divination, Plants and Herbs

Gorse, and Ogham-led Healing

I’ve been doing A Thing.

Every day, I meditate. The form that takes may differ from one day to the next, but I’m still as consistent as possible. Lately, I’ve been using my little bag of driftwood Ogham staves to guide the process — I draw one, I interpret it, and I seek out a guided meditation that focuses on that meaning.

It’s a small thing, but it keeps every day from feeling the same. That’s something that I’ve really struggled with during social distancing, more than anything else. I like structure, but I chafe under sameness. I thrive when I have a schedule of some sort to stick to, but I need variety. Consistency is a blessing. Monotony is a curse.

My intuition is pretty good at guiding me to what I need.

Yesterday, it was Onn — the gorse.

It’s a bit hard to believe, looking at these thorny plants with their needlelike leaves, but gorse is a sign of hope. Even in Bach flower essences, gorse is indicated “when all hope is lost.” Gorse has also been used as protection, particularly against spiteful fairies and witches.

Their bright yellow flowers are associated with the Sun, but the plants themselves have a prickly, forbidding look. (So much so that it was said that gorse needed to be “subdued” — the old growth burned so new, tender shoots could take its place!) These spines serve two functions: they keep grazing animals from eating the plant, and they minimize water loss, allowing it to flourish in some of the most inhospitable areas. Despite its spines, gorse is excellent, nutritious fodder for animals, provided it is properly prepared.

All of these things mesh with gorse’s meaning as a symbol of hope. It grows in poor, thin soil in salty breezes, where other plants wouldn’t stand a chance. Its flowers arrive in spring, when the chill of winter is fading. It’s thorny, but those thorns hide sweet-smelling flowers, a source of food for large animals, and protection for small ones.

My therapist advised me to try to do one thing each day that is a source of joy. As time goes on and each day stretches into tedium, finding those things has become more difficult. (Familiarity breeds contempt, after all, and the things that brightened April’s days have lost some of their luster in July.) Gorse is a reminder of resilience, of hope, and of the cycle of the seasons. Things kind of suck right now, but this, too, will pass. It might require burning a lot of things down to the ground and starting over, like the new, tender gorse shoots, but it will pass.

A set of driftwood Ogham staves spilling from a turquoise and grey pouch.
divination, life

Tinne

It doesn’t really feel like holly season. I mean, it objectively isn’t the time when people start decorating their houses with spiky green foliage and bright red berries. Midsummer is when the Oak King is at the height of his power — though the Holly King begins to grow in strength as the days shorten, he won’t get the upper hand until the autumnal equinox.

Still, gauging by this week’s Ogham divination, it’s holly time for me.

(Interestingly, the holly of the Ogham is very likely not the tree we think of when we hear the word “holly.” Holly didn’t come to the British Isles until the 16th century, so this holly is most likely actually the holly oak.)

Holly, Tinne, is the art of war. It’s the energy that avoids becoming too impassioned in conflict — it waits for the right time to strike. It brings justice that is restoration, not revenge. It’s the knowledge obtained from a bird’s eye view.

Weapons and chariot wheels were made from holly’s hard, dense wood. Planted near a home, it protected it from lightning strikes and fire. Inside, it defended against hexes and malignant magic. Holly is a warrior.

In this case, tinne points to the need for a good defense. Someone — or something — has you ready to go to war, or forcing you to swim against the tide. Tinne underlines the importance of facing our fear of confrontation and loss, of reining in our emotions so we can make a wise decision.

This is something that’s at the forefront for me. In my personal life, the fear of confrontation is something I’ve been fighting for awhile. Externally, the U.S. continues to fight a battle against every kind of -ism, as well as against those who place the economy ahead of human lives. Every day feels like a fight against bigotry, ignorance, and dogma.

Holly is a tree of the dark half of the year. It’s a tree of war and protection. It’s also a tree of knowledge and divine retribution, though, and I think we could use that right now.

divination, life, Plants and Herbs

The Rowan and the Heather

This week, I wanted to dive back into Ogham divination. I’ve been practicing working with a pendulum made of a fallen cypress root, and the set I have is probably the most conducive to using it.

When I first learned pendulum divination as a preteen, I did it a simple way: hanging a ring or pendant from a piece of string into an empty glass, and asking it to show me “yes” and “no.” Usually, an even number of taps on the glass was a “yes,” while an odd one was a “no.” I’ve always enjoyed using pendulums, and I’ve been having a really interesting time devising ways to mix different types of divination together. Driftwood Ogham fews and a wood pendulum seemed a natural match!

I didn’t ask a specific question this time. So far, this set seems pretty good at telling me what I need to know. It isn’t much like tarot or Lenormand, in this respect. It’s less about answering questions than providing a different, more nebulous kind of insight. If Lenormand describes actions and situations, and tarot describes the energies and emotions surrounding those situations, Ogham is another layer entirely.

The pendulum was still over every oval of driftwood, except for two that made it swing in swift, ever-widening circles: Rowan and Heather.

Heather came up for me last week, when I asked specifically about working through some old patterns. These are things that are going to take more than a week to get past, so I’m not surprised to see this friend appear again.

Rowan is Luis. In Ogham divination, it represents protection from every kind of danger — physical, emotional, and spiritual. It’s defense, precaution, and care. Bind two rowan twigs into an equal-armed cross with red thread, and you have a protective charm. This points to either having protection, or needing it. In either case, it’s time to look to the things that make us feel safe.

rowan-berries-in-tetons-4054016_640

Honestly, it reassures me. If Heather points to needing to metaphorically “burn down” old protective patterns so new growth can emerge, Rowan tells me that they aren’t necessary. I am protected, I am safe. I don’t need them. There are healthy behaviors and mechanisms there, better ways to protect myself that don’t involve self-sabotage.

I can keep doing the work without fear, and I’ll be better for it.

 

 

divination, life

The Alder and the Heather

For this week’s divination, I went back to my driftwood Ogham set. I asked the question that, probably unsurprisingly, has been plaguing my mind lately:

How do I heal my self-confidence and get used to self-promotion?

I drew Alder and Heather.

Alder is Fearn, the fourth consonant of the Ogham alphabet. Symbolically, alder is a battle-tree. Magically, it’s said to help us face the things we fear. Alder likes to grow in areas that give it “wet feet” — this creates an association with the liminal space between earth and water, between the logical and the emotional, between the body and the heart. It’s wood is also naturally water-resistant, a useful characteristic for creating structures designed to last underwater! It’s a supportive, protective tree spirit, with strong connotations of defense in battle, whether that’s against others or oneself.

Alder tells us to create strong boundaries and defenses, so we don’t undermine ourselves with negative emotions and self-doubt. Any decisions made right now should be carefully considered, so your emotions don’t lead us to burn the bridges we should be building instead. Seeking guidance from the spiritual realm will be helpful here — the roots of the alder help us resist being eroded by our negative emotions, the way they help the earth resist erosion by the water, but, despite this assurance, it’s a mysterious tree that isn’t always forthcoming with how it’s going to do this.

Nice. I can see it. It matches the tarot reading I received the other night, when I was told that not only am I not self-promoting, I don’t always necessarily make the right decisions when it comes to things of that nature. So… Way to call me out, alder tree!

Next is Heather, Ur, the third vowel of the Ogham alphabet. Symbolically, it’s a plant of contrasts — it’s passion and enthusiasm, and the consequences of both. Magically, it’s said to open portal to the realm of the fae. (And fairies associated with heather are said to be particularly attracted to shy people, to boot.) Burning it brings rain, sleeping on it brings prophetic dreams of good luck, and carrying it is protective. Heather tops can be brewed into alcohol, and heather honey is particularly dark and thick. It’s a flowery, sensual, intoxicating plant.

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Unfortunately, heather also doesn’t produce terribly well. At least, not if it isn’t periodically burned to the ground! The word-Ogham kennings refer to cycles of growth, or the earth. It’s said to be connected to death and fate through its connection to the soil (a connection which is somewhat reinforced by its magical use for prophetic dreams).

Drawing Heather is often interpreted as enjoying a sweetness and time of repose, but the lesson here is clear: There’s time for drinking heather beer and eating heather honey, and a time for burning the heather to the ground. There’s a time for sweetness, and a time for death. Don’t worry, though, because the burning of the heather brings it back with renewed vigor.

Taken together, I can see a path emerge. I have behaviors in place that are protective for me, but paralyzing. (If you can’t handle positive attention, hiding most of yourself away is a great way to avoid it!) Alder’s protection can help me weather my own negative emotions. Heather shows me that, while destroying my deep-seated protective mechanisms won’t be pleasant, I’ll grow stronger and better than before if I do it. Doing what feels good, avoiding my fears, needs to be balanced out by burning the whole damn thing to the ground if I want to enjoy the sweetness of new growth.

It’s going to suck, but it’ll be okay.

Now I’ve just gotta make that list my therapist told me to. Sigh.

A set of driftwood Ogham staves spilling from a turquoise and grey pouch.
divination, Witchcraft

Ogham Staves from WillowsPaganShop.

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So, I’ve been working on learning a new system of divination — Ogham staves. I used them for this week’s divination, and I’ve been trying to see where else I can incorporate them into my practice.

Many types of wood have their own specific magical and spiritual properties, so choosing a set took me awhile. I also prefer to find tools that are “neutral,” in an energetic sense; I don’t like using wood that’s been cut down, if I can help it. Windfall and reclaimed woods are more my jam.

That’s why I was so happy to find these driftwood Ogham staves by WillowsPaganShop.

A set of driftwood Ogham staves spilling from a turquoise and grey pouch.

I love the size and shape — a lot of the other staves I looked at were thinner and more rounded, which I thought might make it more difficult for me to draw them the way I’d like to. The texture is nice, too, with the velvety-softness of sea-tumbled wood. They’re also a very good weight, neither too light to keep from blowing away outdoors, nor too heavy to carry comfortably in a purse or crane bag.

I keep them in a lovely crocheted pouch by Neeedles. It’s just the right size, and gorgeous colors. The crochet is nice and tight, too, so I’m not worried about the staves stretching holes in the stitches and slipping out. At about $15, it was a very reasonable price for a handmade bag, and the craftspersonship is really, really nice. I’m considering getting more of them for my other supplies, they’d be great for carrying a few stones, vials of herbs, and tealights for mobile ritual-doing.

Now I just have to learn the meanings. Fortunately, I have a lot of opportunity to practice!

divination, life, Neodruidry, Witchcraft

Ruis and Saille.

ADF-structured rituals have an oracle portion that gives us an opportunity to know how our offerings were received, know which blessings we are receiving in turn, and get messages from the spirits we work with. I’ve always used tarot for this, but I’ve been curious about branching out into journeying, geomancy, and other means of divination.

All of this is to say that, for my reading this week, I didn’t pull a card at all.

I’ve been trying to learn to divine using Ogham staves. It’s more than a little challenging for me — memorization isn’t my strong suit (to put it mildly), and the Ogham alphabet is visually very simple. That means that, somewhat like my experience with the Tarot of Marseilles, there isn’t a whole lot for me to go on. Unlike the ToM, however, Ogham letters don’t have suits or numerical cycles on their side, which makes it even more difficult.

My best bet? Lots of practice. There are far fewer Ogham letters than there are tarot cards, so I’m bound to absorb some of it eventually.

This week, I drew two staves. Since I can’t exactly shuffle wood, I placed them face down, mixed them up, and drew them the way I would a tarot card: I moved my receptive hand over the pieces, and waited for the little energetic “tug” that led me to the right ones.

An orange cat paws at a set of driftwood Ogham staves,
Kiko attempting to draw staves for me, featuring hazel and elder.

I drew Elder (Ruis) and Willow (Saille).

Elder stands for the passing of an old cycle. This can be something that is due to pass, or something that we want to hold onto. The elder tree has a lot of connections to death and rebirth, so it’s a reminder that the only constant is change.

Willow stands for balance and equilibrium. In some sources I’ve read, it also stands for cycles, learning, and taking time to accumulate knowledge before acting.

I’ve experienced a lot of synchronicity with regards to both of these things, just in the past two or three days alone. It’s a supermoon in Virgo. This afternoon, I was listening to a webinar about living as a highly sensitive person (which, for me, is pretty much shorthand for “on the verge of a nervous meltdown basically always”), and Dr. Christine Page was giving a talk about inviting change in order to quit burning yourself out and making yourself sick. I mean, as I was typing this, I had to pause because I got an alert on my phone. It was an email: “Tips for Working With Change,” from Sharon Ramel.

It’s spring, the birds are singing, the weather’s warming, the sap is starting to run. The trees are still bare, but there are plenty of little signs that the soil’s beginning to wake up. I can’t say that I know exactly what changes the willow and the elder and pointing to, but I can’t help but look forward to them.