by guest blogger Nan De Grove

Elder Tree Fairy, Cecily Mary Barker

Elder Tree Fairy, Cecily Mary Barker

The last full Moon of the year, December sixth at 5:26 a.m. MST, is called the Elder Moon in the Celtic tree calendar, a sacred teaching for which a tree is assigned to each month. It is a lunar calendar, marking time by the Moon, hence there are thirteen tree months rather than twelve.

The tree, as a portal into a sacred realm, represents an essence, indeed is an essence, of feeling and knowledge, accessed through memory, intuition and reverie. A lunar calendar is not so much about time in the outer world, but time in the inner world with its spiraling cycles and wanderings between past and present. Coming at the end of the year, in the month of the Winter Solstice and the celebrations of Christmas and Hanukkah, the Moon of the Elder Tree signifies the theme of renewal and rebirth as we lay to rest the burdens of the past year and ponder anew our place in the universe and on the turning wheel of life.

The elder tree has a vast array of lore and symbolism. Revered as a goddess tree in pagan times, it was associated with the Norse love goddess, Freya, and the underworld goddess, Holda, among others. With its white fragrant blossoms appearing in Spring and its black berries in Fall it was a tree of life and death, and expressed the dual nature of the goddess.

In the Christian era, with its campaign against Nature and goddess worship, the elder came to be maligned as the tree of the crucifixion and the “Judas Tree,” upon which the disciple hanged himself in remorse.

The healing properties of elder are well-known: a tea made from the blossoms is an old-fashioned remedy for colds, fevers and flu. Drinking it will cause the body to sweat and induce a dreamy state. The Elder Tree Mother, by Hans Christian Anderson, tells the tale of a little boy who gets his feet wet and catches a chill. When he is given elder flower tea as a remedy, the boy “looked toward the teapot. He saw the lid slowly raise itself and fresh white elder flowers come forth from it. They shot long branches even out of the spout and spread them in all directions, and they grew bigger and bigger until there was the most glorious elder bush — really a big tree!” The elder tree fairy appears and tells the boy a story that sends him into a dreamy bliss.

elder-tree-fairytale-by-oskar-klever (1)

Powerful medicine, indeed!

Elder berry wine is a delicious tonic for almost any ailment, and a syrup made from elder berries, available in pharmacies, is a defense against respiratory infections. When my daughter, Rose Anna, was a baby, I made a necklace for her by hollowing out the elder’s pithy branches and fashioning them into beads. She would wear it at times as a remedy for teething and fussiness.

elder tree necklace

Astrologically, the full Moon falls in Gemini, with the Sun in Sagittarius — air and fire. It signifies a time of intense mental energy that can be highly creative or turn into fragmentation and burn-out. The full Moon coincides with powerful aspects involving Uranus — revolution — and Pluto — control. With so much volatility swirling about in the collective we need extra healing for the nervous system (Gemini) now and time to cultivate and nurture our vision for the new cycle as 2014 draws to a close. The Geminid meteor shower begins on December seventh, lighting the heavens with shooting stars and inviting us to get away from artificial light and gaze at the wonder of the Heavens.

Nan De Grove is a gardener, painter and astrologer. She writes the monthly full-Moon column for The Lore of the Garden, as well as other occasional contributions. She can be reached at