Saturday, 7 November 2015
The ash is one of the crowning trees of the British countryside. It grows tall, straight and strong and its peculiarly grey colour makes it instantly recognisable.
Its qualities make the wood ideal for spears, hence its old name of 'weapon-wood'. The Anglo-Saxon word 'aesc' meant both ash and spear.
Another characteristic of the ash is its stability: it rarely topples in even the worst winter storm. The Saxons believed that its roots sank into the underworld itself, and so the ash became the World Tree, known by myriad names worldwide, perhaps most commonly as Yggdrasil, which links Earth with the realms of the Gods, giants, dwarves and the dead. The five Magic Trees of Ireland, felled by triumphing Christians in the 7th century, were also mainly ashes.
The Meliads, ash tree nymphs of Greek mythology, were much revered in ancient times, and the tree was sacred to Poseidon. This is the only tree except the oak to have its own specific supernatural inhabitants.
A 'maiden' ash, self-sown and never pruned, was especially powerful in Britain. Its wood was used for horse whips to ward off magical harm, and a wizard's magic wand was also often ash.
The recently discovered ash dieback disease has been said by some to herald the end of this tree, just as mature elms in Britain are now a relic of history. I'm happy to say this is not now believed likely.
Next time, the story of another magical tree.