Tree Lore - The Alder: is a medium sized, short-lived tree growing to a height of up to 30 metres.
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Monday, 13 July 2020

Tree Lore The Alder

Tree Lore - The Alder

The Alder

The Alder tree (Alnus glutinosa, the common alder, black alder, European alder), is a medium sized, short-lived tree growing to a height of up to 30 metres (100 ft). It is normally found at the edges of forests, in swamps or alongside rivers and streams; it can be found across most of Britain and Europe. The Alder is one of the many of the trees found in Celtic countries that were thought to have magical properties or served as the abode of fairies.

Alder, front of the line,
formed the vanguard
Willow and Rowan
were late to the fray.
- Cad Goddeu (The Battle of the Trees)


The Alder and the Ogham

The Ogham is an Early Medieval alphabet used between the 4th and 9th centuries. The earliest inscriptions date to about the 4th century AD although it's thought that the script was invented in the 1st century BC. Strictly speaking, the word ogham refers only to the form of letters or script, while the letters themselves are known collectively as the Beith-luis-nin after the letter names of the first letters.

There are several legendary accounts of the origin of the Ogham alphabet, one tells that the script was invented by the legendary Scythian king Fenius Farsa, while the Ogham Tract (In Lebor Ogaim) credits Ogma mac Elathan as the inventor. Ogma was skilled in speech and poetry, and created the system for the learned.

The Ogham is sometimes called the "Celtic Tree Alphabet", based on a medieval Bríatharogam tradition ascribing names of trees to the individual letters. A Bríatharogam ("word ogham") is a two word kenning which explains the meanings of the names of the letters of the Ogham alphabet.

The Ogham alphabet originally consisted of 20 characters arranged in four aicmi ('families'), later an additional 5 letters were introduced called the Forfeda. It's thought that the ogham alphabet was based on another script, with Latin, the Elder Futhark and Greek being suggested. The Ogham can be written in both vertical and horizontal forms.

The modern concept of the Ogham derives from theories put forth by the scholar R.A.S. Macalister who believed that the Ogham was first invented by Gaulish Druids around 600 BC as a secret system of hand signals. It was Macalister who proposed that the letter order of the Ogham was beith, luis, nuin, fearn and saille (BLNFS) instead of BLFSN (beith, luis, fearn, saille, nuin). This idea was taken up and expanded upon by the poet Robert Graves in his book The White Goddess.

Fearn is the Irish name of the third or forth letter, depending on the source used, of the Ogham alphabet and means "alder-tree". It can be written either as a vertical line with three horizontal lines or as a horizontal line with three downward facing strokes.

Ogham - Fearn

The Tree of Bran

'the very battle-witch of all woods, tree that is hottest in the fight' - Alder, Song of the Forest Trees.

The Alder is the tree of Bran (Brân the Blessed, Bendigeidfran or Brân Fendigaidd) and in The Battle of the Trees, the Alder stands in the front line - an allusion to the letter F being one of the first 5 consonants of the Ogham alphabet. In the Mabinogion, when Bran's army arrives after hearing of his daughters mistreatment, Bran laid across a river and hurdles were placed upon so that they might pass over. It was said of Bran that no house could contain him.

"There is none, except that he who will be chief, let him be a bridge. I will be so."

It was thought, in Ireland, that the felling of a sacred Alder would cause one's house to burn down. According to Robert Graves, the Alder was the fourth lunar month of the Celtic Tree Calendar, which started on March 18th, when the Alder first blooms to April 14th, which marked the drying up of the winter floods. The alder was thought to have power of divination, especially in the diagnosing of diseases.

'What can no house ever contain?' - 'The piles upon which it is built.'

Month: Fourth month of the Celtic Tree calendar, March 18 - April 14
Element: Fire, Earth and Water
Symbolism: Release, Shield and Foundation, Determination, Discrimination and Inner Confidence, Royalty
Colour: Purple
Deity: Bran

Tree Lore The Alder Comments And Ratings

Current Rating 4.00/5 stars
[4 Votes]


very informative

Posted by: wychiewoman on 23/09/2014 13:42:00


Very interesting article, and the Alder is my tree. It's what my Wand is made out of too.

Posted by: Solitaire on 23/09/2014 17:38:00


Very interesting. I found Robert Graves book very heavy going, it's nice to see a layman's version of his work!

Posted by: hannah on 24/09/2014 10:54:00


Thank you so much for this well written and easy to understand article. I adore everything tree :) Blessings Reenie

Posted by: AgelessDancer on 25/09/2014 08:11:00


Thanks for this Ryewolf... great info x

Posted by: taranova on 27/09/2014 14:04:00


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