In the Scottish highlands holly and gorse were sacred trees of the Cailleach Bheur, a blue hag, who was associated with winter and the protection of animals during the season. She was reborn every All Hallows Eve and brought back the winter weather with her magical staff, which froze the ground with every tap. On Beltane Eve she returned to the Earth, throwing her staff beneath a gorse bush before turning to stone.
As one of the sacred trees, furze was included in the Celtic Beltane bonfires. The stock would be herded between these for purification and protection before being released onto the summer grazing. When this tradition diminished, torches of furze were still carried around the herds and farm buildings in order to cleanse the air and protect the animals against sterility.
Thy yellow blooms – oh, they to me
Are gold and sunshine blent together
– Moses Teggart 1908
Furze is closely associated with the sun god Lugh, the Celtic god of light and genius and with the Spring Equinox, at which time it’s one of the only plants in full flower. However, folklore attaches it to festivals throughout the spring and summer months as a symbol of the power of the sun. In Brittany the Celtic festival of Lugnasdagh, on August 1st, is known as The Festival of Golden Gorse.
As an evergreen that flowers the whole year round, furze is seen to carry within it a spark of the sun’s life giving energy, a spark that can be seen even through the darker winter months. It is a symbol of encouragement and a promise of good things to come. Furze tells us to remain focused and optimistic, even in the darkest days. To keep hopeful and remain constant throughout the inevitable periods of difficulty we all experience.
As one of the first spring-flowering plants, the furze provides a plentiful supply of pollen for bees when they first come out of hibernation. The product of the bees labour, honey, is the Celtic symbol of wisdom, achieved through hard work and dedication. The furze tells us that if we apply ourselves and keep faith in the future, we will be rewarded. However bleak things may appear, there is always the possibility of periods of fertility, creativity and well-being; whilst its thorns remind us that there is protection from unwanted ideas or influences.