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