Muin / Vine


The vine of muin is the berry vine, and so the image is that of the bramble thicket. This is a symbol with a wealth of meanings. The traditional symbolic meaning of Muin is to range over a wide area and gather together useful things. This would seem to be about possessions but it is not really about material things but about understanding. The line about Muin in the centuries-old Druid Ogham poem is, «I am a hill of Poetry.» The Celts did not view poetry as a literary process or as a form of self-expression but as a means of making Magic and understanding their world. Learning required memorizing long teaching poems, allusive lists, and mystical riddles. Once they were committed to memory, since writing down Magic was forbidden, they needed to be protected.

Just as the ancient Irish made walls out of bundles of thorny branches to protect their cattle and settlements so they would put Muin up as protective walls in their minds to keep their learning safe. The hill in the Ogham poem is the hill-fort, the place where all of the community gathers to be protected in times of trouble. The hill-fort is the seat of the local king’s court, the location of the Druid’s college, and the vantage point from which the sentries keep watch. The hill is Poetry, symbolic of the precious learning and wisdom protected inside, and also of the beauties of Nature.

A modern image of Muin is the thorn hedge around Sleeping Beauty’s castle. The personification of the Maiden Goddess sleeps inside and can be awakened by the completion of a magical quest. Another image is Br’er Rabbit’s brier patch where he is safe and can venture forth to gain what he needs. The rune Thorn is associated with the ogham Bramble. Thorn and Bramble both have a common secondary meaning: they scratch at the same time that they keep out intruders. Acquiring knowledge and keeping precious things safe always has some cost; in time, in trouble, in giving up some other path. Focusing on a certain path or way of study always means shutting out something else. The choice must be made with understanding, trying to recognize the validity that rests in other choices.

The symbolic berry vine includes the symbolic berry. A high point of any summer is the family or group expedition to go berry picking. All the pickers, from the least to the eldest, are able to contribute to the sweet harvest. Some are enjoyed at once (some are always eaten in the field) and some are distilled down into a delicious treasure for enjoyment all year long. With its thorns, Muin protects the fruits of learning and understanding.

Another way to express this meaning is by the modern saying, «Knowledge is Power.» Learning about things is the purest and best kind of possession. If we learn about anything we can: history, philosophy, psychology, science; it is all useful and we end up by learning about ourselves. The reversed card warns us about closing ourselves off from learning and being intractable. The message of Muin is, «Know yourself by looking outward.»

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