Lightning Plants

Yggdrasil, the ASH tree, was sacred to Odin (Graves), and that would be enough to make ash a lightning tree:

Avoid an ash, It courts a flash.

BRACKEN must be included here - it will protect the house from lightning if hung up inside (but if you cut or burn it, it will bring on rain) (Waring). HAWTHORN too is a lightning tree, thought to avert lightning. In many parts of England, hawthorn gathered on Holy Thursday (whether that means Maundy Thursday or Ascension Day is not clear), was used as a protection against lightning (Burne). "The white thorn is never stricken with lightning", Langham said with confidence. There are many folk rhymes to remind one of this, most of them very similar. This particular version was recorded in Fittleworth, Sussex:

Beware of an oak,

It draws the stroke;

Avoid an ash,

It courts the flash;

Creep under the thorn,

It can save you from harm (Opie & Tatem).

In Normandy, they still say that a twig of hawthorn will protect him who carries it (Johnson). On the other hand, and as is often the case, the direct opposite is sometimes found, as with Cornish people, who thought it dangerous to stand under a whitethorn during a thunderstorm (Deane & Shaw). And there is a Welsh belief that the tree itself, or at least one particular tree, will actually cause the storm. The tree is the old thorn at Ffynon Digwg, Caernarvon, and thunder and lightning would result if the tree were cut down (F Jones). This would be a guardian tree of a holy well, so perhaps it was not the tree, but a higher entity, that would answer the sacrilege.

An aspect of the mythology of the HAZEL lies in its association with Thor, for it is a lightning tree, an actual embodiment of the lightning. Hence the common belief that hazels are never struck (Kelly), and so offer the greatest protection at all times. Christianity adopted the myth in the story that the Holy Family took refuge under a hazel during the flight into Egypt (Dyer). The connection between the lightning tree and the robin, itself associated with fire, is expressed in the west of France by the custom, long since dead, of killing a cock robin on Candlemas Day, and running a hazel wood stick through the body, which was then put by the fire. It would turn by itself, so the belief was (Swainson. 1886). In Lincolnshire, hazel was often used as "palm" on Palm Sunday, and kept green the year round by putting it in water. In the south of the county, these "palms" were preserved for the express purpose of protection from thunder and lightning (Gutch & Peacock).

ELDER, so the story goes, is proof against lightning -it never strikes the tree from which the Cross was made (G E Evans). Elder wreaths used to be hung up in parts of Germany after sunset on Good Friday, as charms against lightning (Dyer). MUGWORT too, ritually gathered on Midsummer Eve, serves as a preventive against evil in general, and that includes lightning (Le Strange). Another protector is HOUSE-LEEK, which "preserves what it grows upon from Fire and Lightning", Culpeper said. John Clare noted that in his native Northamptonshire "no cottage ridge about us is without these as Superstition holds it out as a charm against lightning". It is actually called (in translation) Fire Herb in Irish (Grigson. 1955), and if it grows on the thatch it will preserve the occupants of the house not only from the danger of fire, but from related mishaps such as burns and scalds, so long as it remains untouched (Wilde. 1890). Charlemagne, so it was said, ordered that every dwelling in his empire should have one growing on its roof, to protect it from fire and lightning (Conway). The belief is even older, for to the Romans, this plant was Diopetes, "fallen from Zeus", to protect the house from the lightning he wielded (Grigson. 1955).

OAK was dedicated in ancient times to Zeus/Jupiter, and to Thor in Scandinavian mythology. Earlier, it was consecrated to the thunder god, Perun, in Teutonic mythology. Kelly suggested that the lightning connection occurred because of the red colour of the fresh-cut bark, and that oak was the wood most usually used for kindling need-fires (C M Robertson). Whatever the reason, the superstition was that the oak was more frequently struck by lightning than most trees. It "draws thunder", as was said in Hampshire (Read). In Wales, it was considered dangerous to take shelter under an oak during a thunderstorm, for the lightning penetrated fifty times deeper into them than any other tree (Trevelyan). Hence King Lear's allusion to "oak-cleaving thunderbolts", and Prospero's:

"To the dread rattling thunder

Have I given fire, and rifled Jove's stout oak

With his own bolt".

But the connection with Thor meant that it was believed to give protection to shelterers (except on Thursdays, Thor's own day (Tongue) ), even though the tree itself was struck. Indeed, oaks known to have been struck were often visited, so that pieces could be taken away to be attached to buildings for proetction (Wilks). Acorns too were a charm against lightning, and ornamental designs used to be made with them and put in cottage windows (Lovett). According to one school of thought, it was a very bad sign if an oak was struck (Rambosson), and a belief recorded in Hampshire said that the oak actually drove away thunderstorms; it was even thought that the iron in the oak drew the lightning away from the town (Boase). That rarity, oak MISTLETOE, is doubly significant. Mistletoe, in its own right, is an embodiment of the lightning (a Swiss name for it is Donnerbesen, thunder besom); there it is supposed to protect from fire, and in Britain it was often used in the same way as rowan, to protect not only from lightning and fire, but also from witchcraft and the like. BAY is another lightning tree, and a protector from lightning, which was believed powerless to hurt a man standing by this tree (Dyer. 1889), one of the "vulgar errors" listed by Aubrey. 1686. But people have been known to carry branches of bay over their heads in a storm (Waring). "He who carrieth a bay leaf shall never take harm from thunder" (Browne. 1646), and Culpeper added to the belief - "... neither Witch nor Devil, Thunder nor Lightning, will hurt a Man in the Place where a Bay-tree is". As garlic protected the boats from storms and the evil eye, so bay protected them from lightning (Bassett). It was said (by Pliny) that the emperor Tiberius wore a laurel chaplet during thunderstorms for this reason.

HOLLY, by virtue of its scarlet berries, is looked on as a lightning plant, with all the protective power that such a plant always has. In East Anglia, for example, a holly tree growing near a house is regarded as a protection against evil (G E Evans. 1966). Holly hedges surrounding many Fenland cottages were probably planted originally with the same idea in mind (Porter). And being a lightning plant, it must protect from lightning. "Lightening never struck anyone if you were under a holly tree. Lightening never struck a holly tree", was a Devonshire maxim. As far back as Pliny's time there are records of holly being planted near the house for that reason. In Germany, it is a piece of "church holly", i.e., one that has been used for church decoration, that is the lightning charm (Crippen). Another red-berried plant, LADY LAUREL, is a lightning plant in Scandinavian belief, for it was also dedicated to Thor. BEECH must be mentioned too. It was supposed to be proof against lightning (Dyer), or put another way, lightning never strikes it (Sebillot). ROWAN's red berries make it a lightning plant, and rowan is perhaps more than any other the embodiment of the lightning, from which the tree was sprung

(Dyer. 1889). That makes it a prophylactic against lightning (Graves). In Ireland, a twig of rowan would be woven into the thatch, so protecting the house from fire for a year at least (Wilde. 1902), and in Northumberland the house would be secured with a rowan-wood pin (Denham). EDELWEISS is a lightning plant too, gathered as a protective charm against the lightning (Dyer. 1889), and so was MARSH MARIGOLD, which used to act as a charm against lightning during May storms (Baker. 1980). PEONY, too, protected from lightning (Tynan & Maitland), as did RED POPPY; if you had poppies growing on the roof of a building, they would protect it from lightning (Wiltshire). On the other hand, picking them would be likely to cause a thunderstorm. Names like Thunderflower, Thunderbolt, and Lightning Flower testify to the belief. ST JOHN'S WORT is a lightning plant, too. If gathered on St John's Eve, it was kept as a charm against thunder; that is from both France and Germany; also in Holland, where it should be gathered before sunrise (Dyer. 1889), and in Scotland, where it should be burnt in the Midsummer Fires (Banks. 1937).

Ligusticum scoticum > LOVAGE

Ligustrum vulgare > PRIVET

Lilium candidum > MADONNA LILY

Lilium martagon > TURK'S CAP LILY

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