Fairy Trees: Trees and Plants Where Fairies Live
The Earth's Guardians
Our ancient ancestors believed fairies were real and sought to appease the wee folk in whatever way possible. This included honoring sacred trees like the oak, ash, and hawthorn. The druids would leave offerings for the fay at the base of sacred trees, and the Celtic tribes were known to worship the trees in which fairies were said to reside. Fast forward to modern times, there have been numerous occasions in the U.K. where someone has cut down a fairy tree to make room for a home or building and then suffered the consequences - a poltergeist type haunting that eventually leads to the homeowner or occupant fleeing out of fear. The locals who know their ancestors' wisdom say one should never cut down or disturb a fairy tree.
The belief that fairies are guardians of Mother Earth is one that permeates both modern day paganism and European folklore. The fay are seen as residents and valiant protectors of trees, plants, animals, and all wildlife. It is surmised by French folklorist Claude Lecouteux that fairies may be the genius loci, or guardian spirits of place, of whom take various forms depending on the place and situation. If you are curious as to which trees and plants are the fairies' favorites, we will examine some of the most important in this article.
Fairy Trees: Hawthorn
Every friend of the fairies knows that hawthorn is especially sacred to the fay. In many places in Europe, people were discouraged from even touching hawthorn out of respect for the fairies who might reside within. Hawthorn trees are considered a part of the fairy tree triad along with oak and ash. They are thought to be particularly important to the fay as a representation of the three realms - underworld, middleworld, and upperworld. This also parallels the pagan belief in the triple goddess - the maiden, mother, and crone.
Hawthorn can be seen close by many holy wells in Europe, particularly in Ireland and England. White hawthorn is said to be a favorite of the good fay, and some say witches plant hedgerows of hawthorn around their homes to protect them from ill will and nosy neighbors. Hawthorn has gotten a bad rap through the years. It was so important to the ancient Celtic people, when the Church came to power, they sought to eradicate the old Pagan ways. They tried to make anything sacred to the people look evil, including the hawthorn tree. There are legends that say the crown of thorns that was placed on Jesus' head was made of hawthorn, though there is no evidence to back this up. It could very well be propaganda used by the Church against the fairy tree. The Church also didn't like the fact that the hawthorn tree was a key component of the Beltane sabbat, a fertility festival that celebrated the union of the god and goddess.
If you're lucky enough to find a Hawthorn fairy tree, leave an offering at the base of the tree or tie ribbons in its branches as gifts for the fay.
WARNING: Never cut down or take a branch from a fairy tree as it might anger its residents and cause you extra trouble in the future. Tying ribbons on trees as offerings for the fay is an acceptable and ancient practice, as well as leaving offerings of mead and cakes.
Fairy Trees: Oak
The Oak tree was the most sacred to the ancient Celtic Druids. It was mighty and steadfast, and it seemed to whisper the forest's secrets to the reverent priests. The oak was also a favorite of the fairies, and it is considered a part of the fairy tree triad along with Hawthorn and Ash. Oak groves were particularly sacred to the Druids, and every tribe was thought to have one particular Oak tree that they considered a totem. And of course, the fairies were thought to live in the oak trees, specifically the tree fairies who gave their wisdom to the Druids.
Oak is a fairy tree that was used in ancient Pagan festivals especially for the Winter Solstice. This fairy tree was traditionally used as the material for the Yule log and is still used today. Oak trees are still prominent in many countries and are quiet but strong trees. I've always had an affinity towards oaks and have used their acorns in magic and seasonal decorating. The oak tree is sacred to the Celtic Irish god Dagda. He was one of the Tuatha De Dannaan, ancient Celtic gods who many people associate with the fairies (some believe they were fairies themselves).
Fairy Trees: Ash
The ash tree is the third and final of the fairy tree triad, and again is one of the trees that was considered sacred to the ancient Celts. Many people believed that the ash tree was also special to the fairies, while some believed the ash tree could keep the fairies away. Some folklore says that a sapling of an ash tree hung over where a baby sleeps will protect the baby from witchcraft.
The ash tree was regarded as sacred to the ancient Celts, so much so that many would refuse to cut it down even if they had no other means of wood for fire. If you have an ash tree in your yard, or in your neighborhood, do everything you can to protect it. This fairy tree might be the residence of some very friendly fairies. If you protect their residence, they might indeed return the favor and protect yours.
Fairy Trees: Willow
When I was a little girl, there was a weeping willow tree down the street from where I lived. I could never play under it, as it was on someone else's property but I always longed to. Dreams would fill my sleep with images of lying under that willow tree, and they were very magical dreams indeed. I always pictured fairies playing in the willow tree's branches, dancing with the swaying of its long leaves. Unbeknownst to be at the time, the weeping willow tree is actually native to China and is usually only cultivated here in the United States as an ornamental tree. But guess what? There are fairies in Chinese folklore (and in Chinese trees), too.
The willow tree is another of the sacred Celtic trees and a part of the Ogham alphabet. In moist soil, a fallen willow tree branch can grow a whole new willow tree. Because of its ability to grow from a fallen branch, this fairy tree was long considered the perfect representation of immortality or reincarnation. Many fairies are thought to live in the willow tree's branches, while some only believe that the willow tree can be inhabited by one type of fairy - cleverly called the "willow fairy". Teresa Moorey writes in the Fairy Bible that the Willow Fairy is extremely wise, but it is also not always friendly to humans.
If you are walking in the woods and find a circle of Willow Trees, you may have stumbled across a fairy circle. Don't linger in the circle for too long, lest you be taken by the fairies for good!
More Fairy Trees & Plants
Because fairies are the guardians and growers of the earth, you could probably find a fairy in or around almost every tree or plant in existence. Some believe that the plants and trees' spirits are able to shift into various forms. Are the fairies separate entities that guard the trees and plants or are they actually the trees' spirits themselves?
While we've covered four of the main fairy trees in Celtic lore, we have not covered all of the sacred Celtic trees nor have we covered a majority of the fairy plants. There are dozens more fairy trees and plants. Mistletoe, Holly, toadstools, flowers, and many different herbs are also thought to house or attract fairies.
The moral of the story is to be as kind and protective of nature as you can. If you have to take something from a fairy tree or plant, please leave something in return. Never cut down a fairy tree, unless you're looking for a rough time. The more you show an appreciation for nature, the more the fairies will like you.
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Which fairy tree is your favorite?
© 2012 Nicole Canfield