Ogham: The Mysterious Language of Trees: Alder
Alder, alder, tree of the Faerie King
Who rises from the Underworld waters in Spring;
Raven bedecked, and oracle crowned.
Cone, leaf, and blossom, new life shall abound.
There is powerful poetry in the succession of trees, for the death dream of Willow in February is dispersed by the return of the Alder in March to summon the greenwood awake.
Alder springs from the watery places that are the interface between the mortal world and Fearie. The Alder tree is called King of the Waters. His red inner bark, and purple buds display his royal status. He is connected to two other water loving trees. The Queen of the Waters, Willow, and the Lady of the Woods, Birch. White Alder looks very much like Birch, suggesting a sibling relationship; Birch stands at the threshold of Winter, as Alder guards the gateway to Spring.
Anyone who has walked in a young wood will find the Alder as straight and densely packed as troop of warriors. In the Gaelic battle of the Trees, Alder was said to fight most fiercely. Small wonder the Celts made their battle shields of Alder wood, for despite its softness, it was imbued with the essence of the brave Faerie King. Alder also represents the Wounded King. When he is cut, his wood turns red as blood. Reflected in the waters, these wounds may appear to be blood spilled forth as a sacrifice to earth, guaranteeing the resurrection of all living things.
Alder is the only deciduous tree to have cones as seeds. As we know from the Greeks, the pine cone represents the pineal gland, seat of vision and communion with the Divine. Dionysis carries a staff with a pine cone at the tip, emblem of masculine fertility. Alder cones grow in a spiral pattern, symbolizing the role of male of fertility in the cycle of death and rebirth.
Bran the Blessed
The famous Irish warlord, Bran the Blessed takes the Alder as his special tree. He is another aspect of the Faerie King, Lord of the Underworld who springs up to the surface world with the strengthening of the light. Alder is called The Shining Tear of the Sun. This image suggests the rising sun reflected in water, inspiring a vision of the golden oracular head of Bran coming up from the Underworld. Ravens attend on Bran. Raptors that thrive even in winter, ravens carry messages from the dark realms into the light. The sacred Head of Bran speaks true poetry: Death conquers all; there is no death.
Because of its associations with Bran, the Alder is sacred to poets and singers, which were synonymous in ancient times. Mortally wounded in battle, Bran prophesied the events that would follow his death. He then told his men to cut off his head and carry it with them. Like the alder wood, it never decayed. They carried Bran’s head to Harlech where is sang for seven years. They carried it to Gwales where it spoke prophecies. They brought it to London and buried it under the White Mount, site of the Tower of London, to protect England from invasion. If not for the hubris of King Arthur digging the head of Bran up, it would still be there. Yet the ravens remain to sound the alarm.
Alder has another aspect of the Between. He bears female catkins. These attract caterpillars that spin cocoons and re-emerge as moths and butterflies. Darkness to light, death to rebirth once more. Butterflies attend the King by day. Moths keep him company at night. Alder is the foundation of magic—-transformation of the world, and of the self are in his power.
So primal is the power of trees that Irish lore says the first man was and Alder and the First woman a Rowan.
Alder is fertile and generous. Though soft, he has an oily bark making him resistant to water and fire. Therefore pilings for lakeside houses and docks, boats and even wooden shoes have relied on the wood of the Alder to last. He also gives many colorful dyes. Red, purple, yellow, brown, and black. Dye production and spinning of cocoons make Alder sacred to the Weaving Goddess, who also attends upon the Wounded King in the Arthurian Legend. He feeds many creatures. Bees love his flowers, grouse eats leaves, buds and seeds, rabbits chew his bark.
Alder bark is prepared for medicinal use by carefully scraping off the dead outer bark and using the green, living tissue underneath. Alder bark can be simmered in water to make a wash for very deep wounds, rashes, and burns. The leaves and bark are simmered into a bitter tea for tonsillitis and fever. He helps with diseases of damp, relieving joint pain and inflammation.
March is a time for making spiritual decisions. Prophecy and divination rites come in handy for this., assisting your intuitive processes and abilities. Alder flowers and twigs are used as charms in Faerie magic. Whistles made out of Alder shoots call upon Air spirits. It’s an ideal wood for making a pipe or flute.
Our hopes and dreams for the New Year can be manifested in the Alder time. Alder grows quickly, so focus on things that might be stalled. Use this bounding new energy to resolve old disputes and more forward into the new.
Ogham Name: Fearn
Deities: Bran the Blessed, Faerie King, Astarte and Tammuz, Phoroneus inventor of fire
Use: Gateway to Faerie, Divination, Protection, Healing, Musicianship
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