Druid Tree Lore
in particular were mysterious, and seemed to me direct embodiments of
the incomprehensible meaning of life. For that reason, the woods were
the place that I felt closest to its deepest meaning and to its
C.G.Jung Memories, Dreams, Reflections
love trees and often visit trees and woods to meditate there, hold
ceremonies, or simply commune with Nature. Most Druids support
tree-planting and reforestation programmes and the Order runs a Sacred
Grove Planting project to help members and the public create woodland
|Trees and the word 'Druid'|
modern scholars agree with the classical Roman and Greek authors that
the most likely derivation for 'Druid' is from the word for oak,
combined with the Indo-European root wid - to know, giving their
translation of the word Druid as 'One with knowledge of the oak' or
'Wise person of the oak'.
Those who possessed knowledge of the
oak possessed knowledge of all the trees. The Druid was one with
'knowledge of the trees' and was a 'Forest Sage'.
scholars suggest that Druid is derived from the pre-Indo-European root
deru – which means firm, solid, strong or steadfast, combined with the
root weid – which means to see, creating a term that could translate as
To get a sense of how it might feel to be a
Druid, try saying this: “I am strong - a steadfast seer, a knower of
magic and enchantment. I am a sage of the forest. I know the secrets of
the oak and the wildwood.” Say it several times over, with as little
inhibition and as much conviction as you can muster. It’s important to
say it out loud, because the voice has magical properties.
the exercise works for you, you will have experienced something of what
it means to be a Druid – a man or a woman who even today can feel the
pulse of life in the earth beneath them and the trees around them.
those who study as Ovates within Druidry learn to work with the powers
of Nature – they learn the Ogham and come to know the trees as living
Beings with their own medicines and gifts. They work with the sacred
animals of tradition, and with different methods of divination, and
many begin a study of herbalism or other methods of healing, and in
particular they learn how to encourage the flow of Nwyfre through the
body. Nwyfre is the Druid term for Life-force, known as Chi’ or Prana
in the East.
|Ogham – the Tree Alphabet of the Druids|
today use a particular method for communicating and remembering their
wealth of tree-knowledge. This is known as the Ogham (which means
‘language’ and is pronounced o'um, or och’um). It consists of
twenty-five simple strokes centred on or branching off a central line.
It is similar in purpose, but separate in origin from the Nordic runes.
The Ogham characters were inscribed on stones and probably on staves of
Its origins are lost in the mists of time, and most of the
existing inscriptions have only been dated to the fifth and sixth
centuries, but whether originally Celtic or pre-Celtic we may sense
that it carries with it some of the very earliest of Druid wisdom.
Amongst our sources of information about its use, we have from Ireland
the twelfth century Book of Leinster, the fourteenth century Book of Ballymote, and O'Flaherty's Ogygia (published in 1793). And from Scotland, transcribed from the oral tradition in the seventeenth century, we have The Scholar's Primer.
But it was the poet Robert Graves who, following in his grandfather’s
footsteps, since he was an Ogham expert, brought this arcane system
into public awareness once again, with his publication of The White Goddess in 1948.
An example of Tree Lore: Beith - The Birch Tree
Bardic school or grade is symbolised by the Birch Tree. It is the first
tree in the Ogham Cipher, and as such represents the number one. This
is fitting, for it is the birch that we plant first on virgin land if
we want to create a wood or forest. It is known, for this reason, as
the Pioneer Tree, and it can be seen also as the tree which helps birth
the forest. So it is a tree of birth - an appropriate tree to symbolise
the first level of Druid working, when we are born into this new way of
seeing and knowing.
The Ogham can also be used for divination,
and when we draw the card, or throw the disc or stave of the birch, we
know that this signifies new beginnings for us, and -depending on its
relative position in the spread - we know that we must either pioneer a
new endeavour or that something is being born in our lives. Often,
before we can give birth to the new, we need to cleanse ourselves of
the old. Again, the birch tree is an appropriate symbol for this
process of purification in preparation for new beginnings. In
Scandinavia, switches of birch are used on the body to stimulate the
process of purification in the sauna, and can be used in Druid
sweathouse rituals too. In Britain the birch rod was used rather more
ferociously to purify the criminal of their misdeeds, and earlier still
in an attempt to expel evil spirits from 'lunatics'. In some areas, it
was customary to drive out the spirits of the old year with birch
switches, and throughout Europe birch twigs were used for 'beating the
So to prepare for the new, we must free ourselves of
the debris of the old, and birch can help us do this, and can point the
way forward, for when we are lost in the forest, the shining whiteness
of the birch trunk leads us onward - it offers guidance and orientation
in the darkness of our journey. The very word 'birch' derives from a
root meaning 'bright' or 'shining' in nearly all languages with
Robert Graves allocates this tree to a
month stretching from December 24th to January 20th, using a calendar
of thirteen months, since both Caesar and Pliny reported that the
Druids divided their year into lunar months. He chooses as the first
month that which follows the Winter Solstice - when the year is reborn,
and the days begin to lengthen.
As with much of this work, one
finds that other traditions hold many things in common. The shaman of
the Siberian Gold Eskimos climbs a birch tree at the high point of an
initiation ceremony, circling its trunk nine times. The Buryat and the
Central Asian Altai shamans carve nine notches in the trunk of a young
birch - representing the steps they must take to ascend to heaven. The
birch shares with the Ash the distinction of being used as a
representative of the Cosmic World-Tree - the Axis Mundi. This tree
links the Underworld with Middle Earth and Heaven Above. The shaman
climbing the Birch uses it as a sky-ladder to symbolise his ability to
visit other worlds.
In Britain the Birch was often used for
may-poles - our version of the Axis Mundi around which we turn and
turn. And at the same season it was the twigs of birch that were used
for kindling the Beltane fire. Birch was also used to make babies'
cradles, for if birch could drive evil from the old year, and from
lunatics and criminals, it could ward off ill for the newborn too. And
since birch is the tree of birthing the new, what other wood is more
fitting for the newly born?
Adapted from Druid Mysteries by Philip Carr-Gomm
More on Tree-Lore and the Ogham