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In Worship of Trees

Written and Compiled by George Knowles

 

 

Reed

The Reed (Cytisus scoparius) is more of a shrub plant than a tree, which in England is better known by its folk name “Scotch Broom”.  The Reed or Broom was revered by the ancient Druids, and is one of the sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft.  According to the Celtic Tree calendar, the Reed dates from the 28th October to the 24th November, which includes the Celtic New Year of 31st October (better known today as Samhain or Halloween).  In folklore, Reeds or Brooms symbolize purification, protection and fertility; they also represent established power, for wands, rods and scepters made from their wood were often carried as symbols of authority. 

The Broom is a densely growing shrub plant indigenous to England and the temperate regions of Europe and northern Asia.  It can be being found in abundance on sandy heaths and pastures were it commonly grows wild.  In the sandy soils of America due to its proliferation, Broom has been regulated as a “class b” noxious weed under state law, and is designated for control in most counties of Washington and Oregon where Local, County and State weed control boards have regulations controlling its movement and harvest. 

Broom is a member of the “Leguminosae family, which includes beans, peas, clover, vetch, locust, lupine, acacia and alfalfa.  Broom plants convert nitrogen from air that is used for growth, making them hardy and able to invade and flourish in harsh areas.  The Broom is also the only native medicinal plant used as an official drug.  The Latinized name “Scoparius” is derived from the Latin “scopa”, meaning “besom” (hence the common folk name broom), and “Cytisus“ is said to be a corruption of the name of the Greek island Cythnus, where the Broom once grew in abundance. 

As a young plant the Broom will often spend 2 to 4 years in a grass-like state until it grows an extensive root system.  Once established, it can grow from 12 to 30 inches a year and attain heights of over 8 feet.  Most Broom plants have a single base with many upwardly spreading stems or branches.  The stems are bright green, long, straight and slender, but are tough and very flexible.  Many of stems are almost leafless, but those that do develop leaves, do so by late April.  Its leaves are mostly dark green in colour and spiral up the plant’s stem from its base.  The leaves are hairy when young and the lower ones are shortly stalked with small oblong trifoliolate leaflets.  The upper leaves near the tips of the stem are sessile, smaller and often reduced to a single leaflet, many of which will fall off after a frost or during a severe drought.

    

Scotch Broom

The flowers of the Broom are fragrant and about ¾ inch long, ranging in color from light yellow to orange with crimson wings.  The shape of the flower is irregular with a top banner petal, two side wing petals, and two keel petals on the bottom likened to a butterfly.  The flowers are in bloom from April to July and occur on plants as young as 2 years old, growing more abundantly on plants of 4 years old or more.  Bees are attracted to the flowers, not in search of honey but more because they contain an abundance of pollen.

Broom seed pods

The flowers are followed by flat oblong seedpods about 1½ - 2 inches long, these are hairy on the edges but smooth on the sides.  The pods are dark green or nearly black when mature and each contains several seeds.  The seeds are oval about ⅛ inch long, dark greenish-brown and have a shiny surface.  The pods begin to dry out as the seeds inside mature and warp in different directions, eventually they are forced open and the seeds burst out with a sharp report landing some 4 to 12 feet away.  The continuous popping of the bursting seed-vessels can readily be heard on a hot sunny day.  The seeds have a hard shell and can remain viable in the soil for more than 50 years before they germinate.  This long-term viability enables the Reed to re-populate areas even after they have been cleared and even when no plants are visible on the site. 

Today there are many differing species of Brooms and the identification and naming of them has undergone steady change, resulting in considerable confusion.  Due to the toxicity of some species it is important to recognize that there are other Brooms, and that different names for the same plants can be found.  There are also a great number of Brooms grown for ornamental purposes.  Some of the more common Brooms are:

Portuguese Broom

Portuguese Broom (Cytisus striatus), this is a Scotch Broom look-a-like except for the seedpods.  These are inflated and hairy all over giving the plant the appearance of being covered with pussy willow buds.  Its stems are more silvery, but this is difficult to distinguish until after its leaves and flowers fall off.

French Broom

French Broom (Genista monspessulana), these are very leafy and retain their leaves the entire year.  All its leaves are trifoliolate, whereas Portuguese and Scotch Brooms have simple leaves or trifoliolate leaves only on the lower part of the plants.  Its flowers are yellow but smaller than those of the Scotch Broom, and appear well before-in March and April.  The stems are finer and not as erect as those of Scotch Broom.  The Genista species of Broom is the one most referred to in ancient texts.

Spanish Broom

Spanish Broom (Spartium junceum), this plant is the most drought-resistant of the Broom species.  It has coarse thick stems that are round and almost leafless.  Its flowers are similar in size to Scotch Broom but less numerous.

Physical Uses:

The broom is such a versatile plant that it has many uses.  It is commonly planted on the sides of steep banks were its roots serve to hold the earth together.  On some parts of the coast it is one of the first plants to grow on sand dunes, together with the stems of mat grasses and other sand-binding plants.  Broom will flourish within reach of sea spray, and like gorse, is a good sheltering plant for seaside growth.  Inland it is grown extensively as shelter for game, and is one of the more important species of shrubs used to protect them and other small animals from the wind and weather. 

The broom seldom grows large enough to furnish useful wood, but when its stems acquire a sufficient size, it is beautifully veined and being hard provides valuable material for veneering.  As it’s name suggests, it was popularly used for making brooms and brushes, and was commonly used for basketwork, especially on the island of Madeira.  In the north of England and Scotland it was used for thatching cottages and making fences or screens. 

The bark of the Broom yields excellent fiber, which is finer than but not so strong as the Spanish Broom.  The bark is easily separated from the stem by simply macerating them in water.  This has been done since ancient times, and from its fibers paper and cloth was manufactured.  The fibers were also used to make quill-pens as used by old scribes.  The bark contains a considerable amount of tannin, which can be used for tanning leather.  The leaves and young tip’s of the Broom produce a green dye that was once used to colour clothes and garments.

Myths, Folklore and History:

The Reed or Broom has always been associated with music, for since time began pipes and flutes were made from reeds.  In mythology we see a connection to reeds through the panpipes of the Greek god Pan (Roman god Faunus).  In legend Pan had a contest with Apollo to determine who could play the most skillful and sweetest music, Pan on his reed pipes or Apollo on his lyre.  Pan was judged to be the winner, which Apollo considered an insult.  In rage Apollo turned Pan into half a man and half a goat.  In art, Pan is often depicted with the legs, horns and beard of goat.

Greek God Pan

To the Greeks Pan was a god of the woodlands, pastures, herds and fertility.  Hills, caves, oaks, reeds and tortoises are all sacred to him.  In another legend Pan fought with the gods of Olympus during their battle against the Titans, as the battle raged he fashioned a giant seashell into a trumpet and raised such a noise with it, the Titans thought they were being attacked by a sea monster and fled in terror.  The word “panic” is said to have come from this myth. 

Pan is thought to be the offspring of Hermes, whose cult was centered in Arcadia were he haunted the woodlands, hills and mountains.  After sleeping at noon, Pan would then dance through the woods playing the panpipes.  Pan was a lusty leader of satyrs and loved nothing better than chasing nymphs; from this he became associated with Dionysus/Bacchus.  Pan’s symbol was the phallus, and of old he was invoked for the fertility of flocks or an abundant hunt.  Every region in Greece had its own Pan, who was known by various names, and eventually he came to symbolize the universal god of nature, the Horned God. 

In folklore the Pied Piper of Hamelin played a magickal tune on a pipe made from reeds, and rid the town of a plague of rats.  As the story goes, in 1284 the Pied Piper was hired to rid the town of Hamelin of a plague of rats.  He walked through the streets playing a magickal tune on his pipe, and on hearing the music all the rats followed him.  The piper led the rats all the way to the banks of the river Weser, where all the rats fell in and were drowned.  Although the town council had agreed to pay the piper, they changed their minds once the task was done and refused to pay him. 

In retaliation the piper walked the streets again, only this time he played a different tune on his pipe.  On hearing the music all the children in the town follow him as he led them out of town and into the foothills of the mountains.  As they approached a door in the side of the mountain opened and the piper and all the children vanished never to be seen again.  After their disappearance the spirits of the piper and children forever haunted the town of Hamelin.  From this story the magickal qualities of the reed and music can be discerned.

Pan Pipes

Throughout history the Broom has featured as a heraldic device, and was adopted at a very early period as the badge of Brittany.  Geoffrey the 5th count of Anjou thrust it into his helmet at the moment of going into battle so that his troops might see and follow him.  As he plucked it from a steep bank which its roots had knitted together, he is reputed to have said:  “This golden plant rooted firmly amid rock, yet upholding what is ready to fall, shall be my cognizance.  I will maintain it on the field, in the tourney and in the court of justice”. 

From Geoffrey of Anjou and his wife the empress Matilda, daughter of the English king Henry I, the Plantagenet royal dynasty began.  However, the name Plantagenet was not hereditary and is thought to have originated from his nickname, given after the sprig of broom he wore in his hat or to his practice of planting brooms to improve his hunting covers.  The old Medieval Latin name for broom was “Planta genista”; from which it is thought Plantagenet was derived.  The broom is depicted on the Great Seal of Richard I, this being its first official heraldic appearance in England. 

Some historians differ on the naming of Kings as Plantagenet, some giving the name to Count Geoffrey’s descendants beginning with Edward I.  Richard Plantagenet or Richard 3rd Duke of York was the first to use the surname officially when he claimed the throne in 1460.  The Plantagenet dynasty ended when the last legitimate male heir, Edward Earl of Warwick was executed in 1499. 

Another origin is claimed for the heraldic use of the broom in Brittany, in that a prince of Anjou assassinated his brother and seized his kingdom.  Overcome by remorse he made a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in expiation of his crime.  Every night on the journey he scourged himself with a brush of “genets” or “genista”, and adopted the plant as his badge in perpetual memory of his repentance. 

St. Louis of France continued the heraldic use of the broom as a symbol of chivalry and honour, and on the occasion of his marriage in the year 1234 he founded a special order called the “Colle de Genet”.  The collar of the order was decorated alternately of the fleur-de-lis of France and a broom-flower.  His bodyguard of a hundred nobles also wore on their coats a broom-flower emblem with the motto “Exaltat humiles” (“He exalteth the lowly”).  The order was held in high esteem, and to be bestowed with it was regarded as a great honour.  King Richard II was honoured with it, and a broom plant with open empty pods can be seen ornamentally decorating his tomb in Westminster Abbey.  In 1368 Charles V of France bestowed the insignia of the broom pod on his favourite chamberlain, and in 1389 Charles VI gave the same decoration to his kinsmen. 

In Scotland the broom is the badge of the Forbes clan, and according to Scottish lore:  “it was the bonny broom which the Scottish clan of Forbes wore in their bonnets when they wished to arouse the heroism of their chieftains”.  In the Gaelic dialect of the highlands they called the broom “bealadh” in token of its beauty:  “This humble shrub was not less distinguished than the Rose herself during the civil wars of the fourteenth century”. 

Apart from its use in heraldry, the Broom has been associated with several popular traditions.  In some parts it used to be considered a sign of plenty and fertility, for it bore many flowers and flourished quickly.  The flowering tops were used for house decoration at the Whitsuntide festival, but it was considered unlucky to use them for menial purposes when in full bloom.  In Christianity when Joseph and the Virgin Mary were fleeing into Egypt, the broom was cursed by Mary for the popping noises made by the pods as they touched them in passing, increased the risk of drawing attention to their whereabouts from Herod’s soldiers.

Medicinal Uses:

The properties of Broom as a healing herb was well known to the ancients, and such early writers as Virgil (70-19 BC) and Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD) speak of the “Genista” species of Broom.  It was also mentioned in some of the earliest printed Herbals, such like:  the Passau (1485), the Hortus Sanitatis (1491) and the Grete Herball (1516).  John Gerard in his Herbal of 1597 tells us:  “The decoction of the twigs and tops of broom doth cleanse and open the liver, milt and kidnies”. 

The Broom is also mentioned in the first London Pharmacopoeia of 1618, from which Nicholas Culpepper (1616-1654) made an unauthorized translation published in 1649 was called “A Physicall Directory”.  Later in his celebrated Herbal “The English Physician” (1652), Culpepper considered a decoction of Broom to be good not only for dropsy, but also for black jaundice, ague, gout, sciatica and various pains of the hips and joints. 

The flowers of broom were used for making an unguent to cure the gout.  Henry VIII used to drink a water infusion made from the flowers of Broom, and being purgative he believed it acted as a guard against his overindulgences.  A decoction of Broom is recommended in herbal medicine for bladder and kidney afflictions, as well as for chronic dropsy.  Bruised seeds after being infused in rectified spirit was allowed to stand for two weeks and strained, then taken daily in a glass of peppermint water to cure liver complaints and ague.  The seeds were also used as a substitute for coffee. 

Broom juice in large doses can disturb the stomach and bowels, and is therefore more often used as an auxiliary to other diuretics, rather than used alone.  Called (Infusum Scoparii) it is made by infusing the dried tops of Broom in boiling water for fifteen minutes and then straining.  It was introduced into the British Pharmacopoeia of 1898 and replaced the decoctions of broom in the preceding issues. 

“Caution”

Regardless of what you read in books and articles such as this, before using any plant, herb or spice for medicinal purposes, specialized or professional advice should be sort.  Experimentation is not an alternative to be considered when dealing with toxic plants. 

Magical Uses:

Ritual wands made from Broom are used in purification and protection spells, and if working outdoors (the best place to perform magic) sweeping the ground with a brush of Broom (if it grows nearby) will clear the area of unwanted influences.  To raise the winds, throw some Broom into the air while invoking the spirits of the Air, and to calm the winds burn some Broom and bury the ashes. 

Of old, Broom was hung up in the house to keep all evil influences out, and an infusion of Broom sprinkled throughout the house was used to exorcise poltergeist activity.  An infusion of Broom was also drunk to increase psychic powers and awareness through its intoxication properties, but this is no longer recommended as the plant can also be poisonous. 

The Broom is known by many folk names:  Banal, Basam, Besom, Bisom, Bizzon, Breeam, Broom Tops, Brum, Genista, Green Broom, Irish Broom, Link, Scotch Broom and Hog Weed.  Its gender is Masculine.  Its planet association is with Mars.  Its element association is Air.  Its deity associations are with:  Pan, Hermes, Apollo and Dionysus/Bacchus.  It is used to attract the powers needed for:  Purification, Protection, Fertility, Wind, Divination and all spells associated the element Air. 

Astrologically people born between the 28th October and the 24th November, are practical people who enjoy making themselves useful to others.  They will often be found organizing charity or other events.  They love to use their hands and are not afraid to get them dirty, and have always been good at handicrafts.  Others are attracted to them for their artistic abilities, and they can also be very imaginative.

End

Sources:

Cunningham's Encyclopedia Of Magical Herbs - By Scott Cunningham.

Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft - By Raven Grimassi.

The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft - By Rosemary Ellen Guiley.

Tree Wisdom (The definitive guidebook to the myth, folklore and healing power of Trees) - By Jacqueline Memory Paterson.

AA Book of Britain's Countryside.

The Penguin Hutchinson Reference Library (CD cassette).

Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (CD cassette).

Plus many websites to numerous to mention.

First published in 2002  -  Updated the Oct 2008  ©  George Knowles

 

Best Wishes and Blessed Be.

 

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Correspondence Tables:

 

IncenseCandlesColours Magickal Days Stones and Gems Elements and Elementals

 

Traditions:

 

Traditions Part 1  -  Alexandrian Wicca /  Aquarian Tabernacle Church (ATC) /  Ár Ndraíocht Féin (ADF) /  Blue Star Wicca /  British Traditional (Druidic Witchcraft) /  Celtic Wicca /  Ceremonial Magic /  Chaos Magic /  Church and School of Wicca /  Circle Sanctuary /  Covenant of the Goddess (COG) /  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans (CUUPS) /  Cyber Wicca /  Dianic Wicca /  Eclectic Wicca /  Feri Wicca /

 

Traditions Part 2 Gardnerian Wicca /  Georgian Tradition /  Henge of Keltria /  Hereditary Witchcraft /  Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn (H.O.G.D.) /  Kitchen Witch (Hedge Witch) /  Minoan Brotherhood and Minoan Sisterhood Tradition /  Nordic Paganism /  Pagan Federation /  Pectic-Wita /  Seax-Wica /  Shamanism /  Solitary /  Strega /  Sylvan Tradition /  Vodoun or Voodoo /  Witches League of Public Awareness (WLPA) /

 

Other things of interest:

 

Gods and Goddesses (Greek Mythology) /  Esbats & Full Moons Links to Personal Friends & Resources Wicca/Witchcraft Resources What's a spell? Circle Casting and Sacred Space  Pentagram - Pentacle Marks of a Witch The Witches Power The Witches Hat An esoteric guide to visiting London SatanismPow-wowThe Unitarian Universalist Association /  Numerology:  Part 1  Part 2  /  Part 3A history of the Malleus Maleficarum:  includes:  Pope Innocent VIII  /  The papal Bull  /   The Malleus Maleficarum  /  An extract from the Malleus Maleficarum  /  The letter of approbation  /  Johann Nider’s Formicarius  /  Jacob Sprenger  /  Heinrich Kramer  /  Stefano Infessura  /  Montague Summers  /  The Waldenses  /  The Albigenses  /  The Hussites /  The Native American Sun DanceShielding (Occult and Psychic Protection)  The History of ThanksgivingAuras  - Part 1 and Part 2 /

 

Sabbats and Festivals:

 

The Sabbats in History and Mythology /  Samhain (October 31st)  /  Yule (December 21st)  /  Imbolc (February 2nd)  /  Ostara (March 21st)  /  Beltane (April 30th)  /  Litha (June 21st)  /  Lammas/Lughnasadh (August 1st)  /  Mabon (September 21st)

 

Rituals contributed by Crone:

 

Samhain / Yule Imbolc Ostara /  Beltane Litha Lammas Mabon

 

Tools:

 

Tools of a Witch  /  The Besom (Broom) /  Poppets and DollsPendulums / Cauldron Magick Mirror Gazing

 

Animals:

 

Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) /  AntelopeBatsCrow Fox Frog and Toads Goat / HoneybeeKangarooLion OwlPhoenix Rabbits and HaresRaven Robin RedbreastSheep Spider SquirrelSwansWild Boar Wolf /  Serpent /  Pig /  Stag /  Horse /  Mouse /  Cat

 

Trees:

 

In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar.  For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following:  Birch /  Rowan / Ash /  Alder /  Willow Hawthorn /  Oak /  Holly /  Hazel /  Vine /  Ivy /  Reed /  Elder

 

Sacred Sites:

 

Mystical Sacred Sites  -  Stonehenge /  Glastonbury Tor /  Malta - The Hypogeum of Hal Saflieni /  Avebury /  Cerne Abbas - The Chalk Giant /  Ireland - Newgrange /

 

Rocks and Stones:

 

Stones - History, Myths and Lore

 

Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin:

 

Apophyllite  / Amber Amethyst Aquamarine Aragonite Aventurine Black Tourmaline Bloodstone Calcite Carnelian Celestite Citrine Chrysanthemum StoneDiamond  /  Emerald / Fluorite Garnet /  Hematite Herkimer Diamond Labradorite Lapis Lazuli Malachite Moonstone Obsidian Opal Pyrite Quartz (Rock Crystal) Rose Quartz Ruby Selenite Seraphinite  /  Silver and GoldSmoky QuartzSodalite Sunstone ThundereggTree AgateZebra Marble

 

Wisdom and Inspiration:

 

Knowledge vs Wisdom by Ardriana Cahill I Talk to the TreesAwakening The Witch in YouA Tale of the Woods I have a Dream by Martin Luther King /

 

Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:

 

Murdered by Witchcraft The Fairy Witch of Clonmel A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) /  Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife /  The Story of Jack-O-Lantern The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) /  The Two Brothers - Light and Dark

 

Old Masters of Academia:

 

Pliny the ElderHesiodPythagoras

 

 

Biographies

 

Witches, Pagans and other associated People

(Ancient, Past and Present)

 

Remembered at Samhain

(Departed Pagan Pioneers, Founders, Elders and Others)

 

Abramelin the Mage /  Agrippa Aidan A KellyAlbertus Magnus - “Albert the Great” Aleister Crowley - “The Great Beast” /  Alex Sanders - “King of the Witches” /  Alison Harlow /  Amber KAnna FranklinAnodea JudithAnton Szandor LaVey /  Arnold CrowtherArthur Edward Waite /  Austin Osman Spare /  Biddy Early /  Bridget Cleary - The Fairy Witch of Clonmel /  Carl " Llewellyn" Weschcke Cecil Hugh WilliamsonCharles Godfrey Leland /   Charles WaltonChristina Oakley Harrington Damh the Bard - "Dave Smith" /  Dion Fortune /  Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki Doreen ValienteDorothy MorrisonDr. John Dee & Edward Kelly /  Dr. Leo Louis Martello /  Edward FitchEleanor Ray Bone - “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” Eliphas Levi /  Ernest Thompson Seton /  Ernest Westlake /  Fiona Horne Friedrich von Spee /  Francis Barrett /  Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca /  Gerald B. Gardner - The father of contemporary Witchcraft /  Gwydion Pendderwen Hans HolzerHelen Duncan /   Herman Slater - Horrible Herman /  Isaac Bonewits Israel RegardieJames "Cunning" Murrell - The Master of Witches /  Janet Farrar and Gavin BoneJessie Wicker Bell - “Lady Sheba” /  Johannes Junius - "The Burgomaster of Bamberg" /  John Belham-Payne John George Hohman - "Pow-wow" /  John Gerard /  John Gordon Hargrave and the Kibbo Kith Kindred /  John Michael Greer /  John ScoreJoseph John Campbell /  Karl von Eckartshausen /  Laurie Cabot  - "the Official Witch of Salem" /  Lewis SpenceMargaret Alice MurrayMargot AdlerMarie Laveau - " the Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" /  Marion WeinsteinMatthew Hopkins - “The Witch-Finder General” /   Max Ehrmann and the "Desiderata" /  Monique WilsonMontague Summers /  Nicholas CulpeperNicholas RemyM. R. SellarsMrs. Maud Grieve - "A Modern Herbal" /  Oberon Zell-Ravenheart and Morning GloryOld Dorothy Clutterbuck /  Old George PickingillPaddy SladePamela Colman-SmithParacelsus /  Patricia CrowtherPatricia Monaghan /  Patricia “Trish” TelescoPhilip HeseltonRaymond Buckland /  Reginald Scot /  Robert CochraneRobert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and the "The White Goddess" /  Rosaleen Norton - “The Witch of Kings Cross” /  Ross Nichols and the " Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids" (OBOD) /  Rudolf SteinerSabrina Underwood - "The Ink Witch" /  Scott CunninghamSelena Fox - founder of "Circle Sanctuary" /  Silver RavenwolfSir Francis Dashwood /  Sir James George Frazer and the " The Golden Bough"S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” /  Starhawk /  Stewart Farrar /  Sybil LeekTed Andrews The Mather Family - (includes:  Richard Mather, Increase Mather and Cotton Mather ) /   Thomas AdyT. Thorn CoyleVera ChapmanVictor & Cora Anderson and the " Feri Tradition" /  Vivianne CrowleyWalter Brown GibsonWilliam Butler YeatsZsuzsanna Budapest /  

 

 

Many of the above biographies are briefs and far from complete.  If you know about any of these individuals and can help with additional information, please contact me privately at my email address below.  Many thanks for reading  :-)

 

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