The Fruit of the Divide: Elderberry Spiritual Meaning and Magic

Elderberries in a silver bowl, with a jar of elderberry juice in the background.

The Magic of Elderberry

Elderberry is a fruit of opposites. It has been used for protection from evil, as well as to summon evil in. An elderberry tree’s roots are shallow, yet the plant is robust. Elderberry is a potently magical fruit used for healing and blessings, but it also finds itself used for curses, summoning ghosts and evil spirits, and banishing.

Elderberry Represents Holle, Goddess of Death and Regeneration

Elderberry has the power to bridge the divide between the physical and the spiritual realm. It represents Holle, Goddess of Death and Regeneration, who protects the life cycle and those transitioning into death and the Underworld. 

Holle, Gatekeeper of The Underworld

Holle is a gatekeeper of Death and the Underworld. She resides in a cold, dark residence at the bottom of a well, but she is considered a kind, benevolent goddess who is generally not feared and even loved. Holle is also a goddess of life and vegetation. Anyone who traverses into her realm will be rewarded justly, either good or bad, depending on the reward they deserve.

Dark purple elderberries connected by red stems hanging from a tree.

Elder Twigs for Holle’s Protection

Elderberry and the elder tree are associated with death and the Underworld. Elder twigs were often placed in coffins or buried with loved ones to beseech the protection of the Goddess Holle and grant them safe passage into the Underworld.

The Dryad in the Elder Tree

Some cultures believe that a tree dryad inhabits the elder tree. This dryad is viewed as a kind and benevolent spirit when treated with honor and respect who protects those who care for the elder tree.

The Merciless Elder Tree Dryad

The dryad in the elder tree shows no mercy to those who use the elder tree improperly. The dryad will hunt them down and curse them with bad luck. To please the dryad, the materials from the elder tree were only to be used for medicinal or protective magic and charms and only after garnering the permission of the dryad.

The Elder Tree Protects

Elderberries and the elder tree carry protective energies and do well to ward against evil energies. Bundles of elder twigs around the home can also protect the household, and it is believed that where an elder tree grows, lightning will not strike.

Harnessing The Elder Tree’s Protective Magic

Keeping elder leaves and branches hung over doorways and windows will also stave off negative energies and entities. Crowns also made of elder twigs can help with seeing spirits and reverse evil magic, and a cradle made of elder wood was said to protect the baby that lay within.

Close-up selective focus photography of elderberries hanging from a tree.

Using Elder Branches and Berries in Blessings

Elder branches and berries can be used in blessings. The oil can be used in blessing rituals, scattering elderberry and elderberry leaves to the winds while naming the person or object you wish to bless, then scattering leaves on that object or person will grant a blessing.

Marital Blessings and the Elder Tree

The elder tree is considered a sacred symbol for marriage as well. In some cultures, it is believed that elder twigs can bring good luck to newlyweds, and in Britain, it is said that if a man and woman drink ale infused with elderflowers, they would be married within a year.

Two jars with one full of elderflower syrup and another full of elderberry syrup, near elderflowers and raspberries.

Crafting Magical Tools with Elder Branches

Magical tools made with elder branches can ward off evil from magical practice. Elder branches have a soft, malleable core that is easily removed while remaining soft and sturdy on the outside. This makes them ideally suited for woodwind instruments, the music said to be loved by the spirit world. Wands and flutes made from the elder tree can even be used to summon spirits.

The Elder Tree Stimulates Vivid Dreams

Elderberry is known for its ability to stimulate vivid dreaming. It is said that falling asleep under an elder tree would inspire dreams of faerie lands.

Elderflowers against a black background.

Identifying Elderberry

You can identify the Elder tree by the white or yellow flowers it produces that bloom all year. The flowers eventually turn into dark, blue elderberry. They usually grow about 25 feet high, and 1 foot in diameter, and the tree has light gray or brown bark. The trunk is characteristically short, and the branches form a rounded crown at the top of the tree.

Where to Find Elder Trees

Elder leaves are slightly thick with sawtoothed edges and have a leathery texture. Elder trees can usually be found in the woods along the path of streams and in desert and desert grasslands. More locally, one can find elderberry at times growing along a roadside. Elderberry is a member of the honeysuckle family, and red elderberry is generally toxic.

Bright, red elderberries.

Is Elderberry Edible?*

It is important to note what parts and kinds of the elder tree and berries are edible. Black or deep purple elderberries when ripe and elderflowers are edible. If there are lingering concerns about the toxicity of elderberries, boiling and baking can take care of any toxic properties.

Parts of the Elder Tree Can Be Toxic

It is not safe to consume raw elderberries as they are poisonous. They contain a trace of cyanide that can cause diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. Because they are also toxic, steer clear of consuming elder roots, leaves, bark, and stems. Do not make teas from the leaves and branches of the elder tree, and raw red elderberry can also cause nausea.

*(See FDA Disclaimer)

A jar of elderberry juice sitting on a ledge near elderberries on branches and a daisy.

The Elder Tree’s Connection to History

The name “elder” is believed to come from the Old English word ailed, which means “fire.” Its genus, Sambuca, is also the name of a musical instrument made from branches of the elder tree. The elder tree was seen as the tree of witches, and as Christianity began to rise, so did the persecution of tree worship.

Christianity’s Initial Suspicion of the Elder Tree

Christians feared the elder tree and viewed it as a symbol of sorrow and death. It was believed to be the tree that Judas Iscariot hung himself on, as well as the wood used for Jesus’ cross, a belief that has contributed to Christianity’s wariness of the elder tree.

How to Elder Tree Became A Part of Christian Tradition

Due to the prevalence of folklore and magic in Europe in the Middle Ages, Christian and pre-Christian beliefs soon merged to create new traditions and rituals. The elder tree and elderberry magical rituals started to assimilate into Christian practices. A Christmas Eve ritual involving the stems of the elder tree was created to reveal witches.

White elderflowers on the tree.

FDA Disclaimer

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