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Ivy: The Tree of Resurrection

Ivy: The Tree of Resurrection

The Tree of Resurrection
September 30 – October 27

Ivy, an evergreen climbing shrub that blooms at this time with greenish-yellow flowers followed by dark or yellow berries, is the only other tree in the series besides the Vine which grows spirally and–like the Vine beside which it stands in the year–Ivy is an ancient symbol of Resurrection.  An Ivy-bush, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, stands for “a place of concealment or retirement,” and a common sign for a wine tavern in England is an Ivy-bush, source of the British proverb: “Good wine needs no bush.”  Like Holly, Ivy was associated in Roman times with the annual December Saturnalia; and Saturn’s sacred bird, the Gold Crest Wren, always builds its nests in Ivy-bushes.  There is also a well-known rivalry, celebrated in medieval English carols, between the Holly-boys and the Ivy-girls, which symbolizes the battle of the sexes and accounts for the British Yuletide custom of competitive games between men and women and satirical songs sung against each other.  Another custom in parts of England is to bind the last harvest sheaf in Ivy and call it the Harvest May, Harvest Bride, or Ivy Girl: the farmer who finishes his harvest last is given this Ivy Girl, a token of bad luck until next year.  Both Holly and Ivy, once considered Pagan, are now allowed by the Church for Christmas decoration, though Mistletoe is not.  Indigenous to Europe and Parts of Asia and Africa, Ivy has long been familiar as an ornamental covering on walls, old buildings and ruins, which harkens back to Ivy-bush as “concealment and retirement,” appropriate to this month of preparations for Winter.

Sacred to numerous deities, including Osiris, Dionysus and Bacchus, Ivy is used to produce Ivy-ale, an extremely potent drink of the Middle Ages.  Ivy leaves were chewed for their toxic effect in the Bacchanal revels celebrated at this season in Thrace and Thessaly; the intoxicated Bassarids waved branches of Silver Fir–sacred to the birth-goddess–wreathed in a spiral of yellow-berried Ivy, sacred to the Autumnal Dionysus. The dark-green and shiny leaves of Ivy being five-pointed made them especially sacred to the Great Goddess, connecting with the “mysterious” group of five “British goddesses, the deae matronae…which occur in inscriptions of Roman times.”  Ivy attracts the last bees of the year, enhancing its religious importance, there having been numerous Bee-goddess cults.

From The Song of Amergin: “I am a boar: ruthless and red,” because this also is the boar-hunting season and the boar is a beast of death symbolizing the “fall,” or beginning of the death, of the Old Year.  In the mythologies of Egypt, Greece, Ireland, Arcadia, and Crete there are numerous killings of one Ivy-god by another god disguised as a boar, and always for the love of a goddess: Set kills Osiris of the Ivy for Isis;  Apollo kills Adonis for Aphrodite; Finn MacCool kills Diarmuid for the Irish Sun-goddess Grainne–all religious sacrifices to ensure fertility of the land.  Yet the Ivy’s spiraling, serpentine growth and flowers promise Resurrection, as in the myth of Dionysus captured by pirates: changing the ship-masts to serpents, the sailors to dolphins, himself to a lion, he then covered them all with wreaths of Ivy.

In this month, the Mute Swan (Geis), whose colors of white plumage, black legs and red bill make it especially sacred to the White Goddess, prepares to follow her companion the Whistling Swan (bird of the Autumn Equinox), who is about to fly off with her young.  The smoke of weed-fires, the haze on hills, and the skies before the coming rains, are all Blue (Gorm).  The Biblical jewel appropriate to the yellow-berried serpentine Ivy is the Yellow Serpentine, sacred to the tribe of Dan, “like a serpent,” the twin brother of Dinah.

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