The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005
(Sorbus aucuparia or Fraxinus aucuparia)
The rowan is a small tree closely identified with magic and spirituality in Northern lands. Its English name is related to the Sanskrit “runall” meaning “magician” and the Norse “runall” meaning “a charm.” Rowan tree may also be understood to mean “rune tree.” Rune staves were traditionally carved from its wood.
Rowan is also etymologically connected to “alruna,” the name given to ancient Germanic prophetesses and magical practitioners. Another nickname for rowan is “witch tree.”
In the Scottish Highlands, use of rowan wood for any other reason but spiritual ritual was forbidden once upon a time.
Celts in other regions made black dye for ritual robes from rowan’s bark and berries.
Rowan trees were planted around or near stone circles.
In Wales, rowan trees were planted to guard and protect the deceased.
Cattle were driven through rowan hoops to generate fertility, break any malevolent spells, and offer protection.
Rowan trees were so deeply imbedded in the spiritual fabric of Northern lands that their use couldn’t be prevented; instead it was redirected. Rowan’s most frequent modern magical usage is to prevent witchcraft. Many will tell you that it’s called “witch tree” because it prevents witchcraft. In fact, it’s more of a case of “it takes one to know one.” Rowan is one of those unusual plants that are simultaneously identified with witchcraft and also allegedly protect against it. Rowan may be understood as possessing the power of a witch so powerful that she can negate all other spells cast.
Like other trees (but even more so), it is important not to harvest any part of it without first asking permission (and giving the tree a chance to refuse), and then offering libations and gifts in return.
Rowan is identified with Brigid and her festival of Imbolc.
Rowan is identified with the Norse deity Thor. As one of his sacred plants it was believed beneficial for ensuring virility.
To this day rowan is planted near homes for spiritual protection. The finest dowsing rods for locating metal are crafted from rowan. Rowan also contributes to intoxicating beverages: the berries were made into wine in the Scottish Highlands, the Welsh brew a rowan berry flavored ale and the Irish have used it to flavor mead.
See CALENDAR: Imbolc.