Holly (1) is a vivid, vital plant, and especially so at midwinter with its rich spiky evergreen leaves and its blood red berries. It is not afraid to take a strand in the world. Tradition names it as fiery in nature and it is described as ‘best in the fight’. In Celtic times the wood of the holly was used to fashion spear shafts. Amergin, the warrior bard and shaman who invaded Ireland, links himself to holly when declaring that ‘I am a battle waging spear’ among his many identifications.
Within my mandala of the year (2) holly initiates a major change of energy and direction. The winter quarter beginning on 1 November is a time of dying and regeneration, in the life of the land that I live in and in some sense in me. Elder has completed the work of descent into a form of death already signalled by the yew. Now, from 17 December to 7 January, it is for the holly energy to ignite my regenerative potentials and aid my birth into the life of another year.
Holly helps me with its vitality, strength, clarity of direction and balance. My worry this year has been about my own capacity to step up. But now, on 22 December, I feel the first stirrings of renewal. Under the aegis of holly I am in protected space and time. I can draw strength from the holly and regenerate in safety, during an extended holiday sheltered from the world. A blessing, indeed.
(1) The image is from: John Matthews & Will Worthington The Green Man Oracle London: Connections, 2003.
(2) This mandala is based on my personal experience of trees in the neighbourhood as well as traditional lore. Moving around the wheel of the year from 1 November, the positions and dates of the trees are:
Yew, north-west, 1-23 November
Elder, north-north-west, 24 November – 16 December
Holly, north, 17 December – 7 January
Alder, north-north-east, 8 – 31 January
Birch, north-east, 1 – 22 February
Ash & Ivy, east-north-east, 23 Feb. – 16 March
Willow, east, 17 March – 7 April
Blackthorn, east-south-east, 8 – 30 April
Hawthorn, south-east, 1 – 23 May
Beech & Bluebell, south-south-east, 24 May – 15 June
Oak, south, 16 June – 8 July
Gorse, south-south-west, 9 – 31 July
Apple, south-west, 1 -23 August
Blackberry & Vine, west-south-west, 24 August – 15 September
Hazel, west, 19 September – 8 October
Rowan, west-north-west, 9 – 31 October.
See also https://contemplativeinquiry.blog/2020/autumn-equinox-2020-hazel-salmon-awen/