A little boy was sick in bed and his mother was making some elderflower tea for him. The old man who lived on the floor above was in the room keeping the boy company. The boy asked for a story, but the old man didn’t know very many and didn’t want to make one up. He told the boy the best stories come of their own accord.
As they sat there, steam came out of the team pot and it appeared a tree was growing out of it. It turned out that it was a tree, but it was also a little old woman. The boy asked her name. The old man told the boy he was called by one name by the Greeks, Dryad, but by others she was called Elder-Tree Mother.
The scene moved to a little old man and little old woman sitting under an elder tree that looked very much like the elder tree growing out of the teapot. The old man and old woman were trying to remember what day their golden wedding was on, but they kept getting caught up in reminiscing. They remembered when they were both young and played as children. As children, they put branches in the ground and watered them. The only one that sprouted was an elder branch that grew into the tree under which they now sat.
The couple continued to remember. They remembered when they had grown up a little and the old man had gone away to sea. The woman had not heard from him for some time and was anxious. One day the postman brought her a letter from the man and she was so happy, but it turns out that the man was right behind her and had made it back to home along with the letter. The two were married. They had children. The man went back to sea many times. Grandchildren came along. Life went on.
They now sat upon the same tree they had planted many years before. Their children showed up to celebrate because it was, in fact, the day of their Golden Wedding.
The Elder-Tree Mother embraced the young boy back in his room and turned into a young girl. She then took him to see many wonderful things. They saw foreign lands and beautiful sights at all times of the year. At the end of their journeys, the Elder-Tree Mother gave the boy an elderflower. He put this flower into a book. When he opened it from then on, the flower always smelled as fresh as ever. He lived a long life and ended up sitting under an elder tree very much like the Elder-Tree Mother.
Then the boy came back to his senses. He was still a boy and wasn’t sure if any of it had actually happened.
Maybe it wasn’t an elderflower tea that the mom gave the boy; maybe it was something hallucinogenic.
Hans had his mythology mixed up just a bit. Dryad is not a particular person. A dryad is a description of a tree spirit, a female tree spirit to be exact. To be even more exact, dryads were tree spirits of oak trees, but later on the term dryad came to mean a tree spirit of any tree. There were notable dryads in Greek mythology with their own names, but for the most part when somebody said “dryad” it was a nameless thing.
There are several things about elder trees that we need to look at. The first is that elder tree has been used medicinally and has shown to help alleviate the effects of the flu and cold, but this is only if the plant is prepared correctly. Most varieties of this plant are poisonous when not cooked and poison the body in a similar manner to cyanide. Theoretically, you could poison someone with elderberries or other parts of the plant.
Looking at this story from an entirely morbid point of view, it could be that this boy died from the improper preparation of the elder tree. None of the trip the boy takes with the Elder-Tree Mother makes any sense. This could all be something of a life-after-death scenario, but you could also look at it scientifically and think about the fact that the boy might have had a high fever and was hallucinating.
Moving onto the folklore of the elder tree. It was said that the elder tree either protected against witches or drew them near. Witches were said, at times, to gather under elder trees, especially when their branches were full of berries.
Moving on past that, if you cut down an elder tree it was said that if you didn’t ask permission first, the spirit of the Elder-Mother would come out and take revenge upon you.
If you wanted some elder wood you had to say the following rhyme:
“Old girl, give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when I grow into a tree.”
Denmark had a particular belief about the elder tree. Danes believed that if you put a twig of an elder tree in your mouth, you could drive out evil spirits and cure a toothache at the same time. They also said that if you stood under an elder tree Midsummer’s Eve, you could see the elf king and his followers.
I get the idea of devotion from this story. There’s also the bit about stories and being ill. For some reason, telling stories seems to go along with being sick. I have to wonder if this was ever an official tradition. If it was, I find it somewhat sad that we don’t practice the same tradition. I think that telling stories, or reading stories, or listening to stories, would be a much better thing for a sick person to do rather than play video games or watch TV.
Going back to devotion, this Elder-Mother watched over this couple their entire life. They planted the tree that later housed the Elder-Mother. Their mutual admiration for each other made this stick bloom into a tree. The tree grew and grew as a symbol of their love.
I’m a sucker for trees and the idea of a couple planting a tree to commemorate their relationship is something I really like. As the tree grows, the couple grows in their relationship. The tree is a visual representation of the couple’s relationship.
In this story, the tree became devoted to the couple, just as the couple was devoted to each other. As their love grew, the tree did too. It’s a pretty simple concept.
All of this folklore about the elder tree is really interesting.
Do you think planting a tree to symbolize your relationship would be a neat thing?
Are elder trees cooler after reading this post?