Written and Compiled by George Knowles
The common ivy (Hedera Helix) while not a tree is a sacred plant of Wicca/Witchcraft, revered of old by the ancients as much as it is today by contemporaries. Its most common association is with the Holly tree, the “Holly and the Ivy” being used extensively worldwide as a Yuletide decoration.
There are many varieties of ivy but the
English Common Ivy (Hedera Helix) is
the most prolific (not to be confused with Poison Ivy
(Rhus radicans), see below). The ivy is native to Europe, Asia,
and North Africa,
but is now cultivated in many other countries. Other common varieties are (Hedera
helix hibernica) the Irish Ivy also planted
extensively in America, and the (Hedera canariensis variegata) commonly
planted in California.
Ivy is a wild evergreen climbing vine that attaches itself to the bark of trees, brickwork and other surfaces. It climbs by means of curious fibers that grow out from every part of the stem. These fibers resemble roots and have small disks at the end by which it attaches itself to the roughness of the bark or wall against which it grows and clings. On meeting with soil or deep crevices, these fibers become true roots obtaining nourishment for its stem. The Ivy is therefore liable to injure the trees around which it twines by abstracting the trees life resources to feed its own.
The leaves of the ivy come in many different shapes and sizes, the most common being a 3-lobed leaf with a heart-shaped base. Leaves of the mature plant are often un-lobed, oval and have wedge-shaped bases. The leaves are arranged alternately along its stem and are dark green in colour, shiny with a leathery texture. When the plant is young it will climb and trail, and on reaching the summit of its support will start to grow outwards forming into a bush, the leaves at the top changing shape. The broad leaves being evergreen offer shelter to birds in the winter, and many prefer ivy to other shrubs in which to build their nests.
Ivy only produces flowers when the branches get above their support. The flowering branches are bushy and project out from the climbing stem with flowers at the end of each shoot. The flowers normally come out in the autumn if sufficient sunlight is available, and appear as small umbrella-like clusters of a greenish-white or yellow. They often continue to flower until late in December and while they have little or no scent, they yield an abundance of nectar and afford food to bees late in the autumn when they can get no other.
The fruit or berries of the ivy do not become ripe till the following spring, but never the less provide a valuable source of food for many birds during severe winters. When ripe the berries are about the size of a pea, black or deep purple in colour and contain two to five seeds. They have a bitter and nauseous taste and when rubbed have an aromatic and slightly resinous odour.
Of old, ivy leaves were recommended for cattle food and although cows did not like them, sheep and deer will sometimes eat them in the winter. Turners in Southern Europe used the wood of the ivy, after it attained a sufficient size but being very soft it was seldom used in England except for whetting the knives of leather dressers. The wood is very porous and the ancients thought it had the property of separating wine from water by filtration, however they soon realized that the wood absorbed its colour and the wine loss some of its flavour, so they stopped using it. On the Continent it has sometimes been used in thin slices as a filter.
The ivies greatest value is as an ornamental covering for unsightly buildings and is said to be the only plant that does not make walls damp. The leaves from the way they fall act as a curtain and form a sort of armour holding and absorbing the rain and moisture. Ivy is a very hardy plant and can withstand the severest of winters and frost; they also suffer little from smoke or the polluted air of manufacturing towns. The plant can live to a considerable age by which time its stem becomes woody and attains a fair size. Ivy trunks of a foot in diameter can be found where it has been left undisturbed for many years to grow and climbed over rocks and ruins.
is a darker side to the ivy however for left to grow unchecked it becomes an
aggressive invader that threatens all vegetation levels of forested and open
areas, it will grow along the ground as well as up into the forest canopy.
The dense growth and abundant leaves of the ivy form a thick canopy just
above the ground that prevents sunlight from reaching other plants.
Similarly the vines climbing up tree trunks spread out and surround branches and
twigs, preventing most of the sunlight from reaching the leaves of the host
tree. The loss of vigor in the host
tree becomes evident within a few years, and is followed by death a few years
later. The added weight of vines
makes infested trees susceptible to blowing over during storms. Ivy also serves as a reservoir for bacterial leaf scorch (Xylella
fastidiosa), a plant pathogen that is harmful to native trees such as elms, oaks
Ivy is a popular plant recommended for use as a low maintenance alternative to lawns. It is widely used by homeowners, landscapers, parks departments and others desiring a fast-growing low maintenance groundcover. However once established on a site, the ivy can be expected to move beyond its intended borders and spread into neighboring yards, parks and other lands. Ivy reproduces vegetatively and by seed, which is dispersed to new areas primarily by birds such like sparrows, starlings and robins. New plants grow easily from cuttings or from stems making contact with the soil.
Mythology and folklore:
Ivy was in high esteem among the ancients and its leaves formed the poet's crown. The ivy was dedicated to the Roman god Bacchus (the Greek god Dionysus, see “The Vine”), the God of Intoxication who is often depicted wearing a wreath of ivy and grapevines. He is also depicted holding a chalice and carrying a thyrsus (a wand) which was also entwined with ivy and vine leaves. Ivy leaves were thought to prevent intoxication and the binding of the brow with ivy was seen as a counterbalance to the vine. Old writers tell us that the effects of intoxication by wine are removed if a handful of ivy leaves are bruised and gently boiled in wine and drunk. In former days old English taverns bore a sign of an ivy bush over their doors, this to indicate the excellence of the liquor supplied within, hence the old saying “A good wine needs no bush”.
Through its connection with the vine and nature, the ivy is also associated with one of the most popular of the ancient Egyptian gods Osiris, God of the Sun, Agriculture and Health. His queen was Isis who was also his wife and sister. As Osiris ruled the sun, Isis represented the moon and was believed to have taught the Egyptians the arts of agriculture and medicine. She was also credited with instituting marriage.
In legend Osiris had an evil brother called Seth, the God of the Desert. Seth, who ruled the barren land of the desert was jealous of his brother who ruled the fertile lands of nature, he induced Osiris to get into a large chest or sarcophagus, which he then closed and had thrown into the Nile River. The coffin floated down the river through one of the mouths of the delta and out into the Mediterranean Sea, where the currents carried it to the port of Byblos. There his wife and sister Isis, sort and recovered his body. Isis was overjoyed for it was a general belief that there could be no life after death without a physical body.
Out of animosity for her happiness, Seth re-seized the coffin and cut the corpse up into fourteen pieces, these he scattered throughout the lands and seas of Egypt. Once again Isis sort her husbands body, and with the assistance of Nut, his mother, she resurrected his body all except for his genitals, which had been consumed by fishes. As a re-born god, Osiris didn’t return to earth but stayed in the infertile lands below, and became a God of the Underworld. In another version, Isis buried each piece of his body where she found it, thus spreading the potency of his nature everywhere. From this story we can see the associations of ivy as a plant of life, death and re-newel, equated with fertility.
Throughout the ages ivy has been regarded as the emblem of fidelity, and of old, Greek priests would present a wreath of ivy to newly married persons. Today the ivy is still commonly associated with weddings, and is carried or worn by bridesmaids. The custom of decorating houses and churches with ivy at Christmas was once forbidden by the Christian Church, on account of its pagan associations.
Of old, women carried ivy to aid
fertility and general good luck. They
also carried it to ensure fidelity and from this came the custom of brides
carrying ivy. Ivy wherever it is
grown or proliferates, guards against negativity and disaster.
Wands entwined with ivy were used in the worship of Bacchus, and are used
in nature and fertility rites. Ritually
and magically the ivy is paired with the holly tree and the vine (see “The
Holly Tree” and “The Vine”).
Ivy is generally though to be poisonous, but Robinson tells us that a drachm of the flowers decocted in wine restrains dysentery, and that the yellow berries are good for those who spit blood and against jaundice (the Golden Ivy of Virgil (Hedera Chrysocarpa) is supposed to be the yellow berried variety but this is now rarely found). To remove sunburn it is recommended to smear the face with tender ivy twigs boiled in butter.
Culpepper says of the ivy: “It is an enemy to the nerves and sinews taken inwardly, but most excellent outwardly”.
Poison ivy (Rhus radicans) emits a poisonous oil irritant called “urushiol”. In its pure form the amount that could fill a pinhead, can make 500 people very miserable. Because urushiol is oil and not a water based fluid it does not evaporate, and so can linger for as long as a year. It will cover what ever it comes in contact with including: clothing, tools and even pet hair. Because it is an oil, when burned it vaporizes and is carried in the smoke covering everything it comes in contact with, again contaminating it for a year or longer. Urushiol is present on the leaves, stems and roots of the plant and is still active even on dead plants that have dried up.
Poison ivy while an irritant to humans, serves a useful purpose of importance to the eco-systems they are present in. The small white or bluish berries found on poison ivy, feeds a number of birds and small animals, they also use the tangles they form for shelter and building nests. The irritants found in urushiol oil do not affect most animals, but to humans it can cause a very irritating itch. This can be easily treated if you identified your contact with the plant within a few hours of the incident.
The urushiol oil chemically bonds with the proteins in our skin about 30 minutes after contact, and 75% of the population can be affected by contact with the plant. Some fortunate people are immune, but immunity today does not assure immunity tomorrow and vice versa. The rash symptoms normally appear within a few hours but can also take up to five days to appear. The rash starts as a red annoying itchy area, and soon begins to swell. The area then becomes inflamed and covered in clusters of tiny pimples, the pimple eventually merge and turn into blisters. The fluid in the blisters turns yellow, dries up and becomes crusty. Left untreated it can last as short as five days but in severe cases as long as five to six weeks.
If exposed to poison ivy, it is recommended you should wash off with hot water (but not so hot that it burns) and strong soap as soon as possible. If you can get washed up in the first six hours and before the first symptoms appear, you have a good chance of avoiding the rash, and an even better chance of minimizing the effects if you do have one. If you do start to get a rash there is bad news, for there is no anti-toxin available for urushiol. There are products that will make you more comfortable, but no specific treatments, the most common suggestions are to apply calamine lotion to the rash or rub the rash with an ice cube. These remedies may or may not work, but they probably won't cause any harm. Washing in hot water with strong soap within the first 24 hours of exposure, and not “scratching”, is best the help to reduce the length and severity of a reaction.
Fortunately the rash is not communicable once you get one, this means you cannot pass it on to someone else through normal contact, only the urushiol oil spreads the rash. As blisters start to form over the infected area it is best you should never break the blisters. Breaking blisters can lead to blood poison and generally in medical circles, the draining of blisters is frowned upon. You should try to let the infected area breath and if you do wrap it, try to keep the dressings as clean as possible, weeping blisters are hot beds for infection.
Ivy is known by the folk name Gort. Its gender is Feminine. Its planet ruler is Saturn. Its element association is Water. Its deities associated are with: Osiris, Dionysus, Bacchus and Persephone. It is used to attract the powers needed for: Fertility, Fidelity, Life, Death and Rebirth, and anything associated with nature and water.
Astrologically ivy people (i.e. those people born in September) are steadfast, constant and even-tempered. They are generally easy going and at times can even be whimsical. They do not take sides in disputes unless they feel a threat to their basic beliefs. They should not treat love attachments to lightly, for it is easy for them to move on, but if they love longer they will love better.
Cunningham's Encyclopedia Of Magical Herbs - By Scott Cunningham.
Encyclopedia of Wicca & Witchcraft - By Raven Grimassi.
The Encyclopedia of Witches & Witchcraft - By Rosemary Ellen Guiley.
Tree Wisdom (The definitive guidebook to the myth, folklore and healing power of Trees) - By Jacqueline Memory Paterson.
AA Book of Britain's Countryside.
The Penguin Hutchinson Reference Library (CD cassette).
Microsoft Encarta Encyclopedia (CD cassette).
Plus many websites to numerous to mention.
Best Wishes and Blessed Be.
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Animals in Witchcraft (The Witches Familiar) / Antelope / Bats / Crow / Fox / Frog and Toads / Goat / Honeybee / Kangaroo / Lion / Owl / Phoenix / Rabbits and Hares / Raven / Robin Redbreast / Sheep / Spider / Squirrel / Swans / Wild Boar / Wolf / Serpent / Pig / Stag / Horse / Mouse / Cat
In Worship of Trees - Myths, Lore and the Celtic Tree Calendar. For descriptions and correspondences of the thirteen sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft see the following: Birch / Rowan / Ash / Alder / Willow / Hawthorn / Oak / Holly / Hazel / Vine / Ivy / Reed / Elder. Also see: The Willow Tree (Folk Music)
Rocks and Stones:
Articles contributed by Patricia Jean Martin: / Apophyllite / Amber / Amethyst / Aquamarine / Aragonite / Aventurine / Black Tourmaline / Bloodstone / Calcite / Carnelian / Celestite / Citrine / Chrysanthemum Stone / Diamond / Emerald / Fluorite / Garnet / Hematite / Herkimer Diamond / Labradorite / Lapis Lazuli / Malachite / Moonstone / Obsidian / Opal / Pyrite / Quartz (Rock Crystal) / Rose Quartz / Ruby / Selenite / Seraphinite / Silver and Gold / Smoky Quartz / Sodalite / Sunstone / Thunderegg / Tree Agate / Zebra Marble
Articles and Stories about Witchcraft:
Murder by Witchcraft / The Fairy Witch of Clonmel / A Battleship, U-boat, and a Witch / The Troll-Tear (A story for Children) / Goody Hawkins - The Wise Goodwife / The Story of Jack-O-Lantern / The Murder of the Hammersmith Ghost / Josephine Gray (The Infamous Black Widow) / The Two Brothers - Light and Dark
Old Masters of Academia:
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Abramelin the Mage / Agrippa / Aidan A. Kelly / Albertus Magnus “Albert the Great” / Aleister Crowley “The Great Beast” / Alex Sanders "the King of the Witches” / Alison Harlow / Amber K / Anna Franklin / Anodea Judith / Anton Szandor LaVey / Arnold Crowther / Arthur Edward Waite / Austin Osman Spare / Biddy Early / Bridget Cleary / Carl Llewellyn Weschcke / Cecil Hugh Williamson / Charles Godfrey Leland / Charles Walton / Christina Oakley Harrington / Damh the Bard (Dave Smith) / Dion Fortune / Dolores Aschroft-Nowicki / Dorothy Morrison / Doreen Valiente / Edward Fitch / Eleanor Ray Bone “Matriarch of British Witchcraft” / Dr. John Dee and Edward Kelly / Dr. Leo Louis Martello / Eliphas Levi / Ernest Thompson Seton / Ernest Westlake and the Order of Woodcraft Chivalry / Fiona Horne / Friedrich von Spee / Francis Barrett / Gerald B. Gardner / Gavin and Yvonne Frost and the School and Church of Wicca / Gwydion Pendderwen / Hans Holzer / Helen Duncan / Herman Slater "Horrible Herman" / Israel Regardie / James "Cunning" Murrell / Janet Farrar & Gavin Bone / Jessie Wicker Bell “Lady Sheba” / John Belham-Payne / John George Hohman / John Gerard / John Gordon Hargrave (the White Fox) / John Michael Greer / John Score / Johannes Junius the Burgomaster of Bamberg / Karl von Eckartshausen / Laurie Cabot "the Official Witch of Salem" / Lewis Spence / Margaret Alice Murray / Margot Adler / Marie Laveau the " Voodoo Queen of New Orleans" / Marion Weinstein / Matthew Hopkins “The Witch-Finder General” / Max Ehrmann and the Desiderata / Monique Wilson the “Queen of the Witches” / Montague Summers / Nicholas Culpeper / Nicholas Remy / M. R. Sellers / Mrs. Grieve "A Modern Herbal" / Oberon and Morning Glory Zell-Ravenheart / Old Dorothy Clutterbuck / Old George Pickingill / Paddy Slade / Pamela Colman-Smith / Paracelsus / Patricia Crowther / Patricia Monaghan / Patricia “Trish” Telesco / Philip Emmons Isaac Bonewits / Philip Heselton / Raymond Buckland / Reginald Scot / Robert Cochrane / Robert ‘von Ranke’ Graves and "The White Goddess" /Rudolf Steiner / Rosaleen Norton “The Witch of Kings Cross” / Ross Nichols and The Order of Bards, Ovates & Druids / Sabrina - The Ink Witch / Scott Cunningham / Selena Fox / Silver Ravenwolf / Sir Francis Dashwood / Sir James George Frazer / S.L. MacGregor Mathers and the “Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn” / Starhawk / Stewart Farrar / Sybil Leek / Ted Andrews / The Mather Family - includes: Richard Mather, Increase Mather, Cotton Mather / Thomas Ady / Vera Chapman / Victor Henry Anderson / Vivianne Crowley / Walter Brown Gibson / William Butler Yeats / Zsuzsanna Budapest
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