The Raven calls, watching, waiting,
shield raised and spear tip bright,
blood river flows, tumbling, turning,
from the darkness to the light.
Pass my weapons, hexing, healing,
teach me truly I ask you and pray,
walking in both worlds, softly, safely,
to bring to each the brightest of days.
~ by Haloquin
The Cad Goddeu tells of Bran being known for the alder leaf on his shield. Bran, whose body formed a bridge for his army to cross in order to rescue his sister. Bran, whose head continued to prophecy after his death. Bran, whose ravens guard Britain yet.
Bran, if you’re listening, I could really use your help right now…
The whispered wish melted into tears turned inward. He was drowning in them, barely holding onto thoughts for the grief that was washing him away down the river at his feet.
A rough cough intruded.
He raised his head.
No-one in sight.
The cough repeated.
He looked higher. There in the branches of the riverside tree a great black bird peered down.
For a moment, time stood still and all was peaceful.
Then, a single thought; the door is not locked, there is always a path ahead.
The raven clacked its beak and launched itself into flight, a single feather falling in its wake as time clicked into place. It landed in the river and span, caught in an eddy, until he scooped it out from between the alder catkins.
For the first time, Gwern felt strong enough to leave.
Latin Name: Alnus glutinosa
Clues for Identification: Smooth leaves shaped like a shield with an indented tip and serrated edges. It has male (long, smooth) and female (round) catkins. The female catkins become tiny cones in their second year. The bark is dark brown/grey. It is often found by rivers as it spreads its seeds by floating them downriver.
Herbal Properties: The leaves are antibacterial and, fresh, may repel insects. A bark decoction may treat burns, wounds and inflammation. (Reminder; I’m not a herbalist. Please check for details and contraindications before self-medicating!)
Interesting facts: Alder fixes nitrogen into the soil and its roots prevent erosion of the riverbank, so it literally heals and protects the land! When cut it turns an orange colour, as though bleeding… A proper wounded healer thing going on there.
Practical Properties: It will not rot in water, but burns with an intense heat if seasoned well. Its bark will make a red dye, the twigs will make a brown dye, and its flowers will make a green dye, said to have been the dye that colours the clothes of both Robin Hood and the Fair Folk as it was used by outlaws.
Magical Properties: Unlucky to encounter on a journey in Ireland, but the fresh leaves are lucky when placed in a traveler’s shoes. (Perhaps because he seeks difficult situations, but will lend you his shield?) It is said that you can divine prophecy from the smoke and the flickering flame. Alder is associated with both fire and water, and thus balance. The warrior-king connection leads to associations with sacrifice and defense, and I associate alder with fatherhood and the divine masculine as a protective principle, as well as endurance, particularly emotional.
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Over to you in the comments. What is your shield? Where is your strength? What do you know of the riverside alder?
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