I have decided to share with you my interest and intrigue with the Ogham. This ancient language was the Celtic language of magick and mystery and was used for secret communication here in the British Isles. It is in 5 sets of five and each letter has its own power along with its own corresponding tree, colour, bird and much more that has been lost over time. I want to begin at the beginning of the celtic language with Beth…
Ogham letter B…Beithe/Birch
I have a Birch in my own garden and use it to watch for the beginning of spring, as the leaves and catkins suddenly appear when the sap begins to rise. Abandoned land is soon taken over by birch trees that seem to simply appear and grow and allow harder-to-establish trees to set root between them to begin a new piece of woodland. Every part of the birch has been used in the past and, just as it refertilises land with leaves and twigs to give food for other trees, so does it do the same for humans from gout to skin problems.
The Druids used it as a tea made from young birch leaves to benefit arthritic conditions and I use its oil in my knees and things!!Birch logs are favoured for the Yule log and its cleansing properties are used in its twigs for the household broom. A birch roof sheltered us from storms and the sap was used in celebratory wine. The bark was even peeled for paper. Its uses go on and on.
Several places in Scotland and Ireland even take its name from this tree…not far from me is the Scottish town of Cowdenbeath and what about the names Macbeth & MacBeath.
Beth symbolises new beginnings and opportunity and the Celts believed that as the darkness waned, so came with it new energies. Everything begins at the beginning and this change in consciousness when a new idea comes along makes the difference in our very being and mindset and so lets the magick begin to establish the new beginning in the physical.
Ogham No 2: Rowan (Luis) – Letter L
Continuing the journey, our next liason is with the Rowan. It is recognisable by clusters of bright red berries and stalkless long, thin, paired leaves. The berries are a favourite food for birds and contain vitamin C but are generally too bitter to eat but can be made into home-made wine.
Also known as Mountain Ash due to its ability to cling to mountainsides, it reaches the heights to find the light and then puts roots down higher than any oter tree as a reminder the encourage you to keep on going till you reach your destination.
The rowan has always been known as a magickal tree and the rowan has always been used in charms and spells to keep evil at bay or protect animals. Warriors would meet under a rowan tree and their fires would be made entirely of rowan by Druids before battles as part of a magickal incantation to ensure the fight would go well.
Alder; Ogham tree of steadfastness
Alder is Letter F (Fearn) in the Ogham alphabet and has grown in the British Isles for thousands of years. It was known as the Fairy tree and the Druids linked it to Mar/April in their calendar to include the equinox. In plant lore, it is a tree of fire to resist the corruption of water, and its fire is used to free the earth of water… Alder likes its roots damp so tends to be in damp ground or by rivers.
It is recognised by its conical shape, its rough grey bark and its round paired leaves, sometimes knotched on the tip. It also bears catkins, both long male and round female ones, and its green fruit in summer ripens into little cones which stay on the tree over winter. When the wood is cut, it changes colour from white to orange then to red, giving the impression it is bleeding, yet when the wood comes into contact with water, it turns black and hardens. This makes it extremely strong wood in damp places such as in water whilst stopping the banks from eroding.
The old Scottish Crannogs were built by the Celts on the long-lasting piles of Alder trees so even they recognised this ability of toughness and also protection – after all, their home was protection against enemy, wind and water and Alder ensured that their foundations were strong. Warriors also made shields from the wood as it was tough enough to withstand blows from swords but easy enough to work with. Also, maybe the fact that it bled when cut made it a favourite protector for battle. Charcoal from Alder branches was also used for gunpowder.
It is certainly regarded as a tree to help you in stepping boldly where no man has been before (to quote Star Trek), take the challenge and face whatever is thrown at you. Life is a challenge and this ancient tree helps you with the tests of life and to battle onward and upward.
Talking of which…if out on a walk and you see these little cones clinging to the tree, pick some off the ground below and bring them home. Using a yellow, red or orange sphere, make a wish for a sunny summer or happy holiday, and surround the candle with the little cones. Visualise the beach full of happy families and the fields full of golden wheat waving in the summer sun…you get my drift…use this tree for the benefit of all from family to farmers and let us see that sun shine!
Willow… Ogham letter S…tree of inspiration and flexibility
Walking along the banks of a river on a lovely summer’s day, you might well come across the 4th tree in the Druid language…the Willow. Its name means “near water” and is known for its catkins “Pussy Willow” that get carried on the wind. Its bark is dark grey and heavily ridged and its spreading branches give the tree a very full shape. The leaves are long and slender and covered in silver hairs which make the tree appear to shimmer in the breeze, giving it a mystical otherworld effect.
The Celts coppiced the willow for furniture and for also wattling walls in the home. A cut branch can simply be put in the ground and it will regrow. This is the tree of regrowth, regeneration and inspiration. A traditional witch’s broom was bound with willow to hold its birch twigs in place. Dowsers use the twigs for divining water, poets used willow for inspiration and magicians favoured it for lunar wands.
Medicinally, willow bark contains salycilic acid (aspirin) and its tea was usd by the Druids to relieve pain and treated infections.
The Willow is about rebirth. As its cut branch gives new life if planted, so it shows us endings are just new beginnings with which will come new growth. These changes should be embraced and used to inspire us to make the changes in our lives. It lunar connection means we should work with the linar cycles…new projects at the new moon, getting rid of things at the waning moon, ending things at the dark moon and use the full moon for inspiration as to how to move our lives on. Willows flexibility helps us go where the flow is taking us…
The Mighty Oak –our Midsummer king
The Oak must be one of Britain’s best-recognised trees – you can spot its short, solid trunk and full-rounded canopy miles off, not to mention its lobed leaves and animal-friendly acorns, which make the tree not like any other. Oaks are long-living, solid and can get very large, hence its survival attributes. I utilise this by having the Oak Ogham symbol written on a stone, sat in salt for protection, survival and strength on my magickal altar.
When walking through woods, I always look for the Oaks and check they are healthy; to me, a healthy oak predicts healthy local woodland. The Oak is associated primarily with the Druids, as they famously used Oak groves for their sacred sites. Oak is a hard wood; the Elizabethans recognised this and used vast amounts of forest to create ships for the naval fleet to defeat the Armada. They nearly destroyed the Oaks of Britain but it was then offered protection and has returned to its prime position. The oak also creates great charcoal, so was regularly used by Blacksmiths to create magickal workings of metal. An old thing to do is, next time you are in the woods and find the oaks, gather 2 small straight pieces of branch off the floor to make an equal-armed cross, tie the cross with red ribbon & hang over your door or on the chimney breast for protection of the home.
In the Celtic Ogham, the Oak is the 7thtree and represents strength and the ability to overcome and survive, and is a doorway to the Mysteries… quite apt for this newsletter and the correct symbol for my altar or what? Got some oak bark instore - available shortly – going to add to my Oak altar stone & acorn…every little helps!