Trees, Magic and Folklore

17th October 2020

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Plants and trees have long been associated with legends and folklore. Whether it’s to craft into a wand, a talisman for protection to concoct a powerful potion or bubbling witches brew.

There are many poisonous plants associated with Witches such as the more obvious Hemlock and Deadly Nightshade (did you know tomatoes and peppers are part of the Nightshade family?) <read more>

The Power of Plants

Did you know that since ancient times, trees have been used for protection from evil spirits. Embrace the magic and folklore this Halloween with these five British trees, all with their own legends:

1. Elder (Sambucus nigra)

It was believed that if you planted elder close to your house it would keep the devil away. In Denmark the tree was associated with magic. A dryad called the Elder Tree Mother was supposed to live in its branches. If you wanted to cut the tree to make furniture from its wood, the Elder Tree Mother must be asked permission first. If she wasn’t, you ran the risk that she’d follow and haunt you.

In the Middle Ages, it was claimed to be the tree on which Judas hung himself

2. Hawthorn (Crataegus)

Hawthorn was a powerful supernatural force for good or evil and has been associated with sacrifice and protection. The hawthorn was thought to be the ancestor of the maypole and was the source of May Day garlands and the May Queen was often crowned with May blossom.

The rhyme ‘here we go gathering nuts in May’ referred to the collection of knots (not in fact ‘nuts’) of may blossom.

3. English Yew (Taxus baccata)

There has been a long association of Yew trees in churchyards. There are many theories as to why, from Yews being planted over the graves of plague victims to protect and purify the dead, to the less exciting theory that Yews could be planted in churchyards as it was one of the only places that cattle did not have access to and therefore would not be poisoned by eating the leaves. For many centuries it was the custom for yew branches to be carried on Palm Sunday and at funerals.

Yew trees are taken as symbols of immortality in many traditions but are also seen as omens of doom.

4. Rowan (Sorbus aucuparia)

Hanging sprigs of rowan above doors and stables was thought to keep away evil spirits. It has many associations with magic and witches. The wood was seen as the most protective part and was used for stirring milk (to prevent it curdling), as a pocket charm (talisman) against rheumatism, and made into divining rods. The protective power is thought to come from the bright red berries, as red was thought to be the best colour for fighting evil.

An old German folk tale says that if you carry a leaf or a bit of wood from the rowan, it will protect you from harm.

Most scholars agree that Halloween originated around 2,000 years ago, when the Celts celebrated the end of the harvest and the start of a new year in a festival called Samhain. People would light bonfires and wear costumes to ward off evil spirits who they believed caused trouble and damaged crops. In the eighth century All Saints Day was created and incorporated some of the traditions of Samhain. The evening before was known as All Hallows Eve, and later Halloween.

Double Double Toil and Trouble

The word broom (or besom in Old English) comes from the actual plant, or shrub, that was used to make many early sweeping devices. From the beginning, brooms and besoms were associated primarily with women which sparked the association of female witches and their broomsticks.

Most broomsticks were made from Birch or Blackthorn.

5. Silver Birch (Betula pendula) is associated with light, new beginnings, love and fertility in both English and Celtic mythology. It is also known colloquially as “The Lady of the Woods” and was believed to to protect against evil spirits and the evil eye.

Traditionally bundles of birch tied together to make besom brooms; like the ones we use to sweep up leaves in our gardens, were used during Samhain to brush away the spirits of the old year and to mark the boundary of the purified homes.

It is also known colloquially as “The Lady of the Woods” and was believed to to protect against evil spirits and the evil eye.

A recap. Top 5 trees used for spiritual protection since ancient times: