Celticsprite’s Blog


The "Taliesin’s Battle Of The Trees Video" by Celestial Elf
September 10, 2011, 2:59 am
Filed under: Celtic Poems, Celtic Tree Lore
Greeting to you all!… I am proud to share once again a new work from Celestial Elf, another interesting video created with Machimina software, honouring in this case the legendary poem by Taliesin “The Battle of The Trees” which I have prevously discussed on a related post.
I repost now his blog as published on his awesome site The Dance of Life. All rights reserved by the author.




I have set Taliesin’s Battle Of The Trees within two other pieces, firstly Tacitus’ report of the Roman invasion of the Druid island of Angelsey, followed by another poem from those by Taliesin which had been mixed in with The Battle of The Trees in a method of concealment to hide the poems meaning from those without understanding.
The Battle Of The Trees / Cad Goddeu ;
The tops of the beech tree have sprouted of late,
are changed and renewed from their withered state.
When the beech prospers, through spells and litanies,
the oak tops entangle, there is hope for the trees.
I have plundered the fern, through all secrets I spy.
Old Math ap Mathonwy knew no more than I.
For with nine sorts of faculty God has gifted me,
I am fruit of fruits gathered from nine sorts of tree–
Plum, quince, whortle, mulberry, raspberry, pear,
Black cherry and white, with the sorb in me share.
From my seat at Caer Fefynedd (Kire Fev-Un-eThh), a city that is strong,
I watched the trees and green things hastening along.
Retreating from happiness they would fein be set
In forms of the chief letters of the alphabet.
Wayfarers wander, warriors are dismayed,
at the renewal of conflicts such as Gwydion made.
Under the root of the tongue, a fight most dread,
and another raging, behind, in the head.
The alders in the front line began the affray.
Will and rowan tree were tardy in array.
The holly, dark green, made a resolute stand;
He is armed with many spear points wounding the hand.
With foot beat of the swift oak heaven and earth rung;
“Stout Guardian of the Door”, his name in every tongue.
Great was the gorse in battle, and the ivy at his prime;
The hazel was arbiter at this charmed time.
Uncouth and savage was the fir, cruel the ash tree–
Turns not aside a foot breadth, straight at the heart runs he.
The birch, though very noble, armed himself but late;
A sign not of cowardice but of high estate.
The heath gave consolation to the tail spent folk
The long enduring poplars in battle much broke.
Some of them were cast away on the field of fright
Because of holes torn in them by the enemy’s might.
Very wrathful was the vine whose henchmen are the elms;
I exalt him mightily to rulers of realms.
Strong chieftains were the blackthorn with his ill fruit,
The unbeloved whitethorn who wears the same suit.
The swift pursuing reed, the broom with his broad,
And the furse but ill-behaved until he is subdued.
The dower scattering yew stood glum at the fight’s fringe,
With the elder slow to burn amid fires that singe.
And the blessed wild apple laughing in pride
And the Borchan of Maeldrew, by the rock slide.
In shelter linger privet and woodbine,
Inexperienced in warfare, and the courtly pine.
But I, although slighted because I was not big,
Fought, trees, in your array on the field of Goddeu Brig.
translation from Robert Graves book ”The White Goddess;”
the Roman invasion of the Druid island of Angelsey, followed by another poem from those by Taliesin which had been mixed in with The Battle of The Trees in a method of concealment to hide the poems meaning from those without understanding.
The Battle Of The Trees / Cad Goddeu ;
The tops of the beech tree have sprouted of late,
are changed and renewed from their withered state.
When the beech prospers, through spells and litanies,
the oak tops entangle, there is hope for the trees.
I have plundered the fern, through all secrets I spy.
Old Math ap Mathonwy knew no more than I.
For with nine sorts of faculty God has gifted me,
I am fruit of fruits gathered from nine sorts of tree–
Plum, quince, whortle, mulberry, raspberry, pear,
Black cherry and white, with the sorb in me share.
From my seat at Caer Fefynedd (Kire Fev-Un-eThh), a city that is strong,
I watched the trees and green things hastening along.
Retreating from happiness they would fein be set
In forms of the chief letters of the alphabet.
Wayfarers wander, warriors are dismayed,
at the renewal of conflicts such as Gwydion made.
Under the root of the tongue, a fight most dread,
and another raging, behind, in the head.
The alders in the front line began the affray.
Will and rowan tree were tardy in array.
The holly, dark green, made a resolute stand;
He is armed with many spear points wounding the hand.
With foot beat of the swift oak heaven and earth rung;
“Stout Guardian of the Door”, his name in every tongue.
Great was the gorse in battle, and the ivy at his prime;
The hazel was arbiter at this charmed time.
Uncouth and savage was the fir, cruel the ash tree–
Turns not aside a foot breadth, straight at the heart runs he.
The birch, though very noble, armed himself but late;
A sign not of cowardice but of high estate.
The heath gave consolation to the tail spent folk
The long enduring poplars in battle much broke.
Some of them were cast away on the field of fright
Because of holes torn in them by the enemy’s might.
Very wrathful was the vine whose henchmen are the elms;
I exalt him mightily to rulers of realms.
Strong chieftains were the blackthorn with his ill fruit,
The unbeloved whitethorn who wears the same suit.
The swift pursuing reed, the broom with his broad,
And the furse but ill-behaved until he is subdued.
The dower scattering yew stood glum at the fight’s fringe,
With the elder slow to burn amid fires that singe.
And the blessed wild apple laughing in pride
And the Borchan of Maeldrew, by the rock slide.
In shelter linger privet and woodbine,
Inexperienced in warfare, and the courtly pine.
But I, although slighted because I was not big,
Fought, trees, in your array on the field of Goddeu Brig.
translation from Robert Graves book ”The White Goddess;”
The Battle of The Trees by celestialelff
The Book of Taliesin dates from the 14th C. and collected 56 of the oldest poems in Welsh, those attributed to the 6th C. poet Taliesin would have been composed in the Cumbric dialect of the north. The manuscript preserves a few hymns, a small collection of elegies and also enigmatic poems such as The Battle of Trees and The Spoils of Annwfn, in which the poet claims to have sailed to another world with King Arthur and his warriors.
The Battle of the Trees poem itself, whilst currently “pied” with approximately four other poems, is set during a war between Arawn King of Annwfn or the Underworld, and Amaethon a ploughman. This war is prompted by the latter’s theft of three magical creatures from the underworld, a dog who was the guardian of the secret, a white roebuck who hides the secret, and a lapwing who disguises the secret.
Regarding the secret powers possessed by these otherwordly creatures, it is said in the Triads:
there are three primary essentials of genius;
an eye that can see nature, a heart that can feel nature, and a boldness that dares follow it.
Druids taught in Triads or groups of three, which embodied the traditional Laws, Customs, and Wisdoms, of the ancient Celtic people, such as “Truth in heart, strength in arm, honesty in speech.” or “Three things not easily restrained, the flow of a torrent, the flight of an arrow, and the tongue of a fool.”
The poem famously details the legendary Gwydion’s account of the trees of the forest which he enchanted to fight as his army against Arawan.
Within the ranks of Arawn’s forces were a number of mighty warriors, and one of these was invincible as long as his name remained a secret.
Gwydion the enchanter rightly guessed the secret name and won the battle saying these words:
Sure-hoofed my spurred horse,
On your shield Alder sprigs,
Bran is your name, Bran of the branches.
Sure-hoofed my horse of war,
On your hand are sprigs of Alder,
Bran you are, by the branch you bear.
However as Robert Graves explores in his book ‘The White Goddess’ the poem is particularly notable for its striking and enigmatic symbolism and the wide variety of interpretations this has occasioned.
Graves suggests that the trees in this poem correspond to the ancientOgham alphabet, in which each alphabetic character represents a specific musical note, seasonal cycle, mythological tale and deity.
This method of association was a teaching aid in the letters and the trees associated with each, and its use in this poem was a poetic plea for the continuance of the use and teaching of this alphabet;
”This alphabet utilized thirteen consantants and five vowels. The consantants form the thirteen months of the annual cycle, while the vowels set forth the five year cycle of this Celtic calender. The letters/trees within the poem are not set in their proper order, I believe, in a further attempt to “encode” the information given in the poem so that only a person versed in this alphabet could utilize it.” Robert Graves.
Each tree had a meaning and significance of its own, and Gwydion guessed Bran’s name by the Alder branch Bran carried, the Alder being one of Bran’s prime symbols.
Graves thus argued that the original poet had concealed Druidic secrets about an older matriarchal Celtic religion for fear of censure from Christian authorities, that Arawn and Bran were names for the same underworld god and that the battle was probably not physical but rather a struggle of wits and scholarship: Gwydion’s forces could only be defeated if the name of his companion, Lady Achren (“Trees”), was guessed, and Arawn’s host only if Bran’s name was guessed.
Blessed Be /|\ ~

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Druidry: The Symbolism of the Apple Tree
August 5, 2011, 6:04 pm
Filed under: Celtic Symbolism, Celtic Tree Lore, Druidry

Symbolism of the Apple Tree

On a previous post I have discussed upon the correspondence between the Arthurian Avalon and the significance of the apple fruit for the Celts, who recognize all of the features of the apple tree and view it as pleasing in every way.

Let’s assure that is even a symbol of creativity (as well as creation) and is an emblem of art and poetry. The meaning of apple trees is also associated with virtue, and the tree (as well as the fruit) is a symbol of purity and mortherhood.

In Medieval Irish story Connla the Fair, an Irish prince, fell in love with a beautiful Faerie woman, who arrived on the Irish shore in a crystal boat. She offered him an apple from the world of Faerie, and he took the fatal bite, and was hers forever. They set sail for her magical island where the trees bore both fruit and blossom, and winter never came. There, they ate an ever replenishing stock of apples, which kept them

In Irish lore, the God Óengus offered three miraculous apple trees from the magical woods, Bruig na Bóinde (New Grange), as a wedding gift for the one of the Milesians. One was in full bloom, one shedding its blossoms, and one in fruit. (Mountfort, page 103) The deliberate felling of an Apple Tree was punishable by death in ancient Irish law. (Gifford, page 97)

In the Welsh Câd Goddeu (The Battle of the Trees), the Apple is described as the noblest tree of them all, the tree that symbolized poetic immortality.

For obvious reasons the ancient Celts consider the apple tree a treasure among the Ogham tree clan.

It’s brilliant flowers burst forth in the spring, usually ranging from pink to white. These flowers have a light aroma that lifts the spirit of all who pass by them. Ancient Celts would decorate bedchambers with the apple blossoms as a fertility gesture and to tribute the beauty and bounty life provides.

After the glory of the blossoms, come the fruit of the apple. Druids recognized the powerful transformative qualities experienced when consuming the apple. It was thought the fruit could transport the eater to other worlds, typically of a paradise-like ilk. Further altered states could be induced by pressing the apples and allowing them to ferment over time, thus producing a “hard cider.”

Apples were highly valued by the ancient Celts because of their ability to keep over a long period of time when stored in a cool dry place. This was symbolic of the presence of love, even long past the time of peak ripeness. In other words, when the waves of passion subside, love lingers even afterwards when simple companionship is the prime comfort.

Even the formation of the tree trunk in her various poses was said to have a female form to it, and was considered a beacon of fertility. Indeed, apple wood was often burned during fertility rites and festivals carried out in the winter months. These were demonstrations to beckon bountiful abundance upon the return of spring as well as symbolically insure continuation of large, healthy families.

The Apple Tree on Druidry

The sacred Druid plant, an t-uil-oc (Mistletoe), is often found on Apple trees, making it an especially holy tree to the Druids, along with the Oak.

silver bough

Drawing by Cedar Sposato
In the Irish Druid tradition, the Silver Bough is cut from a magical Apple tree, where silver apple shaped bells played a mystical tune, which could lull people into a trance state. Druids could make contact with the Otherworld during a trance enhanced by this silver apple bough.

The Apple Tree is closely linked to Druids, in their aspect as magicians and shamans. The tree is often used when the Druid undergoes a magical transformation or journeys in the Otherworld. In The Voyage of Bran, an Otherworldly woman appears with an apple branch laden with bells, entrancing Bran with wondrous tales of the Otherworld. So enraptured is he by this damsel with the magical apple branch, that he sets sail immediately for the enchanted shores, having epic adventures on his journey. (Blamires, page 142)

“In Druid lore, the essence of three sacred apples growing on the Tree of Knowledge came from three drops that fell from Cerridwen’s cauldron, which correspond with the Druid’s most holy symbol, the Three Rays of Light.” (Gifford, page 99)

The Druid Merlin was purported to work in a magical Apple Grove guarded by birds, revealed to him by his master, Gwendolleu. He was said to receive the gift of prophecy from the Faerie Queen, conferred through the consumption of one of her magic apples. Merlin was also said to take shelter under an apple tree during his bout with madness.

Thomas the Rhymer, of Ercledoune, in 13th Century Scotland, was warned not to eat the Otherworldly Apple offered by the Faerie Queen, or he would be unable to return to mortal life.

Bards (poets) and Ovates (shamans) carried apple branches, (with bronze, silver, or gold bells), called the Craobh Ciuil (Branch of Reason) as symbols of their office. “As with all trees whose fruits are the basis of alcoholic drinks, the apple tree has close associations with divine inspiration and poetry.” (Gifford, page 94)

La Mas Ushal was brewed at the end of October in preparation for the Druid’s “Day of the Apple” on November 1st. This recipe has come down to us as the Wassail Bowl, made from baked or roasted crab apples, brown ale or cider, honey, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, brown sugar, and ginger.

Apples are much in evidence in Samhain rituals of prophecy. Peeling an apple in front of the mirror and throwing it over the left shoulder, a young maiden can recognize the initial of her future husband.

Bobbing for apples, another traditional Samhain pastime, was a reference to the Celtic Emhain Abhlach, “Paradise of Apples,” where the dead, having eaten of the sacred fruit, enjoyed a blissful immortality.

Related Source:

http://www.druidry.org



Celtic Symbolism: Why is "Avalon" known as the "Island of the Apples"?
August 5, 2011, 4:02 pm
Filed under: Celtic Symbolism, Celtic Tree Lore, Druidry, King Arthur
I had always wondered why this name for this legendary and singular Arthurian place.

So it seems that it’s first appearance was featured on the work of Geoffrey of Monmouth‘s (1136) the Historia Regum Britanniae (“The History of the Kings of Britain”) as the place where King Arthur’s sword Excalibur (Caliburnus) was forged and later where Arthur was taken to recover from his wounds after the Battle of Camlann. Geoffrey called it in Latin Insula Avallonis in the Historia.

In his later work “Vita Merlini” he called it Insula Pomorum the “isle of apples”, and dealt in more detail describing for the first time in Arthurian legend the enchantress Morgan le Fay as the chief of nine sisters who live on Avalon.

The name is generally considered to be of Welsh origin (though an Old Cornish or Old Breton origin is also possible), derived from Old Welsh abal, “apple”, or aball, “apple tree”. Maybe also influenced by Irish legends concerning the otherworld island home of Manannán mac Lir and Lugh, Emain Ablach (also the Old Irish poetic name for the Isle of Man)

Avalon was also known as the Avallach, the Isle of Apples, and the Otherworld, the Annwn.Thus it is told that the apples of Annwn (Avalon) healed all wounds.

In many legends of visits to the Otherworld, an outsider requires a special token to ensure safe passage to and from the land of fairies. This token is most often a branch of the Otherworld apple tree, a silver bough bearing blossoms and fruit that make music when shaken, often luring humans into enchanted sleep. This idea seems to come from older druidical practices, as early descriptions of the bards often mention the ritual use of silver branches hung with bells.

Celts like Norse, attributed the power of healing and youth, inmortality or rebirth, to apples. Apples are one of the magical trees, part of the Celtic Ogham tree alphabet, known as Quert. In Norse mythology the goddess Iðunn was the appointed keeper of golden apples that kept the Æsir young (or inmortal) forever.

Some Celtic Deities are associated to the “Apple”: Morgan le Fay, and Cerridwen (maybe for her cauldron of rebirth). Some associate also Olwen, daughter and aunt of the giant Ysbaddaden on Welsh Mythology, maybe I guess for her appearance in the folktale Einion and Olwen, about a sheep herder who travels to the Otherworld to marry Olwen. The tale was collected at the turn of the 20th century but is certainly related to Culhwch and Olwen.

Related Sources:
Photomanipulation by MorgainefromAvalon (all rights reserved by the author)

http://www.druidry.org
http://www.netplaces.com/celtic-wisdom/the-tree-of-life.html
http://www.whats-your-sign.com/celtic-meaning-of-symbolic-trees.html


Celtic Symbolism: "Fertility Believes and Rites"
I will draw my attention today on an aspect much related to the Moon himself, “Fertility”.

There are some interesting believes and rites to discuss about, a passionate subject as life itself.

Goddesses

Arianrhod was the Welsh goddess of beauty, fertility and reincarnation. She was also known as a sky goddess, Keeper of the Silver Wheel of Stars and her ship carried dead warriors to Emania (Moon-land).

Anu was the Irish goddess of plenty and Mother Earth as well as the deity of cattle, health, fertility, prosperity and comfort.

Feel free to find out more information on my previous related post

Animals

Animals were held in reverence by the Celts because they displayed many of the attributes such as strength, fertility, etc. that the Celts prized.

The Serpent or Snake represents the cyclic nature of life due to the annual shedding ot its skin. It is a phallic symbol, a symbol of the Triple Goddess and of the earth mysteries. It is important to the Druids, and is found on much old Celtic jewelry. Snakes represented the procreative ability of both genders and the mystery of both physical and metaphysical procreation. Druid’s were also known as “Adders” and it’s possible that the story of St. Patrick ridding Ireland of snakes refers to the Druids.

The Horse was sacred to many Goddesses. They were linked to the night, the moon, myster and magick. Nightmares, a name which is derived from that of the female horse, were thought by the Celts to be brought by a visiting horses Goddess such as Epona or Mare. In most Celtic myths the horses are black or white.

The Stag associated to ‘The Horned One’, Cernunnos is depicted with ram horns or antlers. His most famous depiction is on the Gundestrap cauldron, where he is the main figure and has exaggerated antlers that recall the Scythian stag art. As a god of fertility and wild animals, his nature and name suggest a link to the Hittite Karhuhas.
The antlers of the stag are compared to tree-branches and thus may represent fertility. Since they are shed and re-grown every year, they may also symbolise rejuvenation and rebirth. Cernunnos, the Celtic Horned God, was depicted with the antlers of a stag; he is said to be a god of fertility and plenty, and to be the Lord of the Beasts. According to some, his antlers symbolise a radiation of heavenly light. Images of stags were supposedly used to symbolise Cernunnos in non-human form.

Trees

For centuries, the Celts also embraced another symbol of nature in its ability to produce fertility – the Hazel tree. Celts of ancient times are said to have believed that string together hazelnuts around doorways and in rooms would bring fertility to couples and abundant life to their offspring. Celts believed in the power of nature, and thus trees were seen as symbols of life-giving energy.

Rings produced by Celtic cultures often feature Pine cones. As art, this depiction of nature is effective, but they also represent an icon for fertility because of the similarity in appearance between a pine comb and a woman’s womb.

The habit of adding a sprig of Furze bloom in a bridal bouquet is thought to allude to this, the all-year-round blossom being a symbol of continuous fertility.

According to Pliny the Elder, the Celts considered the Mistletoe as a remedy for barrenness. Because mistletoe cannot grow in earth but has to parasitize a host tree, Celts believed the shrub to be a physical aspect of the tree that held its soul. Mistletoe was believed to be an aphrodisiac–to enhance fertility, an antidote for poisons and as a protection against evil spirits. Mistletoe was ritually cut from an oak tree with a golden sickle by the Druids of Celtic Europe on the sixth night after the winter solstice.
In winter, while all the leaves of the sacred Oak had fallen away, the mistletoe remained green; it was thought to contain the life of the tree.

Sacred Waters and Holly Wells


The sympathetic link between water and fertility led, as one might expect, to a number of wells gaining a reputation for curing childlessness. In Oxford, for example, Child’s Well “had vertue to make women that were barren to bring forth children” , while St.Agnes Well at Whitestaunton in Somerset gained fame when Henrietta, the wife of King Charles I, was rumored to have wished for a child there, and became pregnant soon after.

Sculpture

The well, therefore, was viewed as leading into the womb of the earth- mother herself, a concept graphically illustrated by the presence of the Sheela-Na-Gig in the vicinity of some holy wells in Ireland. This female “fertility figure”, carved in stone, stands with legs wide apart, holding open her vagina: close by stands the well – it, too, being an orifice from which life springs forth.

The vulva is the main door, the mysterious divide between life and nonlife. For more information on Sheela na Gigs, check out : SheelaNaGig.org

Festivals

Imbolc (an old Irish word) (February 1-2 (also known as the Festival of Lights) was sacred to the fertility goddess. The goddess usually associated with Imbolc was Brigid (Bridget, Brighid, Bringindo, Brigantia, Brigandu, Bride,) she is the Irish goddess of agriculture, fire, healing, inspiration, learning divination, occult knowledge, poetry, prophecy and smithcraft. The Celts often referred to her as a triple goddess Imbolc placed emphasis on the quickening of the year, the strengthening of Light that was beginning to pierce the winter’s bleakness and associated with the coming into milk of the ewes.

Beltaine, May 1 was to honor the god Bel (Belenus, Belinos, Beli Mawr). He was a god of life and death, cattle, crops, fire, healing, hot springs and prosperity and the festival was seen as a purification. It was a way of visualizing the Great Father who impregnates the Great Mother. The May Eve/May Day festival celebrated fertility and fire. This festival was also to encourage the sun in its annual cycle and to persuade it to return from its seasonal death.



>Druidry : Primitive Nature Worship – The Moon, The Sun, The Sea,The Wind
April 8, 2011, 4:07 pm
Filed under: Celtic Symbolism, Celtic Tree Lore, Druidry

>

Posted from the book “The Religion of the Ancient Celts” – By J. A. MacCulloch – [1911] – (Obtain this full work and many more backups by clicking here!)

This book, is one of the best scholarly treatments of the ancient Celtic religion. Written early in the 20th Century, “Religion of the Ancient Celts” includes extensive treatment of that perennially fascinating subject, the Druids.

In early thought everything was a person, in the loose meaning then possessed by personality, and many such “persons” were worshipped–earth, sun, moon, sea, wind, etc. This led later to more complete personification, and the sun or earth divinity or spirit was more or less separated from the sun or earth themselves.

Some Celtic divinities were thus evolved, but there still continued a veneration of the objects of nature in themselves, as well as a cult of nature spirits or secondary divinities who peopled every part of nature.

“Nor will I call out upon the mountains, fountains, or hills, or upon the rivers, which are now subservient to the use of man, but once were an abomination and destruction to them, and to which the blind people paid divine honours,” cries Gildas. This was the true cult of the folk, the “blind people,” even when the greater gods were organised, and it has survived with modifications in out-of-the-way places, in spite of the coming of Christianity.

S. Kentigern rebuked the Cambrians for worshipping the elements, which God made for man’s use. The question of the daughters of Loegaire also throws much light on Celtic nature worship. “Has your god sons or daughters? . . . Have many fostered his sons? Are his daughters dear and beautiful to men? Is he in heaven or on earth, in the sea, in the rivers, in the mountains, in the valleys?” The words suggest a belief in divine beings filling heaven, earth, sea, air, hills, glens, lochs, and rivers, and following human customs. A naïve faith, full of beauty and poetry, even if it had its dark and grim aspects!

These powers or personalities had been invoked from time immemorial, but the invocations were soon stereotyped into definite formulæ. Such a formula is put into the mouth of Amairgen, the poet of the Milesians, when they were about to invade Erin, and it may have been a magical invocation of the powers of nature at the beginning of an undertaking or in times of danger:

“I invoke the land of Ireland
Shining, shining sea!
Fertile, fertile mountain!
Wooded vale!
Abundant river, abundant in waters!
Fish abounding lake!
Fish abounding sea!
Fertile earth!
Irruption of fish! Fish there!
Bird under wave! Great fish!
Crab hole! Irruption of fish!
Fish abounding sea!”

A similar formula was spoken after the destruction of Da Derga’s Hostel by MacCecht on his finding water. He bathed in it and sang–

“Cold fountain! Surface of strand . . .
Sea of lake, water of Gara, stream of river
High spring well; cold fountain!”

The goddess Morrigan, after the defeat of the Fomorians, invokes the powers of nature and proclaims the victory to “the royal mountains of Ireland, to its chief waters, and its river mouths.” It was also customary to take oaths by the elements–heaven, earth, sun, fire, moon, sea, land, day, night,etc., and these punished the breaker of the oath. Even the gods exacted such an oath of each other.

Bres swore by sun, moon, sea, and land, to fulfil the engagement imposed on him by Lug. The formulæ survived into Christian times, and the faithful were forbidden to call the sun and moon gods or to swear by them, while in Breton folk-custom at the present day oaths by sun, moon, or earth, followed by punishment of the oath-breaker by the moon, are still in use. These oaths had originated in a time when the elements themselves were thought to be divine, and similar adjurations were used by Greeks and Scandinavians.

While the greater objects of nature were worshipped for themselves alone, the Celts also peopled the earth with spirits, benevolent or malevolent, of rocks, hills, dales, forests, lakes, and streams, and while greater divinities of growth had been evolved, they still believed in lesser spirits of vegetation, of the corn, and of fertility, connected, however, with these gods. Some of these still survive as fairies seen in meadows, woodlands, or streams, or as demoniac beings haunting lonely places. And even now, in French folk-belief, sun, moon, winds, etc., are regarded as actual personages. Sun and moon are husband and wife; the winds have wives; they are addressed by personal names and reverenced.

Some spirits may already have had a demoniac aspect in pagan times. The Tuatha Dea conjured up meisi, “spectral bodies that rise from the ground,” against the Milesians, and at their service were malignant sprites–urtrochta, and “forms, spectres, and great queens” called guidemain (false demons). The Druids also sent forth mischievous spirits called siabra. In the Táin there are references to bocânachs, banânaichs, and geniti-glinni, “goblins, eldritch beings, and glen-folk.” These are twice called Tuatha Dé Danann, and this suggests that they were nature-spirits akin to the greater gods.

The geniti-glinni would be spirits haunting glen and valley. They are friendly to Cúchulainn in the Táin, but in the Feast of Bricriu he and other heroes fight and destroy them. In modern Irish belief they are demons of the air, perhaps fallen angels.

Much of this is probably pre-Celtic as well as Celtic, but it held its ground because it was dear to the Celts themselves. They upheld the aboriginal cults resembling those which, in the lands whence they came, had been native and local with themselves. Such cults are as old as the world, and when Christianity expelled the worship of the greater gods, younger in growth, the ancient nature worship, dowered with immortal youth, to rise again in vigour.

“bowed low before the blast
In patient deep disdain,”

Preachers, councils, and laws inveighed against it. The old rites continued to be practised, or survived under a Christian dress and colouring. They are found in Breton villages, in Highland glens, in Welsh and Cornish valleys, in Irish townships, and only the spread of school-board education, with its materialism and uninviting common sense, is forcing them at last to yield.

The denunciations of these cults throw some light upon them. Offerings at trees, stones, fountains, and cross-roads, the lighting of fires or candles there, and vows or incantations addressed to them, are forbidden, as is also the worship of trees, groves, stones, rivers, and wells. The sun and moon are not to be called lords. Wizardry, and divination, and the leapings and dancings, songs and choruses of the pagans, i.e. their orgiastic cults, are not to be practised. Tempest-raisers are not to ply their diabolical craft.

These denunciations, of course, were not without their effect, and legend told how the spirits of nature were heard bewailing the power of the Christian saints, their mournful cries echoing in wooded hollows, secluded valleys, and shores of lake and river.

Their power, though limited, was not annihilated, but the secrecy in which the old cults often continued to be practised gave them a darker colour. They were identified with the works of the devil, and the spirits of paganism with dark and grisly demons. This culminated in the mediæval witch persecutions, for witchcraft was in part the old paganism in a new guise. Yet even that did not annihilate superstition, which still lives and flourishes among the folk, though the actual worship of nature-spirits has now disappeared.

Perhaps the most important object in nature to the early Celts as to most primitive folk was the moon. The phases of the moon were apparent before men observed the solstices and equinoxes, and they formed an easy method of measuring time. The Celtic year was at first lunar–Pliny speaks of the Celtic method of counting the beginning of months and years by the moon–and night was supposed to precede day.

The festivals of growth began, not at sunrise, but on the previous evening with the rising of the moon, and the name La Lunade is still given to the Midsummer festival in parts of France. At Valloir de la Suille a wood on the slope where the festival is held is called Bois de la Lune, and in Ireland, where the festival begins on the previous evening, in the district where an ascent of Cnoc Aine is made, the position of the moon must be observed. A similar combination of sun and moon cults is found in an inscription at Lausanne–To the genius of the sun and moon.

Possibly sun festivals took the place of those of the moon. Traces of the connection of the moon with agriculture occur in different regions, the connection being established through the primitive law of sympathetic magic. The moon waxes and wanes, therefore it must affect all processes of growth or decay. Dr. Frazer has cited many instances of this belief, and has shown that the moon had a priority to the sun in worship, e.g. in Egypt and Babylon.

Sowing is done with a waxing moon, so that, through sympathy, there may be a large increase. But harvesting, cutting timber, etc., should be done with a waning moon, because moisture being caused by a waxing moon, it was necessary to avoid cutting such things as would spoil by moisture at that time. Similar beliefs are found among the Celts.

Mistletoe and other magical plants were culled with a waxing moon, probably because their power would thus be greater. Dr. Johnson noted the fact that the Highlanders sowed their seed with a waxing moon, in the expectation of a better harvest. For similar occult reasons, it is thought in Brittany that conception during a waxing moon produces a male child, during a waning moon a female, while accouchements at the latter time are dangerous. Sheep and cows should be killed at the new moon, else their flesh will shrink, but peats should be cut in the last quarter, otherwise they will remain moist and give out “a power of smoke.”

These ideas take us back to a time when it was held that the moon was not merely the measurer of time, but had powerful effects on the processes of growth and decay. Artemis and Diana, moon-goddesses, had power over all growing things, and as some Celtic goddesses were equated with Diana, they may have been connected with the moon, more especially as Gallo-Roman images of Diana have the head adorned with a crescent moon. In some cases festivals of the moon remained intact, as among the Celtiberians and other peoples to the north of them, who at the time of full moon celebrated the festival of a nameless god, dancing all night before the doors of their houses.

The nameless god may have been the moon, worshipped at the time of her intensest light. Moonlight dances round a great stone, with singing, on the first day of the year, occurred in the Highlands in the eighteenth century.

Other survivals of cult are seen in the practices of bowing or baring the head at new moon, or addressing it with words of adoration or supplication. In Ireland, Camden found the custom at new moon of saying the Lord’s Prayer with the addition of the words, “Leave us whole and sound as Thou hast found us.” Similar customs exist in Brittany, where girls pray to the moon to grant them dreams of their future husbands. Like other races, the Celts thought that eclipses were caused by a monster attacking the moon, while it could be driven off with cries and shouts. In 218 B.C. the Celtic allies of Attalus were frightened by an eclipse, and much later Christian legislation forbade the people to assemble at an eclipse and shout, Vince, Luna!

Such a practice was observed in Ireland in the seventeenth century. At an earlier time, Irish poets addressed sun and moon as divinities, and they were represented on altars even in Christian times.

While the Celts believed in sea-gods–Manannan, Morgen, Dylan–the sea itself was still personified and regarded as divine. It was thought to be a hostile being, and high tides were met by Celtic warriors, who advanced against them with sword and spear, often perishing in the rushing waters rather than retreat. The ancients regarded this as bravado. M. Jullian sees in it a sacrifice by voluntary suicide; M. D’Arbois, a tranquil waiting for death and the introduction to another life.

But the passages give the sense of an actual attack on the waves–living things which men might terrify, and perhaps with this was combined the belief that no one could die during a rising tide. Similarly French fishermen threaten to cut a fog in two with a knife, while the legend of S. Lunaire tells how he threw a knife at a fog, thus causing its disappearance. Fighting the waves is also referred to in Irish texts.

Thus Tuirbe Trágmar would “hurl a cast of his axe in the face of the flood-tide, so that he forbade the sea, which then would not come over the axe.” Cúchulainn, in one of his fits of anger, fought the waves for seven days, and Fionn fought and conquered the Muireartach, a personification of the wild western sea. On the French coast fishermen throw harpoons at certain harmful waves called the Three Witch Waves, thus drawing their blood and causing them to subside. In some cases human victims may have been offered to the rising waters, since certain tales speak of a child set floating on the waves, and this, repeated every seven years, kept them in their place.

The sea had also its beneficent aspects. The shore was “a place of revelation of science,” and the sea sympathised with human griefs. At the Battle of Ventry “the sea chattered, telling the losses, and the waves raised a heavy, woeful great moan in wailing them.” In other cases in Ireland, by a spell put on the waves, or by the intuitive knowledge of the listener, it was revealed that they were wailing for a death or describing some distant event. In the beautiful song sung by the wife of Cael, “the wave wails against the shore for his death,” and in Welsh myth the waves bewailed the death of Dylan, “son of the wave,” and were eager to avenge it. The noise of the waves rushing into the vale of Conwy were his dying groans. In Ireland the roaring of the sea was thought to be prophetic of a king’s death or the coming of important news; and there, too, certain great waves were celebrated in story–Clidna’s, Tuaithe’s, and Rudhraidhe’s.

Nine waves, or the ninth wave, partly because of the sacred nature of the number nine, partly because of the beneficent character of the waves, had a great importance. They formed a barrier against invasion, danger, or pestilence, or they had a healing effect.

The wind was also regarded as a living being whose power was to be dreaded. It punished King Loegaire for breaking his oath. But it was also personified as a god Vintius, equated with Pollux and worshipped by Celtic sailors, or with Mars, the war-god who, in his destructive aspect, was perhaps regarded as the nearest analogue to a god of stormy winds.

Druids and Celtic priestesses claimed the power of controlling the winds, as did wizards and witches in later days. This they did, according to Christian writers, by the aid of demons, perhaps the old divinities of the air. Bishop Agobard describes how the tempestarii raised tempests which destroyed the fruits of the earth, and drew “aerial ships” from Magonia, whither the ships carried these fruits. Magonia may be the upper air ruled over by a sky god Magounos or Mogounos, equated with Apollo. The winds may have been his servants, ruled also by earthly magicians. Like Yahweh, as conceived by Hebrew poets, he “bringeth the winds out of his treasures,” and “maketh lightnings with rain.”



>Druidry & Celtic Tree Lore : Tree and Plant Worship
April 7, 2011, 5:03 pm
Filed under: Celtic Symbolism, Celtic Tree Lore, Druidry

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Posted from the book “The Religion of the Ancient Celts” – By J. A. MacCulloch – [1911] – (Obtain this full work and many more backups by clicking here!)

This book, is one of the best scholarly treatments of the ancient Celtic religion. Written early in the 20th Century, “Religion of the Ancient Celts” includes extensive treatment of that perennially fascinating subject, the Druids.

The Celts had their own cult of trees, but they adopted local cults–Ligurian, Iberian, and others. The Fagus Deus (the divine beech), the Sex arbor or Sex arbores of Pyrenean inscriptions, and an anonymous god represented by a conifer on an altar at Toulouse, probably point to local Ligurian tree cults continued by the Celts into Roman times. Forests were also personified or ruled by a single goddess, like Dea Arduinna of the Ardennes and Dea Abnoba of the Black Forest. But more primitive ideas prevailed, like that which assigned a whole class of tree-divinities to a forest, e.g. the Fatæ Dervones, spirits of the oak-woods of Northern Italy.Groups of trees like Sex arbores were venerated, perhaps for their height, isolation, or some other peculiarity.

The Celts made their sacred places in dark groves, the trees being hung with offerings or with the heads of victims. Human sacrifices were hung or impaled on trees, e.g. by the warriors of Boudicca. These, like the offerings still placed by the folk on sacred trees, were attached to them because the trees were the abode of spirits or divinities who in many cases had power over vegetation.

Pliny said of the Celts: They esteem nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree on which it grows. But apart from this they choose oak-woods for their sacred groves, and perform no sacred rite without using oak branches.” Maximus of Tyre also speaks of the Celtic (? German) image of Zeus as a lofty oak, and an old Irish glossary gives daur, “oak,” as an early Irish name for “god,” and glosses it by dia, “god.” The sacred need-fire may have been obtained by friction from oak-wood, and it is because of the old sacredness of the oak that a piece of its wood is still used as a talisman in Brittany. Other Aryan folk besides the Celts regarded the oak as the symbol of a high god, of the sun or the sky, but probably this was not its earliest significance. Oak forests were once more extensive over Europe than they are now, and the old tradition that men once lived on acorns has been shown to be well-founded by the witness of archæological finds, e.g. in Northern Italy. A people living in an oak region and subsisting in part on acorns might easily take the oak as a representative of the spirit of vegetation or growth. It was long-lived, its foliage was a protection, it supplied food, its wood was used as fuel, and it was thus clearly the friend of man. For these reasons, and because it was the most abiding and living thing men knew, it became the embodiment of the spirits of life and growth. Folk-lore survivals show that the spirit of vegetation in the shape of his representative was annually slain while yet in full vigour, that his life might benefit all things and be passed on undiminished to his successor. Hence the oak or a human being representing the spirit of vegetation, or both together, were burned in the Midsummer fires. How, then, did the oak come to symbolise a god equated with Zeus. Though the equation may be worthless, it is possible that the connection lay in the fact that Zeus and Juppiter had agricultural functions, or that, when the equation was made, the earlier spirit of vegetation had become a divinity with functions resembling those of Zeus. The fires were kindled to recruit the sun’s life; they were fed with oak-wood, and in them an oak or a human victim representing the spirit embodied in the oak was burned. Hence it may have been thought that the sun was strengthened by the fire residing in the sacred oak; it was thus “the original storehouse or reservoir of the fire which was from time to time drawn out to feed the sun.” The oak thus became the symbol of a bright god also connected with growth. But, to judge by folk survivals, the older conception still remained potent, and tree or human victim affected for good all vegetable growth as well as man’s life, while at the same time the fire strengthened the sun.

Dr. Evans argues that “the original holy object within the central triliths of Stonehenge was a sacred tree,” an oak, image of the Celtic Zeus. The tree and the stones, once associated with ancestor worship, had become symbols of “a more celestial Spirit or Spirits than those of departed human beings.” But Stonehenge has now been proved to have been in existence before the arrival of the Celts, hence such a cult must have been pre-Celtic, though it may quite well have been adopted by the Celts. Whether this hypothetical cult was practised by a tribe, a group of tribes, or by the whole people, must remain obscure, and, indeed, it may well be questioned whether Stonehenge was ever more than the scene of some ancestral rites.

Other trees–the yew, the cypress, the alder, and the ash, were venerated, to judge by what Lucan relates of the sacred grove at Marseilles. The Irish Druids attributed special virtues to the hazel, rowan, and yew, the wood of which was used in magical ceremonies described in Irish texts. Fires of rowan were lit by the Druids of rival armies, and incantations said over them in order to discomfit the opposing host, and the wood of all these trees is still believed to be efficacious against fairies and witches.

The Irish bile was a sacred tree, of great age, growing over a holy well or fort. Five of them are described in the Dindsenchas, and one was an oak, which not only yielded acorns, but nuts and apples. The mythic trees of Elysium had the same varied fruitage, and the reason in both cases is perhaps the fact that when the cultivated apple took the place of acorns and nuts as a food staple, words signifying “nut” or “acorn” were transferred to the apple. A myth of trees on which all these fruits grew might then easily arise. Another Irish bile was a yew described in a poem as “a firm strong god,” while such phrases in this poem as “word-pure man,” “judgment of origin,” “spell of knowledge,” may have some reference to the custom of writing divinations in ogham on rods of yew. The other bile were ash-trees, and from one of them the Fir Bile, “men of the tree,” were named–perhaps a totem-clan.

The lives of kings and chiefs appear to have been connected with these trees, probably as representatives of the spirit of vegetation embodied in the tree, and under their shadow they were inaugurated. But as a substitute for the king was slain, so doubtless these pre-eminent sacred trees were too sacred, too much charged with supernatural force, to be cut down and burned, and the yearly ritual would be performed with another tree. But in time of feud one tribe gloried in destroying the bile of another; and even in the tenth century, when the bile maighe Adair was destroyed by Maeloeohlen the act was regarded with horror. “But, O reader, this deed did not pass unpunished.” Of another bile, that of Borrisokane, it was said that any house in which a fragment of it was burned would itself be destroyed by fire.

Tribal and personal names point to belief in descent from tree gods or spirits and perhaps to totemism. The Eburones were the yew-tree tribe (eburos); the Bituriges perhaps had the mistletoe for their symbol, and their surname Vivisci implies that they were called “Mistletoe men.” If bile (tree) is connected with the name Bile, that of the ancestor of the Milesians, this may point to some myth of descent from a sacred tree, as in the case of the Fir Bile, or “men of the tree.” Other names like Guidgen (Viduo-genos, “son of the tree”), Dergen (Dervo-genos, “son of the oak”), Guerngen (Verno-genos, “son of the alder”), imply filiation to a tree. Though these names became conventional, they express what had once been a living belief. Names borrowed directly from trees are also found–Eburos or Ebur, “yew,” Derua or Deruacus, “oak,” etc.

The veneration of trees growing beside burial mounds or megalithic monuments was probably a pre-Celtic cult continued by the Celts. The tree embodied the ghost of the person buried under it, but such a ghost could then hardly be differentiated from a tree spirit or divinity. Even now in Celtic districts extreme veneration exists for trees growing in cemeteries and in other places. It is dangerous to cut them down or to pluck a leaf or branch from them, while in Breton churchyards the yew is thought to spread a root to the mouth of each corpse. The story of the grave of Cyperissa, daughter of a Celtic king in the Danube region, from which first sprang the “mournful cypress,” is connected with universal legends of trees growing from the graves of lovers until their branches intertwine. These embody the belief that the spirit of the dead is in the tree, which was thus in all likelihood the object of a cult. Instances of these legends occur in Celtic story. Yew-stakes driven through the bodies of Naisi and Deirdre to keep them apart, became yew-trees the tops of which embraced over Armagh Cathedral. A yew sprang from the grave of Bailé Mac Buain, and an apple-tree from that of his lover Aillinn, and the top of each had the form of their heads. The identification of tree and ghost is here complete.

The elder, rowan, and thorn are still planted round houses to keep off witches, or sprigs of rowan are placed over doorways–a survival from the time when they were believed to be tenanted by a beneficent spirit hostile to evil influences. In Ireland and the Isle of Man the thorn is thought to be the resort of fairies, and they, Eke the woodland fairies or “wood men” are probably representatives of the older tree spirits and gods of groves and forests.

Tree-worship was rooted in the oldest nature worship, and the Church had the utmost difficulty in suppressing it. Councils fulminated against the cult of trees, against offerings to them or the placing of lights before them and before wells or stones, and against the belief that certain trees were too sacred to be cut down or burned. Heavy fines were levied against those who practised these rites, yet still they continued. Amator, Bishop of Auxerre, tried to stop the worship of a large pear-tree standing in the centre of the town and on which the semi-Christian inhabitants hung animals’ heads with much ribaldry. At last S. Germanus destroyed it, but at the risk of his life. S. Martin of Tours was allowed to destroy a temple, but the people would not permit him to attack a much venerated pine-tree which stood beside it–an excellent example of the way in which the more official paganism fell before Christianity, while the older religion of the soil, from which it sprang, could not be entirely eradicated. The Church often effected a compromise. Images of the gods affixed to trees were replaced by those of the Virgin, but with curious results. Legends arose telling how the faithful had been led to such trees and there discovered the image of the Madonna miraculously placed among the branches. These are analogous to the legends of the discovery of images of the Virgin in the earth, such images being really those of the Matres.

Representations of sacred trees are occasionally met with on coins, altars, and ex votos. If the interpretation be correct which sees a representation of part of the Cúchulainn legend on the Paris and Trèves altars, the trees figured there would not necessarily be sacred. But otherwise they may depict sacred trees.

We now turn to Pliny’s account of the mistletoe rite. The Druids held nothing more sacred than this plant and the tree on which it grew, probably an oak. Of it groves were formed, while branches of the oak were used in all religious rites. Everything growing on the oak had been sent from heaven, and the presence of the mistletoe showed that God had selected the tree for especial favour. Rare as it was, when found the mistletoe was the object of a careful ritual. On the sixth day of the moon it was culled. Preparations for a sacrifice and feast were made beneath the tree, and two white bulls whose horns had never been bound were brought there. A Druid, clad, in white, ascended the tree and cut the mistletoe with a golden sickle. As it fell it was caught in a white cloth; the bulls were then sacrificed, and prayer was made that God would make His gift prosperous to those on whom He had bestowed it. The mistletoe was called “the universal healer,” and a potion made from it caused barren animals to be fruitful. It was also a remedy against all poisons. We can hardly believe that such an elaborate ritual merely led up to the medico-magical use of the mistletoe. Possibly, of course, the rite was an attenuated survival of something which had once been more important, but it is more likely that Pliny gives only a few picturesque details and passes by the rationale of the ritual. He does not tell us who the “God” of whom he speaks was, perhaps the sun-god or the god of vegetation. As to the “gift,” it was probably in his mind the mistletoe, but it may quite well have meant the gift of growth in field and fold. The tree was perhaps cut down and burned; the oxen may have been incarnations of a god of vegetation, as the tree also may have been. We need not here repeat the meaning which has been given to the ritual, but it may be added that if this meaning is correct, the rite probably took place at the time of the Midsummer festival, a festival of growth and fertility. Mistletoe is still gathered on Midsummer eve and used as an antidote to poisons or for the cure of wounds. Its Druidic name is still preserved in Celtic speech in words signifying “all-healer,” while it is also called sùgh an daraich, “sap of the oak,” and Druidh lus, “Druid’s weed.”

Pliny describes other Celtic herbs of grace. Selago was culled without use of iron after a sacrifice of bread and wine–probably to the spirit of the plant. The person gathering it wore a white robe, and went with unshod feet after washing them. According to the Druids, Selago preserved one from accident, and its smoke when burned healed maladies of the eye. Samolus was placed in drinking troughs as a remedy against disease in cattle. It was culled by a person fasting, with the left hand; it must be wholly uprooted, and the gatherer must not look behind him. Vervain was gathered at sunrise after a sacrifice to the earth as an expiation–perhaps because its surface was about to be disturbed. When it was rubbed on the body all wishes were gratified; it dispelled fevers and other maladies; it was an antidote against serpents; and it conciliated hearts. A branch of the dried herb used to asperge a banquet-hall made the guests more convivial.

The ritual used in gathering these plants–silence, various tabus, ritual purity, sacrifice–is found wherever plants are culled whose virtue lies in this that they are possessed by a spirit. Other plants are still used as charms by modern Celtic peasants, and, in some cases, the ritual of gathering them resembles that described by Pliny. In Irish sagas plants have magical powers. “Fairy herbs” placed in a bath restored beauty to women bathing therein. During the Táin Cúchulainn’s wounds were healed with “balsams and healing herbs of fairy potency,” and Diancecht used similar herbs to restore the dead at the battle of Mag-tured.





Celtic Tree Oracle : Oak – Regent Tree ( 6/10 thru 7/7)
June 10, 2010, 5:18 pm
Filed under: Celtic Tree Lore

Blog originaly posted on Love of the Goddess, all rights reserved.

Today starts the month of the Oak tree on the Celtic calendar. It goes from June 10 – July 7. This is a great time for magic concerning protection, strength and success.

The Oak was one of the three sacred trees to the Druids. Although it was actually their primary sacred tree, the others were Ash and Thorn. The sacred Oak is one of the longest living trees, and can also grow up to 150 ft tall. It symbolized the turning of the year and was considered to be the king of the forest. Many cultures worshiped the Oak, but the Celts held it with a very high degree of reverence.

During this time of year, it is said that the Druids would carve a circle into the tree for protection against lightning. They used the sacred tree for medicinal purposes and divinatory purposes as well. Ancient Celtic priestess’s were said to listen to the rustling of the Oak leaves to receive divine messages.

When my fiance and I visited Ireland, we got to explore the ancient Oak forest at Charleville Castle. This forest surrounds the castle on all sides. Walking among these huge sacred trees was a great experience. You could really feel the ancient energy these trees carried. The forest was quite except for a few birds chirping and some leaves rustling in the wind. Very haunting and mysterious place this was. While there, I pondered the thought, that maybe one day long ago, the ancient Druids walked these forests as well.

Celebrate the sacred Oak tree at Midsummer, if possible try to visit an Oak tree and connect with it’s ancient energy.