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The Rollright Stones

Stone Circle

Folklore

The Witch-Elder still watches over the victims of her magic. As to the exact position of the tree, however, the tradition is shifting. According to some accounts it used to stand in the field not far from the dolmen called the "Whispering Knights." Some say it was near the circle, but was blown down not many years ago. Others say that it is to be found in the hedge by the road not far from the King-stone, or further in the field beyond the mound where an elder-bush that stood by a large stone was some years since pointed out to a friend as "the Witch."

[..]

The proof that the elder is a witch is that it bleeds when it is cut. And with regard to this I came upon a remarkable tradition, which an old woman, the wife of a man of eighty, told me she had heard many years ago from her husband's mother.

On Midsummer Eve, when the "eldern-tree" was in blossom, it was a custom for people to come up to the King-stone and stand in a circle. Then the "eldern" was cut, and as it bled "the King moved his head."

It is to be observed that this breaking of the spell by blood-letting itself fits on to a very widespread superstition regarding witches, of which I found many surviving expressions in the neighbouring village of Long Compton. They say there that if you only draw her blood, "be it but a pin's prick," the witch loses all power for the time.

For the "eldern-tree" to bleed it must be in blossom. The more sceptical spirits amongst the country people explain the matter by the catch, "If you cut the elder with your hand on it it will bleed," but among the children at least the more literal belief in the bleeding elder has not died out.

An old man of Little Rollright told me that some years ago he was up by the stones and a ploughboy asked him whether it was really true that the elder-tree bled if it was cut. "Lend me your knife," said the old man, and forthwith stuck it into the bark. "Won't you pull it out?" siad the boy. "Pull it out yourself!" was the reply, but the boy was too scared to do so. It was only at last, as they were about to go home for the night, that the boy, fearful that he would lose his knife altogether, approached the tree "tottering with fright and all of a tremble," and, snatching it out, rushed away without waiting to see whether the tree bled or not.
From p20/21 in
The Rollright Stones and Their Folk-Lore
Arthur J. Evans
Folklore, Vol. 6, No. 1. (Mar., 1895), pp. 6-53.
Rhiannon Posted by Rhiannon
4th December 2006ce

Comments (1)

After yesterday's visit, can't get the Rollrights out of my head; decided to read up on the folk-lore as knew there was a witchy connection. This post really surprised me as was unaware of the Elder tree connection. I have a great affection for this tenacious and beneficial tree so very much enjoyed reading this.

Footnote: Earlier in the summer on my way home, passed a hedgerow elder in full flower. On an impulse I picked a couple of sprays and took them home. A mistake! Once picked the flowers gave off an acrid smell can only be compared to cat's pee.
tjj Posted by tjj
29th July 2010ce
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