Tag Archives: lughnasadgh

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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Writing …

except it’s afternoon !!!

Just arrived here as spent morning sorting out the Ogham post – it goes up here  tomorrow.  It was good fun getting the info together, if rather like herding kittens . there is just soooooo much that each tree relates to I feel I could write a damn encyclopaedia (sheesh! spelling … need coffffeeee!). I am putting the whole into a book – out next year at this rate.

I love trees. The lore they give you if you choose to journey with them is fantastic, and doing so is like an hour with your best friend, exchanging Q&A. Every time I go to write about them I found something new arrives and wants to be mentioned.

Writing’s like that … you set off with an idea and then the story wakes up and writes itself, you just have to stop it wandering off into indigestible and incomprehensible ramblings … again like herding kittens LOL. I’m having the same round-up scenes with the latest novel too. Having begun with a 14 yr old heroine, I’ve now got a 40 yr old hero, with fiddle, itinerant musician, with red hawk and now (since last Saturday) two ferrets as well … Yikes! And he’s going to fall in love with the heroine – who may grow to 16, sigh! – although nothing happens, which is probably very sad for them both but we’ll see.

Arrrrgghhh !!! back to the grind of writing … but I absolutely love it. except there’s a mountain and a half of work to do in the garden too. And I can’t wait for Paul to bring Fabrice’s french bread back from Fodders … Yummmmmmmmmmm !!!

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Lammas Bread


A time of harvest & honour

The word Lammas comes from a word meaning “loaf mass” from the Anglo-Saxon “hlaf-masse” or loaf-mass. It is the first harvest festival of the year and many Celtic traditions bake a special loaf for this day. Here is a Scottish recipe.

Lammas Bread

  • 1 lb flour – a mix of flours tastes good
  • salt to taste
  • 1/2 tsp cream or tartar
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 pint milk
  • 1 tbsp vinegar
  • Place the flour in a large bowl and add a pinch of salt, plus the cream of tartar and the baking soda.
  • Pour the milk into another bowl, and stir in the vinegar.
  • Then add the milk-vinegar to the flour mixture a little bit at a time to make your dough.
  • Knead this a bit and then shape into a fine, round lump.
  • Score a cross on the top of the loaf and bake in a pre-heated oven at 350 for about 35 to 40 minutes.
  • If you would like a sweet bread add in honey raisins & dried fruit

Even if you’ve never made bread before have a go. You can vary the recipe with herbs from the garden – lavender and rosemary, together or separately make excellent flavourings; sage bread is savoury and delicious; onion bread is good with soups as well as cheese.

Lammas Bread Corn King

As a shaman, I always honour my food – the ingredients as well as the finished meal. This means sourcing them well, with concern for how they’ve been grown, prepared and marketed for all food comes from the Earth who is our mother. If we mistreat her body with chemicals, force her to bear more vegetables and/or animals than she naturally can, starve her of water, pound her skin with heavy machinery and take no notice of her seasons then we rape her as surely as any man does with an unwilling woman.

So I source my ingredients locally as far as possible, grow a lot myself, know how the animals are treated who give me my meat and milk. I even know how the bees who give me the honey are treated, and that they are local, feeding from local flowers and orchards, not being air-bussed into California from Australia !!! And the flour I use is grown here in my country, in Britain.

This sort of honouring is far more important than any prayers and rituals I may use as I’m cooking and/or eating. It’s the sort of honouring that respects the Earth and tries to listen to her, to work with her rather than forcing her into what may be convenient to me.

Sometimes I make a corn king shape for my Lammas loaf, remembering the song John Barleycorn, and eat the bread with a glass of ale from one of our local micro-breweries. Sage bread is especially good for this.

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Lammas: Corn King

Corn King by Charles Vess

The corn king, John Barleycorn for us here in Britain, is the god who sacrifices himself for the goddess, for the Land, for the good harvest to come next year. He appears in other traditions around the world, for instance as Adonis, Osiris or Tammuz.

This image is very lovely.

The Gaelic name for Lammas is Lughnassadh, celebrating the Irish sun god Lugh (pronounced Loo), and variant spellings are Lughnasadh, Lughnasad, Lughnassad, Lughnasa and Lunasa. In Ireland, races and games were held in his name and that of his mother, Tailtiu, which may have been funeral games in honour of Tailtiu who died of overwork clearing the plains of Ireland for agriculture.

The Brythonic sun-god is Llew Llaw Gyffes. His name becomes Lugus with the Gauls. Llew’s totem is the eagle – a sun-bird – and all forms of his name refer to “light”. More modern forms are names like Luke, Luc in French, Lucifer which means light-bringer. I live near a river called the Lugg, this too is a form of a word for light. Llew is killed and reborn, wiser, see my here for his story.

In Celtic myth-lore the goddess often changes her guardian/spouse – see the stories of Culhwch and Olwen, Blodeuwedd, Arthur and Gwenhwyfar, and many others. Sometimes the change of guardian goes from father to husband, as in Culhwch, where the prospective bridegroom must kill the father in order to obtain the daughter. It is an initiation ritual that proves the new guardian is up to the job while, at the same time, removing the old king from the scene. This is what is happening in the John Barleycorn song-story.

I also find these images of corn snakes very evocative. A friend of mine has one – a lady in that case, so a corn queen rather than king. They’re very beautiful. I’ve added a painting by Wendy Davies of twisted gold torcs … the snakes remind me of them.

The Ballad of John Barleycorn

This is the old version by Traffic

There were three men come out of the west their fortunes for to try

And these three men made a solemn vow John Barleycorn should die.

They ploughed, they sowed, they harrowed him in, throw’d clods all on his head

And these three men made a solemn vow John Barleycorn was dead.

They let him lie for a very long time till the rain from heaven did fall

And little Sir John he throw’d up his head and he so amazed them all.

They let him lie till the long midsummer, till he looked all pale and wan,

Then little Sir John grow’d a long, long beard and so became a man.

They hired the men with the scythe so sharp to cut him down at the knee,

They rolled him and tied him around by the waist, served him most barbarously.

They hired the men with sharp pitchforks and they pierced him to the heart.

But the loader he served him far worse than that for he bound him to the cart.

They wheeled him around and around of the field till they came upon a barn,

And these three men made a solemn mow of poor John Barleycorn.

They hired the men with the crab tree sticks and they beat him skin from bone.

But the miller he served him far worse than that for he ground him between two stones.

There’s little Sir John in the nut brown bowl and brandy in the cask.

And little Sir John in the nut brown bowl proved the stronger man at last.

For the huntsman he can’t hunt the fox nor so loudly blow his horn,

And the tinker he can’t mend his kettles nor his pots without a little drop of John Barleycorn.

If you follow the verses through you’ll see how it begins with the ploughing, sowing and harrowing of the field, then goes on to sowing with the “seed of the king” – which really is meant to be taken both ways, as corn seed and semen. And the field too is meant as the earth, the soil, and the womb of the Earth, of Sovereignty.

In verse two, little Sir John raises up his head, the first green of the corn breaks the surface of the earth, we know that there is hope, there is return, the food is likely to grow this year and we will not starve. At the end of the verse little Sir John grows a beard, the tassel of the corn appears.

In the third verse, the harvest happens. The corn is cut, scythed, it is made into stooks and bound to the cart to be carried off to the barn.

In the fourth verse they wheel the cart around and around the field, partly to pick up all the stooks but also in a ritual walking of the field which has given them the grain they hoped for, an honouring of the Land. The corn is beaten with “crab tree sticks”, that’s branches of the crab-apple tree which is an ancient tree but also a good wood for threshing the corn. Threshing is the meaning of “beat him skin from bone”. And finally the miller grinds the corn between the great millstones.

In the last verse the ale is made, the corn is transformed and transmuted from a plant into a health-giving drink. Ale was (and is) good food as well as drink, there is much goodness for the body as well as the pleasures (and pitfalls!) of intoxication J. The reference to fox hunting is repellent nowadays and is probably a fairly late insertion, like the tinker. The original may well have referred to hunting, but for food animals not “the pleasure of killing”.

So, the song is about the growing of the corn, harvesting and making ale. It makes its references as if the corn is a person and, in ancient days, it would have been the king. Human sacrifice took place in all lands. Human life was, and still is to most humans, the most precious gift that could be given to the gods, the power of blood is known worldwide.

With its habitual de-paganising zeal, the Christian church recycled Lammas as the harvest festival. Traditionally on this day a new loaf of bread was offered at mass as the first-fruit of the harvest. In the good old days when bread was truly your harvest fruit – you tilled the land, planted the grain and watered to soil to make it grow – the making of the Lamas/Lughnasadh loaf was packed with mystical symbolism. The breadmaker and those who ate it were acutely aware of their relationship with Mother Earth – a relationship not of words but of conscious interaction. Quite different from buying a loaf in your local supermarket off the bakery shelf! These days bread-making is a mechanised process and you have had nothing to do with the planting, growing and harvesting of the grain.

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