The Thirteen Trees
Ogham Moon Calendar
The Five Trees
The Half Year
The Sacred One
Original artwork © Ruby Clark 2011
From 'Tree Fairies' illustrated by Franke Rogers
Ruled by the Moon, its element water and under the care of the Goddess Hecate,
‘The Tree of Enchantment’, the willow (Salix alba) is a strong power in the thirteen trees of Ogham.
In all her seasons and shapes the tree is a potent symbol of grief.
Weeping Willow (Salix babylonica) at Godington House Gardens, Kent
The huge Weeping Willows (Salix babylonica) , bending over and dropping their tears into water, mirrored the feelings of those walking near them seeking solace. To wear the willow was a sign of mourning or loss, and was believed to bring the wearer strength to endure the despair of bereavement and to move forward.
Folk names for the different willows include : Osier, Sallow, Saille, Sally,
Saugh Tree, Sough Tree, Witches Aspirin, Wicker, Withe and Withy.
Pussy Willow (Salix caprea) in Spring
There are a great many willow species and about twenty are native to Britain. A common sight near water in the wild places as well as being widely planted in parks and gardens.
They range from the huge White Willow which can grow to a height of 24 metres with its soft silvery leaves - the massive Weeping Willow, originally from China and only introduced into Britain in 1692, planted for ornamental purposes and needing a space the size of a small house to grow to its full beauty – and familiar Crack Willow (Salix fragilis) to the Pussy or Goat Willow (Salix caprea), more shrublike, thriving on river banks and on boggy land.
Small spring white willow (Salix alba) at Chilston Ponds, Kent
Willows are deciduous, and the new leaves appear just after the catkin flowers on strong, new, pale twig growth. The leaf shape and colour varies depending on species, but the common ones are narrow and long with a drooping habit. In the White Willow they are grey-green on top and silver-white underneath and look wonderful shimmering in the moonlight. The Pussy willow has leaves of a rounder shape.
New leaves on the branches of Weeping Willow, drooping right down to the ground and often dipping into water appear as an amazing bright acid yellow-green, bringing early colour before the leaves on other trees break through.
The male and female catkins flower at the same time in early spring but on different trees, the large species bearing long green camouflaged tassels, the smaller Pussy Willows carrying the little grey furry buds on bare twigs. The flowers are pollinated by insects and wind.
Much like the Alder, Willows are pioneer trees and they `have huge spreading roots which help to stop soil erosion along banks in their natural, watery habitats.
Willow, in particular the Osier species, makes a wonderful material for building and for all sorts of agricultural purposes particularly fencing. It was a prime crop for charcoal making, and most ancient houses used willow withies for their wattle and daub walls.
Thousands of acres were grown in the Britain, coppiced and the pliable shoots harvested for roofing and walls, for basket and container weaving, to lobster pots, bee-hives and coracle making. Much of the willow used for beautiful hand-made baskets and storage was no longer needed when containers and bags of plastic were mass manufactured. Now it’s mainly grown in much smaller commercial quantities on the Somerset Levels.
Now it is fashionable again – thanks to a renewed love of natural materials and it is being grown across the country once more by specialists who sell it for crafts. For the eco-conscious, willow eco-coffins are now commonly used.
Fast growing, green ‘Living willow’ shelters, play houses and arbours take fast root in gardens and parkland, beautiful willow sculptures of birds and animals are commissioned and basket making / wicker work classes are full to bursting..I love bicycles with baskets, practical, hard-wearing and attractive.
'The Willow Man' image from the website of artist Serena de la Hay
The Druids were also supposed to craft willow sculptures – and gave rise to the legend of the Wicker Man, where it is told that the priests burned their sacrifices to the gods alive inside the structures.
There is a new Wllow Man by the M5 near Bridgewater – a magnificent 40 foot running creature sculpted by Serena de la Hay. He is the second sculpture and now lives on an island to keep him safe from Wicker Man influenced youths.
Willow wood can withstand water and was used in clog making. The cricket bat is still made of white willow, specifically Salix alba var. caerulea, as the material has an elastic quality and is difficult to splinter. Stumps and bales too are made from willow – the ‘wickets’ (the name so like ‘wicker’) of the game of cricket.
from Robert Graves' version of 'Cad Goddeu' -'The Battle of the Trees' See my Ogham Sacred Trees page.
Willow Healing and Medicine
It’s thought that White Willow has been prescribed in ancient British herbals for the healing of patients more than any other plant in history. This is because the bark contains the glucoside salicin, which converts to salicylic acid once in the blood stream.
Salicylic acid is the natural source (before being synthetically made in 1829 as acetylasylic acid from a reaction of phenol with carbon-dioxode) of the painkiller in ‘aspirin’ and is well documented as being used for pain relief at least two and a half thousand years ago by the healers and wise folk amongst the Greeks, Native Americans, Chinese, Japanese and Europeans (where this link ensured the willow's link to 'witchcraft' and 'cunning folk')
Herbalist John Gerard recommends that : 'The greene boughes with the leaves may very well be brought into chambers, and set about the beds of those that be sick of agues: for they do mightily cool the heat of the air, which thing is a wonderful refeshing to the sick patients.'
In 1763, a well travelled doctor, the Revd. Edward Stone from Oxfordshire conducted five years of careful experiments in the use of willow bark. Its bitter taste had reminded him of Peruvian bark used extensively by natives of South America, which, like willow, grew close to water where damp conditions brought on many ‘agues’.
He found that it worked equally well in reducing fever and pain and wrote a letter to draw attention to his findings to the then President of the Royal Society.
The bitter willow bark, the young green twigs and also the leaves were chewed to bring down fevers, as an anti-inflammatory in rheumatic joints, to relieve headaches and the pains of childbirth.
Willow supplement available online from
'Your Health Foodstores'
As a modern herbal medicine, a decoction of willow bark is taken for pain relief instead of ‘aspirin’ as the natural material doesn't seem to irritate the stomach lining. (This being said, some people react adversely to the natural material as well and can have quite severe gastric discomfort.)
A famous 'Bach Flower Remedy'
Willow for forgiveness and despondency.
A Willow Bark Decoction:
Best made in spring by stripping some fresh white willow bark (so as not to damage the tree). Soak a third of a cupful in a cupful of cold water for several hours and then bring to the boil and lowering heat, simmer for 20 minutes.
Cool and strain the liquid into a bottle – this can be taken by the desert-spoonful to help with pain relief and/or a reduction of feverish symptoms. It may be used as a mouth wash or gargle or externally as an antiseptic wash.
The bark powders easily when dried, and can be stored in air-tight jars for several months before being used in the same way.
A herbal tea, made to help with indigestion and stomach complaints is made from the fresh bark of the Sallow – the pussy or goat willow.
The intense acidic yellow-green of weeping willow in spring. Trees by Hythe Canal, Kent, taken in April.
Willow Religion, Spirituality and Folklore
Element: Water Ruling Planet: Moon Gender: Female
The Willow, in all her forms, is an elemental tree of water and magic – and ruled by the Moon. It is not for nothing that she is known as 'The Tree of Enchantment.'
'The Night of Enitharmon's Joy' formerly called `Hecate'
She is sacred to all the Moon Goddesses and in particular Hecate, triple aspect Greek Goddess of the Underworld, crossroads and witchcraft where willow is strongly linked with the crone aspect of the triage, and also to Artemis, beautiful Greek Goddess of Night.
In medieval times, witches were said to worship the willow above all other trees because of its link with healing and to the Witch Goddess Hecate, who taught sorcery and enchantment in the Underworld of old and her magician daughter Circe.
The themes of moonlight and water, witchcraft, grief and weeping mixed with the hope of immortality run as a never ceasing current through the legends of the Willow.
The tree’s amazing ability to take root from the tiniest twig roughly stuck into the earth, came to symbolise the hope of rebirth in many parts of the world. More affiliation can be found with the Roman Goddess Ceres and God Mercury, with the Greek Hera, the nymph and water magician Helice and with Persephone who Hecate served in the Underworld.
Willow is also linked to the Sumerian White Goddess of Moon and trees called Belili - and the Celtic Belinus and Bridgid.
Orpheus Leading Eurydice from the Underworld
by Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot in 1861
In the great Greek legends of the musician and muse Orpheus, we’re told that he carried willow branches through his journeying in the underworld as he struggled to bring his beloved Eurydice back to the world of the living.
The willow gave him its gift of expressive communication (think of the sound of the Wind in the Willows!) which he was able to add to his music, calming wild beasts and enchanting all who were able to hear it
Western traditions which evolved much later show willow as a sign or omen of unlucky love and the sadness of parting – probably because of weeping willow which appears to be bowing down with grief. The custom of wearing sprigs of willow in the hat, or pinned to clothing symbolised both these aspects, particularly when the loved one went way to war.
Listen to Steeleye Span singing the old folk song 'All Around my hat I will wear the Green Willow'.
It was a Celtic belief that a white willow sapling might be planted above a grave so that the spirit could rise up through the fast growing branches to reach immortality. The Celts loved willow for as well as being an indispensable material, it was a source of fascination and dreams of moonlit enchantment in their poetry and music.
In Ireland, Willow takes its place as one of the 'Seven sacred trees of the Irish grove' - alongside birch, apple, alder, holly, hazel and oak. (This list according to Robert Graves in 'The White Goddess'.) In druidic, pagan belief it is one of the nine woods to be added to the Beltane (May Day) or Need Fires..
This old folk song, illustrated c1880 by Walter Crane
has the chorus:
'Sing all the green willow, willow, willow, willow,
Ah me, the green willow my garland shall be.'
In parts of Britain, willow was supposed to have been the wood of the gallows, and in the Fens, using wood sawn or cut for building (other than coppiced withies) was considered unlucky. Documentation of this superstition, reaching right up to the 19th century can be found in The Cambridge Folklore Museum.
Crosses made of willow were made for Palm Sunday, and branches with their tender green spring leaves strewn on the church floor. In Dorset it was a tradition on this day to lay a piece of willow on each place in the pews.
The Japanese legend of the Willow Pattern, once so very popular on blue and white china dishes and platters follows the theme of unlucky love with its symbolic elements – always a willow tree by a bridge, and a pair of doves whose spirits were once star-crossed lovers.
Willow Magic, Charms and Beliefs
* Place a twig of willow under your pillow to ensure vivid and memorable dreams.
Illustration by Cicely Mary Baker
* Make a wand from willow, preferably picked at the trees own full-moon and use it throughout the year for any ritual or working that has to do with the moon, with removing pain or giving comfort.
* . Use a willow wand if you wish to participate in the wiccan full-moon ceremony ‘Drawing down the Moon’. This means asking the Moon Goddess to become one with you and blend her ancient wisdom with yours.
* Burn willow bark alone or as part of a herbal incense blend to bring inspiration, especially for creative writing and poetry..
* If you have a secret that cannot be told, but which burns inside you, go out and tell it to a willow tree – she will keep the secret and you will feel better for having spoken of it.
* Attract faeries and elf-folk by leaving a small basket in a safe place where it could catch moonlight, and add a comfortable pillow, stuffed with the fluff of the pussy-willow which all small magics love.
* Use willow to enhance your psychic powers by making a ‘Fire-potion’. Charge or empower a white candle and some spring water. Light a little bundle of willow twigs from its flame, then plunge them into the consecrated water. Drink some of this blackened water for magical cleansing.
Rhyme by H.G.C. Marsh Lambert
from 'Bo Peep's Big Nursery Story Book'
Illustration by Cicely Mary Baker
Is the Willow
Here is an exquisite single Willow Leaf pendant, hand-crafted in solid silver from the
Click link for more details