Elder (Sambucus) may be physically small, but she’s a magical giant. Magnificently wise and elegantly aloof, her complex spiritual vibe can be compared to the mysterious Moon card of the tarot deck, the austere high priestess of Avalon, the deliciously dark queen of the fae, and the wild old crone of the crossroads.
With a vibration both positive and fickle, she must be employed with caution both magically and otherwise. To illustrate, consider that the berries of some elder varieties are delicious and nutritious additions to jams and drinks, but they are also a source of highly toxic cyanide if they aren’t heated properly first.
Like a fairy godmother’s kiss, elderflowers bestow blessings of magic, beauty, and luck. To bless and consecrate an object for magical use or to bless an interior space for magical work, elderflowers or an elderflower infusion would be an excellent ally. This is particularly true if you have a connection to the fairies and the moon. For example, you might bathe a crystal in elderflower tea, sprinkle dried elderflower over a new wand, or use a fresh flower to fling small bits of spring water around the perimeter of a magical circle.
To bless a journey or new endeavor, brew a potion of elderflower tea, add honey, and mentally direct white light into the cup. Drink just before you embark.
It’s said that standing under an elder during Beltane, Midsummer, or Samhain bestows the ability to see fairies and/or the Elf King. Perhaps this is because elders are residents of fairyland: elders and fairies certainly have a very similar vibe and magical signature. For example, fairies and elders are both selective about whom they magically work with and for what purpose. You can’t just walk up to an elder tree and invoke her help for any reason. You’ve got to approach respectfully and you’ve also got to pass her magical inspection: she must approve of your intentions, demeanor, and overall vibe or—like fairies—she may cause problems for you rather than help solve them, or if you’re lucky she will just give you the cold shoulder.
What’s more, elders attract native birds and butterflies, and the valley elderberry longhorn beetle uses elder wood as a cozy egg-laying and incubation site. And what do birds, butterflies, and beetles have in common? They’re all fairies … No, I’m not just saying that they’re aligned with fairies, I’m saying they’re actually fairies. The next time you encounter one of these beings while you’re alone, make a point of connecting with them in a way that goes beyond the usual. Really see this being in the present moment. Let go of human preconceptions and fully enter into her world. Let your consciousness speak her language. This is an intuitive and instinctive exercise rather than a logical one. Once you’ve completed this assignment, I’m pretty sure you’ll get it. (And bonus: you’ll speak fairy!)
Mysterious, changeable, and emotional, the elder feels no shame in exhibiting qualities that have been dismissed by our patriarchal culture as overly feminine. Indeed, they are the very things that characterize and fuel her considerable power.
Because cosmic balance requires that we reinstate our respect for the feminine principle if we are to heal ourselves and save the world from destruction, this aspect of the elder’s wisdom is particularly of the essence at this point in history. Can you feel it? We Goddess-embodying women and Goddess-honoring men are being called to step into our power and embody our role as medicine people. As the elder will whisper to you if you approach her with respect and take the time to listen, the Goddess, indeed, is rising.
Graceful Shifts and Transitions
Elder has been associated with ideal transitions from the physical to the spiritual realm, and because of this symbolism, she has traditionally been included in funerals and cemetery landscaping. Elders are also traditionally considered portals to other worlds, and places where spirits and fairies can pass through.
Elder is used extensively in herbal medicine, particularly for the flu, colds, and other respiratory issues. Intriguingly, while her flowers and berries are harvested in spring and fall respectively, she’s associated with the Celtic tree month that starts on November 25 and continues until December 22. (also known as flu season). She’s also been traditionally employed for help with rheumatism, another challenge that has been known to worsen in winter.
ELDERFLOWER HEALING POTION (TO AVERT OR TREAT A COLD)
To stop a cold before it starts, or at least to lessen its symptoms, brew a cup of elderflower tea at the earliest possible sign. Combine with a heaping spoonful of clover or wildflower honey (local is best) and some lemon juice (ideally fresh), and let stand for ten minutes or so. Cut a peeled garlic clove into tiny pieces, and swallow each piece like a pill, using the tea to wash it down. If there’s any tea left, finish that too.
Crowns containing elder twigs—particularly when worn at Beltane—are said to facilitate clairvoyance. The vibration of the berries as well as their deep blue/purple pigment are in alignment with energy of the third eye chakra (the energy center related to intuition that resides in the center of the forehead). Additionally, the white of the blossoms corresponds with both the moon and the crown chakra (the energy center at the top of the head that has to do with divine alignment and connection), both of which are strongly associated with intuition.
Try drinking a single glass of elderberry wine or a solitary cocktail with blueberry juice, club soda, and Saint Germain (a French liqueur made from elderflowers) before any sort of oracular or divinatory work to help unlock your intuitive gifts. These beverages might also be good choices for Beltane or Midsummer rituals, particularly if you’d like to bolster your intuition for the purpose of communing with the fairies.
One of the trees most associated with magic, the elder has been called the “witch tree.” In fact, it was actually believed that witches were synonymous with elders, and that one could transform easily into the other. Elder is aligned very closely with the magical Germanic deity Hulda (also known as Mother Holle), and devotees danced ritually in circles around her trunk.
People from diverse cultural groups—including Native Americans, Celts, and rural Californians—have made elder sticks into flutes. These have been used as magical tools, as when played with clear intention, the music that comes out of them can bring about energetic shifts.
Like a seasoned warrior, elder can be a highly protective ally … if you’re on her good side. Otherwise, she can be a formidable foe. It is considered extremely unwise to cut down or take wood from an elder without a request and a promise to the Elder Mother (a spirit who protects and watches over all elders, avenging their unjust treatment). Author Charlotte Sophia Burne, in The Handbook of Folklore, says this request and promise was traditionally stated as “Old Girl, give me some of thy wood and I will give the some of mine when I grow into a tree.”
While I’m not sure I would recommend that you make any binding promises to the Elder Mother, I would certainly think it wise for you to do everything in your power to avoid cutting down one of her children. When gathering any part of the elder tree for magic or any other purpose, I strongly advise that you follow your intuition in order to choose an appropriate, respectful gift to give her in return. A moonstone would be a good option, as would a bit of shiny silver, a round vanilla cake, or a loaf of freshly baked bread.
Elder can be a choice component of protection amulets of all varieties. The power that watches over the elders themselves—traditionally personified as a spirit such as Mother Holle or the Elder Mother—can be invoked to fiercely guard and shield people and animals as well. You’ll just need to successfully interweave the energy of a living tree with the energy of the being you wish to protect. Only do the following ritual if you know of an elder tree that you can visit privately, and that is not in danger of being cut down or moved.
ELDER MOTHER PROTECTION
Cleanse a moonstone in a natural body of running water, and gather a glass bottle full of that water. If you’re protecting a person other than yourself, ask the person to hold the stone in both hands and to consciously send a bit of their personal energy into it. If it’s an animal, set the stone near the creature while it is sleeping so that it will absorb a bit of the animal’s essence while it sleeps. If you’re protecting yourself, send your own energy into the stone. Gather a bit of hair, a fingernail, or a naturally shed claw of the being you wish to protect. Visit an elder tree under a full moon when the sky is clear. Kneel and respectfully connect with the elder tree, admiring her beauty and magic. Offer the bottle of clear water as a libation, pouring it around her base. Then place the charged moonstone at her base, along with the hair, fingernail, or claw.
If the protection is for someone other than yourself, speak the following words:
Under protection by this tree
Safe and shielded my beloved shall be.
As long as this tree stands and grows
They shall be watched over wherever they go.
If the protection is for yourself, it will go:
Under protection by this tree
Safe and shielded I’ll always be.
As long as this tree stands and grows
I shall be watched over wherever I go.