Tuesday, 29 September 2015

The Hawthorn

The Hawthorn is an iconic tree of the spring hedgerows, covered with a mass of white flowers.  This gives its alternative name: May.
Its bright red berries in autumn are a valuable food source for wintering birds, and are also edible for humans. A syrup made from the berries was once used to treat heart complaints and improve circulation.
Its association with the month of May made it key to the May Day or Beltaine festival. This was the only day when it was considered acceptable to pick the blossoms: any other time it was considered very unlucky.
The white flowers are a symbol of purity and chastity, and the month of May is traditionally the time for cleaning temples and holy places. We still 'spring clean' today.
A sacred and ancient hawthorn at Glastonbury is said to have been planted by Joseph of Arimathea, the uncle of Jesus. This tree, which is actually of a genus originating from the Middle East, flowers at Christmas as well as in May, supposedly in honour of that fateful birth.
Next week, another sacred tree.

Monday, 21 September 2015

The Oak

The oak is considered the king of the forest, and an apt choice for the first tree I will discuss.
It is the tree of Zeus, Jupiter, Hercules and The Dagda, leaders of men and Gods. Sacred fires across Europe were kindled only with oak wood.
In Celtic culture, 'derw' or 'duir' was the word for oak, and from this derives 'Druid.' The oak groves of Druidic tradition were integral to their religion.
And that king of the birds, the wren, who gained his title by cunning, as I've mentioned in an earlier post, has a similar derivation: the 'derw-ren' or oak-bird. The wren was also important in Celtic culture; its song was said to be prophetic, and it is said that a prospective Druid had to hear and understand the song of the wren before he was accepted as such.
The reason may be related to a second meaning of the word 'oak.' The word 'duir' is linked to 'door,' and the oak offers a doorway into other realms, both physically and spiritually. Oracular oak cults existed in Ammon in Libya and Dodona in the Mediterranean, and the wren may also have had a foot in this spiritual door.
It is not surprising, therefore that the oak is one of our most loved trees

Monday, 14 September 2015

The Wisdom of Trees

As I've mentioned in a previous post, trees were central to life, both physical and spiritual, to many cultures, the Celts, Greeks and Saxons being three. Trees are often centuries old, and how much wisdom have they learned in that time?
The Norse often built their houses next to or sometimes around a tree, which symbolised the growing family over several generations, with links to past and future family members. This links to the shamanic concept of the souls still to be born being found among the branches of the World Tree.
Trees were used to witness sacred vows such as marriages, and many important rites took place beneath their branches. The Anglo-Saxon word 'treow' meant both tree and truth. This concept was later crushed in Britain by the incoming Christians, who proscribed that no vows should be taken except within a church.
Trees also formed the basis of a Celtic alphabet, with each letter represented by a particular tree, and also the Scandinavian runes.
 Many trees had important functions, both practically, spiritually and mythically , and this is something I shall return to in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 8 September 2015

A Very English Fear

The Anglo-Saxons began to arrive in Britain in their droves in the 5th century, filling the power vacuum left by the crumbling Roman Empire.
They found deserted villas, settlements, sometimes entire towns, disturbed only by scurrying mice and gusting leaves. A ready made home, you'd think, which they'd take over at once, or at least plunder for materials.
This never happened. The Saxons avoided these forgotten places with superstitious dread, choosing to settle in new sites a distance away.
The Roman roads too, were avoided. The arrow-straight, paved routes, which sliced through groves, burial mounds and streams with no heed for the natural landscape, were regarded as a scar, a destruction of that harmony which so many cultures, the Saxons included, tried so hard to accommodate.
The Saxons knew this spiritual undercurrent of all things, connecting everything with everything else, as 'Wyrd'. This is where we get our word 'weird' from. Rather like the Chinese feng shui, the principle concept is to work with nature rather than superimpose our will upon it.
The Roman buildings, made of stone and tile rather than wood and thatch, were completely at odds with this principle, hence the Saxons chose to build new homes in the wooded groves, carefully chosen to give the best practical and spiritual advantage.
Hardly the principles of a barbaric people that they are commonly thought to be.