Elder Candles - Botanicals

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

Elder Candles

1. Slice the pith of elder branches into round shapes.

2. Dip these slices into oil.

3. Set the slices alight and carefully float them in water to create floating “candles.”

In areas where attachment to Hulda was particularly strong, attempts were made to brand the elder as an evil tree, something to be feared. The only people who would use elder with impunity were witches. (There may be some truth to this: because it was believed spiritually hazardous to harvest any part of the elder without requesting permission from the resident spirits, only those who knew how to do this, who remembered these practices and didn’t fear them, would be willing to gather twigs or berries.)

Elder retained its associations with paganism but now paganism was identified with the devil rather than with helpful deities. (One tradition from this era suggests that if you wanted to invite the devil over for a visit, burning an elder log in your fireplace officially extends an invitation.)

In an attempt to break chains of transmission, to seal up the portals and make people fear venturing near thresholds, Christian missionaries painted the elder as an evil tree. Various legends emerged:

Image An elder whip was used to scourge Jesus and that’s why elder’s branches bear cracks on the skin.

Image Judas committed suicide by hanging himself from an elder.

Image It was widely believed that Christ had been crucified on an elder wood cross, which is why the tree is now so stunted and bent.

On the other hand, in attempts to ingratiate the elder into Christianity and substitute associations for the pagan goddess with the Virgin Mary, another legend suggests that Mary hung Jesus’ swaddling clothes on elder branches under which she had sought protection from a storm. (There is a northern legend that lightning never strikes elders, although whether Mary would have known this in first-century Egypt or Judea, where the date palm or tamarisk is the primary sacred tree is impossible to verify.)

Regardless of these efforts, elder’s identity as a powerful spiritually charged plant was impossible to shake. Historically, date palms weren’t easy to obtain in Northern climates and so the elder, that ancient local sacred plant, was a frequent substitute. In Allgau, Germany, for instance, the cross for Palm Sunday “palms” was formed from elder branches instead.

See also CALENDAR: Midsummer’s.