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Rowan berries on tree. Canon 5D mk III
The European rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) has a long tradition in European mythology and folklore. It was thought to be a magical tree and give protection against malevolent beings. The tree was also called "wayfarer's tree" or "traveller's tree" because it supposedly prevents those on a journey from getting lost. It was said in England that this was the tree on which the Devil hanged his mother. 
British folklorists of the Victorian era reported the folk belief in apotropaic powers of the rowan-tree, in particular in the warding off of witches. Such a report is given by Edwin Lees (1856) for the Wyre Forest in the English West Midlands. Sir James Frazer (1890) reported such a tradition in Scotland, where the tree was often planted near a gate or front door. According to Frazer, birds' droppings often contain rowan seeds, and if such droppings land in a fork or hole where old leaves have accumulated on a larger tree, such as an oak or a maple, they may result in a rowan growing as an epiphyte on the larger tree. Such a rowan is called a "flying rowan" and was thought of as especially potent against witches and their magic, and as a counter-charm against sorcery. In 1891, Charles Godfrey Leland also reported traditions of rowan's apotropaic powers against witches in English folklore, citing the Denham Tracts (collected between 1846 and 1859).
In Norse mythology, the goddess Sif is the wife of the thunder god Thor. Sif has been linked with Ravdna, the consort of the Sami thunder-god Horagalles. Red berries of rowan were holy to Ravdna, and the name Ravdna resembles North Germanic words for the tree (for example, Old Norse reynir). According to Sk�ldskaparm�l the rowan is called "the salvation of Thor" because Thor once saved himself by clinging to it. It has been theorized that Sif was once conceived in the form of a rowan to which Thor clung.
In Newfoundland, popular folklore maintains that a heavy crop of fruit means a hard or difficult winter. Similarly, in Finland and Sweden, the number of fruit on the trees was used as a predictor of the snow cover during winter, but here the belief was that the rowan "will not bear a heavy load of fruit and a heavy load of snow in the same year", that is, a heavy fruit crop predicted a winter with little snow. However, as fruit production for a given summer is related to weather conditions the previous summer, with warm, dry summers increasing the amount of stored sugars available for subsequent flower and fruit production, it has no predictive relationship to the weather of the next winter. Contrary to the above, in Maalahti, Finland the opposite was thought. If the rowan flowers were plentiful then the rye harvest would also be plentiful. Similarly, if the rowan flowered twice in a year there would be many potatoes and many weddings that autumn. And in Sipoo people are noted as having said that winter had begun when the waxwings (Bombycilla garrulus) had eaten the last of the rowan fruit. In Sweden, it was also thought that if the rowan trees grew pale and lost color, the fall and winter would bring much illness.
The traditional Scottish folk song "Oh Rowan Tree", first recorded by Carolina Nairne in 1822, uses the tree as a symbol of home and comfort.
In Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings, a character himself known as Quickbeam sings a lament for a dead rowan tree,
O rowan mine, I saw you shine upon a summer's day,Your rind so bright, your leaves so light, your voice so cool and soft:Upon your head how golden-red the crown you bore aloft!
Some modern fantasy stories make use of the supposedly magical properties of rowan in 19th-century English folklore; so Susan Cooper in some of her novels in her The Dark Is Rising series (1965 to 1977), e.g. Greenwitch (1974), and Anne Rice in her The Witching Hour (1990). Rowan wood has also been suggested in some modern systems of esotericism or runic divination. In the television series Teen Wolf (2011), mountain ash is used as a defense against werewolves and other supernatural beings
September 10th, 2013
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