The Rowan Tree

In the yard there grows a Rowan.
Thou with reverent care
Should'st tend it.
Holy is the tree there growing.
Holy likewise are it's branches.
On it's boughs the leaves are holy.
And it's berries yet more holy.

From The Kalevala, a compilation of Finnish
oral poems dating back to the first century A.D.

Much has been written about the magickal properties of the Rowan tree, which has long been believed by many to be a source of spiritual strength and protection against harm. Although we are unable to vouch for the historical accuracy of the following information, we offer these tidbits, compiled from sources too numerous to adequately footnote.

Lawrence Carter, for Rowan


The Rowan tree (also known as Mountain Ash, Quicken Tree, Quick Beam, Witchwood, Wiggen, Witcher and Sorb Apple) grows throughout northern Europe (Sorbus Aucuparia) as well as in the northeast part of North America (Sorbus Americanus). They are members of the Rose family and grow to be about 50 feet tall. They can strive in poor soil and colonize easily in disturbed areas. In some parts of Europe they are very common around ancient settlements and Stone Circles, probably due to having been planted. The Rowan is noted for having lovely white flowers in May and, every third year, berries that turn bright red in winter.

Rowan: The Mother of All Trees and Plants

The Rowan tree has been considered magical for thousands of years by many different cultures. One of the earliest references to the Rowan is in the ancient Finnish creation myth about the goddess "Rauni." According to this myth, the earth was barren and devoid of all plants when she came down from heaven and took the form of a Rowan tree. After Rauni ("Rowan?") had intercourse with Ukko, the God of Thunder, the result of their union was the creation of all the plants of the earth. According to this ancient creation myth, then, all plants and trees are descended from the Rowan tree as a result of it having been struck by a mighty bolt of magical lightening.

Rowan and the Runes

The word "Rowan" is said by some to have come from the same base as the Nordic word "Rune," which means "magic, secret." Some say the Runes (a type of alphabet used by Germanic tribes for over a thousand years) were traditionally carved from sticks from the Rowan tree, with each letter of the alphabet being named for a different tree. An early name for the Rowan tree was "Luis," which is the second letter of the Rune alphabet. "Casting the Runes" is a practice similar to using tarot cards to predict the future.

Rowan Tree Blossoms

Rowan as Protection

Many traditions have evolved from the belief common among many Celtic people that the Rowan tree could offer protection from evil spirits. On Beltane (the night before May Day, which in some places was called Rowan Tree Day), sprigs of Rowan were often tied with string dyed red from the Rowan berries to cows' tails and horses' halters to protect them, and sheep were made to jump through hoops made from Rowan. Crossed branches of Rowan were often placed in cowsheds and stables for the same purpose, and milking stools and pails were sometimes made of Rowan wood. Rowan trees were commonly planted near the doors of houses, or Rowan twigs placed over the door or under a bed, to ward off evil spirits. Necklaces of Rowan berries with red thread were often worn for protection by Highland women. Rowan trees was often planted in churchyards to send away evil spirits and to keep the unquiet dead from leaving their graves. In Wales, it was common for people to wear a cross carved from Rowan. Corpses prior to burial and coffins in transit to graveyards were often placed under Rowan trees to protect the souls from evil spirits.

Faeries and Witches

Although the Rowan was considered by some as protection from faeries, others say that faeries love the tree and will go out of their way to seek it out. Some even say that anyone harming a Rowan tree runs the risk of faeries seeking revenge by causing illness. In Sligo, Ireland, a legend tells of the "Forest of Dooros" where the faeries who dwelt there loved to eat Rowan berries brought over from Fairyland. One of the berries fell to the ground, and out of this grew a huge Rowan tree. It was said that eating one of this tree's berries, which tasted of sweet honey, would make a person drunk. Eating two berries would ensure that the person would live to be a hundred years old. Eating three would make the person thirty years old again, to stay that way for a hundred years. To protect their magic, the faeries asked a giant named Sharvan who lived in the forest to guard the Rowan tree, so those few who attempted to take advantage of the Rowan's magic were usually never heard of again.

Rowan trees were said to guard against the evil effects of "black" witchcraft. Berries were sometimes strung like beads and hung as a necklace around the neck of a supposed victim of sorcery. Some believed that one way to protect your soul from the devil was to touch a witch with a branch from a Rowan tree. Then, if the devil came demanding a soul, the witch would be taken instead. A cross carved from Rowan was sometimes placed above a child's cradle to protect it from bewitchment or from being stolen by faeries. These crosses were traditionally renewed each May Day. It was believed that the power of the Rowan was particularly potent if the person making the charm had never seen the tree before cutting the wood.
"Laidley Wood"

The spells were vain
The hag returned
To the Queen in a sorrowful mood
Crying that witches have no power
Where there is Rowan tree wood.

Traditional Celtic ballad

Modern Magical Uses of the Rowan

Rowan is now a much sought-after wood by those who currently engage in magickal practices. Rowan is thought by many to be the preferred wood for making wands and amulets. A "Flying Rowan" (called a "Flogronin" in Norway and Sweden) refers to a young Rowan tree that has taken root within the fork of an older tree. Wands made from a Flying Rowan are considered especially powerful and often used by diviners to locate metal and (when forked) water. As Glennie Kindred states in the internet article "The Rowan Tree: Tree of Imbolc, Divine Inspiration and Seership" at www.WhiteDragon.Org, "The Rowan... has the ability, perhaps more than any other tree, to help us increase our psychic abilities and connections. It has a beneficial energy which will increase our abilities to receive visions and insights which in turn will increase our communication with the spirit realms."

The Rowan and Celtic Astrology

Finally, one approach to astrology identifies 21 trees as being considered sacred by ancient Celts, with each tree representing a 9-day period during the cycle of the moon. The Rowan represents those born between April 1st-10th and October 4th-13th. According to one source, "Rowan (the Sensitivity) Full of charm, cheerful, gifted, without egoism, likes to draw attention,loves life, motion, unrest and even complications,is both dependent and independent, good taste, artistic, passionate, emotional,good company, does not forgive." For additional information, see Celtic astrology.

In Summation:
The above is meant to be just a beginning for those drawn to researching the powers ascribed to the Rowan tree. Given this long, magickal history, it is no wonder that Tolken chose the Rowan for one of his main Ents ("Quickbeam" - left) in his Lord of the Rings cycle. To quote Glennie Kindred again from www.WhiteDragon.Org, "Whatever your connection to the Rowan, be sure to look out for the changes that will occur as a result of any communication with this tree. It should not be underestimated and its influence will bring about a quickening of your energy on many subtle levels. For this reason, it has always been used by the wise ones and revered as a powerful influence and should be treated with the greatest respect."

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