The Chthonic Crone "Elder" (Sambucas nigra & canadensis)
The folklore and magic that surrounds this majestic and powerful plant goes back to Europe which is where we get most of the bulk of our lore surrounding this mysterious tree.The word ‘Elder’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word aeld, which meant “fire”.The hollow stem after the pith was removed, as a pipe for smoking or to start fires; also known as pipe tree.
Tales of magic that springs up whenever Elder is present from Jesus and the cross to the fae and the Underworld.The hollow tube has always been associated with journey medicine and a way to the underworld. Folklore paints this tree as a gateway to the other worlds, to what some magical practitioners call “non-ordinary-reality”.
This is the land of the fairies full of magic, mystery, and wonder. For those who are familiar with the modern day tale of “Harry Potter” the elder wand is of the most powerful wands. When Elder presents herself to you this is a doorway to the mysteries she wants to share with you for you to unlock within yourself.
Elder Provides protection from stormy weather to small creatures and tender plants. It is a striking hedgerow symbolizing the boundary between the mundane world and the “Other-world”.In Denmark, it was thought that Hylde-Moer, the Elder Mother, dwelt in the leaves,like the Crone “Granny” who’s spirit lives in the tree, guarding the portal between the living and the dead.
She appears in the frothy white blossoms of summer and the dark berries of fall.Hanging Elder above the door creates a boundary between your mundane world and an entrance into your sacred space.Craft a wand from her branches let the process of doing so spark a creative flame within to transform you and be a symbol of your ability to create and transform the mundane into magic.
Tune in and listen to the wisdom of the Elder (as she is your elder, ancestral wisdom) and listen to your own curiosity to guide you down the path of mystery and magic. She wants to share with you to listen also to your own intuition down the path of mystery and allow the voices of synchronicity to guide you to where you need to go. And yet a word of caution: Do not allow yourself to be overtaken by the myths and stories, archetypes, and characters you encounter.
Elder is a wise teacher who demands respect, you must first ask to take from her before cutting or harvesting from her “Old girl give me some of thy wood and I will give thee some of mine when I grow into a tree,” was a Scandinavian woodsman plea. Also in folklore of people falling asleep under her and taking a journey into another world can be dangerous for the uninitiated.Another Danish tradition was that if you stood under the elder on Midsummer Night’s Eve, you would see the Fairy King and all his entourage.
Hans Christian Anderson’s Fairy Tale of “The Marsh King '' in this story a human woman stumbles into another world through an elder tree and encounters a supernatural being called “The Marsh King''.He holds her captive and she becomes an unwilling wife. When you blindly seek out and worship archetypes, you run the risk of losing yourself.
Elder grants us the ability to both avidly study ancient wisdom, and make up our own mind about what we discover. Also she reminds us not to idealize our teachers, no matter how wise or mystical they may be.
Medicine and Poison
Most Popularly the berries are the most commonly used part of the plant for healing colds/flu. It is lesser known that nearly all parts of the plant can be worked with for varying purposes. Elder can calm the nerves (nervous system), increase circulation, and improve digestion, to name a few key medicinal virtues. Elderberries help move stagnant blood (life-force) and fluids (lives in bodies of stagnant water such as swampy marshes).
The flowers are a gentle sedative and relax the nervous system as their scent is slightly narcotic, calming the nervous system allows one to enter into a meditative state of consciousness without fear, or harm.There is toxicity associated with this magical medicine, when prepared properly is safe. The presence of cyanide (cyanogenic glycoside), creates more nausea and purgative effects than fatalities, although they have occurred.
A Finnish herbalist Hernriette Kress:“ Cyanoglycocides are found in most if not all rose family plants, and the taste behind the bitter almonds and amaretto. There is not that much in elder: the irritation of elder is more due to the resin than the sambunigrin. To make medicine with elder you might want to cook (or tincture) fresh and dried elderberries before consuming them; the seeds contain the plant's potential toxicity.
Elder prefers moist (swampy), low lying places and spreads through root suckers and or seeds from bird droppings, with creamy white flower umbels up to nine inches across. In late summer, these flowers become draping clusters of deep purple/black berries. There are many species of elder worldwide but only a few native species in North America Black Elderberry, Sambucus nigra, is the European variety that is subject of much of the lore and medicine.
North American species, Sambucus canadensis is the preferred and similar to S.nigra. On the West Coast, from Oregon south to Baja, blue elderberry or Tapiro. The common red elderberry (S.racemosa) is said to be best left for the wildlife as a major food source. Canada's first people were known to boil the berries overnight and