jump to navigation
  • Ash Magic April 27, 2015

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Modern , trackback

    split ash

    Your little boy is ill. The doctors can do nothing (this is the nineteenth century) and money is, in any case, short. What on earth do you do. Well, the folk answer, and one that is almost certainly as efficacious as Victorian medicine, is to look for an ash tree. This account comes from Somerset and dates to 1886.

    A remarkable instance of the extraordinary superstition which still prevails in the rural districts of Somerset has lately come to light at Athelney. It appears that a child was recently born in that neighbourhood with a physical ailment, and the neighbours persuaded the parents to resort to a very novel method of charming away the complaint. A sapling ash was split down the centre, and wedges were inserted so as to afford an opening sufficient for the child’s body to pass through without touching either side of the tree. This having been done, the child was undressed, and, with its face held heavenward, it was drawn through the sapling in strict accordance with the superstition. Afterwards the child was dressed, and simultaneously the tree was bound up. The belief of those who took part in this strange ceremony is, that if the tree grows the child will grow out of its bodily ills. The affair took place at the rising of the sun on a recent Sunday morning in the presence of the child’s parents, several of the neighbours, and the parish police-constable.

    Efficacious or not the ritual is a beautiful one: see other beautiful ‘spells’. The next account (both were gathered together by the great E. Sidney Hartland for Folklore in 1896) appeared in 1887 and also came from Somerset:

    In this parish, some months ago, the wife of a highly respectable farmer presented him with twins, one of which was born with hernia. As soon as convenient, upon a Sunday morning before sunrise, the farmer and his wife, with several neighbours and servants, proceeded to a wood on his farm. They then with wedges split a young growing ash-tree, opening the split wide enough to permit the afflicted child to pass through. This was done three times with due solemnity, and the tree was restored to its previous condition, barring the split, which was carefully bound up with a hayband. The belief is, that if the sides of the tree unite and grow together, the child will be cured. In this case, curiosity has removed the hayband, thereby, it is said, preventing the tree from uniting; but what is the present condition of the child I have been unable to learn, because the parents have recently left the neighbourhood. I can, however, testify that the ash-tree is now standing unhealed, and with a rent in its stem seven or eight feet long. The belief in this cure for congenital hernia is an old and well-known one; but that it should be still practised soberly and solemnly, not by poor ignorant labourers, but by well-to-do, fairly educated people, will perhaps surprise not a few

    This tree ended up in the County Museum and the photograph is above. The final reference if also from Somerset (Bishop’s Lydeard)

    First of all a ground ash-tree must be selected — a maiden ash — a tree which had grown up without ever having been topped or cut. The tree must be sufficiently large to allow the child to be passed through a longitudinal fissure, formed by partly clearing the stem and holding open the sides of the tree by suitably-applied wedges. A ligature applied to the upper end of the split would prevent its going too far. The ceremony must take place in the early morning, at the time of the rising of the sun, the preparations necessary being made in the dawn. The child must be first stripped naked and passed from east to west through the fissure, ‘between the barks,’ as a commonly used expression has it. A virgin must introduce the child, and a boy take him out on the other side. He should be passed feet first. I need not add that cure was assured to the patient, but under certain conditions following. Immediately after the ceremony the wedges were to be removed from the tree, when the natural elasticity of the ash would cause the sides to spring together. Further accurate adjustments must be made by the aid of bark bands and a plastering of mud or clay on the exterior. Then, if the tree grew together and flourished, as it usually did, only having been split longitudinally, cure would follow; if not, the case would remain unaltered. No prayers or incantations were indicated, and, as far as the mystery was imparted to them, any person might act as director of the ceremony.

    More ash magic: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    Original article below in pdf


    31 Apr 2015: Chris from Haunted Ohio Books brings in another source.

    The Ash-tree Charm.—Having been informed that at Kingswear, opposite Dartmouth, a child had recently been passed through an artificial slit in an ash tree, in order to effect a cure of some ailment, I forwarded a series of questions to a lady dwelling there, who was so good as to obtain categorical replies directly from the mother of the patient, and, on 9th May, 1877, to send them to me. On 23rd of the same month, I had an interview with the parents, when I saw the child, and supplemented my information.

    The parents are natives of Devonshire, respectable intelligent members of the artisan class, and the father is a journeyman carpenter. The child, a girl, was born on 3rd November, 1875, and, being ruptured, it was speedily decided to “put her through an ash tree;” and the good offices of an “old experienced man,” then resident in the village but now deceased, were secured for the purpose. He selected a tree in a small wood or “plantation,” about half a mile distant, at the head of the inlet of the Dart north of Kingswear, and on the left of the road to Brixham. To guard against any invalidity, care was taken to choose a “maiden” tree, which men skilled in woodcraft say, is “a self sown tree, that has neither been transplanted nor lopped in any way;” in fact, a tree with which man has had nothing to do. With the assistance of a second man, there was made through the middle of the tree a longitudinal slit of sufficient length, and wedges were inserted at top and bottom to make and keep an opening wide enough.

    It is not necessary that the patient should be of any definite age, but it is held that “the younger the better.” No particular dress, or date, or day of the week, or hour of the day, or age of the moon, or state of the tide, is required; nor is it needful that the charm, as in the case of many others, should be wrought ” on a fasting stomach.”

    All being ready, the child was taken to the tree on the afternoon of 18th January 1876, when it was eleven weeks old, and, “in its usual dress,” passed through the slit three times at that visit,—that being the orthodox number in the case. A second visit was held to be unnecessary.

    In many charms it is supposed to be essential for the operator and the patient to be of different sexes; but this is immaterial in the ash-tree charm. In fact, the ceremony was performed by the “experienced old man,” assisted by the child’s mother and another woman. One passed the infant through the opening, taking care that it went “head foremost;” another received it on the other side, and passed it, towards the left hand, to the third person, who carried it to the first in the same direction; it being essential that it should “go round with the sun ;” and so on through the three transits. When completed, a memorandum of the occurrence was carefully “put down” by one of the child’s grandmothers, who furnished me with the exact date.

    It is believed that if the tree thrives and grows together after the wedges are taken out, the child will be cured and healthy; but that if the tree dies or is sickly, such will also be the fate of the patient; and in order to make all secure, the severed portions of the tree are to be at once, not only brought into contact, but fastened together with nails. This was carefully attended to in the case under notice, and it is believed that the tree has fully recovered. The child is certainly sound, and looks strong and healthy; nevertheless, neither of its parents or grandparents has taken any interest in the ash, and none of them had ever seen it from the time the charm was wrought up to the date of my visit. They are satisfied with the child’s recovery. Indeed, when I expressed a wish that the father would take me to the tree, he frankly stated that he had never seen it, and did not know its exact position. “I hadn’t much faith in it at the time,” said he, “and didn’t go when it was done; but,” he added, “’tis certain the child’s perfectly cured.” Being instructed by his wife, however, respecting the exact locality, he accompanied me to the wood, where it was stated we should find several such trees, as many Kingswear children had been treated for rupture in the same way, in the same wood, and all had been cured. The girl, however, whose case has been just described, is not only the latest instance, but the only example of a female patient known in the district. The same “old man” had been the only principal operator within living memory; and he performed the charm quite gratuitously. He neither expected nor received any fee or reward, but it is not supposed that his doing so would have’ affected the efficacy of the charm.

    On reaching the wood, a little search sufficed for the discovery of two trees which had certainly undergone the treatment. One of them was nine inches in circumference at the centre of the slit, where neither the bark nor wood had completely closed. Judging from the scar, the slit must have been about seven feet long. This was probably the tree we were seeking. In the other, which was eighteen inches in circumference, and had had a slit from six to seven feet long, the wood was quite closed, but, at and near the centre, the edges of the bark were about 2-5 inches asunder.

    In reply to a question, my companion stated that he had never heard, nor did he suppose, that a patient perfectly cured would be in any way affected by anything which might subsequently befall the tree. It may be suspected, however, that he is more or less tainted with rationalism.

    W. Pengelly, 28th May, 1877

    From The British Spiritual Telegraph

    Report and Transactions – The Devonshire Association for the Advancement of Science, Volume 9, 1877