Folklore & Superstitions - Connecting With The Land Where You Live
Over the last few weeks and days there have been numerous discussions online talking about issues relating to race, ethnicity, beliefs and connection to land. Now, I was going to write a piece that gave my own perspective on these issues, you know, seeing as how I’m a mixed race working class woman who practises traditional British witchcraft (non-Wiccan), Obeah and Vodou, but I’m not going to, mostly because I think that the discussion is moot, ain’t no one telling me what I can and cannot practise (because so many of these discussions centre on whether or not a person has the right to practise or believe whatever they practise or believe, usually because of race, colour or ancestry), I’ve had enough of that shit.
So, with the those discussions aside then, as someone who is mixed race (and interestingly so as my sister’s recent ancestry DNA test indicated), what do I believe? I’ve already hinted that my heritage plays a part in what I practise, but a large portion of my practise relies on connection to land and ancestor veneration, and in both of those instances, race, creed, colour and all the other divisions simply do not matter. No matter what anyone tells you, you can connect to the land where you live now. It might not be easy, and time and effort is required, but you can forge a relationship with the land where you are. What other choice is there? Showing reverence to nature, to the land and the other inhabitants we share it with is the first step in forging a connection and the rest comes from there, from the work you put in.
I adore folk lore, superstitions and old wives tales, from all over the world. There are stories and sayings about almost everything you can think of from trees, to birds, to the weird and wonderful. I believe such stories give a great deal of insight into humanity’s relationship with the natural world, and highlight the common thread that runs through whilst at the same time celebrating our differences. These stories can help to deepen our understanding of and thus our connection to the land. Here I’ll share with you some of my favourite tree lore.
The Elder Tree
This tree is one of my favourites. Two grow in my garden and though many see them as weeds, the flowers are simply divine and the small dark berries are full of goodness. There is a wealth of folklore about this tree, and perhaps one of the reasons I like it so much are its associations with witchcraft, indeed British and some European folklore tell that witches would turn into elder trees to disguise themselves. Perhaps this is what gives this tree a somewhat sinister reputation.
The spirit most associated with this tree though is the Elder Mother, European in origin with particularly strong links in Britain and Scandinavia. She is known by a variety of names, for instance in parts of Lincolnshire close to where I live, she is referred to as the old girl or old woman, and in Denmark she is called Hyldemoer. She is what some might call a dryad, a nature spirit who guards the tree. It is said that anyone who cuts down an elder tree or takes parts of it without first seeking her permission are destined for bad luck and misfortune.
Quite often, this tree is associated with death, but with death rebirth, as the tree easily roots from parts of itself. Again, we see an association of the crone aspect, of wisdom and knowledge and a power belies its form.
This is a common tree where I live - my favourite woods is full of them. This tree is steeped in magical myth and folklore.
It is perhaps no surprise that the hawthorn is associated with love and lust seeing as how Beltane, celebrated in May and other traditions including the May Pole dance (the pole being phallic symbol) and the choosing of a May queen are all said to be old fertility rites and celebrations.The hawthorn is also associated with marriage and was used in ancient Greece where the wood was used as the wedding torch, and the bride would wear a crown of May flowers.
However, the hawthorn tree is not always associated with things so lovely as romance. Whilst it may indeed make a beautiful outdoor decoration, it is unlucky to bring hawthorn or it’s flowers into the house and to do so, if the folklore is to be believed, is to bring death to your mother. It is said that witches made their brooms from hawthorn and that when teamed with elder was considered particularly evil.
Perhaps many of these superstitions stem from the trees association with the fae, for the fair folk are held in something of a fearful awe. The fae have the good and the bad, the dark and the light, the Seelie and Unseelie, and in parts of the British Isles, especially Ireland, wherever a may tree grows there will be a portal or entrance into their realm nearby.
The wild cherry tree that grows in my garden is currently in full bloom. It is absolutely beautiful, you could spend hours gazing at the creamy white clusters of flowers. It’s no wonder that this tree has captured our hearts and minds.
In some places including Scotland, the cherry was seen as a witches’ tree, and as such use of the odd was deemed unlucky. It is weirdly connected with the cuckoo bird, and there’s an old English nursery rhyme that’s also a little sinister, as they all seem to be.
Cuckoo, cherry tree,
Good bird tell me,
How many years before I die?
The number of times the cuckoo then called would indicate the number of years one still had to live.
In Japanese folklore, the cherry tree has more positive connotations. Its beautiful blossoms are so perfect and yet are so fleeting, that the tree teaches us to appreciate the moment, the beauty in the present. In ancient mythology, it was the cherry that gave the Gods immortality.
I could go on and on for each species of tree, but part of the beauty and attraction of folklore and it’s study is finding those treasures for yourself! It is the journey of discovery that will deepen your connection to those things that surround you, those trees, plants and fauna that are local to you. So go out and discover!
And it’s not just trees. Everything in the natural world seems to have some kind of story or tale attached to it, for we humans do love to tell a good story. Perhaps next time we’ll see what else we discover!
My name is Emma Kathryn, an eclectic witch, my path is a mixture of traditional European witchcraft, voodoo and obeah, a mixture representing my heritage. I live in the middle of England in a little town in Nottinghamshire, with my partner, two teenage sons and two crazy dogs, Boo and Dexter. When not working in a bookshop full time, I like to spend time with my family outdoors, with the dogs. And weaving magic, of course!
You can follow Emma on Facebook.