Monday 1 August 2022

Some Tree Lore and Magic and the Trees in my Garden. Plus new excerpt from "A knight's Choice and Other Romances"

 I love trees. I am a member of the Woodland Trust and often click on Alistair Campbell's Tree of the Day on twitter. We have a birch tree in our garden, planted when we arrived which is now 20 years old. It's home to all kinds of bugs and birds and shades our kitchen window.

Birch trees are early colonisers after fire in woodland or in tundra after snow. They are good guardian trees, giving protection to the slower growing oaks, ash and beeches that follow. Perhaps because of this, birch trees are linked in folklore with fertility and regrowth. Bundles of birch twigs were offered to newly weds to ensure their marriage was fruitful and a birch wood cradle was said to protect babies from evil spirits. Its sap was held to be antiseptic and good for skin problems. Drinking a tisane of birch tree leaves is said to help with gall bladder problems.

Other trees in our garden are the hawthorn - again a good guardian tree and excellent for wildlife with its berries - and two apple trees, both on dwarf stock. Felling an apple tree was said to be unlucky and my husband and I take care with both, watering each in times of drought. In old apple orchards, the winter custom of wassailing - derived from the Anglo-Saxon wes hal, or be of good health - still goes on to ensure the trees remain healthy. Folk gather around a particular apple tree and beat pots and pans and drums to drive away trouble. They sing to the tree to encourage a  future good harvest and drink its health and their own with cider, pouring some on the roots.  

Two cherries, one sweet, one tart, are also on dwarf stock where I live. The blossom is lovely and leaf cutter bees use the fresh leaves to seal in their grubs and provide protection in the various bee hotels we have about. The blackbirds love the fruit and often leave the stones on the tree!

Other trees that thrive in our garden sadly need to be kept in check. The ash and its smaller cousin the rowan are both natural apex trees where we live and seed themselves with great regularity.  There is a rich history and many legends connected to both. Rowan was said to be a strong protector. The rowan tree, taken from the Norse “runa” meaning charm, was often planted close to houses to protect the household  against evil. Around Easter time medieval people would make small crosses from rowan wood to give further safety to the house. Ash was seen in Viking myths as a tree of power and magic - the god Odin hung from the world ash tree, Yggdrasil, to gain wisdom. In Norse myths the ash was also known as the Venus of the Forest, its leaves used in love charms. The wood of the ash was used for spears and in arrow shafts. It is a strong and flexible tree, as I know whenever I have to dig out unwanted ash saplings.

I wanted a holly for our garden for the beautiful green foliage and the red berries and now have one growing against a boundary of our garden. My husband cuts me a few sprays each winter to bring indoors to decorate our home around Christmas, as people have been doing since Roman times. In later folk lore it was believed to protect against malicious witchcraft and lightning. I also have an ivy, winding through a hedge that is almost all ivy. Drink taken from an ivy goblet was said to protect from poison, although I have never put that to the test. 

  I try to celebrate trees in my romances and use the beliefs of medieval people in my fiction to add interest and realism. 

To close, here is an excerpt from my sweet novella "Midsummer Maid", one of several stories in my anthology "A Knight's Choice and Other Romances." 

It celebrates a very special tree, a wild service tree. These are indicators of ancient Woodland and I would love to grow one in my garden.


She stood very straight but would not meet his eyes. "This is my sin."

            "What?" Haakon heard himself ask, wondering if he had misunderstood.

            "My sin. My vanity." She wrung her hands and clutched at her gown. "I was so proud to be the June Lady, but see! I tempted and sinned and now you…you have lost your home!"

            "You believe you caused those knights to hunt you?" He could not believe her folly. "They would have raped you if they had taken you away! That is their evil, not yours!"

            She looked up at him, her eyes bright with shimmering tears.

            "Never yours, my heart," he said, the endearment rising naturally to his lips. He wrenched his mind round from his rage at the knights and the church for making women feel they were the vessels of sin and sought a way to reassure her. In an instant, he had it. “Come with me.” He held out his hand.


            “Happily browsing hawthorn again. Come, Clare. I want you to see something; then you will understand.”

            She looked puzzled, her dark brows drawn in heavy bows over her eyes, but she slipped her narrow tanned fingers readily into his.

            This is madness, part of him complained, but he was too content to care. For months, he had dreamed of Clare and himself together, and now it had happened. "Only woodsmen know this place in the forest," he reassured her. "We shall move on in a few days, when the hunt for us grows slack. We have skills."

            "The other villagers?" she queried.

            "Father Peter will speak for them." Haakon refused to fret over men and women who had never accepted him. Not even knights would slay all their workers, for then they might have to sweat in the fields and bring in their own harvest. "They will be safe, I promise you."

            "It may be that we shall find an even better lord," Clare murmured, as if trying to console him still, a suspicion confirmed when she added, "and you will not miss the village?"

            "Where the women make the evil eye against me? No!" Haakon stopped on a narrow badger run and pointed to a tall, spreading tree with glossy, many-tongued leaves and a dazzle of fading white blossoms. "Look! Is this not a lovely thing?"

            Clare stared. "It is beautiful," she whispered. "The way the wind tumbles the leaves, and it rustles; the way the light shines through the leaves."

            "And is it sinful for that?"

            She gave him a narrow look beneath her dark lashes. "No. It is a tree."

            "And are its blossoms not adornments?" Haakon went on, warming to his theme. "And did God not make this tree and you?"

            "Sometimes you speak like a priest," Clare muttered, and she walked to the tree and laid her hand against its trunk. "I have never seen any like this before."

            Neither have I seen any like you, Haakon almost said, but the moment was too rare for courtly froth and folly. They were, even at this special moment, on the run for their lives. "It is a service tree. They are rare, even in large forests, and their fruits are proof against witches."

            "Last winter, you came to the barn where I sleep and hung a fruit from the lintel over the door," Clare recalled. "And you added more to our beer. It made a fine beer. I sent some to my mother at the lord's house, and she gave it to a maid who had the flux, and it cured her."

Lindsay Townsend.

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