Wheel of the Year Activities: Gathering Sacred Woods for the Beltaine Fire and Making May Wishes on a Hawthorn

by Doyenne Rowan Nightshade

Gathering Nine Sacred Woods for the Beltaine Fire

I love tree magic, I enjoy and resonate with the unique energies of each one, each living tree and type of tree. Being of a celtic persuasion, at this time of year I tend to think about the tree magic that’s traditional for Beltaine, namely gathering the nine sacred woods for the Beltaine fire. I may or may not have an actual Beltaine fire, and if you’re only just now gathering your woods, they won’t be very dry by May 1st (though if you’re a city dweller like I am, you’re probably only gathering twigs, rather than logs). However, you can still gather it and charge it up all year, and then burn it next year instead, and next year gather the wood for the following year, etc. One of the powerful things about this season is that it’s one of the times when the veil between the worlds is thinnest (the other being Samhain), therefore it’s an excellent time to do big magic, to really establish your intention for the next few months, and to manifest growth and good things in your world.

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The Nine Sacred Woods, traditionally, are:

  • birch: for new beginnings

  • oak: for strength and protection

  • hazel: for knowledge and for wisdom

  • rowan: for life, for magic, and for protection

  • hawthorn: for wishes, for sweetness in the heart, and for protection

  • willow: for death (all part of the cycle, you know), for vision, and for intuition

  • fir or pine: for birth and rebirth

  • apple: for love

  • (grape)vine: for joy and for happiness

If you live in a place where some of these plants don’t grow, I strongly suggest substituting a local, related tree. For example, rowan and hawthorn are both in the rose family (rosaceae), so maybe there’s another plant in the family that seems to strike the right cord for you. I have substituted wild plum for blackthorn since they are both in the prunus amygdala group (also in the rosaceae family) when making ogham staves, and California sagebrush (an artemisia) for gorse (entirely unrelated), because it seemed to serve a similar function in the environment and just felt right.

Making May Wishes on a Hawthorn

It’s traditional to make wishes on the full moon by tying ribbons to the branches of a hawthorn tree, especially in the month of May, since that’s when it’s generally in full flower (it’s also known as the May Tree). Here in the Bay Area, we’re fortunate to have many hawthorns growing around the edge of Lake Merritt in Oakland, so it wouldn’t be too hard to find one in the moonlight and tie a ribbon onto it. You may want to choose a color that reflects your desire, such as green for prosperity, pink for love, blue for health, and so on; then you can write your wish on it, or even just speak the wish into the ribbon. In case you’re not entirely sure what a hawthorn looks like, I offer the following guide for your edification:

How to Spot Different Types of Trees From Quite a Long Way Away: Hawthorn Edition

How to Spot Different Types of Trees From Quite a Long Way Away: Hawthorn Edition