Monday, June 1, 2015

Sacred Groves and Writing: On Ravens and Alder

My favorite story in The Mabinogion, the collection of Welsh myths that influenced medieval Arthurian literature, is the tragic tale of Branwen, daughter of Llyr and sister to King Bran the Blessed. Bran means "raven," and his sister is White Raven, with "wen/gwyn" meaning "white" or "fair." Here is a wonderful video presenting their story:

The video does not mention the one part that always broke my heart in the story: "When Branwen saw her son burning in the fire, she made as if to leap after him from where she was sitting between her two brothers, but Bran seized her with one hand and his shield with the other....As each man went after his weapons Bran protected Branwen between his shield and his shoulder." I always imagined Branwen's struggle against the arms holding her, crying and desperately attempting to reach her dying son, who was probably the only light in her life. Branwen's son was named Gwern, which means "alder tree."

 The raven and the sacred Alder tree are entwined in their own Celtic knot.

The Celtic God Bran and the raven are both connected to the concepts of prophecy and fate. As the video mentions, Bran's prophetic head was buried at Tower Hill, where the ravens are cared for even today. In 2003 my husband took me on the trip of my dreams to England, and I saw those majestic birds firsthand. They took my breath away. It bothered me a little to see them caged and know their wings were clipped, but I got the impression they are well-cared-for, even revered, by all. The Tower Ravens are symbols of the timeless magic of myth and belief.

In Love Lies Bleeding, a raven draws Aislin's attention towards the door in the oak, sealing her fate that she is "destined for the forest."

The Cad Goddeu (The Battle of the Trees) is a Welsh medieval poem attributed to the bard Taliesin (who, by the way, is one of the seven warriors who survive the battle and return to Wales with Branwen and Bran's head). In the poem, Gwydion the enchanter animates trees to be his army. Gwydion identifies the god Bran as a raven and gains power by also identifying him with the alder tree, thus revealing his "secret" names:

"Sure-hoofed is my steed impelled by the spur;
The high springs of alder on thy shield; 
Bran thou are called, of the glittering branches.

Sure-hoofed is my steed in the day of battle:
The high sprigs of alder are in thy hand:
Bran thou are, by the branch thou bearest."

In the Ogham alphabet, alder is "Fearn," one of the peasant trees and representative of the letter "F." It likes to grow at the forest's edge and especially on riverbanks. Like Bran, who used his body as a bridge for his warriors, it was often used as material for bridges and viewed symbolically as a bridge between land and water as well as this world and the Otherworld. The alder is a tree of prophecy, like Bran's head and the raven that loves the alder's dark, damp groves, because it gives us a way to access the knowledge, tales, and energy of the Otherworld.

Alder was also the preferred wood for making shields for Celtic warriors. When cut, the alder's white inner wood turns red, thus "bleeding" and conferring magical protection upon the warrior who carries the shield. Alder is a warrior's wood, one of protection, defense, and preservation, just as Bran relied heavily on his shield to protect his sister.

The Alder Tree can protect us on our journeys and help us find the way to hidden knowledge. Follow the Raven lurking in its branches as it takes flight, for it can also lead us to the right path as we seek out life's mysteries to find who we really are. And speaking of which...

Introducing CORVUS CALLING, 
the new White Raven Writing Newsletter!
I named my shiny new email newsletter after the bird family that includes the mystical ravens. 
Get a glimpse into the "Otherworld" of my stories with exclusive content and first looks before they are announced on social media channels, as well as fun offers just for fans! 

Those of you who follow my Author Page on Facebook may have seen my lovely Oak Ogham pendant by
Bev Halstead, the talented crafter and shop owner, has created these stunning pendants especially for White Raven Writing...

Bev is also willing to PERSONALIZE this pendant for the winner!
Check out TOUCHWOODCRAFT SHOP ON ETSY...all her materials are made with local, sustainable sources, such as recycled Welsh oak, and she uses the old art of "Fire Writing" (pyrography). Bev is absolutely lovely to work with. And there is also an Alder Ogham Pendant for sale...unless it's been snatched up already!

TO ENTER simply SUBSCRIBE by typing your email address on the sidebar under 
Corvus Calling, "Subscribe to Our Mailing List."
Flying Raven Pendant Giveaway ends June 4th, 2015.
Winners to be announced in the first newsletter and contacted by email.

~ fearn ~

If you liked this post, scroll down to check out On Ogham and Oak, the first installment.

Works Referenced and Recommended:
Celtic Tree Magic by Danu Forest
The Mabinogion translated by Jeffrey Gantz

All pictures are from Pinterest, except the pendants courtesy of Touchwoodcraft. If a picture is yours and you do not want it used in this blog post, please contact me and I will remove it. Thank you.


  1. What a gorgeous post! I loved the video & learning about the "peasant trees" and ravens in myth and lore. Can't wait to read more of your magical stories <3