The Ogham Tree Calendar and the Rune of Amergin:
Saille through Coll
Here is the Ogham Tree Calendar, with the Rune of Amergin, as reconstructed by Robert Graves:
Gaelic English from to Rune of Amergin tag
Beth Birch 12/25? 01/20 I am a stag of seven tines
Luis Rowan 01/21 02/17 I am a wide flood on a plain
Nion Ash 02/18 03/17 I am a wind on deep waters
Fearn Alder 03/18 04/14 I am a shining tear of the Sun
Saille Willow 04/15 05/12 I am a hawk on a cliff
Uath Hawthorn 05/13 06/09 I am fair among flowers
Duir Oak 06/10 07/07 I am a god who sets the head afire with smoke
Tinne Holly 07/08 08/04 I am a battle-waging spear
Coll Hazel 08/05 09/01 I am a salmon in the pool
Muin Vine 09/02 09/29 I am a hill of poetry
Gort Ivy 09/30 10/27 I am a ruthless boar
Ngetal Reed 10/28 11/24 I am a threatening noise of the Sea
Ruis Elder 11/25 12/23 I am a wave of the Sea *
*or, I am a returning wave of the Sea
? December 24th, or, more exactly, the day after Yule, the Winter Solstice, is regarded as lying outside the lunar year. It is the extra day of the expression ‘a year and a day,’ which added to the lunar year of 364 days brings it even with the solar year of 365 days. Graves calls it ‘The Nameless Day.’ It is associated with Ychelwydd, All-heal or Mistletoe, though that plant does not give it its name. Beth begins on the day after the Nameless Day. As we will see, it has great significance for witchcraft.
In what follows I offer suggestions for applying the above to the witch’s year, as a seasonal guide to Craft practice. I find the Ogham, as so reconstructed, to work best if taken lightly, as a series of pictures lending a special atmosphere to the time.
The Month of Saille, or Willow, runs from April 15th through May 12th. This is the month when birds nest, and the Rune of Amergin tag for Saille is “I am a hawk on a cliff,” signifying vigilance. The witch continues to look out for weeds and rivals to her magical purpose, and sacrifices them by burning them in the fire of that purpose. The willow is ruled by the Moon, for of all trees it loves water most, and the Moon-goddess is the giver of dew and water generally. So close is this tree to witches that ‘witch’ and ‘wicker’ derive from the same root, and the birch twigs of the traditional besom were bound with osier (that is, willow) withies in honor of Hecate. So from Saille to Beltane the witch calls upon the Crone for help with all the weeding and pruning. It was traditional to begin gathering the nine woods of the Beltane fire from mid-March on.
By now our magical purpose for the year, which seemed at first too simple to occupy our energies and inform all our magical work for the months ahead, begins to be revealed in all of its many ramifications, so that the witch starts to wonder whether it might not be better to hone it down and simplify it ! This purpose, intuited in meditation from Imbolc to Ostara, launched upon the Spring current at Ostara and now recently declared to the Gods in the need-fire of Beltane, is no simple matter, for it is connected to many of the things the witch does during the year, and involves many facets of her personality, conscious and unconscious.
First the negative work, then the positive. With the coming of the Willow Month, we look for those things, both within and without, that will encourage the growth of the quality we wish to bring into our lives. Why does the negative work always come first? Because one’s hands are never empty; in order to receive something new, I must let go of something old. After relinquishing the old, she sees what things need to go around that space so the new quality will have helpers and allies, things that help it to grow and blossom. Now instead of resisting water, as the Alder does, we use the power of the Willow, which loves and seeks water.
Uath, the Hawthorn Month, begins on May 13th and ends on June 9th. This tree-month bears the tag “I am fair among flowers” in the Rune of Amergin. A fair flower will attract many bees and other flying insects who help to spread its pollen, not only to its own pistils, but to the pistils of other flowers, a process known as cross-pollination.
What has this to do with the magical purpose ? Now that the witch sees how the goal fits into her life, and now that the Gods and elementals have been asked for help, a wonderful thing begins to happen: through a series of ‘lucky coincidences,’ things or events encouraging the goal begin falling into place. These may be small windfalls, for instance, or perhaps chance meetings with persons who are able to help us in unforeseen ways. Now more than ever the witch should be sensitive to her surroundings, for the smallest events may hold a key to what is desired. That these happenings come from the Gods and elementals may be seen by their signature: in every case, help is given, but the witch must make use of it and continue to do her share of the work. If the help is financial, just enough money will be provided, or in fact the amount will usually fall short of what is needed, but not by so much that the witch cannot make up the difference through her own efforts. This fertile concatenation of circumstances is depicted in the Rune of Amergin as flowers springing up from the earth. And as the flowering must be both within the witch and without, she is intimately involved in this flowering and seems to herself to be the chief bloom in the garden. “I am fair among flowers,” she thinks, “I am the matrix of all these happenings.” So thinks every flower in the field.
The Hawthorn Month traditionally was a time for washing out the temples and purifying the images. Marriages conducted at this time were considered unlucky, and it was customary to refrain from sexual intercourse and to go about in old clothes until early or mid-June. The witch is free to observe all of this literally, but she also understands that these austerities are the outer expressions of a restrained attitude proper to her magical work at this time, which involves observing and following but not forcing these sudden opportunities, which begin to magically appear as she stores up personal power for the summer solstice.
As the hinge of the year approaches, the union of the Lady and Lord builds towards the great climax of Midsummer. The work of Uath continues till mid-June, and then witches begin preparing for Litha, attuning themselves to the mounting power of Nature.
Duir, the Oak Month, runs from June 10th through July 7th. The oak for this month is the door or deciduous oak, used to make stout doors in the days when strong doors were necessary for security. The Rune of Amergin tag for this month is “I am a god who sets the head afire with smoke.” This refers to the method of divination practiced at Litha, the summer solstice.
At Litha couples would climb the high hills to the top where they leapt, hand in hand, across the narrow space between two bonfires. These bonfires were of oak and also herbs specially chosen to alter the consciousness of the already hyperventilating couples, endowing them with psychic foresight and, incidentally, particularly bad headaches!
The ancients understood crises or turning-points as the coming together of three forces: two opposing forces and a third reconciling force. The first force is the Oak King, who governs the increase of light and warmth and vitality in nature, and who, if left unchecked, would turn the Earth into a steaming jungle and eventually a lifeless desert. The second force, the Holly King, is called into operation at Litha by the third force, the Lady as Mother Earth, to check increase and begin to slow it down, diminishing light and warmth and fertility until at last winter sets in. The Mother herself is the hinge of the year on which the doors of Litha and Duir swing. She it is who keeps everything in harmony and balance, on both the inner and outer planes.
Celebrants at Litha would assist the Sun at his peak in pouring his vitality and magic power into the land and waters by igniting Sun wheels wrapped with straw and rolling them down the hillsides, with the aim of sending them into the local stream or lake for aid in healing. This was done by mounting each wheel on a large axle and employing four muscular youths to trundle it downhill.
Similarly, witches gather the magical energy bristling at the solstice and send it down into their own earthy depths, as they turn from outer to inner work at the hinge of the year.  The Ostara spell is still in operation and bearing fruit in the outer world (as spells of increase cast during the waxing lunar phase bear fruit during the waning phase) and will continue to do so till Mabon. Moreover, the three harvests lie ahead: grain at Lammas or Lughnasadh; fruit, including wine grapes, at Mabon or Modron; and everything left over at Samhain. So there is much to do in the outer world while the witch gradually turns her attention to the inner world and the journey down the World Pillar to the Summerlands.
Tinne, the Holly month, begins on July 8th and ends on August 4th. In antiquity the sacrificial representative of the Oak King was immolated at Litha and mourned at a seven day wake that concluded on the 7th July, after which Tinne, the month of the Holly King, began. Its tag in the Rune of Amergin, “I am a battle-waging spear,” identifies it as the month of the tanist, the dark twin of the Oak King, who will reign during the waning year until the Oak King is freed from the sacred oak at Yule and kills him in turn.
Graves thinks the original tree for this month was the evergreen or scarlet oak, and that the holly was brought in by the Romans, whose sacred tree at Saturnalia was the holly. ‘Tinne’ is related to the Celtic ‘tann,’ which means any sacred tree. The use of an evergreen tree signifies that the Holly King does not really die, but returns to the Summerlands. It is the deciduous Oak King who really dies and is reborn, a true daimon.
The Holly King arrives in Middle-earth in martial mood. Candidates for the initiations at Lammas would borrow his battle-waging spear to restrain some small but persistent habit, building up tapas or astral heat for the initiatory ordeal ahead. At Lammas Eve, July 31st, the Holly King sacrifices part of himself, a daimon called John Barleycorn,  into the earth to empower the grain harvest. Initiates seek to follow his vortex into the earth, diving down the World Pillar. Some descents are deep, some are shallow, but all are life-changing. The Craft powers acquired as a dedicant are knit together and now work in concert in what is called the witch’s knack.  The knack is symbolized by a special loaf of bread prepared by all present and baked to be ready at midnight, so the initiatory leap must occur while it is baking. All eat a slice of the bread together, and share a drink, then depart.
Coll, the Hazel month, begins on August 5th and runs through September 1st. It bears the tag “I am a salmon in the pool” from the Rune of Amergin. Robert Graves remarks:
“The Dinnshenchas … describes a beautiful fountain called Connla’s Well, near Tipperary, over which hung the nine hazels of poetic art which produced flowers and fruit (i.e. beauty and wisdom) simultaneously. As the nuts dropped into the well they fed the salmon swimming in it, and whatever number of nuts any of them swallowed, so many bright spots appeared on its body. All the number of the arts and sciences was bound up with the eating of these nuts…”
The phrase ‘the salmon of knowledge’ refers to these salmon. As Graves remarks a little before (p. 181), “The nut in Celtic legend is always an emblem of concentrated wisdom: something sweet, compact and sustaining enclosed in a small hard shell — as we say: ‘this is the matter in a nut-shell.’ ”
You might wonder how salmon came to be swimming in Connla’s Well. The well itself was fed by the river Boyne, the source of which was the Goddess Boann. The legend states that she challenged the well and drowned. We may take this to mean that she has become one with the world river (a metaphor for movement in the world pillar), and in swimming down that river we unite with the Goddess herself.
The hazel is the poet’s tree, the source of wisdom and eloquence. Heralds in ancient Ireland carried hazelwood wands. The month of Coll was also called Quert, as the hazel shared its month with the wild-apple, associated with healing and renewal.
The world river can be swum from the waking state or from a dream. If from waking, one’s usual visual surroundings tend to persist, but are given extra perspective by a new sense that is remembered chiefly as feelings. If from dream, the dreamer becomes lucid, knows it is a dream, and then releases subjective dream figures and enters on a multidimensional journey which ends by waking up.
In both cases, after the witch has returned, memory seems refreshed, and will unfettered. Perhaps these are nuts from Connla’s well.
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GRAVES, Robert, The White Goddess; A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth, New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 27th printing, 1993.
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