This time of year ivy comes into flower. The intense perfume of the blossoms has a clean, cold almost otherworldy smell. The flowers also attract the attention of insects, which swarm around this late-season treat. Later in the year, the black berries will form – food for the pigeons during the worst part of the winter.
Ogham and the Celtic Calendar
The poet Robert Graves, in his book The White Goddess, associates Ivy with the Irish Ogham letter gort, and the month running from 30th September to 27th October, a time when here in southeast England the ivy flowers are beginning to fade. There are just a few left at the moment,
There’s plenty to read on the associations that Graves and others make with Ivy (see the links below) but you can also try to make your own connection with a plant or tree and see if part of its nature is revealed to you. Reading what others have written is useful, but you don’t have to be bound by it.
Here are a couple of links you can read on Ivy:
- Elen Sentier’s page on Gort
- History and Medical information from A Modern Herbal
Robert Graves’ associations for the tree calendar originate in an old Welsh poem in the book of Taliesin called Kat Godeu, or Battle of the Trees. The lines about Ivy run as follows (in a modern translation by Marged Haycock):
Privet and honeysuckle,
and Ivy, despite his appearance,
how fiercely [did they go] into the fray!
What does this tell us about Ivy? For one thing, perhaps that his appearance is deceptive!
Seeing for ourselves
How do we approach Ivy – or other plants or trees – to find out more about them? Perhaps we can divide our approach into three categories:
Observation – we can use our senses to try and see ivy – look close, watch it in different contexts, in different seasons. Spend time with it. Use other senses: smell, touch, taste (after of course checking to make sure it isn’t poisonous!), maybe sound?
Investigation – this is where reading can come in, finding out about Ivy, but also we can also try our own experiments. What can we use Ivy for? What can we make from it? How does it fit into the local ecosystem? What does it do?
Experience – maybe we can interact with ivy on a different level, where we are not dealing with it as an object in our familiar world, but as an agent in a bigger, less familiar world. Perhaps we can meet the ‘spirit of the ivy.’ To do this we would need to keep a level of inner silence so that we can perceive the ivy, and also a certain courage to allow us to meet the spirit of the ivy as equals.
The Three Winter Berries
The berries of mistletoe, holly and ivy work together in the winter woods. Mistletoe – the golden bough of the druids – born from heaven without touching the ground. His berries are white – the male seed. Holly is shiny and sometimes prickly, flickering light in its leaves. Her berries are red – the female seed. Ivy climbs around and over the other trees and its berries are black – the seed of spirit. Together the three winter berries echo the beginning of the world.