When walking through a warm and lush forest setting one's thoughts can easily take flights of fancy. It is not difficult to shed the layers of modern life and find one's more subtle or primitive beginnings. Somewhere from deep within the spirit and majesty of each single tree steps forth and at once one can find themselves transported to a world of shadow and shade.
The Celts were a people who had a deep spiritual nature. It is still present with those of us who count the Celts as our ancestors either through blood or belief. They were a people who found the presence of Gods and Goddesses in every blade of grass and every drop of water. All was sacred to the Celts.
The Celts held a love for sacred groves and it was noted by Tacitus, the Roman historian, that the "grove is the center of their whole religion. It is regarded as the cradle of the race and the dwelling place of the supreme god to whom all things are subject and obedient. In fact, some of the Celtic tribes took on trees as clan totems and adopted their names. We see tribes calling themselves, the Men of Oak; the Son of Yew and the Men of Rowan. Trees were said to have a spirit or Dryad living inside it and these dryads possessed temperaments that were characterized by the tree in which they lived. For example the Dryad living inside the Alder tree is said to be aggressive and resilient, and indeed the wood of the Alder is noted as being very strong and able to stand up to weathering and water.
In his now famous work The White Goddess, published in 1961, Robert Graves, launched a theory that has been argued ever since. He suggested that the Celts divided their year into tree months. It was his ascertain that the English Poetic tradition should not begin with the Canterbury Tales but with the Song of Amergin, an ancient Celtic calendar alphabet and Druidic incantation.
Did the Celts have a lunar year cycle as suggested? Now there is little doubt that in fact they did. The Druidic solar year has been referenced in most ancient Celtic myths pertaining to their solar deities. Scholars agree that the Druidic solar year consisted of thirteen months with one intercalary day. It was Graves who correlated the lunar months with trees, and the trees with the thirteen consonants and five vowels of the Celtic alphabet. According to Graves, the thirteen consonants form a calendar of seasonal "tree magic." The five vowels represent the complementary seasonal stations of the year.
Ogygia, the tree alphabet, known as the Beth-Luis Nion tree alphabet, was used both for recording information and divination. Named after the Celtic Deity of Literature, Ogma, it is was traditionally believed by the Celts that it was he who created the letters which were made to represent the different trees and their special characteristics. Later scholars explained that Oghams or Ogams, were fashioned and came into regular use during the first and third centuries and some number as many as twenty or twenty five symbols or letters. Curtis Clark, a modern scholar, has speculated that based upon the plants or trees the alphabet connotes the Ogygia alphabet probably is best associated with the Rhine River, one of the ancestral homes of the early Celts.
All of the trees representing the months and letters
of the Celtic Calendar and alphabet represent a fragment of the Celtic
cosmology, their archetypal symbols and their immediate world view.
Each tree also has a corresponding "god" or "deity" as well a symbol and
heavenly body associated with it.
from December 24 - January 20
|Arthur, Taliesin, the sun god Hu, the invisible creator Celi||The Birch Tree represents inception. The rebirth of the Sun from winter's solstice. The first tree that takes away the decay of the mysterious elder. Both the Birch and the Elder stand on either sides of the one Nameless day. They both represent a link between life and death, with the Birch being the beginning of all things. It is associated with the training of Druids. The birth of new life. Energetic and spontaneous.|
from January 21 -
|The Green Dragon
Insight and Blessing
the Planet Uranus
The Fire Festival of Brigantia
|Brigid and Brigantia||The Rowan tree was believed to be magical tree which grew red berries that were the food of the gods. These berries were so sacred that it was believed that the Gods guarded them jealously and kept them from man. The Druids believed that the Creator, Celi who was an invisible god, manifested in nature including the restless elements such as lightning, which was also associated with Dragons. Dragons are associated with new life and thus this period of time is also associated with the coming of new life out of the dark winter.|
from February 18 -
|The Trident or Sea Horse
the Planet Neptune (Lir)
|Lir and Manannan||Related to their Irish Gaelic word for Heaven, Nionon, the Ash has special sacred meaning. Three of the five trees planted to establish the five provinces we Ash trees. In Celtic mythology the ash is known as the tree of enchantment and it is said the Welsh magician Gwydion fashioned his wands from ash wood. The Celts believed that they came from the Great Deep or the Undersea land of Tethys. It is this reason that the Ash is associated with the sea.|
from March 18 -
|The Pentacle or
Red Fox, Ram, Stallion
A strong foundation
the Planet Mars (Maurth)
The Vernal Equinox
|Bran, Arthur, Airem and Teutates||The Alder is associated with courage and it represents the evolving spirit. Bran was a mighty warrior of ancient Britain. Not always the victor, but never defeated. In one battle Bran fights the Ash King on behalf of the Alder King. Though he loses the battle, he is still recognized as a great warrior. The period of the Vernal Equinox is an extremely important period in the Celtic year. as it represents free will and liberty in a moral context. It is still considered a crime to cut down a sacred Alder tree and he who does is considered the cause of any trouble in the village.|
from April 15 -
|The Sea Serpent
Cat or Hare
The Fire Festival of Beltane
|Ceridwen, Morrigan, Morgan le Fay, and
|The Willow tree since ancient times has always been associated with death. In Northern Europe, the word witch and wicked is derived from the name of the Willow. It is considered to be a tree of enchantment. In Celtic mythology it is associated with the creation myth of two scarlet sea serpent eggs which contained the Sun and the Earth. These eggs were hidden in the boughs of the Willow tree until they hatched, thus bringing forth earthly life. The Willow is also associated with death as it is the obvious conclusion to birth and life.|
from May 13 -
|Govannan or Goibniu||The Hawthorn tree associated with the sacred and the unlucky. To destroy a Hawthorn was to incur great peril to the person responsible. The Hawthorn tree is embodied in the character of the chief giant Yspaddaden in a Welsh romance of Kulhwch and Olwen. A guardian figure who tries to protect the virginity of Olwen. He is felled and the blooms of summer soon open, thus symbolizing the advance of summer defeating winter at last. It is associated with Govanna (Vulcan) a smith god that is the custodian of the celestial fire and higher powers of the mind. Thus it is symbolize as the Chalice as it too represents divine secrets and everlasting life.|
from June 10 -
|The White Horse
The Golden Wheel
the Planet Jupiter
|Dagda||The principal sacred tree of the Druids, the Oak Trees symbolized the turning of the year. During this time of year the Druids would carve a circle in to the tree for protection against lightning. The Oak represents the trial we all go through in life while changing and becoming that whom we are meant to be we must also consider the greater good and moral responsibilities. It represents the soul, which in Celtic terms is the "eye of god." Change, sacrifice, and understanding. It is a time when the sun starts his movement into darkness and is sacrificed to darkness as the earth begins to move back into winter.|
from July 8 -
The Flaming Spear
The Fire Festival of
|Danu||A symbol of luck and good fortune. In Celtic mythology the Holly is the evergreen twin of the Oak. It is called a kerm-oak. The Oak rules the light part of the year while the Holly rules the dark part. The Unicorn represents a horse with a horn that resembles the flaming spear. The Celtic symbol of the Flaming Spear is associated with the Celtic month of Tanist because the Celtic T is shaped like a barbed spear. Both the Oak and Holly are symbolized with the Summer Solstice and the White Horse of the Oak becomes the The Unicorn of the Holly in transformation. The Fire Festivals that took place during this time were usually in honor of the Earth. Therefore, the Holly also represents those eternal, ever-green aspects of mother earth.|
from August 5 -
|The Rainbow Salmon
the planet Mercury
|Ogma and Manannan||The Hazel nut is the emblem of concentrated wisdom. One could gain knowledge simply eating nuts. In this aspect it is associated with the Salmon, a sacred symbol of wisdom. In Irish Lore it is the Hazel was the Bile Ratha where in which the poetic Fairy lives. It was a capital crime to felling a Hazel tree. Ogma, who is credited with creating writing, is associated with great "knowing." It is he who is credited with mandating that the Oral tradition of the Celts be closely guarded and preserved, yet through his creativity he created the alphabet based on tones and sounds.|
from September 2 -
|The White Swan
the Planet Venus
The Autumn Equinox
|The Vine is the symbol of sensuality and emotions. A hardy, long lived plant. It's symbol, the White Swan represents the radiant divinity of the Gods who are said to go to their underground forts during the Autumn Equinox. The White Swan is also associated with the White Ghost or the White Phantom - Gwenhwyvar. To the Celts, the Autumn Equinox is a time when the light will eventually give up its hold to the darkness, but for a brief moment all is in balance. The light and the dark hold equal positions. To the Celtic mind it represents the balance of the mundane and the supernatural; the mortal and the immortal.|
from September 30 -
The Mute Swan
Progress and tenacity
the Veiled Moon
the Planet Persephone which is said to exist just beyond Pluto
|In contrast to the the Vine, Ivy is evergreen, and it represents the perennial aspects of the human psyche. The Celts associate Ivy with their lunar goddess Arianrhod and their ritual to her marked the opening of the portal to the Otherworld. Thus the dark side of the moon. This door symbolizes an entrance to the world of the Faery People. The Butterfly is the the symbol of the Faery Faith. Thus Ivy represents mysterious and the mystical.|
from October 28 -
|The White Hound
the Planet Pluto
The Fire Feast of Samhain
|Dis, Pwyll, Arawn||Identified with the submerged or hidden dryad, The Reed represents the mysteries of death. In fact the Fire Feast of Samhain celebrates the dead and on Samhain, the boundary between the Otherworld and this world dissolve. It is a night of great divination. Or in another fashion, it represents the hidden roots to all life. The Reed is associated with with being both a savior and custodian. Pwyll, the Celtic ruler of the Otherworld was given "The Stone" , one of four treasures given to him for safekeeping. The Stone represents the right of the kings and queen to have divine power. Thus the Reed is also the symbol of Royalty. The White Hounds represent the dogs that guard the lunar mysteries.|
from November 25 -
|The Black Horse
the Planet Saturn
The Winter Solstice (Alban Arthuan)
|Pryderi, Bran||The Symbol of both death and rebirth. Like the Winter Solstice, it highlights a time of evolution. The Celts believed that it was during this time that their sun or solar spirit was held prisoner. Just as Pryderi was forced into exile. It is also a time of trouble and struggle for supremacy. In deed what is now will one day be no more, and that which is to come, will also, one day be no more.|
Other trees used by the Druids in their cosmology and/or alphabet are:
The article is copyrighted by Susan Bosler, 1999, and shall not be reprinted in part or whole without her express written permission.
Graves, Robert. 1966. The White Goddess. 2nd, enlarged edition. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York.
Paterson, Helena. 1994. The Handbook of Celtic Astrology. Llewellyn Publications, St. Paul.
Clark, Curtis. 1995. Natural history of the trees of the Celtic Ogham. Circle Network News 17(2):12-13 (Issue 56,
Summer 1995). Editors of Sunset Books. 1988. Sunset Western Garden Book. Lane Publishing, Menlo Park, Ca.
Evans, Wentz, W. Y. 1981. The Fairy Faith in Celtic Countries. Colin Smythe Ltd., Bucks, England.
Murray, Colin, Liz Murray, Vanessa Card. 1988. The Celtic Tree Oracle : A System of Divination. St. Martin's Press