I’d like to continue with the Mythology of trees theme, with this week’s subject being the ROWAN.I’ve chosen the Rowan largely because my research revealed it to be immersed in some of the mostly deeply rooted and fascinating myths and folklore, and because of particular interest in Scotland, where it is widely regarded as THE TREE OF LIFE. Such a tree would form the sacred heart of a town or village, where Kings might be crowned, legislation passed, and all important announcements made. Most cultures embrace a COSMIC AXIS, or AXIS MUNDI, which is the symbolic connection between the celestial and the geographical, or more simply put, between Heaven and Earth. In geographical terms, it is also the point at which the 4 points of the compass merge. The Axis Mundi often takes the form of a tree, where connection is symbolised on three levels – the branches symbolising the sky, the trunk as the Earth, with the roots considered to represent the Underworld. Highly revered in Scotland, the Rowan’s mythical past stretches far back in time – In GREEK MYTHOLOGY for instance, the Goddess of youth, HEBE, lost the chalice with which she provided the gods with Ambrosia, to demons from the Underworld – the gods despatched an Eagle to return it, and in the fight with the demons, drops of blood shed by the Eagle fell to the earth and became Rowan trees, with leaves in the shape of the feathers, and berries like droplets of blood. (These of course are the berries much loved by birds such as the Waxwing, and Mistle Thrush) In NORSE fables, Rowan is the tree from which WOMAN was crafted (Man from the ASH), and in one story, the Rowan saved THOR by stooping over a fast running river in which he was being swept away, so allowing him to safely reach the riverbank. Rowan is widely held to be effective protection against the powers of evil, warding off witches and evil spirits, possibly due in part to the tree’s physical characteristics – opposite the stalk of each berry is a tiny 5 pointed star, representative of the protective PENTAGRAM, much used in ancient magic ceremonies. Also, the colour red in the showy display of berries is thought to be a protection from enchantment. The range of protection said to be afforded by the Rowan is quite extensive. The tree itself, as a whole, is thought to protect dwellings, and so it is that many cottages and small houses can be found with a Rowan tree close by. It also has a deep association with cattle, again particularly in Scotland, and sprigs of Rowan would be pinned inside cowsheds and byres to protect both the dairy herds and their produce – they would be also be bound in red string and tied to horses’ tails to ward off evil. Milking stools and pails might also be crafted from Rowan to further enhance the protection. The connection with the colour red extends beyond the berries, and held great power against witches, as indicated in the incantation… “ROWAN TREE AND RED THREAD, LEAVE THE WITCHES ALL IN DREAD” And the Rowan’s reputation is further indicated in these lines from a traditional Celtic ballad…. “LAIDLEY WOOD”
The spells they were in vain, The hag returned, to the Queen in sorrowful mood, Crying that witches have no power, Where there is Rowan tree wood.
So, it’s clear to see that the Rowan possesses great powers of magic, and some of the practices that stem from this remain in place today as local traditions. Here in the Isle Of Man, crosses made from Rowan twigs cut without the use of a knife are worn by people, and pinned to cattle every year on May eve.
In Scotland, it was held so sacred that the use of any part of the tree in other than sacred rituals or observations was taboo. It was also thought that its powers were especially potent if whoever was crafting the charms was seeing the tree they were cutting for the first time.The Rowan tree is known by many names, the most well known of which is probably MOUNTAIN ASH, but it is variously known throughout its range as Quickbeam, Witchbane, Devil’s Bane, The Whispering Tree, Witch Tree, and many, many, others.
Its ancient Gaelic name was LUIS, which gave rise to various Scottish place names, such as ARDLUI on Loch Lomond. The more modern Scots Gaelic is CAORUNN (pronounced CHOROON) the derivation of which can be found in BEIN CHAORUNN, Invernesshire, and in LOCH a’ CHAORUN, Easter Ross. But by far my own favourite name for the Rowan, with its poetical lilt, is LADY OF THE MOUNTAIN. A name which most likely came about due to the Rowan’s ability to grow in the most unforgiving and unlikely areas of the mountainside, often appearing from out of the cleft of a rock, where no other tree would find root – these are also known as “Flying Rowan” and are said to exhibit greater magic still!!
Once again, the magic, myth, legend, and folklore attached to the Rowan is vast, so I have cherry-picked my information. I only hope that you’ve enjoyed it!!Lovers of Lord Of The Rings might recognise amongst those alternative names for the Rowan, the name QUICKBEAM, and this is no coincidence. Those familiar with the story will recall the ENTS, the tree people from FANGORN FOREST. In contrast to their leisurely, considered pace of life, Quickbeam was a somewhat “hasty” Ent, and it was he who was charged with looking after the Hobbits Merry & Pippin while the Ents decided on their plan of action for the Wizard, Saruman. Tolkein based Quickbeam on the Rowan. Well, the Rowan may well be considered an effective protection against enchantment, but perhaps I’m immune to its protection, because whenever I set foot in woodland, I am immediately captivated by that special magic that exists there. For me, EVERY forest is enchanted!!! Pictures © and courtesy of Wiki