Gardening is an inexact science and surrounded
by centuries of tradition, folklore, myth and superstition. Hidden amongst it is
some age old wisdom and also some age old cobblers.
the sun could be seen shining through the branches of an Apple tree on December
25th - Christmas Day, then the owner of the tree, if a farmer, would reap a healthy
crop the following summer. If the farmer wanted to ensure that this would happen
he would have put a piece of toast in the fork of the tree, or the largest Apple
tree in the orchard.
Wassailing is a ceremony held in areas where
cider was made, such as Somerset and the West Country of England. Celebrations focused
on giving thanks to the wood spirits and all spirits that safeguarded the crop,
culminating in songs and verses being chanted whilst the remaining cider was thrown
over the trees.
Apple twigs make good divining rods
(as good as any others that is).
Dorset, the number of leaflets on an Ash leaf could be used to predict
the romantic future for girls.
Ash leaf in my hand
The first I meet shall be my man
Ash leaf in my bosom
The next I meet shall be my husband
Placing ash berries
in a cradle prevents the child from being traded for a changeling.
It is an old belief that tools with handles made of ash enable more
work to be done than by tools with handles made of other kinds of
"Ash courts the flash."
Ash trees were believed
at attract lightning. Like the oak, they were used in European fire
and rain-making ceremonies.
It was believed that
so much hostility exists between adders and ash trees that if an
adder is placed in a circle of ash leaves broken only by fire, it
would go through the fire to escape.
Traditional Russian Proverb
'There is an accursed tree
which trembles without even a breath of wind.'
other light shiny barked trees the beech has always been a favourite of lovers shown
by the many carvings of names or symbols on the bark.
Diviners in search of water hidden
underground are known to often use forked branches taken from the Beech tree traditionally
called 'Wishing Rods'
trees are the favourite trees of mythical creatures which inhabited Russian Forests
known as "Forest Devils" or "Genii of the Forest".
These beasts were said to view the
world from the top of the trees. Able to transform their shape at will, the same
height as trees when in the forest and as small as the smallest blade of grass when
on open land. They may be made to appear by cutting Birch branches and placing them
in a circle with the points towards the centre.
Placing a branch of the Birch tree
above the front entrance to a property was thought to provide protection from any
evil spirits and misfortune.
The bark of the Birch tree was traditionally
used in ancient times for writing as it is extremely durable.
1. 'This year,
4. Never.'...back to 1
- It was a British
belief that placing a child in an elder-wood cradle could cause
it to be pinched black and blue by fairies.
(Serves them right
if you ask me, any-one who makes any kind of furniture using light-weight,
brittle, rot-prone elder wood needs something to make them change
Elder flowers were feared - Fen people though
that if the scent was inhaled for long, a deep coma and then death
- Branches of elder
were buried with the dead to protect them from evil spirits.
- Elder-wood was used
for the whip handles of hearse drivers.
- The English believed
that burning elder logs brought the devil into the house.
- The elder is associated
with witches, who are said to sometimes disguise themselves as elder
- It is said to be
unlucky to break off an elder twig. One was supposed to ask permission
of the elder tree or bush before pruning it, and to spit three times
- A tree widely seen
as one that brings good luck to the owner and prosperity to the
land where it stands.
- The 'Glastonbury
Thorn' is a type of Hawthorn found in England (UK) and in some
parts of Palestine. The tree is said to have been brought by Joseph
Arimathea on a visit to England. Wherever Joseph traveled spreading
the word of God, he carried a staff which he had acquired in Palestine.
Legend tells that he visited the Isle of Avalon, Somerset (UK),
which at one time was surrounded by water. Tired from traveling
he sought rest and sat down upon "Weary-all Hill" now called "Worral
Hill". Joseph stuck the staff into the ground, and legend says that
it took root and a tree grew. A church was erected on the spot,
now the site of 'Glastonbury Abbey'. The tree was seen as sacred
and was reputed to only blossom on Christmas Day.
- The flowers were
highly prized and at one time exported around the world. It is believed
that the Hawthorn had two trunks, but one was cut down. The perpetrator
was revenged according to legend having one of his eyes taken out
by the thorns in the process.
'He was well serv'd
for his blind Zeale, who going to cut doune an ancient white
Hauthorne-tree, which, because she budded before others, might
be an occasion of Superstition, had some of the prickles flew
into his eye, and made him Monocular.'
'Dodona's Grove' 1644
- Cuttings are said
to have been taken around Britain which still flower at Christmas.
Although Hawthorn Trees can still be found in the abbey these are
said to be cuttings of the tree as it believed to have been cut
down during the English Civil War (the reign of King Charles II).
- The flowering of
the Hawthorn tree is a sure sign that winter is over and spring
is underway, hence the tree has been viewed as an indicator of changes
in the seasons or a weather omen. It is known simply as "May" in
some parts of England as this is the month that it flowers.
- The Hawthorn in
ancient mythology was created from lightning.
- Germans traditionally
used wood of the Hawthorn in funeral pyres as it was thought to
assist the souls of the dead in ascension.
can be used to decorate the hair with individual twigs or by making a "Wishing Cap".
This is custom followed in many countries. If a person made a wish whilst wearing
a wishing cap the wish would be fulfilled.
The seeds of the hazel tree Hazel
nuts, were also believed to possess mystical powers and could be used in divining.
The nut is believed to be at its strongest on Halloween night, which was also called
'Nutcrack Night' in England. Lovers were recommended to use this to gain foresight
into the relationship.
'Two hazel nuts I threw into the flame,
And to each nut I gave a sweetheart's name.
This, with the loudest bounce me
That, with a flame of brightest colour blazed.
As blazed the
nut, so may thy passion grow,
For 'twas thy nut that did so brightly glow.'
Passing a young child through the
branches of this tree has traditionally thought to encourage good health and a long
life for the child.
to Alsatian folklore, placing branches of the Maple in a house would ensure protection
against bats who would then not dare enter. It would also ensure that any nesting
storks were safe against disturbance or even the chicks being killed whilst still
in their shells.
other plant or tree have so many myths and legends surrounding it? not
to mention the very real part that this tree had to play in England's role
in world history. For hundreds of years oaks provided the building material
for her naval warships, the source of England's "Heart of Oak".
a few of the less weird ones.
- Because of its deep roots the oak symbolizes
a god whose law extends to heaven, earth, and the underworld.
- The oak is said to be sacred to: Allah
- Jehovah - Zeus - Jupiter - Thor - Mars - the Dagda - Hercules - Hou,
the oak god of Guernsey - Janicot, the Basque oak god - El, the Middle
Eastern oak god - Jove - Picus - Cernunnos - Herne the Hunter - Taranis
- Teutates - Belenos - Donar / Dunar / Thunar - Perkunas - Perun - Taraa
- Baldur - Viribius - Janus. It is also the tree of the wild ox-god.
- The image of Jupiter at the Capitol
in Rome was originally an oak tree.
- Mary was worshiped as Our Lady of the
Oak in Anjou, France. She appeared to shepherd children in Portugal
as Our Lady of Fatima, crowned in roses and hovering over an oak tree.
- The oak is sacred to all thunder and
lightning gods. Hercules attracted thunderstorms with sympathetic magic,
by rattling an oak club in a hollow oak, or by stirring a pool with
an oak branch. Clubs were made of oak in ancient Europe. Woodpeckers
were thought to be knocking for rain when they tapped on oak trunks.
Black animals were sacrificed to the thunder god for rain. Oaks were
believed to court the lightning flash. Old English saying:
Beware of an oak
- Rome awarded oak leaves to military
- Primitive Europeans believed that oak
fire strengthened the sun. Sacrifices were made to sacred oaks in Europe
until well into the Middle Ages.
- It was a crime to fell an oak tree in
pagan Ireland. Kildare, where the nuns of St. Brigit maintained the
sacred fire, means Shrine of the Oak.
- In British folklore ancient, hollow
trees (called bull oaks in England, bell oaks in Scotland and Ireland)
are trees that stood in old sacred groves. They were often believed
to be the home of spirits, elves, fairies or demons. You were supposed
to turn your coat or cloak inside out to neutralize their magic:
Turn your cloaks
folks are in old oaks.
- Their spirits were believed to enter
houses through the knotholes in oak timbers.
- Druids stood their sacred circles of
stones under the shadow of a spreading oak or in a grove of oak trees.
Pliny says that the Druids believed that anything found growing on an
oak tree had been sent from heaven, a sign that the god had chosen the
tree and made it sacred. Mistletoe found on oaks was held especially
sacred. The Druids cut it each year with a golden sickle in a ritual
emasculation of the sacred oak, the royal sun disc. Mistletoe does not
usually grow on oaks, so it is likely that they grafted it. They associated
the oak with heavenly fire. An oak tree had to be more than 30 years
old before Druids would harvest mistletoe from it.
- Lithuanians offered sacrifices to oak
trees for plentiful crops.
- Oak trees in Siberian groves were swathed
in cloth and made offerings of kettles, reindeer hides, spoons and other
valuable household articles. Orthodox Christians in Russia worshiped
a holy oak until the 1870's. They fixed candles to its trunk and branches
and prayed: "Holy oak hallelujah, pray for us. "
- Acorns were the Celtic symbol for Zeus,
the Roman symbol of Jupiter. To Greeks and Romans the cupped acorn represented
the penis glans (ooh err missus!)
- Toothaches were cured in the 18th century
by driving a nail into the tooth or gum until it bled, then driving
the nail into an oak tree.
- The Welsh have traditionally
considered the Rowan to be a sacred tree. It is planted in churchyards
to protect and act as a warning to negative forces and evil spirits.
- Coffins were rested
under a Rowan tree on the way to the funeral rather than leave it
open and vulnerable to approaches by such forces.
- The mystic properties
of the Rowan tree have been feared by witches.
Ancient Song : 'Laidley
Worm of Spindleton's Heuglis'
Their spells were vain,
the boys returned
To the Queen in sorrowful mood;
'Witches have no power
Where there is Rowan-tree wood.
Unfortunately Yew - at least English Yew,
was never used for making bows (also they were never called 'longbows',
that's a Victorian name, rather 'Great Bow' or 'War Bow'). English
Yew is too full of knots, and they would break very quickly. Ash,
or Spanish Yew was preferred to make bows.
Peter Keen - Member of the Medieval Siege
Society and Archer.