Guarding the entrance to our sacred woodland are two sentinel trees, one an oak and the other, as in the photo, a rather old lady hornbeam. She stands upon three legs, each leg points to one of the three ways. On one side the entrance, so the past is behind you when standing before her, and then two other paths. You are faced with a choice, which way should I go?
Such a wonderful specimen deserves a little deeper exploration. She is, as I have said, a hornbeam, so I thought I would spend a little time considering this tree, which in comparison with the oak, holly and yew, birch and beech, so little is written.
Hornbeams (carpinus) according to Fred Hageneder in The Living Wisdom of Trees are ‘happy on clay or chalky soil’ and are ‘medium-to large-sized trees’ found ‘widely distributed in northern temperate regions.’Although it does appear a lot more frequently in the London area than elsewhere. The hornbeam, in my opinion, closely resembles the beech tree, both by its smooth grey/green looking bark and its oval serrated ribbed leaves, and thin pointed buds. Although the beech leaf is less jagged in appearance, it is not until later in the year when the difference becomes completely apparent. The beech carries a fruit which reveals a nut or to be precise, mast, whereas the fruit of the hornbeams appears as a lantern, holding many keys, each key holds a nut or seed. The hornbeam, despite its appearance, is not related to the beech tree at all, but the hazel and the birch.
Yvonne Aburrow in the book The Enchanted Forest places the carpinus betulus or common hornbeam, as a feminine tree, which I would wholeheartedly agree with, of the element air, which its air-borne seeds/nuts appear to support. She places it under the dominion of the planet Venus, whereas Hageneder on the other hand states ‘Saturn.’ So if we pause a moment here and consider this from a very superficial aspect for the sake of this piece of writing, Venus rules things hidden and Saturn, is the ‘guardian of the threshold of the supernatural,’ (Manfred M, Junius) so both in my opinion, can apply here.
The wood of the hornbeam is extremely hard, the clue is there in the name (horn-hard, beam-wood). According to Hageneder it is so hard that it ‘quickly blunts carpenters’ tools hence its other name-“ironwood”. It is said to be used for butcher’s blocks, which to me is not a good idea if it is going to blunt the knife or chopper. However it was use extensively in charcoal burners as it burns very well. And because of its hardness it was used by the Romans to build their chariots.
In the Bach flower remedies the hornbeam is used in the treatment of those who ‘feel that they have insufficient mental or physical strength to cope with life.’ (Aburrow) or. according to Hageneder; it can be used to clear ‘blocked or stagnant energies.’ A tonic of hornbeam is said to relive tiredness; and the leaves can be used to stop bleeding. Minor wounds I should imagine not decapitated heads.
Hageneder also relates that the ‘ancient Germanic name, hagebuche, is derived from hagal,’ and to me, a link between hagal as the’ mother rune’ motherly care and protection. It’s Latin name carpinus, is said by Hageneder to come from the Celtic ‘ carr (wood), which as he states, ‘takes us back to Car, Q’er and Carya, the ancient eastern Mediterranean goddess of wisdom.
He goes onto say that ‘The hornbeam guarded the sanctity of the sacred grove, and in this humble service it is akin to Heimdall, the mythical guardian of the rainbow bridge in Norse myth.’. So according to Hageneder the hornbeam symbolises guardianship, and what a fitting guardian she is, of this section of our sacred landscape.