"Hello everyone. My talk today will be about the lore and magical properties of certain traditional trees, and their use in the crafting of magical tools. Before we start, I’d like to share a bit about my background. I’m an initiate of the Unnamed Path and am currently finishing up the Student Teacher program. I am also a recent initiate into Gardnerian Witchcraft. For several years now my main area of study has been in the realm of trees and woods, and this has only intensified since I moved to the Pacific Northwest last year.
So, magical tools. Why do we use magical tools? Obviously, to enhance our magic and as a focus for our willpower. My question to you is, are such items “just” tools, just props for our own mental powers and magical skills, or do they impart a magical power of their own to our work quite apart from anything we might contribute. My own view is that magical tools, especially those composed of wood, contain a power of their own coming from the spirit of that particular wood and the tree it came from. I’m personally an animist; that is, I believe that everything on Earth has an indwelling spirit. It’s by becoming familiar with, and working with that spirit, that we create magic. Said spirit is what differentiates a magically crafted tool from an inert object like a table leg or a couch.
The main tools I personally work with are the Wand, the Staff, the Stang, the pendulum, and the pentacle. All of these items in my work are made of wood and all have a long history of use in magic. Wands thousands of years old have been found in the grave of Egyptian priests and Scandinavian sorceresses. The pendulum has a long history of use in divination, and the Stang (a forked stick used as an altar) appears in Medieval woodcuts depicting Witches in flight. The staff, like the wand, acts as both a tool to project magical power and as a practical aid when tramping through the woods. Old magical textbooks such as the Key of Solomon contain detailed instructions for the making of magical tools, including rituals to be performed at every step and the planetary days and hours in which one should work.
While every tree has a spirit of a kind, some trees, because of their prominence in Western Europe folklore and myth, are most frequently used for magic. I will be discussing the most common of these and will be passing around samples of some of the trees mentioned so that you can get an idea of how you resonate with that particular wood.
The first tree I would like to discuss is the Hazel tree. The Hazel tree is ruled by water and is known as the tree of divination, prophecy, and wisdom. The Hazel tree is the tree most often used for the construction of magical wands and staffs, and is the wood recommended frequently in grimoires such as the Key of Solomon for the construction of the magic wand. In Germanic lore we learn about the Hazelwurm, a cosmic serpent that circles the glob and is an embodiment of the power of the Earth. Because of this association, Hazel is a good choice for shamanic work and wands dealing with the gathering and moving about of Earth energies. There is also an element of command to the Hazel wood; in older times kings and chieftans would carry a wand of Hazel wood as a symbol of office. The Hazel wand is best gathered under a waxing Moon and in the day and hour of Mercury. If you’ll look at your handouts, you will see an image that can hopefully help you identify the Hazel tree when you come across it. The Hazel tends to grow as a large shrub but can reach the size of a small tree with age. The leaves are green and serrated, similar to birch. In the spring the Hazel is covered in small fuzzy catkins, and in the autumn the tree produces tasty Hazel nuts. The bark of the Hazel ranges from a muddy brown to a beautiful silver colour. The Hazel tree tends to grow in watery or dank places, and for this reason the Hazel is considered the ideal wood to be used for divining for water.
Moving on, we come to the Rowan tree, which is ruled by Earth. The Rowan is known as one of the most magical and enchanted trees known to man, and is famous for its ability to protect those bearing the wood from malevolent magic and witchcraft. The Rowan is a border tree, or a tree that stands with a foot in both the mundane world and the magical Otherworld. An old Scottish poem states, “Rowan tree and red thread, put all warlocks to their speed.” This refers to the making of small crosses from Rowan wood bound with red thread. These are still in use today and can be seen hanging in the home of many Traditional Witches. As a side note, any tree bearing the colours of red and green together, such as the Rowan, can be considered especially magical because red is the colour of blood and magic, and green is the colour of the Fae and Earth energy. People sometimes ask, how can the Rowan be used both for making magical wands AND for protecting against magic? Well, the reason the Rowan is protective is because of its status as a border tree; this can interrupt incoming energy. If you can harness that borderline power, however, you can use the Rowan for magical ends. Rowan wood makes an ideal wood for wands and staffs, and is especially good at enhancing psychic powers and divining for metals. The Rowan tree has symmetrical leaves and brown, somewhat ripply bark. In general they are small trees, though I have seen some pushing 25 feet. In the late summer and early autumn the Rowan is covered in red, edible berries that also have protective powers. Please look at your handout for a visual of the Rowan tree.
We now move on to one of my favourite trees, the Hawthorn tree. The Hawthorn tree is ruled by Fire and is another Faery tree marked by its red and green colours. The Hawthorn is a tree with two faces. In the springtime the tere is covered in beautiful white flowers and is associated with love, fertility, and sexuality. On May Day, traditionally, Hawthorn boughs were used to dress the altar or at a wedding. However, in the winter time the Hawthorn has quite a different face. Devoid of its leaves and flowers, the sharp thorns that give the tree its name are much more prominent. This side of the Hawthorn is associated with protection, wisdom, and the learning of Witchcraft and magic. Some say that the Hawthorn is like the wise old Grandmother of trees. As a hedge tree, we can use it to “cross over” from the mundane into the magical and come back with new wisdom. The wood of the Hawthorn can be used in magic for protection, love, fertility, blasting, and works having to do with spirit contact. The Hawthorn is the sister tree to the Blackthorn, and is the Light Half to the Dark Half. The Hawthorn tends to be, again, a rather shrubby tree though it can reach up to 30 feet in some cases. The wood is a grayish brown with vertical ridges, and the leaves are lobed and shiny green. The branches are covered in large, sharp thorns and in the autumn the tree bears red berries that can be eaten.
The next tree we will look at is the Elder tree. The Elder is a tree of Water and in folklore was believed to be the home of the Elder Mother, a powerful tree spirit. The Elder Mother probably began as a Goddess, but after the coming of Christianity was turned by the church into an evil spirit and the tree, once venerated, gained a dark and frightening reputation. The Elder tree is used in magic for powerful exorcisms, banishing, and the removal of sickness. Harvesting of the wood must be done very carefully, and the wood should NEVER be burned. Traditionally one says a prayer to the Elder Mother while taking a cutting. The Elder tree tends to be a smallish, crooked tree with characteristic green-brown bark covered in little “eyes.” The branches are filled with a soft pith that can be easily removed, making this an idea wood to use for wands with crystals or center inserts. In the autumn the Elder tree is covered with blue, red, or purple Elderberries that can be made into wine or jelly, but the wood and leaves are poisonous and should not be consumed.
The Ash tree is our next tree and is ruled by both Air and Water. The Ash tree is a healing tree commonly associated with shamanic flights and the ability to see all three worlds, lower, middle, and upper. For this reason the Ash tree is the most common wood used for the Stang, the staff, and the handle of the Witch’s broom. The Ash tree is a common tree used for its shade-giving prophecies and the fact that its wood is very hard. Ancient wands made from spiral Ash gave been discovered. The Ash is probably the best wood behind Hazel to be used for the all-purpose magic wand. The leaves of the Ash tree are long, shiny green, and symmetrical and the bark of the Ash tree is an ashy grey.
Our next tree is the Alder tree. The Alder tree is the tree of the dead and is ruled by water. The Alder is sometimes known as the “witch’s tree” because it bleeds red sap when cut, and this was thought to be the blood of an indwelling spirit or witch. In ancient times wands made from Alder were used to measure the bodies of the dead, and it was believed that the wet and marshy Alder groves were the gateway to Hel (that is, the realm of the Goddess Hel, who ruled over the land of the dead.) The Alder wood is best used for necromancy and the gathering of dark and forbidden knowledge, and is the wood of All Hallows or Samhain. Alder grows in wet, boggy places and has grey bark and large, birch-like leaves. The wood of the Alder is pale and streaked with red.
Finally, the Blackthorn. The Blackthorn tree is ruled by fire and in folklore was known as the Mother of Trees, or the first tree. The Blackthorn has a strange, somewhat sinister reputation and in the past (and in the present) was the wood used for the fearsome Witch’s Blasting Rod. This was a rod or cane made from Blackthorn that was used by a Witch to send forth powerful curses or spells. The Blackthorn is a dark, strange looking tree and is covered in large, sharp, dangerous thorns that can cause a nasty infection if they pierce your skin. These thorns have often been used to pierce poppets for malevolent purposes. The Blackthorn rules over the dark half of the year, as compared to the Hawthorn’s light half. Having said that, the Blackthorn also has positive uses. It can be used to make a washing wand, and the beautiful springtime Blackthorn blossoms have associations with springtime and luck. However, in general the Blackthorn is best reserved for use by an experienced occultist as its energy can be very dark and brooding. The fruit of the Blackthorn is a small plum known as a sloe; these are used to make sloe gin. If you’ll look at your handout, you can see a picture of the Blackthorn’s fruit and flowers.
I encourage everybody to go home and look for these trees around you. Seek them out, get to know them, and form relationships with the spirits therein to see what you can offer each other. You may not form alliances with every tree, and what works for you will depend on where you live. When I lived down South I could not get Hazel to work well for me, but now that I live in the Pacific Northwest, where it grows in abundance, it’s now my go-to wood. I also encourage you to learn more about the unique woods and trees that live in your surroundings and the folklore that surrounds them. Please feel free to ask me any questions, and I can also share some links and resources with you that can provide a deeper look at the folklore and magical properties of the trees we have discussed today."
For further reference, I recommend the following:
Briar Rose: Old Craft Hedgewitchery: I learned much of my wood lore from the proprieters of this shop.
Traditional Witchcraft: A Cornish Book of Ways/ The Black Toad: Both by Gemma Gary. Wonderful resource books on Traditional Craft including the magical woods.
Bardwood Wandery: A great place for tree lore and a maker of fine magical wands as well