Tuesday, 14 December 2010

Hazel - a tree of wisdom

The Hazel is a tree of wisdom.

In England, all the knowledge of the arts and sciences were bound to the eating of Hazel nuts. Until the seventeenth century, a forked Hazelstick was used to divine the guilt of persons in cases of murder and theft. We have retained the practice of divining for water and buried treasure.

The name 'hazel' comes from the Anglo Saxon 'haesel', meaning 'cap'. This refers to the way in which the nuts are covered with a thin, leafy sheath, rather like a little hat.

Even a brief look at hazel lore will reveal that it is often connected with water. The hazel rods respond to water in the hands of the diviner and the myths of Ireland show an intimate connection between the hazel tree and the seven great rivers of Ireland. The surviving lore concerns the Shannon and the Boyne in particular, though it is said that at the head of each great river grew one or more magical hazel trees. In various stories, either one or nine of these trees are said to have grown over Connla's Well and the Well of Segais, the legendary sources of the Boyne and Shannon respectively. It is said that the hazel trees at Connla's Well produced fruit and flowers simultaneously and it has been suggested that this represents wisdom mixed with beauty. To my mind, it underlines that these were no ordinary trees, but magical, otherworldly trees.

Nuts from these magical hazel trees were described as 'the Nuts of Wisdom ' and many stories tell of how the nuts fall into the waters of the well, imbuing the water with special qualities and causing bubbles of mystic inspiration to form. The nuts are eaten by salmon who swim in the river, who gain great wisdom from this. It is said that the number of spots upon the back of the salmon corresponds to the number of nuts he has eaten, and thus to the amount of wisdom held by that fish.

Generally in Irish myth, hazel nuts represent wisdom, and this correspondence is often found in kennings and riddles. The Irish word for the nuts is 'cno', and the similarity between that and the word for wisdom, 'cnocach ' is obvious. The nuts are seen as a concentration of wisdom, something highly nutritious, yet compact. Something sweet to the taste, just as knowledge is sweet.

Sadly for those in Wales, hazel was not so much a symbol of love, as love unreturned. A hazel twig would be given as a sign of rejection between lovers . But conversely, another Welsh custom runs that one should wear a twig of hazel in ones hat in order to make your wishes come true .

This is found elsewhere, in a slight variation known as a 'Wishing Cap,' woven from hazel twigs. Again, the cap would bring the fulfillment of your wish. It is said - though from slightly dubious sources - that sailors would wear such caps in order to protect themselves from storms . This may be true, as elsewhere, particularly in the East of England, we find hazel twigs placed on window sills to protect a house against lightning or fire .

We also find hazel in use as a general protective plant, in much the same way that trees such as the holly and oak are employed. As we have already seen, the Philistines employed hazel in their fight against the magicians of the Tuatha de Danaan. Hazel offered protection for the Philistines against the evil demons inhabiting the corpses of their slain enemies.

In the Discoverie of Witchcraft, Scot advocates the use of hazel wands, cut, of course, upon the 'Sabbath daie', as protection against witches and thieves. And something that may or may not be relevant in the light of our earlier discourse on ancient bodies found with hazel nuts and leaves, is that Pennant, writing in the 17th century, tells us that in Merionethshire it was customary for hazel twigs to be placed within graves to avert malign witchcraft .

Hazel was also thought to protect against adder bites.

The most commonly found lore concerning healing properties of the hazel runs a double-hazelnut should be carried in the pocket as a charm to prevent toothache.

Gender: Masculine
Planet: Sun
Element: Air
Deities: Mercury, Thor, Artemis, Diana
Powers: Luck, fertility, anti lightening, protection, wishes


Caer Feddwyd
Scott Cunningham

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