The Thirteen Trees
Ogham Moon Calendar
The Five Trees
The Half Year
The Sacred One
'The pine tree seems to listen, the fir tree to wait: and both without impatience:
they give no thought to the little people beneath them devoured by their impatience and their curiosity.'
from “"Der Wanderer und sein Schatten - The Wanderer and His Shadow 1880” Friedrich Nietzsche
The Waymarker Tree and the Sentinel - beloved by Gods, tall, dark, unmistakably conspicuous and endlessly functional for human-kind down the millennia – the Scots Pine stands proudly in its place, marking the rebirth of the year in the Ogham Calendar.
The age old folk-lore of Winter Solstice twins Pine with Yew - each evergreen ruling one day in December. Yew symbolising the death of the old year on December 21st, the darkest day – and Pine, a sign of the return of light and pointer towards new paths – on December 22nd.
E H Shephard from 'Let's Pretend' 1927
The tree in question for this prime 'birth of light' spot in the year may be arguable. Robert Graves refers to Ailm as Silver Fir, but unlike the Scots Pine, this is not a british native. Pine is documented in medieval Irish law (source: Bretha Comaithchesa - Neighbourhood Law - 8th century) as one of the seven 'Airig Fedo - the Nobles of the Wood’ - listed for their usefulness.
In the British Isles, only in the Highlands of Scotland do we find ‘native ’ pine forests but there are plenty deliberately planted and managed in other parts. The forests, whether ‘native’ or ‘man-made’ are interesting since, because of its darkly shadowed floor covering, the pine can’t seed and regenerate under its own canopy. The forests gradually ‘move’ over the centuries as the pines die and as cones roll downhill into the sunlight or are redistributed by animals or seeds fly on the wind.
The largest trees we see commonly grow to around 65 feet or 20 metres high, but old specimens may be much taller. They can, if allowed, live for up to 350 years.
Very tall and narrow, the straight, bare trunks rarely exceed two metres or about seven feet in diameter before branching out to form several tiers of vast flat platform-like tops. The scots pine can also be a narrow, tall, pyramid tree, particularly when young. The mature trunks are protected by thick plates of armoured bark.
This pine has long, deep-green needles with a bluish bloom. These grow in pairs (if the needles are not in little pairs, the tree is a fir!), staying on the tree for a couple of years before being shed in October time and replaced – making the familiar build-up of deep, scented, needle litter under the dark trees.
In May, the female flowers appear on the tips of branches, covered in a sticky, sweetly scented resin for protection. Smaller male flowers grow on the same tree and they are pollinated by wind.
Flower tip in spring, ready to form new cone
Two year old cones opening to shed seeds
The seed-bearing cones take about two years to fully ripen and open, when in spring, the little papery seeds will wing their way out on the wind and can be carried long distances. These cone-seeds are enjoyed by a variety of small mammals and birds – including the siskin – and in Scotland, the red squirrel and rare Scottish cross-bill.
Male Siskin - photo by
Martin Goodey Wildlife Phtography
Pine wood has been used down the millennia for building. It has a high resin content in its sap which makes it very slow to decay, and so it was endlessly useful in building the great wooden ships, the tall trunks making ideal masts – and later, telegraph poles. The trunks can be easily split into long planks for house building and furniture. This resinous sap is made into turpentine and used in making tar.
from Robert Graves' version of 'Cad Goddeu' -'The Battle of the Trees' See my Ogham Sacred Trees page
Pine Healing and Medicine
A famous 'Bach Flower Remedy'
Pine to restore self-worth.
Remedies made from various parts and varieties of pine are well known for bringing effective relief for ailments of the respiratory tract. Inhaling the steam of boiled needles, bark, or resin can help to clear blocked noses, phlegm and infections and may cure or lessen headaches.
Plenty of pine-based products can be bought to aid health, but an infusion to drink or inhale can easily and safely be made at home.
Boil a basin-full of pine needles (preferably fresh and young) or the twig tips (but do remember this is where next year’s cones will come from!) – barely covered in spring water - for around 15 minutes. Inhale the steam – or strain, allow to cool a little and drink a small cupful as a tisane.
Infusions made from pine needles are antiseptic and anti-bacterial and can be used on skin wounds and blemishes, or poured into the bath to improve overall skin health. In Eastern Europe, pine resin was pounded into ointment form and used for dry lips or skin wounds and sores.
Modern essential oils are extracted from the needles and used in disinfectants, and the seeds or pine-nuts may also be used. The oils are fresh smelling and stimulating when used in aromatherapy. Taken as a tea, infusions are said to be good for rheumatic and arthritic conditions as well as being diuretic.
Pine nuts - (although not from Scots Pine - the seeds are too small) are a healthy addition to salads etc. being high in Vitamin E and mono-unsaturated fats.
The 'tame or maured' pine - from Gerarde 1597
Historically, varieties of pine were commonly used by the North American Indian tribes for their healing properties and some ate pine-nuts (not from scots pine but from other species) as a staple. The Potawatomi were one of many peoples to use the resin in a salve applied to the skin – and bark slithers were boiled until pliant then laid on burns or wounds. Other tribes burned pine needles and inhaled the smoke for headache, and boiled needles to make a tea which would soothe sore throats.
In Gerarde’s Herball (1597) we find, among other extracts – the following suggestion:
From ‘The Vertues – E’ : The whole Cone or apple, being boiled with fresh Horehound, saith Galen, and afterwards boiled again with a little honey till the decoction be come to the thickness of honey, maketh an excellent medicine for the cleansing of the chest and lungs.
Scotts Pine Religion, Spirtuality and Folklore
Element: Air Ruling Planet: Mars Gender: Masculine
'Bacchante on Panther' - William-Alphonse Bouguereau c1886
She has a pine cone staff in her hand.
Gods associated with the pines are the Greek Dionysus or Bacchus, God of wine and grapes, and the Phrygian–Roman pairing of Attis, God of vegetation and Cybele, Mother Goddess. (Phrygia is a historic region now part of Turkey).
The use of pine in ship building made it a favoured tree of Poseidon, God of the Sea.
As an evergreen, pine is looked to in winter as a symbol of the green earth, which will bloom once more after the snows, darkness and death of the greening – a symbol of birth, a sign that there will be rebirth, and possibly resurrection after death by fire.
As a symbol of birth, it follows that the cone fruit from the pines was used in antiquity as a symbol of fertility, and we have pictorial evidence showing the cone used in ceremonies from many ancient civilisations.
The image at left is Egyptian - the staff of the God Osiris.
Part of a floor mosaic showing
Dionysus riding a panther. 400 - 360BC.
Pella Archaological Museum, Greece.
Dionysus and his followers are often pictured in ancient art, carrying a staff which is topped with a pine-cone.
There are two schools of thought about this – the first, age old and most likely, being that cones were a symbol of fertility. The priests of the cult would light the cones atop of the staff at night, making fire-torches as processions wound up hillsides to the temples.
The other suggests that the cone is a symbol of ‘other-world-thought and journeying’ – the cone was carried or burned – the wine of Bacchus drunk- to facilitate stimulation of the cone-shaped ‘pineal gland’ at the base of the brain.
Attis is an interesting God, less well known than Dionysus. Little is understood about his mythical ancestors – he may either have been the son of Nana ( a birth story worth reading!) and lover of Cybele, or her son and lover - either way they were inextricably linked. He was a shepherd.
shown with a knife in his left hand and a pine-cone in his right. Museo Latero, Rome.
The myth of Attis tells how Goddess Cybele commanded him, now her chief priest, to be faithful to her alone and when she found that he had taken up with a beautiful nymph, she drove him mad and he finally castrated himself – drops of his blood blossoming into scented violets on the ground where he lay dying.
Heartbroken at the discovery, Cybele changed his body into an evergreen pine tree, and in ceremony it was burned. In three days, Attis was resurrected – the age old birth, death, re-birth cycle.
A Roman Spring festival 'The Megalensia' celebrated this re-birth – here (much shortened) is Sir James Frazer’s description of the event …
'On the twenty-second day of March, a pine-tree was cut in the woods and brought into the sanctuary of Cybele, where it was treated as a great divinity.
This 3rd Century BC bronze incense thurible is in the Britsih Museum. The front and back show the heads of Cybele and Attis.
The duty of carrying the sacred tree was entrusted to a guild of Tree-bearers. The trunk was swathed like a corpse with woollen bands and decked with wreaths of violets, for violets were said to have sprung from the blood of Attis …; and the effigy of a young man, doubtless Attis himself, was tied to the middle of the stem.
On the second day of the festival, the twenty-third of March, the chief ceremony seems to have been a blowing of trumpets. The third day, the twenty-fourth of March, was known as the Day of Blood: the Archigallus or highpriest drew blood from his arms and presented it as an offering.'
We have to make the connection here with ancient winter and spring solstice festivals, when the burning of the special log was linked inextricably with light, with the rebirth of the sun and the yearly cycle of nature.
In European folklore Freyr, Norse God of fertility is said to have had a staff topped with a pine cone and the pine species is often mentioned. Here – two extracts from well-known historians about the region then known as Silesia, which is now mostly in Poland -
"Jedliniok" - from Wroclaw in Poland -
keeping Silesian traditions alive.
‘ On Mid-Lent Sunday, pine boughs, bound with variegated paper and spangles, are carried about by children singing songs, and are hung over the stable doors to keep the animals from evil influences’
" The Folklore of Plants" T.F Thistelton-Dyer
‘ Another witching time is the period of twelve days between Christmas and Epiphany. Hence in some parts of Silesia the people burn pine-resin all night long between Christmas and the New Year in order that the pungent smoke may drive witches and evil spirits far away from house and homestead.’
" The Golden Bough " Sir James Frazer
'The Sentinel Pine' George Elbert Burr c1924
There's much evidence that single Scots Pines were kept as ancient way-markers, and later in England to show the paths of ‘drove roads’ which are said to follow ley-lines, where sheep and cattle were walked long distances to market.
Tall, ancient pines can still be seen at ‘node-points’ – marking where trackways cross, particularly on high ground. The Highland people of Scotland used the tall pine to mark the burial places of warriors where their strong spirits went into the trees, climbing up to other worlds.
Scots Pine tree with the legendary
It’s conjectured that pine was one of the nine woods used in the Druidic Bael-fires, particularly at Winter Solstice, and of course that’s very likely as it was readily available and burned beautifully! The doings of the Druids were not accurately chronicled, and ‘The Nine’ tend to change depending on the source.
Legend has it that you can't grow a group of seven pines together to maturity - if seven is attempted the last one planted will not flourish. More, or less, than seven must be planted at one time.
Scots Pine Magic, Charms and Beliefs
Pine fairy illustration from 'Dream Boats' by Dugald Stewart Walker 1918
|Postcard illustration by Margaret Tarrant c1930
* Incense made with pine needles, resin or oil will purify a space and banish any negativity that's lurking there. The same can be achieved by burning pine logs on an open fire, or dropping in a handful of pine needles or cones.
* Take some time to yourself with the help of some pine oil in the bath, or a pine ‘flower remedy’. Clear your thoughts and feelings of anxiousness as pine is the waymarker - it will make your mind alert and help show you the way that should be taken if you are in any confusion.
* Use any part of the pine in workings for fertility. Use a wand made from its wood if a new life is hoped for as it will attract positive energies and transfer them to the worker, making them warm and sensually welcoming.
* Pine smoke, perhaps 'smudged' around you or your home during incense burning will energise the atmosphere and ‘counter magic’ any evil influences.
* Should a shower of snow accidentally fall onto you from the branch of a pine-tree, a great blessing will occur.
Illustration from 'A Child's Garden of Verses'
' - artist unknown to me at present.