Re-Vamping the Nine Sacred Woods
With Beltane on the horizon, I have been thinking about my local group’s upcoming ritual. I have the honor of co-leading this ritual, and have been researching some of the various traditions. Of late, Driudry-based traditions have become fascinating for me, so several elements that I have read about have been worked into my personal practice.
For Beltane, one of the traditions I liked was that the bonfire was traditionally lit with a bundle of the nine sacred woods. The bundle was decorated with ribbon and herbs, then set ablaze. At the end of the ritual, those present would take an ember from the bel-fire home to light their hearth fires to ensure summer blessings.
As much as I’d love to head out into the woods to make this happen, I don’t live in Europe. Only a handful of those trees are local to me, and many would only be ‘cousins’, not the actual tree. Though the old traditions and old associations carry weight, I believe that ‘sacred’, at times, can be open to interpretation. In this case, since my path is nature-based, it makes as much (if not more) sense to draw from what is around me rather than trying to transplant ancient associations from a distant land.
With that in mind, I have been thinking about the nine traditional sacred woods, and how those might be adapted to my local area. If you’re not familiar with them, the nine sacred woods and their traditional associations are as follows:
- Birch – The Goddess, or Female Energy
- Oak – The God, or Male Energy
- Hazel – Knowledge and Wisdom
- Rowan (Mountain Ash) – Life
- Hawthorne – Purity and Faery magic
- Willow – Death, sacred to Hecate
- Fir – Birth and Rebirth
- Apple-Love and Family
- Vine – Joy and Happiness
First, my task was to decide how to go about locating what the nine sacred woods in my location might be. I can either take the wood out of the equation, and fit a new wood to each property, or I could consider and list the most important/common woods in my life and try to match them with the properties above. I chose to go with the second method. Magic is personal, and as such, it makes more sense for me to consider what woods are most significant in my life rather than trying to play mix-and-match.
As a Native Texan, one of the most obvious woods is pecan. The Pecan tree is our state tree, and it’s one of those ‘state pride’ factoids that small wee Texans are drilled in (along with all the other Texas state symbols) from a young age. Paying homage to that connection feels natural to me, and so I chose Pecan as one of my sacred woods.
Magically speaking, there isn’t a lot of information on the magical properties of trees that are native to North America. Since most Pagan traditions are based in Europe, their associations are limited to what they were familiar with and had at their disposal. There are associations made for pecans (the fruit); mainly involving increasing money or prosperity, but none for pecan wood, itself. The Pecan tree is a type of hickory tree, and magically speaking, hickory wood has connections to the Celtic God Lugh. Hickory is also closely related to the oak tree, and shares many of the same associations. The hickory nut is linked to the solar plexus chakra. It is especially suited to magic of abundance, wholeness, power, presence, command, discipline, acquisition, giving of gifts, and the finding of direction. Because of the connection to Lugh (by extension), for my own correspondence, I would link the Pecan Tree to Masculine Energy & The God.
The second wood I would consider is the magnolia. Being a Southern Woman (with all of the imagery that such a label calls to mind), the magnolia is such a staple and symbol of femininity that it feels right and natural for Magnolia to represent the Goddess. The properties that are associated with magnolia: fidelity, meditation, peace, spirituality, tranquility – all remind me of ‘mother’ energy, and so it seems right that magnolia would be linked to Female Energy and The Goddess.
The third wood that I would add to my list is the live oak. Being a variety of oak tree, which is one of the traditional sacred woods, my only change would be what it is associated with. The Druids associated the oak with the wren the Irish God Dagda, and oak was considered to be the most powerful and the most sacred of the woods. Oak is traditionally linked to Masculine Energy and The God. It’s more well-known properties; Protection, Health, Money, Healing, Potency, Fertility, & Luck, seem to leave one out. As a child, I can recall stories about the ‘wise old oak’, or about Wise Owl who lives in the grand old oak tree. Even the very nature of the live oak – its longevity, the wide, far-reaching branches and year-round shade seem to offer both protection and shelter even as it sends out new ‘feelers’ in a quest to cover more ground. Other magical associations for the oak include truth, steadfast knowledge, protection. Oak wands are thought to bring vitality and long life to the wielder. To the ancient Celtic people, oak was the protector, provider, benevolent king of the trees. Oak was utilized as a healing wood, and very grounded considering its strong connection to the earth. This wood helps center the mind, allowing it to focus on the task at hand and ignore distractions, which would promote both observation and intuition. Oak magic inspires bravery, presence, leadership skills, prosperity, and strength. Taking those traits into consideration, I feel that oak wood is more closely aligned with Knowledge and Wisdom.
The fourth wood that I consider sacred is the pine tree. Living in the ‘Piney Woods’ of Southeast Texas, this is another wood that cannot be ignored by the Native Texan. Pine is traditionally associated with healing, fertility, protection, exorcism, and prosperity. It can be used to help clear negative energy, to ‘cast out’ unwanted influences (and can also be used medicinally as an expectorant).Pine is a symbol of the elevated mind and the birth of the spiritual warrior, and as such can be associated with ‘birth’. Like the other evergreens in this list, pine is also associated with longevity and strength, of heartiness and protection. Because of pine’s reputation as ‘rich lighter’ – sap-heavy heartwood that is used to kindle fires – I associate pine with south, fire, masculine energies, Aries and Mars. Even though I associate pine with masculine energies, I also feel like pine is related to transitions, birth; the ‘fires of creation’, which traditionally feel feminine to me. Pine was harder to fit into the spectrum of already established associations. There are also a couple of woods that have similar associations, so I chose Birth, Fertility & Home for pine.
The fifth wood that I felt was important to have on this list is sweetgum (also called: redgum, star-leaved gum, alligator-wood, and gumtree). Sweetgum trees are plentiful here, providing shade in the spring and summer, and lovely foliage changes during the fall. It’s main traditional association is protection, but like many North American native woods, there is little to be found on sweetgum wood, magically speaking. There are several non-traditional spells that use the prickly fruit of sweetgum trees (called ‘sweetgum balls’ or ‘pokeys’ at our house) in protection magic due to their prickly shape. I did find some information linking ‘sweetgum resin’ to storax/styrax, which is a resin that can be added to the efficacy of any spell, “binding” the act to the outcome. I also found some associations between sweetgum wood/trees and sky and fairy magic, owing to its star-shaped leaves and its attraction to luna moths. For my purposes, I associate sweetgum wood with Faery Magic.
The sixth wood I include is sycamore (also called: Scottish maple, lacewood, platan, great maple, plane tree, sycamore, sycamore fig, mulberry fig). Sycamore is apparently more correctly called the Great Maple. I’ve lived my whole life around sycamore trees and have never heard that, but far be it from me to argue with the internet! Traditionally, sycamore is believed to promote relaxation and harmony, at the same time raising energy levels and banishing lethargy. It is good for any magic to do with prosperity, love or longevity. It is said to bring success and abundance, but also to teach humility. Aside from live oaks, sycamores are probably among the largest trees that I am familiar with. The bark of the sycamore is constantly shedding and growing, giving the appearance of ‘shedding the old’ and continued growth. It is for these properties that I associate sycamore with Life and Longevity.
The seventh wood that I consider sacred is the Texas Cedar. Cedar is traditionally associated with the Greek Goddess Persephone during her detainment in the Underworld, and with Celt Goddess Sezh, who watches over the realm of fertility, herbs, and trees. Cedar was also used by King Solomon, considered one of the greatest mystics of all time, in the building of the temple in Jerusalem. Cedar wands are used to cleanse negative atmospheres and in the creation of sacred spaces. Cedar is related to longevity, protection, and preservation, purification and is often used to summon helpful spirits during rituals and invocations. Evergreen Cedar is sacred, like Juniper, for the promise of eternal life. Cedar is sacred especially during Imbolc (Oimelc) which is the time of the lambing when the milk of the ewes comes, thus the linkage of the festival to milk, as well as to light. Chakris symbolizes and embodies the light in the darkness, and the brilliance of the Star Goddess in the inky blackness of the interstellar void, and so is similarly connected to the Dark. The tree is also called Arbor Vitae, Tree of Life and is especially suited to preservation of sacred places, forests, and groves, dedication of sacred space for worship and magic, bringing of light out of darkness, star magic of all kinds, and summoning of helpful spirits. For these qualities, I feel like cedar is connected to Death and Rebirth.
The eighth wood that I consider valuable is the bald cypress. Around here, our lakes and rivers are lined with cypress trees. As young children, we walk riverbanks by jumping from cypress knee to cypress knee. Their close association to the feminine properties of water and alignment with the moon make cypress feel overwhelmingly feminine to me. Some of the traditional magical associations of cypress are also more feminine in nature, including healing, prosperity and luck. Cypress is also said to have a calming affect that aide those overcoming losses. For the followers of Hekate, cypress trees planted on the property provide a blessing and protection. Scrying mirror frames made of cypress wood is said to aid the diviner in past life recall. The arrows of Cupid are also supposed to have been made from cypress wood. Cypress wood has been long associated with the everlasting nature of the soul; thus spirit boards made from cypress wood provide a stronger connection to those who have passed. It is for these connections to past lives and ancestors that I choose to link cypress with Love and Family.
The ninth and final wood that I choose to work with is the flowering dogwood. The dogwood is also called the osier or zallis tree. Osier is a tree most sacred to Agni, the primordial Fire. Zallis is held by the Elves to be sacred to the spring fire festival of Beltane (or Agnianna as they also name it). Agni may be equated to the Celtic god Belinos (for whom Beltane is named). He is called “Grandfather of Tulkas,” who is the fire of passion, desire, and will. The red-barked Osier is associated with fertility and sexual attraction. For Agni is not only the sacrificial fire, but also the fire of loins and procreation, the energy of bud and flower. By association with the Futhark rune Gifu, it also bears a sense of happiness and warmth, or comfort. The wood’s name “dogwood” also carries associations with the Irish hero Cuchullain, whose name meant “the dog of Chullain” refering to his loyalty. This gives the wood magical links to the warrior heroism and superhuman physical prowess of the hero, and links to domesticated dogs, their healing and protection and their loyalty and affection too. Especially considering the association between the name ‘dog’-wood and man’s best friend, I associate dogwood with Joy & Happiness.
To re-cap, a non-traditional association of ‘sacred’ woods for the Native Texan could be:
- Pecan Tree – Masculine Energy & The God
- Magnolia – Feminine Energy – The Goddess
- Oak – Knowledge & Wisdom
- Pine – Birth, Fertility & Home
- Sweetgum – Faery Magic
- Sycamore – Life & Longevity
- Cedar – Death & Rebirth
- Bald Cypress – Love and Family
- Dogwood – Joy & Happiness
Using these associations, I am considering bundling the woods to kindle our Beltane bonfire, and (since transporting hot embers isn’t practical), making small bundles for each of our circle-mates to take home to start their own fires with.
I hope you enjoyed this post! I am very interested in hearing about your non-traditional associations, and how you make adaptations to your practice to reflect your location or heritage. If you blog, please feel free to link to your blog, or post about non-traditional associations.