ash

(tree)
   A traditional cure, recorded in several counties, for young children with hernias; an ash sapling, preferably one grown from seed and never touched by a knife, was split down the middle and held open with wedges, the child was passed through the gap, and the damaged tree tightly bound up - as its cleft healed, so the hernia would disappear. Descriptions of the procedure from the 19th century include further ritualistic details: it must be done at dawn, with the child naked and held face up; or it must be done by *nine people, from west to east, on nine successive mornings; or it must be done at *midnight, nine times, in complete silence. The tree must not be cut down during the child's lifetime .
   The tree's other major use was for curing lameness, pains, and swellings in cattle, supposedly caused by a *shrew running over them. A shrew would be thrust into a deep hole bored into an ash tree, and the hole plugged up; once the shrew was dead, any animal whipped with twigs from that tree would be cured. A famous shrew-ash in Richmond Park was frequently visited, in the mid-19th century, by women bringing sickly children for healing, especially from whooping cough.
   Other beliefs are that snakes cannot bear to be near an ash, or even its leaves or a stick cut from its wood; and that anyone carrying ash-keys cannot be bewitched. A well-known rhyme predicts how rainy the spring will be from the relative dates of budding by oak and ash; another warns that ashes attract lightning:
   Avoid the ash, It draws the flash.
   See also *ashen faggot, *Ash Wednesday, *shrews, *thunder. For mountain ash, see *rowan.
   ■ Vickery, 1995: 14-19; Opie and Tatem, 1989: 5-8, 355-6.

A Dictionary of English folklore. . 2014.

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