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The Elder Tree


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#1 Michele

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Posted 23 February 2014 - 07:02 PM

Several years ago I decided I wanted an Elder tree. Here is some of what she has taught me...

 

She's extremely hardy, takes root anywhere - even in a pot of water. She will take over your yard, your house, your mind, lol. She grows like a weed and can withstand most hardships. She's an extremely fast grower (from a 6-inch cutting to taller than I am within one year). She attracts spiders and her roots run deep. 

 

There is a ton of folklore revolving around the Elder tree. Folklore wasn't made up because people were bored and needed a bed-time story, so where there's folklore, there's been "the folk" IMO.

 

In folklore she's much related to divinity, and even if one doesn't work with divinity that still implies, since she's a tree and has deep and invasive roots, that she is a gateway to the otherworld (or underworld as most divinities attached to her are underworld divinities). Whether or not one believes in divinity doesn't change the fact that the folk DID believe, so the lore of the associated plants and divinities will reflect the plant's associations and uses. Back in the day she was a revered tree, people would not kill an Elder tree. So I take that to mean she was viewed as a tree of great power, connection, and even revenge/temper. Her berries will heal (as being an ex-smoker prone to bronchitus I can attest they are the best for keeping me away from the doctor's office) and her leaves can harm. Her wood is often used to make whistles, and whistles in folklore have been used to call things. Her flowers can be a healing tea for colds and can also be used for remembering, for seeing what she has seen (see HCA folklore/fairytales). I find the tea very nice prior to scrying/thinking. Working on some problem and getting advice from someone "who's seen it all before."

 

Her mother from whom I took the cuttings was a wild tree, but my Elders have lived in my yard and been more influenced by human closeness. But I've worked with them daily so their spirit doesn't recede from my contact. Her roots go down into the underworld, and she can lead one home. She is a tree of connection/memory, to the ancestors (not specifically DNA, but the folk ancestors, memories, "witches" (although I dislike that term). She is very protective if you have a relationship with her, and she is extremely protective of children. I have found her to be forgiving, depending on your level of ability, but not to the point of accepting stupidity and laziness and self-pity. One of the commonest answers I get from her is "well, what are YOU going to do about this?" and then she will help, but only if I am willing to get up of my ass and take action, lol. I've learned how to decipher her reactions based on my location - which movements are yes or no, or do what you want, lol. 

 

She's taken over much of my yard, now, and I have agreed that she may but that I have to keep the walkways clear. Most of that is my fault as I removed her from her natural habitat and brought her to my yard, where I tried to bend her to my will and make her live nicely and tamely in the designated area. And I found out she doesn't put up with that shit, lol. She isn't tame, she won't change who and what she is to suit my needs. She'll give you a straight answer, even if it ruins your plans for a nice neat yard. So don't ask her if you don't really want to know and you aren't going to listen. She's not tame - but she'll work with you, if she agrees to and you hold up your end of the agreement. And that right there has taught me much of working with other things... I can't change or tame them, but if I hold up my end and do what I've said I will some of the things are willing to work with that. Go back on my word, miss a few weekends of tending her, and the whole yard's turned into a forest, into chaos. Like any untended relationship, magical or mundane. She needs room, she won't be contained or confined, and I must hold up my end of the bargain - it is reciprical.  

 

I've also found that if you spend enough time with her you start to be more like her. You don't put up with bullshit, and you have high expectations of others to keep their word. And if they don't you loose all interest in them. And she expects communication. You can't totter off and come back in 4 months and say "life got busy". If you're going to be away, you best tell her why and it best be a good excuse. 

 

She taught me to start at home. That if I want to build a relationship with the spirit-world and the things in it, tend first to myself and what I am responsible for. It's fake to go save the wales when everything in your own garden and your relationship with it is dying of neglect. You'll come home and find weeds and chaos. Not only that, you'll feel empty like the dead branches she's dropped which have died and lost their inner pith. You'll look whole from the outside but inside you will have no anchor.  She's taught me common sense. Sometimes a branch will die for some reason and she'll just drop it. She doesn't spend all her energy trying to save what isn't working out. She accepts it and gets rid of it. And she eats it. It decays and turns into mush which I assume becomes fertilizer. She's not big into wasting anything.

 

But she can also be kind and protective - I've found animals love her. The cats rest in her shade, birds eat her berries, bees and flies pollinate her flowers. Spiders (much indicative of magic) find much to eat in their webs spun between her magical branches. So she's friends to the quiet things that live in peace with her, in a mutual relationship with her. She makes flowers that feed the flies that feed the spiders and pollinate the flowers that make the berries that the birds eat that nest and live and die nearby and feed the ground which she eats.... I found some broken bird's eggs under her, their yolk soaking into the soil. To become her food as she is the food for the birds. She's taught me there is always a price, and always something given for something taken. But in the end I'm all ultimately a part of everything anyway.

 

I have much more to learn of her yet, her magic, her healing, her anger, her spirit. But that's what I've learned in the last two years or so.... for me the ultimate tree for all needs. In a pinch, whether looking for protection, or cursing, or someone to talk to, she pretty much does it all. I suppose that's another reason she's been considered a witch's tree by the folk.... (and poor J clicked on this and thought "damn - a bloody mile-long post, lmao)

 

M


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#2 Belwenda

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Posted 23 February 2014 - 08:07 PM

Michelle- you're in the south right? My Elder trees are still quite small (after 2 or 3 years)- bush like really -although the flowers are pretty- no berries yet- I'm in the NW so they may grow more slowly here. I can't say that I am lavishing them with the attention that you are giving yours however- that's probably the problem :wink:

In  medieval times they would plant Elder near the kitchens to keep flies away.


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#3 Michele

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Posted 23 February 2014 - 08:32 PM

This pic was taken when mine were a little over a year old, taken at 6 inch cuttings....

 

They've now pretty much filled in the middle area, too, lol

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Edited by Michele, 23 February 2014 - 08:33 PM.

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#4 aurora

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 12:09 AM

Several years ago I decided I wanted an Elder tree. Here is some of what she has taught me...
 
She's extremely hardy, takes root anywhere - even in a pot of water. She will take over your yard, your house, your mind, lol. She grows like a weed and can withstand most hardships. She's an extremely fast grower (from a 6-inch cutting to taller than I am within one year). She attracts spiders and her roots run deep. 
 
There is a ton of folklore revolving around the Elder tree. Folklore wasn't made up because people were bored and needed a bed-time story, so where there's folklore, there's been "the folk" IMO.
 
In folklore she's much related to divinity, and even if one doesn't work with divinity that still implies, since she's a tree and has deep and invasive roots, that she is a gateway to the otherworld (or underworld as most divinities attached to her are underworld divinities). Whether or not one believes in divinity doesn't change the fact that the folk DID believe, so the lore of the associated plants and divinities will reflect the plant's associations and uses. Back in the day she was a revered tree, people would not kill an Elder tree. So I take that to mean she was viewed as a tree of great power, connection, and even revenge/temper. Her berries will heal (as being an ex-smoker prone to bronchitus I can attest they are the best for keeping me away from the doctor's office) and her leaves can harm. Her wood is often used to make whistles, and whistles in folklore have been used to call things. Her flowers can be a healing tea for colds and can also be used for remembering, for seeing what she has seen (see HCA folklore/fairytales). I find the tea very nice prior to scrying/thinking. Working on some problem and getting advice from someone "who's seen it all before."
 
Her mother from whom I took the cuttings was a wild tree, but my Elders have lived in my yard and been more influenced by human closeness. But I've worked with them daily so their spirit doesn't recede from my contact. Her roots go down into the underworld, and she can lead one home. She is a tree of connection/memory, to the ancestors (not specifically DNA, but the folk ancestors, memories, "witches" (although I dislike that term). She is very protective if you have a relationship with her, and she is extremely protective of children. I have found her to be forgiving, depending on your level of ability, but not to the point of accepting stupidity and laziness and self-pity. One of the commonest answers I get from her is "well, what are YOU going to do about this?" and then she will help, but only if I am willing to get up of my ass and take action, lol. I've learned how to decipher her reactions based on my location - which movements are yes or no, or do what you want, lol. 
 
She's taken over much of my yard, now, and I have agreed that she may but that I have to keep the walkways clear. Most of that is my fault as I removed her from her natural habitat and brought her to my yard, where I tried to bend her to my will and make her live nicely and tamely in the designated area. And I found out she doesn't put up with that shit, lol. She isn't tame, she won't change who and what she is to suit my needs. She'll give you a straight answer, even if it ruins your plans for a nice neat yard. So don't ask her if you don't really want to know and you aren't going to listen. She's not tame - but she'll work with you, if she agrees to and you hold up your end of the agreement. And that right there has taught me much of working with other things... I can't change or tame them, but if I hold up my end and do what I've said I will some of the things are willing to work with that. Go back on my word, miss a few weekends of tending her, and the whole yard's turned into a forest, into chaos. Like any untended relationship, magical or mundane. She needs room, she won't be contained or confined, and I must hold up my end of the bargain - it is reciprical.  
 
I've also found that if you spend enough time with her you start to be more like her. You don't put up with bullshit, and you have high expectations of others to keep their word. And if they don't you loose all interest in them. And she expects communication. You can't totter off and come back in 4 months and say "life got busy". If you're going to be away, you best tell her why and it best be a good excuse. 
 
She taught me to start at home. That if I want to build a relationship with the spirit-world and the things in it, tend first to myself and what I am responsible for. It's fake to go save the wales when everything in your own garden and your relationship with it is dying of neglect. You'll come home and find weeds and chaos. Not only that, you'll feel empty like the dead branches she's dropped which have died and lost their inner pith. You'll look whole from the outside but inside you will have no anchor.  She's taught me common sense. Sometimes a branch will die for some reason and she'll just drop it. She doesn't spend all her energy trying to save what isn't working out. She accepts it and gets rid of it. And she eats it. It decays and turns into mush which I assume becomes fertilizer. She's not big into wasting anything.
 
But she can also be kind and protective - I've found animals love her. The cats rest in her shade, birds eat her berries, bees and flies pollinate her flowers. Spiders (much indicative of magic) find much to eat in their webs spun between her magical branches. So she's friends to the quiet things that live in peace with her, in a mutual relationship with her. She makes flowers that feed the flies that feed the spiders and pollinate the flowers that make the berries that the birds eat that nest and live and die nearby and feed the ground which she eats.... I found some broken bird's eggs under her, their yolk soaking into the soil. To become her food as she is the food for the birds. She's taught me there is always a price, and always something given for something taken. But in the end I'm all ultimately a part of everything anyway.
 
I have much more to learn of her yet, her magic, her healing, her anger, her spirit. But that's what I've learned in the last two years or so.... for me the ultimate tree for all needs. In a pinch, whether looking for protection, or cursing, or someone to talk to, she pretty much does it all. I suppose that's another reason she's been considered a witch's tree by the folk.... (and poor J clicked on this and thought "damn - a bloody mile-long post, lmao)
 
M



Yep. Lol.....To be fair tho I did enjoy it.I to likes me trees

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#5 Belwenda

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 01:34 AM

Wow- they're beautiful!


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#6 Stacey

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 01:37 AM

I have an Elder in a pot at the moment that is plant out size and another that is smaller (she'll be going out likely in August/September when spring starts to come in). The larger Elder, I'm waiting to make sure we're not going to have any more heatwaves (of which we've had many this summer) before I plant her out. I don't think she'll feel particularly kindly toward me if I plant her out and the heat does her in. I'm also going to have to create a plastic hothouse style guard for the winter. I'm looking forward to it, I have her spot picked, dug some, now I just need to work it over a bit so the soil is lovely for her.


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#7 CelticGypsy

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 01:49 AM

I absolutely love this Michele.

 

 

Regards,

Gypsy


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#8 Nikki

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Posted 24 February 2014 - 01:59 AM

What a lovely and informative post, Michele. Your trees are beautiful.


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The difference between Medicine and Poison is the Dose. :oil-bottle:
I Love you as certain Dark Things are to be Loved,
In Secret, Between the Shadow and the Soul.
- Pablo Neruda


#9 JustJest

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Posted 06 April 2014 - 12:16 AM

Thank you for sharing your experience, I have really enjoyed reading this and I agree with the statement above. They are very beautiful and the information is invaluable.


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#10 Roanna

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Posted 30 May 2014 - 07:46 PM

I've recently been asked if I know the origins of the supposed curses associated with burning elder. I've got to admit I thought this was a Wiccan thing and I've never paid it much attention. Does anyone know if there is a tradition for this that goes back pre Wicca and how it came about. I've researched the properties of burning the wood and it is apparently a very smoky smelly burn that gives off little heat but a flame that can get out of control quite quickly. This may play some part in it perhaps?

 

Anyone offer anything more on this? 


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#11 Christine

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Posted 31 May 2014 - 04:07 AM

Deguwitchrose, it's funny you should ask, as I've been doing a bit of reading in that area while my sambucus slips are rooting, and the best resource that I have on it is an essay in Hexenmedzin, which I have in English tr. as Witchcraft Medicine (Inner Traditions 2003). On page 45, Mr. Storl writes in his essay on S. nigra "Nobody would burn the wood of an elder. It was believed that the evil powers in the bush would attack foolish people and bring them bad luck or even kill them. Only widows and widowers were allowed to gather the wood and burn it, for they had already been touched by death." His source is not specified, but this does occur in a paragraph containing information on folk practices in the Jura mountains of Switzerland. According to Storl, the associations between Elder and Death (viz. Frau Holle) are many, and deeply entrenched throughout Europe.

As an aside, I have been repeatedly warned away from intimate contact with the wood of Elder, because it contains strong poison. Apparently whistles were once commonly made from her twigs, resulting in illnesses, and I have even been told that there have been deaths. Can't remember by who, or where, so that could be BS. Especially considering that (Storl again) an old toothache charm involved scraping infected gum tissue until it bled.

I sure wouldn't light any inside, myself.  


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#12 Roanna

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Posted 31 May 2014 - 09:47 AM

How very interesting Christine, I'll certainly have a look into the poison element. I also found out that Elder was the tree from which Judas Iscariot was hanged and also purportedly the tree from which the cross of the cruxifixion ws supposed to have been made so I wonder if the Christians are either involved in the myth surrounding this tree or possibly tapping into the older pagan traditions associated with Elder. Either way ithere does seem to be quite a bit of non Wicca theory to suggest burning this tree isn't a very good idea....


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#13 Autumn Moon

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Posted 31 May 2014 - 12:04 PM

The poison is a cyanogenic glycoside. It is mild, but can make one sick and possibly hallucinate. Green berries contain a lot, the ripe ones a little, essentially, all parts contain it in lesser or greater amounts, and the red elder contains the most compared to other species. It is neutralized by heat. Pop guns or pea shooters did make children ill in some cases. You can handle all parts of the tree without worry of being poisoned.

 

Elder is not a large tree but a tree like bush, so I doubt if one could get hung from it or make a cross out of it.


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#14 Michele

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Posted 31 May 2014 - 03:01 PM

The thing about not burning the Elder is in a lot of folklore, and folklore pre-dates the 1960s advent of Wicca  (I'd look to non-witchy books if you really want to know the truth about the Elder). The Elder tree was/is a witches tree and has at time been deeply associated with divinity. I have a book of oral folklore collected by the author who traveled small villages in Europe and spoke to the old-timers of the villages gathering stories (the book is currently hiding from me (a really annoying game that most of my books seem to delight in from time to time) so I can't quote from it) and in one of the stories the folk would have burned the wood once someone else had cut it, but would not kill the tree themselves. This was once considered a sacred tree (and to some still is). The green parts can be purgative... I use the flowers in teas and the berries with no ill side effects. I would there is a lot of propganda about the tree that was spread by the new religions. This tree had such religious/spiritual meaning to the folk that it, like Lilith and many others, had to be "demonized" by the new religion so that over generations it would become taboo to the folk and they would turn to the new "gods" and forget their Elder tree. There are also some "old" (i.e. NOT Disney) fairy tales that tell of some of the love and uses of the Elder tree. As AM stated, the size of the Elder is not conducive to hanging anyone from it, but it certainly worked well to continue to promote negative associations of the tree. In older folklore the Elder was used for protection... sprigs were carried as charms and some were even put in graves to protect the dead. So great and varied were its healing properties that, according to Mrs. Grieve in her herbal book, the Elder was once referred to as "the medicine chest of the country people." It was also considered to protect against witches - which tells a lot about it: it is associated with magic, and witches, and can be highly protective against the magic and ill-will of others.  Personally, I've also found her a great teacher. She's not been hesitant in telling me when to keep me mouth shut, lol lol lol.


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