Mythology, Folklore, and Fiction of the Elm Tree
In this post, I cover some of my research into elm tree mythology and folklore. I also share some of my recent fiction inspired by the lore of the elm!
One of my hopes for this site was that I would have a place to share interesting research and findings about folklore, fairy tales, and the embedded legends in the world all around us. And the legends I’m sharing with you today revolve around the elm tree.
Lovers and Portals, Death and Protection
In Celtic mythology, Elm trees were associated with elves and the passage to the Underworld. They hold a similar place in the folklore of Ancient Greece, said to be the trees that sprouted to life when Orpheus played his harp for his wife Eurydice while rescuing her from the Underworld.
Orpheus, the son of one of the muses, had to take Hades’s word that Eurydice was following him out of the Underworld, and he couldn’t look back at her… (they almost made it.)
According to Trees for Life (one of my favorite sites for tree mythology and folklore!), both elms and yew share close folkloric ties to death and the passage to the Underworld. As one example, in the medieval period, Welsh archers used elm for their bows. Elm was also commonly used for creating coffins, as its wood is durable in wet environs and underground.
Sites for Further Reading
“Elm Mythology and Folklore” by Trees for Life
“British Trees in Folklore” by Discover Wildlife
A New, Storied Elm Tree
The scene I was working on this morning is for an upcoming novella that will release June 1st, 2021 called Story Magic. It’s an expansion of the narratives around Persephonie’s storyline in Hadvarian Heist, book two in the Age of Azuria high fantasy series.
You can find out more about the Age of Azuria series here, and, for a limited time, read the prequel novella, Aurora, for free!
Fiction, Fantasy, and Inspiration
I love to create magical trees in my fiction. Most of the legends I write are grounded in actual legends we already have, though I like to add something new as well.
In this scene, I brought together the legends of the elm with a new, magical tree, based on the silver maple. The elm lore here brings together the connections between lovers and a portal to the underworld and death.
Excerpt from Story Magic
Rennear took both of Persephonie’s hands and guided her over the row of tulips toward the third elm tree. He covered her eyes for the last several steps, holding her against his chest as they neared the trunk. Rennear turned her around, leaning her back against the rough bark. The stubble of his beard scratched the side of her ear. “We’ll need to wait for the clouds to pass.” …
Countless stories wound around the roots of the elm, weaving about her and Rennear now and holding them tight in their embrace. To the saudad, it was a guardian tree, symbolic of the wide wings of Apollo. Rennear’s heart pounded against her hand. She ground the other into the gray-green bark of the tree. …
The elm was said to be powerful enough to maintain a lover’s bond, even after the beloved had journeyed on to Astralei. “There’s a reason the elm graces both The Lovers and Death, Persephonie,” Mama had said.
Rennear pulled away suddenly. He caught her hands and held them close against his chest. They both breathed quickly. Rennear didn’t take his eyes from her. Behind him, a silver glow bathed the branches of the elm. It reflected against his skin. “And then, the soldiers came to this garden. Here, for just a moment, everything changed.”
The silver gleam grew brighter as they rounded the wide trunk of the tree, shining through the sweeping branches of the elm. Persephonie gasped. Behind the gateway tree was a hillside covered in argent maples. They glowed pure silver, basking in the light of the moons. She stopped, staring. Never before had she seen so many of the trees blessed by the lunar goddess Selene all in one place. The glow of their collective was as bright as a third moon, hung low in the gardens, coating her and Rennear in their light. “I can hardly believe it.”
His eyes shone in the treelight, sweeping from her to their glowing leaves and back. “Will you walk beneath their branches with me?”STory Magic, by Beth Ball
Lore + Fiction
I’ve been playing a bit with the lore around Persephone and Hades with my character, Persephonie. That’s part of where the guardian Apollo comes in.
The Greek Persephone’s story is also one about travel to the Underworld. I wanted Persephonie to register that connection, linking her story to elm tree mythology.
(Anaïs Mitchell brings the two stories—Persephone & Hades and Eurydice & Orpheus—together in Hadestown! Definitely check it out if you haven’t already!)
The Argent Maple
I was thinking about silver maples a lot while I was writing this morning. A silver maple that I love lost half of her tallest branches in Hurricane Zeta yesterday.
These trees, in Azuria, have the ability to reflect the light of the two moons gracing the world. At the creation of the world, the moon goddess Selene blessed them and allowed them to bear her light.
This is part of why Persephonie has never seen so many in one spot. Argent maples are rare, like the moon in a sky full of stars.
Originally, the garden they’re walking through was tended by a powerful druidic empress. When she was driven from her land, this was the one garden to survive the fires they lit in her wake. The argent maples saved the elm trees and the rest of the garden.
I hope you liked this overview of elm tree mythology and that some of the additional resources are interesting and helpful for you! I also hope you enjoyed this brief foray into the world of Azuria!
If you’re a fan of high fantasy fiction and/or interested in stories full of natural magic, intriguing characters, and action & adventure, be sure to check out the Age of Azuria series. And don’t forget about your free novella so you can dive into the world today!
I’m planning to have more tree folklore and mythology as well as how they interact with and inspire fiction in future posts! Please share any questions or comments you have below!
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