Plant Magic: Wisdom from the Green World

Whether you live in a city or the countryside, the magic of plants can be found everywhere and sometimes where you least expect it. Be open and explore the magic that surrounds you.

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Elder Tree - Time of the Crone

Following the wheel of the year through the Celtic tree calendar, November 25th begins the time of elder tree and its ogham character Ruis. While the tree calendar is a modern construct, it holds meaning because of the concepts it has come to symbolize and the significance it has for twenty-first century magic, ritual, and everyday life.

Although elder is not in bloom or fruiting at this time of year, the elder is a tree of the Crone. As we head into the darkest part of the year, it bids us to see beyond the surface of things. This period (from November 25 to December 23) is a time conducive for divination.

Elder brings awareness to the cycles that punctuate our lives and helps us accept the endings that occur even though they may be painful. Of course, some endings bring a sense completion and accomplishment. For aid in accessing the otherworld, draw the Ruis Ogham on a picture of an elder tree, and then safely burn it in your cauldron. Gently waft a little of the smoke over you before embarking on your journey.

In many areas of Europe, an old female spirit was believed to call the elder tree home. In Germany this spirit was known as Dame Ellhorn. In England, cutting down an elder without asking for the Crone’s permission was considered very unwise due to negative consequences. Elder trees were also associated with witches, and planting one near your house was believed to aid in being able to see them.

In Denmark it was believed that standing under an elder on Midsummer’s Eve allowed a person to see the fairy king and his entourage. Likewise, in England, adding elderflowers to the Midsummer’s Eve bonfire allowed people to see fairies and nature devas. Growing elder in the garden invites fairies and nature spirits.

Growing five to twelve feet tall and wide, the American or common elder (Sambucus canadensis) is a garden plant that is also found in fields and meadows. The European elder (S. nigra) can reach eight to twenty feet tall and wide. The small, white flowers grow in large, flattened clusters that can reach ten inches in diameter. The flowers give way to clusters of bluish-black berries that ripen in late summer or early autumn. The American elder flowers have a lemon-like scent; the European elder flowers smell musky.

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  The author of over a dozen books, Sandra describes herself as an explorer of history, myth, and magic. Her writing has been featured in SageWoman, The Magical Times, The Portal, and Circle magazines, Utne Reader and Magical Buffet websites, and various Llewellyn almanacs. Although she is a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, she travels a solitary Goddess-centered path through the Druidic woods. She has lived in New York City, Europe, England, and now coastal New England where she lives in a Victorian-era house with her family, cats, and a couple of ghosts.  

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