Tale of a tempermental Elder

How delighted I was to find Elder Trees in our garden. To be honest I’m learning how to recognise plants and trees and certainly wasn’t able to tell what trees were in the garden when we first moved here.  We have many, many trees and we moved here in January so most had no leaves to help me identify them.  Eventually of course as Spring arrived leaves and flowers appeared and I had the joy of discovering what was actually here.  I had a list of trees I would like to have in the garden – two at the top of that list were Elder and Alder.

As Spring turned into Summer the flowers started to appear and I was excited to make some Elderflower cordial – one of my favourite drinks of the summer.

There is lots of folklore surrounding the Elder Tree and many stories and tales from all corners of the Western World.  She has had quite a journy through the ages and at times has been both feared as being a witch in disguise to being seen as a protection from evil.  She has been blamed by Christians for her part in the death of Jesus (allegedly the cross was made from Elder wood) and has been used to implicate people as witches for persecution.  She has certainly had a rollarcoater ride of perception over the years.  Both the Elder and the Alder are also known to be portals to other realms, of the fae, the elves and the dead.

Many cultures associate the elder with a Mother of sorts.  Certainly it is spoken of in folklore that the Mother Elder resides in the trunk of the tree and that she must be asked for permission before taking any part of the tree, beit wood, or leaves, flowers or berries.  Having read that I should always ask permission before harvesting and that I should also offer a gift in exchange I did wonder how I would know whether I had indeed been given permission – it seemed a bit redundant to “ask permission” and then take what I wanted without some sign as to whether permission had been given.  I read up about this and the general consensus was that “I would know” – a feeling, a knowing – whether I had been given permission.

I live in an area where there are lots of pieces of quartz around and some of these catch my eye and make their way into my pocket – where they will either stay if they feel special to me – or they will find their way into my “witchy shed” or somewhere around the house.  I thought perhaps one of the pieces from my pocket (which I had deemed special and important) would be a suitable gift in exchange for some elderflowers.

Off I went with my basket and 3 pieces of quartz from my pocket.  There are three mature Elder trees at the end of our garden.  I approached the first – asked if I may take some flowers for sustanance and placed a piece of quartz at the base of the tree.  I needed around 25 flower in total so I repeated the ask and give with all three trees and took equal amounts of flowers from each tree.  It felt ok, I felt as though I had been given permission – no weird feels.  I made the Elderflower cordial and it was utterly delisious! so much so that I wondered whether I should make more – I mean the flowers are only good for a very short period….maybe I should make a second batch straight away and freeze it?

A thought did cross my mind “Was I being greedy – would the Elder trees see this as greedy?”

I decided the cordial was just too good NOT to make some more.  I grabbed my basket and this time as my “pocket quartz” were running low I took 3 stones from my hut windowsill.  I had an awareness that these stones were not as important to me and wondered if the trees would know…..

Yes, I am an overthinker.

I repeated my process from the time before but I do recall have a slight uneasy feeling perhaps brought on by my thoughts of being greedy AND knowing the my offerings had less value than before.

When I got to the third tree, a thought entered my mind “Only take what you can reach” – ok, only what I can reach.

I had almost harvested the 25 flower heads I needed….I’d just reach up and get that one …..can’t quite reach.  I stand on tippy toes and bring the branch toward me.  I step back and “OUCH!”.  Something pierced the bottom of my shoe and went up into my foot!  I knew instantly I had been told!  “OK, I’m sorry” I said and retreated back to my kitchen.

I felt quite gutted actually – I had done wrong and been punished by the tree.  Incidentally the second batch of cordial was not as good as the first although still was deliscious.

The thorn in my foot stayed for about 3 weeks and was a little painful – eventually I had to dig it out with a needle.  I was very aware of its lesson.  And I did feel aprehensive now about that particular Elder.  I told my story to a group of witches and was told “Oh yes….Mother Elder can be a fiery/tricky one!”.  Another suggested maybe she had wanted a blood offering – which I hadn’t thought of – but given there was no blood and I was feeling very told off at the time I thought probably not.

I visited the tree several times and gently took dead leaves from her branches, spoke to her, gave her an offering or two – mainly fruit and vegetables.  They were still there days later so I gathered they weren’t accepted.

The space where the 3 Elder Trees grow is a grove surrounded by Alder, the Elder trees, a willow and some Ash and Hawthorn.  The river runs by it.  It feels like a very sacred space – and I have been prepping and tending to it to make it into a meditation space. I noticed one evening as I sat in the dusk what looked like an archway – an entrance?  a….portal?  I could see through the Arch of the Elder and see two Alders behind it.  Could this be a portal to another realm?  There was a river between the Elder and the Alder’s behind.  I did not have the courage to try it – but having recently lost a dear and close friend to me – I was certainly curious if it was a portal to the realm of the dead.

I wandered over there one evening to sit as dusk fell and it occurred to me that perhaps I might cleanse the area.  I took a sage stick and walked around the whole area and cleansed with smoke.  As I cleansed I used these words.  “Anyone that does not wish to be here, you may leave”, “Only good can come of this space – it is a space of love”,  “No evil can rest here – only love”, “Love and peace are welcome here”, “You are welcome here from whatever realm you come from – in love and peace”.

I noted that the smoke stick needed re-lighting several times, it was struggling to stay alight.

Just as I walked past “that Elder” I felt a sting in my leg as a nettle caught me.  I smiled.  “You can keep trying to push me away but I’m not going.”  I whispered softly.  I sat facing the Elder and meditated until dark.

Maybe 10 days later we had a little bit of wind and rain.  When I visited the Elder space I found that she had fallen!  A huge chunk of the Elder was fallen – still attached but twisted and broken to the floor.  “Oh no!” I felt so sad that the beautiful Elder was broken – I had felt that all 3 Elder Trees were so important in this space.  Then I recalled something I had read about when things break – that perhaps they are no longer needed.  Perhaps then she, the spirit inside this Elder, had left it – had moved on – was no longer needed here.  Part of the tree remained and as I cleaned her up and removed the fallen branches – I did feel like the previous spirit had gone.  The tree felt much calmer and I didn’t feel any wariness toward her – only quiet.  I also noted that one of the offerings I had left at her base had also gone.

I also considered whether it was the portal that had closed.  It was the part of the tree that had formed the arch that had fallen.  I’m not sure what that would mean but I’m aware these thoughts came into my mind.  When portals are open of course all sorts may pass between realms – those with good intentions and those with …not so good intentions.  I wondered if my cleansing the area had prompted something to go back through the portal to their own realm and then the tree had then closed it.

Either way.  We are tending to the Elder and hoping she will recover and thrive.  The space feels very peaceful and magical.

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