The Talking Forest Runes

The Crest of the Year

Fieldnotes for June  July 2023

 by Kay Broome

Hostpapa web photo

The summer solstice, called by many pagans Litha or Midsummer, is the heart of the year, its apotheosis, when the northern temperate hemisphere of Earth is at its most intense energy.  In this season of fire, the north pole moves as close to the sun as it will ever get in our planet’s yearly dance around the fiery orb. (Of course, the exact opposite occurs south of Earth’s equator.  For example, Midsummer in Australia is around December 21st and they celebrate Yule when we observe Midsummer.)

The Burning Wheel of the Sun

Feuerrad aus Stroh (Wikimedia Commons)
German Sunwheel made from straw (photo: Wikimedia Commons)

North of the equator, June 21st or thereabouts is the official beginning of summer, the seasonal trine of fire. In pagan times, summer was welcomed, not surprisingly, with various fire rituals throughout Britain and mainland Europe.  Bonfires were lit to last the whole night and solar wheels – usually cartwheels with their four or eight spokes representing the seasons or sabbats – were set on fire and rolled downhill.  This latter custom symbolizes the sun king, who is now at his apex. But while the season’s heat may intensify throughout July and August, the days are getting shorter. The year turns ever and inexorably toward the fall, thus the wheel rolling downhill.

West Toronto Linden, 2021, Kay Broome
Linden Tree, High Park Area  (Kay Broome)

Most pagans know the tale of the dyad or mythic pairing of the oak king and the holly king.  At the solstices, these two figures fight for the favour of the earth goddess, with the Oak King winning at Yule, where the days begin to lengthen, and the Holly King prevailing at summer solstice, when the days get shorter. But there is also a dyad between the oak king and the linden queen.  Oaks and lindens often grow closely in nature. Oaks have most frequently been associated with various mighty weather gods and lindens with fertility goddesses. In the Greek myth of Philemon and Baucis, the impoverished elderly couple are rewarded with riches and granted their one wish to die peacefully together within the same hour, in return for their hospitality toward the gods Zeus and Hermes.  Upon their deaths, Philemon is transformed into an oak and his wife Baucis into a linden tree.  In this tale, the two trees together represented propriety, hospitality and lasting love. In pre-Christian times in Europe, marriages were frequently performed beneath lindens and new mothers often planted the umbilical cords of their babies under these trees.

I just recently returned from visiting a friend in Switzerland where lindens are prevalent.  Here this species is relegated to two different types:  the summer or “solar” linden usually refers to the large leaf linden (Tilia platyphyllos), which resembles our native Tilia americana and like ours, flowers around summer solstice. In addition, there is the “winter” or little leaf linden (Tilia cordata), which has smaller leaves and which usually flowers later in July.  Both the cordata and platyphyllos are native to Europe but thrive in North America. Following an old Swiss custom and in keeping with Linden’s long association with love and family, my friend and her husband had both lindens planted to commemorate the births of their two children.  The solar linden was planted for Lina, who was born in late summer and the winter linden for Alex, who arrived in February.

Tiny Blossom Farmers

Hostpapa web photo of bee
Bee Gathering Pollen

The linden, a welcoming, expansive tree that prefers open glades, is a solar tree par excellence.  Its leaves, flowers and pods are used for medicinal purposes and the small, cream-coloured flowers bloom around the summer solstice.  These flowers are wonderfully fragrant, much like honeysuckle, but cleaner scented and less cloying.  The flowers also attract bees of all species and especially honey bees.  The light golden honey from linden flowers is a most delightful treat. 

Bees are sacred to religious traditions around the world.  Their golden or yellow colour, endless energy and ability to make honey, which is simply liquid energy, makes them solar creatures as well. From the Egyptian bull god Apis, who gave the honey bee its Latin name, to the Lithuanian goddess Austeja, who presided over apiaries and the fertility of women; from the Indian goddess Bhrami to Zosim, the Slavic god of mead, bees have been honoured in virtually all pantheons.  Greece even delegated two deities to this diurnal, sun-loving insect: Aristaeus, the god who presided over bee hives and the goddess Melissa, whose very name means bee in Greek.  Bees were a constant motif in ancient Minoan art and there are some seals showing what appears to be worshippers honouring a bee goddess.  We know the Greeks were acquainted with linden, therefore it is likely that at one time, the species grew in ancient Crete.

Minoan Seal at Museum of Heraklion, Museum website
Gold Seal from Knossos (Archaeological Museum of Heraklion)

Linden (Tilia)

Linden pods, 2021, Kay Broome
Linden Leaves and Pods (Kay Broome)

Linden is a loving tree. It is perhaps fitting then that the tree’s outline is often bifurcated, its shape somewhat like an inverted heart, and the leaves are heart-shaped.  Everything about Linden is soft and gentle. The buttery yellow wood is easily and often worked into artifacts.  In the Christian Orthodox tradition, it was the favoured medium for religious icons. The slightly mucilaginous tea from the long, beige pods acts as an effective emollient, especially in the bath, where it is an excellent skin softener. The leaves, bracts and flowers are used in skin creams and as a vulnerary or wound healer. The tea is also good for high blood pressure – linden heals the heart with her heart-shaped leaves.

The Talking Forest Linden rune is much like that of Cherry.  There are two upswept branches to indicate a tree with a trunk that tends to bifurcate.  The left branch culminates in a large spiral, indicating a tree with distinctive flowers.  Unlike the Cherry, Linden’s rune has two extra branches, with a squiggle on the left one representing the unique bract that is the tree’s fruit.  The Cherry rune speaks to desire that can overwhelm, a passion that doesn’t usually last, much like the ephemeral blossoms and fruit of the cherry tree.  But Linden’s rune references that true love that prevails throughout all crises. Like the bracts that fall in late summer but remain on the ground well into autumn, Linden’s loyalty lasts through life's changes. And where the Talking Forest Cherry tends to be caught up in itself, the Linden rune’s lower branches open out in an all-encompassing embrace.

Talking Forest Linden Rune

Talking Forest Linden © 2009, Kay Broome

You can learn more about Linden and the other Talking Forest runes by purchasing my book, available internationally in print or ebook on Amazon.

Prior Plantings