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.

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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.

Plants and Herbs, Witchcraft

Dogwood Folklore and Magical Uses

I love dogwood blossoms, I think they’re my favorite non-flower flower. Even the wood and foliage of some species is absolutely breathtaking to look at — there’s nothing quite like a bloody dogwood in the snow.

Depending on where you are, dogwoods are either blooming, starting to bloom, or have been blooming for a few weeks. Since I’m missing the dogwoods at the National Arboretum so much, I figured this would be a good week to look at the folk and magical applications of Cornus wood, leaves, berries, and flowers.

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Dogwood Magical Uses and Folklore

As a native American tree (eastern U.S. and Mexico), there’s not a lot of writing on flowering dogwood (Cornus florida) as it pertains to European-based witchcraft. Southern Europe does have a plant called the Cornelian cherry (Cornus mas), which is in the dogwood family, and most of Europe and western Asia has the common dogwood (Cornus sanguinea). C. mas and C. sanguinea both flower, but neither of these are quite as showy as the big white or pink blooms of C. florida. Since all of these plants are related, it’s possible, even preferable, to make substitutions depending on what species are locally available to you.

Dogwood is associated with loyalty, secrets, wishes, protection, fertility, desire, and illusion. (The illusion part, in particular, makes a lot of sense — the flowers of the flowering dogwood aren’t actually flowers at all, they’re modified leaves.)

The dogwood is strongly tied with Christian mythology, since the flowers form a cross shape. It was believed that the wood was used to form crosses for crucifixion, so Jesus prevented the dogwood from ever growing large enough to be used for this purpose again.

An old folk remedy for treating mange in dogs involved making a decoction of dogwood bark, and washing the affected areas with it.

Leaves, bark, or flowers can be used as a protective charm.

As an herb of secrecy, it’s a good idea to include some dogwood leaves in a diary, grimoire, or Book of Shadows. An oil made from the flowers can be used to dress a letter and keep prying eyes off of it.

Make a wish come true by catching a drop of dogwood sap on a cloth on the evening of Midsummer, and wishing on it. Carry it until you get your desire, then bury the cloth.

It’s bad luck to bring dogwood flowers into your home, or to burn the wood in your hearth.

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Using Dogwood

One theory for the etymology of “dogwood” is that the name stems from “dag,” from which we also get “dagger.” This is related to the straightness and density of the wood — the sticks are pretty much ideal for crafting shafts for tools or weapons (Ötzi was found with dogwood arrows), and the wood is dense enough to sink in water. In a practical sense, this makes dogwood an excellent material for crafting wands or other magical tools.

A lot of dogwood’s associations fit neatly into one another. Illusion, protection, and secrecy all blend well. I probably wouldn’t use dogwood in place of, for example, cayenne pepper as a protective herb because the energy is so different. Dogwood is subtler — it protects by concealment. It’s a smokescreen, not a fiery wall. Even its use as arrow shafts points to a plant that’s best used to take advantage of the shadows!

American flowering dogwood has four bracts. From a numerological standpoint, four is strength, stability, and pragmatism. This blends nicely with its use as an herb for protection and loyalty.

Dogwood is useful in color magic, since the blooms can range from white, to yellow, to pink, to red. Even the leaves can turn from gold or green to pink, yellow, orange, or red.