18 December 2023 – Trees and Other Plants

By | January 5, 2024

We continued the topic of trees in Irish Celtic Mythology under trees and plants in the landscape.

In the previous session we had covered under the Chieftain Trees oak, hazel, holly and apple trees, leaving ash, yew, rowan, birch and elder to be covered in this session.

i/. The Ash Tree

The tree was powerful and magical, Yggdrasil which holds the world together is an Ash.

It is protective against evil influences, can be used for divination and has healing powers.  The healing powers involve rituals which need to be followed closely.

ii/. The Yew Tree

Yew trees can live for a thousand years and are evergreen.  The lower branches can grow into the ground and grow up from there. They are a symbol of eternal life and the renewal of life.  These too can be used for divination to tell the future and be used to douse for lost goods.  Often found in church yards they may have already been there on a pagan site and co-opted in, or a symbol of the regeneration of life.

Some ancient yew groves exist today, they are dark and gloomy.  It was thought that you could see the spirit of someone as they departed if you held a yew stick, yew trees were seen as a doorway to the other world.

iii/. The Rowan (Mountain Ash)

Gave protection from evil influences of all kinds.  An example was rowan twigs protected babies in cribs.  To stay on the good side of fairies the tree should be protected.

iv/. The Birch Tree

Was associated with the return of summer, growth and fertility in animals and people.  Jumping over a birch besom was part of the marriage ritual.  It was used as a symbol of the woman of the house. It also had protective powers against evil influences including witches, a twig at the threshold gave protection.  Contradictorily it was believed witches used birch brooms to fly at night.  It was also credited with the power to raise the wind and storms.

v/.  The Elder

There were two different views of the elder, possibly one more ancient.

The elder was seen as an ill omen to be feared, in Christianity it was the tree from which Judas Iscariot hanged himself.  It was considered an unlucky tree, wood from it would be kept separate and should not be brought into the house and its wood should never be burnt.

The older pre-Christian lore associated it with positive powers.  The change over may have been due to propaganda being used to persuade people away from the elder’s original venerated status.  Here the burning of the wood may have been seen as disrespectful, permission was sought before a tree would be cut.  It was viewed as being inhabited by the Elder Mother/Owd Gal/Old Lady rather than witches, these had powers to protect from witchcraft.  It was also considered to have all kinds of healing powers, treating bites, rheumatism, erysipelas, wounds, burns etc.  The dried and powered pith was sometimes given if a person was bewitched.


The next session will look at some traditions relating to the Green Man.







Last Updated on January 5, 2024