Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.
Since time began the tree has been recognized as a symbol of life and regeneration and to some of sacred knowledge. To primitive man the tree and its by-products were a source used in all aspects of life. It offered Shelter from the elements, Food from its fruit, Heat from a fire, Clothing from its bark and Tools as well as Weapons from its wood. Little wonder then that the tree evolved as one of the earliest symbols of reverence to worship.
Of old the Oak tree was thought to have been the primary symbol of worship and then other trees were given prevalence. Trees in general were believed to have been the God incarnate. Kings, Queens, Emissaries, Priests and Priestesses all carried branches of Oak (or those of the other sacred trees) as symbols of their authority. The Staff (also made from rowan, walnut, birch and beech) became a symbol that the bearer was an emissary of the gods.
Tree symbolism was common throughout continental Europe and the British Isles and appears in the lore and mythology of many cultures. Some believed that giant trees supported the World, others like the Greco-Romans believed that the Gods themselves transformed into trees. The Celts and Teutons believed that the first human beings were descendant from trees.
In many Pagan beliefs the tree was considered magical, it’s roots extended beneath the earth and beneath the earth was a realm of great mystery. This was the Underworld, the predominant place of the God and ancestral spirits. But so did a trees branches bare fruit and reach up into the heavens another realm of great mystery and the predominant place of the Goddess, where the physical manifestations of both the God and Goddess could be seen in the Sun, Moon and Stars. Birds were thought to be the messengers of the gods and they often nest in trees to rear their young, so the trunk of the tree itself became a bridge between the worlds.
The old mystical belief of ‘as above, so below’ came from trees. The tree has two equal parts, the top that reached into the heavens – ‘as above’, and a virtually identical part that reached deep down into the earth – ‘as below’. This refers to the belief that whatever is in the unseen world is replicated and manifest in the physical world (one of the basic principles behind all magic). As the tree physically unites the heaven with the earth, so the Goddess and God became one.
In folklore many pagan gods sacrificed themselves on trees, an act that reunited them with the ‘all that is’ and the afterlife of reincarnation. In some traditions it was believed that only women could enter the afterlife (known to some as ‘Tir-na-nog’, or the ‘Land of the Forever Young’) and that man must first be reabsorbed into the womb before passing on. The tree with its all-reaching circle of life, death, earth and sky fulfills this symbolism.
Nature spirits and elementals are believed to dwell in trees, normally indisposed to helping humans, they could under certain circumstances be partitioned to aid in magic and to communicate with deities. Tree fairies lived high up in the branches watching out for children and laughing at human folly, while gnomes the earth elementals were said to make their homes in the roots of oak trees. There they could watch out and protect all of earth’s creatures.
Trees were also used to bind and trap evil spirits. This was normally done through the use of prayers and spells. In folklore trees were often planted over the graves of evil magicians and wicked witches to keep their spirits from returning and harassing the living. It was believed that the trees roots trapped their souls beneath the earth in that realm of great mystery.
While trees have always been considered sacred, much of their associations have been credited to the ancient Druids. It was the Druids’ that developed the practice of tree magick particularly in relation to healing and divination. They also standardized the annual Celtic calendar and codified the ancient Ogham alphabet by allocating a sacred tree to the 13 new moons, 4 solar seasons, and the Winter Solstice of each year. A contemporary version of this ancient calendar/alphabet, the Beth-Luis-Nion calendar, was reconstructed by Robert “von Ranke” Graves (author of The White Goddess) from an ancient poem called the “Song of Amergin”.
The Beth-Luis-Nion calendar begins at the Winter Solstice (21st–23rd December) and is based on the 13 lunar moon phases of the year. Each moon phase is calculated as having 28 days, which start and end on a New Moon. The five solar trees are named for the 4 seasons of the year, with the fifth representing the day of the Winter Solstice (13 moons phases x 28 days = 364, add one day for the Winter Solstice = 365 days of the year). Using Gaelic names for each tree, the first letter of each tree forms the consonants of the Ogham alphabet, while the first letter of the solar seasonal trees form the vowels:
Beth-Luis-Nion Tree Calendar
Month – Gaelic Name – English Name – Dates – Ogham Letter
1st Moon – Beth – Birch – Dec 24 – Jan 20 – B
2nd Moon Luis – Rowan – Jan 21 – Feb 17 – L
3rd Moon – Nion – Ash – Feb 18 – March 17 – N
4th Moon – Fearn – Alder – March 18 – April 14 – F
5th Moon – Saille – Willow – April 15 – May 12 – S
6th Moon – Uath – Hawthorn – May 13 – June 9 – H
7th Moon – Duir – Oak – June 10 – July 7 – D
8th Moon – Tinne – Holly – July 8 – Aug 4 – T
9th Moon – Coll – Hazel – Aug 5 – Sept 1 – C++
10th Moon – Muin – Vine – Sept 2 – Sept 29 – M
11th Moon – Gort – Ivy – Sept 30 – Oct 27 – G
12th Moon – Ngetal – Reed – Oct 28 – Nov 24 – Ng
13th Moon – Ruis – Elder – Nov 25 – Dec 22 – R
Winter Solstice – Idho – Yew – Dec 23 – I
Winter – Ailim – Silver Fir – Dec 24 – Mar 20 – A
Spring – Onn – Furze – Mar 21 – June 20 – O
Summer – Ura – Heather – June 21 – Sept 22 – U
Autumn – Eadha – White Poplar – Sept 23 – Dec 22 – E
While the Beth-Luis-Nion calendar is a contemporary version of the ancient calendar thought to have been used by the Druids, its authenticity can only be speculated upon, as much of the Druids’ knowledge was transmitted orally and never written down. It does however keep the changing year in line with modern pagan activities by fixing the start and end of the year on the Winter Solstice, the date of which fluctuates between the 21st and 23rd of Decemberdepending upon the Earth’s rotation around the Sun.
I list here the 13 trees (actually 12 trees and one plant the ‘Ivy’) with their lunar and Sabbat associations together with their basic magical properties. Other associations and correspondences can be found under their individual titles:
Birch – Dec 24th – Jan 20th. Known as the Moon of Inception and/or Moon of Beginnings. Magickal properties – Protection of children and Purification.
Rowan – Jan 21st – Feb 17th. Known as the Moon of Vision and/or the Astral Travel Moon. Sabbat – Imbolc(February 2nd). Magickal properties – Healing and Empowerment.
Ash – Feb 18th – March 17th. Known as the Moon of Waters. Magickal properties – Prosperity, Protection and Healing.
Alder – March 18th – April 14th. Known as the Moon of Utility, Moon of Efficacy or Moon of Self-Guidance. Sabbat – Ostara (Spring Equinox – March 21st). Magickal properties – Completeness and Spirituality.
Willow – April 15th – May 12th. Known as the Witches Moon and/or Moon of Balance. Sabbat – Beltane (April 30th). Magickal properties – Love, Healing, Protection and Fertility.
Hawthorn – May 13th – June 9th. Known as the Moon of Restraint and/or Moon of Hindrance. Magickal properties – Fertility, Peace and Prosperity.
Oak – June 10th – July 7th. Known as the Moon of Strength and/or Moon of Security. Sabbat – Litha (Summer Solstice – June 21st) Magickal properties – All positive purposes.
Holly – July 8th – Aug 4th. Known as the Moon of Encirclement and/or Moon of Polarity. Sabbat – Lughnasadh (August 1st). Magickal properties – Protection, Prophecy and all magick for animals.
Hazel – Aug 5th – Sept 1st. Known as the Moon of the Wise and/or Crone Moon. Magickal properties – Manifestation, Protection and Fertility.
Vine – Sept 2nd – Sept 29th. Known as the Moon of Celebration. Sabbat – Mabon (Autumn Equinox – September 21st). Magickal properties – Prosperity, Protection, Healing, Inspiration and Spirituality.
Ivy – Sept 30th – Oct 27th. Known as the Moon of Buoyancy and/or Moon of Resilience. Magickal properties – Healing, Protection, Cooperation and Exorcism.
Reed – Oct 28th – Nov 24th. Known as the Moon of the House, Hearth Moon or the Moon of Truth. Sabbat – Samhain (October 31st). Magickal properties – Fertility, Love and Protection.
Elder – Nov 25th – Dec 22nd. Known as the Moon of Completeness. Sabbat – Yule (Winter Solstice – December 21st). Magickal properties – Prosperity, Healing, Banishing and Exorcism.
Lord of the Trees – A poem by Mike (Nature1) – http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/allseasons
The White Goddess – By Robert “von Ranke” Graves.
Cunningham’s Encyclopedia Of Magical Herbs – By Scott Cunningham.
Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft – By Raven Grimassi.
The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft – By Rosemary Ellen Guiley.
Tree Wisdom (The definitive guidebook to the myth, folklore and healing power of Trees) – By Jacqueline Memory Paterson.
AA Book of Britain’s Countryside.
The Penguin Hutchinson Reference Library (CD cassette).
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (CD cassette).
Plus many websites to numerous to mention.
Lord of the Trees
A poem by Mike (Nature1) – http://uk.groups.yahoo.com/group/allseasons
Strange how my mind thinks, as I walk beside the trees.
The ancient oak trees forming links, with their breath of wisdom reaching me.
Their lineage is unbroken in the vastness of time.
How do I respond as I walk past their line?
My thoughts are of sharing in their wisdom and dark.
Sensations of floatation as my hands clasp around the bark.
Knowledge of ancient wisdom transcends the calm thoughts of time.
A warmth deep inside forms as I acknowledge his sign.
Energy flows upwardly from below my knees.
Awareness takes over me, it comes from the Trees.
Thoughts of yesterday’s anger begin to fade.
As the pieces of broken lives are being re-made.
My mind is with the leaves as they float down to the ground.
My pain has all gone without but a sound.
Who can tell me better than the trees?
How to live life, like the birds and the bees?
Knowing always that everything comes in three’s,
The words, the wisdom, and The Lord of the Trees.