In the religion of the ancient Celts who lived in Iron Age Europe from 700 BCE to 400 CE, certain natural sites like springs, river sources, and groves were held as sacred. These places, as well as some urban sites, often had purpose-built temples, shrines, and sanctuaries. Here, druids performed rituals and prayers while votive offerings of precious goods, were given to the Celtic gods to gain their favour and ensure the continued success of the community.
Individual trees were held as sacred by local communities and tribal gatherings were often held under their shade. A nemeton or sacred grove of trees was also the site of certain rituals. At what must have once been such sacred areas, votive plaques have been found dating to the Gallo-Roman period. Inscriptions on these plaques reveal they were dedicated to gods of specific types of trees like Fagus (beech), Robur (oak), and several others who have not yet been identified. The oak tree seems to have been particularly important if we are to believe ancient writers who focus on it almost exclusively when discussing the Celts. In Ireland, the ash and the yew tree were especially significant in religion and mythology.
Source by Mark Cartwright
The trees used to name each of our Cills are trees associated with the Ogham Alphabet. There is no definitive proof about the origin of this alphabet, but it can be certain that the Druids, in the late Iron Age and beyond - last century BC and the first and second centuries AD - used this system in the form of a calendar, based on the thirteen cycles of the Moon, and the celebrations of the four Solstices. The word "Druid" itself comes either from the Celtic name for the oak "duir" or from the Welsh "derwydd" meaning oak-seer.
Each of the twenty symbols is the first letter of the name of a tree. The Druids, who were finely attuned to the spiritual powers of nature, are credited (from medieval tradition) with choosing the trees and shrubs to be associated with the moon cycles and Ogham symbols. Each one was already steeped in folklore and healing medicine, each representing long established magical powers and metaphysical meanings.
Source by Eco Enchantments
The Birch counsels proper preparation and support of new emergent energies by making way and clearing out the old or negative influences. Its renewing energy must be respected by a phase of recognition of its position - the now in between the past and the future. It encourages self-discipline and inner authority. Birch asks you to check your motivations and purpose, insisting that you clear away old, stuck patterns and energies if a new start is to be achieved.
The Rowan warns of danger but also suggests that you are suitably protected so long as you do not act foolishly, and remain aware. It fosters courage, greater vision, and imagination to overcome difficulties. Rowan reminds you to keep your wits about you, look deeper, and see what surrounds you with clearer vision. The need to stay grounded and to use common sense is highlighted, as well as the journey into greater spiritual awarenss and magical ability. Progress always means new challenges as well as rewards, and the rowan counsels you to seek the knowledge and protection you need to move forward successfully and in balance.
The Ash suggest strength, uprightness, and correct focus. It is a symbol of the newly matured, hardened warrior at the height of his or her prowess. It refers to the direct application, the pursuit of wisdom, and the value of getting to the heart of a matter. It encourages the solar qualities of courage and determination, as well as exuberance and vitality. It shows the value and pleasure of being fully alive and being yourself, even in difficult circumstances. As the World Tree (and the connection between earth and sky, male and female), it helps balance the concepts of "being" and "doing" as well as giving and receiving energy and resources in equal measure. It therefore encourages the rebalancing of any excess in behaviour, and it helps your coming into greater balance with the world around you. Ash may be understood as being akin to the lightning flash, the point of union between the mortals and the gods. Prepare for the touch of fate, the spirit world, or magical insight to descent upon you.
The Alder encourages you to move ahead with confidence and courage. It tells you to get grounded and practical, ensuring your own safety in physical realms but also aiding in psychic protection where a grounded and present attitude ensures you remain self-possessed and empowered. It is an excellent ally in aiding and teaching you how to defend yourself emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. As a tree closely associated with warrior hood, it encourages you to seek honorable conduct and the right use of power, in addition to discrimination and discernment-when to use the shield and when to use the sword forged in its slow-burning flame.
The Willow suggest harmony and balance, being in tune with feeling and wisdom that comes from otherworld sources and dreams. It encourages flexibility, especially emotionally and practically, to help expand awareness and knowledge of the otherworld as well as altered states of consciousness. It encourages healing and a gentle, forgiving attitude. It also encourages remembering the healing virtues of the tears and increased compassion. It gently asks you to tune in to your heart and move forward aligned with the heart's wisdom. You can access otherworldly magic and insights. There is more to see and to understand than mortal knowing can contain, and this is a blessing;the otherworld is not a place of sorrow but of ease and refreshment. The willow encourages you and nurtures you to return to this gentle divine state.
The Hawthron suggests challenge in both positive and/or difficult ways. It also suggest a surge in energy to rise to the test. It questions your worthiness, and even if you fail, you will be nearer your goal than before. Hawthorn leaves you changed, transformed into something more real, honorable, and capable than before. It shows you the truth of your heart. That truth may not always be pleasant but it is always worthwhile. You are encouraged to consider your boundaries and remember to respect the boundaries of others in equal measure. It can signify love, union, and connection with the goddess if your heart is ready.
The Oak implies and teaches strength, security, and the ability to sustain growth over lengths of time, through varied circumstances. It helps and encourages you to open the doors of your perception and enter into initiatory experiences that allow you to do and be more than you were before, in addition to assimilating this new way of being. It is a symbol of growth in all ways-materially, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually via the connection in yourself between earth and sky, divinity and matter. As the ogham of sovereignty, it encourages right action and being fully present and conscious of your actions, embodying wholeness and nobility.
The Holly invites the raising of internal energy to endure through difficulties and melt through the snows of winter in the soul's life. Everyone undergoes occasional periods of hardship physically, emotionally, or spiritually. The holly encourages us to raise our life force, and it ensures we will have the energy to make it through and bring illumination to our darkness, raising the kundalini to new heights. This is a robust and passionate energy, akin to the hunter gods and the guardians of the underworld. The holly spirit lends its seasoned and experienced qualities to aid all souls in making it through to the spring.
The Hazel suggests the time of divine inspiration is at hand. Challenges have been endured, and now radiant light breaks through the clouds, illuminating everything with meaning and beauty. This is the purpose and source of poetry - written upon all existence to reveal the divine spark in all our souls. By living in connection with our own souls, our inner and outer lives become gradually aligned. We become able to see our place in infinity - a beautiful and awe inspiring experience. Yet like the hazelnut, all this potential is held in a single point, the individual, until such a time when it can become manifest in the world. Thus we find a balance between the self and all creation. We are able to draw upon the whole as we choose. Often the result is a joyful surrender to the greater All That Is - illumination. Ultimately this signifies both the pursuit and purpose of wisdom. Your evolution is at hand.
The Bramble shows that the harvest you have sown is coming in due course; the fruition of plans are always in their timeliness and in the quality given to their achievement. Bramble is a kindly ogham, revealing the bounty of the goddess and nature herself, which gives out to those in need and those who have plenty, the deserving and the undeserving in equal share. Bramble concerns itself with the circular nature of life on earth and human existence. All things come around, good and bad, and the things that need learning or attending to will have another chance at a later time if the present opportunity is missed. Those goals achieved now also need maintaining into the future. These are the challenges of being alive in space and time.
The Ivy indicates that good support is available, and it reminds us that none of us were ever meant to be isolated or removed from the loving ties that connect us to others. Its spiral form reminds us of our soul's journey through infinity and the balance between the self and the all/whole/collective/infinite. The ivy cautions us against holding on too tightly and smothering others; we are reminded that we are all safe to go with the flow. It teaches that love and connection are our greatest gifts. Sacred to the gods of revelry and the wild, it reminds us of our natural selves and inheritance to find our place amount our people and the universe as a whole. Sacred to the goddesses of the moon, it also reminds us of her gently, all-embracing side that understands the subtleties of the human journey. We are reminded to view ourselves and others with compassion. None of us ever fully comprehends the true mystery of life, it is a journey without end, a question without an answer; all we can do is appreciate the effects of the unknown and unknowable upon us and value ourselves and each other as humans who are "being" and "becoming" rather than as finished, perfect creations. It is this compassion and acceptance of our human condition that can unite us all.
Wheat Straw / Reed
The Wheat Straw increases resourcefulness and independence. It reminds us of the importance of combining skills and knowledge for the best end, being resourceful and flexible in our thinking and approach to life. Like the web of creation itself, wheat straw draws from many aspects and areas, maximizing the uses of all whilst depleting nothing. In this way knowledge is discovered, maintained, and preserved for future generations, in addition to serving as future steps along our own paths through life. This ogham encourages the seeker to think outside the box and maintain clarity of purpose and energetic hygiene. Wheat Straw also encourages the seeker to be discreet in sharing or broadcasting knowledge, choosing only suitable people and places. It reminds us to be conscious of the effects and consequences of disclosure. In this way nothing is lost, and new ground may still be discovered.
The Elder shows sacrifice must be made in order to gain in the long term. It reveals the need to balance energies to restore equilibrium, health, and wellbeing. Mistakes must be corrected and wrong deeds put right lest the blushing of embarrassment and shame follow as well as the red of wounds. It reveals the possibility of forgiveness and redemption in these circumstances if right action is taken to restore and repair the situation. Often this rebalancing means cooling one's temper and releasing resentments, calm wisdom reflected in the soothing effects the flowers have on the body's feverishness. As within, so without. Cool, calm thinking often guides the way out of the troubles hot-headedness can unwittingly create.
Elder encourages us to face our shadow selves and come to a state of peace with our less graceful or positve aspects. It reminds of the need to be responsible, upright, honest, and honourable. It also shows the time has come to move from one phase of life to the next - moving, through transitions with grace, ease, and honor. On its deepest level, the elder shows the presence of the ancestors and their guidance. It counsels the proper conduct necessary to be worthy to join the ancestors in due time.
The Yew counsels patience and perseverance if either has been absent. yet it also may suggest the need to rebalance the other way, seizing the day or the moment wholeheartedly, as if it were the last. The ending of one thing inevitably leads to the beginning of another, and this process may become a wonderful, joyous dance just as easily as it may invoke mortal dread. Yet the truth remains the same; trying not to hold on too tight and carry the infinite lightly is the best way. After all, in the Celtic tradition the afterlife is a splendid, beautiful place full of wonder, joy, and love. Finding this in the mortal world and the easing of difficulties is achieved through small, simple acts of progress and tenderness towards ourselves and others. It is our subjective experience that we have the most power to change, and peace is something that is therefore best sought within rather than without. In the face of eternity we are all divine children, and it is our task to remember this. In doing so we honour the past, present, and future with equal compassion. Yew asks us to enter into silence and surrender to creation with joy.
The Scots Pine suggest that clear headedness and a calm viewpoint should be sought - quiet, contemplative times between periods of action. Listen, both to the prompting of spirit and the words and implications of those around you. You have a great opportunity to affect chance by becoming present in each moment and aware of your surroundings physically, psychologically, and energetically. This is your route to empowerment and your protection. If you have lost clear perspective in the situation around you and are instead propelled by people or events that are no longer under your control, you are urged to seek clarity and vision through stillness, cleansing, rectification, and the detoxification of your being. Sitting at the crown of the tallest of trees, you will receive new vision, wider horizons, and in time, perceive the way ahead to a better future.
The Gorse signifies a time of reserving life force and inspiration, and guidance from the visionary within. It ushers in a time of new ideas and great fertility. It is a fiery catalyst for change. However, it also warns of the potential for life force to burn out of control, or even burn out entirely, when primal or inspirational energies simply cannot be found or they have become so imbalanced that they no longer have a basis in the health and right action of a properly functioning life. Gorse brings cleansing, as well as renewal and restoration, so that properly balanced energy and inner equilibrium will return. Gorse reminds us that a time of high power, pride, and the inner light of an empowered soul are our birthrights. The light of summer is ahead.
The Apple works with the connection between mind, body, and spirit, aiding the seeker in the quest for wholeness. It is a good magical symbol to aid in seeking inspiration from dreams and other worldly connections, reminding us of the continual connection with the otherworldly paradise and our inner divinity. It suggests and helps in operating from "right action," coming from an inner sense of wholeness, and returning to wholeness. In divination it suggests that right action can be found when acting from a sense of vision and goodness. Kindness, to the self and others, as well as generosity and compassion are timeless heal-alls that lead the soul to wisdom.
The Blackthorn reminds us that magic is the nature of the universe and that wonders are the normal reality of the world. Accepting the darkness is the first step to enlightenment, giving balance and clarity to see and acknowledge our pains and difficulties, paradoxically leading us back into the light. Through challenges we are born anew. After the maturing lessons of the Wheat Straw, blackthorn gives true power and the ability to wield it well. Straif, the composite of s for sail, the willow and t for tinge, the holly, show that this is a combination of movement to and from the otherworld as seen in the willow together with the energy and vital life force of the holly. The movement of this energy from source to the outer world is magic, s to t, the blackthorn. This can only be held by the gaining of wisdom, the initiation into love which is its great test for us. If we are worthy, the power is ours.