I recently read a book titled “Around the World in 80 Trees” by Jonathan Drori. From seemingly familiar species like the elm and beech, to the sacred Bo and poisonous lacquer, this author opened my eyes to new trees worldwide.
According to author Robert Graves (The White Goddess), Ogham (OH-am) is an ancient alphabet used to write Old Irish and other Brythonic/Brittonic languages (such as Pictish and Welsh). Each letter is assigned a tree or plant name. Oghams were used by Neopagans as divination tools. The symbols were written on sticks and thrown on the ground, studying the symbolism of where they fell.
“Nine woods in the cauldron go,
burn them quick a' burn them slow….”
Where do the nine types of wood come from? They are actually the first nine woods on the Ogham Celtic tree calendar, an ancient pagan calendar that has 13 lunar cycles to it.
So let's take a closer look at these sacred trees: Where they fall on the calendar and why are they important to witches?
Find your birth wood on the list and include a small amount of bark, fruit or flower in your incense, charm or healing magic. Keep a little close to you and carry it in time of significance, or add some to the decoration of your home.
24 Dec-20 Jan
“Birch in the fire goes
To represent what the Lady knows.”
Trees often develop symbiotic relationships with mycorrhizal fungi, which intermingle with their roots and extend beyond them in a huge web of minutely thin filaments. These networks are especially good at extracting nutrients from the soil, which they pass on in an easily digestible form. Individual tree species cooperate with particular fungi. The Birch’s life partner is Amanita muscaria, the fly agaric, whose fruiting bodies (the parts we see above ground) are scarlet with white sprinkles—the archetypal toadstools of every fairy tale. Fly agarics contain a cocktail of mind-bending hallucinogens around which all manner of shamanistic rituals have evolved, particularly among Siberian tribes and the Saami people of northern Finland and Sweden. The fly agaric’s psychoactive ingredients are not completely broken down in the body, but excreted. This offers possibility of intoxication by drinking the pre-drugged urine of others.
Birch is the first month in the Celtic tree calendar, following the Winter Solstice.
21 Jan-17 Feb
Rowan is a tree of power, causing life and magic to flower.” ~Wiccan Rede
The Rowan (also called Mountain Ash and ‘Witchwood’) is long known for aid and protection against enchantment. It is reputed to stop the dead from rising, and generally to protect the home. A protector against evil, its red berries are a deterrent from the devil, so it is often planted next to a house (the berries often have the shape of a tiny pentagram on them).
Place rowan branches around your doors and windows to keep the Fae from intruding. Or craft a protective talisman by tying two rowan twigs together in the shape of an X, wrapping them together at the cross with red thread. This traditional Scottish charm was said to protect not only the person carrying it, but those around them as well.
The Rowan has another protection that could be considered magical. Its unripe berries contain acid, which has antifungal properties, while being harmless to people. Synthetic sorbic acid and its derivatives are widely used in the food industry as preservatives, guarding us from mold and infections.
Rowan is associated with the Celtic hearth goddess Brigid. Walking sticks of rowan as used to protect the user from spirits of the woods. It’s also associated with astral travel, personal power and success.
18 Feb-17 March
The Ash tree is surrounded by nine worlds, according to the Norse. It is said to connect the Underworld to Heaven with it branches and roots.
18 March-14 April
On the surface, there is little to distinguish the alder. But looks are deceiving. Alder loves water and grows best along riverbanks and in sodden places. As timber, alder wood maintains its special relationship with water. In the 12th century.
The Alder, a shrub or tree of the birch family has special implications in Celtic tradition. Alders are especially associated with The Celtic God Bran. At Cat Goddeu, 'The Battle of the Trees', Gwydion guessed Bran's name from the alder twigs in his hand. The answer to an old Taliesin riddle 'Why is the alder purple?' is 'Because Bran wore purple'. Bran's alder may be a symbol of resurrection.
Alder might be used in the fé, a rod for measuring corpses and graves in pre-Christian Ireland. The letter F, third consonant in the ogham alphabet, was named after the alder. This wood is lumped together with Birch in the Wiccan Rede, but I separated them for clarification if you’re referencing the Ogham Tree Calendar as we go.
15 April-12 May
“Willows at the waterside stand
Ready to help us to the Summerland.” ~Wiccan Rede
A Willow planted near your home will help ward away danger, particularly the type that stems from natural disaster such as flooding or storms. But be careful of your underground pipes, they are extremely invasive growers.
They offer protection, and are often found planted near cemeteries. Baskets and even beehives were constructed with this bendable, flexible wood. Willow is associated with moon magic, enchantment, love and peace. It indicates cycles, rhythms and the ebb and flow of life. The tree bark contains Salicin, which is used in the treatment of rheumatic fever and various damp diseases.
Willow groves are considered so magical that priests, priestesses and all types of artisans sat among these trees to gain inspiration, eloquence and prophecies. For a wish to be granted, as permission of the willow by explaining your desire. Select a pliable shoot and tie a loose knot in it while saying your wish. When the wish is fulfilled, return and untie the knot. Remember to thank the willow and leave a gift.
13 May-9 June
“Hawthorn is burned to purify,
And to draw faerie to your eye.”
Traditionally, no one cuts the lone Hawthorn tree as this is the meeting place of fairies. Indeed, roads have been diverted to avoid cutting one down. Hawthorn is associated with magic related to masculine power, business decisions, and making professional connections.
This prickly-thorned tree is also associated with fertility and sexuality. Place a thorn under your mattress if you’d like to conceive a child. Or tie a thorn with a red ribbon and use it as a protective amulet under a baby’s crib.
Hawthorn wood provides the hottest fire known and wands with the greatest power.
10 June -7 July
“Oak in the forest towers with might,
In the fire it brings the God's insight.” ~Wiccan Rede
The might oak is strong and often towers over its neighbors. The Oak King rules over the summer months. Oak is one of the tree trees sacred to the Druids (Oak, Ash and Thorn). Where all three trees grow together, it is said that fairies live.
The Celts called this month Duir, which some scholars believe to mean “door,” the root work of “Druid.” In fact, oak has been considered sacred by just about every culture that has encountered the tree, but it was held in particular esteem by the Norse and Celts because of its size, longevity, and nutritious acorns. The tree is associated with Gods of thunder and lightning, probably because this tall tree is often hit by lightning during storms.
8 June-4 Aug
There’s something deeply magical and cheerful about the glistening green holly leaves, so perfect for showing off the bright red berries. By the way, holly is dioecious and only the female plant has berries, and both male and female need to be nearby for cross-pollination. To find out the sex of a holly plant you have to wait until the plant begins to flower, around 4-12 years.
Holly’s hard, close-grained wood was used to make chess pieces and tool handle. Folklore suggested that the wood had an affinity for control, especially of horses, and whips for ploughmen and horse-drawn coaches were made from Holly. It was also once one of the traditional woods for Great Highland bagpipes.
The richest traditions are holly’s use in Yule wreaths and decorations. Adopted as a symbol of Christ’s crown of thorns, the crimson berries became a symbol of his blood and the evergreen a metaphor for life after death. In pre-Victorian times, Christmas trees meant holly bushes, and even the original yule log was holly. But the use of holly goes back much further than Christianity. Pagan Druids believed that leaves of holly were sacred and wore it in their hair for protection.
In Celtic mythology, the Holly King was said to rule over half of the year from summer to the Winter Solstice. Then the Oak King defeated the Holly King to rule until the Summer Solstice again.
Holly is known for protection from lightning strikes and so were planted near houses. In European mythology, holly is associated with thunder gods Thor and Taranis. We now know that the spines on holly leaves can act as miniature lightning conductors, protecting the tree and nearby objects. Modern science has caught up with superstitious lore!
5 Aug-1 Sept
“Hazel - the tree of wisdom and learning
Adds its strength to the bright fire burning.” ~Wiccan Rede
Hazel, the Tree of Immortal Wisdom helps with magic of manifestation, spirit contact, divination, dreams, and inspiration. In Celtic tradition, the Salmon of Knowledge is said to eat the 9 nuts of poetic wisdom dropped into its sacred pool from the hazel tree growing beside it.
In Europe and North America, Hazel is commonly used for ‘water-witching’—the art of dowsing for water using a forked stick. Wands made from this wood symbolize white magic and healing. This tree is a sign that you need to look for your own path, despite the stress, time and energy required.
2 Sept-29 Sept
The blackberry bramble is one of our most common hedgerow plants. Some people interpret ‘muin’ as vine, but the most common vine, grapevine, was not a native plant in Celtic Britain and Ireland, so I’m going with blackberry. Its characteristics are tenacity, fierceness, beauty and reward for hard work. It also shows the importance of connection, as the bramble branches reach out and connect all other trees and bushes in their thorny embrace. Bramble is sacred to the Goddess Brigid.
Ivy provides protection when growing on or near a home. It is equated with fidelity—a reason why it is woven into marriage wreaths. A house covered with ivy vines may suffer some general maintenance problems, but the plant repels negative energy and averts accidents. It has the ability to bind all things together. It can wander freely, linking tree to tree, or form dense thickets that block out the light and restrict passage. A female energy plant, vine is sacred to the Goddesses Ariadne, Artemis, Arianrhod, as well as to the Gods Dionysus, Bacchus and Osiris.
28 Oct-24 Nov
Thin and slender is the Reed. It stands in clumps at the edge of the river. It has served as a floor covering, roofing, and room deodorizer. The powdered root was used as an insecticide against fleas. Soaked in fat, the stalks made a cheap alternative to candles. It’s also been used as arrow shafts and writing pens. Reed flutes were the subject of legend; it is rumored that the Pied Piper’s magical flute was made of reed, and Pan’s flute may have been as well.
Much of the symbolism and reverence for the reed comes from Celtic storytellers and later the welsh bards. According to the stories, the baby Taliesin was found floating in a basket woven from reeds. So reeds are guardians, the stems trimmed to form a pipe, and the poets would retell the legends to the evocative sounds of the pipe.
Reeds are symbolic of what is fragile as well as flexible. In Far East Shinto mythology, the reed, sprouting from the primeval waters, stands for manifestation and equates with the lotus. Choosing the reed gives you the capacity to make spiritual weapons, and to find direction and meaning to your journey. It is sacred to the Goddesses Morrigan and Rhiannon.
25 Nov-22 Dec
“Elder is the Lady's tree
Burn it not or cursed you'll be." ~Wiccan Rede
Superstition says you must never put elder on a fire because you’ll see the devil in the flame. Likewise, don’t make boats or infant cradles, as the wood is so fragile that fairies could easily steal the baby. Sacred to the Midsummer Solstice, Druids used Elder to both bless and curse, and they believed that standing under the tree at Midsummer will help you see the “little people.” And in Norse mythology, the Goddess Freya chose the black elder as her home.
A tea for purifying the blood can be made from the flowers and wine from the fruit, but it general the tree is poisonous. And sticks of Elder were used as magical horses by witches when they drank their ‘flying potion’. Elder indicates the end in the beginning and the beginning in the end. Life in Death and Death in Life.
Mistletoe rules a day all to itself, a day that is between the thirteen lunar months and two days before the Winter Solstice. As suits its character—betwixt and between. An evergreen parasite that grows on deciduous host trees (poplar, apple, birch and oak being its favorites), mistletoe forms a large ball, only clearly seen in winter when the host trees are bare. This globe of evergreen was hope of life amongst death and decay—and so it became known as a magic portal, the means to opening a gateway between the realms of the living and the dead.
Mistletoe is allied with two sun Gods. Apollo in Greece, was a master of healing and could cure all manner of ills with the sacred mistletoe that grew in his native apple trees. The Norse god Balder was killed by an arrow carved from mistletoe after his mother Frigg had traveled through the nine worlds, making the gods promise that nothing on earth could cause his death. As mistletoe grows between earth and sky, it was overlooked in the promise.
The Druids knew mistletoe shared a symbiotic relationship with deciduous trees. When those tree lose their leaves, it’s symbolic of death and dormancy. But the evergreen mistletoe clings to these dormant trees and thrives, symbolic of life in the midst of death. This is where we get the concept of rebirth connected to mistletoe.
The Druids harvested mistletoe from oak trees to celebrate Yule. For a love that lasts, kiss under the mistletoe. The man must take a berry from the bunch as a symbol of fertility and give it to his love.