The Rowan Tree
Tree of Imbolc, Divine Inspiration and Seership
By Glennie Kindred
(Originally published at Imbolc 1998)
The Rowan (sorbus aucuparia), Mountain Ash, Quickbeam, has the ability, perhaps more than any other tree, to help us increase our psychic abilities and connections. It has a beneficial energy which will increase our abilities to receive visions and insights which in turn will increase our communication with the spirit realms.
In the past it was valued as a protection against enchantment, unwanted influences and evil spirits. Sprigs of Rowan were placed over doorways and fixed to cattle sheds to protect the animals from harm. Similarly, farmers would drive their sheep through hoops of Rowan branches, and in Wales Rowan trees were planted in churchyards to watch over and protect the spirits of the dead.
The Rowan berry has a tiny five-pointed star opposite its stalk. The pentagram, ancient symbol of protection, is an outward manifestation of the Rowan's protective powers, but there is more to the picture than this. The Rowan grows higher up the sides of mountains than any other native tree, often sprouting and growing from the tiniest of crevices and growing in the most inaccessible of spots. Its life-force energy is strong and determined. It reflects a power, a vitality and tenacity, with a clear message that harnessing this powerful life-force will make any manifestation possible. Its message is not to give up, but to hold on strong to what you believe in and to the power of the life-force.
The Rowan strengthens your personal power. It is this aspect which makes the Rowan such a powerful ally. It will strengthen your positive life-energy so that your personal power is so strong that it can withstand any negative forces. This is how it acts as a protective influence. It is not just the Rowan which protects you but you, yourself. An increase in psychic ability and life-force energy puts you in touch with your own power, thus breaking any victim consciousness, or malevolent influence, which may have entrapped and weakened you.
It is the Rowan's ability to open up communication with the spirit realms which is the key to the Rowan energy. Its name is linked with the Norse word "runa", meaning "a charm", and the the Sanskrit "runa", meaning " a magician. Rune staves, sticks on which the runes were inscribed, were made of Rowan wood and it would be an appropriate wood to choose for making a set of ogham sticks if you wanted to make a set quickly without waiting to collect each stick from each of the relevant trees. The leaves and berries are added to divination incenses. Rowan twigs are used for metal divining, just as hazel twigs are used for water divining. Speer posts, magically protective house timbers inscribed with runes and magically charged patterns, were traditionally made of Rowan wood.
Rowan is the wood to use for making any magical tool which has anything to do with divining, invocation and communication with the spirit realms. It will help you to discriminate between what will do you harm and good and help you deal with anything which threatens you.
An increase in abilities to communicate and understand communication from the spirit realms or otherworld will bring meaningful insights, visions and in increase in intuition. Divination will provide a tool for these communications, so if you are working with the Rowan, increase your oracular consultations. But it is also important to "read" the messages which are constantly passed to us from the spirit realms and to be open to receiving and interpreting these signs in our everyday lives. This will merge the inner and outer sources of information at our disposal.
Rowan is valued for its ability to provide us with forewarnings and foreknowledge. It gives us an increased awareness of enchantments or of outside influences which are affecting us and of which we had previously been unaware. This, along with an increase in personal power and vitality, is why it is such an important tree to communicate with. It brings a balanced control of all our senses and abilities on many different levels of our existence. If you are working with the Rowan, it is important to take heed of any warnings or negative influences which you pick up on, using meditation and diviniation to help you to find ways to deal with them.
Meditation which is focused on getting in touch with spirit guides in the otherworld is greatly enhanced by holding a Rowan twig, wand or touchwood. Similarly, Rowan wood can be used to focus your intent to understand and receive messages from the otherworld. Wearing a Rowan talisman, or carrying a piece of Rowan touchwood, will also enhance these abilities.
The Rowan is associated with Imbolc, the great fire festival of early February, held to mark the quickening of the year. Dedicated to the young maiden aspect of the Triple Goddess, she, like the Rowan, is associated with divine inspiration, illumination, intuition and the binding power of poetry and healing.
More than ever, we need to harness these feminine principles and make them part of our everyday lives. We are now free of many of the oppressive and destructive influences of Christianity which have suppressed these qualities for so long. For me, Imbolc and the Rowan provide the opportunity to tap into a true synthesis and integration of our physical and spiritual selves by helping us to receive and act upon our intuitive insights. They also help us to keep our subconscious in direct communication with our conscious selves.
The Rowan is associated with the planet Mercury, the principle of communications. This free-flowing communicative energy is the underlying value of this tree which can manifest in many different aspects of our lives. Imbolc is connected to the powerful surge of new growth which is stirring in the depths of the earth and thus also represents the rebirth of the spirit and the spiralling out of the light energy from the time of darkness and the upsurge in personal energy with which this is linked.
Working with the Rowan tree at Imbolc would facilitate a quickening of personal power and resources. Make time to link in to transformation visions through any chosen method of diviniation, candle-gazing, scrying, meditation, inspired drawings and poetry.. Leave your conscious mind behind and allow the intuitive process to unfold. Staring into nothingness and daydreaming re very good for you, or staring into mandalas or Celtic knotwork patterns. Sitting with trees and intuitively receiving impressions from them, reading the patterns in their bark, on the hills or in the landscape, or seeing pictures in the fire - all can open the doorway to receiving messags from the Otherworld and our spirit helpers and guides.
If you feel you are in need of the protective qualities of the Rowan, perhaps because you have feelings of being oppressed by strong and powerful dark forces or influences, our you feel you are under psychic attack, then harness the power of the Rowan. Nail sprigs of Rowan across your door lintels and wear a sprig of the leaves, flowers or berries in your hat. Carve yourself a brooch or a talisman to wear. Take a small piece of Rowan wood and sandpaper it smooth so that it is a constant pocket-companion for you to touch and gain strength from. Make a healing-pouch out of chamois leather by cutting out a circle the size of a teacup, make holes all the way round the edge and thread a thong or thread through the holes. In your pouch place bark and berries from the Rowan and wear it round your neck next to your skin if possible.
Another thing you can do is to plant a Rowan tree near your house. This small, beautiful tree is an ideal garden tree as it does not take up too much room and its sparse foliage allows grass to grow beneath it. In the spring it has clusters of white, starry flowers and in the autumn the leaves turn red and orange and it is a mass of red berries which attract the birds into your garden. It has been planted near houses for centuries to ward off evil - witches too, but we all know that this is a corruption of an earlier tradition.
The berries are very useful medicinally. Cut the clusters off the trees in October while they are still firm and red (leave some for the birds!) and hang them upside down in brown paper bags to dry. This is best done in a warm, airy place. When they are completely dry, you can seal them in dark, air-tight jars. The juice from the berries is mildly laxative and makes a good gargle for sore throats and hoarseness. To extract the juice from the dried berries, soak one teaspoonful in one cup of cold water for 10 hours, strain and use as a gargle. When made into jam, the fruit becomes astringent, which is good for mild diarrhoea.
To make the jam, collect fresh berries in the autumn, trim off the stalks and weigh the fruit. Boil the berries, strain off the seeds and skins and reboil the liquid until it sets. You may need to add some crab-apples to provide the pectin.
The fruit can also be boiled, strained and made into wine, and gently boiled to make a vitamin C drink which was previously used for scurvy. The Welsh made a special ale using Rowan berries, but the secret of this is now lost. Perhaps with a creative, intuitive, approach the ale-makers amongst us could create a new Rowanberry ale for feasts, rituals and ceremonies.
The Rowan yields a black dye used for tanning. The Druids used it for dyeing their ceremonial black robes which they used for certain lunar ceremonies. The ancient Druids of Ireland also lit fires of Rowan wood before battles and incantations were spoken over the flames to summon spirits to take part in the fight and to combat evil forces.
Bewitched horses and animals were controlled with Rowan whips and great Rowan thickets were planted at oracular sites throughout Europe. It was noted by John Lightfoot in his Flora Scotica of 1777 that Rowans were planted in the neighbourhood of the ancient stone circles. It was also known that the Druids built special platforms made from interwoven Rowan twigs known as the Wattles of Knowledge. These were used as a kind of bed on which a Druid would lie as part of a ritual which induced a trance to gain hidden knowledge. The surnames Mac Cairthin and MacCarthy come from the old Gaelic word for Rowan and literally mean "Son of the Rowan".
Rowan is the second of the ogham letters, luis. It provides the "quickening" for energy set in motion by the first tree, the Birch, and opens up communication with the spirit realms which is so necessary for anyone wishing to work with trees and magic. The increase in intuitive insights and visions has aleady been discussed here, but the ogham symbol may be used whenever these qualities need to be invoked.
Wands of all sizes may be made from Rowan wood, from a pencil thin wand for the pocket to a large ceremonial wand lavishly dedicated and decorated. It also makes very good walking sticks if you can find a straight length. It is particularly good if you are intending to go night walking. The increase in psychic abilities is obviously enhanced by holding this wood for any long periods of time.
As always, only cut from the living tree after you have asked the tree, told it of your wishes and waited to feel the assent of the tree. Making a deep connection of thanks to the tree is also very important and will ensure that your stick or wand does not carry any residue of unhappiness with it.
If you wish to take all or some of the bark off, it is best to do so soon after you have cut it as it peels off easily at this stage. Rough carving is easiest then too, and you can then leave the wood to dry out naturally outside over a period of a few weeks before fine carving and sanding. It is an easy, softish wood to carve and can be used for small carved objects. Keep awareness of the sacred task you are undertaking while you work and feel your way into connection with the underlying energy of the Rowan which you must honour. Be alert for an increase in your psychic powers which your Rowan wand or stick will induce in you. Use your Rowan wand to help you to find inspired solutions to your problems. Sleep with a piece of Rowan under your pillow to bring inner knowledge. Heed any portents relating to future events.
Whatever your connection to the Rowan, be sure to look out for the changes that will occur as a result of any communication with this tree. It should not be underestimated and its influence will bring about a quickening of your energy on many subtle levels. For this reason, it has always been used by the wise ones and revered as a powerful influence and should be treated with the greatest respect.