The rowan tree, in ancient times, was considered a very sacred tree. It was known by many names; the quicken tree, quickbeam, or mountain ash even though it's not related to the ash family. Quickbeam means "living wood" in archaic Modern English. To the Celtic, the tree was also known as "The Druid's Tree," because they held it so sacred.
They used the rowan tree a lot in their everyday life. The druids planted the tree along with the Oak and the Ash in their sacred groves. They would interweave the rowan into boughs and then spread them over the hides of bulls that have been sacrificed. The reason they did this was they would lay down on the hides to travel to the spirit world. Some traditions claims that the druids, before a battle, would kindle fires of rowan wood, then they would speak magickal incantations over the fire to invite the sidhe to participate in the battle. Walking sticks and magicians' staves were made out of rowan, especially the druids' staff. Also the druids would used the berries to dye their garments black, which they would use during their Lunar ceremonies. The bark of the tree was used to tan hides, as well.
The gods and goddesses that are associated with the rowan tree were connected to very powerful deities. Since the tree was considered to be connected to the sun and it's solar power, it had connections to a lot of solar deities.
In Ireland, the goddess Brigid and in Britain, Briganta, an ancient deity of the 'land,' were considered to be connected to the rowan. Both of these goddesses had arrows made from the sacred rowan tree, which could catch on fire when it was called for.
Other deities that was considered to have a link to this sacred tree was the Celtic god and goddess, Lugh and Leanan. Lugh was a Celtic god who was considered as a many skilled magician and the king of the gods as well as a chief warrior ( God of the Spear ). He was also responsible for bringing the harvest. Leanan Sidhe was an otherwordly female who inspired poets and musicians.
The Tuatha De Danann were said to be the ones responsible for bringing the rowan from Tir Tairngire, The Land Of Promise.
The traditions of the Norse, who honored the rowan, claimed that the sacred tree had saved the god Thor from a furious river. Thor was about to be swept away and drowned when the rowan reached down with it's branches and pulled him out of the waters.
In Greek myths, Zeus sent an Eagle to recover the Cup of the Gods, which was stolen by some demons. During the battle and out of the blood and the feathers of the sacred Eagle spranged the rowan tree. This was believed because of the feather shape of the leaves and the juice of the berries.
In Scandinavian mythology, the first woman was created from the rowan while the first man came from the Ash tree.
The physical appearance of the tree and it's red berries contributed to it's strong protective power. The berries were not only considered to be very sacred for the many uses but also because the fact that they have a tiny five pointed star or pentagram on each berry. The red fruits were thought to be able to restore youth to the aged.
The red berries were also associated with both life and death and was believed to represent the blood of the gods. Dye wasn't the only thing made from the clusters of berries, but a strong and delicious drink was made from their juice or added to mead.
The leaves and berries were often added to incense for divination and scrying.
The rowan got it's name from the Norse word Runa, meaning charm. The branches were also used as dowsing rods and magic wands. The tree was such a powerful protector against evil spirits, charms, and witchcraft that farmers would make every sort-of domestic and farming tools from it; plows, handles for shovel, rakes, pitchforks and etc. They would also bind twigs from the rowan with red thread and hang them over their doorways, stables, under milk pans and even tied them to the tail of their cows.
In Wales, there wasn't a church yard that didn't have a rowan tree planted somewhere, sometimes on the graves themselves, which was believed to keep the dead from haunting. The rowan wasn't just very popular in the churchyards but also found growing very close to homes to keep the presence of evil away.
In England, it was said that the Devil himself hanged his own mother from the tree. I thought my family couldn't get along.
The rowan wasn't only sacred to the druids and church goers but also to the sea-faring folk. The rowan was carried onto vessels and ships to avoid storms. Some people kept branches in their homes to protect them from lightning.
There was a certain 'type' of rowan that was considered even more special, called a 'flying rowan.' This type of rowan tree would grow from a larger tree or out of the side of rock cliffs. This act of nature was caused when birds would eat the berries, then the seeds in their droppings would fall between rocks, in a hole or a fork of a large tree. This special rowan was thought to be even more powerful against witches and their magic. It was very sought for by all especially the druids.
Another resource the rowan tree offered was the ability to predict the weather and the volume of food sources. In Newfoundland, if there were a heavy crop of berries meant a hard or difficult winter was ahead.The number of berries, in Finland and Sweden, predicted the amount of snow cover during the winter months. In Maalahti, Finland if there were a large amount of rowan flowers then the harvest of Rye would be plentiful. Also if the tree flowered twice a year there would be many potatoes and many weddings that autumn. In some lands, winter would begin when the birds had eaten the last of the berries.
In Sweden, if the rowan grew pale and lost it's color, the fall and winter would bring much illness and suffering. The druids believed that if the rowan tree was healthy and well cared for then the land would be the same.
Living here in the south, I haven't seen any rowan trees around but when I do see one, I will have the uptmost respect for it as did my Celtic ancestors and I hope you will too.
written by Grannulus