Beautiful Celtic Rowan art prints and products with optional Celtic Tree Calendar version and a look at rowan history, folklore and meaning...
We’ll look at some more common names for the rowan, together with their folklore and meaning in a little while, too…
Celtic Tree Calendar: 21 January to 17 February
In Scandinavian mythology, it’s said that the first woman was born of a rowan tree and the first man was born of an ash tree.
Similarly, in the Celtic world, the rowan is considered the feminine equivalent of the male ash tree.
And in Finland, it was believed that the goddess Rauni, in the form of a rowan tree, gave birth to all the plants of the world.
In ancient Greek mythology, the gods sent an eagle to battle the demons who’d stolen the magical cup of the gods. It’s believed that a rowan tree grows where a drop of blood or a feather of that great eagle fell to earth – it’s what gives the rowan tree its feathery leaves and round red berries.
In Norse mythical tales, it’s said that the rowan saved the life of the god Thor as he was being swept away in the river Vimur – he caught hold of a rowan tree on the bank and pulled himself to safety.
In ancient Celtic mythology, rowan was considered as the mythical ‘tree of life’ – the tree of life bears life-giving fruit each month and at the quarter of the year. The magical berries of the tree could sustain, heal, and prolong life.
The Irish tale of Diarmuid and Grainne tells of the first rowan in Ireland, the ‘Quicken Tree of Dubhros’ (quicken tree is another name for the rowan) which grew from a seed dropped by an elf from the ‘Land of the Ever Living’.
The seed grew into a huge rowan tree – if you ate the berries it was said no sickness would befall you. The berries also brought youth and beauty. It was said that a man of 100 years of age could be made 30 years old again, by eating the berries.
The rowan tree was protected by ‘Searbahn Lochlannach’ (the ‘Surly One’ or the ‘Viking of Lochlannach’ – Lochlannach often referred to Scandinavia or the Otherworld in Celtic myth). He was a huge, one-eyed giant, a Wild-Man or ‘Lord of the Animals’ who grants protection to the lovers, Diarmuid and Grainne, in his rowan tree.
Rowan is similarly connected to other wild-men or lords of the animals – Cernunnos, Herne, and the Dagdha.
Icelandic myth gives the rowan tree a connection with light – there, the rowan is a tree of the winter solstice. The frost glistening on midwinter rowan trees in moonlight fills these magical trees with tiny stars and links to ancient traditions of magical ‘moon trees’ decorated with lights (stars). The star-lights in the rowan bring the light energy of the spirit of the returning year in that important solstice moment of darkness as the year turns from darkening to lightening.
The traditions tell of a special star glowing atop the rowan tree – an ancient rite that’s surely influences our modern tradition for topping our own winter solstice trees (Christmas trees) with a star.
Rowan is also associated through the energy of light with the Celtic god of light, Lugh. Lugh used a spear of rowan to pierce the evil eye of Balor and so slay him. The rowan spear, in Celtic mythology, is a weapon with magical properties, as we will see in a moment with the magical fiery arrows of the goddesses Brigid and Brigantia.
In the Irish ‘Dindsenchas’ (History of the Names of the Places’) we learn of a female druid ‘Dreco’ who is the grand-daughter of a Cartan or Caerthann (meaning ‘rowan’) – she carries a spear of rowan.
The Irish goddess Brigid/Brighid, also the Northern/Yorkshire goddess Brigantia, both carry three fiery arrows made of rowan. Brigid and Brigantia are seen to represent divine knowledge and inspiration – and her three arrows are said to represent the three threads of otherworldly insight – poetry, prophecy, and inspiration – so linking the rowan with these energies.
The arrows also represent the three gifts of poetry, smithwork, and healing which are sacred to the goddess.
Brigid and Brigantia are also associated with spinning and weaving. Rowan was often used to make spindles and spinning wheels and through this use and connection is often linked to the circular ‘wheel of life’ or ‘wheel of the year’ and the role of ‘spinner of the thread of life’.
St Brigid’s day is the 1st of February, and is strongly linked to new life and spring. The equal-armed Brigid’s cross that is still popular today would seem to have strong links to the rowan crosses that were carefully tied with red thread for protection from evil.
These equal-armed crosses, sometimes called ‘sun-wheels’, were made from two sticks of rowan and tied with red thread. The cross could be carried or positioned above doorways, windows, hearths, in stables and barns, or over beds and cradles to afford protection from ill luck, evil wishing, and wicked spirits.
Pins of rowan could magically seal the door of a dwelling to prevent evil from entering. And in the northern and western areas of the British Isles, it was seen as lucky to have a rowan tree growing near the door of your home for protection – especially in the Highlands where the tree was known as ‘the enchantress of the woods’.
In these upland areas of Britain in particular, the rowan was a protective tree, and served the same role as the hawthorn did in the southerly and easterly areas (the lowlands).
In particular, rowan was seen to protect from witches. The act of tying a red thread around the two rowan twigs to create the protective cross was seen as the protective charm,
“Rowan tree and red thread
Put witches tae their speed.”
The red colour was important, as red was the colour of the Otherworld. It was the colour of blood and death and the colour of the gods. So the red berries of the rowan were considered as sacred to the gods – and the tiny five-pointed ‘star’ on the rowan berry was associated with a protective pentagram – but it was the red colour that gave the powerful magical protection to the rowan tree and its charms and talismans.
It was considered unlucky to cut a rowan tree except for magical purposes. And one had to be respectful in taking its wood – either taking it without use of a knife or using only a humble kitchen knife. You should also take the precaution of taking different routes to and from the rowan tree.
Some dates were considered more auspicious than others for gathering rowan wood – Holy Rood Day (3rd May) at midnight or St Helen’s Day (18th August) were considered the proper occasions for taking rowan wood in certain areas.
Rowan twigs and rowan crosses were hung above doorways, beds, and cradles to proffer protection to the household and were replaced every quarter day. Rowan twigs could also be strewn around the premises for protection on the first night in a different location.
Rowan was also used in barns and stables to protect the animals. A milk churn and the churning cross would be made of rowan wood and a sprig of rowan was put in the milk pail to prevent fairies from stealing or souring the milk.
A rowan walking stick could provide protection from being led astray by fairies and also provide safe passage to (and more importantly, back from) fairy realms. Rowan twigs were worn in clothes and hats to similarly protect from being ‘fairy-led’ – they were also considered to protect from rheumatism too.
Cattle were driven to new pastures with rowan switches to protect them from fairies and witches. The rowan protected the animal and also their milk. Cows often wore rowan around their horns – and cows, goats and lambs would wear woven rowan collars for their protection, while it was said that only a rowan switch could control a bewitched horse.
In Cumberland, rowan branches were carried around the Beltane fires to magically charge them to protect. Shepherds would pass their sheep through rowan hoops to protect them – and at midsummer, when the boundaries between our world and the fairy world were thin, travellers would carry protective rowan twigs.
In Ireland, the dead in their graves were sometimes ‘staked’ to the earth with a rowan branch to ease the passing of their soul and to prevent the ghost from walking. While in Wales, rowan (rather than yew) was planted in churchyards to ensure that the dead rested in peace.
The rowan was often referred to as the ‘witchen’, ‘wicken’, or ‘wiggen’ tree or as ‘witchbane’ or ‘witch wood’ or even plainly as the ‘witches’ tree’. It was seen to protect, not just from witches but from storms and lightning too.
It was believed that a witch touched by rowan would be the devil’s next victim. But rowan was still used magically for protective spells and as a wand for divination – especially for divining metals in the ground.
The Morainn ogham calls rowan ‘li sula’ – ‘delight of the eye’ or ‘colour of vision’ - thought to relate to its visionary properties..
Ancient druids used rowan for divination, using the smoke of burning rowan wood to call up the spirits and divinatory visions. And it’s though that they used wattles of rowan (‘wattles of knowledge’) for their trance states.
It’s thought that the druids also planted rowans at places of worship, including stone circles, to protect from negative spirits and energy.
It’s said that the rowan tree protected serpents and dragons, who in turn protected the tree. These were considered ‘earth dragons’ who protected the earth and whose presence could be detected in ‘dragon lines’ (that today we call ‘ley lines’). The Anglo-Saxons called burial mounds ‘dragon hills’ and it was believed that the coils of dragons squeezing the earth caused the earth to rise up and form hills such as Glastonbury Tor and Wormington Hill in Gloucestershire.
Rowan wood was also used for carving Norse runes into, as divination sticks. It was believed that the rowan wood was protective and that the spirit of the wood gave voice to the spells carved into it.
Wood gathered from ‘flying trees’, those rowan growing in inaccessible places such as rockfaces and within other, larger trees, were seen as particularly powerful magically.
The ‘quicken tree’, rowan, has such an ancient and strong tradition of being magically protective – except, it seems, in Lancashire, where it was considered unlucky! But it appears that rowan also had its practical uses, too...
In Scotland and Scandinavia, rowan bark shavings were added to cattle feed – rowan was known as ‘friend and strength of cattle’ – mentioned in the ogham meaning of both the Celtic hero Cuchulainn and Oengus.
Rowan has been used for longbows, tool handles, poles, whips, ship masts, walking sticks, spindles, spinning wheels, divination sticks (for divining metals).
The bark and fruit were used from Celtic times and beyond to dye cloths black – and the rowan bark is traditionally used for tanning leather.
Rowan berries can be ground and used (without the seeds which are considered toxic) as a flour substitute – and the berries are gathered to make jams, jellies, and wines.
Rowan berries are rich in vitamin C and can be used to prevent scurvy and boost the immune system to help cure winter colds and flus. The berries are used for sore throats and tonsils and can also be used for haemorrhoids. Rowan can be used to cure both diarrhoea and constipation and it’s considered astringent, diuretic, and anti-inflammatory.
As a flower essence, rowan is used for psychic protection, to aid insight and discernment.
The meaning of rowan is protective – rowan is fundamentally a magically protective tree. Rowan is a feminine energy, an energy of light and renewal that allows us to find a balance between staying grounded in the earthly realms and accessing the awareness, imagination, and vision we need from the spiritual realm. It’s a tree of clear vision and sound judgement, protecting us from danger.
Creating my Rowan art...
I created my rowan art from individual drawings and lettering, put together digitally with the hand-drawn knotwork that I prepared for this Celtic Tree collection of artworks...
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My drawings and lettering are then scanned, imported into Adobe Illustrator and I can start creating the artwork digitally from the various elements...
How to buy my rowan art & products
I've actually created two versions of my Celtic Rowan art:
Please click on the images below to see them larger...
How to buy my rowan art prints & products
You can buy my Celtic Rowan art as wall art prints and home products from my Redbubble store:
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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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