Willows play an enigmatic, multiple role in folklore – sometimes inspirational, sometimes a force to be reckoned with, appeased, fed and/or revered. The graceful weeping willow, with its gently swaying fronds of leaves graces many a riverbank.
In my novel – The Devil’s Serenade – a willow plays a prominent role. In this case, one with elements of both good and evil. The tree has, at some point in its history, been struck by lightning and now grows at bizarre and seemingly impossible angles. It defies nature. When, by rights, it should be dead, it thrives and its impossibly spreading roots and branches contain a supernatural force to be reckoned with.
In ancient Greek mythology, the willow was sacred to poets as a result of the powerful inspirational effect created by the sound of the wind through its branches. Orpheus was said to have carried branches of it to the Underworld where the inspiration he seems to have derived from their effect caused Apollo to present him with a lyre. Orpheus duly produced such sweet music, he was able to enchant not just people and animals but even the trees and rocks of Mount Olympus. In the temple of Delphi, Orpheus is depicted leaning against a willow tree, touching its branches.
One manifestation of the dark side of the willow’s ‘nature’ is its association with grief and death. The ancient Greek sorceress, Circe, planted a riverside cemetery with willows and dedicated it to Hecate and her moon magic. Male corpses were wrapped in untanned ox hides and exposed to the elements in the tops of the trees. This led to the practice of placing willow branches in the coffins of the recently deceased, and planting young saplings on their graves. In ancient Celtic tradition, there was the belief that the soul of the departed would grow into the roots of the young trees enabling its spirit to rise up and live within the growing tree. Even today, in Britain, many cemeteries are lined with willows to protect the spirits that reside there.
Willows are also associated with fertility and an ancient Romany tradition of the festival of Green George is just one example of this. It takes place every year, on 23rd April in parts of Transylvania. A man is chosen to be Green George. He wears a wicker frame made from willow and the local people then cover this with greenery and vegetation to represent the association of the willow with water that is so vital in ensuring a bountiful harvest. A young willow is then cut down and erected at the place where festivities will abound. This is then festooned with garlands. That night, all the pregnant women of the area gather around the tree and each places an item of clothing beneath it. If a single leaf falls onto that garment overnight, the woman will be granted a trouble-free delivery by the willow goddess.
At dawn the next day, Green George hammers three nails into the young tree and then promptly removes them, takes them to the nearest stretch of water and throws them in. This is to attract the attention and goodwill of the water spirits. He then returns to the tree, picks it up and returns with it to the water where he dips the branches until they are dripping with water. This will arouse the fertile qualities of the tree. The people then bring their animals to Green George who raises the tree and shakes water on them to bless the fertility of their farm animals for the coming year. Once complete, the tree is then re-erected and forms the centerpiece for festivities, feasting, drinking and merrymaking.
In The Devil’s Serenade, the willow is known as the ‘tentacle tree’ and any merrymaking performed around it has far more sinister connotations…
Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she's about to remember…
When Maddie Chambers inherits her Aunt Charlotte’s gothic mansion, old memories stir of the long-forgotten summer she turned sixteen. She has barely moved in before a series of bizarre events drives her to question her sanity.
The strains of her aunt’s favorite song echo through the house, the roots of a faraway willow creep through the cellar, a child who cannot exist skips from room to room, and Maddie discovers Charlotte kept many deadly secrets.
Gradually, the barriers in her mind fall away, and Maddie begins to recall that summer when she looked into the face of evil. Now, the long dead builder of the house has unfinished business and an ancient demon is hungry. Soon it is not only Maddie’s life that is in danger, but her soul itself, as the ghosts of her past shed their cover of darkness.
You can find The Devil’s Serenade here:
and other online retailers
(Psst, Stuart here. I've read several of Catherine's books and they're highly recommended. Just sayin'.)