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  • Writer's pictureChristine Dorman

A Magical Celtic Spring

Updated: Mar 24


Spring has arrived and the landscape is coming to life with color and Celtic magic.
Spring has arrived and the landscape is coming to life with color and Celtic magic.

This past Tuesday, March 19th, was the Spring Equinox. In the Western world, this equinox marks the first day of spring. On the Celtic calendar, spring began back on February 1st and we’re now in mid-spring. In either case, spring is a time of renewal, new beginnings, and growth. It’s a time for hope and possibilities. And, in Celtic folklore, spring is bursting with magical possibilities. Today’s post looks at the magic associated with spring trees, flowers, and herbs.


The Power of Trees

    

The importance of trees in Celtic culture cannot be overstated. Just the fact that Celtic “astrology” is based on trees, not stars, should give you a clue to their significance to the ancient Celts. The druids divided trees into classes from common to royal to sacred. Cutting down certain trees, such as the hazel, was punishable by death. I’m not kidding. Disturbing certain trees simply was inadvisable because they were guarded by faeries. When I say “inadvisable,” I mean if you messed with these trees, you were asking for BIG TROUBLE! Even today in Ireland people take care not to cut down or disturb “fairy trees” for fear of the consequences.

    

Three trees that blossom in spring and are sacred to the faeries are the hawthorn, blackthorn, and rowan trees. Folklore about these trees is abundant. Here’s just a sampling.


Rowan: Plant them near your house as, according to the lore, they are highly protective. Rowans are said to protect against lightning and fire. They also are reputed to protect you from witchcraft and enchantments. According to Irish tradition, you should place the rowan’s beautiful white flowers on your windowsills and doorsteps to prevent evil spirits from entering the house.


Stand with Ukraine.
Stand with Ukraine.

Hawthorn: a highly sacred and magical tree, the hawthorn is thought to guard the entrance to the faerie world. At Beltane (May 1st), the Irish hang ribbons or colored cloth from the limbs of this tree—carefully and with the greatest respect—and ask the faeries who guard it to grant them a wish. The rest of the year, it’s best to leave this tree alone. Its berries are edible and, according to folklore, contain healing and protective magic, but never pick the berries off the tree. Only collect berries that have fallen to the ground. Even then, folklore advises, it’s best to ask permission of the tree’s guardian before taking the berries.


Blackthorn: these trees are guarded by moon faeries (the Lunantisidhe) who respond ferociously to any human disturbing their tree, especially on the feasts of Beltane (May 1st) and Samhain (Nov. 1st) So, make sure you wish on a hawthorn, not a blackthorn!

    

This thorn tree is associated with the dark half of the year and is said to be a keeper of dark secrets. It is also associated with two formidable goddesses: the Morrigan, the Irish goddess of war, and the Cailleach, the Celtic goddess of winter. According to Irish folklore, the Cailleach brings on winter by striking the ground with her staff made from a blackthorn limb.


Be careful not to be pricked by this tree’s thorns as the wound may turn septic. Also, it’s said that if you wander too far into a blackthorn thicket, you may become lost or you may find yourself in the Otherworld!

    

Strangely, despite its sinister reputation, the blackthorn is associated with protection. In folk magic, the berries are used to bring hope in the face of despair, and it can help one overcome obstacles. Folklore recommends carrying a blackthorn stick if you go out at night. This, according to the lore, will protect you from those who wish to harm you. It also protects against faerie mischief. Traditionally, shillelaghs are made from blackthorn wood. These iconic Irish sticks are now primarily sold as walking sticks, but they traditionally were used for conking your enemies over the head! So, again, the association with protection.

    

Chamomile, roses, sage, and other flowers are not just beautiful; they're magical!
Chamomile, roses, sage, and other flowers are not just beautiful; they're magical!

But how do you obtain the berries and sticks when these trees are so fiercely guarded by faeries? Irish folklore says that the moon faeries leave the tree on nights when there’s a full moon to celebrate in honor of the moon goddess. So, that’s the best time to pick berries and pick up tree limbs that have fallen to the ground (never cut this tree!). But I wouldn’t risk it if I were you. My recommendation is to buy the berries and shillelaghs. Let the harvester be the one who gets cursed with madness by the tree’s guardians.


Herbal Magic

    

Spring is a time for planting seeds and the resulting plants bring contribute more than color and, in many cases, nutrition for the gardener. According to Celtic folklore, these herbs provide medicine and magic. Below is a list of herbs that can be planted in the spring and the magical qualities folklore attributes to them. If you’d like to know the health benefits modern medicine attributes to them, I have written several posts on the subject. A good place to start is 12 Summertime Herbs in Celtic Folklore and Medicine.”


Basil: said to be highly protective and can help one to fly.


Chamomile: Acclaimed as a stress reliever and sleep aid, this herb also, according to folklore, provides prosperity, good fortune, and good luck with gambling. Sprinkling an infusion of the herb around the house, it is said, can remove hexes and curses. Bathing in it can attract love and romance—and even a marriage proposal!


Mint: the “mint” family is large. The word usually refers to one of three plants: peppermint, spearmint, or wintergreen. Peppermint: Relaxing, it reduces insomnia. Folklore claims it increases one’s psychic abilities. Peppermint also is used in purification rituals. Spearmint: this herb also helps with sleep. It is said to magically protect you while you sleep. It is said to help with healing and love, but I haven’t come across specific details about how. Wintergreen: this underappreciated mint is said to allay fear and reduce anxiety.


Red Clover: this herb, according to folklore, invigorates and arouses passion.


Sage, rosemary, and thyme are all members of the mint family and share some magical properties.
Sage, rosemary, and thyme are all members of the mint family and share some magical properties.

Rose: Speaking of passion, Celtic folklore says roses attract love and romance. They also are said to attract good spirits, providing you with luck and protection.


Rosemary: Although rosemary is a member of the mint family, not the rose family, it still is said to attract love. It’s also credited with healing and protection and, like peppermint, is used for purification.


Sage: Another member of the mint family (yes, really), sage also was burned in purification rituals. Like chamomile, it was used to reverse spells and curses. Classified as a healing herb, sage, in folk medicine, was considered a cure-all.


Stinging Nettle: Although stinging nettle can give you a nasty rash if you don’t handle it properly (or you obliviously walk through it in a field), it is associated with healing and protection. This herb, according to the lore, helps protect you against evil and harm by revealing hidden dangers. Also, it dispels darkness and negativity, strengthens the will, and gives one the ability to cope with a crisis.


Thyme: And yet another member of the mint family, thyme is used for purification. Like peppermint and spearmint, it is said to be a good sleep aid. In this case, it is because thyme is reputed to prevent nightmares. This herb is used to banish evil spirits and negative forces and can ease unbearable grief while providing strength and courage. Finally, thyme is said to attract loyalty and affection, including romantic love.


Magical Colors and Flowers


     One of the wonderful things about spring is how the world bursts into color and new life after a cold, dreary winter when the landscape looked dead. So, as you enjoy the return to a technicolor world, take a moment or two to reflect on the symbolism of the colors of spring as well as the magic contained within the budding flowers.


Red: The heart, passion, and romance. Remember the magic of roses and red clover mentioned above.


Green: Hope and renewal. Remember mint plants help you get the rest you need to feel energized each morning, wintergreen allays fears, stinging nettle dispels negativity, and thyme gives courage.


Yellow: Joy. I didn’t mention yellow above but chamomile flowers, like daisies, have beautiful yellow centers. Another beautiful spring flower, primroses come in a variety of colors including yellow and a red variation with a burst of yellow in the center. In Ireland, primroses are considered a symbol of spring and are placed on doorsteps to encourage faeries to bless the house and all living within it. Simply putting a primrose (or any yellow flower) in your pocket is said to protect one from evil and the mischief of faeries. No wonder they’re associated with joy.


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Slán go fóill


     All artwork for this post (except for the Ukrainian flag and the GIF) by Christine Dorman via Bing Image Creator.



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