Thursday, August 6, 2009

Native Tree Lore and Ogham

A Druid's Diary
Exploring the magickal natures of Australian plants and trees
- As published in the Imbolc 2009 edition of Serpentstar, the OBOD Southern Hemisphere newsletter.

When it comes to learning more about the magickal properties Australian plants and trees there are many good resources available that we can learn from. Resources like the work of Ian White with Bush Flower Essences can tell us much about the magickal uses of Australian flowers. There is also a wealth of information about bush tucker and native foods and medicines from both Indigenous and non-Indigenous writers. It is wonderful to learn about how we can find food and medicines in the bush which can enrich our ritual pracitice as learning more about the natural environment helps us to become more connected to the cycles of nature around us.
As with animals, as I discussed in the last issue, a good way to learn more about the magickal meanings of plants is to see them in nature and spend time with them ourselves, meditating on their specific energies. We can learn much by working intuitively, learning how to interpret their symbols for ourselves. For centuries the medicinal properties of plants were thought to be encoded in the way that they looked by what was called the ‘doctrine of signatures’. The plant might look like a certain body part or a symptom of a disease. For example, if a plant had red spots it might have been used for skin rashes. It was by this process that many of the herbal remedies we know today were discovered. However, as there are many poisonous plants in Australia and those which are edible often need a lot of processing before they can be ingested, so don’t try this at home. These days, when it comes to medicine, we are lucky enough to have the hard work done for us, and needn’t work with trial and error. Always act with caution with wild plants and use a reliable fieldbook reference to identify them before harvesting them.
Bearing this in mind, there is much we can learn by taking field trips into the bush to learn about the magickal energies of plants, and can then use them in meditation, ritual, altar decoration and divination, without too much need for understanding their uses as food or medicine.

As with animals, there is a great diversity of plants and trees throughout Australia, and creating a definitive guide to the country as a whole would be an arduous task, as each place will have its own species, symbols, cycles and therefore meanings to be found. There is certainly not enough scope for a difinitive guide in this article, however, I have put together a set of Australian plant oracle meanings for you to begin your journey into understanding more about the magick of nature all around you. And hopefully you will be able to use this as a guide to finding out more about your own unique local plants.

Tree divination is connected with the Celtic ogham script, which is the oldest script ever used in Britain. Each of the letters represented a tree and a corresponding divinatory meaning. The letters were used for inscriptions on grave markers, memorials, tombs and also for sacred charms and spells. Many Druids today use this alphabet for divination and other magickal work, as well as using it as a guide to understanding the energies of the forest. Many people seek out the different trees and create a set of ogham sticks for use in divination. However, as many of the trees in this alphabet, including species such as oak, ash, rowan, and birch, are hard to find in Australia, I have found that working with the more familiar native trees much more useful, and the process of creating a native ogham set is a wonderfully fulfilling activity in itself. Some people may prefer to work with the non-native trees and some may live in an area with many european trees, they may even plant them in their gardens, so that they can access them more easily, but as native trees provide food and habitat for native species, choosing to plant them instead we not only gain access to the wonderful native energies, we also attract more wildlife into our backyards. Using native trees, I have found it quite interesting to create my own alphabet of symbols to represent each tree that I have found, although some people like to study both the traditional ogham and their native findings to get equivalents of meaning, and then use a matching ogham. What is important is that it feels right to you.

By using a uniquely Australian ogham and becoming more in tune with the plants and trees of the bush we can also make bushwalking much more interesting as we will come to learn a whole new language of the places we walk through. We will feel their magickal essence, and not just appreciate their aesthetic beauty. You might find that in doing so you will discover not only a set of ogham sticks to make for yourself, but a set of sacred locations relating to the energies of each of these plants and trees that you can then use for divination, meditation or ritual.

Here are some examples of Australian plants and trees and the meanings I have discovered myself:

BANKSIA Banksia trees have gnarled bark and branches that look like the skin of the old and wise, the floral columns have a masculine energy, and as they turn to seed pods and open, they look like laughing mouths. They symbolise communication with spirit guides, fertility, life giving, masculine energy, longevity, wisdom of age, joy and energy.

Bright red floral brushes, the colour of our life-blood, the colour of passion and love, blooming after rain they represent fertility and love. Their bottlebrush name invokes banishing, cleansing and renewing energies. Red, the colour of fire, they represent death and rebirth, doorways and entrance to the underworld.

Eucalypts represent the king of the forest, leadership, clarity, goals, focus and healing. There are litterally hundreds of species, each with their own energies. Generally they increase energy and boost the immune system, healing and cleansing the body and providing rejuvenation and connection.

A particularly interesting eucalypt for the scribbly patterns found on the white trunks. Best seen before barkfall, they represent communication, divination, mediumship and channeling. Look at the bark to find symbols and messages, paying attention to the direction they face and the elemental correspondences this represents.

A eucalypt with thick strong fiberous bark. They represent strength, determination, protection, and prosperity.

With their long leaves and curling flowers, they represent beauty, femininity, love, peace, elegance, and grace. They can be found in many colours with white for the moon, yellow for the sun and red for fire, love and passion.They may be trees of small shurbs, and may have large or small flowers. Infuse their essence by soaking their flowers in water in the sun.

Paperbark bark is waterproof and was used by the Aboriginal people to make shelters, bowls and other items. The leaves were used to make tea by the early settlers, and the essential oil is used today for many medicinal purposes. The magickal representations are protection, healing, safety and security. It is also important for children, art, and learning as the papery bark represents books, study and creativity.

These beautiful trees are always found by the water. They are sacred to mermaids, oceanic wisdom, rivers, lakes, tides, fishing, sea creatures, femininity, and therefore also the moon and the mother as the waters. Aboriginal people say that the whistling of the wind in their fronds are the voices of the ancestors and spirits around us.

Flowering from the winter solstice to the spring equinox the many varieties of wattle are sacred to the sun and the solar festivals. The golden orbs represent not only the return of the sun but also wealth, success, good fortune, masculine energy, and abundance.

These huge majestic trees have a dark, powerful and mysterious energy, but at the same time they provide fruit and nuturance, their wide trunks creating cosy sitting spots where one can feel enveloped in their energy. A wonderful tree for meditation, for magick and mystery, protection and nurturance, their towering nature invoking leadership, safety, strength, and a love akin to that of parents for their children.

Standing on the shore between the worlds of land and sea, mangroves represent doorways, and entrances to the otherworld, as well as duality, balance, change, adaptability. Being aware of two ways of being they give us the power to embrace spiritual sight and intuition.

One of the few native deciduous trees, with beautiful pink blossoms flowering after storm festival, they represent beauty, love, fertility, passion, regeneration, rebirth. They stand as a communicator between the nothern and southern cycles, a translator of traditions and a symbol of adaptation, and understanding.

With motled bluish and bright orange bark and blood-red sap these enchanting trees are at their most vibrant just after barkfall near the summer solstice. Their bark becomes a brighter orange representing the fire season and the shedding of unwanted energies. They represent fire, release, change and transformation, purification and cleansing.


You might like to make a set of ogham sticks which you can use for meditation and divination. The best thing to do is to find a tree which you would like to understand better. It may be one from the list I have provided, or it may be one local to your area. Spend some time looking at it, feeling its energy, letting it know who you are and what you would like to know. Then spend some time meditating near the tree. You might like to imagine yourself as the tree, learning to feel and be as it does. Once you have come to understand something about the tree and its energy its time to ask for a stick to make your ogham with.

To do this, first find a suitable branch with a twig about 1cm in diameter and about 10cm long. Hold it and ask the tree (either in your mind, or out loud if you feel comfortable) for its permission to take the twig for your magickal purposes. You should get either a good feeling or a feeling that the tree needs the branch and that you should find another one. Take heed of your intuition here as the tree may be putting energy into new growth and taking a part of its branch may threaten its life. You will usually find that if the tree wants you to have the twig it will break surprisingly easily, but if it needs it you will have a lot of difficulty removing it. Remember that a branch given freely will give you much more of its essence and power freely in the future.

Once you have your twig, cut it to the appropriate size and carve off a part at one end to draw on the symbol of the tree (make one up if you like), and on the other side carve it again to write the name of the tree so you don’t forget where it came from.

Remember to record what you learned about the nature of the tree and its meanings so that later, when you have a few sticks you can use them for divination. Keep them in a special bag or box together, and when you need to ask a question, shake the bag or box, concentrating on the question, then take a stick and read the divinatory meaning for your answer.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Native Animal Lore

Learning about Druidry is about learning how we, as humans can more intimately relate to the world around us. Through ritual, meditation and our philosophies we find ourselves evermore in tune with the earth’s cycles and energies. Our ancestors worked with the changing seasons, and saw that these could be recognised in the changes of the trees, the animals and the stars. Many people studying Druidry today, however, are located in many varied corners of the world where the signs we can see in the trees, animals and even the stars are not the same as those in the land of our ancestors. Yet there is much to be learned about our unique places by learning to understand the messages and signs that nature can give us, wherever we are in the world.

Learning about native animals is one way that we can learn to understand more intimately our own place in the world. By understanding the cycles of the animals of the land, sea and sky we can learn more about the seasons, ways to celebrate change in our world, and essentially learn about ourselves.

There are some resources already available for you to find a guide to the symbolic meanings of Australian native animals, such as the Animal Dreaming oracle deck and book of the same name by Scott Alexander King, however it can be very helpful and informative for us to spend time with native mammals, reptiles, birds and fish to see what symbolism we can find in their nature. By noting their colours, their habbits and habbitat, their mating season or rituals or other features about them we can learn what they represent on a spiritual level.

You might also come across tarot decks or books on Aboriginal myths which can give you more insight into the nature of native animals. Aboriginal myths can be used to gain further insight into the nature of the land also, and can be a wonderful resource for guided meditation. It is important to note, however, that Aboriginal mythology is often secret and very sacred. Stories hold power and are owned by people and places. However, there are myths which we can find in published books and these are available to everyone and as long as we treat them with respect, by acknowledging the author and their country if we use them in ritual. If you are lucky enough to be told a told that a story personally, be sure to find out if there are laws concerning its retelling (for example, only for women), as you may not be able to pass it on to others.

Here are some Australian animals and their magickal meanings which I have discovered myself, but they may also have similarities with other systems as of course, these are the symbolic nature of the animals themselves.


The name ‘koala’ means ‘no water’ as koalas do not need to drink and get all the moisture they need from eucalyptus leaves. As a result they represent resourcefulness, adaptability and survival. They spend much of their time drowsy or asleep, so they represent inner journeys, dreaming and meditation. They are also quite noisy at mating time making them a symbol of passion, but also of anger and jealousy.


The image of the big red kangaroos with their muscled chests, fighting for their rank and right to mate represents the kangaroo’s magickal symbolism in strength, power, protection and masculine energy. The pouch of the mothers represents the closeness of mothers to their children and the process of motherhood generally. They also represent travel, endurance and attentiveness.


Living in underground burrows and coming out in the night, wombats are a symbol of homely comforts, homesickness, and stability. With their thick, stout bodies they represent standing your ground, self confidence and security. The energy of the wombat is of reliability, responsibility, study and family life.


The cackling call of the kookaburra is a familiar sound over much of Australia, sounding much like a hearty laugh they represent humour and looking on the bright side of life. As they are often heard laughing before storms they represent weather knowledge, storm energies, insight, divination and prophecy.


Women's mysteries, duality, sanding on the thresh hold of worlds, mysteries of childbirth, mysteries of evolution and progression, adapting to new situations, changing to suit our environment.


Dingoes often hunt in packs so they emulate teamwork, leadership, hunting, cunning, and wit, working smart not hard. The dingo cannot bark but only howl. They are generally silent showing us the virtue of holding our tongues when we may want to comment too quickly. Leading by example not by explanation. "Do as I do, not as I say".


Emus have a striking glare and a controlled and threatening step. They are curiosity, by not timid. They represent confidence, persuasion, study, focus, discernment, judgement and will power. The nomad, travelling their hourney with confidence and focus on their goals.


A nocturnal animal they carefully move through the trees. They are a symbol of caution and the mysteries of the night. Carrying their young clinging tightly to their backs they symbolise nurturance, agility, holding on, safety and parenting.


White and yellow: Their flashing white and yellow feathers symbolise the rays of the sun, beams of inspiration and life. But their harsh calls remind us that the sun and its strength also bring fire and destruction. Black and red: They also remind us of the fires symbolising the red flames and the charred remains. Cleansing and renewing. Both birds are a symbol of the fire season and the power of the sun.

The lyre bird is a perfect symbol of the Bard. With a long repetoire for different songs the lyre bird symbolises memory, poetry and song. Their silvery voices lighten the sound of the bush and their beautiful feathers and dances are a fabulous display. A performer, a dancer, singer and poet. They represent the poetic inspiration within us all.

Certainly, there are many more native animals with many more symbolic meanings, and there are even regional and other variations which will give the animals different meanings in different contexts. What is important, however is that we are making a connection with the world around us, learning more about the natural world and about ourselves. Each one of us has a responsibilitiy to learn about and connect with the sacred landscape around us. To live in harmony with the land and all its creatures and to be aware of its cycles, signs and symbolism. From the mountains to the sea, from the tropics to the deserts, from the forests to the cities, we all have to find our place and learn about our land in our own way.

Possibly the best way that we can learn more about the native animals of our area is to buy some field guides of birds, mammals, reptiles and fish, and find out about the charateristics of the local fauna. Another way of finding out information is to visit your local council, who often supply leaflets about conservation or the habitats of local species. You may even find that they conduct nature walks where you can be shown some of the local animals. Then a wonderful exercise for meditation is to think about the spiritual meanings and symbolisms of the animals of your area.

This process can be done anywhere in the world and there are many beautiful species which we can learn so much about. Indigenous knowledge is a wonderful resource and a point from which we can learn much about the spirit of our area, however there is also a wealth of knowledge to be found in the symbolic natures of the animals themselves - all we have to do is look.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Australian Seasonal Chart

This chart shows some of the seasons that occur through Australia. The first, however, shows the traditional pagan festivals converted to suit the solstices. The others are Coastal Sydney: from my own studies, Darug/Western Sydney: an indigenous calendar, Melbourne: from a study at Monash University, and the Tropical and Central Northern Territory is from a study of indigenous weather by the government.
It is interesting, yet hardly surprising that there is so much diversity across the country. Australia is almost the same size as continental Europe, and we would never dream that things would be the same in Spain as in Norway! There are many different climates and micro climates, so working on an 'Australian Wheel of the Year' that would work for the whole country is nonsense. What we need to do is research our own local areas and find connection with its individuality so that we can understand its unique and localised seasonal changes.

The Wheel of the Year

Please note that this chart moves in a sunwise direction - so that's anticlockwise.

See the last post for an explanation of the turns.

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Exploring the Native Wheel of the Year in Sydney

We've been working with researching the cycles of the native environment in the last year. This is the fruits of our explorations. We plan in 2009 to explore the ways that these festival times can be celebrated in conjunction with the more traditional or agricultural festivals. This is by no means a difinitive guide to Australia's cycles which are vast and diverse, it is not even difinitive for Sydney as a whole. It is a guide and a working plan for further exploring the native cycles in Australia and it is based on the particular area in which we practice our open circles in northern coastal Sydney.

Summer Solstice/Fire Festival:Year's end and the burning time. Sacred to fire, death, renewal, retreat, cleansing. A good time to release what you no longer need in your life. Between now and the next festival is like a time out of time. Holiday time too, time to relax and spend time with family and friends.
Colours: red, yellow, orange and black.

Early to Mid February - Storm FestivalNew year. Fertility, rain, energy, life. The new growth after fire and rain is lush and bright, the ground is clear of debris and we can see over long distances. A good time to start new projects, make plans and look forward in positivity. Also good for divination and travel.
Colours: bright green, blue and black.

Autumn Equinox - Peace FestivalThat in-between time when the summer heat has subsided, but the cold winter winds have not yet begun. A time of reflection, poetry, creativity. This festival occurs close to Anzac Day and can easily be incorporated with it. Rememberance for those who have fought for what we now have.
Colours: pale blue, white, pale green or pink.

Moon FestivalThe air starts to clear of humidity and a fresh wind starts to blow from the south. The moon is often clearly visible and this is a great time to watch it rise. A time for inner contemplation, for seeking deeper mysteries and revering the sacred feminine.
Colours: White, black, silver, purple.

Mid Winter – Bark Hardening festivalThe sun is at its least strong. The air is cooling further. The bark on the trees is hardening for protection. A time for asking for protection, for healing and for group work. At this time the first wattle starts to bloom marking the return of the sun. Make wishes by burning sprigs on a bonfire.
Colours: Yellow, brown, white

Flower FestivalAt this time there are many wildflowers blooming in the bush and there can be more and more wattle seen every day. A great time for asking for inspiration, for poetry and music, for looking forward after the slower time of winter. A time of beauty, communication and passion.
Colours: bright and beautiful – red, pink, purple, yellow, green, white

Spring Equinox – Wind Change FestivalThis should be celebrated on the first hot day of the year after the winter solstice. The wind comes from the west or the north. It might get over 30degrees. Recognition of changes, growth, maturity. A time to become aware of the progress you have made in the year and maybe have a short rest before putting in the final efforts for the year. Reflection, determination, reward, and releasing procrastination. A time to blow away your troubles and enjoy the sun. Also a ‘return to the water’ festival as this is often the first time people head to the beach after winter.
Colours: blue, red, yellow

Bark Fall Festival: The first death festival marking the beginning of the hotter months. Conveniently landing near the popular Halloween date, a time to respect the dead and the ancestors on the other side. At this time the bark on the trees begins to fall. Collect it, write your troubles on the pieces and burn them away. A time for craziness and doing something out of the ordinary. Push the boundaries, challenge your nature, question who you really are.Colours: black, white, yellow

If you'd like to find out more about our festivals and open circles, contact Julie by email: or by phone +61433051137