Friday the 13th

December 13, 2019

Actually a perfectly fine day. It’s Friday! (Frigg’s Day) The planet for Friday is Venus, the planet of love and friendship. And 13 is a number associated with some lunar calendars.

But if you still want to be spooked, there’s this. I was walking along a dirt road earlier this week and saw this widow-maker. Don’t know if the photo conveys how huge it is. I took this as a divinatory sign to slow down and pay attention.

Samhain 2019

October 31, 2019

I must be the only person in my village who takes a broom to the front porch to tear down the spider webs on Halloween. I like the holiday, including the trick-or-treating, but for me it’s not about terror.

Ghost trees in a flooded field.

Trick-or-treating comes from an old custom of children dressing in rags to signify the poor departed souls who cannot find their way to the Otherworld. Householders would give the children treats to bless and mollify the spirits of the unhappy departed, reducing the chances that they would do troublesome things like emit strange knocking sounds or whisk things around in the wind. This was one aspect of the Celtic holiday, which was about remembering ancestors.

I sometimes wonder how mainline Christians would feel about Easter becoming a festival of terror and evil. After all, Jesus rises from the dead, so that’s a more plausible holiday for a zombie apocalypse. Keeping the spirit of the spirit of Halloween can be a challenge, because I certainly don’t want to be one of those Halloween Scrooges who turn off the lights and pretend they’re not home.

I’m looking forward to tonight. I do like seeing all the children. I get lots and lots of trick-or-treaters, so many that I wonder if some of the teenagers dare each other to come to my house on Halloween. But hey–this witch tore down the spider webs in front of the door.

The Holy Beech

May 5, 2017

In the mature hardwoods of the Adirondacks, the American Beech reigns supreme. It is a majestic tree, stretching 80 feet or more and providing the dense summer canopy of the forest. The wood of this tree is also dense, and the trunk grows straight, with smooth gray bark. In the fall the golden leaves of the Beech offset the bright red of the many varieties of maple that grow here. While the forests at mid-elevation are described as Beech/Hemlock/Yellow Birch/Sugar Maple forests, it is the Beech that predominates the longer an area of forest is undisturbed.

Forest animals from Red Squirrels to Black Bears depend on the fruit of the Beech for survival. The tree produces two small triangular nuts encased in burry shells. The Beech fulfills a core sustenance role for wildlife played by the White Oak in warmer climates. Like the Oak, the Beech hangs on to its dry leaves throughout the winter, letting go only when spring arrives and its long spear-like buds emerge. The leaves are large, oval, and pointed, with toothed edges. This is a long-lived tree which bides its time in the shade for many years, shooting up quickly when a patch of sunlight emerges as another tree falls.

Though nature enthusiasts prize this beautiful tree, the lumber industry is equivocal about its merits. The wood makes beautiful furniture and durable blond flooring, but the trees themselves are susceptible to various diseases which are hard to recognize uncut. Beech is less desirable as cordwood because the wood takes a long time to season. Mostly the trees are left alone, which is just as well since they fill such an important ecological niche.

American Beech can be thought of as the North American equivalent of European oaks such as the English Oak. Both belong to the Fagaceae family, and according to Robert Graves much religious symbolism associated with the oak was transferred from the Beech, partly because the Beech is not found in Mediterranean climates. The European Beech is equivalent to the American in many ways: it is long lived, tall, shade tolerant, and produces the seeds that animals love. The American Beech is a bit fussier about its growing environment, though, and the European grows faster, so if you live in a North American city the beech tree in your neighborhood may not be a native one.

In German folklore the souls of children waiting to incarnate hung around beech trees, so women would wander around beeches to conceive. Beech wood could not be allowed near a woman in labor, however, or she would have a more difficult time with the birth.

Beech has a strong association with writing. Beech wood tablets were once used as a writing surface, particularly for runic script. The smooth bark of living beech trees continues to be used for carving.

Beech is considered conducive to divination, and it is a recommended wood for wands. I suppose it’s used for wands, rather than staffs, because it is so dense. I recently acquired a prime piece of American Beech, and I’m surprised every time I pick it up by how heavy it is. I am intending to use it as a staff, but I doubt I’ll be able to carry it too far into the woods.

Further Reading:

Dana, “Sacred Tree Profile: American Beech (Fagus Gradiflora) – Magic, Medicine, And Qualities, The Druid’s Garden, July 6, 2015. https://druidgarden.wordpress.com/tag/beech-tree-mythology/

Chris Dunford, “Beech: The Most Beautiful Tree in the Wood,” Nature Explored Photography http://www.nature-explored.com/beech-info.htm

Stan Tekiela, Trees of New York (Cambridge, MN: Adventure Publications, 2006).

Frigga and Writing

March 3, 2017

Germane to my post last week on Frigga, here is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Divining with Animal Guides.

The origin of Germanic writing is complex. Late Bronze Age carvings and cave markings from Northern Italy to Sweden show some rune-like symbols, their meaning undeciphered. Readable runic script dates to the second century and was presumably derived from the Etruscan alphabet, with which it shares some symbols. The god Odin is credited with discovering the runes, eighteen of them to start, when he hung upside down from the world tree, Yggdrasil, for nine days and nine nights. It is essential to understand that runes are not and were not simply signs that could be manipulated to form language, although they certainly were used for that purpose. Runes have always been magical powers in and of themselves. They disclose hidden truths, they protect buildings, they form spells. They are the force behind what words they speak.

Since Odin found the runes while tied to the tree but did not invent them, we have to look deeper for their source. The deities who nourish Yggdrasil are the Norns Urd, Verthandi, and Skuld. They are the Norns we are usually talking about when we say “The Norns.” The Norns water Yggdrasil’s roots from a pool of water at the base of the tree. They are responsible for giving each person their destiny and can reveal the past, present, and future. They are usually the powers invoked when using runes for divination and they are the powers petitioned for changing life circumstances. In addition to tending the tree, the Norns tend a pair of swans who are said to be the parents of all swans in the world. The Norns themselves wear cloaks of swan feathers.

Another Germanic divinatory goddess is Frigga, who knows the future but seldom speaks of it. According to some sources it is she who bestows destiny on every child. Frigga’s distaff is in heaven and the stars revolve around it, which means she controls the calendar. Frigga wears a crown of heron feathers. Her sacred tree is the birch, probably the White Birch or Silver Birch. The white, supple bark of the birch has been used throughout northern Europe as a medium for writing and drawing. Natives in North America used the Paper Birch for similar purposes. Since bark is a degradable material it would be impossible to know how far back symbolic drawing on birch goes; extant pieces from Russia date to the twelfth century. Not much was recorded in Christian times about Frigga, despite her status as nominal head of the pantheon along with Odin, because clerics worked especially hard to erase all traces of her. Those who in later centuries recorded the Norse legends were men who would not have been privy to feminine traditions anyway. While Frigga is not explicitly documented as a writing goddess, information about her points in that direction.

Birch bark writing from Russia, 13th century. This is a young boy’s school lesson.

Is Friday for Frigga or Freyja?

April 26, 2013

Frejya prizes her magic amber necklace. Amber from northern and central Europe is the fossilized resin of an extinct conifer.
Frejya prizes her magic amber necklace. Amber from northern and central Europe is the fossilized resin of an extinct conifer. Photo by Manfred Heyde.
While Frigga’s worship was prevalent in all regions of Germanic settlement, Frejya’s worship seems to have been concentrated in the Nordic countries. This supports the hypothesis that she was a latecomer to the pantheon, her relative prominence a sign that she was the principal deity of an indigenous people.

When Germanic tribes adopted the Roman calendar, the sixth day of the week, which the Romans dedicated to the goddess Venus, became Frejya’s day. Although Venus and Frejya are not terribly similar, Frejya does have the most Venusian qualities of the pantheon. Where Freyja was not the dominant goddess, the sixth day was dedicated to Frigga. The English Friday was clearly derived from Frigga, although in Scandinavian languages the name of the day probably came from Frejya.

Frejya is closely aligned with her brother the boar god Freyr, who is like his sister in many ways, aiding the harvest, bringing wealth and protecting children. While Frejya’s symbol is the vulva, Freyr’s is the phallus, and he was worshiped at a huge phallic monument. Frejya also has a lover, the god Oder, who has a tendency to wander, and Frejya will wander herself in search of him, leaving the earth cold and barren. Frejya wears a necklace of amber which she obtained from the dwarves. She also wears a cloak of falcon feathers and leather tunic and leather leggings. She has a lovely red mouth and is generous with her affection and her possessions.
The line of stars in the constellation Orion known as "Orion's Belt" has also been called Frigga's Distaff. Photo by Roberto Mura.
The line of stars in the constellation Orion known as “Orion’s Belt” has also been called “Frigga’s Distaff.” Photo by Roberto Mura.


Frigga is wife of the Germanic god Odin, who is the chief male shamanic deity. Odin obtained most of his magic by threatening and confronting various goddesses and priestesses. He is no match for Frigga, however, who can always best him in a battle of wits. Before Odin arrived on the scene, Frigga’s principal male deity was probably her son Balder. She doted so much on her son that she extracted promises from every living thing on earth never to harm him. She overlooked the poisonous mistletoe, since it is such an innocuous looking plant, and was tricked into revealing her oversight. Frigga’s loss of her son and their subsequent reunion mirrors the dormancy and regeneration of vegetation. In pre-patriarchal societies, the role of goddesses as sisters and mothers rather than wives is emphasized, since children belong to the mother’s family.

Frigga cries tears of gold when she mourns and has a great love of adornment, wearing precious jewels and a showy crown of heron feathers. She dresses in finely woven cloth. Her spinning wheel revolves in the night sky as a constellation. Frigga is a generous goddess like Frejya, but in one area she is famous for her stinginess: she usually refrains from divulging prophecy, even though she knows everything which is to come.

This is by no means a complete picture of either Frejya or Frigga, but by now a picture should be emerging of two goddesses who can neither be conflated nor made entirely distinct. The best way to get to know them is to take a meditative journey to meet them face to face.

This is the final installment of this series on Frejya and Frigga. Also see an earlier post on Frigga as goddess of the birch. The following list of sources is for the entire series (seven installments).

BBC. “Boar Watching.” http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/life/Wild_boar#p0087k14

BBC. “Pigs Have Evolved to Wallow in Mud.” http://news.bbc.co.uk/earth/hi/earth_news/newsid_9464000/9464994.stm

Barrett, Clive. The Egyptian Gods and Goddesses: The Mythology and Beliefs of Ancient Egypt. London: Diamond Books, 1996.

Cooper, D. Jason. Using the Runes. Wellingborough, UK: The Aquarian Press, 1986.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology. “Gyrfalcon.” http://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/gyrfalcon/lifehistory

Gimbutas, Marija. The Living Goddesses. Miriam Robbins Dexter, ed. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1999.

Guerber, H.A. The Norsemen. London: Senate, 1994.

Hopman, Ellen Evert. A Druid’s Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine. Rochester, VT: Destiny Books, 2008.

Monaghan, Patricia. The Book of Goddesses and Heroines. St. Paul, MN: Llewellyn, 1990.

Ombrello, T. “Conifer Cones.” http://faculty.ucc.edu/biology-ombrello/pow/conifer_cones.htm

Sullivan, Janet. “Picea Abies.” U.S. Dept of Agriculture, 1994. http://www.fs.fed.us/database/feis/plants/tree/picabi/all.html

Taylor, Thomas (trans). “The Orphic Hymns.” http://www.theoi.com/Text/OrphicHymns1.html#15.

Tekiela, Stan. Trees of New York. Cambridge, MN: Adventure Boooks, 2006.

Vikernes, Varg. Sorcery and Religion in Ancient Scandinavia. London: Abstract Sounds, 2011.

Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.

Walker, Barbara G. The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1983.

Gyrfalcon Circling the Spruce: Another Frejya Episode

March 29, 2013

Gyrfalcon. Plumage ranges from dark gray to brown to white and varies greatly. Photo by Omar Runolfsson.
Gyrfalcon. Plumage ranges from dark gray to brown to white and varies greatly. Photo by Omar Runolfsson.

Frejya has appeared to me as a stocky young woman against a backdrop of tall spruce forest, standing on the snow beside the kind of weaving, shallow streams that develop in the north as winter moves into spring. She comes as a spring goddess, evidenced by the height and intensity of the sun. (One of the nice things about a vision is that you can look directly into the sun without feeling pain in your eyes.) When I say she is stocky, I don’t mean fat: her shoulders are broad and she is proportioned like a tall woman. Her rib cage is large, like the stout breast of the gyrfalcon. She has a brown cloak, curling brown hair and glistening brown eyes. Some describe Frejya as blond, but to me she appears in falcon coloring. What those who have seen Frejya mostly comment on, however, is her mouth: a small, very red, well-shaped mouth with lips curved in a joyful yet seductive smile. It is an entrancing smile, a smile that says she knows just about everything. I do not believe that Frejya would have had to have slept with the dwarves to obtain the Brisingamen Necklace; she must have done so only to please herself. To obtain the necklace she would only have had to spread those red lips in the smile no creature could resist. But I digress.

Frejya’s Amazonian proportions and her seductive manner place her in the “maiden” category for those who see goddesses in terms of maiden-mother-crone. Yet the fertile, family-focused boar is usually associated with motherhood, and Norse pagans appear to have regarded Frejya as a benevolent goddess bestowing wealth and favors. Her rune is among the most auspicious, and Cooper describes its divinatory meaning as “Good fortune, fertility, increase in property and success in endeavors.” These are qualities that proclaim “mother.”

Frejya's rune Feoh.
Frejya’s rune Fehu (FAY-who).
The point of intersection between the fir, falcon, and boar is, of course, death. The gyrfalcon is a fierce hunter who winters in the frozen world. The Norway Spruce thrives in cold environments and remains forever green. The boar is also fierce in her own way, and carrion is a major part of her diet. As described in the last post, there are dying and resurrecting gods and goddesses from other European and Middle Eastern cultures with pine, pig, or falcon associations, but we don’t really need these examples to establish the point.

Frejya’s representation throughout the lifecycle suggests an affinity with the sun, which defines the cycle of the year. Her association with both the winter and the summer solstices reaffirm this connection, as does the Yule fire and the summer bonfires. Frejya’s amber necklace represents her command over the sun and hence the passage of time. Those who see Frejya as blond may be focusing on her sun aspect, perhaps dazzled by the brightness of her nimbus. It is interesting in this regard that the Egyptian sun god Horus also takes the form of a falcon.

Although Frejya is a goddess for all seasons and all ages, I want to explore Frejya’s death aspect more closely. I will do so in a later installment of this series.

Frejya’s Three Forms

March 22, 2013

So what does boar, fir and falcon say about Frejya?

Let’s look first at the falcon. Freya’s falcon is probably the Gyrfalcon (JER-falcon), the largest falcon, who likes the northern climates. If she migrates at all, she is driven by scarcity of food, and she will sometimes winter at sea over ice. The Gyrfalcon is the preferred falcon for hunting. She mostly hunts birds, including other raptors, although she will also take small mammals. Other predatory birds leave her alone, as she is fierce. She has a varied hunting strategy and is considered very intelligent. The goddess Frejya has a cloak of falcon feathers reaching to the ground. With her characteristic generosity she loans this cloak to the other gods when they need it to move quickly. Falcons in general are associated with the sun or with death. Other important falcon deities include Circe, the witch who trapped Odysseus and changed his sailors into pigs, and Horus, the Egyptian sun god who avenged the death of his father Osiris and performed an important funerary rite for him.

Boar piglets. Photo by Tiia Monto.
Boar piglets. Frejya and Freyr are brother and sister boar gods. Photo by Tiia Monto.
The boar is the wild predecessor of the domestic pig. While only the male domestic pig is called a boar, in the wild there are boar sows and boar piglets. Boars like most wild animals prefer to avoid people, but both males and sows will charge anything that threatens them. With their huge size and thick skulls they are formidable, even more so if they are adult males with curving tasks. Boars chase away other predators to eat carrion. They are mostly scavengers, digging up roots and grubs in addition to scavenging dead carcasses. Sows prefer to raise young together, and males remain with their mothers until they are full grown. Boars are prolific breeders, something that was never a problem until they became protected in certain areas. The boar has always been preferred quarry for hunters – originally because he provided a great deal of tasty meat, only later because the danger involved provided excitement for sportsmen. The boar was also prized for his dense fur. Frejya often rides on the back of a boar. Her brother Freyr can also take the shape of a boar. Sows in general are associated with motherhood, probably due to their large extended families and high fertility rate. These qualities, plus their generous size, may account for their association with abundance. The crepuscular scavenging and carrion eating habits of boars may account for their being linked with death and the underworld. In both Celtic and Germanic cultures boar was eaten at the winter solstice feasts. Goddesses associated with the boar or sow include the Greek goddess of agriculture and fertility Demeter, the Welsh goddess Cerridwyn in the form of a white sow, and the Continental Celtic goddess Arduinna. The Babylonian god Tammuz, the Egyptian God Osiris, and the Greek God Adonis die after being gored by a boar.

The fir or conifer tree thrives in all but the driest and coldest environments. Conifer forests define “tree line” at extreme latitudes and altitudes, the point where plant growth becomes scrubby. Freya’s fir is the Norway Spruce, which despite its name is prevalent throughout the northern and mountainous regions of Eurasia. Like most spruce trees it is a cold loving tree and it is hardy to the Arctic Circle. It is a particularly beautiful tree that is planted as an ornamental in North America. It grows very tall, 100 feet or more, and typically lives a few hundred years. It produces a nice canopy and is used as a wind breaker. It is a fragrant tree that produces a sweet smelling resin. The cones of the Norway Spruce grow very long, up to 8 inches, and they are quite attractive. The fir’s link with Freya probably comes from the evergreen boughs that decorated halls of feasting during the Winter Solstice observances. These festivities lasted several days or weeks. In a sense, with the great fire, drinking, roast boar, festive attitude, and greenery, Pagans were re-creating Freya’s hall of Sessrymnir, while the dark, cold and frozen landscape outside created a simulation of death. The Norway Spruce used to be the quintessential Christmas tree, although the Scotch Pine works better in today’s commercial environment. Trees in the pine family are associated with winter, rebirth, immortality, strength and sometimes fertility, possibly due to the phallic shape of the cone. Pine has been a preferred wood for coffins due to its association with immortality as well as its availability and workability. Other deities associated with trees in the pine family include the Anatolian Cybele, with her dying and resurrecting lover Attis, the Roman-Persian sun god Mithras, the Greek resurrecting god Dionysus, and the Greek healing god Ascelpius. The pine tree is one of the seven important “chieftan trees” in Celtic druidry, associated with the hero Bran who brought the Irish tales of the isles of paradise in the west.

So this is some background on the boar, fir and falcon. With some reflection you can see how the three fit together to give a deeper understanding of Frejya. I will examine the connection between the three more thoroughly in next week’s post.

The Fir and Falcon

March 16, 2013

Norway Spruce forest. The English word "fir" and its equivalents in other Germanic languages refers to an evergreen tree with needles, although in biological taxonomy that definition has changed. Photo by Kristaga.
Norway Spruce forest. The English word “fir” and its equivalents in other Germanic languages refers to an evergreen tree with needles, although in biological taxonomy that definition has changed. Photo by Kristaga.

The Fir and Falcon sounds like a good name for a medieval tavern. I can picture the large room with the riotous crowd, a bit too warm from the bodies and the fire in the hearth. The orange glow in the room flickers and dances in the torchlight even before the mead is poured. The patrons are mostly men, some with their wives or sweethearts, along with a few women of the sort men are happy to drink with but fear to meet on the battlefield. There is only one maid serving, and though her shoulders are broad and her arms strong from lifting innumerable tankards, she has a buxom figure, bright eyes, and lovely red lips that smile easily. She doesn’t mind the appreciative looks from the men, and she will laugh at a ribald joke, but none dare treat her with disrespect. Everyone knows they drink mead and eat boar in this hall at her pleasure. This is the Sessrymnir (SESS-rim-nir), “the roomy-seated hall,” home of the warriors who died most bravely, and it is the goddess Frejya who presides.

Frejya (FRAY-yah or FRY-yah) leads the Valkyries (val-KEER-ease), the nine thin white-armed maidens who carry the dead from the battle fields, and she gets first choice of the slain heroes, a mark of her position in the warrior societies within Germanic cultures. There is much that we do not know about the mythology and magic of the non-warrior societies, particularly as they relate to women. Early recorders of Germanic mythology and tradition were mostly Norse Christians in the first centuries of conversion, who sought both to exalt these traditions and to reconcile them with Christian values of the time. Goddesses did not fare well in this context. Still, there is a larger medieval record of Freya than any other Germanic goddess. We know that the Summer Solstice was her biggest festival, and that on that evening many bonfires would be lit along the shoreline, simulating the special necklace she wore, the amber Brisingamen (BREE-sing-AH-men) necklace. We know that she was appealed to for good harvest, wealth, fertility and love. And we know that the tree she with which she was most closely associated was the fir; the animal, the boar; and the bird, the falcon.

I need to digress here to explain something not generally understood about the Goddess in her biological forms. Many European goddesses have three manifestations, whether or not they are considered “triple goddesses.” (Semitic goddesses, on the other hand, usually have twin forms.) Take for example the goddess Athena. Robert Graves, recognizing Athena as a pre-Indo-European goddess despite the early Semitic influences on Greek culture, looked at two forms of Athena, the snake and the owl, and tried to find a third animal to complete the triad. He chose the goat for Athena’s third form, an association so tenuous and obscure only a scholar with his depth of knowledge could have found it. What Graves did not know, perhaps because his research centered on the Mediterranean, is that Old European goddesses have an earth animal form, a bird or sky animal form, and a tree form. This is what completes the triad. Knowing this we can immediately recognize Athena’s third form as the olive tree. It is represented on nearly all her coins, along with the owl. Cultivation of the olive tree was a huge achievement in agricultural production, and the owl and the snake also furthered agricultural production by keeping rodent populations in check. Looking at owl, snake and olive together backs up Graves’ assertion that Athena is primarily an agricultural goddess, and that her association with technology and highly organized society grew from that primitive role.

So what does boar, fir and falcon say about Frejya? As this article is getting a bit long, the question will be explored in next week’s post.

The Alder Tree

January 11, 2013

The Black Alder is renowned for thriving in marginal environments. Photo by Johan Fredriksson.
The Black Alder is renowned for thriving in marginal environments. Photo by Johan Fredriksson.

What can no house ever contain?
Answer: The piles upon which it is built.


This riddle refers to the alder wood base that ancient houses were built upon, before the concrete cinder blocks or stone-and-mortar that are used today. Alder was the preferred wood because it is resistant to water decay.

Alder is considered a core magical tree. It corresponds to the letter Fearn of the Irish Ogham alphabet and to the rune Isa. It is sacred to the Greek goddesses Circe and Calypso.

In Finnish the word for alder is derived from a word meaning “blood,” which refers to the red sap the tree oozes when cut. Red pigment from the bark was once used as a dye and a face paint. There is an old superstition against cutting down the alder tree, ostensibly because it “bleeds.” This seems to me a strange rationale, since a pig or any other edible animal also bleeds when killed. However, there are ecological reasons for leaving a stand of alder trees unmolested in certain cases, since the alder is an important pioneer species, fixing nitrogen to the soil in marginal growing areas.

In some stories the Black Alder is substituted for the Black Poplar. For example, in the myth of the Greek sun god Phaeton, the god’s sisters turn to poplars at his death in one version and to alders in another. Substitutions such as this can give a clue as to the magical properties of the tree. Both the Black Alder and the Black Poplar grow in wet soil or along riverbanks. They are also pioneer species, meaning they are early volunteers on cleared land or nutrient poor soils. The riverbank association would link the alder with death, while the pioneer aspect evokes the concept of resurrection. (For a discussion of the relationship of rivers with death see Hecate and the Waterway.)

The death aspect is unmistakable with the lovely goddess Calypso, who has a thicket of alder, poplar and cypress growing at the entrance to her island cavern. Calypso amuses herself pulling drowning sailors from the sea and taking them to her love cave. In the mythology of Greece, Scandinavia, Britain, and Ireland, islands are otherworld places where the dead are received or where magical events occur. The Greek goddess Circe, who transforms men into animals, has a ring of alder trees surrounding her island.

Bran the Blessed, who carries an alder branch, is certainly associated with death and resurrection. The giant king gives his Irish in-laws a magic cauldron as a peace offering, a cauldron which brings to life any dead thing that is put inside it. Bran repents of his gift when he goes to war against the Irish, because they revive their dead warriors with the cauldron. When Bran later dies, he tells his comrades to cut off his head. This in itself is not unusual, as the Celts often brought home the heads of their fallen heroes when for some reason they could not bring the whole body. But the disembodied head of Bran is rather remarkable. For the next 87 years it recites poetry, performs divination, and tells stories from the past, serving as a bridge between the otherworld and the land of the living.

The fairies bring another link between the alder and magic by virtue of their own otherworld connection. Green is the color usually worn by fairies, and they are said to dye their clothing from the immature alder catkins, which produce a green pigment. Of course, the red pigment from the bark would link the alder tree to the blood of the womb, often represented by the cauldron, a symbol of death and rebirth.





Sources

Basic Runes

Graves, Robert. The Greek Myths. London: Penguin, 1960.

Graves, Robert. The White Goddess. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1948.

Hybrid Poplar

Lefevre, Francois, Agnès Légionnet, Sven de Vries Jozef Turok. Strategies for the conservation of a pioneer tree species, Populus nigra L., in Europe, 1998.

Monaghan, Patricia. The Encyclopedia of Celtic Mythology and Folklore. New York: Checkmark Books, 2008.

Walker, Barbara. The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred Objects. San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1988.

Woodland Trust. Common Alder.