Ogham – Duir: Oak

The Moon-month for Duir runs from 10 Jun – 7 Jul.

Oak is the tree of the door, of endurance and of triumph and, like the ash, is said to court the lightning flash.

Vivien is the testing goddess of this tree.

It’s name, Duir, comes from the Sanskrit Dwr meaning door.

Midsummer is the flowering season of the oak. The magical need-fire is always kindled in an oak log.

Duir - Double-ended oak treeThis picture comes from an ancient druid grove in Derby and shows an oak tree (Duir) with its branches and roots entwined to make the circle of life. In the 90s an ancient oak tree was uncovered as the sea went very far out on the Norfolk coast. It had been buried upside-down within a circle of posts, a woodhenge. Time Team built a replica of it that was most impressive and gave you a strong sense of what the place must have been about.

The concept of burying the tree upside-down, so its branches were in the earth and its roots in the heavens has lots of esoteric symbolism.

The return journey – to help one’s fellows

Wisdom of the Earth implanted in heaven and wisdom of Heaven implanted into Earth

Two sides of one coin

The trunk of the tree is the door between heaven and earth

There is much more, go and look it up.

Oak King

Midsummer is a time of sacrifice – making sacred – when the goddess gives up the old king in preparation for the new one; and when the Old King offers himself for sacrifice to renew the contract with the Land.

The death of the Oak King is the going down of the Sun as the days begin to get shorter after the midsummer solstice. In many traditions he is burned alive on an oak-fire on 24th June, the eve of the day the sun starts moving forward again after the solstice standstill. There is then a 7-day wake, funeral feast, in honour of the Oak King which leads into the next season of John Barleycorn.

It is the turning of the year. The opening of the door to Winter, a change in the way the Earth works. From now until Midwinter the sun will make lower and lower arcs in the sky giving us less light each day. Plants and animals know this, germination begins to tail off now, gardeners will have been trying to get as many seeds sown as possible up to this time, knowing that the seeds themselves know they will do better if they begin the germination process before the sun stops and turns.

It is also a time of the Tánaiste, the one who goes before the king, the king’s alter ego if you like. Even the Christian stories reflect this – the 24th of June is called St John’s Eve, meaning John the Baptist who said of himself “I am one who goes before”. Herod is tricked into having him killed by the goddess’ representative, Salomé, the priestess. Of course, in a masculine dominated religion like Christianity the goddess’ representative is seen as evil, like Eve herself, and is blamed for what the personality-based thinking of the male priests calls evil. The story of the sacrifice of the king at the time of the summer solstice is prevalent all around the world. It gets to change as the years and mores of the people change but it is well worth while working to understand the underlying cosmic principles on which the traditions stand.

Oak Door

In the British Celtic tradition the most notable Tánaiste is Gawain, Gwalchmai, the Hawk of May. He was Arthur’s Tánaiste and one of the ones who “steals” Gwenhwyfar, a forerunner of Lancelot. Gwenhwyfar is a fairy woman who comes to work with Arthur and be his queen. Once the land is quiet and the Saxons relegated to what is now Sussex – the name comes from the word Saxon – Arthur loses some of his passion and the company of the round table become moribund. Gwenhwyfar runs away, or is called away, by the fairy man Gawain. Arthur follows and they do battle for her, neither being a clear winner. Gwenhwyfar settles it with her riddle in the good Celtic fashion …

I will be with Gawain while the leaves are on the trees and with Arthur when they are bare.

This signifies that Gawain is the Summer King and Arthur the Winter King, the two principles that forever battle to win the goddess.

There is a further twist in that the holly, the ivy and the yew all carry their leaves all year … still leaving the goddess the choice of whom to be with! One wonders, when we have a hard winter, if the goddess has deserted us for the Summer Lands and her lover, Gawain.

The sacrifice of the Oak King, the god, at the time of Midsummer is reflected in this story too. Arthur sacrifices his love to the goddess, giving her choice, allowing her to be where she wishes rather than trying to force her to his rule as the later masculine-dominated religions do. Arthur’s is the god’s representative, that’s why we call him the Once and Future King on the Celtic mythos.

Gwenhwyfar is another owl-goddess, her name means White Shadow and it is one of the Welsh names for the barn owl whose heart-shaped face is also that of Blodeuwedd, Flower Face. Owl goddesses are shapeshifters, queens of the night and ladies of dreams. They are the Maiden face of the goddess, the calling-face that tempts man into following her into the Enchanted Forest where all manner of adventures will befall him and he will be forced to grow from a child into a man, as Llew is. The Maiden is the Teacher, a trickster-teacher and so the very best, luring the man-king out of his fixed ideas and into Life. She opens the doors …

Which brings us nicely to Duir and the Door and the Goddess of the Hinges.

Doors without hinges don’t open well … basic stuff, a lot of this Celtic lore  :-).

Vivien

For the Romans, according to Robert Graves, the goddess of the hinges was Cardea but Vivien presides in British grammarye. She is the consort of Merlin, his sacra souria or sacred sister in alchemical terms, and the one who opens the doors for him between the worlds. The Breton stories of Vivien are far more likely than the Victorian romantic tales that make Vivien out to be a bitch and a witch in the nasty sense.

In alchemy, the god and the goddess work side by side, the masculine and feminine principles, inner/outer, light/dark, centrifugal/centripetal … all the pairs of opposites that enable the world as we know it to exist. Whatever Merlin might have called his trade he knew this fact of life, lore of spirit, and would work with it. He began working with Morgan, Arthur’s half-sister by Igraine and the mother of his son Mordred … lots more alchemical working there with the brother/sister producing the son. Such things were magic and spirit and part of the lore, not incest and dreadful as they are to us. We must remember we are dealing with goddesses, spirits, not human personalities. Arthur produced his own doom from his own loins in the blood of his mother/sister. That was necessary. That is ancient lore working out, we must not trivialise it by putting a modern, 21st century politically correct face on it or we completely miss the point!

Later, Merlin loses Morgan and spends a long time trying to work alone until, eventually, Vivien comes along and joins him. she is a fairy woman, a Lady of the Lake, a deep figure from the depths who swims with the Salmon of Wisdom.

Faerie … Again it’s worth getting a realistic handle on the term “fairy or faerie”. This is not some little critter on the Christmas tree, cute, preincessy, how you dress your little girl. This is an otherworldly being, very long-lived by human standards and so having a vast amount of experience, knowledge and wisdom. It may appear as either male or female and in all sizes. Go and look at paintings by John Anster Fitzgerald, Richard Dadd, Arthur Rackham of the Victorian “fairy painters”. All of them “painted from life”, i.e. what they saw, sometimes from using opium as Fitzgerald did. Dadd ended his days in a lunatic asylum after murdering his father … he didn’t handle the shift across worlds very well and had no help. Rackham’s paintings are well known, and beautiful, but they don’t portray cute little Disney-critters! Faerie is powerful, very powerful. It inspires nature and helps nature to work … see my bi-monthly column Gardening with the Moon, here on The Pagan and the Pen, for more on how this works.

To return to Vivien, once she is with Merlin the two of them are able to scale new heights of wisdom and knowing, the star-castle is built with its 70 doors and 70 windows. 7 is a sacred number, taken to higher powers by raising it an order of magnitude by adding the zero, the unbroken circle that symbolises the Sun.

Vivien builds for Merlin the crystal tower at the bottom of the lake in the forest of Broceliande in Brittany … Little Britain as it was known in those days. The links between the two Britains were very close, even nowadays Cornish speakers can understand Breton and vice versa. The two languages are very close and part of the ancient Brythonic language which gave Britain her name.

As Goddess of the Hinges, Vivien enables the door to open and shut, she also enables it to open either into Otherworld or into Thisworld … she is two-faced, like the roman god Janus. And like the Lord and Lady of the Celtic tradition.

If you turn this picture upside-down you’ll see you have the same thing, a picture of an old man and a young woman. Either way up, you have the Lord and Lady. This picture was found on each side of an ancient Celtic coin from some 4000 years ago – one side has the head one way up the other, the other. It makes the point of opposites being two sides of the same coin very succinctly :-).

This is what Vivien and her Hinges is teaching us. The door swings both ways, opens onto both Thisworld and Otherworld. Knowing this enables us to walk between the worlds, a foot in either camp, both here and there. It’s a difficult thing to do, it’s what drove Richard Dadd insane, and likely upsets the minds of many people nowadays still who attempt the path without proper caution, help, training and lots of nouse.

Working with, journeying with, Vivien can help you … but the going can be tough. And you will have to sacrifice your small human outlook on the Midsummer fire. But you can learn to open your door, oil the hinges, get everything working smoothly again so you no longer live in a separate world, shut off from most of reality, but can begin to be a Walker Between Worlds.

Elen Sentier
… behind every gifted woman there’s usually a rather talented cat …
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