Tree Medicine, Magic, and Lore: Cedar

By Ellen Evert Hopman
Illustrated by Will Hobbs

Throughout history the names and uses of Cedar and Juniper have often been confused. The similarities of their bark, berries, and general appearance have made them substitutes for one another in mundane and magical realms. An ancient Greek word for Cedar also meant oar, rudder, rowboat, and canoe. Native Americans used the White Cedar, Arborvitae, for fence posts, boats, canoes, shingles, and to make fire by friction. In modern times Cedar is used for fencing, house wares, and shingles. Cedar chests are usually made from a species of Juniper.

Among the Algonquin Cedar is so sacred that no religious ceremony is done without it. The leaves and twigs are simmered into tea or burned as incense to prepare a ritual space. It is said that Cedar harmonizes the emotions and puts one into the proper state of mind for prayer. Cedar branches are used to cover the floor of the sweat lodge, due to their antiviral and disinfectant qualities. The tea of the young branches helps fevers, rheumatism, chest colds and flu.

The Cherokee tell the story of How The Cedar Tree Became Red. In ancient times there was an evil sorcerer who was very cruel to the people. When he was finally caught they decapitated him, but the sorcerer’s head refused to die.

The head was hung on a different tree branch every night until finally, when hung on a Cedar tree, it expired. The blood of the sorcerer had turned the bark red.

From this story they learned that the Cedar tree could vanquish all evil. Its twigs were burned to repel ghosts and malevolent spirits. Its balsamic fragrance was calming to the senses. And its undecaying wood warded off damp and insects, making it too sacred to be burned as fuel.

In ancient European tradition Juniper was seen as a substitute. The smoke of a Juniper fire was said to drive off the demons of disease. The tea was said to restore lost youth – no doubt because of the berry’s effects on rheumatism, gout and weak digestion.

In Wales Juniper was held so sacred that to cut one down meant certain death to a family member within the year. Sprigs of Juniper were hung in the cowsheds of the Western Isles to protect the cattle.

about the author:

Ellen Evert Hopman is a Druid Priestess, herbalist and author of “Priestess of the Forest: A Druid Journey”, “A Druids Herbal – Of Sacred Tree Medicine”, “Walking the World in Wonder – A Children’s Herbal” and other volumes. Visit her website for more!

Adams, Barbara Means, Prayers Of Smoke, Renewing Makaha Tribal Tradition; Celestial Arts, Berkeley, CA 1990

Baker, Margaret, Discovering The Folklore Of Plants; Shire Publications Ltd., Aylesbury, Bucks, U.K. 1975

Beith, Mary, Healing Threads, Traditional Medicines of the Highlands and Islands; Polygon, Edinburgh, Scotland, 1995

Brunaux, Jean Louis, The Celtic Gauls: Gods, Rites and Sanctuaries; Seaby, London, 1988

Calder, George (translator), Book of Ballymote: Auraicept Na nEces (The Scholars Primer); Edinburgh, 1917

Carmichael, Alexander, Carmina Gadelica, Hymns and Incantations; Floris Books, Edinburgh 1992

Cunliffe, Barry, The Celtic World; St. Martin’s Press, New York, New York, 1993

Cunningham, Scott, Encyclopedia of Magical Herbs; Llewellyn Publications, St Paul, MN 1986

Ellis, Peter Berresford, Celtic Women; Wm. B. Erdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI, 1996

Erichsen-Brown, Charlotte, Medicinal and Other Uses Of North American Plants; Dover Publications Inc., New York, NY 1989

Evans-Wentz, W.Y., The Fairy Faith In Celtic Countries; Citadel Press, New York, NY 1990

Farrar, Janet and Stewart, The Witch’s Goddess; Phoenix Publishing Inc, Custer, WA 98240

Frazier, James G., The Golden Bough, The Roots of Religion And Folklore; Avenel Books, NY 1981

Friedrich, Paul, Proto-Indo-European Trees; The University of Chicago Press, Chicago, IL 1970

Green, Miranda J., The Celtic World; Routledge, London, 1995

Green, Miranda J., The World of the Druids, Thames and Hudson, London 1997

Grieve, M., A Modern Herbal, Dover Publications Inc., New York, NY 1971

Hoagland, Kathleen, 1,000 Years of Irish Poetry, The Gaelic and the Anglo-Irish Poets From Pagan Times To The Present; The Devin-Adair Company, Old Greenwich, CT 1981

Hopman, Ellen Evert, A Druids Herbal For The Sacred Earth Year; Inner Traditions/Destiny Books, Rochester, VT 1995

Hopman, Ellen Evert, Tree Medicine, Tree Magic; Phoenix Publishers, Custer, WA 1991

Kelly, Fergus, A Guide To Early Irish Law; Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies, Dublin, 1991

Kondratiev, Alexei, The Apple Branch; The Collins Press, Cork, 1998

Lust, John The Herb Book; Bantam Books, New York, 1974

Markale, Jean, The Druids; Inner Traditions, Rochester, VT, 1999

Matthews, Caitlin & John, The Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom; Element Books, Rockport, MA 1994

Matthews, John, The Druid Sourcebook; Blanford Press, London, 1996

McNeill, F. Marian, The Silver Bough, Vol. One; William Maclellan, Glasgow, 1977

Meyer, Kuno, Selections from Ancient Irish Poetry; Constable, London, 1959

Moerman, Daniel E., Medicinal Plants Of Native America; University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology Technical Reports, Number 19, Ann Arbor, MI 1986

Mooney, James, History, Myths and Sacred Formulas of the Cherokees; Bright Mountain Books, Ashville, NC 1992

Naddair, Kaledon, Keltic Folk and Faerie Tales; Century Hutchinson Ltd., London, 1987

O’Boyle, Sean, Ogam, the Poet’s Secret; Gilbert Dalton, Dublin, 1980

Rees, Alwyn and Brinley, Celtic Heritage; Thames and Hudson, New York, 1989

Ross, Anne, Pagan Celtic Britain; Columbia University Press, New York, NY 1967

Saintine, X.B., The Myths Of The Rhine; Charles E. Tuttle Co., Rutland, VT 1967 (Reprint of the 1875 edition)

Squire, Charles, Celtic Myth and Legend; Newcastle Publishing Co. Ltd., USA, 1975

Stone, Merlin, Ancient Mirrors Of Womanhood; Beacon Press, Boston, MA 1984