ash log or a bundle of ash sticks. Both the wassail bowl and the maypole were made of ash, and the witch’s broom or besom was made of an ash staff, with birch twigs bound by willow.
Ash magic is peppered throughout the folk tales of the British Isles, although the benevolence (or otherwise) of individual ash trees varies in the stories. In the Welsh epic of the Mabinogion, Gwydion the magician bears a staff of ash, the World Tree in Celtic mythology, the tree that joins the lower, middle and upper worlds.
However, it’s in the Norse myths that we find the ash tree at its most fundamental, intertwined with Germanic and British tradition. They tell us that at the beginning of time, the first gods found an ash and an elm tree with their roots ripped out of the soil. They set them straight and created the first man (Ask) and woman (Embla), and all the world’s people were descended from these trees.
Connecting the worlds of humans, gods, giants and the underworld is the ash Yggdrasil, greatest and best of trees, the tree that always was and always is and always will be. Yggdrasil holds all of creation. Deer nibble at Yggdrasil, and a dragon devours its roots from the underworld, but it constantly regenerates from the dewdrops that are sprinkled on its roots by the three Fates. It is from Yggdrasil that Odin hangs upside down for nine days and nine nights, learning great wisdom to become Odin the Allfather.
At the end of the Norse mythological cycle, Ragnarök, the end of the world, is brought about by the unleashing of dark and trickster forces. Yggdrasil the ash tree shakes and groans and everything is frightened as wars rage and the land is ravaged by fire. Two humans, Lif and Lifthrasir, hide inside Yggdrasil, and they do not emerge again until the world is safe to reinhabit.
It is tempting to think that ash dieback is a ‘sign’ of our mismanagement of the environment or our ecological doom. This denies the natural law of cause and effect, and I don’t
50 Resurgence & Ecologist
Grace and Ash (Charcoal drawing 38"X38") © SarahGillespie 2017