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Rowan (Mountain Ash)

Reputed to provide protection against evil and witchcraft, with crosses made of its branches worn for these reasons. Found on mainland Britain many occurrences are known for its use including tying twigs to milk buckets to stop it from turning sour; making garlands to be hung around the necks of pigs to promote fattening; handing twigs outside houses and livestock areas tied with red thread as protection; and feeding the berries to livestock to guarantee easy births. A highly respected tree for the Druids.

The mystic properties of the Rowan tree have been somewhat feared by witches according to legend as it was believed to hold powers that counteracted the effect of negative energies. A branch placed in a house on Good Friday or placed in a bed was said to ward off such forces. Wearing a sprig of the Rowan also protected against charms. It was advised to repeat the following prayer to ensure darker forces were aware of the presence of the Lord:

‘From Witches and Wizards, and long-tailed Buzzards,
And creeping things that run in hedge-bottoms,
Good Lord, deliver us!’

In Wales (UK) the Rowan tree has traditionally been considered to be a sacred tree. It was planted in churchyards to protect and act as a warning to negative forces and evil spirits. Reputedly not one churchyard would be without it. Wearing a cross made from the tree was a tradition followed once a year by the parish. Coffins were rested under a Rowan tree on the way to the funeral rather than leave it open and vulnerable to approaches by such forces.

In Sligo, Ireland, a legend tells of the ‘Forest of Dooros’. The ‘Dedannans’ or ‘Fairy Host’ dwelt there and were believed to have brought some of the scarlet berries from the Rowan tree to the Forest from Fairyland. One of the berries fell to the ground and out of this grew a huge Rowan tree. It was believed that the eating one of the berries, which tasted of sweet honey, would make a person very happy having the same effect as drinking wine. Some may even live to be one hundred years old. Eating three of the berries from this tree would ensure not only that the person would not only live to be at least one hundred years old but also return to the age of thirty. ‘Sharvan’ was a giant and lived in the forest keeping guard of the tree.

One way of delivering yourself if you had been baptised from repeated visitations was to try and touch a witch with a branch of the Rowan tree. This action was reputedly successful. The next time the evil eye or Devil required someone as a victim, the unfortunate would no longer be troubled by negative forces. Instead a witch would be taken.

The following song extract is said to provide a further insight into the writing of William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ where the sailor’s wife is requested to provide chestnuts for the witches. She answers ‘A rown-tree, witch!’, but some editions have a different version of this line, ‘Aroint thee, witch!. Both allude to the association of the supernatural and witches.

Ancient Song : ‘Laidley Worm of Spindleton’s Heuglis’

‘Their spells were vain, the boys returned
To the Queen in sorrowful mood;
Crying that ‘Witches have no power
Where there is Rowan-tree wood.’’

The ‘Flying Rowan’ is a term given often to a young Rowan that has taken root within the fork of an older tree. The seed is thought to be deposited by a bird. To chew a part of this tree was believed to protect the person against negative forces including witchcraft. The Flying Rowan is also called a ‘Flogronn’ in Norway and Sweden, and reputedly it is used by diviners. In folklore it is said that one farmer was very troubled by a Troll being unable to make deep straight furrows with the plough. The cause was said to be that the plough was made from the wood of a Flying Rowan.

According to Finnish legend the God of Thunder was called ‘Ukko’, and his wife was ‘Rauni’. She took the form of a Mountain Ash or Rowan. The intense redness of the berries led to the tree becoming known as ‘Thor’s Tree’ which led to not only the berries becoming sacred but also the tree itself.

Extract from ‘The Kalevala’

‘In the yard there grows a rowan,
Thou with reverend care should’st tend it.
Holy is the tree there growing,
Holy likewise are its branches,
On its boughs the leaves are holy,
And its berries yet more holy.’

The Rowan (or perhaps the Elder) was traditionally known in Germany as the ‘Elsbeer Tree’ or ‘Dragon Tree’. Hanging branches of this tree in houses or in any buildings belonging to a family on ‘Walpurgis Night’ was seen as protection against the darker forces out at play, particularly witches.

Mystical Trees