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A' Crann Bethadh (a k-rr-ah-N be-h-aye) meaning literally 'the tree life' the word "of" is omitted, but it is also correct to call it A' Bethadh Crann 'the life tree' as Gaelic has a similar grammar structure to French. Like the Great Flood, Dragons and Winged Messangers, mankind feels a primitive connection to Trees and the Ancient Celts were no different. While among the surviving Lore there is no specific Tree Myth like that of the biblical Tree of Knowledge or the Norse "World Tree" Yggdrasil the connection and symbolism still holds strength within the practice of Celtic Wisdom today.
A' Crann Bethadh among the Celts represents the three worlds meeting, like the eternal cycle the heavenly realm, the underworld and the realm of man. In ritual we often say "as above, so below" this phrase builds on A' Crann Bethadh because as the Oak grows the roots reflect. More than the elegant symbology, the tree was a central part of early Celtic spirituality. To the Celts, the tree was a source of basic sustenance- a bearer of food, a provider of shelter and fuel for cooking and warmth. Without trees, life would have been extraordinarily difficult.
Reverance evolved as different trees gained favor with the gods, became omens and wood from these sacred trees had magical properties, which was reflected in the Celtic Ogham alphabet, wherein each letter represents a particular sacred tree (modern Ogham divination is based on the uses and importance of these sacred trees to the Celtic people). Some trees provided food, some wood for making hunting weapons; others were sacred to the Faery-folk or to the Gods. In Celtic creation stories, trees were the ancestors of mankind, elder beings of wisdom who provided the alphabet, the calendar, and entrance to the realms of the Gods. Trees were also associated in the Shamanic beliefs of the Druids and other Celtic peoples with the supernatural world.
Trees were a connection to the world of the spirits and the ancestors, living entities, and doorways into other worlds. Although there are actually nine sacred trees in Celtic mythology: oak, apple, alder, birch, rowan (ash), Hawthorn, hazel, holly and willow - each with its own spiritual meaning; the most sacred tree of all was the Oak tree, which represented the axis mundi, the center of the world. The Celtic name for oak, duir, is the origin of the word door- the root of the oak was literally the doorway to the Otherworld, the realm of Faery. The word Druid, the name of the Celtic Priestly class, is compounded from the words for oak and seeing- a Druid was one who was “Oak seeing,” meaning learned in Tree magic and guardian of the doorway. Long after the Druids of old have vanished into the mists of time, the lore of trees continues as a vital part of Celtic myth and folklore. Countless Irish legends revolve around trees. One could fall asleep next to a particular tree and awake in the Faery realm. In our page on Ogham we will dive deeper into the Celtic Tree Lore.
In Celtic legends of the Gods, trees guard sacred wells and provide healing, shelter, and wisdom. Trees carried messages to the other realm, and conferred blessings. o this day, trees can be seen in the Irish countryside festooned with ribbons and pleas for favors, love, healing, and prosperity. The interlaced figures known popularly as Celtic knots usually represent sacred trees and plants, and the sacred animals of the forest. Trees were believed to be a sacred threshold, bridging the gap between the upper and lower worlds. With its branches reaching toward the heavens and its roots lying firmly in the ground, it was considered to be a link between heaven, earth and the “other world”. A symbol of beauty, resurrection and immortality, trees are prominent in popular pre-Christian motifs such as crosses and illuminated manuscripts, its intricate
knotwork symbolizing the interconnectedness of these three worlds.
To the ancient Celts, not only did the tree represent the eternal cycle of seasons – birth, life, death and renewal – trees were a source of earthly sustenance: a bearer of food, a provider of shelter, fire and weapons and regarded as living, magical beings. Without trees, life would have been quite difficult. During times of war, one of the greatest triumphs over an enemy was to cut down their sacred tree, their foundation of strength and support.
Countless Irish superstitions revolve around the lore of trees and the belief that they were messengers to the gods. In many legends, trees guarded sacred wells, many of which can be found as you drive through the Irish countryside today. Known as “Rag Trees,” they are adorned with personal belongings – hankies, ribbons, bits of clothing and trinkets left behind by persons seeking solace to their pleas for love, healing and prosperity.
It was a tradition of long standing that a Tree stand at the heart of a villaige. This tree was called a Bilé (Bee-lay). As a tree can serve as a receptacle for an external spirit, and may be inhabited by Faeries or other spirits. They may also contain dispossessed spirits of the Land, those who have been expelled from their proper dwelling-places and so have taken up residence in the nurturing environment of the tree. Trees also have personal souls, like humans, which are manifested as special qualities, strengths, and medicinal virtues. Trees may also absorb spirits that might otherwise prove harmful to humans.
The venerated single tree known as a bilé was part of any sacred place where Celtic kings were inaugurated. Often marriages were conducted under holy trees, and it seemed that every town or village had a special tree that stood at its center. Offerings were frequently hung upon bilé trees. The most common way to honor a special tree was to tie wool, string, ribbons, or rags to it. Usually, but not always, this was done in Celtic lands by those seeking a cure from a holy well near the tree. Other times trees were decorated with precious items.
In Timeless Myths, the foundation of a culture and information about Celtic gods and goddesses. Deities from Irish myths were more generally well known than those in Britain, Wales and Gaul (France and northern Italy). The medieval Green Man or foliate god derives from Celtic tree motifs and represents the animus of nature; the spirit of the forest and of the hunt, and is pictured as a spirit face in the form of gathered leaves and sprouting tendrils.
These myths even include the Celtic Origin Story. Irish legend tells how the first man was made from alder, and the first woman from rowan. Such stories indicate that our deepest essence is connected to that of trees - physically, karmically, and spiritually.
|Altar to the A' Crann Bethadh: The Stang