August: The Hazel Tree

The Hazel Tree is tied to inspiration and wisdom

The Hazel Tree is tied to inspiration and wisdom

How can we begin to understand this time of year, from August 5th to September 1st as the ancient tribal people of Europe once did? We can begin by looking around at what is taking place in the yearly cycle. August is the time when the summer ripens and mellows. The pumpkins are green, their orbs increasing in size by the day. Occasionally, the hint of autumn is in the air. The people who saw the deep and abiding alliance between the trees, months and moon times tasted the seasons intimately, for their survival depended upon this relationship. They chose to see August through the lens of the hazel tree.

The Celts called this time, Coll, which roughly translates as, your inner life force, pointing to the connection between essential life energy and this segment of our seasonal cycle. Summer is the time of work, maximum growth and the expression of life in the outer world. This is due, mainly, to the length of the days which generate so much activity. Now, especially from a practical point of view of a people without the technological resources that we have today, the fullness of our life force was needed simply to survive. How else could a community prepare for the dark months ahead? There’s no growing food in winter.

Mythological, the hazel is tied to inspiration and wisdom. The Gaelic word for hazel nut is cno; while the word for wisdom is cnocach. The connection between hazel nut and wisdom is from a story repeated in many variations of nine hazel trees surrounding a sacred spring. Nuts dropped into the water were eaten by salmon, a sacred fish which absorbed the wisdom. Salmon are almost synonymous with wisdom in Celtic culture. They are also a keystone species—critical for their entire habitat. Later, the salmon that ate the nut was eaten by Fionn Mac Cumhair, a boy who became a hero in Gaelic mythology. The number of bright spots on a salmon indicate how many hazel nuts it has eaten.

Then there is also the metaphor of the delicious nut, which is has a harden husk as it matures across the seasons. Like a nut, inside us there are layers, or perhaps even shells or obstacles that must be crossed or broken through before we can enjoy the delightful treasure within, our inner wisdom, the universal knowledge. It follows, then, that the wood from the tree was used in the belfire of Beltane. Staves, talismans and wands were also carved from the hazel wood. The hazel tree was also utilized as an alliance to help struggling couples. Holding it, connecting with the energy of the tree in a ceremonial context, could assist in an opening that could allow room for greater understanding, healing and forgiveness.

On a very practical level, the wood was used to create U-shaped stakes which were utilized to anchor thatched roofs. Basket makers gathered the young shoots to create a variety of containers. The leaves themselves, usually among the first to appear in spring, were used to feed cows and to increase the yield of milk. The nuts themselves are full of protein and were a major staple. September 14st, Holy Cross Day, was a school holiday in England up until the First World War and the custom was for school children to go off and gather nuts.

Again, all these activities associated with the tree express a grounded yet essential way of moving through life at a time when there is great energy. From both a pragmatic and spiritual viewpoint, the hazelnut teaches about vitality that springs from inner wisdom—activity with purpose and intent. Thus, the hazel tree is an ideal alliance for walking in balance with this time of year.

June – July: The Oak Tree

Oak Botanical image courtesy of

Oak Botanical image courtesy of



Oak Botanical image courtesy of

Oak Botanical image courtesy of

Oak: The Celtic Tree for June 10 – July 7

It is always worth considering the particular time in a seasonal cycle when looking at the significance of a particular tree tied to the Celtic moon calendar. Each time of year has its particular task, from a literal and metaphoric viewpoint. The tree itself is representational of what is most needed as an alliance to support the accomplishment of the task.

The period between June 10th and July 7th are the longest days of the year. They include the time up to the summer solstice, the rising of solar energy, and tipping point when light actually begins to decrease and there is a movement toward declining light, to autumn and eventually winter solstice. First and foremost, this is a time of work. Long days equal long work in a traditional culture. In response to the light, life and growth in the plant world approach a fevered pitch. The work now determines the harvest later.

Consider now what qualities are needed if the work is to be productive. First, strength and fortitude and the ability to interact relationally with our entire community, because growth in our lives and in the greater ecosystem only happens with the support of community. The work in the end should produce fruit (like acorns) that as a gift for the community at large. From this perspective, it makes complete sense that the oak was chosen to represent this time of year. The oak is a signet for the world tree, or tree of life and is considered especially sacred in Celtic myth and lore.

The name of Celtic priests, Druids, derives in part from the root “dru” which means oak. Some scholars call this month “duir” which means door in both Gaelic and Sanskrit. Both Druids and the oak were intimately aligned. They hold an entry way into some other place. The door that the oak holds is stability and integrity when the world is at its maximum energy output. The Druids were also door keepers to other places, for they held in their understanding a view in which the worlds seen and unseen are intimately related and connected, woven tightly like an endless Celtic knot.

When exploring these liminal edges in space and time, the Druids sought out the groves of oak. Ritual and ceremonies were held in oak groves which were said to protect them from spells while amplifying their power. The oak provided a structure for these places of transition, a way of grounding into the heart of the earth that allowed them to travel into the depths of mystery. Though a process of divination, Druidic priest used the rustlings of oak leaves to hear words of the gods. Ritual sacrifice of animals for feasts were held in the oak groves— blood was used to fertilize the tree as an offering. Oak becomes then a place for transition—from life to death.

Anything that grew on the oak was especially blessed by the gods. In one elaborate ritual recounted by an a Roman historian, Druids climbed a tree to cut a piece of mistletoe from the oak, which  was cut with a golden sickle during a sacred ritual. The oaks were also  a safe haven for the faeries, the nature spirits that favored the oaks stability and longevity.

When we think of the oak, it is not just the oak, but the mighty oak. Jeremiah said, “A mighty oak tree, majestic and glorious – that’s how I once described you. But it will only take a clap of thunder and a bolt of lightning to leave you a shattered wreck.” Indeed, oak trees are struck more by lightening than other trees, making it sacred to both Zeus and Thor. When the oak tree draws down the lightening, is it like attracting like or are we to take this brief story as an indication of our own fragility and mortality? Regardless, the oak itself is a symbol for power and courage that we can look toward, particularly when we are engaged in the active constructing of our own destiny.

June: The Hawthorn Tree

Click the photo for a recipe for making Hawthorn Jam.

Click the photo for a recipe for making Hawthorn Jam.

Hawthorn: The Celtic Tree for May 13 – June 9

This time of year the dose of sunlight rises each day toward its long fuse of solstice. In the Celtic tree calendar the period from May 13th and June 9th is represented by Hawthorn or huath as it was called in old Irish. In the most general sense, this time of year, also known as the Hawthorn moon, is associated with fertility and also the rising of light suggestive of male sexuality. “Ne’er cast a cloot til Mey’s oot,” it was said. Don’t take off your cloots (clothes) until the May blossoms (hawthorn) appear.”

Indeed, the Hawthorn moon follows right on the heals of Beltane, though in many Celtic lands the flowers were not in bloom until early June. Like Ash and Oak, Hawthorn strongly attracts the Faerie, plant spirits and nymphs, the magical realms at the edge of vision where the wee beings ease in and out of the seen and unseen worlds. Hawthorn trees were considered guardians of springs, the clear cool water from the belly of the earth that rise up as blessing. Hawthorn flowers, many believed, can help our prayers reach the heavens. The Greeks were said to have carried Hawthorn as a symbol of hope in wedding processions.

Among many, however, blossoms that were used to decorate houses were not always welcome and children were scolded for bringing them into the house. Even today, Hawthorn is considered by many to be an unlucky plant, associated with illness and death. The Hawthorn taboo might well be traced back to the days of medieval London and the plague. Rotting Hawthorn flowers smelled like death. In fact, trimethylaine, found in flowers is the same compound found in decaying animal flesh. Interestingly, in ancient prehistoric buries, Hawthorn was tied to the dead bodies.

The ambiguity of the Hawthorn symbolism, life giving and death is interesting in context to Jesus’ crown of thorns made from Hawthorn. The crown is a symbol of the king, the embodiment of divinity on earth. Jesus is associated with rebirth, the “new story” (spring). The thorns and the consequent iconography of blood dripping down his forehead portends death. The Hawthorn crown is a rich and mysterious symbol interweaving both Christianity and Paganism.

Hawthorn has many practical uses. The tree itself can be as tall as sixty feet and grow to be hundreds of years old in forests and hedgerows. The wood is extremely hard and was used as handles for tools, staffs and even magic wands. Blossoms and berries make jellies and wine. New leaves were eaten off the bushes, and commonly called, “bread and cheese.”

The plant was also used to create a variety of medicinal concoctions that were used for blood pressure reduction, circulatory disorders and migraine. More specifically, flowers can be concocted into sedatives and the berries, which contain vitamin C and B complex were helpful for dysentery and problems with the kidneys.

Hawthorn is extremely resilient and can grow in even poor soils. It supports a wide community, particularly in the ecology of hedgerows which so important. They provide nesting places for a wide variety of birds, providing a habitat for wood mice, worms, toads and a wide variety of insects, including the impressively large May bugs or cockchagers.

This strong interactive or relational quality of Hawthorn for humans is augmented by the time of year, the increase of light toward solstice. The roots are strong and gnarled. Its wood hard and powerful. The flowers–full of beauty and mystery–a symbol of life and death. Overall, the Hawthorn’s intimacy and support of its community can help ease our weaving together the infinite patterns which guide our lives.

May: The Willow Tree


Willow Tree

Image of Metal Willow Tree Wall Art courtesy of

Willow: The Celtic Tree for April 15th – May 12th

Willow is tied deeply to this time of year,  that marks great growth and emergence.  What has been latent and gathered in the depths of winter now begins to really leap forth.  For this reason, Willow is deeply associated with Brigid, the maiden element of triple goddess (mother, maiden and crone). Brigid honors her re-emergence as a young virgin, the maiden, from her wintery mother, Cailleach, the crone or divine hag.

Yet there is another element of Willow that is important.  In the ancient temple of Delphi, Orpheus, the greatest poet of ancient times, is shown leaning on a Willow tree.  Orpheus had the ability to speak to everything around him.  Some believe that the Willow, which he carried on his journey to the underworld, gave him the gift of poetic speech.  Willow, then, is intimately linked to the poetic sensibility—great sensitivity, the ability to listen deeply, and an attunement to the emotions, from the darkness of the underworld to the heights of heavenly vision and glory.

The quality of this sensitivity is not passive.  Like the rising of light, the green fuse of plants, Willow has vibrancy and energy with great momentum and growth.   In the ogham alphabet, carved into rocks to write old Irish between the 4th and 6th century AD, the Willow is Saille which later became the name, Sally, meaning to express emotions intense, or rush out.  Again, In Latin, to leap is “salire,” which is tied to the name Willow.

Essentially, the Willow’s realm is that of the emotion.  It lives in or near water—water representing the feeling and intuition, but in a particular context.  The “Willow moon” is about getting in touch and expressing deep emotions used to inspire exuberant growth.  As such, the Willow supports bringing deep emotional pain or any hidden emotions to the surface from which you can sally forth.  In the Bach flower remedy, people who have become embittered through misfortune and adversity can be healed by taking Willow.  The water element also connects to vision and intuition. Willow branches have also been used as divining rods for those seeking water underground.   Willow can even aid in helping you remember dreams—you can make a Willow wand and place it under your pillow or bed.

Willow also has many medicinal uses.  Willow bark contains salicin which can be converted to salicylic acid in the body—a compound that is very similar to aspirin and has been used for over 2000 years.   Like aspirin, willow bark has been used to reduce paid, fever and rheumatism.

Finally, one of the most extraordinary qualities of Willow is its resilience. When I was restoring a creek bank in New Mexico, we cut off pieces of Willow and stuck them in water through the newly formed creek bed.  There, they rooted and help stabilize and heal the land.  Change, displacement, being cut off from what nurtures you can be very difficult.  Yet Willows can thrive, and start over even if they are cut off from their roots.  They show, by example how to work with displacement, how to grow with loss and find new direction.

April: The Alder Tree

Alder Tree Spirit, from The Green Man Tree Oracle by John Matthews and Will Worthington.

Alder Tree Spirit, from The Green Man Tree Oracle by John Matthews and Will Worthington.

Alder: The Celtic Tree for March 18th – April 14th

The wise poet Talisan, son of Ceridwen, posed a riddle: “Why is the Alder purple?” During the Battle of the Trees, Gwydion, the hero trickster from Welsh mythology, answered: because Bran wore purple. Bran, also known as Bran the Blessed, was a great giant and King of Britain, in Welsh mythology. Apparently, during the battle of the trees, Bran carried alder twigs. We can discern just from this detail in these myths, how important the Alder is in Celtic mythology. Alder is a signet of the Blessed king, who used it in battle for protection.

This symbolism is reinforced by the time of year which the Alder represents in the Celtic tree calendar—just before spring equinox, in March, through mid-April. Spring equinox is the time of year when light and darkness are equally balanced—balance is critical for any just king. This equipoise between seasons is like an open door. We feel the seasonal shift in our cells and bones when we go outside feeling the plants respond to sunlight and the heartbeat of the earth. In context to the zodiac, we leave the  watery fluid time of Pisces, and enter the fiery intensity of Aries. This is a time when the energy gathered in the winter months, the illusive images from the dreams in winter finally emerge into the light of day. This is a time of rebirth, sunrise, initiation, and indeed, resurrection.

In context to the stories, and seasons, we can begin to create a more nuanced and complete view of view the alder in context to the Celtic calendar. Alder was associated with the warrior. It was in the front line in the Battle of the Trees—a poem in the book of Talisan, in which Gwydion brings trees to life to fight a battle.


Alder, front of the line,
formed the vanguard
Willow and Rowan
were late to the fray.

Yet, at the same time, these qualities are balanced by Alder’s link to completely opposite energy. It is the tree which fairies love. The qualities of the nature spirits include the appreciation of beautiful and subtle; play and celebration of life coming back from the soil. There is also the flowering, the vitality of new energy, the dancing and flowing of water, emotions and  exuberance of life. The qualities of the warrior and fairies are integrated in part with the Alder’s connection to Cronos (Saturn). This archetype deals with structures, foundations, time, history, the element of lead, agriculture, the old man or “senex” consciousness. These are the very qualities that support the building of strong foundations during a time of rapid growth.

In certain parts of Ireland, the Alder was considered so sacred that people could be punished for cutting it down. Yet this tree had many practical uses that made it critical for communities. Apart from its medicinal uses in treating inflammation, burns and skin disease, one of the qualities of the wood is that is water resistant. The tree often grows near lakes and rivers—its roots are actually in water. Because its oily timber resists water, Alder wood was used in creating foundations for medieval cathedrals and pilings in parts of Venice. It was also used to make bridges. Bran at one point made his body into a bridge to cross Shannon River in order to invade Ireland to help his sister, Branwen. Again—the theme of balance: earth and water, the physical and the emotion, are held by Alder.

When cut, it changes color from white to red or purple. Red is the color of fiery coals and transformation, while purple associated with royalty and resurrection. Yet in times of great changes, the critical issue, and even the success of a particular endeavor, depends upon maintaining balance. It makes complete sense why the Alder was chosen to represent the time between March 18 and April 14th. The Alder tree, its strong and powerful wood, embodies the qualities necessary to navigate in these times of great transition.

March: The Ash Tree


The Ash Tree in Celtic Lore is truly the Tree of Life. Illustration by

Ash: The Celtic Tree for February 18th – March 17th

Now, the dark pockets of earth begin to stir awake from the long and frozen cold. The energy of the earth is rising up. Walking through the woods we can feel in our bones the change in the earth–the lengthening of the days, the wind that has the hint of spring. This is a time of awaking from a long and quiet dream time. If you have done your work, the seeds of inspiration are firmly planted; the luminosity of the eastern light of spring is not far away. We pay tribute to the Ash tree, one of the most sacred of all trees to the Celts. In Celtic myth and lore, the Ash originated from the deepest realm of the Undersea; and holds a certain medicine, or qualities that pertain to this time of year.

Ash is a strong and magnificent tree, regarded with such awe in many Celtic countries that many people refused to cut it, though ultimately the wood was widely used. It can grow well over a hundred and thirty feet with broad crowns almost that size and has brown-grey bark furrowed in a diamond pattern. Ash, the abode of fairies, was often associated as a world tree, cosmic axis, the tree of life. It spanned the holy waters, from the lower world of Hades or Fairyland Annwn; to our middle world, Abred, where we live in a probationary state; to the upperworld, Gwynvid, which is liberty; and finally, touching even Ceugant, the infinite.

It is no surprise, then, that Ash was commonly used as a center pole in Beltane ceremonies, because the dance around the May pole was a way of relating to life, from the center of the earth to the infinity of the heavens. Witches created their Besom, boom stick, from this sacred wood–the Ash as a world axis made it a natural ally in their shamanic journeys (riding the broom stick). There have been archeological discoveries of Ash wands carved with spirals that were possibly created by Druids in Wales.

Warriors and hunters made spears from Ash and twigs were placed under a pillow to inspire prophetic visions and dreams. The sap from Ash was used as medicine to protect children from sorcery. Seeds from Ash were used for divination and were associated with both enchantment and healing. Even in North America, Ash was recognized as a powerful tree by Native Americans, as it was the preferred wood used by initiates to make the stem of the sacred pipe. In contemporary pop culture, Gandolf in Lord of the Rings has an Ash staff.

Do you understand now, how Ash is a kind of essential medicine for this time of year? As we grow into a new vision for our year, what is more important than finding our own inner axis and alignment to the tree of life? Finding our true orientation, with the help of Ash, supports our work in the world in a manner that honors our both our human and non-human relations, our Celtic ancestors.

February: The Rowan Tree

Rowan Tree artwork by Fiona Willis

Rowan Tree artwork by Fiona Willis

Rowan: The Celtic Tree for January 21 – February 17th

“O rowan fair, upon your hair how white the blossom lay!
O rowan mine, I saw you shine upon a summer’s day,
Your rind so bright, your leaves so light,
your voice so cool and soft:
Upon your head how golden-red the crown you bore aloft!”
The Two Towers, J.R.R. Tolkien

This time of year, when the influence of winter is waning and the first imaginations of spring are in the air, is when the Rowan tree is represented on the Celtic calendar. This is a time of subtle beginnings and dream time. Early February is the energetic seed of spring that peaks on the vernal equinox.

In this context, it makes sense that the rowan tree grows on craggy mountains, or places where the environment is extreme. Mountains represent a more rarified perspective; spirit, purity, and essence. This is where inspiration can come from. The tree’s habitat carries some of that perspective and grounds the spirit into the earth.

It produces berries that reveal, on their base, a natural pentagram, which represents the senses, the sentient, the five pointed star—a symbol of the womb and even, some say, the five wounds of Jesus. The ability to flourish in marginal places, the allure of the pentagram over the eons, is indicative of what kind of medicine and symbolism this plant might hold, for the tree has a long European mythology.

The Rowan was known as the “wayfarer’s tree” or “travelers tree” because it could prevent those on a long journey from getting lost. In this sense, lost can mean disconnected from the earth’s wisdom. The pentagram is a symbol for the Earth Goddess—where ever you walk, she is there beneath you and around you. The tree had the ability to protect you from malevolence, witches, sorcery and witchcraft and was planted in front of doors or gates in Scotland. In some parts of England, the story was that the Devil hanged his mother on the Rowan tree. Yet in Norse mythology, the god, Thor, was once saved by clinging on to it. In Wiccan lore the tree is associated with physic insights and visions.

Rowan tree also has medicinal uses. The wood from the trees, which typically do not grow over thirty feet tall, was used for barrels, bows and black dye. Ripe berries, loved by bird species, are an astringent gargle for inflamed tonsils and sore throats. They were also made into jam, dried into flour and used to make fermented spirits.

Across the Celtic and Norse lands, the tree was viewed as a kind of augury of seasons and harvests. A heavy load of fruit meant that there will not be heavy snow, or the opposite. Plentiful flowers indicated a plentiful rye harvest. Flowering twice a year was a sure sign that the potatoes would have a bumper crop. This type of lore may not be accurate from a scientific view, but the stories do show how people viewed the tree as having special knowledge.

The Rowan tree is about being aligned with greater mysteries, the cycles of weather and harvests. It is also a symbol of energy that can help you begin to ground your dreams and inspiration when the spring light is rising from the darkness of winter.

January: The Birch Tree



Birch: The Celtic Tree for December 24 – January 20.

For six months, light has been decreasing, leading up to the solstice, the darkest time of year. Some of us have spent a few days, perhaps, reflecting upon the essence of what has been garnered over the past season. Now we move from the Elder tree to Birch.

To glean the choice of Birch, we have to start with the time of the year. It is just a few days after the winter solstice, but this time is a major shift for those who attuned their spiritual life closely to the movement of earth and light. The birch tree signifies starting over, a new growth cycle that begins with that first impulse in winter dream time, appearing ever so faintly in the rising of the light.

Though we are in a new year, this is not a time to rush forward and outward. Spring, which is a time of external expression of our creative endeavors in the eastern light, is months away. Go easy now and listen closely. Let the land and the season infuse your mind, wondering, “what is this very soft, gradual light, rising so unperceptively, illuminating for me now?” Can you discern the outline of what at first may be as subtle as a shadow in the soft, ever-present light?

In order to step outward into the light of April in a way that is most aligned with our destiny requires that we embrace this time, the Birch month, as one of stillness and contemplation. Part of the solution is to seek wisdom from the ancestors, which is why traditionally, in indigenous cultures, stories were told this time of year. Stories root experiences in cultural context and allowed the listener to locate himself, somehow, in the path–which brings us back to the birch tree, chosen to help us understand this time of year.

Let’s start by looking at how birch functions in the environment, and then apply it to what we know of the season. Birch is a strong, flexible wood. It is does not bend like a reed, but rather has a frame upon which foundations can be built. In nature, birch thrives in transition zones, between wood and field. It also has an intimate relationship with fire, for it grows very well in charred landscape. It is a pioneer plant, taking root first.

Birch represents, then, the regenerative qualities that are necessary to begin something new after having gone through a year. Yet for birch to thrive, the landscape must also be empty. This means, internally, that the New Year’s work is easier to see and understand when there is resolution of past events and a clean slate. Birch is then able to take root in an environment that would be marginal for other trees–not a lot of light and little companionship and community outside of its own kin.

A few other notes about birch traditionally…in the Wiccan lore, a red ribbon around a birch tree’s trunk will ward off negative energy; twigs were hung over infants to protect them from bad energy.

Birch also has profound medicinal use. Wintergreen from its sweet bark is an analgesic that can be used to reduce pain in the stomach and digestion. Birch also contains methyl salicylate, which has qualities similar to aspirin and can be used as a pain reliever.

So, as a medicine, for this season, birch is a good alliance to work with when you are starting over this New Year. It is especially potent if your own personal landscape has been destroyed or wiped clean by fire or some other drastic change, for it can help you muster up courage as you move with vision for a new world.

December: The Elder Tree


Elder Berries

Elder: The Celtic Tree for November 25 – December 22.

The Elder tree embodies the seasonal energy of diminishing of light, the last leaves dropping, the plant’s concentrated essence sinking into the root, the quietude and mystery of the earth itself in a wintery landscape. This is a time of endings and beginnings, the least light and the return of the sun toward a longer day…Completion and rebirth.  It is a time when there are fewer distractions and the boundaries between the unseen and seen are thin.  It is a story time.

The Elder tree itself has a strong connection to the feminine and the Goddess.  It was called, “Our Lady” and was sacred to the wise old woman, the crone, the one who had extracted experience, knew earth medicines, and lived in essence.

The power of this tree, its essence, is illustrated by how it has been used.   There’s probably no symbol more resonate  than Jesus’ cross, which was said to be made of an elder tree.   Judas was hung…on an elder tree.  The trees were also used to make protective wands and in Ireland, witches brooms.   In Isle of Man, where elder trees are prolific, it is called tramman, or “fairy tree.”  These fairies were particularly responsive to flutes made of elder wood–they could assist you with what to keep and what to toss away–lightening your load to cross the threshold into something new and perhaps, unimaginable.

The tree has clusters of white flowers in June and July, which turn into black or red berry-like fruit August through October.  The flowers and fruit were made into jam. Traditionally,  elder berries were gathered in December with great ceremony, as they helped with clairvoyance and were considered a sacred gift from Gaia.  Tea and other extractions made from elders were used for hay fever, colds, bruises and purifying the blood.   Leaves were used to create insecticide and applied as compresses to wounds.  Berries could be used as a laxative.

The wiccan tradition around the Elder tree is extensive.  Headdresses made from woven elder twigs enabled the wearer to see into the other worlds and as a shield to protect from evil.  For this reason, they were tossed in graves, worn in a small bag around the neck, or even held in bags above doorways.  It was well accepted that if you were to take a branch off the tree for ceremonial purposes, you should make an offering in exchange–watering the tree, or giving something back.  Before cutting a branch, it was said, “Lady Ellhorn, give me of thy wood and I will give thee of mine when I become a tree.” 

This custom of intentional exchange is based upon a spirit to spirit relationship and a view that everything is alive, which is common with indigenous people all over the world. In Celtic tradition, this recognition, this honoring of this tree being, was particularly important with the Elder tree.

November: The Reed and the Celtic New Year



Reed: The Celtic Tree for October 28 – November 24.

Reeds are large perennial grasses with smooth, flat trees that grows in wet areas, marshlands, streams—often at the edge of distinct ecological zones. Today reeds grow a few yards high, but there are accounts of reeds growing up to twenty feet—almost as tall as a small tree. Reeds stabilize banks, marking a transition point between land and shore. Reeds have been used to make arrows, brooms, candles and papyrus. Baskets are woven from reeds. Reed-thatched roofs insulated and protected the home. They were also pressed on the floor to freshen the air.

Another important way that reeds were used were related to music—whistles or flutes, in invoke the spirits, create a mood or atmosphere, or even call in the fairy folk Some accounts of Taliesin, the great Welsh Bard, (read about this birth) was tossed into the waters in a reed basket.

As important as reeds were to indigenous people on a practical perspective, we are left to wonder why this plant was chosen above others to represent this important time in the yearly calendar. The time of the read corresponds to the Celtic New Year, which falls on October 31st. This time is also linked to day of the dead, a period that is across cultures associated with honoring the ancestors. In ancient Scotland, where reeds were burned to honor the ancestors, a broken reed could be read as an omen of betrayal among family.

The Northwest

If you place the entire calendar year on a circle, with winter at the north, spring in the east, summer as south and autumn in the west, the end of October would fall in the Northwest. This period, the time of waning light, could be considered the seed of winter, which peaks on winter solstice, and declines in influence until the beginning of February, which is the seed of spring. Winter solstice is a time in which life on earth, which is fueled by the sun, is in its greatest time of rest. For human beings tied to earth cycles, it is a time of internality, a point of death and rebirth.

If you are intimate with the cycles of light and how they affect you, this time of year is when the land itself supports your efforts to reconcile with the past. The harvest is over. What is left from those efforts to grow? Often, the greatest challenge behind your external issues is what has been passed down through your lineage, your ancestors. What has your mother and father and their parents given you? Can you find how these strands create knots inside of you that need to be untangled and acceptance in order to start a new year?

To link this activity with the Celtic New Year is illustrative of how important and foundational connection with the ancestors is to any beginning. The process of reconciliation can bring a great deal of energy to your life—so much of the internal conflict we experience can be traced back to what the ancestors have passed down to us.

A Thin Line

The separation between the end of one year and beginning of the next is a very thin line, like a reed. Line creates a boundary, and boundaries are necessary for us to live and function in community. The line is the most basic element to any Celtic knot. All knots, which represent coherent life-giving patterns or blueprints, begin with lines—curved or straight. A line crossing another line signifies an intersecting point, a synergy or possibly new relationship.

It follows, then, that the beginning of any new endeavor, or New Year, starts with a line—a line that is seeking direction, or purpose, or has no purpose other than to be just itself. Likewise, reeds rise up from the wet muck or river on the surface of our spherical earth in straight lines, or slightly curved lines. They are rising toward the light! Metaphorically, earth represents the body and water, the emotions. Therefore reeds can be used as an alliance to stabilize and create the right relationship where our emotions meet our own corporal body.

Energetically, this time of year is one of the easiest for meditation and prayers, because the life’s activities, which peaked on the summer solstice, are on the wane as winter approaches. Bring the quietude of the land inside your heart. It is a good time to set intentions and to pay attention—to walk the land and listen to how what is inside of you, your inner landscape, connects and harmonizes with the greater earthbound cycles through which you live and move.