Rowan and the Ovate   Leave a comment

As the second tree of the Celtic ogham “tree alphabet”, the Rowan, ogham ᚂ and Old Irish luis, is associated with Ovates, the second of the three Druidic grades in much of modern Druidry.

Rowan, or Mountain Ash, is certainly up to that role, both physically and symbolically.

In Europe one common native variety is sorbus aucuparia; in the U.S. it’s usually sorbus americana. The rowan’s leaves resemble those of the ash, but the two trees belong to different families, the rowan being a relative of the rose. Standing out front of our southern Vermont house, “our” rowan was the first tree to alert me to the attention the previous owner, a native of Austria, devoted to certain plantings on the land. Not hard to notice, when our rowan stands near the road, offering its protection. In fact, roadsides are a common location for the rowan, often planted by bird droppings containing the seeds. Its European species name aucuparia means “bird-catcher” — the rowan attracts birds like cedar waxwings — we often see a flock of them come through in late winter, and strip any remaining berries for their sugars and vitamin C.

(A little digging uncovers research demonstrating the rowan’s central importance for humans as well, particularly in Austrian folk medicine, as an anti-inflammatory and treatment for respiratory disorders, as well as “fever, infections, colds, flu, rheumatism and gout” according to the article at the link.)

IMG_1991

The sky was overcast a few minutes ago when I took this picture. The red-orange berries are still ripening, and will be ready for harvest in October or early November, after a frost. Though our tree bears the brunt of winter’s north winds and a spray of snow and sand at each pass of the snowplow in winter, it’s a tough, scrappy species and still flourishes. Wikipedia notes:

Fruit and foliage of S. aucuparia have been used by humans in the creation of dishes and beverages, as a folk medicine, and as fodder for livestock. Its tough and flexible wood has traditionally been used for woodworking. It is planted to fortify soil in mountain regions or as an ornamental tree.

The rowan’s Old English name is cwic-beam, “quick” or “living” tree, which has survived into modern English as the variant name quickbeam. The name of one of Tolkien’s Ents in Lord of the Rings, Quickbeam is “hasty”; his Elvish name Bregalad translates to roughly the same thing — “quick” or “living” tree.

As a tree sacred to Brighid, the rowan also produces five-petalled flowers and fruit with tiny pentagrams opposite the stem — barely visible in some of the berries below, especially at the bottom left:

rowan berry pentagram

What put the tree before my attention now in particular is an invitation to serve in the Ovate initiations at East Coast Gathering in a few weeks. A rowan stave with a ᚂ on it will make a good gift to each of the new initiates.

The rowan shrugs off cold weather — it can be found at remarkably high altitudes; it flowers in white blossoms in spring and produces red berries in autumn. Thus it earns its nickname “delight to the eye” in the 7th century Irish Auraicept na n-Éces. As a tree to represent the toughness, persistence, and changing work in each season required to pursue the spiritual journey we’re all on, the rowan is a worthy candidate. It is often named the “most magical” of all the trees. As protection against another’s enchantment, it can aid us in creating our own.

Its mythological and folkloric associations are many. (You can find another rich link on the rowan here.) As a “portal tree” facilitating entry and return from other-worlds, the rowan invites contemplation under its branches.

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Image: berries — Wikipedia rowan.

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