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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    Sort of a spin-off of this thread about metals. There are a lot of different types of trees and shrubs out there, from oak to yew to birch and so on. For many people, these were just simple building materials or fuel for the fire, but for some they had medicinal properties or could ward off evil spirits.

    I got a bigger response than I thought I would on my thread on metals, so I thought I'd ask again what sorts of magical or mystical properties have been ascribed to wood in various fantasy, folklore, or even popular culture. In particular, I'm interested in the use of wood for weapons or armor, but other uses are of interest as well. This isn't for a specific setting, but I'm hoping to take the amalgamation of information and use it as a source to refer back to while creating settings, with different settings being able to use different ideas drawn from the same sources. Hopefully, others will also find the information useful when creating their own settings.

    Generally, I'm expecting two different types of such effect: those for which any wood will suffice (e.g. staking a vampire), and those which require a specific type of wood. This isn't a topic I'm very familiar with, and a few minutes of googling is already giving some conflicting information.

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    Ettin in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    A dart made of mistletoe wood was the fatal weakness of a semi-famous mythological character, but due to forum rules I can't say which one

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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Bohandas View Post
    A dart made of mistletoe wood was the fatal weakness of a semi-famous mythological character, but due to forum rules I can't say which one
    It killed Balder, Thor's brother. In Marvel Comics. Or if you prefer a book Neil Gaiman wrote about Norse Mythology. Or the Prose Edda written by Snorri Sturluson in the 11th century, Sturluson actually meant the work as a textbook to provide context to much of what was found in Icelandic and other Nordic sagas.

    https://www.whats-your-sign.com/celt...lic-trees.html

    Trees to the Irish Celts were important symbols and associated with a specific Ogham symbol. For example the yew tree was associated with the Ogham symbol Idad, which had to do with transference and passage. So a make a magic item that can transport things out of yew makes sense, maybe a stand of yew trees is actually a portal to another place in the right circumstances.
    Last edited by Beleriphon; 2019-05-01 at 09:30 PM.

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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Beleriphon View Post
    Trees to the Irish Celts were important symbols and associated with a specific Ogham symbol.
    Same with several of the runes of the Elder Futhark (the Proto-Norse and Old Norse alphabet), each of which had a special mystical significance when used in runic inscriptions. Specifically, the runes ᛇ (eihwaz, "yew tree"), ᛒ (berkanan, "birch tree"), and ᛈ (perþ, "pear tree") all had literal associations with trees and mystical associations with certain properties (eihwaz with strength and stability and berkanan with sustenance and growth; perþ's attestations vary too widely in different sources to assign it a specific meaning).

    Also, the first human couple in the Norse creation myth (analogous to Adam and Eve) were Askr ("ash tree") and Embla (either "elm tree" or "vine"), so those trees are associated with life and fertility, as well as being generally sacred because Askr and Embla were given many blessings by the gods when they were created.
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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    A minor example you might not find elsewhere is that in English folklore rowan was meant to be a wood that protects against witchcraft/witches.

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    Barbarian in the Playground
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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    Quote Originally Posted by arrowed View Post
    A minor example you might not find elsewhere is that in English folklore rowan was meant to be a wood that protects against witchcraft/witches.
    Or, if you like reading The Spectre, Nawor can be dealt with by rowan.

    I recall something about Ginger being used to heal wounds from demons, but I'm not sure. Might have been a different Eastern spice.
    Baobab trees were used for homes (not the wood, the tree itself) and have stories of them being a sanctuary.
    And of course, rare french orchids go great on everything.

    Also not mythological or in any way backed up, but the Kapok tree is really big, unusually green, and covered with spikes. If you ever find your party in a mesoamerican jungle (ala Amazon), having a race with lore intertwined with the Kapok tree would work well.
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    Barbarian in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    Here is one I just came across the other day while on a similar search:

    The Crataegus (Hawthorne) Tree

    Of particular interest would be Traditional Medicine and Folklore.

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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    One of the ingredients in the witches' brew in Macbeth was "slips* of yew"


    *twigs or cuttings

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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    Not really mystical, but in the Germanic tribal areas and later in the Holy Roman empire, specific especially impressive trees were planted on meadows or on hills near, but always outside, villages. These were known as "Gerichtsbaum", "Judgement Tree" or "Judicial Court Tree". Things, meetings and courts were held under those trees. They were usually oak trees or linden trees and we get a lot of nicely impressive names from them: Rabeneiche (Raven's oak), Femeiche (Punishment oak), Blutlinde (Blood Linden), etc.
    Last edited by Eldan; 2019-05-03 at 07:16 AM.
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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    Quote Originally Posted by arrowed View Post
    A minor example you might not find elsewhere is that in English folklore rowan was meant to be a wood that protects against witchcraft/witches.
    Adding to this, the protective power of such trees was thought to be amplified in "flying rowan trees". These were trees that had taken root not in the ground but on top of boulders or on the sides of cliffs. They were literally and figuratively elevated.

    Adding to the hawthorn/fairy lore, it was common for particular hawthorn trees, typically those standing alone without other nearby trees and especially if near a well, to be singled out as "fairy trees". So there could be a specific hawthorn in or near a village that people would think of as THE fairy tree, rather than just there being hawthorns somewhere around the general area. It was considered extremely important not to damage these lest you risk the fair folk's wrath (not being cut down even while in bloom) - so if there was a fairy tree in the middle of a farmer's field you might see stones piled around the tree's trunk to make ABSOLUTELY sure that the tree wasn't damaged during ploughing/reaping. You could also have construction like roads or even just dirt tracks make very unusual shapes to avoid getting too close to one, which can in turn lead to weirdly shaped villages and towns. Rags - as well as ribbons, shiny trinkets and other votive offerings - could also be left tied to the branches of such trees for general good luck or to make amends if the locals felt the fairies had been insulted somehow (like somebody damaging the tree or being too loud around it). I like these for worldbuilding a village or town that has a fey-linked adventure hook because the tree itself isn't that remarkable, but rather it's people's behavior in relation to the tree that is notable.
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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    I thought of it because of Harry Potter, but the elder tree appears to have a great deal of folklore associated with it that has nothing to do with mythological Death.

    Might be a good residence for a dryad, for instance.
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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Greywander View Post

    Generally, I'm expecting two different types of such effect: those for which any wood will suffice (e.g. staking a vampire), and those which require a specific type of wood.
    Actually if you wanna get classical with European folklore there are specific woods to use for staking a vampire depending on region : Hawthorn, Holly, Rowan or Rosewood. Vampires are weak to holy woods and plants.

    Alright so in the metal chain I wasn't much help but as far as trees go I have some things to add!

    YEW - Has a real life use for weapon making - (bows specifically) but Druidic cultures, Norse culture and later Christian traditions believed it to be holy because it's red heartwood and white sapwood. It's connotation in Norse myth may have come from the cross pollination of Christian influence or vice versa because Norse myth was written down at the point pretty much everybody had converted to Christianity. It was planted in churchyards and gravesites for largely practical reasons (poisonous to livestock so farmers would keep their animals out of graveyards so as not to poison their cattle) and it gained the mystical connotation of being the tree of the dead and a portal to the afterlife.

    ASH - Yggdrasil is supposedly an Ash tree and in the Norse creation myth Man is carved from an Ash log. It is a hard straight wood that is good for weapon hafts and tool making.

    ELM - Just as man was created from Ash in the Norse myth Woman was carved from Elm. A more pliable wood used for building houses.

    HOLLY - It's evergreen but leafy nature and it's blood colored but inedible berries have made it a holy tree in European cultures who connected it with connotations of life. Christians, like they did with most red things, connected it with the blood of Christ (possibly to get on side with the traditions that already considered it holy)

    CEDAR - In real life Cedars have specific compounds (which make it smell so lovely to us) that repels insects it's grain is straight which makes it perfect for pillars and buildings. In Shinto natural things which grow straight are revered and it's insect repelling nature combined with it's large size lead to people believing they hosted powerful Kami (or spirit/gods). Temples and shrines are very often built from cedar. On the other side of the ocean in the Pacific Northwest they were revered by the indigenous cultures. The area of British Columbia and Washington was dense with different cultures with different languages and traditions but the Cedar was universally utilized. It's finer roots and bark could be woven into baskets and even clothing. It could be easily carved and it's straight grain made it easy to split with stone tools which lead it to be used for virtually everything. Cooking was done by dropping hot stones into a cedar box to heat the water within, canoes were carved and then steamed to stretch and open the trees into canoes that could even go on the ocean and Houses were built of them. Totem poles, funerary poles which hold remains and ceremonial doorposts were carved out of cedar HOWEVER it is important to note that Totem poles were not worshiped. They were a bit more akin to European heraldic devices with the family clan animal, the most important figure, at the base and other figures often depicting stories that belonged to the family along it's length. Stories were owned in most of these cultures you might be permitted to hear them but not tell them unless you were explicitly given permission. Still in these cultures the Cedar was looked at as a gift to humanity and culture. It was the tree connected with art, travel and wealth.

    GINKO - A tree often coveted for it's culinary and medicinal uses in Asian cultures

    PEACH - In Taoism the fruit is often linked with the heavenly orchard of peaches that bestow immortality and is the food of the divine

    APPLE - In Norse Myth Apples fulfill the same role as Peaches but for the Norse Pantheon. Loki stole all their golden apples once and thought he was really clever for doing it. Golden Apples are also a reoccurring thing in Greek Myth. It's often seen as being the fruit that Adam and Eve ate but scholars believe that given the writer's origin this was more likely a pomegranate.

    POMEGRANATE - The fruit tree which Persephone ate seeds from in her Greek myth to get her stuck in the underworld six months of the year. Often ends up being a fruit with connotations of sexual desire.

    BIRCH - A hardy tree it's got associations with adaptability and is used for musical instruments. In Gaelic myth it's connected with Tír na nÓg , a sort of heavenly realm of abundance beauty immortality and joy. The Godlike residents and their associated myths eventually had them downgraded to fairy folk after Christianity's spread. In Russia they show up in folklore as symbols of love and marriage. They are also fire resistant.

    ARBUTUS - I don't know much about the cultural significance of Arbutus I just think they are cool. They are essentially like a super dense roll of paper and they burn really slowly making them excellent fire fuel. They only grow along coastlines and aren't super useful for making anything from because they are dense but tend to fall apart.

    PINE / FIR - Pitch producers and the origin of most amber. Not insect resistant. Tends to be associated with longevity which isn't wrong. Bristle pines are some of the oldest individual trees in the world. Amber was hecka valued by ancient cultures and is associated with lightning and electricity because of the static charge they can produce and the sun because they are supposed to be the tears of Helios the sun God. Because of their height and their deep root systems that allow them to grow on mountainsides without the protections of other nearby trees they get hit by lightning a bunch so if you need a tree associated with lightning there ya go.

    ASPEN - Weird bloody trees. They tend to live in colonies which are all interconnected by root suckers which share their nutrients among them making them all kind of like one big organism. Their wood is soft, not super flammable and is used for the packing material because it sheds into a wool-like consistency. In your universe it could be good for spells to communicate across distance or transmition of power maybe... ? It's not really a folklore thing it's more a science thing but hey nobody said it had to be strictly folkloric right?

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    Bugbear in the Playground
     
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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Izzyboshi View Post
    PINE / FIR - Pitch producers and the origin of most amber. Not insect resistant. Tends to be associated with longevity which isn't wrong. Bristle pines are some of the oldest individual trees in the world. Amber was hecka valued by ancient cultures and is associated with lightning and electricity because of the static charge they can produce and the sun because they are supposed to be the tears of Helios the sun God. Because of their height and their deep root systems that allow them to grow on mountainsides without the protections of other nearby trees they get hit by lightning a bunch so if you need a tree associated with lightning there ya go.
    Beech trees are associated with lightning too. People used to think beech trees never got hit by lightning or were immune to lightning. They don't show any damage when lightning hits them. Other trees tend to explode or split and burn when lightning hits them, but beech trees are usually fine.

    Lightning takes the path of least resistance. For most trees, that means going through the tree trunk instead of the air. For a wet beech tree in a rainy thunderstorm, the path of least resistance is through the continuous sheet of water flowing down the smooth bark that protects the tree like a lightning rod.

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    Default Re: Mystical properties of wood in folklore/fantasy?

    Quote Originally Posted by Xuc Xac View Post
    Beech trees are associated with lightning too. People used to think beech trees never got hit by lightning or were immune to lightning. They don't show any damage when lightning hits them. Other trees tend to explode or split and burn when lightning hits them, but beech trees are usually fine.

    Lightning takes the path of least resistance. For most trees, that means going through the tree trunk instead of the air. For a wet beech tree in a rainy thunderstorm, the path of least resistance is through the continuous sheet of water flowing down the smooth bark that protects the tree like a lightning rod.
    Maybe this could align them to water in a fantasy setting? The conduction of lightning through water on the bark and the unharmed by lightning thing? Stands of them are also known to block fires from spreading because their bark is resistant.
    Last edited by Izzyboshi; 2019-05-07 at 02:27 PM.

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