Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Rowan Tree.

The Rowan Tree.

The rowan was the tree Par Excellence of Irish myth and legend. It was on wattles of rowan that the druids slept in order to have prophetic visions of the future. The brilliance of the red berries in autumn imbued the tree with magical powers, hence the association with the druids and all things magical.

The wattles of the rowan were sometimes carved with Ogham symbols to further enhance their powers. No wonder then, that the rowan was called Fid na ndraoi, the tree of the druids. The rowan appears in many Irish myths and legends.

In The Cattle Raid of Fraoch, Fraoch, the most handsome warrior in Ireland sets off to woo Findabar, the beautiful daughter of Ailill and Medbh of Connacht but Ailill is less than keen on the match so demands a bride price of “three score dark grey horses with golden bridles and twelve milch cows and a white calf with red ears”. Fraoch refuses and so Ailill plots his downfall. Ailill ask’s Fraoch to swim to the far side of the river, “Bring me back a branch of the rowan that grows on the river bank, I find its berries beautiful”.

There follows a lyrical description of Fraoch returning with the rowan branch. Findabar said after that, whatever looked beautiful to her, she thought it more beautiful to look at Fraoch across the dark waters, his skin so fair, his hair shining in the sun, his eyes so very blue, the branch with its red berries between his throat and his fair face.

Ailill asked for a second branch of rowan. Fraoch turned to cross the river again. This time, however, he was attacked by a river monster but Findabar threw him a sword with which he cut off the monsters head. Fraoch had his wounds healed in a sacred well and won his love Findabar.

In the pursuit of Diarmuid and Gráinne the giant Searbhan guards a magical rowan in the woods of Dubhros. The tree grew from one of the berries dropped by the magical Tuatha De Dannann who were thought to have brought rowan to Ireland from Tír Tairngire (the Land of Promise). Gráinne begs to have some of the berries from the tree and in order to satisfy her wishes Diarmuid is forced to kill the giant to bring them to her.

In Irish folklore it was believed that the first man was created from an ash tree, the first woman from a rowan tree. This was why a sprig of rowan or alder was placed above the cradle, depending on the sex of the baby. Sprigs of rowan were tied to cows tails or twisted round the butter churn to protect the workings of the dairy on May eve. A time of heightened activity among the spirits and the fairies.

Often the rowanberry was thought to foster rejuvenation: a man 160 years old could be returned to his prime with the honey taste of rowanberries. The happy dead rest under woven roofs of quicken or rowan boughs.

The rowan tree possesses the powers of healing, strength, success, protection, and clairvoyance. The berries are shaped like a pentagram, a symbol of protection in many folk and Pagan religions, and serves as a shield against magical attacks.
It is also carried on ships to help prevent the ship from encountering any stormy weather, and is kept in houses to protect them from lightning.

The Rowan will prevent the deceased from rising from their grave to haunt the living, if it is planted on top of the burial mound.

In some traditions it has been said that if the tree is grown near a stone circle it will help to increase the power and potency within the circle.

All this is just part of the magic of trees in Irish myth and legend.

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