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Folklore Friday: Sacred Trees

The magic in Seven Wherewithal Way is inspired by green magic, or Hedge Witch-style magic.

This ‘Magic’ is used to open portals, for casting spells, for protection, and for healing (running around all over the Realms, the Wherewithal crew get a little banged up every now and then!). I love nature and have a great interest in the holistic and spiritual properties of plants, trees, flowers, stones, and landscapes. The beliefs and practices of the Celtic Druids, pagans and wiccans are something that I’ve always found fascinating. Love me some witchy ways! Grounding the folklore-inspired Seven Wherewithal Way in green magic was always a given, and a way for me to celebrate the uplifting of my own spirit whenever I experience the beauty and natural magic that occurs in nature.

Which brings us, today, to sacred trees.

In celebration of Folklore Friday, here are some of my favourite beliefs about trees, in this case taken from Celtic folklore and faerie lore.

  • Nearly all trees have some sacred association from very early times, but many are considered to be under the protection of faeries and guardian spirits.

  • Oak, Ash and Thorn are the magical trilogy, or the ‘faerie triad’. They are the most sacred and revered faerie trees of all. When these three trees grow together, a twig taken from each, bound with red thread, will protect you from evil spirits.

  • Oaks, with their ancient, god-like status (and the tree at the heart of Celtic Druidism), bitterly resent being cut. An oak coppice which springs from the roots of a felled oakwood will be malevolent and dangerous to travel through by night.

  • Willows have a bit of a sinister reputation – they like to uproot themselves on very dark nights and follow solitary travellers, muttering. They are also the favourite tree of dryads.

  • Elders are divisive: some believe them sacred, and it is necessary to ask the tree’s permission before cutting a branch or taking the flowers and fruit for wine. But there are some who suspect elders of being transformed witches, and will bleed if they are cut.

  • Possibly because of the vulnerability of elms to disease, it was thought that if an elm was cut down, a neighbouring elm would pine and die in sympathy.

  • Rowan (also known as mountain ash), is an extra potent protection against evil spirits, probably because of its red berries (red is seen as a vital and conquering colour). Each berry also has a tiny five-pointed star (a pentagram) opposite its stalk – the pentagram is an ancient protective symbol. This is probably what contributed to its protective reputation. An old rhyme says:

Rowan tree, red thread,

Puts the demons to their speed.

  • Mountain ash is especially good for protecting the home; planted by the garden gate it will keep out unwanted visitors. This is a practice still carried out today, where it is considered very bad luck to cut down a rowan tree.

  • Aspen trees – known as the ‘Shiver Tree’, were believed to have the power to cure fevers. This is because their leaves shake even when there is no breeze, and therefore they are shivering in sympathy. An old spell went:

Aspen tree, Aspen tree,

I pray thee shiver instead of me.

Another explanation for the shivering is that it was the wood used in the crucifixion, and thereafter it is shaking at the thought of the agony it caused.

A Hawthorn tree in an illustration by Arthur Rackham
  • Hawthorn trees – a favourite of faeries, hawthorn hedges are among the most ancient boundaries for homes, offering both physical and psychic protection. For this reason, solitary witches are called Hedge Witches as reference to the hawthorn hedge they would erect around their home to keep out prying eyes.

  • The Celtic Tree Calendar is a calendar with thirteen lunar divisions, each one associated with a tree – find out more about it here.

These are just some of my favourite beliefs, many of which I incorporated into Wherewithal. The lore surrounding plant and tree lore is extensive, fascinating and rewarding. There is so much information out there – in books, on the web, if you are interested in finding out more. Although not a folklore site, Trees for Life has a beautifully presented section on the mythology and folklore inspired by many European-based trees.

Seven Wherewithal Way is out September 28 with Affirm Press.


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