A short study on The Immortal Hour

William Sharp aka Fiona MacLeod

William Sharp aka Fiona MacLeod

Background to the author

Fiona MacLeod wrote the play ‘The Immortal Hour’ in 1908, although it would be wrong to refer to MacLeod as a she, for in fact she is a he, a Scottish poet and writer called William Sharp. Sharp was born in Paisley, Scotland in 1855 but throughout his life suffered ill-health. As a child he had a great love of nature and the outdoors which was enhanced by his nurse’s telling of Gaelic folktales and stories. When he was 18 he spent three months living with a company of gypsies. While at university he studied poetry, philosophy, occultism, spiritualism and folklore. In 1876 he voyaged to Australia but came back a year later although thee experience had been powerfully creative. In 1878 he joined the famous Rossetti literary group, a Pre-Raphaelite and aesthetic literary group. In his first book of poetry The Human Inheritance, The New Hope, Motherhood and Other Poems (1882) an important focus is given to Sharp’s early belief in spirit of place (or genus loci), which supports a strong mystical core. These threads of mysticism and spirituality also appeared in many of his later works. Following a trip to Italy in 1891 he entered into a decade of extremely productive and creative writing imbued with all his interests of mysticism, mythology, folklore, spirituality and philosophy. Then in 1892 Sharp published what was to be his greatest and most remarkable work – The Pagan Review – a single issue journal filled with pagan and Celtic historically based works, although all these works were written under the pseudonym of Fiona MacLeod. He also joined the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn and was a central figure in the Edinburgh group, part of the Celtic Twilight or Celtic Revival.

Why the pseudonym Fiona MacLeod? This was not mere vanity on Sharps part but an important part of his literary persona he had created in his early twenties.  He wrote to his  wife (who happened to be his cousin) “in some things I am more woman than man” and it was a persona he maintained until his death in 1905. In fact, Fiona MacLeod was presented as Sharp’s protégé and his works written under this name evoke a Celtic world combining images of idyllic or harsh highland nature with mystical tales of the brave and beautiful.

The Wooing of Etain

The Wooing of Etain

Background to The Immortal Hour

The Immortal Hour (written 1908 as Fiona MacLeod) is loosely based on the Irish mythological tale of ‘The Wooing of Etain’ (Tochmarc Étaíne), which appears in the Irish mythological Cycle, partially preserved in the 12th century manuscript The Book of the Dun Cow, and fully preserved in the 15th century Yellow Book of Lecan. It tells of the lives and loves of Etain, a beautiful woman, one of the Tuatha de Danann, who is also equated and associated with the Gaulic Epona, and the Welsh Rhiannon. In both manuscripts she is married to mortal men. However, Midir, son of the Dagda and one of the Tuatha de Danann, falls in love with her. Midir’s wife grows jealous and polymorphs Etain into various things until one day she turns her into a butterfly and as a butterfly she becomes Midir’s constant companion though Midir does not recognise her. Eventually Midir’s wife creates a wind that blows the butterfly away and does not allow it to alight anywhere but the rocks of the sea for seven years.

Eventually it lands on the clothes of Óengus, who recognises it as Étaín, but he is at war with Midir and cannot return her to him. He makes her a little chamber with windows so she can come and go, and carries the chamber with him wherever he goes. But Fúamnach (Midir’s wife) hears of this and creates another wind which blows her away from him for another seven years. Eventually the butterfly falls into a glass of wine. The wine is swallowed (together with the butterfly) by the wife of Étar, an Ulster chieftain, in the time of Conchobar mac Nessa. She becomes pregnant, and Étain is reborn, one thousand and twelve years after her first birth.

Midir then goes to Eochaid Etain’s husband) in his true form and asks to play fidchell, a board game, with him. He offers a stake of fifty horses, loses, and gives Eochaid the horses as promised. Midir challenges him to more games, for higher stakes, and keeps losing. Eochaid, warned by his foster-father that Midir is a being of great power, sets him a series of tasks, including laying a causeway over Móin Lámrige, which he performs reluctantly. He then challenges Eochaid to one final game of fidchell, the stake to be named by the winner. This time, Midir wins, and demands an embrace and a kiss from Étaín. Eochaid agrees that he will have it if he returns in a month’s time. A month later Midir returns. He puts his arms around Étaín, and they turn into swans and fly off.

Eochaid and his men begin digging at the mound of Brí Léith where Midir lives. Midir appears to them and tells Eochaid his wife will be restored to him the following day. The next day fifty women who all look like Étain appear, and an old hag tells Eochaid to choose which one is his wife. He chooses one, but Midir later reveals that Étaín had been pregnant when he had taken her, and the girl he has chosen is her daughter. Eochaid is horrified, because he has slept with his own daughter, who became pregnant with a girl. When the girl is born she is exposed, but she is found and brought up by a herdsman and his wife. She later becomes the mother of the High King Conaire Mor.

One has to remember that the versions of this story differ slightly but the main characters stay the same.

Etain and Midir

Etain and Midir

 

An analysis of The Immortal Hour play

Although The Immortal Hour is based on the Irish mythological tale of the Wooing of Etain,  it is steeped in other mythological motifs also. Links can be made to the Greek Eurydice and Orpheus. In fact MacLeod says as much in her introduction to the play. Thus it can be seen as a kind of universal play touching on the love for a man and a woman, the cycle of life and other realities that not only appear in Celtic mythology but in other cultures also. Although the character Dalua does not appear in Irish mythology, MacLeod likens him to the Amadan-Dhu or Dark Fool, who can be equated with our own dark shadow-side, known in the Faerie Tradition as the Dark Fool. Hugh Mynne writes in “The Faerie Way”  the encounter with the Dark Goddess is thus an encounter with our own psychic waste material, our own “garbage.” By facing Her we face our own shadow-self, known in the Faerie Tradition as the Dark Fool, and named Dalua.

Sources:

Dennis Denisoff, The Yellow Nineties Online, 2010

Hugh Mynne, The Faerie Way: A Healing Journey to Other Worlds

Caitlin & John Matthews, Walkers Between the Worlds: The Western Mysteries from Shaman to Magus

Caitlin & John Matthews, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom

 

 

 

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From little acorns mighty oaks will grow

DSCF1501I have two baby oaks growing in my garden – what a sweet blessing! Have no idea how they got there but I have my suspicions. About three years ago I cast a handful of acorns around my garden as part of a ritual I was doing. Well I did forget I’d done this until now. Or maybe they are the children of the oaks that stand behind the boundary fence at the very back of the garden. Who knows but for the fact they are here. One is much small than the other and I’m not sure if they will both survive but I’m going to try to keep them safe. I’ve already cut away the tall grasses and thistle plants surrounding them so they both get access to sunlight.

So what is the meaning for me? Well the oak tree has been a symbol of strength, power and sacredness in a great many cultures and indigenous tribes across Europe. The Celts especially, and the Teutonic tribes, venerated oaks and considered them chieftain amongst trees. Oaks were associated with a great number of deities – Zeus, Jupiter, The Dagda and Thor amongst others. The Green Man is always most often seen surrounded by a partial mask of oak leaves. Because they live a long time (it takes an oak a very long time to grow so I won’t see these at their full glory during my present incarnation) they embody endurance too. And of course wisdom from the Gods.

The oak also stands for great protection, justice, honesty and bravery. Apparently its associated stone is Aventurine so I will lay one of these at each stone as a blessing for it – a gift! It’s position on the Wheel of the Year is at the Summer Solstice, when once again the Oak King will battle with his brother the Holly King. But this time it’s the Holly King that will win the bout and the waning year begins once more.

The medicinal park of the Oak is its bark, because of the strong astringent properties. Internally as a tea it helps fight diarrhoea and dysentery. Externally it can be used to treat haemorrhoids, inflamed gums, wounds, and eczema. The tannin found in oak can help reduce minor blistering by boiling a piece of the bark in a small amount of water until a strong solution is reached, and applying to the affected area.

It is tradition for the Litha fire to be oak wood representing the God, since this is the time of year when oak reaches its Zenith power.

The Oak trees essence helps boost energy levels and the ability to manifest our goals. The tree’s roots mirror its branches and stretch as far below ground as the branches do above  – this reminds me of the saying ‘As Above So Below’, which usually refers to the astral plane and the physical but I think it can also refer to the physical and the underground realms, the land of the dead.

Oak twigs bound together with red thread into a solar cross or a pentagram will make a greatly protective talisman for the home, car, or in your desk or at work.

LESSON OF THE Oak from The Wisdom of Trees by Jane Gifford

The oak represents courage and endurance and the protective power of faith. The tree’s noble presence and nurturing habit reassured ancient people that, with the good will of their gods, their leader, and their warriors, they could prevail against all odds. As the Tree of the Dagda, the oak offers protection and hospitality without question, although its true rewards are only apparent to the honest and brave. The ancient Celts deplored lies and cowardice. To be judged mean-spirited could result in exclusion from the clan, which was one of the most shameful and most feared of all possible punishments. Like the oak, we would do well to receive without prejudice all those who seek our help, sharing what we have without resentment or reservation. The oak reminds us all that the strength to prevail, come what may, lies in an open mind and a generous spirit. Inflexibility, however, is the oak’s one weakness and the tree is prone to lose limbs in storms. The oak therefore carries the warning that stubborn strength that resists will not endure and may break under strain.

I honour the energy of oak, the doorway to the mysteries. I will call upon the strength of the Horned One when I feel in need of protection. So mote it be

The Nine Sacred Woods of the Bonfire

Nov12 CarpentersWood by K SellMost witches and pagans hold bonfires at some point. I guess we wouldn’t be pagan if we didn’t have ritual fire as fire is something that reaches far back in time. Eons ago our first ancestors gathered around a fire to keep warm, to cook meat and for protective and purification purposes. Eventually, as well as practical reasons for bonfires (or as we tend to call them Bael Fires), they took on ritual meaning too.

In Wiccan literature and in the Wiccan Rede there are mentioned nine kinds of wood that are used to make bonfires – and there is a reason! Generally these are the first nine trees of the so-called Celtic Tree Calender*

Birch – When a forested area burns, Birch is the first tree to grow back, and thus is associated with rebirth and regeneration. Workings using Birch add momentum to new endeavors. The Birch is also associated with magic done for creativity and fertility, as well as healing and protection. It is the first tree in the Celtic tree calendar, following the Winter Solstice, and is related to the Ogham symbol Beith. Use Birch branches to craft your own besom for magical workings, and in spells and rituals related to enchantments, renewal, purification, fresh starts and new beginnings.

Rowan – Known by the Celts as the Ogham symbol Luis (pronounced *loosh*), the Rowan is associated with astral travel, personal power, and success. A charm carved into a bit of a Rowan twig will protect the wearer from harm. The Norsemen were known to have used Rowan branches as rune staves of protection. In some countries, Rowan is planted in graveyards to prevent the dead from lingering around too long. Rowan is also associated with the Celtic hearth goddess Brighid.

Ash – In Norse lore, Odin hung from Yggdrasil, the World Tree, for nine days and nights so that he might be granted wisdom. Yggdrasil was an ash tree, and since the time of Odin’s ordeal, the ash has often been associated with divination and knowledge. In some Celtic legends, it is also seen as a tree sacred to the god Lugh, who is celebrated at Lughnassadh. Because of its close association not only with the Divine but with knowledge, Ash can be worked with for any number of spells, rituals, and other workings. Associated with ocean rituals, magical potency, prophetic dreams and spiritual journeys, the Ash can be used for making magical (and mundane) tools – these are said to be more productive than tools made from other wood. Use an Ash branch to make a magical staff, broom or wand. The Ash also appears in the Ogham as Nion.

Alder – The Alder is associated with making spiritual decisions, magic relating to prophecy and divination, and getting in touch with your own intuitive processes and abilities. Alder flowers and twigs are known as charms to be used in Faerie magic. Whistles were once made out of Alder shoots to call upon Air spirits, so it’s an ideal wood for making a pipe or flute if you’re musically inclined. The Alder represents the evolving spirit, and is represented by the Ogham symbol Fearn.

Willow – A Willow planted near your home will help ward away danger, particularly the type that stems from natural disaster such as flooding or storms. They offer protection, and are often found planted near cemeteries. In addition to its use as a healing herb, Willow was also harvested for wicker work. Baskets, small curricles, and even bee hives were constructed with this bendable, flexible wood. This wood is related to The Goddess, healing, growth of knowledge, nurturing and women’s mysteries, and is represented by the Celtic Ogham symbol Saille.

Hawthorn – The Hawthorn is associated with magic related to masculine power, business decisions, making professional connections. The Hawthorn is also associated with the realm of Faerie, and when the Hawthorn grows in tandem with an Ash and Oak, it is said to attract the Fae and herald a portal into the Otherworld.  This prickly-thorned tree is associated with cleansing, protection and defense. Tie a thorn with a red ribbon and use it as a protective amulet in your home, or place a bundle of thorns under a baby’s crib to keep bad energy away. It is represented by the Celtic Ogham symbol Huath.

Oak – The mighty Oak is strong, powerful, and typically towering over all of its neighbours. The Oak King rules over the summer months, and this tree was very sacred to the Druids. The Celts called this tree Duir, which some scholars believe to mean “door”, the root word of “Druid”. The Oak is connected with spells for protection and strength, fertility, money and success, and good fortune. In many pre-Christian societies, the Oak was often associated with the leaders of the gods – The Dagda, Taranis, Zeus, Thor, Jupiter, and so forth. The strength and masculinity of the Oak was honoured through the worship of these gods.

Holly – The ancients used the wood of the Holly in the construction of weapons, but also in protective magic. Hang a sprig of Holly in your house to ensure good luck and safety to your family. Wear as a charm, or make Holly Water by soaking leaves overnight in spring water under a full moon. In the pre-Christian British Isles, the Holly was often associated with protection – planting a hedge around your home would keep malevolent spirits out, thanks in no small part to the sharp spikes on the leaves. In Celtic myth, the concept of the Holly King and the Oak King symbolizes the changing of the seasons, and the transition of the earth from the growing time to the dying season. Holly is represented by the Ogham symbol Tinne.

Hazel – Hazel is often associated in Celtic lore with sacred wells and magical springs containing the salmon of knowledge. This is a good wood to use for workings related to wisdom and knowledge, dowsing and divination, and dream journeys. Hazel was a handy tree to have around. It was used by many English pilgrims to make staffs for use upon the road – not only was it a sturdy walking stick, it also provided  self-defense for weary travelers. Certainly, it could have been used as well for ritual. Hazel was used in weaving of baskets by medieval folk, and the leaves were fed to cattle because it was believed this would increase the cow’s supply of milk. It is represented by the Celtic Ogham symbol Coll.

The one tree Wiccans are admonished NOT to burn in a sacred fire (or any fire for that matter) is the Elder. As the Wiccan Rede says:

Nine woods in the Cauldron go, burn them quick a’ burn them slow. Elder be ye Lady’s tree; burn it not or cursed ye’ll be.

This is because Elder is the Goddess’s tree, strongly connected to Goddess spirituality and also because within the tree lives the Elder Mother or Hylde-moder. The elder is the Old Crone aspect of the triple Goddess, a wise old energy at the end of the year’s cycle. One should NEVER cut down any part of an Elder tree without the explicit consent of Elder Mother, lest you bring downfall upon yourself.

Nov12 CarpentersWood2 by K Sell

 

Nov12 CarpentersWood3 by K Sell

 

*Bear in mind that the Celtic Tree Calender is a poetic interpretation of Robert Graves (The White Goddess) and this calendar as such has no basis in true Celtic Myth. However, there is no doubt that trees were sacred to the Celtic and they used them for many purposes, both practically and ritually.

Photo Credits

Carpenter’s Wood, Berkshire by K. Sell

 

T is for Trees

Ah…trees, possibly my favourite things! Where would we be without these Standing Sentinels? Without trees there could be no life on earth (along with water and the sun too of course). Trees perform a wonderful and most important service to not only mankind but All-kind. Trees are the ‘lungs of the planet, with the Amazon rainforest alone producing 20% of world oxygen. Think of that! Without trees we would asphyxiate and die.

How do trees produce this life-giving gas? Well, it’s through the action of photosynthesis, which is how trees, and all green plants in fact, produce energy from light by means of chlorophyll that is contained in their leaves (the green pigment that makes leaves green!). They use the sunlight and the chlorophyll to make sugars from carbon dioxide (which they breathe in through their leaves during the day) and water. This sugar is then used to give the plant energy so that it can grow. The tree then gives off oxygen, which is the gas we breathe in so we can live. So our existence is inextricably linked to trees.

Trees also support a multitude of other plant and animal life too. There are many animals that just could not exist in the wild without trees, and trees also support numerous mosses and lichens that are important to the ecosystem. For example, one hectare (2.47 acres) of rainforest may contain over 750 types of trees and 1500 species of animals and higher plants. Scientists and botanists are also continually finding new species of plants and animals that rely on trees for life.

Trees are a wonderful source of medicine and food, producing fruit, flowers, leaves and bark that can all be utilised in some way for our holistic well-being. Consider the many different species we have in Great Britain, practically all of them have some value medicinally. One fantastic example is that little white pill so often taken for headaches, the one called Aspirin. If it wasn’t for a tree that might never have been developed. The bark (and to a certain extent the leaves) of the White Willow (Salix alba) contain a chemical called salicin* that eases aches and pains, and reduces fevers. Hippocrates noticed this back in the 5th century BC. However, it was being used far earlier by the Cherokee and other native American tribes. Eventually the chemical was isolated and became known as salicylic acid and was then synthesized in laboratories and brand-named Aspirin. This is just one example of how trees help us medicinally, there are hundreds more.

Trees not only give to us for our physical well-being but also our spiritual well-being. A tree of life, or Sacred Tree, is a common motif in various world theologies, mythologies, and philosophies; a mystical concept alluding to the interconnection of all life on our planet. It connects the Heavens (or upper world), the middle world, and the underworld; the three realms. For those with a spiritual leaning it helps to connect us with all other sentient beings (and that includes the spirit realm) and negates the idea of separation.

Yggdrasil ~ The Norse concept of the World Tree

Due to the longevity of trees they are sources of great knowledge and wisdom. They’ve stood, in some cases, for hundreds of years – can you imagine what they’ve witnessed throughout their long lives? In Celtic tradition, trees play an important part in disseminating knowledge and wisdom to us humans. Probably the most well-known use of trees in this tradition is the Ogham (pronounced OH-am or OH-yam) or Celtic Tree alphabet. This is an alphabet of twenty-five inscribed characters, each one symbolising a tree sacred to the ancient druids of old. Each symbol (which is an upright stave with particular straight markings on it) symbolises a letter, the character of a tree, its place within Celtic spirituality and mythology and its attributes both for daily living, healing and spiritual working. It is also used as a system of divination whereby the wisdom of the trees help us in our daily living and inner work.

Just spending time with trees is a meditative process in itself. To sit under a large, leafy tree on a summer’s day and gaze up into its branches can imbue us with peace and clarity. To hug a tree is even better!

A Tree Meditation

Sit comfortably…relax…close your eyes and take three deep cleansing breaths.

Now begin to clear your mind by concentrating only on your breathing…count your breaths slowly up from 1 to 10. If thoughts intrude do not force them away but return to concentrating on your breathing.

You are standing in a sun-dappled clearing in a wood. Around you trees stand like sentinels, their branches covered with the lush greenery of summer. Leaves whisper and rustle, kissed by a zephyr breeze that blows gently around and through them. The carpet of emerald grass beneath you is soft as velvet. In your nostrils wafts the delicate fragrance of summer flowers. All is quiet except for the sound of the leaves and birds singing in the branches of the trees.

As you stand there, the sun’s rays gently warming you, you begin to feel the grass part beneath your feet. The soft, rich soil gives way and you feel yourself sinking down into the earth. Soon your lower legs are completely surrounded by the cool earth. You feel your feet reach down into the earth, becoming roots that dig deeper and spread out anchoring you solidly into the ground. At the same time you raise your arms towards the sun and they begin to turn into branches, your fingers become twigs reaching ever upwards towards the sky. Soon leaves begin to appear, sprouting and growing vigorously all over you, rustling with the soft breeze that blows around you and through you…you have become a tree.

You begin to feel your feet pulse with energy from the earth and with each breath in this energy is drawn up…up your toes…your feet…up your legs…towards your body. This is the energy of Gaia and it flows and swirls all through your body as a vibrant green mist, entering every cell…filling you up with the nurturing strength of Mother Earth.

The sun’s rays shine down upon you and enter your crown chakra where they flow towards your centre as a golden mist, filling every part of you with the powerful energy of the God. Every cell in your body is filled with golden light…energising and invigorating you.

The two energies meet and merge within you…swirling around and through each other…mixing their powerful energies…every part of you is filled and sustained by the Goddess and the God.

Breathe deeply and feel these energies become one…flowing through you as life-blood through your veins.

Now begin to gradually count your breaths down from 10 to 1…focusing on your breathing only. When you are ready open your eyes and know that divine energy is within you and remains in you…sustaining you and giving you the energy you need to see you through.

(Copyright Deep~Glade)

*Salicin is also found in other plants such as Meadowsweet and many common fruits and vegetables.

S is for…Spiritual Ancestors

This is really a follow on to my last post Spiritual Imprints which talked about Aboriginal beliefs and Dreamtime. I was asking myself the question ‘who are my spiritual ancestors?’ It is true to say that I do have an affinity with Aboriginal tribal culture and beliefs but just as much to Native American, Siberian, Celtic and other indigenous cultural beliefs, although the tradition I follow is that of my blood-ancestors The Celts.

Whether we believe we as a human race originated from one man and one woman, or evolved over many thousands of years, the fact is that we are all linked. Not just with other humans too but with other animals, plants etc. I’m not a scientist but I know that all things organic share genes, for example we all know we share 98% of our gene pool with chimpanzees and the great apes, we also share 46% of our genes with daffodils. In fact us humans share our DNA with everything and they with us…we are truly linked. If we are linked physically then to my mind it stands to reason we are linked spiritually. My own personal belief is that we humans don’t ‘have’ a spirit, we ARE spirits having a human experience but even if you don’t share this belief the fact that we share so much of our DNA with other organic beings is proof (at least to me) that we are linked.

So back to the question…who are our spiritual ancestors? I suppose the obvious answer is all those who have gone before no matter what their culture or race (and I include the plant world here too). Although I’m not an Aborigine, or a Siberian, or Native American, or Norse etc. I still have a link with these Peoples. I can still honour those who have gone before for the wisdom and knowledge they have shared. The same goes for the plant world, and I might even add the Stone People (mineral world) because as a shaman…All that is…is alive! So our spiritual ancestors are not merely those of our blood relations who have gone before but also an extended family of entities (both human, plant and rock), with whom we share common and deep links.

How can we show honour to our spiritual ancestors? Well, I think this is a personal thing but I always like to ask them how I can do this first. It’s like having a beloved member of your family – you buy a present you know they will like and value don’t you, you spend time finding just the right thing that will bring them joy. So I ask the Ancestors what they would like in order for me to honour them and then really endeavour to find whatever it is, even if it is just a picture of it. An example here is that I had one spirit who asked for Moose meat, which living where I do is impossible, so I honoured it with a photo of a Moose and it was perfectly acceptable to this spirit. I’ve found that if one makes an effort to be a bit original and creative the spirits enjoy this.

I build an Ancestor shrine, usually around the time of Samhain, but it could be at a time of year that is particularly resonant with you and whichever Ancestors you are honouring. The shrine can be as simple or intricate as you like – use your imagination and creativity. Add things that are meaningful to you and the Ancestors. I then smudge the whole area (I use a mixture of Yew and Juniper, or pine resin for this but you can use whatever cleansing and purifying herb you like) before lighting a special ancestor candle and saying a few prayers of thanks and blessing before I lay my offering on the shrine.

Finally I’d like to share with you a short prayer I wrote to the Ancestors, my kith and kin.

Blessings to those who have gone before

Whether flesh or fin, feather or green

I thank you for your wisdom and guidance

Down the ages, imprinted in my mind and soul

May the memory of you continue

May the honour of you continue

May the blessing of you continue

Accept my offering now and always

By Earth, Sky and Sea

So Mote it Be!

 

Sweeping out the mess with Ngetal

The next card I pulled from Mickie Mueller’s Voice of the Trees oracle deck was Broom/Reed (or Ngetal), which I think is so pertinent since pulling Yew a few days beforehand. Yew talked about entering into a rite of passage, transformation or renewal, and now I find Ngetal has appeared, which makes perfect sense to me since in order to transform or renew one needs to cast out all the ‘crappage’ and dross first. A good cleaning out is in order obviously! And certainly Ngetal stands for cleansing but also vitality. Well once one cleans out the garbage one is automatically imbued with a renewed vitality, at least I am. This will give me the impetus and clear the way to enter into the next phase of my life.

The physician’s strengths include herbs one and all

With compassion and knowledge may your illness fall

While sweeping away darkness from body and soul

In the physician’s robe, heroic deeds make you whole.

If we feel dis-ease we need to take action and the first step is to clear away any physical and emotional toxins that are causing blockages to our vitality. These blockages really can make us unwell and sap our energy, not just physical energy but spiritual and emotional too. Dis-ease is a sign of imbalance within and the holistic view of this is that physical illnesses are almost invariably caused by some kind of emotional or spiritual blockage or issue that needs to be looked at, worked through or swept away.

I can remember my mother having a large Broom bush in our back garden when I was little; it grew right next to the Rosemary. I never quite knew why my mother grew the Broom because I found it rather uninteresting at the time, except that I did love its bright yellow flowers. Looking back now I realise that actually my mother had a great many medicinal herbs and plants in our garden and although I know she wasn’t ‘of the Craft’ she had a great love of nature and adored all kinds of plants and herbs.  In fact it’s been quite interesting for me to take time and remember all the medicinal and sacred plants and trees my mother actually grew – Rosemary, Broom, Mint, Heather, Rowan, Cherry, Rose, Hawthorn, Chives, Thyme…and probably more but that’s all I can remember right now. Maybe somewhere in her psyche she was a witch.

It’s one of those funnily strange things that the word Ngetal doesn’t actually refer to the name of a tree or plant. It actually means ‘wounding’, ‘to pierce or stab’ or ‘charm’.  Word Oghams associated with the letter are related to the practice of medicine, so healing could be assumed to be strongly linked with a physician’s healing chant (or charm). how does wounding or piercing relate to healing though? An example from an Anglo-Saxon Book of Leech-craft could provide an answer. It provides a healing charm which says ‘I wound the worm, I strike the worm, I kill the worm’ (in those days worm was another name for disease or illness). So the wounding or piercing is not literal although it could be, such as in lancing a boil or cutting a person in order to bleed them, or attaching a leech that would pierce the skin in order to suck out the blood (another form of blood-letting). We can see then that Ngetal refers to cleansing and healing by chanting incantations but also by piercing and wounding – perhaps metaphorically cutting the toxins out of the body or inner self. In relation to this ‘cutting and piercing’ it is also interesting to note that Broom is the close cousin of Gorse – a prickly, and very spiky plant. And when you think about it, using a ‘broom’ is decisive action isn’t it…no messing about…sweep and sweep and sweep until the dirt is gone.

But why does Ngetal refer to Broom AND Reed? Well, when we look back to Celtic times both these plants were important to that society and both seem to work harmoniously together..rather like either or! The Broom was often used for making actual brooms or besoms, as were reeds, and also reeds were used for thatching, so both were quite important commodities to our Celtic ancestors. As you can see also both plants were associated with the home. The reeds used for the roofs of houses, to keep the inclement weather out and maintain the coziness of the home, and the broom to sweep the floor and the hearth – both very important for maintaining a clean, safe and hospitable home. It’s the same for us – our bodies are our home aren’t they. They encapsulate our inner selves and both need to be harmonious and clean in order to be in balance and work well.

Traditional thatched roof in Ireland

 

The Celtic Goddess best known for her association with the Reed is Brighid – a triple goddess with influence over poetry, smithcraft and of course healing. She is patroness of Druids (particularly Bards) and strongly associated with healing wells and springs.

As for Broom, it has strong medicinal properties but it is ‘strong medicine’ and can cause violent vomiting if taken in too larger quantity. This again can show us the strength of its spiritual healing – it doesn’t mess about!

So how can I use Ngetal in my ‘mess clearing’? Well I don’t have access to Broom or Reed unfortunately but I can, in the spirit of physicians of old, write a charm to harness its powers. This would be perfect to use at the next New Moon next week.

References

Voice of the Trees Companion by Mickie Mueller

Celtic Tree Mysteries by Steve Blamires

A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine by Ellen Evert Hopman

Holding the Yew tree in mind

Today I began to use Mickie Mueller’s Voice of the Trees oracle deck properly for the first time. I’ve had it a while as it is the next deck we will be studying in my Oracle Class. It’s so pertinent that I pulled Idho (pronounced EE-yoh) or Yew at this time because I feel, very much, that I’m on the cusp of entering a new phase of my life in a few ways. firstly, let me explain how I’ve been feeling lately…to sum it all up in three words…confused, angry, scared! I’ve been fighting rather than going with the flow, which I think has added to my feelings of confusion, anger and fear. Silly me! Things are happening around that bring up these feelings that I’ve either been ignoring or trying to deny completely. I should know better shouldn’t I? Well yes but I’m a pitiful human being with an ego and I sometimes get distracted with my monkey mind. Then synchronicity happens and my patron deities or my guides bring me back to ‘reality’ with a big thump. When I say reality, it means MY spiritual reality, the one that sings to my soul, and it’s very different from other people’s sense of reality (but each one of us has a multitude of realities that are different from other people’s but that’s another story). Anyway, so I pulled Idho/Yew and was immediately confronted with the Crone…or as I see her Cerridwen, Goddess of Transformation. I’ve been neglecting her and I’m amazed she hasn’t upped and left. But instead here she is calling:

The oldest of the woods has come into view

The Crone at your service, she summons to you

Now you know a rite of passage does await

Leave something behind as you step through the gate.

Yes, it does feel rather like I’m approaching a rite of passage, maybe even a couple. In 4 weeks my group therapy ends and to be honest I’m very pleased yet also fearful as I’ve been in this therapy group for about 3 years. We’ve laughed and cried together for so long and I guess I’ve been able to build up some trust within the group. In some ways I feel understood but in others I still feel misunderstood. Anyway, after this the therapy ends…what then? I think Cerridwen is calling me to step up to the plate and stop being fearful. I feel like a snivelling child in her presence and she admonishes me with a wagging finger but says very kindly ‘come on lady…you KNOW what to do’. Yes, I DO know what to do! Completing therapy feels a bit like growing up and reaching adulthood, I can pretend I don’t know but really I do; the answers lie within…always!

The second rite of passage has to do with my age and my dear daughter getting hand-fasted next year. Yes, I know I’m not ‘in’ the menopause yet but I’m approaching it and of course my hormones are a bit out of whack sometimes. My body can no longer do what it used to do and I am reaping what I’ve sown in the past with pretty much a decrepid body now. I’m not blaming anyone or anything…it is what it is! But I am at the top of the hill now looking down on the valley below – a bit fearful of what I will encounter on this side. I’m always going to be a mother but my ‘little’ girl is no longer little and is beginning a life of her own with a wonderful man, and possibly moving away in the next few years. Sometimes I ask myself where does that leave me? Cronehood beckons and I’m a little apprehensive.

Then Cerridwen appears and throws herbs and plants into her large cauldron of inspiration and gives it a good stirring. She looks at me with a sharp eye but gently says ‘it all goes into the cauldron of life and comes out transformed and renewed, don’t fear it, embrace it!’ It’s all well and good for her not to fear it but I’m a mere human being and sometimes, despite my wisdom (such as it is) I still shit bricks! Ok, maybe not quite as bad as that but I still worry and fear stuff to a degree. But this is where Idho/Yew comes in I think.

My earliest memories are of the three Yew trees that grew in my grandmother’s front garden; no wonder it was so gloomy and dark there. As a child I had a fascination for its bark, which kind of grows in thin dark browny-purple ‘plates’. As one plate falls it exposes rosy-reddish new plates underneath. Of course, being a child I would pick at these plates and pull them off the trees, only to be reprimanded by my mother, who told me NOT to touch the trees because they were poisonous. I also knew that Yews grew in graveyards and for the longest time I just thought Yews only grew in two places – graveyards and my grandmother’s front garden, which instilled in me the fear that my grandmother’s house was haunted and I never wanted to sleep the night there. When I look back how little I knew (not surprising, I was very young) but how little my mother knew and all this claptrap about how Yews were ‘bad’. I do actually think my grandmother’s house had spirits within it but they never hurt me, although I still never liked sleeping there.

Anyway, it is true that Yews are found predominantly in church yards. Why is this? Well, the ancient druids held the Yew in high regard and it is, in fact, one of their sacred trees. The Yew grew prolifically in Britain’s (and Europe’s) primordial forests. As time went on Druids kept these ancient trees (there is one in England that is said to be over 4000 years old) as part of their groves and symbolic entrances to the Underworld because the Yew has always been associated with death, transitions, endings but also rebirth and renewal. It made sense for druids to establish their sacred groves and places of worship amongst trees that were sacred to them. Then Christianity came along and one way the priests converted the people was to build their churches on already established sacred places. Hence the reason why many very old Yew trees still survive in many old church yards to this day – it really is sacred ground but existed long before Christianity. So Yew trees do have a connection with death. but in the Celtic tradition, that of my ancestors, death is not a finish, and end…well it might be the end of one thing but it is also the beginning of something else. You see the Celts did not work with linear time at all but with cyclic time, a never-ending spiral of birth, death and renewal. how does this relate to Yews? Well this is a tree that actually renews itself and very rarely dies (except if it is cut down, and even then it can renew itself). The Yew stands for so long that eventually it becomes hollow and this original part may well die BUT the wonderful thing is that during its life-time it sends out shoots around it and new growth appears – these are all part of the original tree, and so in a way, the original tree never dies but merely goes on renewing itself, growing larger and larger until it is even difficult for dendrochronologists to even ascertain its real age.

So the meaning of Yew is one of transition, how appropriate for me! Things pass and end but other things are born and grow. Of course this isn’t easy to accept – the fact that some part of my life (that I have attached to emotionally) is coming to an end and it can be a difficult process as the wood suggests. Yew wood was once used to make the long bows of warriors, as well as a wood used to test the edge of axes; this is because Yew produces a very hard wood. So spiritually we can take from this that the transition may be quite hard going and difficult. However, Yew has strong protective qualities (as used by the ancient druids as a cleansing and purification incense, along with Juniper). Additionally, despite its poisonous nature, it is actually a great healer. The ONLY part of the yew that is not poisonous is the flesh around the red berries (ask any blackbird!). However, under the use of an experienced and highly qualified herbalist, all the parts can actually be used for healing many ailments, even cancer.

So, I’ve gleaned some things already about the Yew – it is the means to help me transition, it is a protector and a healer, and although I’m not about to use the Yew in my herbal practise, I can use it symbolically and spiritually. Cerridwen stands at the entrance to the Underworld, she stands within the trunk of an ancient Yew, beckoning me to drink her brew. Cerridwen, the Goddess of change and transition, Yew, the tree of death and rebirth, of endings and beginnings. Both give a hard lesson – they know the going might get tough, that the transition will probably be painful, yet I have protection and I have healing.

So I must be strong, like the Yew’s wood, and relinquish the attachments I’ve made, or rather the ‘need’ for the attachments. But without clearing away the old and the death there is no room for the new is there…new possibilities, new challenges, new phases of life.

References:

A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine by Ellen Evert Hopman

Voice of the Trees by Mickie Mueller

Ogham: The Celtic Oracle of the Trees by Paul Rhys Mountfort