Welcome to the Book of the Tree Seasons
Our Sun-wheel year as a whole is divided into two halves, the Light half and Dark Half of the year, the dividing line running along the central Equinox line, with the Dark Half to the North and the Light half to the South, represented by the Holly King in the North and the Oak King in the South!
The cycle of the Tree Seasons begins and ends at Winter Solstice, there are 8 different Tree Seasons in total, The Silver Birch, The Rowan, The Alder, The Hawthorn, The Oak, The Hazel, The Apple Tree and The Yew - running between each Stone of our Stone Circle and reaching from Ceremony to Ceremony, each lasting 45 days and all having their own unique seasonal influence and personality!
We are greatly encouraged to live, grow and share our own experiences within the world around us, influenced by The Sun, Moon, Earth, the Elements and the Cycle of Living Nature, as we follow our own personal and evolving path.
Throughout the turning of the Sunwheel and the cycle of our Ceremonial year, we celebrate and honour our native Trees – In connection with the living harmony of our lives and with the lives of our Ancestors!
Since man first walked the Earth, we have lived in harmony with the Trees. They have protected us with their shape and form, they have given up their wood for us, for building, for walkways and fencing, for tools and for burning - to keep us warm!
As man’s knowledge grew, we learned the true value of trees!
We shared in their Earthly connection as they fed, sheltered, and healed us, each species, unique in our connection of understanding!
We learned the art of coppicing with standards and how-to live-in harmony with the Trees, giving them the living life cycle of renewal and the strength of new growth. We learned how to manage and help the woodland and found the wisdom of understanding with the harmony of nature and the Lands of the Earth.
Britain was once an island of Trees, over the ages laying down their bed of leaves, branches and deadwood of foundation and fertility - feeding the wonderous multitude of life and the drive of nature!
We are losing our understanding with the Trees and their importance in our lives, we have neglected the woodlands that now remain or have replaced them with quick growing – profitable Trees!
We import most of our wood from abroad and yet our natural woodlands stand tangled and strangled. We should manage our woodlands and breathe new life into them!
And live in harmony with the power and energy of our Trees!
Hawk Elderin & Morien Ravenstone
On behalf of The Sunwheel Grove Druid Order
1 – The Season of the Silver Birch!
The Silver Birch Tree is one of about 60 different deciduous species of Tree and Shrub belonging to the Birch family. It is a Tree that can grow to about 100ft (30m) tall, with a silvery, grey-white bark and almost ring-like dark fissures reaching up the length of its trunk. The bark, despite its outer shredded papery qualities is very resilient and impervious to water. It has easily recognisable branches and their fine twigs tend to droop with a weeping elegance and flow with the breeze. They have smallish green, triangular leaves with tooth shaped edging. The leaves, if moving from a particularly wet period to a prolonged dry spell can take on a small black speckled appearance which does not harm the Tree until they fall in the autumn.
Despite this, the Silver Birch is a very hardy Tree that can withstand severe cold or drought as well as being supple enough to cope with high winds. They produce both male and female catkins on the same tree. The male catkins tend to be more yellow and drooping whilst the female catkins are usually greener and upright - although later hang down. The fruit of the Tree appears as winged seeds, hanging in small catkins and are borne on the air.
As the Tree ages and dies, the soft wood tends to break down inside the branches and trunk and can leave hollow, dusty tubes in places, held together by the bark. It is a quick growing species and will spread well across open ground but is relatively short lived and acting as a nursing tree, giving cover and protection for the slower growing longer living standard trees such as Oak and Beech.
Living for up to 80 years or so, they will then break down and fertilise the ground and become a food source for the bigger trees and the creatures of the Earth.
The Birch Tree has been welcomed all over as a useful contributor to human life. Reaching back through history our Ancestors and the native peoples of the Earth have used Birch bark for a multitude of things from boats and canoes to roofing for houses and shelters, as covering for wigwams and yurts. As well as using it for a wide range of containers and other uses including shoes and binding and even writing paper!
Birch was used for purification in Native North American sweat-lodges and used widely across Europe as twigs to beat the body during saunas to stimulate circulation and blood flow.
Birch has a connection with the whole of the year, whether it be used for lighting the fires of Beltane or made into a broom to sweep out the old year at Samhain and with its bark stripped, it was burnt as the original Yule log as protection against the cold and darkness of Winter.
Its leaves, branches, twigs, and sap have a wide range of beneficial properties for health and wellbeing and has held the focus of generations of celebration, with its use as the Maypole.
Our Ancestors and some remote gatherings of people still tap into the Silver Birch and collect the sap without harming the tree, for an honouring toast or a healthy purified drink called Birch Water that can be consumed either fresh or naturally fermented!
The Birch is revered as a connection with new birth and new life, renewal and protection, it is the first Tree to take hold upon the cleared land and the virgin soils of the Earth where other trees will not grow!
Often known as the white Lady of the woods, we celebrate and honour the Silver Birch in our Ceremonies. We honour them during our Ceremony of Re-birth at Winter Solstice and welcome the season of the Silver Birch, leading us toward Imbolc and the time of the Awakening!
We share a connection with the ring of eight Silver Birch Trees that stand around the inside of the bank and ditch that surrounds our stone circle, with the ninth standing as overseer to our Ancestral Altar and the entrance to our Grove!
The Season of the Silver Birch is the season of new beginnings!
With the passing of Winter Solstice and the rebirth of the Sunwheel, we are slowly but surely drawn through the darkness of winter, we have completed our period of contemplation and now we look to the future and tentatively ponder our plans and the infinite possibilities for the natural cycle of the Sunwheel to come!
The days will gently start to lengthen as Mother nature rests in her winter slumber and we share in the peace of the Earth, some of our fellow creatures hibernate and others have migrated, only to wake or return as the seasons warm and come alive!
The naked Silver Birch resting proud like quills in their ink pots, standing out like beacons amongst the undergrowth in its pale greens and sepia tones of expended and sleeping vegetation, at this time, we share in a sense of hope as we anticipate the turning of the wheel and look forward to the awakening!
As with all Trees, the Silver Birch will swell in their multitude of new buds, like thoughts and ideas forming, as we take the time to breathe in the air with its winter chill and feel the energy of our connection with the resting world around us!
At this time of the year, we share a sense of patience, taking in the calm before the storm and the impending explosion of the awakening and Imbolc, bursting into life!
2 – The Season of the Rowan!
The Rowan, Mountain Ash or Quickbeam, as it is sometimes known is native to Britain and Europe as well as parts of Asia Minor. It is a deciduous Tree that can grow up to 50ft (15m) tall, with a smooth, silvery grey bark and branches.
In young trees its twigs tend to be downy and turn hairless with age. Its pinnate leaves can be up to 10 inches (25cm) in length and have anything between 10 and 20 sharply toothed, green oblong leaflets although they tend to have 13 to 15 in most cases.
The Tree’s flowers are usually borne in large, flat headed clusters and a beautiful creamy, white colour in May. These flowers grow into bunches of green round berry like fruit which then, along with the tree’s foliage, turn a deep red with the onset of Autumn and feeding the birds on into the cold and grey of Winter, it spreads its seed!
The Rowan is a very hardy, tolerant and versatile Tree that is particularly at home on higher ground and can live and grow in a multitude of soils and conditions anywhere up to a height of over 3000 feet (914 metres) above sea level, matched only by the Juniper and some small Willow species that can grow higher!
The Rowan Tree, to many is a sacred and magical Tree, it stands as a symbol of the hidden mysteries of the flow of Nature and the Quickening of Nature’s life-force, with its foliage and red berries it is said to be the inspiration behind the colours woven into the fabric of the Tartan adorned by the Scots and other Celtic Clans!
In the bardic tradition, The Rowan is revered as the ‘Tree of Inspiration’, with its protection and health benefits.
The Season of the Rowan begins with Imbolc and the Awakening!
At this time the winter ice begins to melt, the gathering of the rains and the natural springs run free and the mountain streams begin their journey and the growing swell, before riding the rapids and following the natural curves carved out of the rock and the bed of the earth over countless ages!
Going with the flow along Streams and Ditches, Brooks and Rivers, the water and the drink of life, meanders its way as part of the endless cycle of life and fills the tributaries, before heading for the coast where it returns to the ocean!
In time it will become a small part of the moisture gathered by the forming clouds and driven by the winds, it sails across the skies before it is deposited across the living contours of the Earth!
It is the time of the Awakening and Mother Earth begins to stir from her winter slumber, the buds on the Trees and Hedges, Shrubs and Bushes, as well as the undergrowth around us swell in expectation and the Snowdrops and Primroses decorate the Earth and its quiet corners with their beautiful vision of new life!
At this time of the Sunwheel we share in the excitement of the waking energy and celebrate its wonder!
The Season of the Rowan is the time of the quickening and we share in the power of potential, it’s a time of new growth and for looking forward as the days lengthen, the young Sun warms the earth and the lust for life leads us toward the balance of the Spring Equinox and the beginning of the Light half of the Year!
3 – The Season of the Alder!
The Alder or Common Alder, European Alder, Black or Grey Alder is the collective name of a genus called Alnus and comprising a family of about 35 species, it consists of deciduous, monoecious trees and shrubs, found mainly in more northern temperate regions, beside lakes, rivers, ponds and in wetland areas!
Conical in shape, mature Alder Trees are often covered in lichen and can reach a height of about 90 feet (28 metres) and live for approximately 60 years!
The leaf buds are a purple, grey and form on long stems of 1 – 3 inches (3 – 9 cm) – the dark green leaves are rounded and leathery in appearance, with serrated edges and a pinched leaf tip. The twigs are a light brown spotted stem which turns a ruddy colour toward the top, with its young twigs feeling sticky to the touch!
The light green male catkins are long and droop down, while the female catkins are short and rounded at first before turning into woody cones later in the season. The bark of younger trees is smooth and a greenish brown colour, before ageing into a very dark brown or grey and forming deep fissures and a scaly texture. The empty cones often adorn the tree throughout the winter and the seeds, equipped with tiny airbags, are taken by the wind and waterways!
The Alder Tree is a special and important tree and known to enrich the soil. When harvested the protein rich wood of the Alder is an attractive option for woodworm and as a result is not recommended for use in building, however, when used under water it comes into its own as a very strong and durable material and if it remains wet it gets harder with age and forms a rock like substance. As a result, it was used as a foundation for Crannogs, lakeside dwellings and for marshland and wetland walkways, it was also used for the foundations as Alder poles in the construction of wooden bridges. Traditionally it was also used in the building of water tanks, sluices, pumps and water pipes!
Alder as firewood makes a poor fuel but works well as being an excellent raw material for the making of charcoal!
Alder is a truly superb wood for turning, if it is turned wet it becomes a reddish orange colour and if it is turned dry it stays white. It often has an irregular shaped trunk and branches which work particularly well for naturally edged bowls!
The Alder is sometimes known as the totem tree of King Bran, meaning ‘Raven’ who appears in Welsh myths and legends, it is said that the head of King Bran was buried on the hill where the tower of London was built and is why its Ravens reside there!
In herbal healing both its bark and leaves were used to help with a variety of ailments, it was also revered for its use in the process of making dyes. As well as its use in producing reds, yellows and blacks, it is best known for its use in producing purple, known as ‘Royal Purple’ for its associations with King Bran and the Raven, as a result the Alder is also often associated with the gem stone Amethyst!
The Season of the Alder, the lengthening month of the waking Alder and the quickening!
The season begins with Spring Equinox and the arrival of and stepping into the Light Half of the Year!
At this time of the year, wheat seed is sown to take advantage of the warming days to come throughout the season, destined to be ripened by the summer sun and harvested at Lughnasadh!
As we Step into the Light we also sow the seed of potential, the seed of inspiration deep within ourselves, a seed to nurture and grow into a yet undefined thing, the conception of an idea that will be nurtured and loved, a tangible thing, refined and honed with the turning of the Sun-wheel, to be shaped and formed from the spark of an idea into a fully formed creation, something that can be shared by one and all or as personally as you like, an individually made contribution to gift to the world, however big or small, to enhance and promote the understanding of knowledge and personal thinking, to add to the wide tapestry of the creation of life!
The beautiful rosettes of Primroses and their individual yellow tongues begin to light up the wild walkways, quiet corners and woodland edges and we share in their moment, sparing a pause for thought as they dance in the climbing shimmer of the early spring sunshine!
With the Flora and Fauna bursting into life, the flourish of the leaves opening on the trees and the busy wonder of the birds, as they seek out territories and nesting possibilities in a symphony of bird song and the madness of the March Hair, the energy of life is building and hibernating species wake from their slumber, the earth is warming beneath our feet and the growing intensity of the lust for life flows on toward Beltane and the coming of the Green Man!
4 – The Season of the Hawthorn!
Native to Europe, the Common hawthorn, hawthorn, May Tree, one-seed hawthorn, white thorn, or quick thorn is part of a family called Rosaceae belonging to more than a thousand species known as Crataegus, although many of them are hybridised. The Hawthorn is one of the most adaptable and hardiest of trees, they can tolerate both strong winds and dry ground, as well as excessive water.
Mature trees can reach heights of up to 15 m (50ft) and are characterised by their dense, thorny appearance. They tend to grow as a small tree with a single stem, as they age, the bark becomes a brown–greyish colour, knotted and fissured, the branches harbour a mass of twigs and are of a slender brown appearance and are covered in thorns!
Originally named after the month it blooms, the Hawthorn is a small and elegant tree and were once used as important boundary markers, but more so used over the ages as a hedging plant for its strength, durability, and spiky nature, shaped over countless centuries and laid into a tightly woven hedge that can now be flail cut for practicality or left to grow strong and tall!
The pale green leaves are often the first to appear in spring, bursting its buds with a smattering of subtle green highlights, before growing to around 6cm (3in) in length and comprised of toothed lobes which are shaped and cut back to the middle of the leaf, the leaves then turn yellow before dropping in autumn!
The Hawthorn blooms are a sign that spring is turning into summer and are truly a sight to behold, stretching across the countryside like snowy ribbons in great swathes, with their veil of intricate dense flat-topped clusters of individual flowers, they are beautiful white blossoms, tinged with pale ripples of pink, with five petals and heavily scented. They are presented on defined green shoots in May arriving with the welcome of Beltane, before flushing in a covering of small orange–red berries that linger on through Autumn and beyond!
The dense and thorny foliage makes the perfect nesting hideaway and the Hawthorn draws in a vast seasonal multitude of insects such as various Moths and their caterpillars, as well as all manner of other insects, the flowers attract Bees and other pollinators, while Dormice eat the fallen flowers for a sweet treat and the berries feed a wide range of Birds and small mammals!
The Hawthorn is also a pagan symbol of fertility, the unity of the masculine and feminine, with ancient links with May Day and was the ancestor to the Maypole. Its leaves and flowers were used in May Day garlands as well as adorning the wreath of the Green Man!
Hawthorn wood is a milky brown colour and finely grained, it is an extremely hard wood and good for turning and engraving, it is also used for veneers and cabinets, as well as a multitude of other things. It is known to burn at high temperatures and makes good firewood and charcoal!
Whether it be young leaves, flower buds or young flowers, they are all edible and can be added to a salad, the haws can also be eaten but can cause mild stomach upset and are more often used to make jellies or wine, they are a good source of vitamin C and are also known to be good for the heart!
The season of the Hawthorn begins with Beltane, coming into the green and the beginning of summer!
As the Hawthorns begin to flower, we celebrate the arrival of the Green Man and the fertility of the Earth.
As we greet the season, we take great pleasure in the energy of the flora and fauna coming to life in the age old way, Mother Nature paints her unique picture and the seasonal cycle of the sun-wheel warms the Earth!
As we follow the season, we admire the beauty of the Beltane Cowslips and enjoy the nature of their lives as we ponder our own, with the warming weather, summer plans can be encouraged and a positive energy fills the air as we welcome the onset of a Summer of possibilities under the climbing of the Sun!
We observe the busy life of the Hawthorn and the comings and goings of a myriad of life’s creatures, as they find their place amongst the May flowers and their cover, we are encouraged by their efforts, each with their own purpose and we can’t help but feel a sense of hope!
As the Birds begin to pair off and start to build their nests, we witness and admire their industry and commitment in a symphony of tweets and mating calls and share in the rush of the lust for life!
The Buzzards begin to pick up on the warmer thermals and call to one another, we share in their magnificent cries and we feel the connection and are reminded of the value of communication!
The Trees around us shake their new head of leaves in the early summer winds and as the fruit blossom is packed away, we watch the fruit buds begin to form and we remember our inner seed and share in a sense of encouragement and growth as the conception of our idea begins to evolve!
As we follow our path onward with the sun-wheel, we move closer toward the highest light and the greeting of the Summer Solstice!
To be continued