At Druid Camp, everyone at the opening ritual was given a gift of an Ogham few, cut from the wood of one of the Ogham trees and inscribed with its corresponding symbol.
My wife received oak, and I was instantly jealous. I mean, come on…we’re Druids, who wouldn’t want to get oak, right? I, on the other hand, got gorse. A small, prickly, shrubby little thing that clings on to cliffsides at the coast. Hmm…not exactly the proud, tall tree of the forest I was hoping for.
But, it turns out that it kind of suits me, and that gorse has its own lessons to teach.
Gorse (Ulex europaeus), also known as “furze”, is an evergreen shrub related to broom, and adapted to dry conditions. It is extremely thorny, the thorns being modified leaves and shoots. It has small yellow flowers which bloom between January and June, and is often found on open moors or coastal grasslands. The flowers are edible and can be used to make tea or wine, and the foliage is often used as animal fodder. Famously, Winnie-the-Pooh falls into a gorse bush while trying to find honey in A.A. Milne’s story.
In the Ogham, Gorse is called Onn and is associated with the sun, due to its yellow flowers which bloom even in the winter snows. It is a symbol of encouragement and optimism. The small piece of paper that came with my gorse stave associated it with transformation and wisdom.
In the main group ritual at Druid Camp, those of us who had the gorse few crowded around the “travellers” journeying through the Ogham, closing in with our thorns, before crowning each traveller with the crown of wisdom. Gorse can be prickly, but look beyond the thorny exterior you can find wisdom, hope and encouragement on the journey.
In The Druidry Handbook, John Michael Greer refers to gorse as “a few of attraction, combination and possibility”, that can portend “opportunities, though not without potential problems”.
I see gorse as being a difficult plant to deal with, as it fiercely defends itself with its spiky armour, but it also provides food and shelter for many birds and insects. Once you get beyond the thorns, gorse can be protective. Clinging on to clifftops and inhospitable environments, gorse teaches the importance of tenacity and determination, even stubbornness.
And since I’m a short, frequently spiky-tempered and often stubborn bugger, gorse is actually the ideal Ogham tree for me!In spending time with gorse, with Onn, in ritual and meditation, I find that far from being hostile, it is a plant of protection, of hope, and a reminder of the power and wisdom of small things. It is not as grand as the oak, ash or willow, but it is hardy and tough, and can survive things other trees cannot. I’m sure that gorse has many more lessons to teach me, and you know what? Looking back, I’m glad that I got that particular Ogham few.