There is a little poem, which most people who live in the English countryside knows, it is meant to predict the weather for the summer ahead based on whether the Oak or the Ash gets their leaves first in any given Spring. Here are the words:
Oak before Ash, in for a splash
Ash before Oak, in for a soak
For the last three years, I have been blessed to have large mature Oak and Ash specimens at the bottom of my garden. Because of my own personal interest in weather and other folk magic, I have been keeping an eye on the trees each year. Each year, without fail, it has been the Oak that got its leaves first – sometimes two or three weeks before the Ash. It matched the saying – as we had three hot and dry summers with only a “splash” of rain. But this year was different – the Oak and the Ash came into leaf on the same day – on Sunday there was only a hint of leaves, but by Monday evening both trees were verdant with their fresh emerald green leaves.
“This is an Ash tree, but not any Ash tree. Before you stands the tall tree Yggdrasil, the axis of the nine worlds. Yggdrasil holds a spiral staircase that journeyers from all worlds can use to travel.” – Katie Gerrard, Seidr: The Gate is Open.
Sadly, it is also the last time this Ash tree will stand where it has held space for probably about a hundred years as it is set to be felled this coming week. There has long been a concern about the degree of leaning the Ash has towards the neighbour down the hill from us, as well as the considerable damage it sustained some years back at its base. Then there are the badgers. The mysterious nocturnal creatures made their home in this hillside a long time ago, perhaps before there were houses here, and the entrance to their sett is in the roots of the tree. Last year they decided to dig a second front door in the roots, and the tree has since started swaying noticeably in even slight breezes. So with much sadness, the tree will be felled, with permissions and advice from all the relevant authorities.
But it is not going to be easy. It is going to be emotional to say goodbye to this tree which has stood on this hill overlooking the town of Glastonbury and the Somerset levels since it germinated around a hundred years ago.
Oak and Ash the Season Turns…
You don’t need me to tell you that trees are important parts of our landscape, or that they provide food and habitat for many different species. This Ash has long been home to nesting crows. One neighbour told me that there have been crows nesting in this tree for as long as they can remember, and they have lived here for many decades. This year, the Crows made their nest in the Oaktree, rather than the Ash. It is as if they knew the Ash would not be safe for their offspring. We have a lot to learn from nature.
The Ash in Folklore and Myth
The Ash tree features prominently in world mythology, I have selected some better known examples from the UK to whet your appetites towards learning more about these marvelous trees.
The First Man Created by Odin
In Norse Mythology Odin, the All-Father, found two tree trunks on the seashore and turned them into the first man and woman? The man was made from Ash, the very tree believed to also be the Yggdrasil or the World Ash Tree of Norse mythology. The man was named Ask (Askr) meaning “Ash”.
Ash & Royalty
The wood was used to make regal thrones, and in doing so, it was said to “support the King’s thigh”. On the other hand, the fertility of the Ash was considered directly linked to the Royal House of England. A failed crop of Ash seeds portended a death in the royal family (Ash usually germinates very easily!), and it is said that in England in 1648 none of the Ash trees bore keys (a key is the seed of an Ash tree), the next year Charles I was executed.
Ash & Witchcraft
Twigs of Ash has long been used to protect against Witchcraft. It is used in different ways, but one of the best known perhaps being the “Rowan and Red Thread” charms. (Rowan is a type of Ash). Many other spells exist which are believed to bring about protection from witchcraft and malefic magics involving the Ash tree.
In her book The Craft of the Wise author Vikki Bramshaw writes about the use of Ash in the Witches’ Broom or Besom:
“The traditional Besom is made out of three kinds of wood; the handle of ashwood (representing the phallus, and the Yggdrasill or ‘Steed of Woden’) … . Sweeping with the ashwood besom has however an additional use: Ash makes the first exchange between this world and the other realities, and designates the space which will become a ‘place out of time’”
Ash & Snakes
There are many beliefs around the idea that a stick of Ash-wood kills a snake faster and more efficiently than any other stick. Not that we want to be going around killing serpents, but interesting to know! It is also said that a circle drawn on the ground around an adder (snake) will force it to stay in the circle. Here in Somerset wreaths were hung in Ash trees near the house to protect the house from snakes.
Ash as Firewood
Ash when Green is fuel for a Queen.
Ash is considered excellent as firewood and can be used even when it is green. Though there are also warnings about cutting down Ash trees saying it brings bad luck!
Ash & warts
Witchcraft and Warts are so closely linked that it is a subject worthy of exploration all by itself. In Cheshire, England, parents took packets of new pins to an ash tree and stuck the pins into the tree’s bark saying “Ashen Tree, ashen tree, pray buy these warts of me!” with the belief that it would cure their children of warts.
Ash & Love
“The even ash leaf in my glove, the first I meet shall be my love” was a popular folk charm used by women who wanted to know who they were going to marry. Just like the charm says, the girl would pluck a leaf from an Ash tree which had equal numbers of leaflets on either side and wear it in her glove speaking the charm. Likewise, girls would place such an even ash leaf under her pillow to bring about a dream of her future lover.
And so the seasons here will no longer be measured by the turning of the Oak and Ash, but instead will be dominated by our Oak tree. No doubt the other trees growing in the wild edge of our garden beside it will in time take their place. Holly, Hawthorn, English Elm, Willow, Beech, Birch and Apple …. but it will take many decades for them to reach the size and majesty of this Ash standing here in its last hours.
This Ash will live on through its countless descendants, some of which we have been pollarding to keep them to a manageable size, and this year I will gather a few dozen of its saplings and plant some on the land we have on the slopes of Glastonbury Tor, which is only a few minutes walk from our home. Perhaps some will make their way to other parts of the country where friends with space will be able to give it a home too. The cycle of its life will not end, it will continue – and the badgers will safely be able to dig away and keep their sett for many years to come.
Have you had to cut down a mature tree?
How did it make you feel? I would love to hear your stories!