Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Carpe Diem #1002 Elder

Dear Haijin, visitors and travelers,

It's my pleasure to bring a new episode to you about our mysterious nature. This month we are discovering the mysteries and magics of Mother Nature's inhabitants. Today I have another nice tree / bush which I think you will know, because it is very common in a lot of places around the globe, the Elder.

The elder is a small but bountiful tree, covered with edible fragrant blossoms in summer and juicy purple berries in autumn which country people have used for centuries in jams, jellies, medicinal syrups and wine. Its hollow branches have proved useful for all manner of pipes and bellows; in fact, its name probably originates with the Anglo-Saxon 'eller', meaning a kindler of fire. In Ireland elder was a sacred tree, and it was forbidden to break even one twig.

Like the willow, it seems to have strong feminine associations. In Denmark, peasants would not cut down an elder for fear of Hyldemor, the Elder-mother, who dwelt in its trunk. This belief is also found in Eastern England. In Lincolnshire until quite recently, it was important to ask permission of the ‘Old Lady’ or ‘Old Girl’. The correct way to approach the tree was to say: ‘Old Woman, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when I grow into a tree’. If this procedure was not adopted, ill-luck could befall.

Elder blossom
the fragile beauty of Mother Nature -
don't break a twig

© Chèvrefeuille

An elder-tree witch features in the legend of the famous Rollright Stones in Oxfordshire. A king and his army were marching across the land, when a witch approached him and called out a challenge:

Seven long strides shalt thou take,
If Long Compton thou can see,
King of England thou shalt be.
Now, the village of Long Compton is just hidden behind a low mound known as the archdruid’s barrow. After the king had taken seven strides, the witch called out:
As Long Compton thou canst not see,
King of England thou shalt not be.
Rise up stick and rise up stone,
For King of England thou shalt be none.
Thou and thy men hoar stones shall be
And myself an eldern-tree.

The king became the lone stone known as the King Stone, while his men huddle together as ‘The Whispering Knights’, a group of five stones to the east. The stone circle itself is known as the King’s Men. 

King's Men Stone Circle (Oxfordshire)
The elder's reputation went from bad to worse with a Christian legend that claimed that the crucifix was made from its wood and Judas Iscariot was said to have hanged himself on the eider. An old carol called, ‘The Twelve Apostles’ tells the story, and in the last verse denounces the elder, which stands as an outcast from the other trees (any group of trees was known colloquially as the ‘Twelve Apostles’).

The twelve apostles they were standing by,
Their roots in the river, and their leaves in the sky,
The beasts all thrive wherever they be.
But Judas was a-hunged on an elder tree

Soon the much-maligned tree became synonymous with the Devil himself. Many feared to burn elder-logs for fear they would ‘bring the Devil into the house’.

On the Isle of Man, an elder tree outside the cottage door actually kept witches away, according to a Manx folk-tale called, ‘Old Nance and the Buggane’. In other places too it was viewed favorably as a benevolent, protective tree. A 17th century manuscript gives a recipe for a protective amulet made from plucking an elder twig in October, just before the full moon. The wood between the knots must be cut into nine pieces, which are bound in a piece of linen and hung around the neck so that they touch the heart. They hang there until the thread breaks, at which point the amulet has to be buried where it may not be found. 

Cottage on The Isle of Man

In some parts of Scotland it ranked only second to rowan in its ability to ward off evil spells and witchcraft. Crosses made of elder twigs hung over stables and barns to protect the livestock. Drivers of hearses carried whip-handles made of elder to ward off evil influences.
Elder has been prescribed throughout the ages for healing ailments from blindness to epilepsy. The leaves gathered on May Eve had the power to cure wounds, and warts could be removed by rubbing them on a green elder stick and burning it: as it rotted away, so did the warts.

As I read this above part of this post I remembered a post I once created on my personal weblog. It was not about the Isle of Man, but about Holy Isle at the shore of Scotland, but I think it fits this "Elder" episode too, so I love to reproduce the tanka and  haiku here, by the way I extracted the tanka from the original cascading haiku:

waves thundering
soothing my mind with emptiness
no thoughts at all
Holy Isle's nature
seagulls cry

seagulls cry
Om Mane Padme Hum
at last ... world peace

© Chèvrefeuille

Well ... I hope you did like this episode and of course I hope to inspire you to create haiku, tanka or another Japanese poetry form.

This episode is NOW OPEN for your submissions and will remain open until July 25th at noon (CET). I will (try to) publish our next episode, Fir, later on. For now ... have fun, be inspired and share.


  1. Amazing post, huge research, great poetry.

  2. Carpe Diem Challenge # 1002 Elder:

    in shadowy foliage
    a pair of eastern bluebirds
    feeding on elderberry