The Thirteen Trees
Ogham Moon Calendar
The Five Trees
The Half Year
The Sacred One
Bright holly waiting its turn at the Tenbury Mistletoe and Holly Auction, Dec 2011
So calls the old carol as the age-old customs of pagan times were gradually assimilated into the new Christianity of the British people. The pagan Yuletide Solstice was then still celebrated, but as Christmas with holly, in all its December
red-berried glory, gathered in plenty for decoration.
Holly trees don't make their sumptuous dispays of red berries until they are mature and have been growing for around forty years, although the tiny four-petalled white flowers arrive much earlier.
Today, the evergreen holly is rarely grown as a free standing tree in woodlands, rather growing as wild-seeded saplings in the thick of the oaks, ashes and chestnuts .It is still planted amongst tall hedgerows however, its sharp spined leaves making a good barrier, contrasting attractively with its smooth, greyish bark.
This wasn't the case in medieval times, when the huge holly woods must have been a wonderful sight.
Nowadays, it's unusual to see a fully grown 50ft tree of proper slim girth and height with its tall, triangular outline. This is because the wood of the tree is not prized for building, being too slim and easily split to take good sized pieces.
As a decorative wood, for small bowls etc, chess pieces, expensively engraved cues for billiards and ritual knife or whip handles (bringing protection) it is very beautiful, being hard, heavy, smooth and extremely pale. To keep its ivory colour it should be rubbed with lemon juice before oiling. The gentle undulating shapes can make exceptional wands!
from Robert Graves version of 'Cad Goddeu' -'The Battle of the Trees' See my Ogham Intro page.
Holly berries are poisonous to humans, even quite a small quantity can make an adult ill - and ingesting any number over twenty could be fatal!
Keep Yule decorations well away from young children!
Some winter birds make them a mainstay of their diets when they can find them in the cold weather, so we'd best leave the berries for them!
In professional medicine - please do not self-administer holly - the juice from its leaves is used to make different remedies to relieve urinary infections, as a diuretic, for relief of fevers, coughs and colds.
Illustration from 'Flowers from Shakespeare's Garden' by Walter Crane 1906
Element: Fire Ruling Planets: Saturn, Mars Gender: Masculine
Folk names for holly include hulver, holen and holme. In gaelic it is cuileann.
Holly flowers in mid May
To the Druids in the first two centuries AD, holly was second only to the oak in its power and spirituality.
It may come as a surprise to see that the Holly is the ruling tree of the 8th Lunar month, in fact in high summer. In the ancient celtic traditions, it's the Legend of the Oak King and the Holly King which sets their place in the Ogham Tree Calendar.
The Legend: In brief :
The Oak and Holly Kings are twin brothers and also old enemies, but despite their emnity they are not complete without each other.
'The Holly King'
© Wendy Andrew
Used here with her kind permission
At the beginning of the new year, on the Winter Solstice, December 21st, or Yule in the wheel of the year, the Oak King battles with Holly and defeats him. Oak now can rule the half of the year until summer, as the Sun waxes and grows in strength and the light lengthens.
At the Summer Solstice, June 21st, or Litha in the wheel of the year, the brothers battle again. This time Holly triumphs. In the old tradition, the body of Oak is burned on the Summer Solstice fire - a sacrifice of the Oak King. Now King Holly will rule as the days get darker and shorter and the Sun loses its strength, until the year turns once again towards the light.
The brothers don't die in the battles for the light and dark, but go back to the astral plains to serve the Goddess Arianrhod at her silver star wheel, and await the time for their solstice re-incarnation.
The Holly Fairy
All parts of the tree have very influential powers of protection - guarding against evil spirits and poisoning (strange as the berries are poisonous to humans!).
It can also be used as a charm or talisman for luck - especially by males as it has a masculine gender. (The equivalent plant for females is Ivy).
* For Lammas ( 1st August) use the green summer berries of holly in any ritual to ask for the protection of the crops in early harvest - or in any creative project.
Holly Fairy - Vintage postcard
* Plant a holly tree near the house as protection against sorcerers.
* Make a wand from holly to guard against mischievous spirits.
* Place seven holly leaves, wrapped in a white cloth and knotted seven times under your pillow to assist in the dreaming of psychic dreams. (Seven if you are Fae - Nine if you are Wiccan.)
* Throw a sprig of holly after a run-away animal and it will come back of its own accord.