Since the last couple weeks have been bitter cold or too snowy to safely walk in the forest, I stayed close to home and gave some thought to the tree nearest me.
I recently started an exploration of the ash tree in my front yard. Of course, I will continue to visit the forest regularly, but it seems silly to do so at the expense of the Nature Spirits around my own home! There must be an equal, if not greater, attention placed on the nature in my immediate vicinity. It is part of my home. The tree provides shade to myself and some of my garden. It is a home to birds we enjoy watching from our windows. I must come to a better understanding of the ash tree!
Ash trees predominantly grow in the temperate regions of the Eastern US (Brockman 254). They grow well in “disturbed” land, and archaeologists have noted their presence near Celtic settlements (Nova). For modern folk, it’s often considered an ornamental but it apparently has expansive roots that are very competitive with other trees (Blamires 97). Ash was one of the nine woods used to start the sacred Bealtaine fires (Freeman 84).
In Norse mythology, Yggdrasil is an ash tree, thus it is of extreme cultural and cosmological importance. The tree was even used to create the first man in that mythology ( Ellison 22). In Celtic lore, the ash could refer to weaving, particularly the weaver’s beam, but also warrior spears (Ellison 21). There is acheological evidence showing that ancient Celts used ash for their spears more than other woods (Blamires 98). To me, this suggests that the ogham symbol could be used for offensive type magic. Blamires makes a connection between the ash spears and Lugh’s famous spear from Gorias that he used to defeat Balor (99), but also goes on to connect it to magical wands and, as a result, the magician’s will. Personally, I find that there are other trees better related to sorcery and magical will, in particular the oak with its rich spiritual connotations, etymological connection to the Druids, and strength. (As a novice to these matters, I will maintain an opened mind and welcome any thoughts on the matter!) However, I do find his thoughts on looking to ash when you need to take action intriguing . He states that we all experience moments of spiritual inertia, and the ashen spear can act as a motivation for us – “checking the peace,” as he says (100). In contemplating this idea, I’m reminded of Norse mythology again, and Odin hanging from Yggdrasil – an act of sacrifice to obtain runic knowledge. There is the suggestion of pushing oneself to reach new levels. With regards to the weaver’s beam, Cuchulain uses it as “a poetic allusion to a spear” (101). Brighid’s son Ruadan is also killed by a spear in the Second Battle of Mag Tured. The text once more connects spears with weavers’ beams (101). I’m not entirely sure what to make of this, except that it can be used to make very practice items – so perhaps it could be considered a wood of the craftsman too?
Ash has some magical properties. In Scotland, people swear oaths on the wood of ash, oak, and thorns (Freeman 84). Pins were also placed in the trees and used to remove warts with the charm “ashen tree, ashen tree, pray buy these warts off of me” (Ellison 22). The sap has been used for bladder stones, and the leaves and bark have laxative properties (Blamires 98). It was common for people to visit sacred ash trees and pray for healing for their children. In Ireland, young ash trees were split to create a threshold of sorts. Children were passed through this to promote healing. Mara Freeman explains this was used to heal infant hernia, while attaching some baby hair to the ash was said to prevent whooping cough (84).
It is difficult to be 100% about the species of ash where I live. Green, black, and white are similar, but I am leaning towards the later. I observed the leaves and seed pods in the summer and fall, but I will have to pay special attention to them this year. In the meantime, I try to look and say hello when I’m out. It warmed up a little, so I took Bee with me. We mad offerings to the local spirits, including the ash tree, and enjoyed its company.
Blamires, Steve. Celtic Tree Mysteries: Secrets of the Ogham. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 1997.
Brockman, C. Frank. Trees of North America: A guide to Field Identification. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2001.
Ellison, Roert Lee “Skip.” Ogham: The Secret Language of the Druids. Tucson: Ár nDraíocht Féin Publishing, 2007.
Freeman, Mara. Kindling the Celtic Spirit. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2001.
Ghosts of Murdered Kings. Edward Hart Dir. NOVA, 2013.