Holly was planted near homes to protect them from lightning, storm, fire, and hexes. Its wood was used in door sills to repelsorcery. With its blood-red berries and its spiny leaves, Holly was understood to have a warrior's Spirit. War clubs and chariot wheels were made from its wood.
In England a ritual combat was enacted each year involving the Oak King who ruled in Summer and the Holly King who ruled in Winter.
At Midsummer and again at Midwinter these Divine Kings would battle for the hand of the “Queen” (the Land Goddess) . The Oak King always won in Summer initiating the season of green and light and the Holly King in Winter, initiating the cold, dark season.
In ancient Rome gifts were decorated with sprigs of Holly at the Saturnalia, a Midwinter festival that took place on December twenty fifth.
The use of evergreens as decoration has traditionally been associated with good luck - Holly and other evergreens in and around the home are a signal to the Nature Spirits that they are welcome to find shelter and comfort within.
A round evergreen wreath on the door is a Solar symbol and a sign of faith that life, like the Sun, is cyclical and that a dark phase such as the apparent “death” of the trees and herbs at Winter is merely temporary.
In English tradition it was unlucky to bring Holly into the home before Christmas and unlucky to take it down before Twelfth Night.
A sprig was kept in the home to perpetuate luck in the coming year. By Imbolc (Candlemas) on February second, all greens had to be out of the house.
There is an old Welsh expression that; “the day the bees stop humming the world will end”. Ivy blooms in the Fall and provides the last bit of sweetness for the bees.
For Druids the bee symbolizes the intelligence that navigates by the Sun (Divine guidance) to visit fields offlowers (the world) to gather sweetness (wisdom) and bring it back for the benefit of the tribe.
To be a Druid is to perform an active role on behalf of the people, it is a tribal function. The Old Irish Druí or Ban-Druí (femaleDruid) was a priest or priestess, a prophet, an astrologer, and a teacher of the children of the nobility.
Druids did not isolate themselves in order to perfect their inner Spiritual development. They served the whole and like bees went far and wide to gather knowledge on behalf of their kingdoms.
Druids supervised the lighting of sacred fires on hill tops on the holy days of the Celts.
At Midsummer herbs were ritually smoked over these fires, to be hung in houses and barns as protective amulets.
These magically protective herbs included Figwort, Ivy, Mugwort,Yarrow, Vervain, Elder, Fennel, Chamomile, Melilot, St. John's Wort, Plantain, Hawthorn, Lavender and Male Fern.
Ivy was equated with female energy and Holly with male energy. Both herbs featured in Yule celebrations and in wedding wreaths for the bride and groom.
Ancient poets were crowned with Ivy to give them honor. An early Christian church council tried to ban the use of Ivy in decorations because of its Pagan associations.
Firs, like all conifers, have long been understood as a symbols of immortality, their evergreen branches defy the seeming death of winter.
Their cones are “tree-eggs” that grow in a Sun-wise spiral, showing their connection to the Solar year and making them an ideal magical “sender” when placed on the tip of a magic wand.
In Greek tradition, Attis, the Young God of Spring, was reborn each year as a conifer, His blood transformed into Violets at His feet.
At the spring rites of Kybele a Pine tree was carried to the Phrygian sanctuary decorated with Violets.
Egyptian Priests of Osiris hollowed out a Pine tree and placed within it a carved statue of their God whom Isis had restored to life.
Christian missionaries put strong prohibitions on the worship of trees and Tree Spirits, making a point of chopping down sacred trees and Groves wherever they could.
In the second Council of Arles (452 CE) this canon was issued;
”If within the territory of a bishop infidels light torches or venerate trees, fountains, or stones, and he neglects to abolish this usage, he must know that he himself is guilty of sacrilege”.
Charlemagne issued the following edict; “ With respect to trees, stones, and fountains, where certain foolish people light torches or practice other superstitions, we earnestly ordain that that most evil custom detestable to God, wherever it be found, should be removed and destroyed.“
The church was never able to completely eradicate tree, stone and water worship.
Wells once dedicated to the Old Gods were re-sanctified in the name of Saints, images of Mary were placed in grottoes once sacred to the Earth Goddess.
We have seen how Saint Brighid established her nunnery in a place made sacred by Oaks.
There was once a Pine tree considered sacred by the people of Tours, which Saint Martin wanted to destroy.
The people agreed on the condition that Saint Martin allow the trunk to fall on his head as it fell. The tree was not cut down.
In Carmarthen, Wales, an ancient Oak called Merlin's Oak was preserved by casting it in cement because an old prophecy had declared that if it fell Carmarthen would fall with it.
In recent times an Oak sapling was planted right next to the old and dying trunk, to keep the Tree Spirit from deserting the town.
To this day evergreen wreaths, symbolic of the Sun, grace doors at Yuletide and Christmas trees bring a Spirit of sacred serenity into the home.
Orthodox Jewish burials still require that the coffin be made of Pine, the ancient Tree of Immortality.
About A Druid's Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine:
Combining her extensive herbal knowledge and keen poetic insight, Ellen Evert Hopman delves deeply into the historic allusions and associations of each of the 20 letters of the Ogham Tree Alphabet.
She also examines Native American healing methods for possible clues to the way ancient Europeans may have used these trees as healing agents.
Druidic spiritual practices, herbal healing remedies, and plant lore are included for each tree in the alphabet as well as how each is used in traditional rituals such as the Celtic Fire Festivals and other celebrations.