Home » Blog » 2003 » February » The quicken tree of Dubros: an Irish axis mundi?
Written by Graham on Saturday 11th February 2023.
The quicken tree of Dubros is a sacred tree which appears in the Irish Pursuit of Diarmud and Grainne, of otherworldly origin which, though located securely within the mundane geography of Ireland, may represent an insight into various pre-Christian beliefs about a world tree or axis mundi. This post is a quick look at the tree's appearance in the literature, and an overview of some features suggestive of such a scenario.
To begin, we note that, significantly, this is a rowan tree, whose powers have been widely held in north western Europe to offer protection against the dark arts. Additionally, the berries of this tree retain their otherworldly quality, offering a wide array of benefits to those fortunate enough to make use of them. Here is the description given in the text (the speaker is Oisín): -
" [...] The provisions that the Tuatha De Danann had brought with them from Tir Tairngire (fairyland) were these: crimson nuts, catkin apples, and fragrant berries; and as they passed through the district of Ui Fiacrach by the Muaid, one of the berries fell from them, and a quicken tree grew out of that berry, and that quicken tree and its berries have many virtues; for no disease or sickness seizes any one that eats three berries of them, and they who eat feel the exhilaration of wine and the satisfying of old mead; and were it at the age of a century, he that tasted them would return again to be thirty years old."
In addition to these commonplaces of Irish - and, indeed, world - lore associated with the otherworld, the rowan of Dubros is significant in having a guardian associated with it: -
[Oisín continues:] "When the Tuatha Dé Danann heard that those virtues belonged to the quicken tree, they sent from them a guard over it, that is, the Searban Lochlannach, a youth of their own people, that is, a thick-boned, large-nosed, crooked-tusked, red-eyed, swart-bodied giant of the children of wicked Cam the son of Noa; whom neither weapon wounds, nor fire burns, nor water drowns, so great is his magic. He has but one eye only in the fair middle of his black forehead, and there is a thick collar of iron round that giant’s body, and he is fated not to die until there be struck upon him three strokes of the iron club that he has. He sleeps in the top of that quicken tree by night, and he remains at its foot by day to watch it; and those, O children of Morna, are the berries which Finn asks of you, [...] Howbeit, it is not easy for you to meddle with them by any means; for that Searban Lochlannach has made a wilderness of the districts around him, so that Finn and the fian dare not chase or hunt there for the dread of that terrible one."
Though ascribed to the Tuatha De, this Searban Lochlannach's byname, added to his monstrous aspect, indicated that he is to more closely associated with the Tuatha De's perennial rivals the Fomorians, who might be specularted most germanely to be the dark aspects of the natural forces, akin to groups such as the Norse jǫtnar and Classical Titans. This is particularly emphasised by the Christian era euhemerising, which traces his descent from Noah's "wicked" son Ham. The "wilderness" which Searban has created in the surrounding area - which is greatly feared by the human population - casts him as a being of the wild, uncontrolled, uncultivated. His daily routine - sleeping at the summit of the tree and spending his days guarding the land around it - perhaps suggests associations with holders-up of the sky, such as the Greek Atlas, himself a Titan and perhaps the leader of an attempt at usurping control of the cosmos from the Olympians. It is also worth drawing potential parallels with some Slavonic conceptions of the chthonic deity Veles, who is said to dwell in bird form in a hollow of the world tree.
Food for thought. I envisage writing more on the subject of the Fomorians, as I am rather fascinated by what they represent.
Categories: Fomorians; Horizons; Ireland; mythology.