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Subject: Trees
From: Elisabeth Rowan <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To:CELTIC-L - The Celtic Culture List.
Date:Wed, 23 Feb 1994 12:43:46 EST
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My apologies for taking awhile to return to my discussion of trees.  Since
there seemed to be some interest, I've decided to do some postings
like the rowan-tree ones for other trees considered sacred to the Celts.
Please stop me it I prattle beyond what can be endured.  I thought I
would begin with a general discussion first.
 
Most scholars agree that the ancient Celts venerated certain trees and
plants, as did other pagan cultures of the time.  Some, for example, have
linked the term _Druid_ and Indo-European roots for "oak" ("duir" is the
Irish example.  The names of the letters of the Irish alphabet were long
associated with various trees as well, and laws provided different "classes"
of trees, with varying penalties for their destruction depending on their
importance.
 
Robert Graves, in his book _The White Goddess_, proposed a Celtic calendar
based on the poem "The Battle of the Trees."  I have not been able to
find any information on this prior to Graves, and therefore the ancient
existence of said calendar is somewhat suspect.  Indeed, our main source
for Celtic timekeeping are the tablets found at Coligny, which shows
a lunar calendar, with month-names relating to cultural activities and
climatic descriptions, not trees.  However, several modern writers have
incorporated the implications of these two together.  I personally love
the calendar.  Some writers will begin it in January or at Christmas, with
mistletoe acting as a fulcrum for the year.  This seems ludicrous to me,
as the Celtic year is generally held to begin at Samhain (the modern
Halloween--although the Scottish follow the old calendar dating and
celebrate it on November 11th.)  Writers are also beginning to explore the
writing system of Ogham, with its various tree-letters, and even relate
the two.  Therefore, let me give you a general overview of the trees found
in the calendrical/Oghamic lists of which I know.  I am getting the majority
of my information from Edred Thorsson's _The Book of Ogham_, Ellen Evert
Hopman's _Tree Medicine, Tree Magic_, and Colin Murray's _Celtic Tree
Oracle_.  These, of course, are all modern Pagan publications, rather than
pure scholarly treatises, so I cannot say with certainty that they are
totally correct.  But I find the system workable.  I should point out
that my personal preference for calendar use begins the months at new
moon.  Therefore the Gregorian months given are approximations.  My main
reason for giving these is because they will act as a general framework
for individual tree postings.  I have also included a weak attempt
at the Ogham inscription related to each tree.  Also, Irish spellings
of the names vary, so I've put some of the variations.
 
      Name           Tree         Letter              Time (if apllicable)
 
      Beithe/Beith   Birch        B  >--,-----        November-December
      Luis           Rowan        L  >--,,----        December-January
      Fearn/Fern     Alder        F  >--,,,---        January-February
      Saille/Sail    Willow       S  >--,,,,--        February-March
      Nuin/Nin       Ash          N  >--,,,,,-        March-April
      Huathe/Huath   Hawthorne    H  >__:_____        April-May
      Duir           Oak          D  >__::____        May-June
      Tinne          Holly        T  >__:::___        June-July
      Coll           Hazel        C  >__::::__        July-August
      Queirt/Quert   Apple     CC/Q  >__:::::_
      Muin           Vine         M  >--/-----        August-September
      Gort           Ivy          G  >--//----        September-October
      Ngetal         Reed        Ng  >--///---        October-November
      Straif         Blackthorne SS  >--////--
      Ruis           Elder        R  >--/////-        Intercalary--Samhain
      Ailm/Ailim     Fir          A  >--|-----
      Ohn/Onn        Furze        O  >--||----
      Ur             Heather      U  >--|||---
      Eadha/Edad     Aspen/Poplar E  >--||||--
      Ioho/Idad      Yew          I  >--|||||-
 
These are the core twenty original letter-trees.  Five were added later
to express dipthongs.  The names of these and the symbols to which they
are assigned vary widely from author to author.  I can't expres the symbols
via computer.  Imagine the normal >----- staff with the following descriptions.
According to Thorrson, they are:
 
      Phagos         Beech       AE (cross hatch of vert/horiz lines below)
      Iphin          Gooseberry  IO (double-x below staff)
      Uileand        Honeysuckle UI (spiral below staff)
      Oir            Spindle     OI (diamond across staff)
      Ebad           Aspen       EA (single X across staff)
 
Other writers assign other trees and consonants, or assign the same values
to different ones.  I stress though that these were added later and are
generally more suspect.  Anyway, my point is not so much to discuss Ogham
variations as to give you some idea why I will discuss certain trees as
being special to Celtic culture.  Some of the above, of course, are not
even trees, but were still quite important, so I will try to give some
information on what I can.  I'll try to do these in little installments,
with such information as common and scientific names, uses, folklore,
and where they grow.  Obviously, I'll skip Rowan.  Anyway, I hope the
above was somewhat useful.  I am not saying that it is correct at all,
although I would certainly like information from others who may have
studied this more thoroughly--especially older sources.
 
Finally, some writers consider Mistletoe to be an unnamed tree, sort
of like the spurious "blank rune" found in some modern runic systems.
While I'm not sure I approve of it, especially as a focus for Yuletide,
I will include Mistletoe as it was an important herb directly related
to trees and used by the Druids.
 
                                          Until next time,
                                             Elisabeth Eilir Rowan

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