Ogham – Coll: Hazel

  • The Moon-month for Coll runs from 5 Aug – 1 Sep
  • Traditionally, hazel works with Mercury and Venus,  a form of the Mabon and the Modron, the Wise Child and the Mother
  • The feast of Lughnasa/Lughnasadh (1 August) and the harvest celebration falls in the month of Coll/Hazel and is named after Lug meaning the Shining One
  • Hazel is the tree of wisdom
  • “I went out to the hazelwood, Because a fire was in my head,” W. B. Yeats

Yeats was a man of the Fae and knew his wisdom, but wisdom is also “fire in the head”. Fire in the head is that inspiration of wisdom which sets light to one’s current mores and reduces them to ashes … they then rise again, like the phoenix, to be reborn as new, useful mores for us to live by until the next inspiration. The fire is necessary in order that we don’t get stuck in a box!

What is Wisdom?

Wisdom is not a simple thing to conceive of; it includes knowing, insight, perception, astuteness, acumen, penetration.

  • Knowing is about knowing-in-your-bones, it has nothing to do with belief and often you cannot say cogently what it is you know … but you know that you know it.
  • Insight is about the deep perception required to know something, and about how that perception often comes from some unknown source. It can be sudden or, sometimes, creep up on you so that you’re not aware it has changed you until the process is over.
  • Perception is the ability to see what is truly there, not what your expectations and habits want to see. This skill requires a high level of personal honesty and the ability to know when you’re kidding yourself J.
  • Astuteness too is about seeing what is there, seeing the truth unclouded by preconceptions. It’s about being smart rather than gullible and naïve.
  • Acumen is about being shrewd and having good judgement, yet again seeing what is there, seeing reality.
  • Penetration is about discernment, more good judgement, seeing deeply within something or someone, beyond motives and agendas.

These are qualities the hazel nut carries and gives to us … but they will burn out all the old beliefs and concepts.

And how do we get them?

In the Gaelic tradition the Salmon of Wisdom lives in the Well of Segais surrounded by the 9 hazel trees, he feeds on the hazel nuts that fall into the pool. In many ancient stories the hero, to save someone from some disaster, must go the Well at the World’s End – which is the Well of Segais – to catch the magic nut before the Salmon of Wisdom eats it. Sometimes the hero exchanges the nut for wisdom from the Salmon, at others the nut itself contains what he needs for the rescue. We have to go to the Well. We have to sit and watch, wait attentively for the moment when the nut falls and the salmon comes to claim it. Then we challenge.

Finding that moment is rather like riding the wave in surfing. You have to know in your bones just the moment when you can stand on the board, when the wave will carry you all the way home. And you cannot know that moment without wisdom … a Catch 22 situation, as is so much of shamanic work.

The hazel is also associated with the caduceus staff, the wand of the healer.

In Greek and Roman traditions, Hermes carries a staff or rod, the caduceus. It’s made up of two intertwined snakes on a hazel rod and is still a symbol of healing arts, although the original hazel leaves are generally transposed into the wings of Hermes. He was also the messenger of the gods.

The caduceus is another way of symbolising the skeleton of the universe, the Universe Tree. The central hazel staff is the vertical axis that carries energy between Earth and Sun. This thread, between the heart of the Earth and the heart of the Sun, is the spindle that carries the two poles of energy, from one to the other and back, that enables our planet to function … and our Sun to function too. Everything in our current universe depends on duality, the concept of I/Thou which is the concept of boundaries. Without boundaries we don’t know self from not-self, from other, and make a mass of assumptions that result in ghastly mistakes … including messing up the planet.

  • The hazel rod at the centre of the caduceus staff carries all this. And this is wisdom … knowing I from Thou and respecting the difference by asking rather than telling or working on assumptions.

The two snakes that twine up the staff hold the energy of the poles, of duality, too. They are the pairs of opposites that are truly two sides of one coin, the one mirrors the other. They are also the horizontal axis of the Universe Tree.

The horizontal axis carries the energy of “that which moves”, to quote the Dineh people of the Navajo. We use the same phrase in the Celtic tradition and you’ll find it all over the world, a common variation is “that which lives and moves and has our being”. Modern Buddhist teaching tells us to “kill out desire” … I don’t yet know what they mean by this or if it is as simple as just the words. If it is then I certainly disagree with them completely! What is desire? It is that which moves us! If that ceases to be then we lose all drive to grow and change, to learn to work with the goddess, to learn to listen to her, help her. In fact, we may become so heavenly we’re no earthly use !!!

In many traditions, snakes are carriers of wisdom, long associated with wisdom, reincarnation, and cunning. For the Celts this is so, Nadredd, the adder, is a wise snake and one to call on. She carries on her back the twisting double-spiral of Life that we now know in the physical as DNA. The pair of caduceus snakes show this too, the double-helix twining round the central pole.

As the UK’s only venomous reptile, there is a wealth of British folklore associated with this elusive creature. The Druids believed that one of the strongest mystical charms was the Adder-stone or glain neidyr. This was a small glass-like stone with a hole, which was believed to be made by the snakes on Midsummer’s eve. The charm is supposedly a cure for a wide range of ailments and could even cure the bite of an Adder. The Druids in Wales as were known Nadredd and in the Fold of the Bards, Taliesin says “I am a wiseman, I am a serpent”. In the Scottish Highlands, the adder symbolized the Cailleach’s power.

If you meet a snake on a shamanic journey you’ll need to prepare to shed something in favour of something greater and better .. the course of wisdom. The catkins remind of golden snakes.

The wings were likely the leaves of the hazel but calling up the image of wings. As well as burning out old patterns wisdom also enables us to fly, our spirit can fly between worlds, seeing new threads of connection, realising them for us.

The leaves are astringent, diaphoretic and febrifuge in herbal terms.

Astringent is harsh, severe, biting; a substance that tends to shrink or constrict body tissues, usually locally after topical medicinal application. The word “astringent” derives from Latin adstringere, meaning “to bind fast”. Two common examples are calamine lotion and witch hazel.

Diaphoretic is to make you perspire, like in sweat lodges. Sweating is an important means of cleaning out the system using the skin, it occurs in fevers as the body’s way of moving things out.

Febrifuge is a medication that reduces fever.

So the three properties – binding together, making you sweat and then reducing fever pass you through a change-process. This will often feel like flying to the physical senses and the emotions, the mind often sees it this way too. The spirit is cleaned and bound back together with the body so that it can work in new, wider, deeper, more expanded ways.

Old Ways and Customs
  • Hazel wands were one of the trees used for making Ogham sets when the wood of each tree was not used. The lore stories tell us they were wrapped in a craneskin bag and carried by druid shamans, in honour of the crane who brought the tree alphabet from Egypt.
  • Salmon, wisdom and hazel are all connected into the mystic Salmon of Wisdom, who each year travels his long journey to catch the falling Hazelnuts of Knowledge at the Well at the World’s End before returning “the ways of the round rolling world”.  In the stories, Fionn, who is studying under a master druid, burns himself while preparing a salmon one day. Licking his burnt thumb, he takes in a drop of the magic juice and so gains the gift of prophecy.
  • Bardic inspiration is associated with hazel, and Scotland’s other name, Caledonia, derives from Caldun (fort of the hazel), as does cnocach (wisdom) which comes from the more common word for hazelnut, cno.
  • And in the Mabingion, it is the magic salmon (who is even older than the oldest animal in the land, the Eagle of Gwernabwy), who directs Arthur and his companions upstream to find Mabon ap Modron, the Son of the Great Mother.
  • In the north of England, the hazel-tree guardian was called “Melsh Dick” and in Yorkshire “Chum-milk Peg”. Ancient protectors of the unripe nuts. A milk peg is a milk tooth, the tooth of childhood.
  • In 19th century Devon, an old woman traditionally greeted a new bride with a gift of hazels for fertility in the same wary that rice or confetti is used today. ln English villages country-dwellers associate a prolific show of hazel catkins with the advent of lots of babies, and late as the 1950s, the saying, “Plenty of catkins, plenty of prams” was heard taken quite seriously.
  • Hazel was also used widely throughout the centuries for protection against evil. Finn bore a hazelwood shield that made him invincible in battle.
  • No harm could penetrate a hurdle fence of hazel around a house or a breastband of the wood on a horse.
  • A shipmaster wearing a cap into which hazel had been woven was guaranteed to weather any storm.
  • Cattle driven through Beltaine and Midsummer bonfires had their backs singed with hazel rods for protection against disease and the evil eye , and the scorched rods were used to drive them the rest of the year.
  • In the East of England, cottagers gathered hazels to ward off the bolts of the Thunder-god.
  • When evil became synonymous with witchcraft in the public mind, hazel was widely used for protection against Witches. The Discoverie of Witchcraft (1584) recommends a hazel wand cut “upon the Sabbath daie before rising” to use as a charm against witches and thieves. The 17th century writer Thomas Pennant in his “Tours of Wales” described how in Merionethshire, corpses were buried with hazel-rods to avert the power of witchcraft.
  • Hazel protected against disease and was a potent magical remedy.
  • ln Ireland, a hazel-nut in a pocket worded off rheumatism or lumbago which was thought to be caused by “elfshot,”
  • A double-nut prevented toothache.


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