The Thirteen Trees
of the
Ogham Moon Calendar

thro

The Five Trees
of Solstice
and Equinox

The Vowels

through

The Half Year
Ruling Trees

through

The Sacred One

 

 

 

                                                                 

 

 

 

                                                                             

Original artwork © Ruby Clark 2011

" Many people feel a powerful kinship to trees, and their welfare holds a special place in our minds and hearts. In a time of unparalleled environmental destruction, the care and preservation of trees is one of the most emotionally charged issues facing us today."

from 'Sacred Trees' Nathaniel Altman - Sterling Publishing Co.Inc 2000

 

    The original ballad - 'Battle of the Trees' or 'Cad Goddeu'  - is found in the 14th century medieval Welsh book of poetry 'The Book of Taliesin'.  The bard Taliesin lived towards the end of the 6th century - it also contains poems which date to the 10th century.

   In the Cad Goddeu, The sorcerer Gwydion enchants and enlists trees to fight as part of his army and each is listed with its own battle traits. The poem in its original is fragmented, full of riddles and has been subjected to a wide range of interpretation and speculation.  

In the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire

 

Most famous of these is the work by Robert Graves in his scholarly book 'The White Goddess' first published by Farra, Straus and Giroux in 1948. Graves' conclusion that the ballad referred each tree to a specific letter of the alphabet - and further back to a specific Ogham symbol for that letter, relating to the calendar of lunar months - has caused much controversy.

  It is this calendar and tree association however (see left), that is used in many mystical groups and in spiritual working today. Many hundreds of years before Graves, the Druids were indeed honouring the wisdom of the trees, and some of these trees have been proved to be associated with the most ancient letters of the Ogham. 

   Looking at the display in the 'Stone Corridor' at the University of Cork - (see more on my Introduction to Ogham here) - a question about the original letter names is asked ...

                         'Were all the letter-names the names of trees?'

Here, after years of research is their answer - and who are we to argue ? ...

"Late medieval tradition claims that they were, but the earliest records show that many of the names were not names of trees. the name of the letter G for example is Gort - 'field'. M is Muin - 'neck' and Z is Straif - 'sulphur'.

The genuine tree-names are B, Beith - 'birch tree',  V/F, Fearn - 'alder tree', S, Sail - 'willow tree', D, Duir - 'oak tree', C, Coll - 'hazel tree' and  O, Onn - 'ash tree'."

   Even this small snippet is both revealing and confusing - to us, in a post Druid and post Robert Graves era, the ash tree is N, Nion, whereas O, Onn is the gorse!
(Ref also: Auraicept na N-Éces which contains the Ogham Tract from The Book of Ballymote where Onn is 'furze or ash'.)

            However ...

   As a modern vehicle for reverence, learning and wonder about our native, pioneer trees and shrubs, the Ogham Tree Wisdom and Lunar Calendar should not be dismissed lightly. The ancient folklore associated with each tree, and its benefits to the mortal world is undisputed.
Sadly, its historical veracity can probably never be proved.

 

  Below is a lovely reading of the Graves poem with a visual interpretation, made in Machinima, by Celestial Elf, who suggested that it might enhance this page - as indeed it does! And with whose kind permission I use it here.

 Celestial Elf says in an introduction to his work-
" I have set Taliesin's Battle Of The Trees within two other pieces of writing,
firstly Tacitus' report of the Roman invasion of the Druid island of Angelsey,
followed by another poem by Taliesin which had been mixed in with The Battle of The Trees in a method of concealment to hide the poems meaning from those without understanding."

You can read a lot more about the poem and his film making
on the Celestial Elf Blog 'The Dance of Life'.




 

  Here is the Robert Graves interpretation of 'Cad Goddeu' 'The Battle of the Trees'

     v 1 - 12

The tops of the beech tree
Have sprouted of late,
Are changed and renewed
From their withered state.

When the beech prospers,
Though spells and litanies
The oak tops entangle,
There is hope for the trees.

I have plundered the fern,
Through all secrets I spy,
Old Map ap Mathonwy
Knew no more than I.

For with nine sorts of faculty
God has gifted me:
I am fruit of fruits gathered
From nine sorts of tree -

Plum, quince, whortle, mulberry
Raspberry, pear,
Black cherry and white
With the sorb in me share.

From my seat at Fefynedd,
A city that is strong,
I watched the trees and green things
Hastening along.

Retreating fron happiness
They would fain be set
In forms of the chief letters
Of the alphabet.

Wayfarers wondered,
Warriors were dismayed
At renewal of conflicts
Such as Gwydion made:

Under the tongue root
A fight most dread,
And another raging
Behind, in the head.

The alders in the front line
Began the affray.
Willow and rowan-tree
Were tardy in array.

The holly, dark green,
Made a resolute stand;
He is armed with many spear points
Wounding the hand.

With foot-beat of the swift oak
Heaven and earth rung;
'Stout Guardian of the Door',
His name in every tongue.


     v 13 - 24

Great was the gorse in battle,
And the ivy at his prime;
The hazel was arbiter
At this charmed time.

Uncouth and savage was the fir,
Cruel the ash tree -
Turns not aside a foot-breadth,
Staright at the heart runs he.

The birch. though very noble,
Armed himself but late:
A sign not of cowardice
But of high estate.

The heath gave consolation
To the toil-spent folk,
The long enduring poplars
In battle much broke.

Some of them were cast away
On the field of fight
Because of holes torn in them
By the enemy's might.

Very wrathful was the vine
Whose henchmen are the elms;
I exalt him mightily
To rulers of realms.

Strong chieftains were the blackthorn
With his ill fruit,
The unbeloved whitethorn (hawthorn)
Who wears the same suit.

The swift-pursuing reed,
The broom with his brood,
And the furze but ill-behaved
Until he is subdued.

The dower-scattering yew
Stood glum at the fight's fringe,
With the elder slow to burn
Amid fires that singe.

And the blessed wild apple
Laughing in pride
From the Gorchan of Maeldrew,
By the rock side.

In shelter linger
Privet and woodbine,
Inexperienced in warfare,
And the courtly pine.

But I although slighted
Because I was not big,
Fought, trees in your array
On the field of Goddeau Brig.


The Book of Taliesin, p13 - national Library of Wales
'The Book of Taliesin', page 13       .  Now kept in the National Library of Wales, Aberystwyth