Friday, February 19, 2010

The Willow Tree, Queen of the Waters

The traditions and the sacredness of the Willow tree has been around for many many countless generations of everyone's ancestors. There are 300 varieties of the willow either in the form of shrubs or trees. The botanical name is 'salix' which is derived from the Celtic word 'sal' which means near and the word 'lis', meaning water. The Gaelic words for the willow are shellach or suil.
     Through out the world, it's many inhabitants and cultures, there are many names the willow tree goes by such as; Osier, Pussy Willow, Saille, Saugh Tree, Tree of Enchantment, White Willow, Witches Aspirin, Withe and Withy. The common Osier or Basket Willow and the Purple Willow tree is what is mostly used for basket making. The Black Willow is named because of it's dark bark. Pussy Willow also Goat Willow usually grows as a shrub along the banks of streams and rivers. White Willow is probably the largest and descended from the White Willow. The popular and very well known of all species of willow is the Weeping Willow which it thought to have originated in China.
     The leaves and bark of the willow has been mentioned many times through out our history in ancient texts arranging from Assyria, Sumer and Egypt as a remedy for aches and fevers.  The ancient Greek physician wrote about the willow's medicinal properties around the 5th century BC.  Even the Native Americans relied on it for their medical treatments.
     The willow contains salicylic acid, the precursor to the aspirin. In 1897, Felix Hoffmann created a new drug from the willow, named formally Acetylsalicylic acid, named aspirin by Hoffmann's employer which was Bayers AG. An infusion was made from the bitter bark as a remedy for colds and fevers and also was a treatment to treat inflammatory conditions such as rheumatism. People would chew young willow twigs to relieve pain.
     The powers associated with the willow was protection, divination, inspiration, healing, fertility, love, grief and death.  The Gods and Goddesses that was associated with the willow was/is; Proserpine, Orpheus, Hecate, Circe, Belenus, Artemis and Mercury.
     Most of the species of willow grows near water sources which in turn our ancestors associated the willow tree with the element of water. We know that the moon controls the water on Earth so the willow also had a connection to the moon, as well. The water realm also had a connection to the Underworld or the Spirit world. The willow became connected to grief and death.
     The Greek sorceress Circe had a cemetery on a riverside. She planted willows in the cemetery and dedicated them to the Goddess Hecate. Male corpses were left exposed wrapped in raw hides in the tops of the trees for the elements to clean and the birds to eat. A tradition of placing willow branches in the coffins and planting young willow saplings on their graves became a tradition. Many thought that planting a young willow and watching it grow would ease the passage of the soul at death. The ancient Celtics believed the soul would rise up into the young sapling and grow along with it through out the years. In Britain many cemeteries that are near rivers, lakes and streams are planted with willow trees to protect the spirits. In the 19th century, the willow were commonly used as ornaments on gravestones and mourning cards of the deceased loved ones.
     Forsaken lovers of the 16th and 17th centuries would wear a cap or crown made out of willow twigs and leaves to show their grief of their broken heart.
     Due to willow's association with fertility and the serpent, in Athens, the priests of Asclepius would place willow branches in the beds of infertile women, thinking that would bring up the serpents from the Underworld and cure the women of their infertility. Through time, the willow became known to turn the serpent away and people started using it to do just that around their homes and farms.  Asclepius were shown with a serpent wrapped around his arms and it was told that he had the power over serpents.
     In an ancient Spartan fertility ritual dedicated to the goddess Artemis, the male participants would be tied to the tree's trunks with willow thongs and they would be flogged. Strangely this would get the celebrants into an erotic trance and they would have an erotic reaction and would ejaculate thus fertilizing the land with their seed and blood.
     Orphesus, the Greek poet, was said to receive his gifts of eloquence and communication from the sacred willow tree. He carried with him willow branches while he traveled the Underworld. While he was there, his speech impressed the God Apollo so much that he gave Orphesus a lyre which was made out of willow. Apollo would request him to play music from this lyre. He also taught the Muses to play the lyre. It was said that when he played this mystical instrument, it enchanted the wild breasts, even the rocks and trees would move and follow him all over Mt. Olympus.  When Orphesus died, Apollo and the Muses asked and convinced Zeus to place the lyre among the stars.
     The Romanian gypsies had a festival called the festival of Green George which takes place on 23rd of April.  In this festival a man would wear a wicker frame made from the willow around his body and it would be decorated with vegetation and greenery to represent Green George.  At the eve of the festival, a young willow would be cut down and then re-erected at the place of the festival.  It was then decorated with garlands and ribbons. The expected mothers of the village would sit around the tree and place a piece of garment that they own. If a single leaf feel on their clothing over night, then it's owner will be granted an easy child delivery.
     At dawn the appointed Green George would hammer three nails into the tree and then take them back out. He would walk down to the same river that the willow once stood and throw the three nails into the water. This was to wake up the goodwill of the water spirits. He then takes the willow tree itself down to the river, stream or lake and stick it's branches and leaves into the water. All the village's cattle, sheep and any livestock would be brought down to Green George. He then would shake the water off the willow tree onto the animals, thus blessings them. Afterwards the willow tree is taken back to the center of the festival where it once stood and the festival would continue.
     The willow not only had healing abilities but it could also absorb shock and would not splinter. This made it perfect for making cricket bats and stumps. The Dutch originally made their clogs (shoes) from the willow wood. The ancient Celtics made their chariot wheel spokes from the willow tree. The bark was used to make a reddish-brown dye perfect for tanning leather and it was also good for making fodder for livestock, but probably the best well known craft made from the willow tree is basket making by weaving the willow which is still used to this day.
     A magickal use for the willow is using in making wands out of the sacred tree. Another magickal device made from the willow is the traditional witches' broom. The handle is make from ash with birch twigs bound by willow.
     The next time you see a willow in a cemetery, stop and talk to it then listen. You may never told the untold secrets it would tell you. Maybe you would like to communicate with Hecate and leave her an offering. The Weeping Willow with it's drooping limbs and leaves may give you some comfort in  your trying times if you ask politely and in the right way.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

I just want to take a moment to apologize to all Grannulus' Grove readers. I haven't been posting much here in the last few days because of computer problems. Hopefully, I've gotten it corrected.
  Thank you all for visiting the Grannulus' Grove.
   Blessings As Always,
     Grannulus

Brigit, Brighid or Bride

She was and has been considered one of the main Celtic goddesses. She is mostly known to be the Goddess of fire.
     She is known as Bride in Scotland, and Brigantia in the British Isles. Her Roman counterpart is the Goddess Minerva and in Greece is was Athena.
     Brigit was the daughter of Dagda and one of the Tuatha De Danann. Bres of the Formorians was considered her husband. Her sons was Brian, Iuchar and Iucharba (Gods of Poetry) by Turenn who was a consort to Brigit. She also had a son, Ruadan who was slain while fighting for the Formorians. She had two oxen, named Fe and Men. They grazed on a plain that was named after them, Femen. She also possessed Torc Triath, the king of boars and Cirb, king of sheep.  Her family also included some half brothers named; Aengus Mac Og, Cermat Corm and Midhir.
     In Ireland she was called Breo-Saighit, the Flame of Ireland and also a Goddess of the Forge. When she was born at sunrise, it was said that a tower of flame shot up and reached from the top of her head to the sky/heavens above. It made the whole household as if it was on fire.
     Some consider Brigit to be of the Triple Goddess aspect and believe there are three Brigits. One is in charge of poetry and the inspiration that invented the Ogham. Another in charge of healing matters and midwifery. The third in charge of the hearth fire, smithies, forges and other crafts. So one could see that the Goddess Brighid ( another name for her ) was considered a goddess of many things. She was also perceived as a Goddess to things that were to be of high dimensions such as: high-rising flames, the highlands, hill-forts, upland areas, wisdom, excellence, high intelligence, poetic eloquence, craftsmanship, blacksmithing, healing abilities and druid knowledge. She was also seen as a warrior goddess whom favored the use of the spear and arrow.
     Not only was she a Goddess of the flame or fire, but also of water. There are a countless number of wells and springs throughout Europe that are dedicated in her honor, where she is honored as a Goddess of herbalism, healing and midwifery.
     The festival that's held in her honor is held on February 1st or 2nd and corresponds to Imbolc or Oimelc which celebrates the birthing and 'freshening' of the sheep and goats. It's a Milk Festival. The time when the little lambs are born and the promise of life continuing on after the the harsh times of winter. It was later Christianized, of course, as Candlemas or Lady Day.
     The household fire or fire of the hearth was considered sacred to the Goddess Brigit.  Each evening the woman of a household would 'smoor' the fire which means cover it over to keep the fire over night. They would ask for the protection of Brigit on the household and all it's occupants.
     As I said before in Scotland she is called Bride. There are rites that has been preserved to this day in the Outer Herbrides off the Scottish coast in her honor. The women would gather at La' Fheill Brighad and make an image of the Goddess as a maiden. Then they would/will dress her in white and place a crystal over her heart and lay her in a cradle-like basket. Then Bride is invited into the house by the female head of the household with sacred songs and chanting.
     In traditions and stories, the Goddess Brigit had kept a shrine at Kildare, Ireland, where a perpetual flame was tended by 19 virgin priestesses who was called the Daughters of the Flame. No men or males were allowed to come near it or visit the shrine. The women never consorted with the male population. Their food and supplies were brought to them by the women of the local village. Traditions held at the shrine of Kildare was that each day a different priestess was in charge of the Sacred Fire, but on the 20th day of each cycle the fire was tended by Brigit herself.
     Of course we see again as we have seen through-out of ancestors history, the Catholics or Christians had to get their hands on to a good thing because they were having problems converting the pagan populations into Christians, so they did what they were good at.... stealing.
     Brigit was canonized by the Catholic Church into St. Brigit. They started spreading legends and traditions that she was the midwife of the Virgin Mary. Another Christian story states that she was the daughter of a Druid named Dubhthact and they lived on the island of Iona, which is off the coast of Scotland and then moved to Ireland. Brigit or Brighid predicted the coming of Christianity. Now I must say here that there maybe some truth to this story. Anyway the story continues to say that she was baptized by St. Patrick, of course, and then she became a nun and later an abbess who founded the Abbey at Kildare.
     Another Christian version of St. Brigid ( another form of her name) was she was born at Faughart in County Louth. Her father was a pagan chieftain and her mother, Brocca, a Pictish christian. Her father named her after the goddess of fire from his religion which was Brigid or Brigit. In 468, she was converted to Christianity because she was a big fan and follower of the preachings of St. Patrick. She wanted to join a convent and pursue her convictions, but her father refused her so he kept her home.
     Brigit became very well known for her kindness, generosity and charity. She never turned away a poor person who came knocking on her father's door. One day a leper came to the door. Brigit couldn't give away any milk or flour because there were short supply of it so instead she gave away her father's jeweled sword.
     It was then that her father caved in and sent her to a convent; probably because he didn't want to go bankrupt. LOL
     She received her veil from Saint Mel and started a career in establishing convents starting in Clara in County Offaly.
     According to Pagan traditions the convent at Kildare was already there and being attended by the 19 priestess of the Goddess of Fire, Brighid, but according to Christian traditions, St. Brigit founded it in 470.
     Even though the original shrine became a convent under the Christian rule and the priestesses became nuns the sacred traditions was still kept. They kept the Sacred Flame lite and tended to. The flame was kept alive for thousands of years under the nuns care, but no one or no records can say how long it was kept before that.
     In 1220 CE, a bishop became very angry because he or any males wasn't allowed in the Abbey of St. Brigit of Kildare. He kept insisting the nuns to become subordinate to the priests and they must open their abbey to the inspections of the priesthood of the Catholic Church. The nuns stood strong and refused the bishop and asked for an abbess to perform any inspections. The bishop then decreed that their keeping of the eternal flame was a pagan tradition. Here we go! He then ordered the Sacred Flame to be put out.
     Now I must say and I can only say very little. The Sisterhood of the Eternal Flame and the flame itself was not totally put out but they left and carried the flame with them. The pagan traditions of Brigit, the Shrine at Kildare and the priestesses were continued else where and still to this day.
     Anyhow, in the 1960s under the modernization of the Vatican, it was declared there wasn't enough proof of there existing a Brigit or her sanctity, so the church gradually pushed St. Brigit out and decannoized her. Most of the post cards, images or traditions of St. Brigit only exist in Ireland, so it's hard to find them anywhere else in the Catholic world.
     There was an individual named Sister Mary Minchin, who was a nun at the Kildare Abbey, who re-light the Sacred Flame on February 2, 1996.  My 'hat' truly goes off to this lady. Goddess bless her!
     Again according to Christian traditions, St. Brigit died in 525 and was buried in a tomb before the high altar of Kildare's Abbey. Later her remains were moved to Downpatrick and laid to rest with other saints. Later, three noble Irishman took her skull and transported it to the Church of St. John the Baptist in Paris, France. It is said that to this day it's still there.
     Rather you see her as Brighid, Brigit or Bride the Goddess of Fire or as St. Brigit, it's still safe to say to remember as the sun starts to shine more and spread it's warmth over us and Gaia, then please also remember life is promise to us. Maybe not as our own individual life, but the promise of new life and the promise of life must go on.  After the harshness of Winter and the season of death, life still continues on. Brigit or Brighid will always keep that Sacred Flame. That Sacred Flame that dances within each and every being and child of Mother Earth the Goddess.  She has kept that Sacred Flame dancing within our hearth, our heart and now brings it out into the open for us to share with all creation of Gaia.
     Blessings to you and yours,
       Grannulus

Friday, February 5, 2010

February

February was named after the Latin term februum, which means purification.
     Februa was also known as Februatio. It was a Roman festival of ritual purfification, also commonly known as Lupercalia. It was basically one of spring washing or cleaning by water. It was thought that it became associated with water because this month was a month of raininess.  The festival was probably from Sabine origin but the Ovid believed it derived from an earlier Etruscan word referring to purging. It fell on the 15th day of Februarius which became February in the English tongue. The god Februus became associated with the festival and the month February.
     Februus was the god of the dead and of purification. He was worshipped mostly by the Etruscans, where he became the god of malaria, named Febris. Februalia was held in his honor at the same time that Lupercalia was held in the honor of the god Faun. Through time the two became as the same entity.
     Februailia also became the Roman god of February, which became a time period of sacrifices that were made to atone for sins.
 February was added to the calendar by Numa Pompilius around 700 BCE.  Then it was the last month of the calendar until the time of decemvirs around 450 BCE when it became the 2nd month.
     In other parts of the European continent the month that became known as February was also known by other names. The Anglo-Saxon called the month Salmonath which meant mud month and Kale-monath named for cabbage. In the Finnish language it was called helmikuu which means the month of the pearl because the snow would melt on the tree branches therefore forming tiny droplets of water and then re-freezes, forming tiny ice droplets that looked like pearls on the branches. The Scots' term for this month was Feberwary and Februar.
     February is the only month that can pass without a single full moon. The birth flower of this month is the Viola plant and the Primrose. It's birthstone is the amethyst.
     Of course we know this is the shortest month of the year. Tradition holds the reason why is because the emperor Augustus took away one day from February and gave it to the month named after him, August.