Quercus (oak)

Week 35 of the PBP.

The oak as door. That is probably the most powerful association this tree holds for me. The lightning’s path between cloud and soil.

There is so much lore from so many cultures about the oak. It’s clear that this tree has fired the imaginations of humankind for centuries. And nothing in a blog post could possibly capture a fraction of its majesty.

Qwert (apple)

Week 34 of the PBP.

Here’s another blatant use of ogham to fill in the lack of “Q” plants in this region!

My favorite tree growing up was an apple. It was a great climbing tree. I would sit up in its forked trunk for hours, looking at the azure sky through the shimmering leaves. It attracted all manner of critter to our backyard, from wasps to honeybees, squirrels to deer. My father didn’t believe in pruning, so it was a monster of a tree; he didn’t believe in spraying either (and didn’t know about lures and such for organic growing), so we rarely were able to eat any of the apples. But it was a constant companion throughout my childhood, until my parents finally had it taken down due to disease a few years ago.

I have some boughs that my father saved for me. I’m planning on turning them into wands eventually, once my skills are better. I associate the apple with Venus and Fire. Just like humans, each apple holds seeds that will create completely new varieties of trees. One friend of mine was horrified to find out that all the varieties of apples we eat are actually clones of a single tree. All MacIntosh have been grafted onto other root stock from the original MacIntosh tree, and cuttings from those trees have propagated yet more MacIntosh. But each Mac apple that we eat has seeds for a completely new offspring.

Apple is the ultimate example of unrealized potential in that sense. We think of there only being a few varieties, when in fact the possibilities are endless, but never planted.

Maple

Week 26 of the PBP.

If you ask me, this is probably one of the fundamental trees in the New England landscape. And yet, the maple is often lacking in traditions which descend from the British Isles simply because they don’t have these flaming beauties.

I grew up on a street lined with maple trees—it was even named for them, in fact. The autumn was  a riot of color and kids would wade through waist-deep leaf piles, jumping and swimming their way down the road.

Then there is the wonder that is maple syrup, or boiled tree blood as one friend calls it. A foodstuff that many consider a luxury, but once you’ve had the real thing, high-fructose corn syrup really just doesn’t cut it any more.

The maple, along with the oak and white pine, comprise the majority of the trees on my land. It’s such a vital part of the landscape, it’s honestly the impetus for my desire to create an ogham for my bioregion. Any system which would leave this tree out feels like it has a gaping hole to me. The Druids of old used their alphabet to record knowledge and wood lore, how can I not attempt to follow in their footsteps?

Ilex (Holly)

For week 18 of the PBP.

Well over a ton and a half of lore exists around Ilex, or holly. In many ways, I feel like it’s more appropriate to writing about this prickly plant now, when its berries are gloriously red, than back in April when I had scheduled to do this prompt.

Hollies were always a big part of my life growing up. We had several in the back yard, one “pretty” one with glossy leaves, and one dull one with matte leaves. They were what led me to be reluctant to walk barefoot, as their sharp leaves were particularly vicious in the summers once they had been dried out.

Holly brought out the martyr in my mother each holiday season. She would insist on making the traditional holly wreath for the door herself—and she always refused to wear gloves. Her hands would be scraped and bleeding by the end of the process, but it was somehow all worth it for the neighbors’ comments on how lovely it was to see a real holly wreath. (Happily now she just puts some boughs in a basket on the front door, which gives her all of the color and little of the injury.)

Dad would use holly to help start the fireplace in the winter. According to one of the old English wood lore poems, “holly burns like wax.” The mantle was another place where we always put holly during the winter; Dad always claimed in the old days it kept evil spirits from coming down the chimney.

I personally associate holly with Mars and Fire, a fiercely protective plant. A holly wand is on my list to make, for both nostalgic and aesthetic reasons. It’s one wood that I particularly look forward to carving and polishing. With any luck I’ll be able to get some from my childhood bushes!

Oregano

Week 30 of the PBP.

The next two weeks will be looking at culinary herbs that also have many uses in spellwork, namely oregano and basil. And they’re both tasty flavors for summer, too!

Oregano was the first herb that I ever used in my backyard “potions” as a kid. I loved the smell of the leaves steeping in sun-warmed water. I’d also watch in fascination as bumble bees busily gathered nectar from the flowers, observing the sacs of pollen swell on their little back legs. My mother’s oregano was a huge sprawling monster of a plant, regularly threatening to take over most of the herb beds. Sadly, after wintering over for 20 years, it lost most of its flavor. We hacked it back quite severely to make room for a more flavorful plant, but it still has a place of honor in the garden for services rendered.

Oregano (Origanum vulgare), a member of the mint family, is most famously known as a culinary herb. It complements summer dishes particularly well, and retains it flavor long after it had been dried. A cold salad of tomatoes and cucumber with oil, balsamic vinegar and oregano can be quite refreshing when the thermometer goes over 80F. Many Mediterranean cultures including Italian, Turkish, Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian, Syrian, Greek, Portuguese, and Spanish use oregano to flavor their dishes; oregano’s popularity grew in the US after World War II when “soldiers returning … brought back with them a taste for the ‘pizza herb.'”

When I worked more with the Hellenic pantheon back in college, I would use dried oregano as an incense since I could filch is easily from the dining hall!  Now I use it mainly to instill a sense of peace and safety in my home. Interestingly enough, none of my go-to herb books included oregano, so I’ll just give my own associations of Masculine, Fire, and Jupiter for magical work–burning the negative away to leave room for calm and growth. A little internet browsing for magical uses of oregano list it for everything from protection to courage to letting go of a loved one. Intuition will let you know what your particular oregano plant would like to be used for, so always let that be your guiding principle.