The witches' tree with the scent of the flowers said to poison any person who slept underneath the tree. The Cross as Calvary was supposed to have been made from Elder, and Judas Iscariot was found hanging from the tree. Said to be unlucky to bring elder into the house, and if near the tree after dark, you could fall into the clutches of witches and their dark craft.
Of all the Forest spirits only the ‘Hylde-moer’ (Elder mother) or ‘Hylde-vinde’ (Elder Queen) it is said was able to mend any injuries effected upon Elder trees. She was a ‘Waldgeister’, a type of spirit that inhabited the forest in large numbers. Like all Waldgeisters, Hylde-moer was kind natured, and the only forest spirits to know the power and formulae for medicinal plants. Before cutting down an Elder tree is was said that permission had to be asked for and granted from her to avoid misfortune.
Like the Aspen, Fig and the Oak it is thought that the Elder may have been the wood that was used for the cross at Christ’s Crucifixion.
The association of the Elder tree with Judas, who is believed to have hanged himself from such a tree, may give rise to why it is reputed that it is never struck by lightning in a storm in fear of reprisal.
‘And faste by, is zit the Tree of Eldre that Judas henge him self upon,
for despeyr that he hadde, whan he solde and betrayed oure Lord.’
Sir John Maundeville : The Voiage and Travaille
Traditionally in Sicily the Elder is the preferred wood for driving out serpents and warding off thieves. Some believe that St. Patrick used a branch of the Elder in the form of a sacred rod to remove all the serpents from Ireland.
A European belief also indicates that branches of the Elder should never be taken into a house or used for fire wood, again perhaps because of the negative forces at work when it is present.
In ancient times it was believed that negative forces would be attracted by someone falling asleep under an Elder tree. Whilst asleep the person would suffer from horrific nightmares, and would become delirious when waking.