Trees have been the subject of superstitions since time immemorial. Their size, their fruits, their age and their medicinal properties are subjects that have fascinated human beings all over the world.
APPLE trees are associated with the stories of the Garden of Eden and some people still consider it bad luck to burn apple logs for firewood. Other beliefs are that if the sun shines through apple trees on Christmas day, there will be a good crop of apples the next year, and that if an apple remains on the tree until the spring, then a member of the family owning the tree will die.
Many superstitions have grown up around the OAK tree. For example, in England, oak trees and their acorns were believed to have magical powers. It is thought that standing beneath an oak tree during a thunderstorm would give protection from being struck by lightning. If you take a few acorns from a tree which has been struck by lightning into your home and place them on the windowsill, that will protect the home from being struck by lightning itself. This superstition arose from a legend that the Norse god, Thor, sheltered under an oak tree during a storm and was protected.
The Welsh believe in the medicinal properties of oak trees. If you have a sore or a cut on your skin, rub a piece of bark from an oak tree onto it for rapid healing. Hugging and oak tree will cure hernias and even infertility.
In Cornwall, you don’t even have to touch the tree, just hammer a nail into the trunk of an oak tree and that will cure your toothache. The most powerful oak trees are those planted at crossroads.
Also in England, young lovers can predict the outcome of their relationship with acorns. They are advised to place two acorns in a bowl of water; if the acorns drift together, the couple will have a long and happy relationship; if the acorns drift apart, the couple will not stay together.
As oak trees are very long-lived, it is thought that they can help people live to an old age. You just have to carry a few acorns around in your pocket.
Some of these superstitions might have come from the fact that the Roman goddess Diana is often depicted with a string of acorns around her neck. Bad luck will come to anyone who cuts down an oak tree. Similar superstitions are linked with the cutting down of an ELDER tree. The elder tree is also said to ward off evil spirits or bad luck - see further details here.
In Thailand, people believe that certain trees are unlucky and will not plant them near the house. For example, the flowers of the RAK tree (Calotropis gigantea) are gathered and made into garlands to string around the necks of criminals. Therefore, they are associated with evil and wrong-doing. Click here for more details about tree superstitions in Thailand.
PERSIMMON trees grow throughout the USA. Superstitions have grown up about this tree’s ability to cure warts by rubbing some blood from the wart into a cut in the tree.
There is a recipe in the USA for a cancer cure using wood from a variety of trees, based purely on superstition. You are supposed to mix a handful of bark taken from the north side of an oak tree with two handfuls of bark from a persimmon tree. Mix the bark with two handfuls of bark from the root of a dogwood tree, two handfuls of ark from sassafras roots and one handful of bark from dewberry briar roots. All these barks should be boiled together in water on a low heat for about twelve hours. The resulting liquid should then be drunk by a person suffering from cancer. It is not known how this recipe came about.
WEEPING WILLOW trees have been associated with death and mourning from ancient times. It is easy how this came about from the long drooping branches that make the tree look bowed and sad. In Greek mythology, Orpheus took willow branches with him into the underworld and in USA a willow tree is often depicted on gravestone. Asians believe bad luck will come to people who plant a willow in their garden. However, in Chinese cultures, the willow’s ability to grow quickly means it is linked with renewal and immortality.
In Indonesia, Pontianaks (evil spirits) are said to live in the BANANA tree. If you want to protect yourself from one of these supernatural beings, you must thread a needle with red string and stick it into the banana tree. Tie the other end of the string to the foot of your bed, and then the Pontianak will be forced to obey your commands.
Some East Asian cultures believe that evil spirits live in the middle of clumps of BAMBOO trees. The denser the clump of trees, the more evil the spirit.
In Switzerland, anyone who owns a CHERRY tree should offer the first fruit of each new season to a woman who has recently given birth to a child. This will ensure that the tree continues to bear plentiful fruit.
YEW trees have many superstitions attached to them and are often planted in churchyards in England as they are thought to protect people from evil spirits. However, they are also associated with witches and witchcraft.
In Germany, people danced around FIR trees long before they became associated with Christmas. They believed that kind and helpful spirits or imps lived in the trees and, in some parts of Europe, they will not sell a fir tree but will give them away in charity.
Another popular tree at Christmas is the HOLLY and it is said to be unlucky to cut a branch from a holly tree: it should be pulled off by hand. Some people will not cut a holly tree at all, seeing them as protection against evil, and they will cut a hedge but leave the hollies sticking up at full height. More stories and beliefs surrounding holly trees can be found here.
These are just a few of the many, many superstitions involving trees from around the world. However the superstitions began, it is clear that trees are very emotive and special plants, which many people believe wield great significance or power. They may be just foolish superstitions, but with so many widespread beliefs across the world, perhaps it would be wise to treat all species of tree with a great deal of respect – just in case there is some truth in it all.