The Thirteen Trees
Ogham Moon Calendar
The Five Trees
The Half Year
The Sacred One
Original artwork © Ruby Clark 2011
The magical Rowan – a white-flowered faery tree. Sacred for the ancient Druid cults and, as Luis, second ruler in the Ogham Tree Calendar. In its ruling time at the beginning of February, falls one of the four great pagan sabbats of the year – Imbolc (Feb 1st), or Candlemas (Feb 2nd) in the Christian almanac. (See a charm to make and more about Imbolc here on my website.)
The name ‘Rowan’ may have been passed down from the old Norse name for the tree ‘Runa’ which means a charm, or the Swedish ‘Roon’ for red. As well as being known as the Mountain Ash, its folk names are many and varied, Quickenwood, Quickbane, Sorbapple, Witchenwood, Rune Tree, Witchbane being but a few!
The botanical name Sorbus Aucuparia is interesting, in that ‘aucuparia’ shows the tree has fruit which can be used by the ‘auceps’ or bird catcher to bait his traps.
The tree is widespread in Europe, China and Russia growing in the wild places where soil may be slightly peaty and acidic, the rocks and streams of the high moors and mountains. It’s a true native in the rocky habitats of Wales and Scotland and can withstand poor soil and icy temperatures. The rowan loves light and space, and as it is a small, fairly short lived tree, not reaching much above 15 metres it doesn’t grow in the old woodlands or forests where it would be overshadowed by the oaks and pines.
As a wonderfully vivid, colourful small tree, it’s a popular choice in modern urban settings, parks and open roadsides, which is fortunate for those living in the south, as it rarely grows there any longer in the wild. .
In many parts of Europe they are still commonly found around the ruins of ancient settlements and stone circles. Were they planted deliberately, as magical protection, or was it that the stone circles and cairns were so often in the high, deserted habitats that the rowan likes best? Answer unknown!
The Rowan is loved for its pretty creamy-white clusters of flowers in May, whose sweet scent attracts plenty of bees and other pollinating insects. Its deciduous leaves are very much like those of the Ash, leaflets paired on a long central stem, which turn red in late autumn and that is where the tree found its other name of Mountain Ash, although not a member of the Ash family.
Large bunches of brilliantly bright, red or orange berries hang down from late August, contrasting with the deep green of the long leaves. They can be made into a delicious jelly, often mixed with apple or crab-apples, which goes very well with game birds like pheasant or partridge, or with rabbit pies and venison.
The fruits are coveted by the birds. Redwings and fieldfares descend on it in flocks in the mountains of Scotland, while the berries are stripped with relish in towns and gardens by blackbirds and chaffinches, who then disperse the seeds in their droppings.
The strong, dense light brown wood is prized by contemporary wood carvers and turners for its fine grain, and crafted into bowls, platters and stemmed cups. It was the traditional wood for spinning wheels, for large pegs and pins to fasten, for spindles and makes a fine walking stick.
In the past Rowan wood was used in the making of many a farm tool handle, wheel-spoke and animal yolk, where it was considered to offer protection from witchcraft.
A black dye can be extracted from the young tree bark, which contains much tannin.
Is the Rowan
Here is a beautiful Rowan Leaf pendant, hand-crafted in solid silver from the
Click link for more details
As is usual with fruits, the scarlet Rowan berries are high in Vitamin C content. They contain sorbic acid, making them very astringent and should normally be boiled and then strained before use, as eating the berries raw can easily cause stomach upsets. The berries are best prepared into jellies or syrups, where the pulp and seeds are strained out, as the seeds and possibly the leaves are known to contain some toxic properties of the kind associated with poisonous prussic acid.
From The Herball of
Fresh juice from the berries, another preparation free from seeds, is used as a gargle as well as a mild laxative. Both jelly and syrup were prepared in the past two centuries to be prescribed for the relief of gout. The unripe berries were only used externally, as lotions and on poultices.
The tree is mentioned in John Gerard’s 1597 herbal, he calls it Quicken Tree and Wilde Ash – ‘The leaves of the wilde Ash tree boiled in wine, are good against the pain in the sides, and the stopping of the liver, and assuageth the bellies of those that have the tympanie and dropsy.’The fresh flowers can be used to make an infusion which was thought to be effective in relieving kidney disease.
Today, in herbal medicine, the dried and ground berries, once used as a substitute for flour, or the dried and ground bark as well as the dried flowers, may be used for a tea to help with digestive problems and common stomach disorders. The use of this tea was also once believed to cleanse the blood.
In ‘Letters Written through a Tour of North Wales’ 1798 by Rev. J. Evans, an ale-like brew named in welsh ‘diodgriafel’ is mentioned:
‘This is made of the berries of Sorbus Aucuparia (Roan Tree) abundant in most parts of Wales; by pouring water over them and setting the infusion to ferment. When kept for some time this is by no means an unpleasant liquor; but necessity obliges these children of penury to use it without waiting for the fermentative process.
In Scotland a spirituous liquor is obtained by distillation; and Gremlin informs us, the same use is made by the natives of Kamschatea.
The tree is held in high veneration by the superstitious: as small part of it is carried about as a defence against inchantment; and a branch of the Rowan is considered infallible in protecting cattle from the injury of witchcraft.’
'Up she ran, and rubbed her cheeks against the scarlet berries.'
Illustration , Margaret Tempest for 'Wise Owl's Story' by Alison Uttley.1st pub. Collins 1935
Named in Celtic ‘Fid na ndruad’, or the Wizard Tree, the Rowan was known to be sacred to many cultures. Governed by the Celtic Gods Lugh the Sun God, Dagda and Brigid, by the Welsh Ceridwen, as well as by the great Norse God Thor and the Germanic Hecate. The tree, known as the Quicken Tree – the Tree of Life, with its scarlet berries like living drops of blood, proof to the ancestors of its life-force, was believed to have mighty powers of protection.
The Celtic Druids were thought to have made frames to dry the skins of sacrifices from Rowan branches, and to use strong twigs to divine for metals in the same way as hazel was used to divine for water.
In Ireland, the Goddess Brigid, the young and blooming aspect of the Triple Goddess, apparently made her bows and arrow shafts from rowan wood.
One Norse legend associating Rowan with the great god Thor is set out in the Icelandic book of lore, poetry and tales – The Prose Edda, written c1220.
Here is the relevant extract, taken from the best known translation by A.G. Brodeur, published in 1916:
‘Then Thor proceeded to the river named Vimur, greatest of all rivers. There he girded himself with the Girdle of Might and braced firmly downstream with Grídr's Rod, and Loki held on behind by the Girdle of Might.
When Thor came to mid-current, the river waxed so greatly that it broke high upon his shoulders.
Then Thor sang this:
Wax thou not now, Vimur, For I fain would wade thee into the Giants' garth:
'Thor in the River Vimur' illustration by Lorenz Froelich in
'Nordens Guder' Bk V1 by Adam Oehlenschläger
Know thou, if thou waxest, then waxeth God-strength in me as high up as the heaven.
Then Thor saw Gjálp, daughter of Geirrödr, standing in certain ravines, one leg in each, spanning the river, and she was causing the spate.
Then Thor snatched up a great stone out of the river and cast it at her, saying these words: 'At its source should a river be stemmed.' Nor did he miss that at which he threw.
In that moment he came to the shore and took hold of a rowan-clump, and so climbed out of the river; whence comes the saying that rowan is Thor's deliverance.”
Some tales of ‘Thor’s Salvation’ go so far as to have the Rowan actually bending over the flood and reaching out to save him.
In folklore, the rowan was widely venerated as the tree of strongest possible protection over malicious, magical influences. This was true in all parts of the British Isles and Europe, although in the South, where the Rowan is not a common plant, it is often supplanted by Hawthorn, similar in many ways for its clusters of white flowers and its dark red berries.
There are hundreds of references to be found telling of the use of crosses made from rowan twigs and bound with red thread, rowan berry necklaces and rowan loops and used as a charm or amulet. Small pieces were sewn into clothes or simply carried in pockets (the earliest of these were little bags, gathered with strings at the top).
The wood was considered right only if collected from a living tree (after asking the Rowan’s permission of course) – some thought fairies lived in its branches, and stealing the wood without consent might focus their anger in your direction!
The charms thus made, could keep milk from curdling and souring, ward off harm to oxen and cattle, safeguard baby’s cradles and a rowan walking stick would keep you safe during night travels, especially necessary on Samhain night.
Twigs fastened into bridles, or the use of a whip with a rowan-wood handle, could keep restless horses calm. Twigs tucked into the collars of dogs would make them run faster.
In Chapter 9 of Walter Scott’s Kenilworth, Dame Sludge seeking to protect her son Dickie, or Flibbertigibbet says ‘ "Ay, and I, as I said before, have sewed a sprig of the mountain-ash into his collar," said the good woman, "which will avail more than your clerkship, I wus; but for all that, it is ill to seek the devil or his mates either."
The Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford has two protective rowan crosses on display, donated in 1893 but dating from much earlier, both coming from Scotland. Their records say that ….’supposedly, the sacred shape of the cross enhances the protective power of the rowan tree itself. This type of amulet was put into every opening of a house, so as to keep witches out.’
James 1st, King of Scotland, writes in his ‘Daemonologie‘ of 1591, to condemn ‘such kinde of Charmes as commonlie dafte wives uses’ for protection of their families or livestock from the evil eye, ….. ‘by knitting roun-trees, or sundriest kinde of herbes, to the haire or tailes of the goodes.’
In spite of its being the Tree of Life and Quickening, it was thought that a spike of rowan could be driven into a corpse to keep the soul from walking.
The tiny five pointed ‘pentacle’ at the base of each berry was considered a mark of magical importance. Many a cottager had a Rowan growing nearby as protection against ‘the evil eye’ of both witch and faery – it was recognized as a bad omen to uproot it, cut it with a knife or to lose one in a storm. As with so many other a sacred tree, it was also believed to be a safeguard against lightning and fire.
'The Mountain Ash Fairy'
* Cut a switch of rowan to make a wand of great power and use it in rituals where psychic intuition and strong personal magical energies are needed. The wand may also warn of any negative forces that are near.
A ‘flying rowan’ wand is even more powerful – cut from the wood which sometimes grows from a seedling that has germinated in the crook of a branch where it joins the trunk.
* Make a tiny ‘touch-charm’ for protection by cutting a round from across a rowan twig, cleaning off its bark and oiling, then addling the Ogham Luis sign (see above).
* Hang a loop of rowan berries near your door to repel any malign influences
.(See 'How to make a Rowan Loop Charm' here on my website.)
1953 postcard pub. Allis
by Mary Ophoff
* Make an infusion from boiled bark, berries, leaves, flowers or any part of the tree, and when it is cold, use it to cleanse the negative energies from your house.
This can also be done by smudging the smoke from a herbal rowan incense into corners of the room to be cleaned.
* After thatching the crown of your hay stack, tuck small pices of rowan twig into the bindings to guard against fire.
* At Beltaine, (May 1st) , ensure that Rowan wood is available as one of the Nine Woods of the Midsummer fire.
* Wear a garter of young rowan bark, the smooth green inside against the skin, as a safe-guard against dark-witches and counter-spells.
* Cure an illness by making a small slit in the bark of the rowan trunk, taking a hair from the sick person and pushing it into the cut. The illness will heal with the bark.