The Thirteen Trees
Ogham Moon Calendar
The Five Trees
The Half Year
The Sacred One
Reed withies near Snape, Suffolk in late August.
Photo - Daily Mail
To the 'Old Ones', the Druids and the Celts, all things in the natural world represented the connection with life, the gods and the earth. Both reed and wheat were highly revered for their everyday usefulness rather than their magic.
Ogham traditions from various parts of the British Isles differ in their interpretation of several of the plants, and this is most understandable with the Wheat or the Reed - both are wild grasses, both are still cut for the thatched roofing of cottages.and both were used for bedding.
They were also used as loose or woven flooring, and have a natural, rich deodorising scent which is released when the straw is trodden or crushed.
Combed wheat Longstraw Water reed
Photo - benthomasthatching.co.uk
Both reed and wheat straw are wonderful insulators and were specially revered during the long cold, wet months of the year or 'The Darkside' as they came to be known.
The reed in particular - as it can grow up to 2 metres tall, symbolised protection.
If the people lived amongst rolling agricultural land they would have chosen wheat.
If they were amongst dykes and ponds and streams, the hunter-gatherer people, then what they knew best was the reed. Ngetal, whether reed, rush or wheat, is the only Ogham plant which does not grow as a wood (even the ivy, bramble and gorse have hard woody stems).
Summer Reeds at Blythburgh Church
by Jean Bacon
Reeds, which are ready for cutting in November (12th Lunar month), have huge, strong roots that bind the soil along banks together. The roots are sugary and were once used as cattle fodder.
The stems of reeds and leaves of rushes were woven into mats and baskets, used as writing quills, and made into whistles. A reed bed whispers and rustles its ancient stories into the wind and reminds us to listen to the ancestors.
Wheat is the cereal staple of bread flour - and bread is a staple of life.
Is the Reed your Ogham birth symbol?
Here is a beautiful Reed pendant, hand-crafted in solid silver from the
Ogham Leaf Collection
by Wild Roses.
Click link for more details
© Wild Roses 2012
My bread - warm from the oven.
I have only one instance of any part of the reed or rush being used in medicine. In the west country an ointment made from the pounded root was used to cure thrush in babies. It's a great example of the sympathetic use of medicine and the sound of a plant name, a glimpse of an idea used in shamanic practices all over the world.
The power of wheat to heal is well known.The heart and embryo of the wheat - the wheat germ - is separated from the husk and kernel being milled for flour.
Wheat germ is packed with nutrients and rich in vitamin E, magnesium, phosphorus, thiamine, and zinc.
It's also a good source of coenzyme Q10
As a supplementary food source, often sprinkled on to other cereals, two tablespoons of wheat germ contains 65 calories, 6 grams protein, 2 grams of unsaturated fat, and 2 grams of fibre.
Wheat germ oil is good for the skin - it can help in curing skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema, .very helpful for dry skin. It works effectively to heal burns and skin ulcers.
Religion, Spirituality and Folklore
Element: Earth Ruling Planets: Venus, Sun, Pluto Gender: Changeable
Much of the symbolism and reverence for the reed comes from the celtic storytellers and later the welsh bards. In 'The Book of Taliesin', Taliesin was found floating in a basket woven from reeds by Elphin, who was his foster parent. Similarly used in the Old Testament story of Moses in the Bullrushes.
Reeds were guardians. The stems could be be trimmed to form a pipe, and the poets would retell their legends of heroism, romance and spirituality to the evocative sounds of the pipe and perhaps of the wind blowing eerily through the tall stems by the water's edge.
In the civilisation of Ancient Egypt, the reed was a symbol of power and pharaohs were depicted with a reed sceptre.
Illustration by John D Batten from 'English Fairy Tales'by Joseph Jacobs 1890
There's an old english faery-tale, known as 'Cap'O'Rushes', where a wronged youngest daughter was banished from her father's house. She made herself a cloak of rushes, together with a hood and this covered her finery, so that she could feed herself by becoming a 'pot-girl' kitchen made.
Cinderella-like, she slipped off her rush cloak and went to a dance where the Master's son fell in love with her, but she ran away without revealing her true identity. After many trials and tribulations, he found her again - and they lived ... well - you know ...
'Sweet, piercing sweet was the music of Pan's pipe' illustration by Walter Crane from
'The Story of Greece' by Mary McGregor.
In Greek mythology, the God Pan is famed for his playing of the mournful ‘Pan-pipes’ made from reed stems which were known as Syrinx.
The legend has it that Pan, a lustful God, fell in love with the beautiful nymph Syrinx. She spurned his advances and escaped from his clutches, only to find herself running headlong to the banks of the river Ladon, which she couldn’t cross.
As she shivered and wept, the river god and water nymphs heard her prayers, took her into their arms and changed her body into tall reeds which they hid at the water’s edge.
When Pan arrived he heard nothing but the sigh and song of the reeds. The sound reminded him of his lost nymph, so picking some stems, he formed them into a set of reed pipes which he kept with him ever after, naming them Syrinx.
The Roman goddess of the wheat-crops, the grain and corn was Ceres, the origin of course of our word 'cereal'. Her grecian equivalent is the goddess Demeter.
Right up until the late 19th century, farmers looked to the Spirit of the Corn to bring them wealth and luck in the coming year. The all important circle of corn sowing, harvesting and ploughing worked into the wheel of the year and ceremonies evolved to fall in with the equinoxes.
The last sheaf of wheat from the harvest was kept, and carried home with the final load to house the 'spirit' of the corn. Farm workers and their families walked alongside the decorated cart, ready for the ceremony of the Harvest Home.
Ill: Kate Greenaway
In many parts of the country - including Kent (Muddypond's home county), this final sheaf was made into the rough form of a doll called a 'Kern Baby'. The following anecdote is taken from ' The Origins of Popular Superstitions and Customs' by T. Sharper Knowlson 1910.
"In Kent the [kern baby] custom took another form, that of the Ivy Girl, which is a figure composed of some of the best corn the field produces, and made as well as they can into a human shape; this is afterwards curiously dressed by the women, and adorned with paper trimmings, cut to resemble a cap, ruffles, handkerchief, etc. of the finest lace. It is brought home with the last load of corn from the field upon the waggon, and they suppose entitles them to a supper at the expense of their employers."
Illustration by Walter Crane from 'Pan Pipes' a book of community songs published in 1883
These beautiful corn dollies
There's a wonderful description of ' The Harvest Home Celebrations' , by then adapted into the Christian church festivals, from documents of 1897, unearthed by the local history society in the village of Foxearth in Essex.
"After leaving the Church the labourers and their wives are entertained at a substantial repast of roast beef and plum pudding, the quality of which is unexceptionable and the supply unstinted."
You can read the whole narrative here at www.foxearth.org.uk
Illustration by M T Ross from
'Mother Earth's Children' 1900
Final stalks of harvested straw were plaited into a corn dolly, sometimes dressed with life-bringing (or witch repellant) red ribbons and wool, and hung in the kitchen or beside the hearth until the next harvest. These often took the shape of a hollow lozenge, the 'spirit' living inside.
Wheat is a symbol of fertility, and grains were thrown at weddings, put into the pockets or under the mattress of the bridal couple.
'Glaneauses' - Julien Dupre 1880
Reeds and Music - a fairy postcard from 1930s by Constance Symonds
* For full, heavy stalks of wheat with large ears at the base of the heads, seeds should be planted at the dark of the moon. (Be careful though - there are sayings too which tell of planting at the full moon for a heavy crop!)
* Before planting, put 5 grains of wheat in an undisturbed corner of the field saying ...
‘ One for the blackbird, One for the crow, one for the mole and two to grow.’
The Rush Grass and Cotton Grass Fairies
Cicely Mary Barker
* Place two grains of wheat side by side on a shovel on hot coals or logs, one for each of a pair of lovers.
If the grains jump off the shovel, you know that the couple are ready to be 'bound in matrimony'.
* On St. Bride's Eve (Jan 31st) weave a Bridgid's Cross from the stems of rush grasses (the type carried by the fairy on the left of the picture are perfect).
Hang it over door, bed or hearth at Imbolc (Feb 1st) for luck and blessings. (See how to make a St. Bride's Cross here on my website page for magical charms and spells)
* Make a whistle from the reed stem and learn to play its eerie music well if you want to summon the faery folk.
'The Long Cry of the Reeds at Even' Alexander Mann 1896