I went out to the hazel wood,
Because a fire was in my head…
~ William Butler Yeats
“You can call me Hazel”, she said as a cold winter breeze drifted through her catkin hair, making the golden tassels ripple and dance. The movement stirred up infinitesimal motes that took flight, getting caught up in the small bristles of the crimson flowers that adorned her branches. (Those motes would serve a purpose, but more of that later.)
Hazel’s home was near a winding stream. “I do like it here”, she confided, “but sometimes I wonder what it would be like near a slightly larger bit of water that was a little less… meandering. Perhaps a quiet, still pond would be a nice place to grow.” She chuckled, “Ah, listen to me. You’d think I have legs that could just wander somewhere else. Yes, well, I suppose the grass is always greener elsewhere, even for a tree.” With each word she uttered, the smooth lenticles on her bark seemed to open and close, as though her trunk was composed of multiple tiny lungs, breathing in and out.
As we sat, the two of us, she spoke of her leaves that would soon appear along the time that the delicate snowdrops would poke their heads up out of the snow. She told me how the leaves would start out a lovely shade of lime green, and of how the color always made her feel young again– all light and new. But those bright leaves would come at a cost, as she would first have to lose her festive tassel-filled hair. “I’m always a bit sad to see them go”, she whispered, then brightened. “Oh! But you should see how my beautiful leaves fill me out so gloriously! I am quite majestic when summer comes, as my leaves deepen to a richer green. But, oh, oh! You just wait. My richest colors come with the arrival of autumn, when my leaves turn to shades of brownish-pink and even plum. I feel most magical!”
“And oh, yes… we must not forget those delicate motes mentioned earlier. They, along with the bristled flowers, play an important part in what comes next. At the base, tiny seeds take hold and sprout, and those will soon become one of my greatest gifts. Delightful little nut-treats that fall to the ground when they are ready to eat. I’ve named them ‘Hazelnuts’… since I am Hazel, as you know, and they are mine. Though, I’m always happy to share,” she concluded with a wink.
In Germany there is a belief that a white serpent wearing a crown lives beneath a hazel tree, and children in the Black Forest are given hazel sticks to keep them safe from snakes. Hazel is used in various cultural charms against snakes, and in cures for snake bites. Cunning folk go to her to ask for rods with which to divine water. Others seek her to sleep beneath her branches in order to gain prophetic sight, or for her buds that allow them to see the Good Folk.
From the 1600s: To Enable One to See the Fairies: A pint of sallet oyl and put it in a vial glass; and first wash it with rose water; the flowers to be gathered towards the east; Wash it till the oyl becomes white, then put it into a glass, and then put thereto the buds of hollyhock, the flowers of marigold, the flowers or tops of wild thyme, the buds of young hazel, and the thyme must be gathered near the side of a hill where fairies are use to be; and take the grass of a fairy throne (ring); then put all these into the glass and set it to dissolve three days in the sunne and keep it for they use.’
– from A Witches Guide to Gardening, Dorothy Jacob, 1964
Hazel is known as a tree of wisdom in Irish tales, and hazelnuts are sought after by bards and poets. Nine hazel trees are said to reside around the Well of Wisdom, dropping their nuts into its holy waters. This causes inspiration to flow into the streams from which people drink, and provide nourishment for the Salmon of Knowledge and Inspiration. Those who eat the salmon are granted its gifts. In Norse mythology, hazel is also well-known as a bringer of knowledge, and is sacred to Thor as it was thought the tree was the embodiment of lightning, and therefore would never be struck by it. People of many European cultures would rely on the protection of hazel against lightning, making crosses of the twigs to place outside the house or in window frames.
In England, fires from hazel wood would be made outdoors, for cattle to be driven through. It was believed that the practice would protect them from disease. The wood also served very practical purposes, in the form of shooting marks, fishing poles, hunting sticks, and roasting spits.
I have simply skimmed the surface with what I have shared here. A great deal of lore exists for the beloved Hazel, along with many magical and culinary uses. To delve more deeply, I invite you to read some of the books that I relied on for research:
Tree Wisdom- Jacqueline Memory Paterson
Under the Witching Tree- Corinne Boyer
Pagan Magic of the Northern Tradition- Nigel Pennick
Leechcraft- Stephen Pollington
Hazel trees watch from the forested hillside ravine and bless wisdom among the birds, animals, babies, and fortunate humans. Many thanks to this tree of knowledge and insight, may the Eye be clear when drawing upon her powers of old, hidden and divine.
– from ‘Under the Witching Tree’, by Corinne Boyer
P.S. Should you ever come across a double hazelnut, be sure to share the other half with a friend… and don’t forget to make a wish!