Evergreens and holly (genus Ilex) are traditionally used to decorate during the holidays. Although many simply enjoy the plants for their fragrance and holiday colors, the meaning of these plants goes deeper for others, including pagans. Historically, pagans had — and still have — specific beliefs about the power and symbolism of both evergreens and holly, and some still use the plants as decor in accordance with those beliefs.
Evergreen — Always Green
Evergreens are loosely defined as plants that retain their foliage and remain green year-round. Usually, the term refers to coniferous trees — trees that have needles or needle-like foliage, but it can refer to any plant that stays green all winter long, including holly. Today, evergreens are valued for their practical uses — as windbreaks, hedges and for use as Christmas trees. Pagans used them for more spiritual reasons.
Pagan Meaning of Evergreen
In some countries, it was believed that evergreens would keep evil out of the home — evil spirits and ghosts, and evil in the form of illnesses. For this reason, evergreen boughs were often cut down and hung over doorways and inside the home. Pagans also believed that the green branches represented everlasting life. Druids used evergreen branches to decorate their temples for this very reason, according to History.com. The green of the branches helped people to get through the long winter by having hope in the warmth and food that would come in the spring.
Holly — Pretty and Prickly
vary widely in leaf shape and appearance. Although there are over 400 species (Ilex opaca is the scientific name of American holly), the most popular for use during the holidays are those that produce bright red berries, which historically were seen by pagans as masculine plants even though it is the female plants that produce the fruit. Holly plants are generally hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5 through 9, although this can vary by species. Most popular hollies are hardy in USDA zones 7 through 9.
Pagan Meaning of Holly
Holly has a more specific meaning for pagans. Historically, pagans believed that like evergreens, holly wards off evil spirits. They also believed that holly increased fertility. In addition to bringing in holly boughs to decorate the home and increase fertility, holly was also often planted outdoors around the house to keep out evil spirits.
The end of November and you would think that all the wildlife has vanished from the landscape , however you only need to take an early morning walk to realize that there are lots of wild creatures still around.
This morning on a walk through the hills near Kilmoganny, county Kilkenny, I was accompanied by this little Robin who hopped from tree to tree in front of me 🙂
Here is a little folklore about the Robin from an Irish point of view …….
If the soul and symbol of the old sun and the Oak King was the Wren, the Robin represented the new sun. The wren was said to hide in the Ivy, the Robin in the Holly. The Pagan Neolithic Festival of the birth of the new sun, symbolized by the Robin, was at the Winter Solstice (21st December). The Robin (the new sun) killed his father the Wren (the old sun) and that is how he got his red breast, ie, from the blood of his father. A Robin coming into a house was supposed to be a sign that someone was going to die there in the near future. Despite this association with death, the Robin was praised for being the only bird capable of singing all the notes of the musical scale. And furthermore, the Robin can sing for half an hour without repeating the melody, unlike the other birds.
In modern-day Wicca and Paganism, there is a good deal of focus on the four elements – Earth, Air, Fire, and Water. A few traditions of Wicca also include a fifth element, which is Spirit or Self.
The concept is hardly a new one. A Greek philosopher named Empedocles is credited with the cosmogenic theory of these four elements being the root of all existing matter. Unfortunately, much of Empedocles’ writing has been lost, but his ideas remain with us today and are widely accepted by most Pagans and Wiccans.
Each of the elements is associated with traits and meanings, as well as with directions on the compass. The following directional associations are for the Northern hemisphere; readers in the Southern hemisphere should use the opposite correspondences.
Fire is a purifying, masculine energy, associated with the South, and connected to strong will and energy. Fire both creates and destroys, and symbolizes the fertility of the God. Fire can heal or harm, and can bring about new life or destroy the old and worn. In Tarot, Fire is connected to the Wand suit. For color correspondences, use red and orange for Fire
The element of Fire is both creative and destructive, its qualities are Brightness, Thinness and Motion and its mode is Active. It is fire that we and our ancestors used to warm our homes, we use it to cook our food, we sit around it to ward of the darkness of night, and it fuels our passions. Fire, unlike the other elements, does not exist in a natural state. Its physical form can only take place by consuming some other element. Fire is the transformer, converting the energy of other objects into other forms: heat, light, ash, and smoke.
To feel the manifestations of this power, go out on on sunny day and feel the warmth and light of the Sun, hear the crackling of logs and smell of smoke from a burning fire. As you gaze into the transformational flame of a candle, immerse yourself in the energy of Fire. Fire is the natural element of animals and mankind, and they “have, in their natures, a most fiery force, and also spring from celestial sources.”
In order to gain benefit from the energy of this element, we need to control Fire’s destructive aspect. When we light a candle, we are not only calling upon the energy of Fire, we are also limiting its power. This destructive aspect should not be seen as negative, forest fires, actually help, clearing away underbrush and encouraging seeds lying dormant within the Earth to burst forth into new life.
Fire is a masculine element, its aspects being change, passion, creativity, motivation, will power, drive and sensuality. It is sexuality, both physical and spiritual. Fire is used in spells, rituals and candle magick for healing, purification, sex, breaking bad habits or destroying illness and disease. Fire is the element of authority and leadership.
The properties of Fire, Heat, Making things fruitful, Celestial light, Giving Life to all things. Its opposite the Infernal Fire are a parching heat, consuming all things and darkness, making all things barren.
Each of the four cardinal elements – earth, air, fire and water – can be incorporated into magical practice and ritual. Depending on your needs and intent, you may find yourself drawn to one of these elements more so that the others.
Connected to the South, Fire is a purifying, masculine energy, and connected to strong will and energy. Fire both creates and destroys, and symbolizes the fertility of the God. Fire can heal or harm, and can bring about new life or destroy the old and worn. In Tarot, Fire is connected to the Wand suit (although in some interpretations, it is associated with Swords). For color correspondences, use red and orange for Fire associations.
Let’s look at some of the many magical myths and legends surrounding fire:
Fire Spirits & Elemental Beings:
In many magical traditions, fire is associated with various spirits and elemental beings. For instance, the salamander is an elemental entity connected with the power of fire – and this isn’t your basic garden lizard, but a magical, fantastical creature. Other fire-associated beings include the phoenix – the bird that burns itself to death and then is reborn from its own ashes – and dragons, known in many cultures as fire-breathing destroyers.
The Magic of Fire:
Fire has been important to mankind since the beginning of time. It was not only a method of cooking one’s food, but it could mean the difference between life and death on a frigid winter night. To keep a fire burning in the hearth was to ensure that one’s family might survive another day. Fire is typically seen as a bit of a magical paradox, because in addition to its role as destroyer, it can also create and regenerate. The ability to control fire – to not only harness it, but use it to suit our own needs – is one of the things that separates humans from animals. However, according to ancient myths, this has not always been the case.
Fire appears in legends going back to the classical period. The Greeks told the story of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods in order to give it to man – thus leading to the advancement and development of civilization itself. This theme, of the theft of fire, appears in a number of myths from different culture. A Cherokee legend tells of Grandmother Spider, who stole fire from the sun, hid it in a clay pot, and gave it to the People so they could see in the darkness. A Hindu text known as the Rig Veda related the story of Mātariśvan, the hero who stole fire that had been hidden away from the eyes of man.
Fire is sometimes associated with deities of trickery and chaos – probably because while we may think we have domination over it, ultimately it is the fire itself that is in control. Fire is often connected with Loki, the Norse god of chaos, and the Greek Hephaestus (who appears in Roman legend as Vulcan) the god of metalworking, who demonstrates no small amount of deceit.
Fire and Folktales:
Fire appears in a number of folktales from around the world, many of which have to do with magical superstitions. In parts of England, the shape of cinders which jumped out of the hearth often foretold a major event – a birth, a death, or the arrival of an important visitor.
In parts of the Pacific Islands, hearths were guarded by small statues of old women. The old woman, or hearth mother, protected the fire and prevented it from burning out.
The Devil himself appears in some fire-related folktales. In parts of Europe, it is believed that if a fire won’t draw properly, it’s because the Devil is lurking nearby. In other areas, people are warned not to toss bread crusts into the fireplace, because it will attract the Devil (although there’s no clear explanation of what the Devil might want with burnt bread crusts).
Japanese children are told that if they play with fire, they will become chronic bed-wetters – a perfect way to prevent pyromania!
A German folktale claims that fire should never be given away from the house of a woman within the first six weeks after childbirth. Another tale says that if a maid is starting a fire from tinder, she should use strips from mens’ shirts as tinder – cloth from women’s garments will never catch a flame.
The Pagan element of Water and the pagan Irish Goddess : Boann and the Irish God : Nechtan
Water, is of a great necessity, without it nothing can live. Only earth and water can bring forth a living soul. Such is the greatness of water that spiritual regeneration cannot be done without it.
Thales of Miletus concluded that water was the beginning of all things and the first of all elements and most potent because of its mastery over the rest. Pliny said “Water swallow up the earth, extinguishes the flame, ascends on high, and by stretching forth as clouds challenges the heavens for their own, and the same falling down, becomes the cause of all things that grow in the earth.
Water is a cleansing, healing, psychic, and loving element. It is the feeling of friendship and love that pours over us when we are with our family, friends and loved ones. When we swim it is water that supports us, when we are thirsty, it is water the quenches our thirst, another manifestation of this element is the rainstorms that drench us, or the dew formed on plants after the sun has set.
The power of the energy of Water, can be felt by tasting pure spring water, moving you hand through a stream, lake, pool, or bowl full of water. You can feel its cool liquidity; it’s soft and loving touch, this motion and fluidity is the quality of Air within Water. This Water energy is also contained within ourselves, our bodies being mostly composed of Water.
As well as being vital for life, within the energy of this element is contained the essence of love. Love is the underlying reason for all magic. Water is love.
Water is a feminine element, it also the element of emotion and subconscious, of purification, intuition, mysteries of the self, compassion and family. It is psychic ability; water can be used as a means of scrying or as an object for meditation. Water is important in spells and rituals of friendship, marriage, happiness, fertility, healing, pleasure, psychic abilities and spells involving mirrors.
Ref : Pagan elements of Water
Irish Goddess : Boann, Irish God : Nechtan
Celtic (Irish) Goddess of the River Boyne and mother of Angus Mac Og by the Dagda. She was the wife of Nechtan, a god of the water. Likewise, Boann was herself a water-goddess, and one of her myths concerns the water. According to legend, there was a sacred well (Sidhe Nechtan) that contained the source of knowledge. All were forbidden to approach this well, with the exception of the god Nechtan (as was noted, Boann’s husband) and his servants. Boann ignored the warnings, and strode up to the sacred well, thus violating the sanctity of the area. For this act, she was punished, and the waters of the defiled well swelled and were transformed into a raging river, a river that pursued her. In some versions, she was drowned; while in others, she managed to outrun the currents. In either case, this water became the river that was known henceforth as the Boyne, and Boann thereafter became the presiding deity.
Another aspect of the myth of Boann is that she bore Angus. She and the All father of the Tuatha De Danaan, the Dagda, engaged in an illicit affair that resulted in the birth of this god of love. However, since both Boann and the Dagdha wished to keep their rendezvous a secret, they used their divine powers to cause the nine month gestation period to last but a single day – or so it seemed, for the sun was frozen in the sky for those nine months, never setting and never rising. On this magical day, Angus emerged into the world. She held the powers of healing. Variants: Boannan, Boyne.
Mighty Oak Tree
By : Russell Sivey
The mighty oak tree sits near
Orange and red leaves
Looking like it is on fire
They clog up the eaves
Beautiful to see Sight
unlike any around In awe completely
The Oak tree in Pagan Mythology
An oak is a tree or shrub in the genus Quercus, of the beech family Fagaceae, having approximately 600 extant species.
The Pagan world gave the Oak tree the following properties :
Planet: Jupiter and Mars
Symbolism: Sovereignty, rulership, power,
Strength & Endurance, Generosity & Protection, Justice & Nobility, Honesty & Bravery
Stone: Diamond, Aventuring
Birds: Oriole, Wren
Deity: The Dagda, The Green Man, Janus, Diana, Cybele, Hecate, Pan
Sabbat: Summer Solstice (Litha)
Folk Names: Jove’s Nuts, Juglans
The medicinal park of the Oak is its bark, because of the strong astringent properties. Internally as a tea it helps fight diarrhea and dysentery. Externally it can be used to treat hemorrhoids, inflamed gums, wounds, and eczema. The tannin found in oak can help reduce minor blistering by boiling a piece of the bark in a small amount of water until a strong solution is reached, and applying to the affected area. To cure frostbite, American folk medicine called for collecting oak leaves that had remained on the tree all through the winter. These leaves were boiled to obtain a solution in which the frostbitten extremities would soak for an hour each day for a week.
Dreaming of resting under an oak tree means you will have a long life and wealth. Climbing the tree in your dream means a relative will have a hard time of it in the near future. Dreaming of a fallen oak means the loss of love. If you catch a falling oak leaf you shall have no colds all winter. If someone does get sick, warm the house with an oakwood fire to shoo away the illness. Carry an acorn against illnesses and pains, for immortality and youthfulness, and to increase fertility and sexual potency.
Carrying any piece of the oak draws good luck to you (remember to ask permission and show gratitude.)
Oak twigs bound together with red thread into a solar cross or a pentagram will make a mighty protective talisman for the home, car, or in your desk or locker at work.
“Oaken twigs and strings of red Deflect all harm, gossip and dread.”
Celtic Moon sign – Oak Moon
The oak tree endures what others cannot. It remains strong through challenges, and is known for being almost immortal, as is often attested to by its long life and ability to survive fire, lightning strikes, and devastation. If you were born under this sign, you have the strength of character and purpose to endure, too – no matter what your challenges. Direct your energies wisely, make sure your your risks are well-calculated, and you’ll overcome whatever seemingly “impossible” quests are sent to you.
Written by Kim Rogers-Gallagher, and Llewellyn’s Witches’ Datebook 2000
The Oak moon falls during a time when the trees are beginning to reach their full blooming stages. The mighty Oak is strong, powerful, and typically towering over all of its neighbors. The Oak King rules over the summer months, and this tree was sacred to the Druids. The Celts called this month Duir, which some scholars believe to mean “door”, the root word of “Druid”. The Oak is connected with spells for protection and strength, fertility, money and success, and good fortune. Carry an acorn in your pocket when you go to an interview or business meeting; it will be bring you good luck. If you catch a falling Oak leaf before it hits the ground, you’ll stay healthy the following year.
Growth and fertility spells work best at this time of the year. Focus on building and consolidation your wisdom, endurance and security.
Lesson of the Oak
from The Wisdom of Trees
by Jane Gifford
The oak represents courage and endurance and the protective power of faith. The tree’s noble presence and nurturing habit reassured ancient peoples that, with the good will of their gods, their leader, and their warriors, they could prevail against all odds. As the Tree of the Dagda, the oak offers protection and hospitality without question, although its true rewards are only apparent to the honest and brave. The ancient Celts deplored lies and cowardice.
To be judged mean spirited could result in exclusion from the clan, which was one of the most shameful and most feared of all possible punishments. Like the oak, we would do well to receive without prejudice all those who seek our help, sharing what we have without resentment or reservation. The oak reminds us all that the strength to prevail, come what may, lies in an open mind and a generous spirit. Inflexibility, however, is the oak’s one weakness and the tree is prone to lose limbs in storms.
The oak therefore carries the warning that stubborn strength that resists will not endure and may break under strain.
The Oak Fairy
by Teresa Moorey
Oak is one of the most sacred trees, traditionally prized by the Celts and Druids. The oak fairy is very powerful, and imparts strength and endurance to any who stay within its aura.
Each oak tree is a very metropolis of fairies, and each acorn has its own sprite. Bringing one into the house is a way to enhance contact with the fairy realm. Oak beams are often used to make doors, but the tree itself is a great portal to the other realms.
The oak is associated with many gods all over the world, notably Zeus and Thor. In sacred groves of oak, the Goddess was believed to impart her wisdom through oracles. The oak has sheltered many a king and hero, in myth and real life. The oak spirit is distinct from fairies, and may become very angry if trees are felled or wildlife harmed.
The oak fairy brings courage and a stout heart, necessary to brave the challenges in this world and to journey in the Otherworld. Bearing strength from the heart of the earth, oak fairy can bring steadiness and a deep joy that endures through all.
By : Bernard Shaw
I took an acorn and put it in a pot.
I then covered it with earth, not a lot.
Great pleasure was mine watching it grow.
The first budding green came ever so slow.
I watered my plant twice a week
I knew I would transplant it down by the creek.
One day it will be a giant oak,
To shield me from the sun a sheltering cloak.
Lovers will carve their initials in the bark,
An arrow through a heart they will leave their mark.
It will shelter those caught in a fine summers rain,
Under its leafy bows joy will be again.
Creatures of the wilds will claim it for their own,
Squirrels will reside here in their own home.
Birds will build nests and raise their young,
They will sing melodies a chorus well sung.
Under it’s branches grass will grow,
Here and there a wild flower it’s head will show.
My oak tree for hundreds of years will live.
Perhaps the most important thing I had to give.
The Cult of the Green Man
Of all the pagan gods, the woodland spirit variously called the Green Man or Jack-in-the-Green is one that has lived on the longest in folklore.
The Green Man is seen mainly as a symbol of spring and the rebirth of the earth after winter.Carvings of Green Men can often be seen in churches, usually in the form of faces with branches and vines sprouting from nose and mouth.
The Magic of Trees
Stukeleys DruidIn Britain, the Druids worshipped such trees as the oak and the rowan and attributed great power to them. When people touch wood to ward off misfortune, this comes from the times when guardian spirits were supposed to live in trees. Touching the tree was a mark of respect to the spirit, as well as a plea for good fortune.
Connected to the North,
Earth is considered the ultimate feminine element, Earth is fertile and stable, associated with the Goddess. The planet itself is a ball of life, and as the Wheel of the Year turns, we can watch all the aspects of life take place in the Earth: birth, life, death, and finally rebirth. The Earth is nurturing and stable, solid and firm, full of endurance and strength. In color correspondences, both green and brown connect to the Earth, for fairly obvious reasons! In Tarot readings, the Earth is related to the suit of Pentacles or Coins.
Mother goddess is a term used to refer to a goddess who represents motherhood, fertility, creation, or who embodies the bounty of the Earth. When equated with the Earth or the natural world such goddesses are sometimes referred to as Mother Earth or as the Earth Mother.
The Irish goddess Anu, sometimes known as Danu, has an impact as a mother goddess, judging from the Dá Chích Anann near Killarney, County Kerry. Irish literature names the last and most favored generation of deities as “the people of Danu” (Tuatha De Danann). The Welsh have a similar figure called Dôn who is often equated with Danu and identified as a mother goddess. Sources for this character date from the Christian period, however, so she is referred to simply as a “mother of heroes” in the Mabinogion. The character’s (assumed) origins as a goddess are obscured.
The Celts of Gaul worshipped a goddess known as Dea Matrona (“divine mother goddess”) who was associated with the Marne River. Similar figures known as the Matres (Latin for “mothers”) are found on altars in Celtic as well as Germanic areas of Europe.
In many cultures, earth spirits are beings that are tied to the land and plant kingdom. Typically, these beings are associated with another realm, the forces of nature that inhabit a particular physical space, and landmarks like rocks and trees.
In Celtic mythology, the realm of the Fae is known to exist in a parallel space with the land of man. The Fae are part of the Tuatha de Danaan, and live underground. It’s important to watch out for them, because they’re known for their ability to trick mortals into joining them.
Gnomes feature prominently in European legend and lore. Although it’s believed that their name was coined by a Swiss alchemist named Paracelsus, these elemental beings have long been associated in one form or another with the ability to move underground.
Likewise, elves often appear in stories about the land. Jacob Grimm collected a number of stories about elves while compiling his book Teutonic Mythology, and says that elves appear in the Eddas as supernatural, magic-using beings. They appear in a number of old English and Norse legends.