Willow is the tree of death and enchantment. Culpepper said of willow, “the Moon owns it”. It is also the tree of Frayde, the triple goddess of the Celts, also known as Brighid. And it is a witch-tree …
The word witch is derived from the ancient word for willow and also gives wicker, as in wicker basket or chair … and in wicker man.
There is lore that uses wicker, willow, in basket form to capture things, including spirits. Sheri Tepper used this idea in a story of Mavin Manyshaped. Here a shapeshifter could be caught and tamed by being squeezed into a tiny wicker basket so that she or he no longer had “room to shift”. The idea was also used by witchfinders in Cromwellian times. This is quite a homeopathic-like idea … using like to catch like, in that the word for witch comes from an old word for willow.
Magic workers, witches, were once loved and revered, they were the mediums between ordinary folk and otherworld. In those days otherworld was not somewhere strange but part of the everyday world, even if not everyone could see it clearly. Witches were known for wise women, they knew cures and protections; could help folk find food and game; they could speak with the Ancestors and the Powers; they helped folk transit between life and death, and between otherworld and birth; they helped with rites of passage throughout life. These were just some of the witch’s abilities.
Then came the rites of the “dying god”. The concept of the dead god is far more ancient that Christianity, the god who dies for his people is worldwide and many thousands of years old … for instance the British song “John Barleycorn” or the Eleusinian rites just to mention two. While humankind understood the ways of Sovereignty, the goddess, these rites were practiced with love and honour. When people in male bodies began to find people in female bodies strange, as if from another species, indeed when humankind lost the knowing that all Life is one and so found anything that doesn’t look like itself foreign, then the trouble began. And when humankind lost the knowing of reincarnation …
Losing the knowing that Life is all one and that we incarnate over and over made men afraid. Still makes people afraid … fear of death.
Then, men decided that it was really the masculine that controlled everything and saved the universe … through their version of the dying god.
Things began to go downhill badly for women then, and especially for witches! No longer was Sovereignty the Queen, guarded by her Morris men, her Mary’s Men, the men who guarded the lady of the Sea, the maré, mare, the horse-queen … Oh! The word associations go on and on. So much has been lost.
This began about the willow, the Saille tree … Willow leaves and branches are the source of salicylic acid (aspirin) which relieve much pain. Aspirin was a wonder drug, is still used extensively for pain relief and now produced synthetically. The tree of the witch is still the heal-all, the magic wise woman is still the symbol of pain relief.
This is a picture of my besom, I hang it in my old gun-rack :-). The witch’s besom is made from an Ash stake with Birch twigs bound with Willow. The birch protects the witch from evil spirits and also helps carry them away as they get entangled in the birch; a witch needs to clean their besom after every working to deal with this. The ash protects the witch from drowning and holds her power which the witchfinders said is lost on immersion in water. So … the witch, through her besom, works with the Power of shapeshifting through Gwydion and his Ash tree; with Beith, the Powers of beginnings and initiations. Shapeshifting and initiation bound together with the tree of death and enchantment.
Hecaté is the lady of death from the Greek tradition, the lady of the crossroads. She is the death-aspect of the Triple Goddess, Frayde to the Brythons (or Brighid to use her better-known Gaelic name). Hecaté is also a layer-out of the dead, this role is like a twining of Frayde’s roles as Fosterer and Healer, for the dead need to be fostered and cared for as much as children do. Healing, en-wholing, is also necessary for the dead. One can come apart as one transits from death to life and life to death, so needing to be made whole again.
Hecaté also guards the crossroads with her dogs. Crossroads … place of choices … turning point, defining moment, crisis, moment of truth, watershed … all concepts of new beginnings, initiation. Concepts of death and birth. The transits of life are forms of crossroads, the big ones – birth and death – are ones that concern us most, perhaps, but all the transits that occur through life like puberty, first love, wedding, children’s birth, relatives deaths, divorces, etc.
And enchantment? What is enchantment? Charm, magical, lure, woo, enthral, put under a spell and, as Caitlin Matthews puts it, singing the soul back home.
To sing the soul is to en-chant and this is where the concept comes from. Like witches, the word enchant has suffered for hundreds of years from being associated with evil. Where is home? It can be otherworld, where we spend time between incarnations. And home can be here, the place we live while we’re incarnate. Our soul is enchanted to be here, with our consent, and it knows it also has a home in otherworld, the singing, the enchantment is the song-line that links us between the worlds … the world of our origins and the world of our incarnation. Hecaté, and Willow, helps us understand the ancient ways.
These are some thoughts to ponder on, ideas on the essence of willow, Saille. Sit The picture is of one of my favourite faerie places in the wilds of Exmoor and is called “Silly Bridge”. Both stream and bridge are surrounded by willows, the name “Silly” is a corruption of Saille.