• Christine Dorman

Celtic Tree Signs: The Graceful yet Spiraling Vine

The Celtic Tree Sign for Sept. 2-29 is The Vine, but how is a vine a tree?

The Celtic Tree Sign for September 2nd through September 29th is the Vine and that immediately raises a couple of questions. First, how can a vine be a tree sign? Second, which specific vine is meant? The first question is easily answered. The second is not. In discussing ancient Celtic culture, one must always remember the Celts did not view things in the same way as 21st century Westerners do. To Celts, any plant with a woody stem was a tree. Three of the thirteen tree signs would not be classified as trees today. They are the Vine, the Ivy, and the Reed.

From that list, a partial answer to the second question becomes clear. In determining which plant represents this month’s tree sign, one vine can be ruled out: ivy. It has its own month. Little else is known for certain, including whether the Celts were referring to an actual vine. The plant is not native to Celtic lands. It was imported into Ireland by the Romans in the form of grapevines shortly before the first century A.D. Some sources suggest that the Celts actually meant brambles, such as blackberry or raspberry plants, which share some characteristics with vines, such as winding as they grow.

The ancient Celtic symbol of the Spiral on a Stone in Dublin.

Regardless of which plant was meant, the Vine became an important symbol to the Celts. It appears frequently on Celtic art, as do two other symbols often associated with the Vine: the Knot and the Spiral. Both imitate the ways in which vines and brambles grow. Both, also, are laden with symbolism which is attributed to the Vine as well. The main symbolism is of growth, renewal / rebirth, interconnection, and eternity.

Anyone who has gardened knows that vines are graceful and beautiful. The plants also can be a pain in the neck! They can be wild, grow abundantly, and can take over their environment unless they are given support and direction.

The Tree Sign

A vine-like Celtic design with knots and spirals.

People born under the sign of the Vine are charming, classy, and elegant. They have a taste for the finer things, for luxury and refinement. However, they also can be unpredictable and may seem paradoxical. Vines are able to see both (or all) sides, which makes them empathetic, but friends and family may be confused about where a Vine stands on any given topic. Vines seem frequently to be on the fence. Balance is important to them and a scale tips to one side then the other in the process of balancing. The Autumnal Equinox occurs during the period of this tree sign’s influence (this year’s equinox will be on September 22nd). During the Autumnal Equinox, day and night last for approximately the same amount of time. Life as a Vine means living on the cusp of both the light and the dark, the positive and the negative.

The Animal Sign: The Swan

All Celtic tree signs have a corresponding animal sign and the Vine’s is the Swan. Being a Swan complicates life even further for Vines. In nature, swans appear to glide gracefully, apparently effortlessly, across lakes. But of course that’s not the whole story. Under the water, their legs are paddling madly to propel the swan to its goal. Those born under the sign of the Swan also appear to move through life calmly, coolly, without a hair out of place. They may seem reserved, even shy but there’s a lot going on under the surface!

A swan glides across a lake apparently without effort.

Swans are always thinking. They have excellent analytical skills which help them to deal with challenges and resolve problems. Which is a good thing because they tend to find problems. They like purity and things are so often getting sullied with mistakes (theirs or someone else’s). They like neatness and order and things are so often out of order. This can lead to compulsive, even neurotic behavior. They can become hypercritical perfectionists who drive themselves (and sometimes others) nuts with their zeal for correctness and exactness. To remedy this tendency (or to keep it cropping up in the first place), they need to call on their Vine selves. As Children of the Equinox, they need to balance seeing the dark side of situations with seeing the light, seeing the good. The Vine is called the Tree of Joy and Swans need to remember to draw on that sap to nurture themselves.

Swans tend to be quite self-disciplined and self-controlled. Like a vine on a trellis, they can grow upright, adhering to a dictated path. Still, it’s healthy for Swans to give themselves permission once in a while to loosen up a bit, to deviate from a totally structured life, without fear of going completely wild and losing their way.

A Swan protects her brood.

The Vine represents interconnection (like a Celtic knot) and intimate relationships are important to Swans. Marrying one partner for life will be the ideal, if not always the reality. Another important relationship to Swans is the parent-child relationship. In Celtic symbolism, the swan represents motherhood and motherly love. Swans are highly protective of their brood. Never mind their calm, collected exteriors. Mess with their children and you’ll discover the intense passion that bubbles just below the Swan’s façade!

Celtic Symbolism and Folklore

In addition to representing growth, renewal, rebirth, connectedness, and eternity, the Vine has a number of other symbolic association in Celtic culture. Among these are fertility, expansion, and bountifulness. It also is a symbol of joy, exhilaration, and wrath (remember the Swan and its children!). The Bramble, which may have been the plant the Celts actually meant, was classified by the Druids as one of the Bushes of the Wood. Brehon law (ancient Irish law in force until the 17th century A.D.) prohibited cutting it. You could be fined for doing so. Blackberries, in Ireland, are also called bramble berries and, in Celtic folklore, they weren’t to be eaten after Samhain. According to the lore, at Samhain (Oct.31-Nov.1), the Puca faerie spat on them (or, in some versions, urinated on them).

Don't eat bramble berries after November 1st because the Puca spits on them at Samhain!

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