“I’ve been waiting for you”
says young Rowan,
“the calendar winds said you would come,
salt air spoke your voice”.

Red, the essence of berries
and Beltane Fire.1


Rowan, devoured by the Tuatha dé Danann.2
Keeping cattle safe, the core of watermill pins
and red-tied twigs.

Your glow bathes me with
red-green, light and fruitfulness.

“together we stand rosy with love”.

1 J.G. Frazer (1922), the Golden Bough, MacMillan & Co, London.
2 F. M. McNeill (1956), The Silver Bough, MacLellan, Edinburgh

SANDY WILKIE | Rowan | Argyll, Scotland

I didn’t have to go far to meet a Rowan Tree. There is one growing by the door to my 200 year-old croft in Appin. I carried my Lussa Gin outside, we met formally. So how to understand a tree? I listened carefully.

After listening, it was clear. Anthropology held the key to unlocking the character of the Rowan tree. In ‘The Golden Bough’ (1922), James George Frazer (1922) highlights the use of Rowan sprigs over doorways to ward off evil spirits at the time of the Beltane fires in Perthshire, North-East Scotland and the Hebrides at the beginning of May. Florence Marian McNeill expands on this in her study of Scottish folk-lore, ‘The Silver Bough’ (1956) to discuss the significance of the colour Red, the presence of Rowan at sites of pagan worship and how a Rowan tree was often planted by the entrance to a homestead to keep witches away. 

The Rowan has been a red thread through pagan and Christian times. A tree like the Rowan begats other things. Sprigs of berries over the cowshed door, wood to make a churn-staff, plough or watermill peg. As I write this reflective piece, the Rowans are ablaze with orange & red hues all around Port Appin. Protection and an ambrosial food for the Tuatha dé Danann, children or the people of the goddess Danu. I’m looking at my Aunts old jam-making pan and I have decided to crop the berries to make Rowan Jelly as an accompaniment to local venison, beef or hill lamb this winter. Tart fruit and fine meat, a Scottish culinary highlight.

So here is the personal dimension on this piece. When I started writing ‘The Red Thread’, I was coming out of an abusive relationship and thought I had found love with someone else creative & clever. But I was wrong, she was a narcissist who turned out to be extremely selfish. So, the lines have changed from being about love to have the Rowan protect me instead through love.

Today I am happy, content, protected, ready to more forward with my own ideas and enjoy the landscape around Argyll. The autumn-red fruitfulness of the Rowan tree gives me strength & hope of a better future ahead.

I will always see the Rowan as a symbol of change. ‘The Red Thread’ captures a species, a moment in time. But life, growth, the seasons move on.