Welcome to the mid-way point of the Willow-Tree Month!
Willows are wonderful trees. Growing beside rivers, ponds and lakes they carry with them the energy of flowing water, inspiring us to heal long-standing hurts and resolve outstanding issues. Of all the trees Willow is the Moon-Tree, the nurturing feminine aspect of nature. With its slender branches and quicksilver leaves it has held a special place over the ages in people’s hearts and minds and has been associated with birth and death, joy and sadness, poetry and love.
The fourth letter in the Celtic Tree Ogham (an alphabet used by Irish druids many centuries ago) is Saille or “Willow”. It sits between its cousin Alder (Fearn in the Ogham) and Ash (Nion). In the corresponding Celtic Calendar, the month of the Willow takes us from mid-March to the middle of April.
It’s easy to see why. Few trees show much colour during March (other than the Alder, whose catkins have already faded), but the hedgerows here are festooned with the silvers, greens and golds of willows.
Driving up and down England and Wales to attend recent book-signings has really shown me how much this elegant tree dominates the countryside at this time of year. I took this picture of a Weeping Willow at Skenfrith Castle, which is one of the locations in Watchers. You can see how far ahead it is of the other trees.
There are lots of different types of willow. White, Goat, Crack, Grey and Sallow are all native to Britain and Ireland (the Weeping Willow was imported from China as recently as the 18th century) and all varieties have much magic to share with you.
Goat willows are most common in my neck of the woods. At this time of year they bear wonderfully soft catkins that are exquisitely soft to touch, like the new-born lamb that accompany them in the fields.
As their catkins open out, they transform from silver to gold.
Druids especially valued the Goat Willow for this ability to transform from silver to gold, a kind of natural alchemy that they called “sunshine fire”. Looking at these ones, I can completely relate to that!
Willows have been used in pagan festivals for centuries, gaining a place of honour both at Imbolc (Lady Day, sacred to Brigid) and Samhain. Because of its medicinal qualities, the tree was/is beloved by witches across the world – the wise women who are naturopaths and healers, rather than broomstick-riding “hags” – and in time it became sacred to Hecate herself.
Hecate’s tale is an interesting one to those who believe that the old myths hold hidden truths. One of the Titans (half breeds between the gods and men), she was the only one who was allowed to live. She became the Goddess most associated with both Moon and Willow. It’s said that you can tell when she approaches because dogs howl at the moon (Hecate’s totem was a dog). Haunting cross-roads and graveyards, this Willow Goddess became a figure of the Underworld, sending spirits to visit us in our nightmares…
Another Willow Goddess was Anat (or Anatha) who had her seat in Jerusalem, before she was ousted in favour of the male deity worshipped there today. But old resonances die hard. Even today the Fire and Water ceremony in Jerusalem is called “The Day of Willows”
Willow is mentioned in the bible as a symbol both of joy and of death. Until recently churchgoers in England and Ireland carried the leaves of the Goat Willow to church on Palm Sunday, which is why the tree is also called “Palm Willow”. Palm Sunday always falls within the Willow Month.
Goat Willows were sacred to the Goddess Helice and it was to them that people went looking for inspiration. I can recommend this, especially when a gentle breeze ruffles the leaves; but be careful at this time of year…I sat under one recently and when I stood up I was covered in a fine dusting of gold pollen!
The healing qualities of the willow are well-documented. A concoction made with the sap of white willow can be used to treat rheumatism, aches and pains and spots. Drunk as a bitter “tea” it is known to help with headaches and as a cure for diaorrhea! The bark of the White Willow contains salycillic acid, known as witch’s aspirin.
The Weeping Willow is a beautiful tree, her branches often bending to the water whilst her roots trail below its surface. She has lessons for those of us who choose to listen. Spend an hour so sitting beneath a willow (preferably with a river or stream to one side) and let the sounds of the running water and the rustling leaves soothe both body and mind. It’s a perfect way to reconnect with the intuitive part of you, so often neglected by our teachers.
Basket-weavers still use willow branches to ply their trade (the word willow comes from the Anglo-Saxon “welig” which means “soft and pliant”). In myth and legend it was from the branches of the Osier (the purple willow) that the baskets in which the “miraculous children” (from Moses to Taliesin) that feature in so many tales were washed ashore (purple being the colour of royalty). You’ll find out more about this in the Tilly stories…
As a tree of divination (I’m told it makes excellent divining rods), willow is connected to dreams and prophecies.
For those of you who find sleep hard to come by, take a piece of willow (preferably one that has already fallen) and place it under your pillow. As you fall asleep the day’s tensions will ebb from your body, your inner brow will be soothed and – if you are lucky – you may just be transported, like a flash of moonlight on one of the willow’s silvery leaves, to the “Land Beyond the Summer Stars…”
PS – If you enjoyed this post, I think you’ll enjoy the first book in my Tilly Greenway and the Secrets of the Ancient Keys series, which has a 5-star rating on amazon. Please see the links below. Thank you!