Birch, the Lady of the Woods, is another of the trees looked on as having some protective power over attack by witches, or even the fairies. Over quite a large part of the Continent, it used to be said that if a witch were struck with a birch broom, she would lose all power (Lea). The Irish still say that fairies do not like the birch, and in the west of England, birch crosses would be hung over cottage doors to repel enchantment. Sometimes that other powerful protector, rowan, would be coupled with the birch on particular days (May Eve and Day, for example) when the risk was greatest. Presumably this is the reason why throughout Europe, birch twigs are used for beating the bounds (Graves). In Worcestershire, birch branches, hung with cowslip balls, were put on the door at May Day (Chamberlain, E L). Connected with this must be the Breton custom of taking birch leaves if a child is sickly, drying them in an oven, and then putting them in the baby's cradle to give it strength, so it was claimed (Gubernatis), but probably to keep away the evil that was causing the sickness. But there is a sinister side to birch mythology. Take, for instance, the ballad, The Wife of Usher's Well:
It fell about the Martinmas, When nights are lang and mirk, The carlin wife's three sons came hame And their hats were of the birk It neither grew in dyke nor ditch Nor yet in one sleugh; But at the gates o' Paradise, That birk grew fair enough.
In other words, the birch grew at the gates of paradise, and it furnished the ghosts with their "hats o' birk". It is a sacred tree, and traditionally the tree of death. To dream of pulling the "birk sae green" portends death in the Braes o Yarrow. A "wand o' bonny birk" is laid on the breast of the dead in Sweet William's Ghost (Wimberley). Birch is traditionally the tree of death in Somerset legend, too. "The one with the white
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