“Ivy… It is used as a protective for milk, milk products, flocks, and by lovers as an emblem of fidelity. An old man in Uist said that he used to swim to an islet in a lake in his neighbour- hood for ivy, woodbine, and mountain ash. These, sometimes separately and sometimes combined, he twined into a three-plied ‘ cuach,’ ring, which he placed over the lintel of his cow-house and under the vessels in his milk-house, to safe- guard his cows and his milk from witchcraft, evil eye, and murrain.“Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica Vol. 2, 1900
Cover art by Alan Frijns
Druids believed Ivy to be a very powerful plant, more powerful even than their enemies. Ivy has the ability to form dense thickets in woodland, grow where other plants can’t and block out the light from even the mighty oak. In Ireland it was believed that if ivy grew on or near to a dwelling it provided protection from evil but if it should die or fall then misfortune would fall upon those therein. Ivy represented peace to the Druids of old, because of its ability to bind different kinds of plants together. Ivy is dark and has the energy of shadows, the unconscious, the unseen. Represented in the Ogham alphabet as Gort, Ivy, is a symbol of strength and determination to the Druids.
Ivy was often carried by young women for good luck and fertility. Used at weddings
intertwined with holly, the ivy would symbolise fidelity and at Yuletide, would bring peace to
the household. Ivy was also linked to inspiration and worn by poets in the form of a crown.
Ivy also formed the wreath of Bacchus, to whom the plant was dedicated, probably because of the practice of binding the brow with Ivy to prevent intoxication.
The Greek priests presented a wreath of Ivy to newlyweds and the Ivy has throughout the
ages been regarded as the emblem of fidelity. The custom of decorating houses and churches with Ivy at Christmas was forbidden by one of the early Councils of the Church, on account of its pagan associations, but the custom still remains.
Considered a woman’s symbol and when put together with Holly (the symbol of man) at Christmas, it would bring peace in a home between a husband and wife, for the following year. The medieval legend of Tristan and Isolde (or Iseult) refers to ivy’s ability to bind. Tristan was a Cornish knight, and Isolde an Irish princess. Tristan was sent to Ireland to claim Isolde as a bride for King Mark. During the journey back to Cornwall, Tristan and Isolde fell in love after drinking a love potion. They die and are buried in separate graves by King Mark so that even in death they cannot be together. However, an ivy vine grows out of each grave towards the other one.
The ivy vines meet and twine around each other, forming a connection. Even when the king cuts the twined plants, they regrow and reconnect. October is Ivy month as it is very symbolic for this time of year Ivy lives on after it’s host plant dies, this is a reminder that life goes on in an endless cycle of life, death and rebirth, the Celts would have considered this a time to banish negativity from life and to reflect on self- improvement and putting a barrier between the self and anything toxic, ivy symbolises healing, protection, cooperation and the eternal binding together of lovers. The great thing about Ivy is that it perseveres. They scale obstacles or go around them. In nature, the ivy plant is hard to destroy. Even if it is cut away, it will grow back.
The frosts of winter can’t destroy it either. It is an evergreen. The Druids took notice of this. They considered ivy a powerful plant. And a sinister one. Ivy was used in love divination at
Samhain. An Irish rhyme involving nine Ivy leaves:
“Nine Ivy leaves I place under my head
To dream of the living and not of the dead
To dream of the man, I am going to wed
To see him tonight at the foot of my bed.”
The Gaelic word for Ivy is “eidhneán” the Latin name, hedera, derives from the Celtic word
for ‘cord’ and Druids revere the plant and often used it in their rites. The “Athair-Luss” (the
ground ivy) is considered to be very magical and offers protection against the Sidhe.
The Full Moon of October is sometimes called the Ivy Moon. In the Celtic imagination trees
and plants were seen as portals into a parallel world of magic and meaning.
Each month had its sacred tree or plant, and the prophetic powers and healing gifts of the tree or plant were especially potent at the Full Moon. The ivy month goes from September 30th to October 27th. Ivy conjures up images of sacred places. Because it grows in a spiral pattern it is associated with the labyrinth, the wandering path of the soul at Samhain.