The Thirteen Trees
Ogham Moon Calendar
The Five Trees
The Half Year
The Sacred One
Original artwork © Ruby Clark 2010
Full of magic even though such a common plant, the evergreen leaves of the climbing ivy are a welcome sight among the bare deciduous trees of winter.
It can tolerate conditions that many can't - scrambling in dark corners up ruined walls and filling forgotten, unwanted spaces.
Because of those traits, it is a much respected teacher - showing us how to keep going when things get difficult - how to persevere with seemingly impossible challenges until we reach our goal.
It looks to others for its support, interweaving and making stronger connections as it grows, giving strength and protection in return. It knows how to give and how to take, and the connection that it makes in its early days will last for years, often for life - a lesson of friendships.
It can spiral as it grows up the trunks of host trees - and spiral growth is a sign of the very strong life-force pulsing from the Earth. Ivy shows its strong, true spirit even when cut right back - overcoming seemingly impossible obstacles.
Mainly used for decorative purposes, climbing over unsightly walls and fences with tiny aerial roots, ivy has been cultivated as a popular garden plant with hundreds of different variegations. The wood is very hard, and can be used for engravings, but pieces of large diameter aren't easy to find.
Is the Ivy your Ogham birth tree?
Here is a beautiful Ivy Leaf pendant, hand-crafted in solid silver from the
Click link for more details
** Ivy is known to be slightly toxic if taken internally, it is bitter, unpleasant to taste and highly likely to cause stomach upsets! **
No longer used in modern day medicines, although concoctions brewed from ivy leaves or berries come highly recommended by the old herbalists.
The first known book of medicine, is 'The Leech Book of Bald' - Bald being the monk who gathered and noted the remedies. The manuscript, scribed by a monk named Cyld at Bald's behest, around the later years of the 9th century - suggests in the third book - "For sunburn boil in butter tender ivy twigs, smear therewith."
Here's an excerpt from Gerard's Great Herbal (16th century) ....
'The leaves of ivy, fresh and green, boiled in wine, do heal old ulcers, and perfectly cure those that have a venomous and malicious quality joined with them: and are a remedy likewise against burnings and scaldings.'
In times past, ivy leaves were boiled and strained then used externally as an antiseptic wash for skin irritations and sores, and layed as a hot poultice to bring down swellings.
Such a decoction, made very strong could be used as a rinse to restore lustre and colour to dark hair.
A wine-induced hangover could be avoided by taking a handful of ivy leaves, crushing them and then slowly boiling them in wine and drinking the mixture.
Element: Water Ruling Planet: Saturn Gender: Feminine
Ivy Mandala by Scottish artist
David Watson Hood (click to enlarge)
Ivy is a celebrated plant on many different spiritual paths. In some beliefs, because of its ability ro regrow after being cut down, it is seen as a symbol of resurrection or rebirth..
The Druids considered it to be sacred, and a feminine counterpart to the masculine holly. When placed together, either growing or as decoration, they gave (and give) great protection as well as balance and wisdom..
Its chief mythological association is with the underworld god Dionysus of Greece - the equivalent of the Roman god Bacchus and the Celtic warlord god Bran.
Considered an antidote to the effects of drinking too much wine, it was woven into slim crowns for wearing at the revels, as well as a decocted remedy for drinking (see above).
Dionysus is usually depicted holding a Thyrsus, a staff, sceptre or wand made from a stout, hollow fennel stem, topped with a pine cone and wound about with ivy. Revellers who worshipped the god carried these as torches, setting fire to them in the night and leading the way in wild, wine fuelled dances. Only when they are bound with ivy leaves do they truly become magic.
In various places in the British Isles, ivy played a large part in the Ancient ceremony of 'The Cutty Wren.'
On 26th December, St. Stephen's Day,
a dark procession - the women's hats crowned with ivy - solemnly sets off into the evening, carrying a pole topped with a 'Wren House' made from twisted ivy and decked with ribbons.
Once this would have caged the tiny body of a wren, trapped and killed for the occasion.
The Cutty Wren ceremony is thought to have been part of the Saturnalia festival - Mid-Winter - where the Lord of Misrule appeared and revels were cruel and wild.
To kill the wren - King of the Birds in old folklore tales, sacred in Roman times and revered by the Druids for its mid-winter song, would be misrule indeed, even though they did purport to cut it up and give it to the poor! Perhaps the bird was surrounded by ivy as a symbol of rebirth?
You might like to read Muddypond's account of the 'Cutty Wren' ceremony and see some more pictures here in my DiaryBlog - please scroll down to entry for January 4th.
* Bind together (touching down their lengths) a twig of ivy (female) and a twig of holly (male) with red wool, ribbon or thread to make a love talisman which will bring fidelity and good luck.
This makes a sweet present for a wedding.
* Boys - see your future wife in your dreams by picking ten ivy leaves on the night of All Hallows (Oct 31st) and placing them under your pillow.
* Girls - carry a sprig of ivy in your pocket as you walk under the full moon. The first young man who talks to you unbidden will be your husband. (If you don't want a husband, refrain from walking under the full moon with ivy about your person!!)
Illustration by Nellie Benson from Dumpy Books for Children - A Flower Book' 1901
* Ivy which is allowed to grow up the walls of a house will bring protection and positive opportunities to those living within.
* Should you be a young man, and go out amongst the crowds on Walpugis night (April 30th - or May Day Eve), wear a wreath or crown of ivy and you will be able to spot any witches in the throng.
* Ivy was the charm to protect milk. Like many Ogham woods, a branch above the cow byre would safe-guard both the cow and the full churn.
* Lay an ivy leaf in a saucer of water on New Year's Eve and leave it until Twelth Night (Jan 6th). If it has turned black, there will be illness during the year. If it stayed green, the year to come will be happy and prosperous.
Three from a set of six 'True Friendship' cards, posted in February 1910. No publisher marks.
An interesting example of the Victorian / Edwardian passion for the sentimental 'meanings' of flowers.