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Author Topic: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?  (Read 2102 times)

idiotglee

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What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« on: April 26, 2014, 01:02:18 pm »
I know they're linked with druidry and have some wiccan connections, but what's the origin of this idea? Is there evidence for this being a Celtic belief, or is it purely a modern invention? If it is ancient, is the number nine significant, or simply the number of sacred trees we know of? Or is the reverse true: we know the number but not the trees?

If anyone could point me to some sources for this myth, I'd be most grateful :).

yewberry

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2014, 04:23:17 pm »
Quote from: idiotglee;146238
If anyone could point me to some sources for this myth, I'd be most grateful

 
I always got the impression that it was a modern, romantic idea.  And the list of "woods" changes depending on the source.

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #2 on: April 26, 2014, 08:07:30 pm »
Quote from: idiotglee;146238
I know they're linked with druidry and have some wiccan connections, but what's the origin of this idea? Is there evidence for this being a Celtic belief, or is it purely a modern invention? If it is ancient, is the number nine significant, or simply the number of sacred trees we know of? Or is the reverse true: we know the number but not the trees?

If anyone could point me to some sources for this myth, I'd be most grateful :).

 
There is a bit in Frazer's The Golden Bough that is probably relevant (from paragraph 9 of this page in the abridged edition, as found on SacredTexts.com):

'In Wales also the custom of lighting Beltane fires at the beginning of May used to be observed, but the day on which they were kindled varied from the eve of May Day to the third of May. The flame was sometimes elicited by the friction of two pieces of oak, as appears from the following description. “The fire was done in this way. Nine men would turn their pockets inside out, and see that every piece of money and all metals were off their persons. Then the men went into the nearest woods, and collected sticks of nine different kinds of trees...."'

There's nothing there about it being nine specific kinds, nor that they were sacred.

Alas, Frazer doesn't provide any kind of source for this bit of info. I will note that, while his interpretations of the folklore are highly dubious and problematic (and use a methodology that has been largely discredited since then), he's usually considered to be a reliable compiler of the specific bits of folklore.

What that means in this case, though, is that the customs described had been practiced relatively recently - at the longest, the unidentified folklore collector from whom Frazer got it (who was likely doing the collecting not more than a few decades earlier, since the very idea of collecting folklore was a fairly new one at the time) interviewed someone who was recounting what they'd been told by a parent or grandparent who had actually taken part in or seen the customs. This does not mean it is an 'ancient Celtic custom preserved intact in folk culture'; folk culture, contrary to the Romantic Ideals about it, is not static. It is possible that it has roots in much older customs, but there is nothing to demonstrate that it does (or doesn't) in this, and there's no way to tell what bits might be oldest or whether the more-modern iteration bore any resemblance to how its oldest bits were practiced. (Though there's indication that the ancient peoples-we-call-Celts, or at least some of them, did favor threes and nines, so the rationale for why nine different kinds of wood - rather than four or seven or whatever - might go back a very long way.)

One other point worth noting is that Frazer was extremely popular as a source in the development of many of the earlier sorts of neoPaganism (I strongly doubt that the folks who drew on him bothered to read his preface, which lays out his agenda and is deeply antithetical to neoPagan positions), so a great many bits and pieces can be traced back to The GB. IMO, this is probably one of them.

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Nerys53

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #3 on: April 27, 2014, 02:49:43 am »
Quote from: idiotglee;146238
I know they're linked with druidry and have some wiccan connections, but what's the origin of this idea? Is there evidence for this being a Celtic belief, or is it purely a modern invention? If it is ancient, is the number nine significant, or simply the number of sacred trees we know of? Or is the reverse true: we know the number but not the trees?

If anyone could point me to some sources for this myth, I'd be most grateful :).

 
See for info http://www.netplaces.com/celtic-wisdom/the-tree-of-life/nine-sacred-woods.htm

Allaya

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #4 on: April 27, 2014, 03:00:44 am »
Quote from: Nerys53;146280
See for info www.netplaces.com/celtic-wisdom/the-tree-of-life/nine-sacred-woods.htm

If I could, I'd tag that entire article with Citation Needed.
Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.  — Shirley Chisholm
No doubt the truth can be unpleasant, but I am not sure that unpleasantness is the same as the truth.  — Roger Ebert
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People cannot be reasoned out of an opinion that they have not reasoned themselves into. — Fisher Ames (adapted)

yewberry

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #5 on: April 27, 2014, 05:15:37 am »
Quote from: Allaya;146282
If I could, I'd tag that entire article with Citation Needed.


As with everything else on that site by one Ms. Jennifer Emick.

Brina

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #6 on: April 27, 2014, 06:07:09 am »
Quote from: yewberry;146285
As with everything else on that site by one Ms. Jennifer Emick.

Brina

I didn't notice the byline.  Whew, I wonder if that is THE Jennifer Emick of Backtrace infamy.

*hits Teh Googles*

Holy crap, it is. Whelp, I guess I have to go shower now to get the taint of internet drama turncoat off of me.
« Last Edit: April 27, 2014, 06:09:53 am by Allaya »
Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.  — Shirley Chisholm
No doubt the truth can be unpleasant, but I am not sure that unpleasantness is the same as the truth.  — Roger Ebert
It is difficult to get a person to understand something when their livelihood depends upon them not understanding it. — Upton Sinclair (adapted)
People cannot be reasoned out of an opinion that they have not reasoned themselves into. — Fisher Ames (adapted)

idiotglee

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #7 on: April 27, 2014, 11:12:01 am »
Quote from: SunflowerP;146265
There is a bit in Frazer's The Golden Bough that is probably relevant

Thanks! This is the most concrete information I've seen so far.

Quote from: Allaya;146282
If I could, I'd tag that entire article with Citation Needed.

I'm afraid that was my thought reading through it - and most articles about the nine sacred woods seem to be the same way.

Allaya

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #8 on: April 27, 2014, 11:35:11 am »
Quote from: idiotglee;146298
Thanks! This is the most concrete information I've seen so far.


I'm afraid that was my thought reading through it - and most articles about the nine sacred woods seem to be the same way.

 
While I don't believe the Nine Woods are based on anything other than someone's poetic license, I do think that the use of specific woods for some occasions has some merit. F'ex, the patchwork of 'Appalachian Dirt Witchin' that I am familiar with includes the use of the smoke of aspen wood to drive away bad spirits.

I keep my shed stocked with labeled hoppers of twigs, branch pieces, and bark. My neighbors are slowly getting used to seeing me dragging branches home after a storm with high winds or when someone is felling trees. I don't like to harvest from live trees if I can at all help it.

A magnificent set of books to have on one's shelf is the two volume Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe by Marcel De Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune. Since they are not cheap books, anyone interested in borrowing a copy can always check if their library has a copy (or can order one via inter-library loan) at http://www.worldcat.org/
Service is the rent we pay for the privilege of living on this earth.  — Shirley Chisholm
No doubt the truth can be unpleasant, but I am not sure that unpleasantness is the same as the truth.  — Roger Ebert
It is difficult to get a person to understand something when their livelihood depends upon them not understanding it. — Upton Sinclair (adapted)
People cannot be reasoned out of an opinion that they have not reasoned themselves into. — Fisher Ames (adapted)

Sophia C

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #9 on: April 27, 2014, 11:40:49 am »
Quote from: Allaya;146303
While I don't believe the Nine Woods are based on anything other than someone's poetic license, I do think that the use of specific woods for some occasions has some merit. F'ex, the patchwork of 'Appalachian Dirt Witchin' that I am familiar with includes the use of the smoke of aspen wood to drive away bad spirits.

Gaelic folklore and folk tradition talk about the use of certain woods for that purpose , too, including juniper. I draw on folk traditions, and work with the traditional Ogham meanings where those actually do relate to trees (which isn't always).
"We're all stories, in the end. Make it a good one, eh?"
- Doctor Who

idiotglee

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #10 on: April 27, 2014, 11:50:50 am »
Quote from: Allaya;146303
I keep my shed stocked with labeled hoppers of twigs, branch pieces, and bark. My neighbors are slowly getting used to seeing me dragging branches home after a storm with high winds or when someone is felling trees. I don't like to harvest from live trees if I can at all help it.

Ha! I've been seen doing the same thing, though it's been more for their herbalist uses so far. A whole shelf in my kitchen is dedicated to bottles filled with willow bark, dandelion root, dried hawthorn...

Quote
A magnificent set of books to have on one's shelf is the two volume Compendium of Symbolic and Ritual Plants in Europe by Marcel De Cleene and Marie Claire Lejeune. Since they are not cheap books, anyone interested in borrowing a copy can always check if their library has a copy (or can order one via inter-library loan) at http://www.worldcat.org/

£85 - ouch. It does look interesting though, and I can probably get it at a discount (the joys of volunteering at a bookshop)...

catja6

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #11 on: April 27, 2014, 02:09:44 pm »
Quote from: idiotglee;146305


£85 - ouch. It does look interesting though, and I can probably get it at a discount (the joys of volunteering at a bookshop)...

 
I highly recommend it: it's basically the most thorough book on plant lore that's been put out in, like, forever.

The thing about plant lore, though, is that aside from the field of ethnopharmacology (i.e., finding actual medicines, and that tends to focus on non-European sources), European plant lore isn't really a super-happening field of research. The authors use a lot of older scholarship (including GB) as sources. Also, the authors are European, and folklore studies on the continent developed in rather different (and in my view, more problematic) ways than it did in the UK or in North America: there's some stuff in there that makes me, an American-trained folklorist, go "yeeeeeeeeaaaahNO." But that's primarily in the arena of stuff that won't be obvious or relevant to non-folklorist readers, and won't really matter at all for most Pagan Purposes (tm). That kind of internal academic wankery is relevant to me, and I still happily bought and use the books. :D

And YES to everything Sunflower said about GB and Frazer and folklore!

yewberry

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #12 on: April 27, 2014, 02:16:22 pm »
Quote from: catja6;146307
I highly recommend it: it's basically the most thorough book on plant lore that's been put out in, like, forever.

 
It's been on my list since I heard about it.  Waiting for an amazing deal...that might never happen.

Brina

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2014, 06:39:50 pm »
Quote from: Allaya;146289
I didn't notice the byline.  Whew, I wonder if that is THE Jennifer Emick of Backtrace infamy.

*hits Teh Googles*

Holy crap, it is. Whelp, I guess I have to go shower now to get the taint of internet drama turncoat off of me.

My associations with her name are entirely related to her as a writer of paganism articles of shaky reliability (ISTR she does/did this for About.com?), so all this was news to me; I had to websearch it myself. Yeah, ick (on both/all sides), but NOT pertinent to her credibility, or lack thereof, as a source of pagan and/or folklore info, and not relevant to this thread.

(Just a gentle reminder, not a warning or anything, because it's not at 'rules breach' point - but, yes, I am speaking as staff.)

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« Last Edit: April 27, 2014, 06:44:16 pm by SunflowerP »
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yewberry

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Re: What is the origin of the nine sacred woods?
« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2014, 07:18:58 pm »
Quote from: SunflowerP;146323
My associations with her name are entirely related to her as a writer of paganism articles of shaky reliability (ISTR she does/did this for About.com?), so all this was news to me; I had to websearch it myself.

 
From my online interactions with her, I like Patti (and think she's very smart and totally reasonable one-to-one).  But you're right.  Her articles are full of inaccuracies.  I've called her on them on several occasions, but she doesn't edit.  Much like her predecessor at About.com.

Brina

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