Celtic alder art and Celtic Tree Calendar art - plus a little look at the myth, history and meaning of the alder tree...
The English word ‘alder’ is thought to come from the Old German workd ‘elawer’ meaning ‘reddish’ – the white wood inside the alder tree turns red when cut and the catkins of the alder are a purplish-red.
The Anglo-Saxon word for alder is ‘alr’ (linked to the Norse word ‘olr’). The Gaelic ogham word for alder is ‘fearn’ linked to the Welsh ‘gwern’. More about the meaning of ‘fearn’ later…
Celtic Tree Calendar: 18 March -14 April
The red colour that the white wood inside the alder turns to when cut led to an ancient belief that the tree actually bled when cut. This implied that the tree was linked to our human ancestry and Irish mythology stated that the first man was born of an alder tree (and rowan, of the red berries, was the first woman).
In the Celtic world, red was a sacred colour. The colour of blood, fire, and the sun – the colour of life.
It’s said the Rollright Stones’ King Stone once had its own grove of alder trees – the trees were cut, to bleed, and when they were cut, legend has it that the King Stone moved in sympathy.
The fact that the tree bled when cut also led Celtic warriors to use alder wood to make shields. The wood was believed to be protective and would magically bleed instead of the human warrior. Shields were highly valued in Celtic culture – Celtic myths tell us of shields given names, set in halls of honour, and which had their own magical prowess and powers.
Alder is connected to the Celtic god Bran, a giant guardian of the land of Britain. The name Bran means ‘raven’. In a battle to invade Ireland and rescue his sister Branwen (‘white raven’), Bran is wounded and tells his men to sever his head from his body…
The head is taken to London (after spending 7 years in Harlech and a further 80 in Pembroke). Bran’s head is magical. It continues to talk, sing, offer advice, and make prophecies for his people. Bran’s head is installed at ‘White Hill’ London (what is now the Tower of London) in order to protect the land of Britain – in particular, against invasion from the French.
King Arthur removed the head of Bran, but Bran’s birds, the ravens, still guard the Tower of London and hold the fate of the island of Britain in their black feathers – for it’s said that if the ravens leave the Tower, Britain will fail.
The medieval Book of Taliesin also tells of the hero Bran, associating him with the alder tree. The legend of the ‘Battle of the Trees’ tells of the Welsh magician Gwydion who enchants the trees to fight as his army. The alder trees lead the attack.
Gwydion has to guess the name of a mystery warrior in order to vanquish him…
“The high sprigs of alder on thy shield,
Bran thou art called, of the glittering branches.
The high sprigs of alder in thy hand,
Bran thou art, by the branch thy bearest.”
In this tale, Bran is an ally of Arawn, the god of the Celtic underworld ‘Annwn’ – a land of rest and renewal.
Bran was seen as a protector or guardian of the people. The purple alder buds are called ‘royal purple’ from the connection with Bran. And this popular Celtic god was sainted by the Christian church as Saint Brons or ‘Bran the Blessed’.
The association of the talking head of Bran links alder with divination and prophecy. It’s thought that alder does have ancient links with prophecy and was believed to be a divination tree. The leaves high up in the tree rustle with the prophecies of otherworldly spirits in the heavens – and the alder’s watery location on riverbanks gives a further connection to the otherworld. Watery places were sacred places in the Celtic world.
Celtic druids used alder wood to make whistles and pipes. The music was thought to be the singing of the spirits of the wood which could tell prophecies. It’s thought the druids used alder pipes to ‘entice air elementals and whistle up the wind’.
In Ancient Greece, the god Cronos is associated with the alder tree. Cronos is also known as ‘Fearinus’ which means ‘of the dawn of the year’ (Spring) which also relates to the Gaelic ogham name for alder ‘fearn’.
In Italy, alder is linked to the Spring fire festivals – and in Norse legends, the month of March was known as ‘the lengthening month of the waking alder’ – ‘Lenct’. This was a period of fasting as winter provisions were scarce – which became the Christian fasting period of Lent.
Alder was seen as the tree of the faeries. It was thought to be a gateway to the faerie realms. In Somerset, travellers were warned never to enter a copse of alder trees by night or ‘they’ll keep ‘ee’.
Alder was a protective tree, too. An old Irish name for alder is ‘comet lachta’ which means ‘guarding of the milk’. Milk pails and other milking implements were made of alder to protect the milk.
In Ireland, it was warned against felling a sacred alder or your home would be consumed by fire!
Alder was a tree of fire. It did not burn that well, but as a charcoal, it did burn extremely hot and was often used by metalworkers and smithies.
It was a tree of water – growing nearly always near water, it was said that alder was the king of the waters, with willow the queen.
The dyes that could be obtained from alder also reflected these associations:
Yellow and black dyes could also be made, and the leaves were used for tanning leather.
The alder was also used for clogs, musical pipes, chairs, cart wheels and spinning wheels, also for boats, canal lock-gates, pumps, troughs, and sluices as alder does not rot in water like other woods are prone to. In the ancient world, alder was used for bridges across waterways and tracks across wetland areas.
Celtic lake houses or ‘crannogs’ were built on foundations of alder for its durable properties in wet conditions and also for its protective qualities.
16th century Venice was built on many alder piles, including the famous Rialto Bridge. Several European cathedrals from medieval times were also built on alder foundations and it continues to be popular in Holland and France for foundation piles.
Alder has anti-inflammatory properties and was used in folk remedies for swellings, burns, sore throats, and inflammations and to wash wounds.
Alder leaves were put on the soles of the feet or worn in shoes to refresh aching feet. Beds were made of dried alder leaves in order to give relief from aching rheumatic joints.
The sticky spring leaves were also used in homes to trap fleas and other insects.
As a healing vibrational essence, alder is used for grounding and steadying overpowering emotions. And to give the strength and endurance to move forward, even in difficult situations.
Creating my Alder Art
I create my art from pen drawings and lettering... then I scan the drawings into the computer to work digitally with them to create the final artwork.
Please click on the images below to explore my process...
How to buy my alder art
I've actually created two versions of my Celtic Alder art:
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How to buy my alder tree art prints & products
You can buy my Celtic Alder tree art as wall art prints and home products from my Redbubble store:
Also available at:
More about my stockists here - plus why I decided to go with print-on-demand for my art...
Explore more Celtic art here and more Celtic tree art here..
Learn all about the Celtic Tree Calendar and see my other trees here...
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Please note that the information in this piece is for entertainment only and should not be used to diagnose or prescribe for health purposes.
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