trees hang over this well and they represent wisdom, inspiration, and poetry.
The leaves, flowers, and nuts all appear together, and fall into the waters of the well. They are eaten by the Salmon of Wisdom who swim in the well and make the long journey down from sea to rivers, returning to the well each year.
For each nut a salmon eats it develops a spot, and any person who eats one of these magical salmon, or drinks the well waters when the hazel nuts fall, will become wise.
A wand or staff made from the hazel withy should impart its wisdom to its user and was often the wand chosen by Druid priests.
Because it is powerfully associated with divination, hazel wood is the wood used by legendary sorcerers as well as those who want to dowse for hidden sources of water (or all things lost).
A necklace of nuts especially in multiples of the number seven can be worn to attract the Faery Folk.
Make a circlet of pliable hazel twigs and leaves. Wear it in any ritual when you desire a wish to be granted.
Carry a hazelnut in its shell to ward off aches and pains caused by damp, cold weather.
Nuts, twigs or bark can be used in an incense to bring concentration and sharpen mental powers.
(main sources used ~ http://www.ecoenchantments.co.uk/