Fairy Trees: Trees and Plants Inhabited by the Fay
The Earth's Guardians
The belief that fairies are guardians of Mother Earth is one that permeates both modern day paganism and Celtic history. The fay are seen as residents and valiant protectors of trees, plants, animals, and nature in general. If you are curious as to which trees and plants are the fairies' favorites, I will spell it out for you in this article.
Just a couple things before we get started. Never cut down or take a branch from a fairy tree as it might anger its residents and cause you extra trouble in the near future. Tying ribbons on trees as offerings for the fay is an acceptable and ancient practice, as well as leaving offerings of mead and cakes.
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Fairy Trees: Hawthorn
Every friend of the fairies knows that hawthorn is especially sacred to the fay. In many places in Europe, people were discouraged from even touching this fairy tree out of reverence for its magickal inhabitants. Hawthorn trees are considered a part of the fairy tree triad next to oak and ash. They are thought to be particularly important to the fay because they are a representation of the three realms - underworld, middleworld, and upperworld. This also coincides with the pagan beliefs in the triple goddess - the maiden, mother, and crone.
Hawthorn can be seen around many holy wells in Europe, particularly in Ireland and England. White hawthorn is said to be a favorite of the good fay, and some say that witches plant hedgerows of hawthorn near their homes to protect them from ill will and nosy neighbors. This fairy tree has gotten a bad rap throughout the years as it was so important to the ancient Celtic people that when the Church arose in Europe they wanted to eradicate the old Pagan ways, and this tree was one that they tried to make look evil. There are even legends circulating that the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus' head was made of Hawthorn, though there is no scientific nor written evidence that this legend is true and could very well be propaganda used by the Church against the fairy tree Hawthorn. The Church probably also didn't like the fact that the Hawthorn tree was used during the pagan festival of Beltane, a fertility festival that celebrated the union of the god and goddess.
If you're lucky enough to find a Hawthorn fairy tree, leave an offering at the base of the tree or tie ribbons in its branches as gifts for the fay.
Fairy Trees: Oak
The Oak tree was the most sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids. It was mighty and steadfast, and it seemed to whisper the forest's secrets to the reverent priests. The oak was also a favorite of the fairies, and it is considered a part of the fairy tree triad along with Hawthorn and Ash. Oak groves were particularly sacred to the Druids, and every tribe was thought to have one particular Oak tree that they considered a talisman or protector of sorts. And of course, the fairies were thought to live in the oak trees, specifically the tree fairies who gave their wisdom to the Druids.
Oak is a fairy tree that was used in ancient Pagan festivals specifically for the Winter Solstice. This fairy tree was traditionally used as the material for the Yule log and is still used today. Oak trees are still prominent in many countries and are quiet but strong trees. I've always had an affinity towards oak trees, and I've always used their acorns in magick and decorating. I also liked the idea that the oak tree is sacred to the Celtic Irish god Dagda. He was one of the Tuatha de dannaan, ancient Celtic gods who many people associate with the fairies (some believe they were fairies themselves).
Fairy Trees: Ash
The ash tree is the third and final of the fairy tree triad, and again is one of the trees that was considered sacred to the ancient Celts. Many people believed that the ash tree was also special to the fairies, while some believed the ash tree could keep the fairies away. Some folklore says that a sapling of an ash tree hung over where a baby sleeps will protect the baby from witchcraft.
The ash tree was regarded as sacred to the ancient Celts, so much so that many would refuse to cut it down even if they had no other means of wood for a fire. If you have an ash tree in your yard, or in your neighborhood, do everything you can to protect it. This fairy tree might be the residence of some very friendly fairies. If you protect their residence, they might indeed return the favor and protect yours.
Fairy Trees: Willow
When I was a little girl, there was a weeping willow tree down the street from where I lived. I could never play under it, as it was on someone else's property but I always longed to. Dreams would fill my sleep with images of lying under that willow tree, and they were very magical dreams indeed. I always pictured fairies playing in the willow tree's branches, dancing with the swaying of its long leaves. Unbeknownst to be at the time, the weeping willow tree is actually native to China and is usually only cultivated here in the United States as an ornamental tree. But guess what? There are fairies in Chinese folklore (and in Chinese trees), too.
The willow tree is another of the sacred Celtic trees and a part of the Ogham alphabet. In moist soil, a fallen willow tree branch can grow a whole new willow tree. Because of its ability to grow from a fallen branch, this fairy tree was long considered the perfect representation of immortality or reincarnation. Many fairies are thought to live in the willow tree's branches, while some only believe that the willow tree can be inhabited by one type of fairy - cleverly called the "willow fairy" (original, right?) Teresa Moorey writes in her Fairy Bible that the Willow Fairy is extremely wise, but it is also not always friendly to humans.
If you are walking in the woods and find a circle of Willow Trees, you may have stumbled across a fairy circle. Don't linger in the circle for too long, lest you be taken by the fairies for good!
More Fairy Trees & Plants
Because fairies are the guardians and growers of the earth, you could probably find a fairy in or around almost every tree or plant in existence. Some believe that the plants and trees' spirits are able to shift into various forms hence giving us the belief and stories of fairies. Are the fairies separate entities that guard the trees and plants or are they indeed the trees' spirits themselves?
While we've covered four of the main fairy trees in Celtic lore, we have not covered all of the sacred Celtic trees nor have we covered a majority of the fairy plants. There are dozens more fairy trees and plants. Mistletoe, Holly, toadstools (yes I know they're a fungus), flowers of various kinds, and many different herbs are also thought to house fairies. The moral of the story is to be as kind and protectant of nature as you can. If you have to take something from a fairy tree or plant, please leave something in return. The more you show an appreciation for nature, the more the fairies will warm up to you.
Written and copyright © by Kitty the Dreamer (May Canfield), 2012. All Rights Reserved.
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