By Ana Vice
Discover the mythology and power of the sacred ash tree.
The ash tree, called uinseann in Gaelic, is often linked to the Vikings, but also has its place in Ancient Celtic folklore and was once sacred to the Druids. It appears as the letter Nion or N (a.k.a. Nion, Nuin, Nin) in the Celtic alphabet (called the Ogham) which was used for divination. Ash trees are giant trees capable of growing over 180 feet tall. Because of their height, the Druids saw the ash tree as a bridge between worlds. Due to their height, Ash trees are prone to getting struck by lightning, which is why they tend to be connected to the elements of both air and fire. The Celts also made their spears from the ash tree and believed the spears to be infused with magic.
Did you know that three of the five sacred trees of ancient Ireland were ash trees? Bile Tortan, Craeb Daithi and Craeb Uisnig are their names (you can read more about these magnificent trees in John William's book The Five Sacred Trees: Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra). According to Welsh Mythology, the ash tree is associated with the trickster Gwydion (God of Magick and Poetry). In some mythologies he carries a staff (or wand, in some versions) used for enchantment and transformation.
Gwydion has a sister nammed Arianrhod (Goddess of the Moon and Stars; her name translates to Silver Wheel) and they were very skilled magicians. Some literary scholars say that they represent archetypes for Merlin (others think Myrddin Wyllt) and King Arthur's half sister Morgan le Fay (Morgan y Dylwythen Deg in Welsh).
For the Norse, the ash tree (aka ask) represents the Yggdrasill (a.k.a. World Tree) of Norse lore. Odin (Óðinn, All-father) and Thor (Þórr, God of Thunder and Sky) were said to possess magickal spears made of ash tree wood. In Norse mythology there is a story of how Odin sacrificed himself to himself in order to perceive the mysteries of the runes. He achieved this by hanging himself from the Yggdrasil tree and stabbing himself with his spear. He hung there for nine days and nights without food or drink. On the brink of death, he perceived the secrets of the runes. The Elder Futhark is the oldest known runic alphabet, dating back to the time of the German Migration (or Völkerwanderung) around 350-500 AD. In Norse mythology, it is also believed that Odin created the first man from the ash tree.
The poetic Anglo-Saxon word for spear was aesc. The Vikings were also referred to as the Aescling or ‘“Men of Ash.” The Gaels thought of the ash tree as protective. Of the five legendary guardian trees of Ireland, three of them were ash. Ash is also the second most popular tree growing near Irish holy wells, and on the Isle of Man ash trees were said to keep the water springs purified.
According to ancient Greek mythology, the Ash Tree Nymphs (a.k.a. Meliae), Erinyes (Furies), and Giants were said to have been created by bloodshed that fell to the earth when, in an effort to gain power over his father Uranus, the Titan Cronus castrated him. The Furies and giants would later play a role in avenging Uranus (Oranus, The Sky) for what happened.
To be more specific, the Meliae were the Oread-nymphs of the ash tree. Gaia (Gaea, the Earth) had been impregnated by the blood of the castrated Uranus. The nymphs became the wives of men of the Silver Age and became mothers of those of the Bronze Age (which was considered the third generation of mankind). The nymphs nursed their sons with the honey sap of the ash and armed them with spears crafted from ash tree wood. In some versions of this story it is the Ash tree, and in others it is the Mountain Ash (i.e. Rowan Tree).
Poseidon (God of the Sea, Storms, Earthquakes and Horses) is also linked to the ash tree. He is another son of Chronos and brother to Hades (God of the Dead and Underworld) and Zeus (God of Sky, Thunder, and Ruler of the Gods and Goddesses of Mount Olympus). According to Greek myth, Poseidon could utilize the power of water to create large tidal waves. A lesser known connection is with horses. Centaurs were considered to be in his realm as well.
For divination, you can make a set of Elder Futhark runes by painting red acrylic onto ash tree wood pieces. You can find and use a mature dry branch and saw it into disks or use a wood etching tool to carve runes directly onto the wood.
To read more about the herbal magick and herbal spells, check out "10 Herbs for Purification, Protection, and Exorcism" here.