The Rowan Tree: Myth, Folklore, Art

Based on my recent monograph Rowan (Reaktion, 2023), this talk offers a whirlwind tour through the cultural and social history of the common rowan or mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia), a tree with deep roots in the northern European imagination. Setting the scene with a brief overview of the rowan’s evolution and ecology, I offer a series of snapshot studies from the tree’s history, each revealing aspects of its persistent and widespread cultural associations: as a source of magical protection; as a threshold between worlds; as an emblem of idealised motherhood and fertility; as a marker of loving attention to local natures. From the earliest Irish texts to Finnish nationalist paintings based on the Kalevala; from the West Saxon Aecerbot ritual to the forest-binding charms of nineteenth-century Karelian shamans; from skaldic poems about Thor to seventeenth-century witchcraft trials; from Ruskin to rewilding – there is something for everyone in the rich and storied history of this enchanting species.

Speaker Bio:

Oliver Southall is a writer, teacher and naturalist based in West Sussex. His most recent book, Rowan, a cultural history of the common mountain ash (Sorbus aucuparia), was published in the Reaktion Books Botanical Series in 2023. Borage Blue, a hybrid text of essayistic fragments, prose poems and lyric verse concerned with nature and embodiment was published by Corbel Stone Press in 2019.

Curated and Hosted by:

Amy Hale is an Atlanta based writer, curator and critic, ethnographer and folklorist speaking and writing about esoteric history, art, culture, women and Cornwall. She is the author of Ithell Colquhoun: Genius of the Fern Loved Gully (Strange Attractor 2020) and is currently working on several Colquhoun related manuscripts. She is also the editor of Essays on Women in Western Esotericism: Beyond Seeresses and Sea Priestesses (Palgrave 2022). She has contributed gallery texts and essays for a number of institutions including Tate, Camden Arts Centre, Art UK, Arusha Galleries, Heavenly Records and she is a curator and host for the Last Tuesday Society lecture series.

don’t worry if you miss it – we will send you a recording valid for two weeks the next day

Oct 23rd 2024 8:00 pm - 09:30 pm

£6 - £10 & By Donation

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