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natural-alder-carr

Fearn (Alder) is pronounced verern and is the fourth consonant of the Ogham tree alphabet and is the fourth month in the Celtic Tree calendar; March 11th – April 14th.

The English Alder (Alnus Glutinosa) is an ancient tree that has grown for millennia and is still a common sight along river banks, on marshes and boggy fens and in wet woods; sometimes they create Alder groves on wet land.

Alder is unusual in the fact that it is the only broad-leaved tree to produce cones.  Alder has both the female cones and the male catkins growing on the same tree; the catkins form in the year before their flowering, remaining dormant on the tree during the winter and opening in spring before the leaves unfurl.  The male catkins have purple scales and yellow flowers, whereas the female catkins develop into tiny dark brown cones.

The Alder is a very beneficial tree that enriches the soil around it by binding nitrogen salts in its root system.  It also has immense strength; when submerged in water it resists decay and will harden to the toughness of iron.  Because of this, Alder was used to build the walkways across marshland and it was an essential timber in the construction of the ancient Celtic lake villages and dwellings known as crannogs; these were raised above the water on Alder piles. All Apple-orchard isles in mythology are surrounded by Alder trees for their protection.

Another feature of the Alder that has given it mystical associations, is the fact that it appears to bleed when cut – the wood when first cut is white but slowly turns red when exposed to air; it is also known as elf-blood.  It is also a tree of that place of the fae – betwixt and between; on land but in water at the same time.

The Alder was held as sacred for the sacrifice of its wood and its beneficial effect on the land; it was symbolic of the generosity of the gods and the health of the land.

The Alder is a protective wood and it is believed that it enables access to the land of Elphame through doors in their trunks and that they are also entrances to the Underworld.

An Alder grove or carr as it is also known, is an eerie place; it is quiet, still and not a little overbearing.  Dark and mysterious fae live in these places and if disturbed by mortals, they will fly from the trees in the guise of Crows or Ravens.  The Elven king is said to make his home in the Alder carr and lives in one of the trees; to cut one and see the redness of the wood is to see the blood of the indwelling fae, so to cut an Alder requires special entreaty and a willingness to be guided to a tree of the choosing of the fae.  If you fell an Alder, your house will burn down or so it is said.

In these watery groves, it is believed that the spirits of the dead lurk, those that have been led to an untimely death by drowning, lured to their deaths by wil-o-the-wisps and then trapped in the waters by the roots of the Alders.  In Somerset it is believed care and special precautions should be taken when passing an Alder carr at night as you may never be seen again; “they’ll keep ‘ee” it is said.

The folk of elphame use the dyes produced by the Alder for their clothes; the flowers provide a green dye much to their liking.  The bark provides a vibrant red and if metal sulfates (cooperas) are added, it produces a rich black.  The young shoots produce a cinnamon colour but again, when copperas are added, it turns a pure yellow.

In the Welsh Mabinogion, the Alder is the sacred tree of the god Bran, whose name means crow or raven.  Bran has the ravens and crows as his sacred birds and his staff is made of Alder.  Bran gives his Cauldron of Rebirth to the Irish in as part of an agreement for the marriage of his sister Branwen to the Irish king Matholwch but typically, problems ensue and Bran finds out his sister is being mistreated.

Bran invades Ireland, wading through the sea as he is far too big for a boat and then lies across the river Linon so his army can walk across using him as a bridge.  However, in the ensuing battle, Bran is mortally wounded and the Cauldron of Rebirth is destroyed.  Before dying, Bran instructs his seven remaining comrades to cut off his head and take it to Gwyn Fryn (the white hill) near London and place it facing south; the head spends seven years in Harlech and eighty years in Pembroke on the way there.  Brans head remained alive throughout this and did not decay and he continued to advise and to give oracular guidance to his followers through songs.  His totem birds, the raven would act as his scouts and messengers.

Eventually the spell is broken and Brans head is buried under the White Hill near todays Tower of London.  The ravens are still at the tower and they still hold a magical protection for Britain; it is firmly believed that if the ravens desert the tower then Britain will fall.  The purple colour of the catkins of the Alder are associated with the god Bran and so this purple is called “royal purple”.

In the medieval German legend called the Wulfdietrich Saga, an Alder woman appears seductively to foolish travellers and teaches them a lesson by turning herself into a hairy bark-like creature if the embrace her.  Called Rough Else, she is a wild looking woman of the woods, covered in hair, who in part of the story, puts a spell on a hero which eventullay causes him to go mad.  He runs through the wood living off herbs for six months, after which Rough Else takes by sea to another land where she is queen.  Here she bathes in a magical well that washes away her rough skin and she becomes transformed into the beautiful Sigeminne(victory of love).

In the Irish Song of the Forrest Trees, the Alder is described as being “the very battle witch of all woods, the tree that is hottest in the fight”.  Though Alder is a poor source of fire wood, it’s charcoal burns immensely hot and is therefore favoured by smiths and was used to make the weapons.  Also in Irish legend, the first human male was created from Alder and the first female was created from Rowan.

Alder is also used to make magical whistles and flutes through which the god is believed to speak; because of this, one of the old names for Alder is “whistlewood”.  Sometimes when alone in an Alder carr, it is possible to hear the magical notes from an Alder flute floating in the air.

Traditional witches use Alder wood as one of the nine sacred woods of the Beltaine fire.  The flute and whistles made from the Alder are used to invoke the Sun God at the solstices and equinoxes.

Herbalists employ the Alder for conditions caused by water and damp such as rheumatism.  It can also staunch bleeding, reduce inflammations of the throat, mouth and gums and reduce swellings.  Before starting out on a long walk, placing Alder leaves inside your shoes will prevent swelling of the feet and keep them cool.

In incense, it is used for the spring equinox and employed in incenses for divination and scrying.  In this way, it can also be used for invoking Bran, Cronos, Herekles, Circe, Orpheus, Apollo, Guinevere, Arawn and of course, King Arthur.

“The alders in the front line

Began the affray.

Willow and Rowan tree

Were tardy in array.”

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