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.


  1. Hi Julie,
    Thanks for posting this information. I have a ritual i do for Beltane that is Celtic Pagan from the Northern Hemisphere. So it was so much more connecting with the native trees from my area, matched to represent the European tree meanings. I couldn't find natives to replace all, but it was the major God & Goddess that I found. I resonate with your magical teachings. Thanks & Blessings. I have been practicing for 25yrs am learning, honing my skills & knowledge all the time, it's exciting. xx

  2. Hello Julie... Linnie here :) I find myself here visiting your post of years ago, still busily working on my 'best fit' Tree Ogham friends for the Grove I call home. I have many matches that I feel very comfortable with, no matter that my 'Ivy' won't grasp surfaces as strongly, or my 'Honeysuckle' (Forfeda inclusion) is a tree :) It is about the energy of the plant, its personality.. But I have a few that just want to be Ash and Birch, Nuin and Beith... and I'm wringing my hands with "I can't make up my mind" lack of clarity.. sigh.. I love that you have created yours which you have shared elsewhere and I can feel and understand why.. Mine live so climatically separate from yours and again from the traditional that they need their own stories, of course... We don't have Oak and it won't like it here, and it is not a tree I relate strongly to EXCEPT during Uni years in Armidale, when I was able to pick up fallen acorns to offer my deer friends.. So King of the Forest sounds almost like your Eucalyptus, but our Eucalyptus is gentle, and slender, with her arms held upwards in respect, and she nurtures koalas with all her heart... Tricky... Her bark is smooth, too, but unlike the blue/red of River Red Gum she is very fair, with only a trace of flesh colour against her smooth, pale silver trunk.. I think she will find her Ogham connection elsewhere :) And I think that I'm leaning to beautiful, regal, Silky Oak, Grevillea robusta.. By name he sounds more robust, and he glows with the golden sheen so often associated with fame and those who rule. Thank you for all that you do xxx