Did you know that the trees once had their own language? Ogham (pronounced ‘OH-am’) is a set of angular letters representing twenty trees. Also known as the Celtic Tree Alphabet or Celtic Runes, it was in use from the fourth to the seventh centuries CE; today, it is still used in divination – the letter-symbols are carved onto pieces of wood and cast on a cloth for interpretation.
According to Irish and Scottish mythology, the Ogham was invented by Ogma, the Irish god of poetry and written language. It is said that the Ogham alphabet begins with Beith (birch) because it was the first letter written by Ogma himself. I’ve written about Ogham in my 2021 book Nature’s Hidden Oracles, but just recently delved back into the lunar months associated with each tree. The source for the dates is The White Goddess, the seminal work on poetry and mythology by the English scholar Robert Graves.
The Ogham Calendar
Thirteen of 20 original Ogham letters are aligned with a 28-day lunar month and, just like zodiac signs, you can look up your Ogham sign to discover the tree associated with your date of birth. You may find you’re naturally drawn to your birth tree; my friend Chris has Huath, or hawthorn, as his birth tree. He is an artist and certainly a ‘visionary’ – and loves the wild hawthorn that grows in his back garden. Of course, there are many interpretations for the tree signs – what you have below is my take. You’ll find lots more online.
Tree Letters Dates Qualities
Beith (Birch) B, P December 24 to January 20 The Achiever
Luis (Rowan) L January 21 to February 17 The Protector
Nion (Ash) N February 18 to March 17 The Healer
Fearn (Alder) F March 18 to April 14 The Empath
Saille (Willow) S April 15 to May 12 The Communicator
Huath (Hawthorn) H May 13 to June 9 The Visionary
Duir (Oak) D June 10 to July 7 The Wisdom-Keeper
Tinne (Holly) T July 8 to August 4 The Ruler
Coll (Hazel) C August 5 to September 1 The Truth-Teller
Muin (Vine) M September 2 to September 29 The Provider
Gort (Ivy) G September 30 to October 27 The Survivor
Ngetal (Reed) NG October 28 to November 24 The Harmoniser
Ruis (Elder) R November 25 to December 22 The Change-Maker
December 23 does not have a Tree ruler. When dividing 365 days into the 28-day lunar calendar, one day is left over and can’t be officially added to another month, or that month would have 29 rather than 28 days. If your birthday falls on December 23, choose either Birch or Elder as your sign – see which you resonate with the most.
Illustration: Ogham. From the Book of Ballymote, 14th century
In Nature’s Hidden Charms, I talk about the Anglo Saxon Nine Herbs Charm, a tenth-century remedy against infection and poison. If you like a bit of specificity, here’s the list of ingredients – which were made into a paste using the juice of the crab-apple and old soap.
- Lamb’s cress (watercress)
- Cockspur grass (or betony)
- Thyme (or chervil)
But before you get a bit ready-steady-cook and, like me, wonder if you can make the whole shebang with two out of nine ingredients, FEAR NOT! What’s remarkable is the spoken part of the charm – the way the healer talks to the herbs. Here’s a verse from the Nine Herbs Charm – these are the words the healer speaks over the herb to activate it:
“Remember, Chamomile, what you made known
What you accomplished at Alford (battle)
That never a man should lose his life from infection,
After Chamomile was prepared for his food.”
The charmer speaks directly to each herb in the recipe, recalling its past noble deeds as if talking to an old friend. And you can use this approach to create your own healing charms, too.
Making a Simple Lavender Charm
Here’s a simple lavender charm for harmony, addressing the plant directly and acknowledging its power to heal. (Of course, do adapt this and use your own experiences of your herbs to create your own incantation.) Hold your lavender (or other herb you feel drawn to) and recite:
“Lavender, you are known for serenity
Grant my wish for peace and harmony
So mote it be.”
Say this three times. Place the herb on your altar or in a charm bottle (the one shown here was purchased online, and the miniature crystals are amethyst for healing and self-connection). Carry the lavender charm bottle in your purse or pocket, or place on your altar. You can adapt this charm to any herb – and talk to your plants to create a connection for healing energy.
I do love this Seven: a mysterious figure conjuring seven chalices from a cloud. This, Tarotistas, is the card of fantasy, imagination, self-delusion and distraction. And the mystery man, seen only in silhouette, presents all manner of beguiling things – from a cupful of jewels and fantasy castle to a figure cloaked in a white cloth. In fact, as a friend recently commented, the Seven of Cups is a bit like Instagram – everything’s up there for all to see, but you’re not too sure if it’s real.
We see the idea of hidden things and the unknown in the other Sevens, too (after all, Seven symbolises mysteries…):
Seven of Wands: The hidden opponents. Who is brandishing the wands? We see only the upper part – no hands or faces. The male figure can’t see what or whom is challenging him.
Seven of Swords: The sneaky thief. And the tents, too, symbolise things unknown; we can’t see their occupants. Again, like the Seven of Wands, there are signs of activity – but no physical bodies appears on the cards.
Seven of Pentacles: What’s hiding in the bushes? Are there more coins to come – or a hidden adversary?
In readings, the Seven of Cups card comes up frequently, particularly during our time of covid. Those I’ve read for over the past year have often said that this Seven illustrates their bewilderment. They need to do something – anything – to get a situation moving but the information is sketchy and the picture incomplete (looking at the Rider Waite Smith card, you’ll see that some of the cup’s symbols are in outline, and not coloured in). So, there are many possibilities. Are they real? And what should you do? In short, we need to land a cup, to focus on one thing and direct our energy there, rather than be distracted by all that glisters.
To take back personal power in this situation, we make a shift from the world of the hidden magician to the true Magician, card 1, who uses his resources to manifest what he wants. The Magician has his wand: we have our tarot cards.
Take your Seven of Cups and place it face up before you. From the list below, pull out the associated major arcana cards and place them around it, so you have the Seven of Cups in the centre and seven majors (one for each cup symbol). Here are the major cards that I’ve linked with the seven symbols:
- The shrouded figure. This represents Christ consciousness, which I associate with card XIX The Sun. The sun echoes the ancient sun-gods, the forerunners of Christ. Otherwise, you might choose XII The Hanged Man – or the wounded Odin on the Tree of Life, a Nordic echo of Christ on the cross.
- The castle. A E Waite refers to this as ‘the fantastic spirit’ which I see in card VII The Chariot.
- The snake. This suggests the snake of temptation on VI The Lovers.
- The salamander. This signifies the forked tongue – or lies. For this, I’ve allocated XV The Devil. The salamander is linked with fire, which we also see in the Devil’s torch.
- The victory wreath. You’ll see a skeleton on the cup, so together the symbols suggest beginnings and endings. Here, I’ve chosen XXI The World (the wreath) and XIII Death.
- The jewels: Abundance, and therefore III The Empress.
- The face. This is a representation of Archangel Michael, so the associated card is XIV Temperance, which also features Michael.
So now you’ll have a selection of major arcana cards: The Sun (or Hanged Man), The Chariot, The Lovers, The Devil, The World, Death, The Empress and Temperance.
Shuffle them and ask:
What can I do to find direction?
How can I land this idea/job/project?
Choose one card. This is your guidance.
The main image shows cards from The Universal Waite, US Games Systems, Inc.
Do you recall the day of your birth? A neat little fortune-telling rhyme goes:
Monday’s child is fair of face
Tuesday’s child is full of grace
Wednesday’s child is full of woe
Thursday’s child has far to go
Friday’s child is loving and giving
Saturday’s child works hard for a living
And the child that was born on the Sabbath day
is bonny, blithe*, good and gay.
I loved this as a child, because I was born on a Friday which made me a rather lovely person, if the rhyme was anything to go by. The rhyme probably originated in the 1500s. But where do the day meanings coming from? With my tarot-reader’s curiosity, my first thoughts drifted to those Week Ahead tarot spreads which follow the classical planets – Mars, Venus, Mercury, Saturn, Jupiter, the Sun and Moon (the Sun and Moon were classified as planets then – you can find the Week Ahead spread in The Ultimate Guide to Tarot). So let’s see if the planetary and tarot-card associations match the rhyme:
Monday Moon Fair of face Planet of inner life
Tuesday Mars Full of grace Planet of war
Wednesday Mercury Full of woe Planet of communication
Thursday Jupiter Far to go Planet of expansion
Friday Venus Loving and giving Planet of love
Saturday Saturn Works hard for a living Planet of time and restriction
Sunday Sun Bonny, blithe Planet of life and self
* In some versions, ‘wise’
Some alignments work perfectly. Sunday’s happy child is favoured by the Sun, planet of optimism, which we see in XIX The Sun. Friday, Venus’ day, is just right for the child born on Friday – loving and giving, just like our tarot Empress, who bears a Venus glyph on the Rider-Waite-Smith versions of her card. Saturday’s child works hard for a living neatly chimes with Saturn – the taskmaster planet whose influence brings slow, hard work. The World card is ruled by Saturn, expressing the work and culmination of the journey through the major arcana cycle. Thursday’s child has ‘far to go’, which links to Jupiter, planet of expansion, education and development. No surprises there. And Jupiter’s tarot card, X The Wheel of Fortune, reflects Jupiter’s reputation as a bringer of luck – just as the Wheel turns, bringing good fortune (at least in the upright position in a spread). Monday’s child is ‘fair of face’. In contemporary astrology, the moon represents the interior rather than the exterior – inner life, intuition and dreams. In Greek mythology the moon relates to the Greek goddess Selene and the Roman Diana, both known for their beauty. And with a dose of enchanting moonlight, I can be bewitched enough not to glitch too much on this one.
At first glance, Tuesday looks like an anomaly. How does Tuesday’s ‘child being ‘full of grace’ relate to Mars, planet of war? Given the age of the rhyme – and its Christian theme – ‘grace’ may have been meant in the Christian context of ‘unmerited favour of God toward man’: a warrior’s prayer for God’s favour in battle. Mars’ tarot card is XVI The Tower, also known as the House of God, or the call to surrender to a higher power. I can just about countenance this. But what of Wednesday’s child of woe and its association with Mercury, planet of communication?
Mercury is the planetary ruler of I The Magician in tarot – one of the most energising and positive cards of the major arcana. Here’s the possible reason it’s literally woeful (bear with – I’m just having a sip of tea and a biscuit.) If we look at the etymology of Wednesday as ‘Woden’s Day’, we find Woden/Odin, the Norse deity of magic, wisdom, poetry and war. To me, it seems that ‘woe’ may have been short for ‘Woden’ , but we got landed with ‘woe’. Which is pretty miserable.
Working on this basis, I reckon that Wednesday’s child is not full of woe, but full of magic. And I’m also thinking of generations of children who misguidedly believed that they were destined to be, well, a bit dour, little knowing that the true meaning of their day of birth was rather more exciting. Woden/Odin spent nine days and nights suspended from Yggdrasill, the World Ash, a spiritual initiation which gave him the gift of reading the runes (and he was known as the ‘father of charms’). The Magician card shows the Greek deity Hermes (the Roman Mercury), who travelled between the realm of humans and the realm of the gods. As a messenger, Hermes was a god of communication, magic and divination. Now this diminution of Woden may have been deliberate (the Church, seeking to suppress our Pagan ways) or one of those slippages that no one thought to correct. But I’m going to begin doing that at a micro level.
My younger sister was born on a Wednesday and I remember that when she cried we’d say ‘Full of woe!’ This happened a lot as we lived near the beach and she hated sand – there’s many a picture of her making sandcastles with a pretty woeful expression. Thankfully she got over her dislike of the beach, and her woe. Maybe I should tell her now that she, and anyone born on a Wednesday was never a child of woe at all, but Woden’s child – full of abracadabra.
Main image: The Magician from Tarot of the Heart, Liz Dean/Oliver Burston