I'd like to follow up on my promise to post a second message dealing with
the magical and "superstitious" uses of the Rowan tree, now that classes
are over for the day. I'll try to list sources as I go along, and try
not to repeat what I know has been said before. Incidently, in lieu of
my herbal earlier I was able to supplement the medical and mundane uses
of rowan with Hopman's _Tree Medicine, Tree Magic_. I will therefore
continue with her. I will supplement each source with others as a subject
comes up to avoid repetition.
Rowan is associated with Thor and Rauni, according to
Hopman. [I know of one story which tells how Thor
was saved from drowning by a Rowan bough, and for this reason
it imparts protection from his lightning, something that makes
an even better for someone like me, who is astra/brontophobic.:)]
Hopman also associates rowan with the Finno-Ugric Earth Mother
Akka or Maa-Emoineh. The _Woman's Dictionary of Sacred Objects
and Symbols_ connects the tree with the Goddess Bridget. Edred
Thorrsson ties the tree to Lugh Lamfadha, the Leanan Sidhe, and
the hero Loegaire in his _Book of Ogham_, but this is due to
the relation to the Irish letter luis ("rowan") and may be
Rowan is used extensively as a protection, whether to ward
against fairies, witches, evil spirits, or malicious magic.
This may in part be due to the mixture of green and red (often
found in relation to the Good Folk and in protection charms)
as well as a natural pentagram found on every berry at the point
where it connects to the stalk [Hopman]. The pentagram is
used throughout various cultures for protection and in "hex signs".
Some charms include:
Planting a rowan tree near the house for protection.
Planting rowan on a grave to prevent the spirit of the dead
from haunting. [Hopman]
Weaving a branch into the roof thatch of a house or placing
sprigs on the cradle, butter churn, and the door. All this would
be done around the festival of Beltaine, a time when the Fair
Folk traditionally are moving from their winter to summer homes.
[Lady Wilde's _Irish Cures, Mystic Charms & Superstitions_.]
Knitting rowan into the hair and tails of cattle, or placing
it on the yokes of oxen. The leaves were used to bless a sick-bed.
Sheep were passed through a rowan hoop at Samhain and Beltaine in
Strathspey. A sprig in the bonnet would avert the Evil Eye, as
would one on the bed's headboard. Sailors carried it to protect
them from storms and drowning. Sprigs were nailed to the containers
of leavenings in country kitchens to 'keep the withch out'. [_A
Dictionary of Superstitions_.]
Necklaces of rowan berries also protected the wearer. Rowan
wood was used to make the distaff, churn-staff, peg of the cow
shackle, ploughpin, or that of the water mill--any necessary
object upon which livelihood depended. Rowans were planted near
the byre and even trained in an arch above the door. The
Scots word for the cross-beam of a chimney is rantree, deriving
from this wood. [F. Marian McNeill, _The Silver Bough_]
Rowan was believed to be the proper wood for the stake
to be driven through a vampire's heart. [This is interesting
as roses were also supposed to be a charm against the walking
dead, and they are related.] Also, the lovers Diarmiat and
Grainme hid in a sacred rowan tree, and were warned not to
eat the berries--which they ignored with tragic results.
Some Irish myths point to a "rowan tree in the north" near
a spring, a kind of "world-tree" like the Norse Yggdrasil,
which is guarded by a giant with one eye [Balor?]. This
may be a sort of parallel to the blinding of the Cyclops
by Odysseus with a sharpened stake. [_Women's Dictionary
of Sacred Objects and Symbols_]
There is a discussion in Frazer's _Golden Bough_
regarding "flying-rowan," or rowan which is found growing
on another tree or a rooftop after springing from bird-
scattered seed. This was the most potent of rowan, much
like mistletoe in its parasitic aspect.
It should go without saying that rowan gathered near
stone circles, sacred pools, etc., would be more touched by
the Otherworld and therefore more potent. Rowan was, after
all burned by the Druids to bring about a great mist through
summoning the Sidhe to aid a battle.
Finally, it should be noted that forked rowan branches
were used to dowse for metal and the wood is associated with
the element of Fire.
I hope I didn't bore anyone too awfully, but folklore
fascinates me and this is a personal favourite as subjects go. Incidently,
I know they keep saying that they aren't very big in the herbals, but at
Lexington Cemetery there is a _huge_ one (maybe 40-60 feet tall, with
about the same radius, whose offspring is even much taller than they're
supposed to be. Maybe it's all those spirits. (Especially as it's the
European variety and there are a _lot_ of Celts in the Lexington Cemetery!
Walk in peace,
Elisabeth Eilir Rowan
[log in to unmask]