Throughout history the names and uses of Cedar and Juniper have often been confused. The similarities of their bark, berries, and general appearance have made them substitutes for one another in mundane and magical realms. An ancient Greek word for Cedar also meant oar, rudder, rowboat, and canoe. Native Americans used the White Cedar, Arborvitae, for fence posts, boats, canoes, shingles, and to make fire by friction. In modern times Cedar is used for fencing, house wares, and shingles. Cedar chests are usually made from a species of Juniper.
Among the Algonquin Cedar is so sacred that no religious ceremony is done without it. The leaves and twigs are simmered into tea or burned as incense to prepare a ritual space. It is said that Cedar harmonizes the emotions and puts one into the proper state of mind for prayer. Cedar branches are used to cover the floor of the sweat lodge, due to their antiviral and disinfectant qualities. The tea of the young branches helps fevers, rheumatism, chest colds and flu.
The Cherokee tell the story of How The Cedar Tree Became Red. In ancient times there was an evil sorcerer who was very cruel to the people. When he was finally caught they decapitated him, but the sorcerer’s head refused to die.
The head was hung on a different tree branch every night until finally, when hung on a Cedar tree, it expired. The blood of the sorcerer had turned the bark red.
From this story they learned that the Cedar tree could vanquish all evil. Its twigs were burned to repel ghosts and malevolent spirits. Its balsamic fragrance was calming to the senses. And its undecaying wood warded off damp and insects, making it too sacred to be burned as fuel.
In ancient European tradition Juniper was seen as a substitute. The smoke of a Juniper fire was said to drive off the demons of disease. The tea was said to restore lost youth – no doubt because of the berry’s effects on rheumatism, gout and weak digestion.
In Wales Juniper was held so sacred that to cut one down meant certain death to a family member within the year. Sprigs of Juniper were hung in the cowsheds of the Western Isles to protect the cattle.
By Ellen Evert Hopman
Ellen Evert Hopman is a Druid Priestess, herbalist and author of “Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey”, “A Druids Herbal – Of Sacred Tree Medicine”, “Walking the World in Wonder – A Children’s Herbal” Visit her website for more.