Sacred Trees in Early Ireland
Early Irish law was based on decisions made by the Gaelic Brehons, learned men and women of old Irish society who took on the responsibilities of the Judge.
It was an oral tradition, but the rulings were recorded by later Christian monks and priests, and so we have surviving Brehon Law manuscripts from the 700s.
The system remained in use despite many changes through Irish history, with native laws only specifically banned by the English in 1600.
The Brehons called their laws Fenechas – the law of the freemen of Gaelic Ireland, and it was a civil (not criminal) code which focused on payment of compensation for harm done, rather than punishment. Irish trees were revered and protected as an essential part of each community, and recognised as both sacred and valuable.
A text called Bretha Comaithchesa, which means ‘judgements of neighbourhood’, specifically regulated how Irish society dealt with harm done to trees. Damage to an especially valuable tree such as an oak or yew was a more serious offence than to a less prized tree, so 28 principal trees and shrubs are divided into four classes, with different rules applied to each group.
The 28 Principal Irish Trees
The most valuable and noble are the airig fedo – ‘lords of the wood’.
- Dair ‘oak’ (Quercus robur, Quercus petraea)
- Coll ‘hazel’ (Corylus avellana)
- Cuilenn ‘holly’ (Ilex aquifolium)
- Ibar ‘yew’ (Taxus baccata)
- Uinnius ‘ash’ (Fraxinus excelsior)
- Ochtach ‘Scots pine’ (Pinus sylvestris)
- Aball ‘wild apple-tree’ (Malus pumila)
Then the aithig fhedo – ‘commoners of the wood’.
- Fern ‘alder’ (Alnus glutinosa)
- Sail ‘willow, sally’ (Salix caprea, Salix cinerea)
- Scé ‘whitethorn, hawthorn’ (Crataegus monogyna)
- Cáerthann ‘rowan, mountain ash’ (Sorbus aucuparia)
- Beithe ‘birch’ (Betula pubescens, Betula pendula)
- Lem ‘elm’ (Ulmus glabra)
- Idath ‘wild cherry’ (Prunus avium)
The fodla fedo are the ‘lower divisions of the wood’.
- Draigen ‘blackthorn’ (Prunus spinosa)
- Trom ‘elder’ (Sambucus nigra)
- Féorus ‘spindle-tree’ (Euonymus europaeus)
- Findcholl ‘whitebeam’ (Sorbus aria)
- Caithne ‘arbutus, strawberry tree’ (Arbutus unedo)
- Crithach ‘aspen’ (Populus tremula)
- Crann fir ‘juniper’ (Juniperus communis)
And least valuable are the losa fedo – ‘bushes of the wood’.
- Raith ‘bracken’ (Pteridium aquilinum)
- Rait ‘bog-myrtle’ (Myrica gale)
- Aitenn ‘furze, gorse, whin’ (Ulex europaeus, Ulex gallii)
- Dris ‘bramble’ (Rubus fruticosus aggregate)
- Fróech ‘heather’ (Calluna vulgaris, Erica cinerea)
- Gilcach ‘broom’ (Sarothamnus scoparius)
- Spín ‘wild rose’ (Rosa canina)
King of the Woods
Let’s take for an example the mighty Oak. A mature Irish Oak (Quercus Robur) can live for more than 500 years, and grow 130ft tall. One of these trees supports over 250 species of insect, and over 300 different types of lichen, which form the food chain for a multitude of birds. Oaks grow acorns, a feast for many wild creatures, who can also make a home in the tree – whether they’re nesting in branches or curling up at the roots. Humans also benefit greatly from each and every tree, so it’s no wonder the oak is known as the ‘king of the woods’. In Irish it’s called dair, and shares a root with the word for magic and druid – draoí. The practical value of the oak in Brehon Law is said to be “its acorns and its use for woodwork”; the acorn crop was particularly useful for fattening pigs, while oak-timber is the finest for fences and buildings.
Why Connect to Trees?
Tree energy is unique and incredibly healing. Trees can help humans to:
- Ground Ourselves – centre our spirit within our body, and directly connect to the earth.
- Heal Ourselves – particularly for old and deep emotional wounds.
- Discover Our Ancestors – bridge the generational gaps of time and link to our past.
- Clear Our Physical Blockages – cleanse impurities and pain or obstructions we have collected.
- Connect to Other Worlds – trees exist in worlds of earth and sky, carry water and create air.
How to Connect to a Tree
First, find one that’s physically convenient to you – in your garden or where you work maybe? You’ll want to build a relationship, so the occasional flying visit will not do. Go and look at it, really look at it. Stand back and take in its overall form and growth habit. See how the leaves are shaped, the patterns they form on stem or branch – notice every part of it.
Feel the sphere of energy, or aura, around the tree. It is formed in circles, and can be quite large; the outer ring will match roughly with the overall spread of branch and root. Step up to, then inside the energy circle. If you move slowly and close your eyes you’ll feel a slight push, a feint resistance as you step through, and again through each interior ring as you make your way to the trunk.
Find a comfortable spot and stand or sit with your back leaning against the tree. Sense how you are safe inside its energy circle. Take off your shoes and touch the earth beneath your feet. Put your hands to the bark of the tree, or flat on the soil beneath it, and let energy flow from the crown of your head, down your spine, and out of your body, down into the earth.
Allow your body to refill with fresh energy as you breathe air into your lungs, and pull the tree’s healing power through the top of your head and down into the centre of yourself. Let it circle and flow through you. Spend some time; see what thoughts come to mind.
When you feel refreshed, step away and thank the tree for the connection that day.
Visit the tree again soon!
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