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The Crossed Ways : Tracks, Travels and Ogham Learning
by Alison Jones

Seed Thought

There is a great deal of unmapped country within us which would have to be taken into account in an explanation of our gusts and storms. George Eliot

The crossed ways, the places where roads meet and a decision must be made; which way to turn, to continue, to go back the way we came. Directions are important is all aspects of life, if we turn the wrong way on a car journey we may become ‘lost’ and spend hours on a detour, alternately it may be that this very detour allows us to see something meant for us, to discover new places or simple to learn from time spent weaving through the webs as we seek our destination. It is often suggested that journey or process is more important in a way than arrival at destination; it is the getting there and the experiences it brings that count.

As Bards, we are new to the Druid journey. With bright eyes and excitement in our hearts we step into the forest, not necessarily for the first time, but seeing it with the eyes of the Bard and the newness of the undertaking may allow us to experience a childlike wonder. Many of us will have spent years travelling away from such experiences, but through initiation, rebirth and the lowering of inhibitions, we are truly able to feel and experience the magic of wildwood again.

As Ovates, we forge deeper into the trees. They beckon us to the quiet and shadowy bowers that are further from the boundaries, the places of tree learning which it would be unlikely for us to happen upon without proper direction and guidance. As Ovates, we experience travel in many ways, our Sacred Grove acting as a cross roads or a conduit through which we progress and learn of directions and dimensions beyond our every day existence. The great standing people, the guardian trees beckon us onward to learn of our ancestors and the paths they chose, the wisdom of the present to be garnered in our birthing bag and seeded for the future times.

Cycles are important to the Ovate. The seasons turn and the year wheels, so too do we progress around our cycle, from birth to death to rebirth and so on. As Ovates we learn to transcend the physical boundaries to time travel and become accomplished weavers of cycles, learning the patterns woven by our ancestors, rejecting any threads no longer necessary, trimming the cloth of our lives to make a bright fabric for our futures. And yet we our grounded in the present, rooted as our standing guardians in the deep . remembering earth, whilst reaching for the song of the stars above. It is in this way, an Ovate can be said to stand between the worlds, constant to the present, learned of the past and mindful of that which is yet to come

Travel and migration through physical outer space and metaphysical inner space is not a modern notion. Journeying from place to place formed part of the livelihood of our ancestors of flesh and spirit; many of whom worked the land or grazed animals on it and drove them to fresh grazing as the need arose. Such routes are still apparent, and, although motorised transport has replaced the long and hard traipses to greener land, there is often a memory and power in such routes. As sacred sites retain energies which can be perceived by many, so too roads and trackways can be the holders of powerful ancestral knowledge, which can be unlocked by travelling their ways with good intentions.

As creatures of habit in a busy world, it is not surprising that most of us give very little thought to our daily journeys, or even to the cross roads at which we make decisions which can be life changing. Modern society still acknowledges some life changing events, birth, marriage and death; however, there is little room in the Western World for the celebration of the transition from phases of childhood to adulthood, or for more subtle changes that take place within these aspects of life. It could be suggested that failure to realise and celebrate such changes could result in such conditions as behavioural difficulties or feelings of depression as feelings of abandonment at the cross roads ensue. Without guidance, all of us may feel challenged by this liminal place, however if we explore the routes available to us, we can learn the wisdom of the directions, of different times and places and begin mapping a journey that will prove fruitful in many ways

In Druidry, rituals are not the path, but they serve as a reminder of a path, a track, of places to be explored beyond the sanctity of the grove. Ritual and ceremony can lead the student to map a way to the place of convocation in the inner groves of the order, which in turn can facilitate dream mapping and dream time learning as the ways are opened for the student to receive inner guidance. When this occurs, one may find oneself in a position of ‘getting ahead of oneself’ on the path progression laid out in the Gwers, alternately, one may become side tracked, pursing an attractive path off the main journey, digressing in some area and gaining knowledge and understanding that a detour can be wonderful at providing! With magical journeys, one must learn to be patient and to calmly progress wherever one is guided. If this happens to be off the beaten track and deep into the arboreal undergrowth, so be it! Although many are making for the same destination, there are a variety of ways of getting there, which is one of beauties of modern Druidry!

It is interesting that many of us spend a great deal of time travelling unconsciously. Those who work with young people, particularly as educators may spend a great deal of energy in encouraging their charges to go about mapping their futures and making decisions which will set them on a certain course for a number of years. It is perilous to do so without considering the questions and the learning of the various cross roads and pathways, as these are arguably the key to the crossing points of the future. However it is interesting to note that the importance of travel has not slipped entirely from modern western consciousness. Many St Christopher tokens are still worn as protection, as is the Christian Cross, which can be seen as a symbol of cyclic travel, between death, rebirth and the different dimensions of earth and the other world. Many other cultures also wove the importance of travel and transcendence into their spiritual systems, with goddesses such as the Celtic Elen of the Ways who has been Christianised as St Helen, and the Northern Nehelania, a goddess of sea tracks and protectress of sea faring travellers. The Classical world also boasts Hekate, a goddess of Titan birth who not only protected travellers, but also protected the journey of the soul, acting as a midwife to incarnating souls at childbirth and as a pscyhopomp to those departing in death. Such transitions are key to the ovate, not just in the physical sense, but in the many other subtle ways in which death and birth are experienced by any initiate.

Trees, the key to ovate learning are also central in many systems of belief and patterns of faith. Odin hung upon a tree and so gained initiatory knowledge, and the Norns are said to sit about the trunk of the ‘world’ tree spinning the fates of man. Perhaps one of the most commonly known stories of tree wisdom is the Christian tale of Adam and Eve in their ‘paradise’ garden in Eden. Although the finer points of the tale are much debated, the tree of knowledge is portrayed throughout art and literature as bearing apples. By becoming mortal after eating of the tree, Adam and Eve began an initiatory journey of their own, forging forth from the garden to many a crossroads, from which they garnered much wisdom for the human race. It is perhaps not an accident then that the Celts revered the apple tree as a plant of the otherworld, Avalon, the Isle of Apples being held sacred in their cosmology, revered as holding the mystical qualities of both the mortal vision of the word which the biblical couple received after eating of the fruit, and also the otherworldly vision of ideas as so aptly embodied by the Eden ‘grove’!

At the heart of the Celtic Otherworld grows an apple tree whose fruit, like its biblical counterpart has magical properties. Old sagas tell of heroes crossing the western sea to find this wondrous country, known in Ireland as Emhain Abhlach, (Evan Avlach) and in Britain, Avalon. At Samhain, the apple harvest is in, and old hearthside games, such as apple-bobbing, called apple-dookin’ in Scotland, reflect the journey across water to obtain the magic apple. The apple is also a tree associated with Elen of the Ways. The sacred Druid plant, and t-uil-oc (Mistletoe), is often found on Apple trees, making it an especially holy tree to the Druids, along with the Oak.

In The Voyage of Bran, an Otherworldly woman appears with an apple branch laden with bells, entrancing Bran with wondrous tales of the Otherworld. So enraptured is he by this damsel with the magical apple branch, that he sets sail immediately for the enchanted shores, having epic adventures on his journey. In Druid lore, the essence of three sacred apples growing on the Tree of Knowledge came from three drops that fell from Cerridwen’s cauldron, which correspond with the Druid’s most holy symbol, the three rays of light or Awen. In the Irish Druid tradition, the Silver Bough is cut from a magical Apple tree, where silver apple shaped bells played a mystical tune, which could lull people into a trance state. Druids could make contact with the Otherworld during a trance enhanced by this silver apple bough. Being concerned with Ogham and tree learning, it is apt that the apple is named Quert, which, according to the Word Ogham of Óengus, means the “force of a man”, or the epitome of health and vitality in a man or woman. The apple is located in the heart of the ogham grove, and is the source of life. It is from the apple that we receive healing, renewal, regeneration and wholeness, especially after being wounded, exhausted, or ill, or lost on our ways. It is from this knowledge that the Ovate can use the Grove as a crossroads and the ogham Quert as a teacher in order to journey the ways of Elen, Olwen or Hekate, in order to learn and transgress the ways of the druid path and weave an inspired and joyful dance through the forest.


A journey to the crossed ways ­ travelling the Ogham by Alison Jones

Sanctify your space and greet the directions as follows:

Hail to the Eastern groves of dawn, of birch trees breathing in new life.

Hail to the Southern groves of midday, of hawthorns burning bright in the hedgerows.

Hail to the Western groves of twilight, of apples dancing their starlight within.

Hail to the Northern groves of midnight, of yew trees arching to the otherworld.

Hail to the Inner groves of notime, of ancestral root and branch and tree.

Enter your grove and perform the light body exercise, feeling yourself to be filled with light of the sun that is also a star, the light of moon that reflects and shadows and the gentle blue green light of the earth.

In the centre of the grove there is a stone altar (maybe your anchor stone) on which you notice a small basket of apples and a golden curved knife.

Spend time in front of the stone altar, gazing at the apples, rising up to greet your guide as they approach you through a gateway between two shadowy yew trees in the West of the grove.

You have come to journey the ways with Elen, to experience the grove as a conduit of power, to begin mapping your journey through the wildwood.

Your guide motions you to walk through the yew gateway and you become aware of a woman clad in a russet coloured cloak waiting to guide you. You greet Elen of the Ways and become aware of a glimmer of an otherworldly hue which emanates from a torch that she is carrying.

Elen asks little of you, and you journey silently along tracks in the forest on which you have never set foot before. You may receive guidance from plants, trees or animal spirits, or be given items to place into your crane bag.

When the time is right, Elen your guide halts on the track and you become aware that you have reached a magnificent tree, which bears on it the symbol of Quert, the apple ogham. 5 branches reach out from the main trunk of the symbol as 5 branches reach out from the trunk of the tree and so the ways present themselves. From this great guardian tree you become aware of 5 ways: the way into the past to the convocation of the ancestors in the great orchards of inner knowledge, the way to the present, to the growing place where saplings are nurtured and developed, the ways to the future, to the harvest hall of plenty, also to the cold place of seeding, and the way to the inner grove of the order in which many fruits may be gathered or seeded.

You are being shown a map, to journey through the wildwood, between times and places, past, present, times yet to come and places and times which exist beyond the realms of everyday understanding. Accept this gift from Elen and travel the ways as you are guided.

At the time of return, return with Elen to the guardian tree. You become aware that this great tree is also an anchor point from which journeys can be made safely. When you return to your grove, sit in the centre at your altar and gaze once again at the apples. Become aware of your guide cutting an apple and showing you the five wayed map that lies within the heart of the fruit.

You may be guided to eat the apple and take the wisdom of the journey within, you may be guided to place it into your crane bag.

When you feel ready, thank your guide and make ready to leave your grove giving thanks to the directions as follows:

I give thanks to the Inner groves of notime, of ancestral root and branch and tree.

I give thanks to the Northern groves of midnight, of yew trees arching to the otherworld.

I give thanks to the Western groves of twilight, of apples dancing their starlight within.

I give thanks to the Southern groves of midday, of hawthorns burning bright in the hedgerows.

I give thanks to the Eastern groves of dawn, of birch trees breathing in new life.

As you feel the light receding and yourself returning to your everyday reality you may feel the need for grounding ­ why not enjoy a ripe juicy apple and imbibe what you have learned in a physical form too!


The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow if I can,
Pursuing it with weary feet,
Until it joins some larger way,
Where many paths and errands meet.
And wither then? I cannot say.

J R R Tolkien


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