Thursday, January 7, 2010


Despite being a common TREE in many climates, the ash (genus Fraxinus) plays a significant role in Scandinavian and Germanic as well as Celtic mythologies. It is a large but graceful tree whose sweeping, upturned branches make a dramatic pattern against the winter sky and whose feathery compound leaves create a dappled shade in summer. Together with the OAK and the THORN, the ash is one of the magical trees of Celtic tradition. Because it is connected with the FAIRIES, it was also believed to ward them off; for this reason Scots Highland mothers burned a green ash branch until it oozed sap, which was fed to a newborn as its first food. In the Cotswolds the ash was believed to be protective against WITCHCRAFT if crafted into a whip handle. It cured earthly as well as Otherworldly diseases: as a protection against rickets, children were passed through young ash branches slashed in two, after which the branches were sutured up and left to heal; should such healing not occur, which in the hardy ash was uncommon, the child was thought doomed to be as twisted as the tree. Ashwood was believed to be a general charm against evil.

The ash tree is especially associated with BELTANE, the spring festival celebrated on May 1. In Ireland the most important site for that festival was the hill of UISNEACH, so ash trees on that site were considered especially potent. One great ash on Uisneach’s summit was said to have fallen in prehistory, its tip reaching across the country to near the town of Longford; such an impossibly tall tree (over 30 miles high) suggests a world-axis that may originally have been envisioned to ascend from Uisneach. Another famous Irish ash was the holy tree of Clenore, where the spirit or saint Creeva was thought to live. So important was the ash in Ireland that three of the five most significant mythological trees were ash.

The ash family has many branches, including the square-twigged blue ash and the common green ash; it is distinct from the ROWAN or mountain ash, which is a different genus. Ash trees love water, which is why many are found at holy WELLS; such a combination of ash and water source was held to be especially powerful. Miracles were said to be possible when ash trees “bled” or leaked sap into the well, and people would gather the liquid to use as an elixir.

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