Sunday 25 September 2011

Sacred Space Part One

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.

Thursday 15 September 2011

The Lily

  The inspiration for this piece of writing is not the plant itself, I do not grow lilies, hence no photo. The lack of the lily in the garden is not because I don’t love them, on the contrary I can think of little that delights the eyes more; however the battle with the slugs and snails is not one I have ever won. Therefore I need to explain my motivation; it shoots out from this extract I stumbled upon from Bartholom├Žus Anglicus (1260) reprinted in The Old English Herbals (1922) by Eleanour Sinclair Rohode, which reads;

“The Lely is an herbe with a whyte floure. And though the levys of the floure be whyte; yet wythin shyneth the lykenesse of golde.”

As the lily is such a beauty I thought it would be nice to pause a moment and contemplate.

    So what do we know of the lily? The genus lilium includes many species, around about 110 to be precise. The best known are the tiger lily, calla lily and day lily, however, out of the many species of lily, only the white ones are scented, with the tiger lily as the exception. The white lily is said to stand for purity, the day lily coquetry and the tiger lily wealth and majesty. I should imagine the lily mentioned in the early herbal would be the highly scented Madonna Lily, whose virtue is carried by both gold and scent when approached. Both highly valued.
 According to Mrs Grieve ‘This white Lily was a popular favourite with the ancient Greeks and Romans. In the early days of Christianity it was dedicated by the Church to the Madonna.’ It is said that it is due to its whiteness that the lily is seen as a symbol of purity, and hence the link with the Virgin Mary.
   However, according to Donald Law the lily was said to have 'grown from the tears of Eve when she was driven out of the Garden of Eden.’ Nothing very pure there I would have thought. Law also states that ‘It is supposedly under the Moon. It has been held as the symbol of Juno, of motherhood and of marriage, in its time. Somewhere in the history of the Christian Church the lily was adopted as the symbol of the Virgin Mary, and is also associated with innocence, chastity, pure motherhood and all feminine virtues.’ Not sure I would have put Eve in that basket, unless the tears were of remorse.
   Cunningham indicates that the lily belongs to Juno, also Venus, Nephthys and Kwan Yin, its magical use is for ‘protection,’ by planting in the garden to keep out ghosts, and ‘to protect against the evil eye.’ Also it appears to have a use in ‘breaking love spells’ that have been ‘cast involving a specific person, he says this is done by wearing the lily round the neck. I suppose as a symbol of chastity, this could make sense under some circumstances.
  It seems that it was Gerard who pointed to the fact that‘Our English lilie groweth in most gardens of England.’ It would be nice if that was so. Maybe the cottage gardens were hosts to less snails and slugs than today, their increase possibly due to decline in the hedgehog numbers. And where one does see the lily, this is possibly where some have resorted to slug pellets. ‘Bring back the hedgehog’ I cry.
  The old herbals claimed that the bulbs could be used in the treatment of some forms of venereal disease as well as ulcers and external inflammations and tumours. A salve made from the bulb is also said to remove corns and take away the pain of burns. However I am very unclear as to how it can do both without the addition of another ingredient.
   Back to words of gold; according to William Blake
The modest Rose puts forth a thorn,
The humble sheep a threat’ning horn
While the Lily white shall in Love delight,
Not a thorn nor threat stain her beauty bright.
And then Jesus encouraged one to;
'Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they toil not,
neither do they spin:
even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these."
~ Matthew 6:28-29
  Although the flowers referred to here were probably not the Madonna lily but a blanket term for uncultivated wild flowers. As Jesus was said to be standing on a mount at the time, it may have posed a problem in exact identification. He was after all a the son of a carpenter and not a botanist. Still the lily; without any assistance from man, is surely a wonder to the senses. And it is just rather nice, to think for a while about all the wild beauty that we can still witness, even in our present techno manipulated polluted existence.