The Meaning Of Trees

catseye

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#1
I was listening to Gardener's Question Time on my way to work on Sunday, and I heard a nine year old girl ask about planting rowan trees by the garden gate to keep witches away. The team laughed and only one said he'd ever heard of this...

I thought it was common knowledge that rowan wood kept witches away. Have we come so far from our origins that nobody has heard of this? I've known the folklore since I was very young - to be fair, I read a lot so might have picked it up from books, but are there any other legends about trees and plants that might need recording for posterity?
 

Frideswide

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#4
Yes, rowan to keep witches away, elder is an old lady who must be respected and ash is a mean character and you shouldn't sit under them. Apples need to be greeted at Hogmany and must be informed (the same as bees!) if a change happens in the family.
 

PeteByrdie

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#5
There could easily be separate threads on the folklore of each species of tree. It must be one of the richest sources of folk belief there is.

I'm sure I've read sometime in the last couple of years of an old belief that willow trees were quite predatory, and would actually leap on travellers from time to time. Makes J K Rowling's whomping willow seem tame.
 

Yithian

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#6
There could easily be separate threads on the folklore of each species of tree. It must be one of the richest sources of folk belief there is.

I'm sure I've read sometime in the last couple of years of an old belief that willow trees were quite predatory, and would actually leap on travellers from time to time. Makes J K Rowling's whomping willow seem tame.
Will let this thread run a while, dig through the older threads and do some hacking and grafting later on.
 

catseye

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#8
Will let this thread run a while, dig through the older threads and do some hacking and grafting later on.
Thanks Yith. I am sure there is a lot of stuff around (and on this site). I was mostly just horrified at the way the team laughed and patronised the little girl, like it was some kind of 'fairy story' rather than old belief. And then I got a bit angry that folklore like this was being laughed at by people who'd clearly not had a decent, broad education.
 

INT21

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#9
Catseye,

...like it was some kind of 'fairy story' rather than old belief. ..

The problem with your feeling is that this is exactly what they are. Old world fairy tales and beliefs from a 'simpler' age.

We should regard them as 'quint' at best.

INT21.
 

Bad Bungle

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#10
There are a number of leads on oaks from the entry in (the excellent) A Dictionary of English Folklore by Jacqueline Simpson & Steve Roud:

View attachment 14954
I assumed 'Gospel Oaks' were a type of Quercus like White Oak or Turkey Oak until I read the entry, this idea originating from a visit to Totnes Castle in Devon. In the grounds were a couple of trees I didn't recognise that had been heavily cut back - I asked the Custodian and she said they were Gospel oaks (or were they Laurel oaks ?). Anyway the tragedy was the trees were diseased (hence the lopping) and were losing their bark and on the bark was graffiti carved by Italian Prisoners of War when interned in the castle. Literally shedding history.

Totnes2134.jpg POW.jpg
 

maximus otter

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#11
How about blackthorn?

It produces sloes, much used in sloe gin. It was reputed to be the source of Jesus' Crown of Thorns. Sloes were found in the stomach of Ötzi the Iceman. Because it's a hard, dense wood, it was much used in the production of shillelaghs. Wounds inflicted by a blackthorn weapon are reputed never to heal properly. The flowering of the blackthorn may have been associated with the ancient Celtic celebration of Imbolc.

maximus otter
 

Eyespy

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#12
I was told as a child that the Celts of these parts ( South west) had a counting system based on trees, this is the only bit of tree lore I can recall being told, the rest I must have absorbed as I feel like I have always known it.
I had no idea that the distinctive smell is similar to that of rotting meat. Who goes around sniffing trees and meat?
 
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