The Tree of Wisdom
August 5 – September 1
Hazel, a genus of small trees that bear nuts which ripen in this month to a reddish brown, blossoms with male and female flowers on the same plant. In Celtic legend, the nut stands for “concentrated wisdom,” as Graves writes: “something sweet, compact and sustaining enclosed in a small hard shell–as we say: ‘This is the matter in a nut-shell.'” Mythologically, the eating of these nuts brought all the knowledge of the nine arts and sciences, inspired by the Nine Muses. In Bardic numerals the letter C (for Coll, for Hazel) stood for 9–as the Hazel bears its fruit after nine years.
The Hebrew substitute for the Hazel was the ALMOND, the tree of Aaron’s magic rod: sconces of the Menorah are formed as Almonds to represent the sweet, budding Almond-rod of Aaron. Several goddesses in world mythology originally had conceived by swallowing either ripe Almonds or Pomegranate seeds. The Goddess of healing and inspiration, Artemis Caryatid (“of the nut-tree”), is identified with the nymph Phyllis, who was metamorphosed into an Almond-tree. Yet the word “filbert,” meaning Hazelnut, seems to have been derived from this same Phyllis.
In the Irish Brehon Laws, the Hazel is listed second among the Seven Chieftan Trees, noble because of “its nuts and wattles,” and costing a one-cow fine if unlawfully felled. But in the far more ancient Triads of Ireland, the punishment for destroying a Hazel–as it was for felling an Apple-tree or any other tree in a sacred grove–was death: “Three unbreathing things paid for only with breathing things.” Ancient Irish heralds carried white Hazel-wands, and in the late 15th century Book of St. Albans is a recipe for making oneself invisible by carrying a nine-foot Hazel-rod with a green Hazel-twig inserted. In Fenian legend the Ancient Dripping Hazel is a tree of wisdom useable for destructive purposes though traditionally known as “the tree of white magic and healing.” In Pembrokeshire, Wales, if a girl gives a lover a piece of Hazel, called a collen, she means: “Be wise and desist.”
The Tree of Immortality
Sharing the month with Hazel is the Apple-tree, a member of the Rose Family which blossoms in May with white or pink 5-petaled flowers; its famous fruit, however, is not ripe until this month, which means that the Wild Apple and the Nut harvests coincide. Nearly all mythic paradises are islands of Apple-orchards: Avalon of England, Ewain of the Boidels, and the French Alyschamps, or Elysian Fields. The Mother Goddess Diana, also known as Vesta, Diana Nemorensis, or the Gallic Diana Nemetona, is always portrayed in statues carrying an Apple-bough, representing immortality. In ancient tradition, the lodging-place of the Unicorn is under an Apple-tree, known as “the tree of immortality through wisdom,” which was the original meaning behind the apple Eve gave Adam in the pre-Biblical paradise.
The apple of the Old Testament Canticles (“Comfort me with apples”) was the QUINCE, or Wild Apple, also known as the Sidonian or Cretan, apple–its first European cultivation was in Crete. In Lear’s Owl and the Pussycat, at their wedding they dined on mints and “slices of quince.” In Rabbinical tradition Quince was also the fruit of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. On Jerusalem’s Great Day of the Feast of Tabernacles, a thyrsus was carried of Palm, Willow and Quince. In Majorca today, quince-boughs are carried to invoke the Virgin Mary, though once they were sacred there to the Love-goddess Aphrodite, known as Venus to the Romans.
In pre-Christian France, Spain and Scandinavia, however, as well as in the Orpheus cult of Thrace, the Apple of Immortality was the fruit of the WILD SERVICE-TREE–a kind of sorb-apple which is inedible until it is rotten and thus represents “from corruption, sweetness.” Orpheus, who can be identified with Bran the Alder-god (see Alder and Furze), is called the son of Oeagrius and Oea Agria is the word for Wild Service Tree.
The Apple was sacred to numerous Love-goddesses besides Aphrodite and Venus, including Freia, or Frigga, of the Norse–after whom our Friday is named–and Olwen of the Welsh. One of the reasons why of all fruits the apple is given such weight in mythology and religious history can be found within each piece of fruit: when you halve an apple crosswise, both halves feature in the middle a 5-pointed star, “emblem of immortality,” each point of the pentagram representing one of the five stations: inception, birth, life, death and resurrection. With its five-petaled flowers and its secret five-pointed star, the tree corresponds with the five senses, the five vowels, and the five animals of the Unicorn, five being the number most sacred to the ancient White Goddess.
As noted in Willow/Blackthorn, Apple and Blackthorn can exchange places in the calendar-system: the Blackthorn here would be an explicit warning that this is the dangerous season of the dog-days, the rising-time of the baleful Dog-star Syrius, when proverbially dogs go mad and when, statistically, there are more acts of violence than at any other time of the year. In ancient Rome, there was a Spring (Willow/Blackthorn) custom of sacrificing red puppies (red for death) to propitiate the Dog-star well in advance and thus gain protection of the barley-harvest during the dog-days. The sacrifice originally was to the Barley-goddess Demeter whose sacred companion was the Dog-star.
From The Song of Amergin: “I am a salmon; in a pool,” refers to the pool of wisdom over which hung “the nine Hazels of poetic art,” whose nuts fed the salmon below–the myth being that for whatever number of nuts a salmon swallowed, that same number of bright spots appeared on its body, with all knowledge of the arts and sciences said to be in those nuts–a mythic way of saying that the salmon, king of all river-fish and the most difficult to catch, is an emblem for wisdom. Hazelnuts are Brown (Cron), The Crane (Corr; pronounced the same as the core of an apple) is the bird of wisdom–the chevron-shaped formations of flying cranes are credited with the inspiration for letters–and letters are the basis of all learning. The secrets and wisdom of the Celtic alphabet and calendar were said to be contained in a mythic Crane-bag, yet the Crane is omitted from the Irish bird-ogham in the Book of Ballymote because, as Graves writes, “the contents of the Crane-bag were a close [religious] secret and all reference to it was discouraged.” The Crane was especially sacred to the great Ninefold Goddess because of the nine steps a crane takes before flying–as Polwart says in his Flying with Montgomery (1605):
The Crane must aye
Take nine steps ere shee flie…
Also, the crane’s neck-feathers are white and black with reddish skin showing through, or with red wattles–the three colors of the Unicorn’s horn. All cats of these three colors combined, called Tortoiseshell or Calico, are female, and Japanese sailors traditionally take them on voyages because of their extreme sensitivity, especially to changes of weather.
The other Amergin line, “I am a lure: from Paradise,” refers to the Apple (Quert) as an assurance of Paradise from the goddess who awards it. The myth of Paris giving the Apple to Helen is a late revision of the original in which the Triple Goddess bestows the Sacred Kingship on Paris with the Apple, which promises him Immortality, or Life-in-Death. After the harvest has been gleaned and chafed, the Hen (Quere) is set loose in the cornfields to fatten up, a Mouse-colored (Quiar) little rodent her only rival. The Biblical jewel, the Banded Red Agate, belongs to this month “before the vintage, when the grapes are still red,” sacred to the tribe of Ephraim, the “fruitful” son of Joseph who was a “fruitful vine.”
Hazel is Tree of Wednesday, Day of Wisdom
Apple is The Tree of Friday, Day of Love
Sun in Leo the Lion to Aug 22
Sun in Virgo the Virgin, Aug 23 – Sep 22
Letter: C for Hazel in Irish, Coll
Bird: Crane (Corr)
Color: Brown (Cron)
Jewel: Banded Red Agate
Numbers: (Greek) 13/ (Irish) 9
Letter: Q (CC) for Apple in Irish, Quert
Bird: Hen (Quere)
Color: mouse-colored (Quere)
Numbers: (Greek) 14