Rowan is a native of Eurasia, a member of the Rose Family which has been naturalized across Alaska and Canada, and From Maine to California. The word “Rowan” comes from an old Scandinavian word for “red,” referring to the bright red berries that remain on the tree into early winter. Rowan is also known as Quickbeam, Quicken, or Mountain Ash, and is sometimes called “The Witch,” because witch-wands, once used for finding metal, were made of Rowan. In the British Isles, Rowan is used as a prophylactic against lightning and also against any kind of witches’ charms; it is believed that bewitched horses can be controlled only with a whip made of Rowan. Before their battles in ancient Ireland, Druids kindled fires made with Rowan, summoning the spirits to join in the fight.
In an Old Irish romance the magical berries of Rowan were guarded by a dragon and, as Graves writes: “had the sustaining virtue of nine meals, healed the wounded and added a year to a man’s life.”
Known as the Tree of Life, the Rowan can also be used in the opposite sense: in Danaan Ireland it was believed that hammering a Rowan-stake through a corpse would keep its ghost immobilized. In Woodlands, W.S. Coleman wrote (in 1859): “From very early times, the Roan Tree enjoyed a wide reputation…for the inherent magical powers attributed to it.” In the antique Irish Book of Ballymote, Rowan is called “Delight of the Eye,” namely Luisiu, or “flame.” Rowan berries ripen in the late Spring at the same time as its small, white, bisexual flowers appear, each with five rounded petals. Their whiteness and number of petals–five being the most sacred female number–make the Rowan another aspect of the White Goddess.
The first of the four “Cross-quarter” days of the year (or “Witches’ Sabbaths”) falls on Rowan 12–Feb. 2; this is the important Celtic-Irish fire-feast called Candlemas, which celebrates the quickening of the year” (see Chart 3) and marks the conclusion of the year’s first eighth–eight being the number of increase and first-fullness.
In contemporary Ireland and the Scottish Highlands–once the territory of the Celtic clans–Feb. 2nd (Groundhog Day in the U.S.) is the day of St. Brigit, originally the Christianized version of the quickening Virgin and Triple Muse of the Old Religion–Brigit or Bride, Goddess of Poetry, of Smithcraft and of Healing.
Popularly known as Gaelic Scotland and Ireland as “Mary of the Gaels”–her symbol in Scotland being the White Swan–Brigit was also called Bride of the White Hills, Bride of the Golden Hair, and known as Mother of the King of Glory. Patroness of childbirth in the Hebrides, Brigit seems to have begun as the Aegean Moon-goddess Brizo (“soother”) of Delos, her name being derived from the Greek word brizeih, “to enchant.” She is, as Graves writes in The Greek Myths, indistinguishable from the Greek goddess Leto (Lat in Southern Palestine), who was called the mother of Apollo; or from the Hyperborean Triple-goddess Brigit, who was “patroness of all the arts,” and whose son Apollo eventually “followed her example.” There are numerous dedications to this deity from Roman Gaul and Britain, and in parts of both countries St. Brigit was–until the 17th century and the Puritan Revolution–worshipped for her healing and inspiration, gained through invoking her spirit at sacred wells. London’s famous female penitentiary, Bridewell, was first a nunnery of hers.
From The Song of Amergin: “I am a flood: across a plain,” refers to this time as being the season of floods, “February Fill-Dyke.” It is the period therefore, when the Duck (Lachu) can swim over meadows, and when the color of the floodwaters and of the rainy skies is Grey (Liath.) The rare Yellow Topaz is the biblical jewel, appropriate to the month of Hercules’ golden cup, and was sacred to the tribe of Issachar, “the strong ass between two burdens,” meaning the month of rest between sowing and harvest.
The Tree of Life
JANUARY 21 – FEBRUARY 17
Sun in Aquarius the Water-bearer,
Jan 21 — Feb 18
Letter: L for Rowan-tree in Irish Luis
Bird: Duck (Lachu)
Color: Grey (Liath)
Jewel: Yellow Topaz
Numbers: (Greek) 3 / (Irish) 14