The Ash Tree



Popular Romances of the West of England
Collected and Edited by Robert Hunt





 IT is said that no kind of snake is ever found near the "ashen-tree," and that a branch of the ash-tree will prevent a snake from coming near a person.

A child who was in the habit of receiving its portion of bread and milk at the cottage door, was found to be in the habit of sharing its food with one of the poisonous adders. The reptile came regularly every morning, and the child, pleased with the beauty of his companion, encouraged the visits. The babe and adder were close friends.

Eventually this became known to the mother, and, finding it to be a matter of difficulty to keep the snake from the child whenever it was left alone,--and she was frequently, being a labourer in the fields, compelled to leave her child to shift for itself,--she adopted the precaution of binding an "ashen-twig" about its body.

The adder no longer came near the child; but from that day forward the child~ pined, and eventually died, as all around said, through grief at having lost the companion by whom it had been fascinated.



 WHEN an adder or snake is seen a circle is to be rapidly drawn around it, and the sign of the cross made within it, while the two first verses of the 68th Psalm are repeated :-- "Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let them also that hate him flee before him.

"As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; as wax melteth before the fire, so let the wicked perish at the presence of God."

When a child, I well remember being shown a snake, not yet dead, within a circle of this kind; the gardener who drew my attention to the reptile informing me that he had charmed it in the manner related.



 WEAKLY children--"children that wouldn't goode," or thrive - were sometimes drawn through the cleft ash-tree. I have seen the ceremony performed but in one case.

The tree was young, and it was taken by the two forks,-- bifurcation having taken place,--and by force rended longitudinally. The cleft was kept open, and the child, quite naked, was passed head first through the tree nine times. The tree was then closed and carefully tied together. If the severed parts reunited, the child and the tree recovered together; if the cleft gaped in any part, the operation was certain to prove ineffectual.

I quote another example. A large knife was inserted into the trunk of the young tree, about a foot from the ground, and a vertical rending made for about three feet. Two men then forcibly pulled the parts asunder, and held them so, whilst the mother passed the child through it three times. This "passing" alone was not considered effective; it was necessary that the child should be washed for three successive mornings in the dew from the leaves of the "charmed ash."

In the Athenaem for September 1846, Ambrose Merton - Mr Thom--has some interesting notices of the wide-spread belief in, and the antiquity of, this superstition.


This, and other Cornish Folk-Tales, can be found at Sacred Texts