Wednesday, December 28, 2016
The Sinister Folklore of Trees
Recently, a majestic oak on one of my routes was taken down. To be fair, it seemed to be diseased, but I couldn't help feeling sad, wondering how long it had stood there, with a neighborhood growing up around it. It reminded me of a Tanith Lee story, 'The Tree: A Winter's Tale', about a tree that was due to be taken down, but the family of the house kept reliving the same day over and over, and not in a funny, Groundhog Day kind of way either, so that the tree would stand forever. Recently, Peter Wohlleben's book, The Hidden Life of Trees, explained the nature of trees and how they communicate.
So here is some folklore on trees you should be wary of.
BIRCH: Witches' brooms were made from its branches. It is called the Lady of the Woods in Celtic folklore and walks at night. The birch spirit is feared and adored and causes death to those she touches. Check out The Birch, a great short film on YouTube.
ALDER: Walpurgis tree. Associated with elves, water spirits, the Erl King and his daughter. Alder wood turns red when cut and resists decay. The wood was used for divining instruments. The tree often grows near Saints' wells. As for witches, red-haired ones loved it, and red dyes made from alder sap were used by Italian witches.
ELDER: Threshold trees. Guard the home from evil. An elder wood walking stick will protect a traveler. Associated in Native American and Celtic folklore with the Elder Mother. Also with the Scandinavian Mother Hulda. It's friendly to humans. Fingernail parings, hair, and teeth were buried beneath it to keep from them from being used in bad magic. And don't forget elderberry wine!
ELM: Another witch tree, but also a tree of the Goddess. The Romany made magic wands from its wood. Coffins were also once built from the timber. It dislikes people and is an entry into the land of the dead. In some folklore, it is said the first woman was created from an elm. It's also linked with Dionysus because it was planted in vineyards.
FIG: Inhabited in Greece by the fauni ficarii, the dusois, dangerous spirits that take the forms of nymphs and satyrs. In Sicilian folklore, fall asleep beneath a fig, wake up confronted by the figure of a nun with a knife. It's also a fertility tree. In Muslim myth, the tree is associated with knowledge. It's the tree under which Buddha received his enlightenment. In Africa, the fig houses dead ancestors.
HAWTHORN: The May tree. A fairy thorn. The blackthorn is guarded by Lunantishee fairies. In Ireland, a road was re-routed in 1999 to avoid taking down a whitethorn said to be sacred to the Sidhe, the dangerous Irish fairies. Never bring a hawthorn blossom indoors because it causes bad luck. In Welsh folklore, it is associated with the malevolent chief of the giants. Also the tree of enforced chastity, hence the May tree.
OAK: Turn your cloaks
For Fairy Folks
Are in old oaks
Tree of Zeus. It attracts lightning. It's the guardian of otherworldly doors--an opening between two oaks leads to Faerie. The sacred oak king became a sacrifice in some cultures. It is the Druids' tree and the dryads' tree. It's a protector. Acorns were worn by witches for protection against bad spirits. It's friendly to humans...well, except maybe the old oaks. In their case, watch your back.
WILLOW: A fertility tree. A water tree. It wards off snakes. It's the Goddess's tree, associated with Persephone and Artemis. The Greek enchantress Circe had a grove of willow trees. It's a dangerous tree, said to walk during moonlit nights. Willow wands channel energy. It's bark contains salicylic acid, which is a natural painkiller and used in aspirin.
YEW: A healing tree. It contains an element currently being used for curing breast cancer. It is Hecate's tree, a witch tree, and hostile to people (though perhaps not to women, considering). Some trees grow to be hundreds of years old and it is often found in churchyards. Its wood was once used for archery bows, shields, and spears.
So walk carefully among these trees, and be careful of the ones that might strike out.
The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft by Judika Illes
The Element Encyclopedia of Secret Signs and Symbols by Adele Nozedar
The Ultimate Fairies Handbook by Susannah Marriott