The Tree of Established Power
October 28 – November 24
The original tree of this month was the Reed, and the Canna-reed–growing from a root thick as a tree’s–was in the ancient East Mediterranean a symbol of royalty. Because Pharaohs held Reed scepters, the prophet Isaiah satirized Egypt as a “bruised Reed,” and when Jesus was dressed in royal scarlet, a Reed was placed in his hand. “Swift-flying arrow-shafts” were cut from the Reed, making it all the more appropriate for the Pharaoh, living Sun-god, who shot his arrows in every direction as a sign of sovereignty. The Reed has been much used for various rustic musical instruments, as well as for the mouthpiece of modern ones; as a weaver’s instrument for separating threads; as a comb for making tapestries; for darts; for measuring-rods, as in the Jewish measure known as Ezekiel’s Reed (6 cubits = 9 or 10 feet). Abundant in Britain and on the continent, Reeds are used for firing and as the lath for plastering on, also for thatching–the Irish have thatched roofs–confirming Reed’s appropriateness as the 12th month: 12 is the number of established power and, as Graves writes, “a house is not an established house until the roof is on.”
Most Celts had little use in their vocabulary for the NG letter, Ngetal for Reed, and therefore it was replaced by P for Peith, or Pethboc, the WATER ELDER, also known as Rose Elder, Wild Guelder-rose, Marsh Elder, Dwarf Elder and Guelderland-rose, an appropriate introduction to the final month, the true Elder. The Water Elder belongs to the Whitten genus, sometimes itself called the Whitten, Whitty-tree, or Whitten pear-tree; its fruit looks like very small pears. The cultivated Water Elder blooms in globular bunches of white flowers (nickname: snowball tree), making it yet another aspect of the White Goddess.
In certain regions, BROOM was the tree of this month, probably because its shoots are a diuretic prized for any illnesses stemming from overindulgence, a common occurrence for wealthy people in November when cold weather left little to do but eat and drink. The favorite medicine of England’s famous glutton, King Henry VIII, was a decoction of Broom-flowers.
The last of the four annual “cross-quarter” days, or “Witches’ Sabbaths,” or Irish fire-feasts, is the most famous: All Hallow E’en, better known as Halloween (Oct. 31; Reed 4). Celebrated as a Feast of the Dead, on this date in old Ireland the burial caves were left open to allow the heroes’ spirits to come out. This religious ceremony long antedates the Christian holy commemoration of All Saints Day (Nov. 1), or All Souls’ Day (Nov. 2), both dedicated to a celebration of the dead. Witches and black cats, still associated with Halloween, are surviving remnants of the Old Religion.
From The Song of Amerin: “I am a breaker: threatening doom” is a reference to the color Glass-green (Nglas) as the waves against a cliff and to the sound of warning that the year is nearly over. The tame Goose (Ngeigh) was brought in from pasture at this time to be fattened up for the Midwinter feast, and the wild Goose cries for him. Along the Atlantic seaboard, the breakers and the wind whistling through the Reeds can be terrifying; in Ireland, the sea’s roar and owl’s shrill cry were considered prophetic of the death of the king. Owls–the mythic messengers of the Death-goddess Hecate, Athene or Persephone–are at their most vocal on moonlit November nights, then remain silent until February. They are also symbols of wisdom. The color of the Biblical jewel, Clear-Green Jasper, also refers to the sea in Palestine’s Winter rain-month, and was sacred to the matriarchal tribe of Dinah: since this month, as Graves explains, “marks the beginning of the rains and the resumption of the seasonal cycle of growth, a woman naturally belongs there.”