The Magical Properties of TreesPosted by Sara C. Snider on Jun 21, 2016 in Fairytales and Folklore | 6 comments
If you’ve read any of my stories, then you probably already know how much of a part nature plays in them. Particularly trees. My stories often take place in woods or forests, or even if they don’t, trees will often sneak in somewhere to play a significant part (like in The Forgotten Web).
The Hazel and Holly story is a little bit of both. The first half of that story takes place in a woodland area, and then we have the names of many of the characters based on trees and flowers. Honestly, the naming convention is a result of the story stemming from a post written for the A to Z Challenge last year, which I then took and ran with and started posting on the blog.
So, for me, trees hold story magic. But even in the real world, many trees were once believed (and continue to be believed in certain circles) to hold magical properties. So I thought it would be fun to look at the main characters in Hazel and Holly and investigate their real-world magical counterparts.
Hazel is connected to knowledge and wisdom, and to beauty and love. The tree is associated with the Greek goddess Aphrodite and the Celtic goddess Arianrhod. Hazel nuts are said to feed the Salmon of Knowledge in Irish lore, and hazel wood is one of the most common used to make magical wands. Hazel promotes love and creativity, and is also used in spells surrounding navigation, protection, visions, and inspiration.
Holly is one of the most sacred trees in the Druidic tradition. The Holly King battles and defeats the Oak King every Midsummer and reigns until Midwinter. Odin’s sacred spear was made of holly, and the Roman god of war, Mars, is said to reign over the wood. So it’s perhaps unsurprising that holly is used in magic for protection against all sorts of ills (evil spirits, poisons, angry elementals and lightning). It is also used in magic concerning sleep and dreams, and power transfer (represented, I believe, in the continuous battle of the Holly King and Oak King).
Fun fact: the Swedish word for holly is järnek, which literally translates to “iron oak”.
Fairies are said to live in hawthorn hedges, especially if near ash or oak. Due to this, hawthorn is used in fairy magic and can be used to detect magic. Hawthorn is also known as the May tree, and its blossoms are traditionally used in garlands to decorate the top of may poles. (May pole decorating and dancing still happens in Sweden. I’m now wondering if they use hawthorn flowers…). Hawthorn is used for many other magical purposes, the most common being purification, weather working, protection, and sexuality.
It was a bit more difficult finding information on the magical properties of hemlock. Maybe because hemlock is poisonous, which I imagine has probably limited its uses somewhat. Socrates was apparently killed with hemlock.
What I did find was a reference to hemlock being used in magic influenced by the Dark God and Goddess. Ann Moura gives a lovely description of the Dark God and Goddess in her book Green Witchcraft II (p. 53-54), so I figured I’d include it here.
The Dark Goddess is manifested in mythology as various kinds of death crones, wise hags, devastation, war, disease, and barrenness of the land. The Dark God is seen in mythologies as the silent host to the dead in his underground realm of gray shadows and deep sleep, knowing of secrets and wise of the universe, death, war, destruction, gatherer of souls, and harbinger of chaos.
I think it’s important to note that “dark” doesn’t mean “evil” here. It’s just the other side of the coin, the shadow cast by the sun, the winter that follows summer. A cyclic decline into darkness that’s natural and necessary in order to return to light. So in this spectrum of magic, hemlock can be used in spells of power, purification, protection, and astral travel.
Do you have a favorite tree?
Green Witchcraft I: Folk Magic, Fairy Lore & Herb Craft, Ann Moura, Llewellyn Publications, 2014.
Green Witchcraft II: Balancing Light & Shadow, Ann Moura, Llewellyn Publications, 2014.
The Witch Book: The Encyclopedia of Witchcraft, Wicca, and Neo-paganism, Raymond Buckland, Visible Ink Press, 2002.