Orange in Autumn
She believed that rowan
rallied the underworld, the earth
the realm of Gods and
regarded one next to her door. In
its rustling leaves you can now
witness witches whisper
(from: Whispers in the Woods, 2014)
This poem, inspired by the stories of the Colony at Bennachie, draws on the practice of crofters planting a rowan tree in front of their croft to ward off evil spirits. According to Fairley Taylor the name rowan is derived from the Nordic words for charm, and past generations have planted the tree in gardens and graveyards to ward off evil influences. In her book Tree Superstitions she even describes the practice of using a wand made of rowan to protect cattle driven into sheilings and hanging that wand in the byre.
There are many ways to get to know a rowan tree. Botanically speaking, rowan us a small tree, with pinnate leaves and flowers in domes clusters. Careful observation may, however, lead to a much more engaging understanding of the tree based on the scent of flowers, the rustle of leaves in the breeze, the upward display of berries to invite birds to a feast. And then there are the superstitions and folk tales as referred to in the above poem, and telling us something about the way people past and present experienced, and made sense of, the world around them.
During the Open Doors Weekend at Scottish Sculpture Workshop there will be an opportunity to develop our own folktale inspired by rowan. Based on a sensory exploration of the tree and stories past and present, we will create our own story, and stage this through a series of symbolic gestures using environmental materials. The workshop Rowan’s Story, on Saturday 27 August from 2 to 3.30 pm, will take place a short walk away from SSW in Lumsden. Sign up on the day. For more information, please contact SSW.
More reflections on storytelling and landscape can be found in Bats, I Tell You.
Copyright text, poem and images Petra Vergunst