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The magic of the alder tree

Alder tree

This month I have been designing around the alder tree - and it was fascinating looking into the history and folklore of it.

In some parts of Ireland it is allegedly still forbidden to cut down alder trees. The link to the supernatural is strong and to some extent the fear of repercussions must linger.

The tree has wood is white when cut but soon starts to turn rusty red, a symbolic bleeding that has linked the trees to supernatural life, folklore and superstition for millennia.

This magic, coupled with the prevalence of alders in the damp west, leads to Alders being an important sign in Celtic astrology.

In Celtic Astrology - an ancient Druid belief system - the year is divided into 13 lunar cycles, each symbolised by a tree.

The Alder symbolises the 18th March - 14th April and those born during this period are said to be path finders, adventurers, creators - with the tenacity needed to solve problems.

Anything with an alder on it would be a great unusual gift for someone whose birthday falls in the second half of March or first half of April (it bridges Pisces and Aries in the better known zodiac).

We have alders growing along the bank of the stream that borders our garden - they relish the wet conditions - the seeds require saturated ground to germinate, and seem to resist deer attack better than any other species.

Alongside from its magical colour changing trick, the wood has a couple of really interesting properties which have led to its importance.

Though the wood rots quickly above ground, it becomes hard as stone in water. The crannogs which peppered Scotland in the Iron Age were built on alder piles, as, more recently, was much of Venice.

The wood also has an incredibly high burning temperature - the highest of any wood which would have been readily available within the British Isles or Ireland. This meant that it was highly prized for forging metal - the amazing Celtic jewellery and swords would probably have been created in an alder fire.

This video from The British Museum shows how a Celtic torc would be made - the laborious hammering of the gold alloy bars into smooth wires would have needed good high burning charcoal.

I know that they aren't 100% sure what much Celtic metalwork was used for, but there is a feeling that much was for rituals - I now have a vivid picture in my imagination of an iron age scene, the reverence in cutting of the alder trees, the making of the charcoal, the forging of the torcs.

All that from a few twigs of alder catkins and google.

You can see the Alder collection here

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Comments: 1

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Helen Outen

Hi Jane,
Saved this the other day to read when I had time. Very interesting. I have a little booklet about amny types of tree....lots of info. It's put away safe......if and when I can find it I will send it to you.
Helen

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