The Ash tree (Fraxinus excelsior) is one of the sacred trees of Wicca/Witchcraft revered by contemporaries and ancients alike. It is often referred to in verse by the phase “by oak, ash, and thorn,” which is used as a blessing during ritual or to affirm a charge of power in spellcraft. The Druids believed that oak possessed masculine energy and the thorn feminine energy, the polarities of which were balanced and focused by ash allowing the energies to be readily tapped and directed. In folklore it was believed that the fairies could be seen and conversed with by mortals wherever the three trees grew together. The ancient Irish called the ash tree “nin” and its name was given to the letter “N” in the ogham alphabet.
There are about fifty species of the genus Fraxinus, and cultivation has produced and perpetuated a large number of distinct varieties of which the Weeping Ash and the Curl-leaved Ash are the best known. The Common Ash and the Privet are the only representatives in England of the Olive tribe Oleaceae. The Common Ash is a tall handsome tree readily distinguished by its light-grey bark, which is smooth in younger trees and rough and scaly in older ones. It has large compound leaves divided into four to eight pairs of lance-shaped leaflets, an arrangement that imparts a light feathery arrangement to the foliage. The leaflets have sharply-toothed margins and are about 3 inches long.
In April or May according to season and before the appearance of the leaves, the black flower-buds of the previous year’s shoots expand into small dense clusters of a greenish white or purplish colour, some of the minute flowers having purple stamens, others pistil only, and some both, but all being devoid of petals and sepals, which owing to the pollen being wind-borne, are not needed as protection or to attract insect visitors. After fertilization the oblong ovary develops into a thick seed-chamber with a long strap-shaped wing, which is known as an Ash-key (samara). Bunches of keys hang from twigs in great clusters, at first green and then brown as the seeds ripen. They remain attached to the tree until the succeeding spring when they are blown off and carried away by the wind to considerable distances from the parent tree. They germinate vigorously and grow in almost any soil.
The wood of the ash is a valuable commodity, due to the quickness of its growth and the toughness and elasticity of its timber, in which quality it surpasses most other trees. The wood is heavy, strong, stiff and hard, and takes a high polish. It shrinks only moderately in seasoning and bends well after. It is the toughest and most elastic of our timbers and was used in the old days, and still is today, for spears, bows and arrows. Ash wood is used for more practical purposes than that of any other tree, being so elastic that a joist of it will bear more pressure before it breaks, than one made of other wood. Ash wood always fetches a good price being next in value to the Oak and surpassing it for some cases, for it matures more rapidly than Oak and is just as valuable as a sapling wood.
Before synthetic materials became available, ash wood was in endless demand by railways and other works for building carriages, coaches and wagons. It was also used for axe-handles and spade-handles, ladders and carts, walking sticks, hoops, hurdles and crates, and a whole multitude of uses in the countryside for agricultural purposes. It also makes the best oars and the toughest of shafts for carriages. In its younger stages it is called Ground Ash, which is much used for hop poles, for which it was extensively grown. Ash wood also makes excellent logs for burning; giving out no smoke and the ashes of the wood makes very good potash.
The bark of the ash is a grey or greenish-grey colour externally and has numerous small grey or brownish-white warts. The inner surface is yellowish or yellowish brown is fibrous and nearly smooth. Of old, ash bark was used to make quills and was employed for tanning nets. The bark is astringent and together with its leaves has medicinal uses, which fetch prices worthy of the labour it takes to collect it. The bark is collected from the trunk and the root with the latter being preferred. It contains the bitter glucoside Fraxin, the bitter substance Fraxetin, tannin, quercetin, mannite, a little volatile oil, gum and malic acid.
Folklore and Myths:
In folklore and mythology the ash tree has many associations with the gods, such as: Uranus, Poseidon, Thor, Odin, Oceanus, Nemesis, Mars, and Gwydion. The Greek goddess Nemesis carried an ash branch as the symbol the divine instrument of the justice of the gods, the scourge. In iconology she is also depicted with an eight-spoke wheel symbolic of the solar year. The wheel is also a symbol of the Fates who dispensed her justice under and through the ash tree, metering out happiness or misery and ensuring that fortune was shared and not cosseted by the few. If anyone hoarded the favours she had given or didn’t sacrifice some or part of it to the gods, or didn’t try to alleviate the poverty and misery of fellow man. Nemesis would step in and withdraw what was given dispensing justice through humiliation with a scourge made of ash.
In later Greek myths Nemesis was identified as Andrasteia, daughter of the sea god Oceanus and goddess of the “rain making ash tree”. In this aspect her scourge was used for ritual flogging to bring fruitfulness and productivity to the trees and crops. This association with Oceanus the god of the sea through his daughter Andrasteia, connects the ash tree with thunderstorms, which waters the earth and fertilizes the land. The ash tree is said to attract lightening. As well as the ash branch, wheel and scourge Nemesis also carried an apple branch as a reward for heroes.
The ash tree is also associated with Divination, Prophecy and Inspiration. Odin is said to have hung from an ash tree in order to gain enlightenment before reading the runes. In Norse mythology and to the ancient Teutons the ash tree represented Yggdrasill, also known as the World Tree. This was their concept of the universe and revered as the tree of Time and of Life. In Scandinavian myth the first man was formed from the ash and the first woman from rowan.
One of the ritual tools of a Witch is the Broom, which traditionally was made by tying the twigs of a Birch tree around a handle made of Ash with strips of Willow. In folklore it was thought that the Ash with its association with water had command over the four elements. The Birch with its connection to the spirits of the dead drew those spirits into one’s service and the Willow through its connection with Hecate allowed communication with the Goddess. The handle, brush and binding of the broom are also symbolic of the triformis aspects of the Goddess.
The ash tree is known by several folk names: Nion, Asktroed, Jasen Bell and Freixo. It is associated with such deities as: Uranus, Poseidon, Thor, Odin, Neptune, Nemesis, Mars, and Gwydion. Its gender type is Masculine, its planet ruler is the Sun, and its associated element is Fire. Ash is used to attract the powers needed for Protection, Prosperity, Prophecy, Health, and Sea and Water rituals.
As is the case with most trees, one of the main properties and uses of the ash tree is that of protection. Of old, a staff of ash was hung over doorframes to ward off malign influences, or ash leaves were scattered in the four directions to protect a house or area, or a garter made from its green bark was worn as protection against sorcerers and physic attacks. Ash was also used as protection from snakebites; snakes have an innate fear of the ash tree and will not crawl over its wood.
The Ash had the reputation of magically curing warts, this was done by sticking a new pin in an ash tree then removing it, prick the wart you wish to remove and then replace the pin back in the tree, repeat the following rune: “Ashen tree, ashen tree, Pray take this wart of me.” (Use a new pin for each wart.)
Carve a piece of ash wood into the shape of a solar cross (an equal-armed cross) and carry it with you when traveling across sea or water for protection against drowning. Healing wands are also carved out of ash wood and healing poppets can be carved from its roots.
Scatter some ash leaves in a bowl of water and place it under a bed over night to prevent and heal illness. The next morning the water and leaves should be discarded outside on open ground then repeat the procedure each evening until well. Leaves can also be sewn into small sachets and worn as health or protection charms. To gain the love of the opposite sex, carry some loose ash leaves in your pockets.
By burning ash wood at Christmas time (Yule) you will receive prosperity and if you want your newborn child to be a good singer bury its first nail parings under an ash tree. However, given duality in all things not all the ash tree merits are good. The ash tree has a particular affinity with lightning, which it attracts. Under an ash tree is not the place to be during an electrical storm.
The bark of the ash was used as a bitter tonic and astringent, and is said to have been valuable as an anti-periodic. On account of its astringency it was used as a decoction, and extensively in the treatment of intermittent fever and ague, it was also used as a substitute for Peruvian bark. The decoction is odourless though its taste is fairly bitter. It was considered useful for removing obstructions of the liver and spleen, as well as aiding rheumatism of an arthritic nature.
The leaves have diuretic, diaphoretic and purgative properties and are employed in modern herbal medicine for their laxative action, especially in the treatment of gouty and rheumatic complaints proving a useful substitute for Sienna, having a less griping effect. The infusion of the leaves (1 oz to the pint of water) may be given in frequent doses during any 24-hour period. The distilled water of the leaves can be taken every morning and was considered good for dropsy and obesity, and a decoction of the leaves in white wine had the reputation of dissolving stones and curing jaundice. The leaves should be gathered in June, well dried and powdered and kept in well-corked bottles. In some parts of the country the leave were used to feed cattle when grass was scarce in autumn, but when cows eat the leaves or shoots, their butter becomes rank.
The fruits of the different species of Ash are regarded as somewhat more active than the bark and leaves. The ancient physicians had a high regard for ash keys and used them as a remedy for flatulence. In more recent times ash key were said to have the “virtue of capers” and were often substituted for them in sauces and salads, or preserved with salt and vinegar and sent to table as a pickle.
Astrologically ash people (i.e. whose who are born in the month of January) are uncommonly attractive, vivacious, impulsive and demanding. They do not care for criticism, are ambitious, intelligent, and talented and like to play with fate. They can be egoistical but are very reliable and trustworthy. They are faithful and prudent lovers though sometimes their heads rule over the heart but they take their partnerships very seriously. Ash people are also very ambitious in love and business and whatever they be, they wish to be the best.