May Flower Moon: Etain, Willow and Crane

The May Flower full moon is the time when the Celtic goddess Etain brings beauty, grace and fertility into our lives. Known as the Shining One and as a White Lady of the Fae, Etain is a goddess of transformation and rebirth, associated with water, the sun, apple blossom and horses, to name but a few. She is also associated with butterflies, swans and other beings that symbolise the transmigration of the soul. Her story is complex and warrants a deeper analysis than is possible here, but her message of grace, rebirth, and maturation of the soul is deeply resonant for our times.

In ‘The Wooing of Etain,’ her story is told largely through the lens of a series of male protagonists, all of which seek to court her (indeed possess her) in some way. It revolves primarily around the character of Midhir, a king of the Tuatha de Danann, who lived among the sidhe. We are told that he loses an eye whilst visiting his foster son, Aengus Mac Og, and asks compensation for his loss which includes ‘the fairest maiden in Ireland.’ This is Etain, the daughter of king Ailill of Ulster and she is said to have ‘shimmering waves of fire-gold hair, skin as white as snow, and blushing cheeks red as foxgloves.’

Aengus duly goes to the king and asks for his daughter, as bidden by his step father. In return, he must perform a series of tasks which he successfully does, but before he is permitted to take her, he must also provide the maiden’s weight in gold and silver. Finally, she is brought to Midhir, and stays together with him at the home of Aengus for another year. When the pair eventually return to his castle, his first wife, the queen, becomes jealous and ‘strikes Etain with a rod of scarlet rowan, turning her into a pool of water.’ In time the water congeals and forms a hard chrysalis, or a worm, out of which a beautiful purple fly, or butterfly, emerges. [1]

Midhir takes the butterfly and cherishes it, but the queen now conjures a strong wind that blows the butterfly around for seven years without rest until she finally alights on the breast of Aegnus, who feeds her pollen and nectar for nourishment. Alas, the queen intervenes again and sends such a wind that the butterfly is now tossed around for 1000 years in misery, without respite, until finally, she lands in the goblet of another queen of Ulster. This queen swallows her down with her wine, then gives birth nine months later to a beautiful daughter who she calls Etain.

Her beauty once more becomes legendary in this new life, she is coveted by the High King in Ireland, and they duly marry at Tara. Over the course of time, however, his brother also falls in love with her and starts pining, much to the concern of the king, who asks Etain to do everything in her power to heal him. At this point, her former lover and husband Midhir, in a desperate bid to get her back, uses spells and enchantment to get her to sleep with him instead. In an echo of their former existence, he carries out a series of task designed to make her current husband let go of her, demanding a kiss from Etain as his prize. In this way he ‘reminds’ her of the love they once had for each other and reunited in ‘the dining hall,’ he takes her into his arms and they change into swans, linked together by a golden chain, and fly off into the distance. [2]

The story of Etain functions on many levels. On one hand it is the story of the soul, of hope and maturity in adversity, of love, jealousy, possession and the belief that through all the trials of life, our inner essence remains pure and unsoiled, shining like Etain. There are also specific number references throughout the story, showing clear calendrical or symbolic connections, maybe even links to astronomical cycles. The time frames and frequent use of shapeshifting into different animal forms is a powerful way to depict the cycling of the soul through space and time, and the experiences it gathers along the way. The butterfly is a potent and beautiful symbol of rebirth, and the swan a psychopomp, or accompanier of souls into the afterlife.

Though swans are named in this story, another bird is also linked to the flight of the soul in Celtic mythology. The crane, or heron, is one of the four sacred birds in both Irish and British tradition, and in one version of this tale it is said that three cranes guard the entrance of Midhir’s castle.  Cranes were linked to the Cailleach, to longevity and wisdom, and a crane bag was a key part of the druid or medicine woman’s equipment. They were also famous for their dances, which they performed in circles. This has led to their association with birth, in the form of storks, and then death, when they perform the function of psychopomp as the swan does in this story. [3] Both are large migratory birds, that mysteriously appear and disappear with the seasons and seem to take pre-destined flight paths across the heavens.

The crane is also linked to the flight of the soul not just in death, but also in the quest for otherworldly knowledge. The story of Etain has this aspect to it in that the soul experiences and gains wisdom and deep knowledge through not just love and loss, but through the wisdom of nature in the form of water, worms, butterflies, even wind. Cranes are also sometimes associated with the willow tree, the tree that along with the hawthorn, governs this time of year.

Like Etain the willow is beautiful and full of grace. They are also one of the oldest trees in Europe, embodying deep wisdom, and they are frequently found close to rivers and streams due to their love of water. Etain was changed into a pool of water, symbolising a deeply transformative potential, the ocean of possibility, or waters of rebirth. In Celtic mythology journeys are often taken by boat to the Otherworld in search of inspiration and wisdom, crossing over water as part of the process. The willow stands guard to this entrance, showing us that when we are in the flow of grace we can attain both of these prizes. [4]

Perhaps most of all, Etain’s story reminds us of the deeply healing and transformational power of beauty, in herself but also in the Nature around her. She loves to make people around her happy through kind words and smiles, and with her music she breaks through sadness and dissolves it gently into tears. Flowers bloom when she is near, and mankind falls in love with her. In all the trails and tribulations of the souls journeying, she reminds us of the beauty and nourishing power of Earth’s abundance through water, butterflies, swans and cranes. Each of them wondrous in themselves to be sure, and also holding up the mirror to us so that we can see the beauty of our own soul in them.


[1] Sharon Blackie, ‘The Wooing of Etain.’

[2] www.orderwhitemoon.org, ‘Etain the Sining One’

[3] The Druid Animal Oracle, Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm

[4] The Green Man Tree Oracle, John Matthews and Will Worthington

Forests: lungs, love and life

This was set to be a big year for the Planet, with several international meetings planned to discuss some of the most pressing issues of our time: world poverty and refugees, the state of our oceans, deforestation and catastrophic biodiversity loss. But with the world in the grip of the coronavirus pandemic, all of that has been shoved into the background considered as ‘insignificant’ compared to the crisis that we didn’t see coming. But the fact of the matter is that we have only limited time to take the health of the planet seriously – and hopefully the pause of lockdown might give us the breathing space to do just that.

As the pandemic panic starts to die down, if we have managed to keep our own lungs safe, we can now no longer keep out another sense of growing grief. That connected to the lungs of the planet, and all that we are losing each day as our most precious of resources burns. Our forests take in the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and magically transforming it into oxygen with a little help from the Sun. They are home to over half the world’s animal and plant species and around one billion people worldwide making them the most biodiverse and important ecosystems on the Planet. But according to the WWF’s  ‘Below the Canopy’ report (2019), they have lost more than half their wildlife over the past fifty years and more than the same proportion of land.[1]

To be specific, the Amazon rainforest, the largest and most well-known in the world, is in deep trouble. Between August 2018 – 19, nearly one million hectares of land were deliberately set on fire, destroying irreplaceable trees, plants and countless numbers of animals. And worse, this figure is increasing in spite of growing awareness, more efforts on the part of environmental companies, and most importantly of all, despite a pledge by the Worldwide Consumer Goods Forum to achieve net zero-deforestation in the supply chain by 2020. Last year, Greenpeace surveyed 23 of the UK’s leading food brands and fast food chains and not one could guarantee the soy they used was it linked to deforestation.[2]

In Brazil again, another lesser known but equally important ecosystem, the Cerrado savanna, has lost half of its natural vegetation, destroyed to produce soy exported worldwide primarily to feed factory farmed livestock. In West Africa, rainforests are cleared to produce cocoa to satiate the world’s chocolate habit, and in South East Asia, large scale forest clearance in Malaysia and Indonesia is driven by demand for palm oil, used in up to 50 % of the packaged products produced in our supermarkets. In Borneo, the Indonesian government backed the protection of the rainforest and made deforestation a crime, which, together with a global fall in palm oil, put the brakes on wide scale destruction, but deforestation still continues in some areas, pushing the orangutan to the top of the list of the world’s most endangered species. Our food choices, illegal wildlife trade, and unsustainable hunting, are literally driving the forests, and the entire Planet, climate and all, to tipping point.[3]

We know this and desperately want to take action to stop this catastrophic situation, but we feel overwhelmed in the face of its enormity. Deep down we know that this is a problem that can’t be solved from our current dominant worldview. According the WWF, we have more than enough farmland to feed the worlds population of only it was managed in a more sustainable way, if only farmers had a stronger incentive to do this. Clearly the more emphasis there is on social justice for those farming the land, the better the land will be managed, which benefits the whole ecosystem, especially the animals that are currently factory farmed to give us food.

We are aware of the devastating pictures of industrial sized cattle farms over the Amazon where millions of cattle are kept in appealing conditions to satisfy the world’s beef hunger. But it’s not just the land that has been cleared for intensive beef farming that is the problem. Poultry consumption is also a huge contributor, not because of the birds themselves, but because of the production of the soy used to feed them. Up to 95% of chickens in the UK are intensively reared to meet a huge growing demand for their meat, and this soy largely comes from South America.[4]

Now as we scramble to get food from our supermarkets, standing in queues (2 metres apart) reading the contents of food labels is low on people’s list of priorities. Yet we need to do so now more than ever. According to the WWF, UK consumers each more than 3 million tonnes of soy farmed in cleared rainforests, most of which has been used to feed the animals and animal products we eat. And this soy is largely hidden because our food supply chain currently does not distinguish between sustainably produced soy and that which drives deforestation, and therefore farmers at source have little incentive to take the more costly steps involved in sustainable production. So our individual food choices have a direct impact on the health of the planet.

Indigenous people who try and protect the forests are also in danger. In 2019, eleven Brazilian indigenous leaders sought the help of European governments to stop forest lands being seized for agriculture and to end attacks against indigenous communities. While they were touring, indigenous forest guardian Paulo Paulino was shot dead by loggers in Brazil. In the words of Nara Bare, ‘what happened to Paulino is a clear example of what we have been through: our blood is being shed for soya beans and wood that comes to Europe. It’s time to say enough!’[5]

Even in the throes of this tragedy however, there are some positive moves afoot. In Brazil, more and more people are calling on NGOs to ensure that meat and soy from the Cerrado is sustainable, and 140 companies worldwide have supported the initiative to stop the forest loss associated with agricultural production. The more we actively consider not only what we eat but where it comes from and how it was produced, the harder it is for the real cost of the impact of food on the Planet to remain hidden. In the UK, there is also a campaign to demand that the UK government commits to a deadline for ending the sale of all goods that have caused deforestation (wwf.org.uk/deforestation-free).

This isn’t just about ‘climate change’ and greenhouse gas emissions, it goes way beyond that. Ultimately it’s about recognising once and for all that we live on a sentient, intelligent and conscious planet where all life matters, no matter how great or small. Once we see things in those terms we can no longer countenance the destruction of irreplaceable ecosystems, let alone eat the food so forcefully extracted and reared in conditions conducive to virus growth and spread. And even better, rather than leaving us feeling overwhelmed in the face of such huge change, this approach can empower us. For in the words of Charles Eisenstein (2019), in an interconnected view of the world, if it follows that service to any life is service to all life, then any act of care, ecological or social healing is part of the bigger whole of caring for the Earth. [6]And as a living, sentient being, Earth will reply to our letters of love.


[1] http://www.worldwildlife.org/publications/below-the-canopy

[2] Greenpeace Connect Magazine, Autumn/Winter 2019

[3] World Wildlife Fund, Action Spring 2020 ‘Forests in Crisis’

[4] Greenpeace, Connect Magazine Spring 2020 ‘Forest Destruction: the Meaty Issue’

[5] Greenpeace, Connect Magazine Spring 2020 ‘Forest Destruction: the Meaty Issue’

[6] www.charleseisenstein.org ‘The Amazon: how do we heal a burning heart?’

April Hare Moon: Eostre, Andraste and Hare

The month of April is the time of the full Hare Moon, or Planters Moon, when the sowing of the crops takes place and early blossoms and shy wildflowers unfurl with the rapidly awakening Earth. The name April could be linked to that of Aphrodite the Greek goddess of love, but to the Anglo Saxons this was the month of Eostre, goddess of spring and fertility. Her name has survived in both the Christian festival of Easter and the hormone oestrogen, responsible for orchestrating the female reproductive cycle and therefore birth. She was also linked to the growing light and budding of Spring, like Eos the Indo-European goddess of the dawn.

In the British countryside it was once the call of the lapwing (plover) that heralded the birth of spring, along with that of the cuckoo, and her eggs were particularly highly sought after. Unusually for a bird, the lapwing lays her eggs in the ground, and it was customary to find them and gift them at Easter, probably the origins of the Easter egg hunt. Unfortunately during Victorian times the hunt took on epic proportions and so many eggs were harvested that the lapwing was brought to near extinction and they are sadly rarely seen today.[1]

The lapwings shares the same territory as hares, leading to a remarkable misunderstanding. Hares live solely above ground and make indentations in the Earth in which to sit and sleep. When abandoned, the lapwing would come along and lay her eggs in these same idents, which then led to the notion that it was the hares who had laid them. This all added to the mystery of these nocturnal creatures: not only were they deemed to lay eggs, but it was also believed they changed sex every year, as well as participating in frenzied boxing matches most often seen in March. Their appearance at spring, their breeding and egg laying habits and the fact they sat in rings, led to an association with rebirth, resurrection and new life.

Hare bones were often found in ritual pits, showing their sacredness in ancient times, and there were taboos around eating their flesh. Later when the Romans took over the land, hare coursing (hunting) became a favoured past time, again drastically reducing the numbers of the original indigenous species, the Arctic hare. Under Christian domination, the rabbit took their place as prime fertility symbol, and Easter would not be complete today without the ‘Easter bunny’ and the distribution of chocolate eggs in place of the older land-based customs.

The hare was also sacred to another more shadowy goddess in Anglo-Celtic Britain, Andraste, goddess of love, fertility – and battle. Andraste was the patron goddess of the Iceni tribe, a pre-Roman Brittonic people who inhabited parts of Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. Boudicca was their queen, and famously fought the Romans, with some success, before being brutally subdued along with her tribe. On the eve of battle, Boudicca was said to evoke the goddess Andraste and a hare was used in divination. According to the classical write Dion, Boudicca would address her people then let a hare escape from the fold her dress. [2]The success of the battle could be foretold according to the direction in which the hare chose to run. It could have been the left side that was unlucky (the origins of the word ‘sinister’ from ‘sinistre,’ left) but there is no record attesting to this. It is also said that the Iceni took no captives in battle, but those that were defeated were dispatched to Andraste, showing that she accepted sacrifice of human blood. [3]

In more peaceful times, she was worshipped in the sacred groves as a woodland/lunar goddess, presiding over the life death cycle of nature, as is the natural order of things. This notion of life, death and rebirth is still enshrined in the festival of Easter to an extent, though it has now been separated from the cycle of nature and projected onto the figure of Jesus.


[1] See ‘The Lapwing – unsung hero of Easter and farmland icon’ by Rebecca Hoskins,  www.permaculture.co.uk (Accessed 5.5.2020)

[2] ‘The Druid Animal Oracle’ by Philip and Stephanie Carr-Gomm

[3] www.thewhitegoddess.co.uk (Accessed 7.4.2020)

Coronavirus: The World is Listening Now

Over the past few months we’ve had raging fires, howling storms, floods, famine, war and the most dire of climate predictions, yet we have carried on with business as usual, allowing nothing to get in the way of a sense of entitlement that tells us it’s fine to lead our lives exactly as we please, taking no responsibility for our choices, even denying there could even be one. We’ve also had other viruses this decade, other pandemics, other respiratory related SARS viruses, of which Covid-19 is actually the seventh and not the deadliest, in most cases causing either no symptoms or just a runny nose. Yet nobody can deny that it is the coronavirus that has ground the world to a standstill, literally brought us to our knees. The medical profession and governments warn this could just be the beginning, others say that it will disappear as quickly as it came. Either way this tiny spiky ball, this microscopic virus has our full attention now, so what is it that we need to hear? Is there an opportunity for growth amidst all the chaos, fear, panic and death?

The answer is a resounding yes, and many people have already begun thinking about this and expressing their views online. As we stay at home, ecosystems driven to the brink by us start to come into balance again, the air that we are now so fearful of breathing becomes instantly cleaner. People are starting to reflect on what really is important, on all that they have taken for granted before confinement. We have started to communicate in new ways, exercise in online communities, take up new creative hobbies that we previously had no time for. We are starting to think not only about the vulnerability of own health, but also about the fragility of the ecosystems of the Earth. Finally, we are realising how interconnected we all are. How literally someone coughing in China has the ability to infect the whole world, with disease, but with other things too, including hope.

And then we start to ask, what is the Earth trying to tell us? What have we not heard because we were too busy to listen? As we fear for our own lungs, we remember that the lungs of the Earth, one of the most precious and priceless resources we have, is being cut down by the rate of one football pitch every minute. That during 2019 – 2020, more deforestation took place in the Amazon than ever before, despite pledges a decade before to stop mindless tree burning by 2020. As we fear our own lungs might be drowned in water, we feel how the lungs of the planet are going up in fire.

If we take responsibility for our part in the cause of this virus, which is the only way forward given that everything is interconnected, we can start to unpick the behaviours that got us to this place in the first place. And we can do this by trying to understand the symbolic message of the coronavirus, the crown virus, a messenger arising from the mycelium of the Otherworld, the voice of the Earth itself.

Firstly, there is our relationship to other life forms. The outbreak started, as did SARS and MERS the other respiratory viruses of this century in so-called wet markets in China where live and dead animals are slaughtered, eaten, bought and sold with no regard to animal welfare or basic hygiene. After the SARS outbreak in 2002-3, instead of closing down the markets and instigating measures to stop cruelty to animals, thousands of pangolin were mindlessly ‘culled’ for their role in the virus transmission, as though they alone were the cause of the outbreak. This disregard for animal welfare is symptomatic of our Grand Disconnect, our lack of connection to the interconnected web of which we are an integral part.

Covid-19 literally went viral because it jumped the species barrier from bats (now there’s a transformation symbol if ever there was one) to humans and emerged fully equipped with all the right mechanisms to lock onto the epithelial cells in the lungs and rapidly multiply. Only Mother Nature is capable of such precision and execution, this is far beyond the capacity of mere Man, and as the virus has an endless capacity to mutate, it will not help us if we go down the simple root of ‘getting a vaccine to destroy it so we can go about business as usual.’ But everything has changed, there is no getting back to normal, so we need to develop a more holistic way of dealing with this virus. There are many ways to do this, but homeopathy can offer us a potent tool.

According to Samuel Hahnemann who formulate the principles of homeopathy during the early nineteenth century, a miasm is regarded as a sort of blueprint of dis-ease, an underlying matrix from which all symptoms, no matter how unrelated, emerge. Allopathic medicine traditionally aims to treat the symptoms not the cause of dis-ease, whereas an enlarged view of miasm is to view them, when they present, as an opportunity for growth (incidentally not shared by Hahnemann himself who sought somewhat allopathically to eradicate the miasm, considering it to be a malevolent force). Given that any form of disease is the best attempt of that organism to heal itself, rather than seeking to just eradicate it, we could also ask what is it trying to communicate to us about our lifestyles, the choices we make, the habits we have formed and our emotional behaviour. Using this approach, we see patterns and meaning, we start to listen to the voice of the Earth itself, to become empowered and work with dis-ease rather than simply fight against it and hope it goes away in a fingers-crossed-bury-our-heads-in-the-sand-sort-of approach.

There are only a handful of miasms in homeopathy, three described by Hahnemann and another three of four since his death. All miasms are present within us, waiting to be activated in response to particular circumstances, but to Hahnemann, the primary miasm, responsible for around 80% of all disease, is Psora, linked to our most basic needs, how we survive on Planet Earth. When all is said and done, food, water, our environment and how we transition and adapt are the most fundamental aspects of our lives. This pandemic is clearly pushing us back into our most primal of fears, throwing us all back into survival mode, causing us to rush to supermarkets and stockpile goods (toilet paper hoarding is very indicative of Psora!) Our fear of death has been awakened, our cellular memories carry the imprint of The Black Death and the Blue Death, amongst others, and we feel helpless, despondent and disconnected from source. Our challenge is to overcome these deeply ingrained traumas and reconnect to the life force at the heart of everything.

The other two primary miasms are Syphilis and Sycosis, one concerned with the survival of our species as a whole and therefore  preoccupied with sexual reproduction, the other with the necessary chthonic forces of decay and breakdown that allow life to flourish through death and die back. We are witnessing the interplay of the two on a global scale and individually we can try to maintain our own health by achieving balance between the forces of fire (Syphilis) and water (Sycosis). Global warming is also a good example of these two primary forces at play[1]: as our human population expands, heating results from the burning of fossil fuels, which pushes carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. This in turn traps more heat due to the greenhouse effect, resulting in more overheating, melting the water held in ice that protects us from overheating due to its albedo effect. So more heating occurs, and so on. Our challenge here is to turn our passion (fire) to compassion (water), and keep fluids moving in a healthy way to counteract the excess of fire energy. In Covid-19 it is the filling of the lungs with fluid that is the cause of death.

Most importantly of all, there is Tuberculinum, the miasm that has been called the Divine Wake up Call [2]. This is one of the few miasms whose challenges are specific to humanity (though it should still be noted that we contracted TB in the first instance from cattle) and could be the main miasm of this extraordinary time. In essence, it allows us the possibility to break free of all that is purely material and instinctive, to soar and become the highest and grandest versions of ourselves. But as it originated in cattle that were displaced from their home environment with the spread of agriculture[3], in its shadow aspect it, it is linked with displacement and with being forcibly trapped and imprisoned. Refugees and prisoners therefore have always been particularly susceptible to this disease as over-crowding aids the spread of airborn viruses. As we find our own freedoms severely restricted, we are thrown back into the memory of imprisonment and loss of home, another deep-rooted trauma in us all. Our challenge is to use the restrictions on movement to communicate and act in more creative ways, and of course to remember now more than ever the terrible plight of refugees, and those from Syria in particular. Solving this problem is surely still one of the greatest challenges of our times.

Like Coronavirus, the Tuberculinum miasm affects the airways. Aspiration means both to draw a substance in through the nasal passage and the desire to improve oneself, to dream big. It is quite literally life energy carried through the breath that leads to inspiration.[4] This is the call to reignite our connection to the entire cosmos, and most of all to the Earth. It is about integrating the creative, the spiritual and the mundane, seeing the sacredness in everything and in every action. This is what Coronavirus, the crown virus, could be offering us. We all have a choice on how we move forward, but collectively we must move forward in a new and different way. The survival of our species could depend on it.


[1] ‘The Homeopathic Miasms: A Modern View,’ by Ian Watson, 2009

[2] Ibid

[3] Diana Eder, personal conversation 28.3.20

[4] Ibid Ian Watson

Spring Equinox: Bran and the Cauldron of Resurrection

The sap is rising, bulbs are emerging, blossom is exploding into life and buds forming at this time of balance between the light and the dark. As the days continue to lengthen, it is the light that has the upper hand but the power of darkness is still strong, urging us to integrate and acknowledge that part of our shadow that is holding us in stillness, even nourishing us like the moist and fecund Earth holds the seed. Dandelion starts to push through the loomy soil, along with burdock, borage, chickweed and violet, all packed full of nutrients and cleansing potential to prepare our systems for the energy of summer. And in the night sky the Spring Triangle is visible, comprised of Arcturus in Bootes, Spica in Virgo, and Regulus in Leo.

Sheelah’s Day is celebrated around Equinox in honour of Sheelah-Na-Gig, the goddess of fertility and sexuality, of green wildness and powerful life force. In the Celtic tree alphabet (f for Fearn), this time is ruled by alder, the tree of Brân. Said to have fought on the front line in the Battle of the Trees, this mother-of-all-trees is also closely associated with the goddess Sovereignty, who in her capacity as the regenerative and destructive power of Nature and ruler of the Equinox and Solstices, ultimately births, marries and lays out in death all sacred kings of which Brân was but one.

Brân was known as one of the three blessed kings of Britain and has an ancient pedigree preserved in several of the tales collated in the Mabinogion. Though written down in the Middle Ages, the tales were based on an ancient oral tradition where Brân was known as the Celtic god of regeneration, and has the illustrious pedigree of descending from both the house of Llyr (god of the sea) and Belenos (the sun god). The legends tell us that Brân possessed a magical cauldron with the power to bring dead warriors to life, but without restoring their speech. He received this cauldron from giants, or otherworldly beings, in return for his kindness, and it was so huge that it needed to be carried by wheeled vehicles such as chariots.

In a story related in the tale of ‘Branwen, the Daughter of Llyr,’ Brân gifted this cauldron to the Irish king Matholwch after he married his sister Branwen, but was dishonoured by another brother who had not been involved in the decision making process. Brân hoped to ward off war between the two kingdoms with his peace offering, but the Irish king refused to accept the cauldron as a gift in kind, reduced Queen Branwen’s position to that of a servant, and waged war anyway. Brân himself was poisoned by an arrow in the devastating battle that resulted and died. On his deathbed he instructed his followers to cut off his head, which was still able to talk even after removal. They solemnly and carefully carried the head back home with them, which was said to speak all the while.

This Cauldron of Resurrection was one of the sacred objects of the Celts and features later in Arthurian legend when King Arthur sets out on a quest to retrieve it. Indeed, in ancient times it was considered to be a gift of the goddess Sovereignty herself, the goddess of the land who bestowed plenty and abundance and presided over the magical gift of rebirth. In medieval times, the story of Branwen’s dishonouring by the Irish king is told in terms of her brothers, and her status is also reduced to that of a kitchen maid in the tale, symbolic of the withdrawal of powers by the goddess Sovereignty.  It is poignant that an object as magical as a Cauldron of Rebirth could no longer prevent petty wars between kingdoms as a result.

This theme is one that weaves through Celtic mythology, though in later times it is often edited out or watered down: the gifted abundance of the land is dependent on mutual respect between the land, the goddess of Sovereignty, and the people and mediated through the marriage between the land and the king who swore to uphold and protect her. When this sacred trust is broken, the gifts of the land and the Otherworld are withdrawn.

There is a powerful message here for our times. Alder rules from 18 March to 14th April, at time of writing, the period of lockdown in many countries due to the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic worldwide. The entire world is in the grip of the Wasteland, resulting in no uncertain terms from our abuse of the Earth and failure to take heed of the dire consequences of our actions and choices. Alder, like the cauldron of Brân is also known as the tree of resurrection through its association with the growing power of the sun, and its apparent ability to survive in, and therefore ‘conquer’ water. This year, Easter Sunday, the day of resurrection in the Christian church, falls on the 12 April, right at the end of the lockdown period imposed.

Brân was also associated with another magical symbol, that of the singing head removed from his body after he died in the futile battle with the Irish king. There are many legends surrounding this oracular head, but one of them says that it was buried on the hill where the Tower of London now stands, facing out towards France to ‘protect from invasion.’ Brân’s sacred bird was the raven, and to this day six of these birds are resident in the grounds of the Tower to protect ‘the Crown and the Tower,’ and superstition holds that if the ravens are lost or fly away, the Crown will fall and Britain with it. During this time of resurrection, we are being given an opportunity to examine the collective actions that have brought us to this current Wasteland. The old stories are very clear in their warnings. We ignore them this time at our peril.