Ogham: The Mysterious Language of Trees: Alder

Ogham: The Mysterious Language of Trees: Alder

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Witches Wheel

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.

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Fearn (farin)

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.

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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.

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Fertility

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.

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Alder Healing:

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.

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Alder Working:

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.

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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.

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Magical Correspondences

Ogham Name: Fearn

Letter: F

Tree: Alder

Deities: Bran the Blessed, Faerie King, Astarte and Tammuz, Phoroneus inventor of fire

Bird: Raven

Use: Gateway to Faerie, Divination, Protection, Healing, Musicianship

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Ogham: The Mysterious Language of Trees: Willow

Ogham: The Mysterious Language of Trees: Willow

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David Lewis Baker

Witches Wheel

Willow, Saille, Willow,
Oh silver drenched tree!
Long leaves fall on water
Rippling in moonlight
Ladies who bend
On the threshold of February.

Saille ( Sahl-yeh)


Charles Krebs

Moonlight on willow is a mysterious sight, especially on the threshold between Winter and Spring when the bare trunks cast crooked shadows over the frosted grass like spirits coming through the mists of the Otherworld.  The voices of the Faeries can be heard in the rustling of the willow branches, breathing, into the ear of the poet, their songs.

The willow is a remarkably feminine tree. It thrives near rives and streams, lakes and ponds, it shimmers in the moonlight, and provides shelter under its umbrella of graceful branches. Uniquely beautiful and mysterious, the willow invites entry into another world within the compass of its branches. If you have ever been inside a large weeping willow then you know how instantly the outside world ceases to exist as silence and diffused light encompass you. It is this quality of the willow that makes it one of the first trees of Faery.

Pagans have always  associated the willow with the Triple Goddess of the Moon. Sacred to Hekate, Goddess of the Dark Moon, the willow stands as the gateway to the Realm of Shades or Death. The weeping of the willow mirrors the grief of those left behind, as was the Greek poet Orpheus who, armed with willow branches, entered Hades and returned, not alas with his beloved wife, Euridyce, but with the gift of poetry.

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Tree of Poetry

As the “witch’s tree” tree of poetry, transformation and healing, willow is connected with the Bright Brighid whose Day of Initiation is February 2, Candlemas, a Festival of Lights. In the Pagan mind, death is also an initiation, a transformation not to be feared any more than the peace found under the branches of the willow tree under the full moon when one feels transported to a strange and beautiful place.

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The willow tree reflected in the waters brings moon magic to earth, creating a numinous, visually confusing, liminal effect. This may be why it the tree of romantic love, for what can be more difficult to interpret than the varying faces of love in the throes of deep attachment? Valentine’s day is also in February, suggesting that Love is the fulfillment of the Light celebrated at Candlemas.

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In some traditions, willow is the thirteenth tree. This may fit it in at the leap year, the liminal 29 day of February, that was the modern concession to the natural rhythmic sequence of the lunar year.

Willow Working

Spell

Throw your shoe up high
into the branches of a willow tree;

If he branches catch and hold your shoe,
You soon will married be.

The Witch’s Tree

The magical properties of willow are as numerous as its medicines. Faery magics of enchantment, wishing, romance, and divination under the moon are enhanced by the presence of willow. Its powers are beneficial, protective, nurturing, inspirational, joyful, and peaceful. This throws a provocative light on its role as tree of mourning, for how can death be evil when couched among so many life giving powers? Rather, willow traditionally inspires courage, and helps one overcome the fear of death. Willow is flexible, fluid, resilient, and strong. It focuses intuition, induces trance states, attracts Faeries and other spirits. It eases transitions, especially into the unknown.

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Because of the many medicines dispensed by the willow, it was much sought after by Cunning people for healing purposes. As a feminine tree connected to the moon, willow bark provides pain relief for menstrual cramps and child bearing. The gemstone for willow is the blood-red carbuncle. This is another image that evokes women’s mysteries of bleeding and fertility. Burning willow lends energy to healing magic.

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Willow wands are excellent for moon magic, and its wood is good for making magical harps, accompaniment for for poets for ancient times.

Divination by Willow:

Willow increases psychic vision into the watery Otherworld Realms under the waves. Dreams, and premonitions are stirred by willow’s influence on the deep subconscious mind. Just being near a willow tree can induce trance states in which prophetic oracles can be mediated from Faery into our reality. Divination by smoke from a willow fire while passing a willow wand through it to disturb its shapings, is a powerful divination technique for those with the second sight. Scrying into water where willow is reflected on nights of the full moon, is venerable tradition.

Awakening of dormant powers and emotions, pay attention to dreams. Love is n the way. Positive transformation from one way of life to another, The need to be flexible an adaptable. Relief from painful situations. Encounters with Faerie, or  the deceased.

Magical Correspondences

Ogham name: Saille
Letter: Z
Tree: Willow
Deities: Brighid, Fand, Sinend
Bird: Hawk
Animal: Hare, Bull
Color: Haze
Use: Wands, Psychic Divination, Fertility, Pain Relief

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Ogham: The Mysterious Language of Trees – Birch

Birch

The graceful Birch is the White lady of the Woods. It is fitting that these trees,
ghostly in twilight, should stand at either side of the gate of the Celtic New
Year of October 31st, for it has come down to us that passing among the
birches can take you into the Otherworld.

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Witches Wheel

Birch, white stemmed birch
Stands pale in the dark forest.
A rod of Birch will cleanse us of evil
And usher us through November’s long doorway…

Beth (Beh)

There was an old Samhain tradition of running down an avenue of birch trees
while being flogged with the twigs as a means of purification for the New Year.
This birch portal at the gate of the New Year mirrors its position as first of the
letters, for it is the opener of the gate to the Ogham, the creation of Ogma
Sun-Face, God of Eloquence.

Birch was traditionally used to make cradles for babies to protect them from
being stolen by the Siddhe. It seems typically paradoxical that the tree that
opens the doors to the Otherworld would be used to protect a child from
possession by it, but perhaps the birch bark cradle served to fool the Gentry
into thinking the child was already theirs…

In Britain, the maypole is made of birch while the wonderful scraggly birch twigs
are used to kindle the Beltane fires. The best witches brooms are made of birch with those wonderful black twigs as sweepers.

There is an old tradition of burying the dead with conical birch bark hats on their heads to insure the purification of their souls.

The lines are from the English ballad: The Wife of Usher’s Well. The lady’s sons appear wearing their birch bark hats — proof that they are dead.

It fell about the Martinmass,
When nights are lang and mirk,
The carlin wife’s three sons came hame,
And their hats were o the birk.

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Birch Working

Imagine the birch trees standing across from each other, their topmost branches in the shape of a Gothic arch. On the other side, calling you with its mysterious, mist filled grandeur is Faery. If you walk through, you will enter the trance that allows divination by the Ogham.

Divination by Birch: Protection from harm both physical and magical. Cleansing, leaving the negative, life draining energies behind to start over refreshed. A time of going inward to store power in purity. Clear the ground of
obstructions so that new things may grow. Change comes gradually with the turning of the Wheel.

Magic can be done for fertility and creativity, healing and protection.
Tie a red ribbon around a birch tree to ward off negative energies. Hang birch twigs over a new baby’s cradle. Use birch bark as magical parchment to keep your writings safe.

Magical Correspondences:

Ogham Letter: Beth
Letter: B
Deities: The White Goddess, Belin, White Ladies of the Forest
Bird: Pheasant
Animal: White Cow
Herb: Fly Agaric Mushrooms — The Flowers of Annwn
Color: White

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