Back to Rede of the Wiccae ... gocek.org home ... Contact
The Wiccan Rede Project resurrection at gocek.org
As researched by Shea Thomas
English folklore held it extremely unlucky to burn elder. When gathering firewood, it was a common practice to carefully sort out any elder wood and leave it behind. In some regions, it was believed that the burning of elder would bring the devil into the house or cause a death in the family. [n.1] Even beyond England, it was believed that permission should be asked of the "Old Gal" or the "Old Lady" before live elder could be cut, and to do so without asking consent was to invite the wrath of the tree's spirit. [n.2]
Part of the tradition against burning elder may also flow from the fact that the bark, shoots, leaves, roots, and unripe berries of elder is poisonous [n.3] although a tea for purifying the blood has been known to be made from the flowers, and a wine from the fruit. [n.4] Elder is also reported to emit a particularly foul odor when burned, and bad smells are almost always considered by folklore a harbinger of evil and bad omen.
If this wasn't enough, the prohibition against burning elder holds even more weight for witches since elder is strongly associated with witchcraft and often considered the kind of tree into which witches would transform themselves. [n.5] In medieval lore, elder was considered the home of witches and travelers were advised against sleeping under its branches. [n.6]. In Norse mythology the Goddess Freya also made her home of elder. [n.7] For all these reasons, burning a witch-wood like elder (from a witch's point-of-view) is not unlike a symbolic destruction of themselves.