Yorkshire folklore includes many references to witchcraft and the measures taken to frustrate their plotting and find protection from their spells. The collection of ‘witch wood’, more commonly known as rowan or mountain ash, was one such way to prevent untoward happenings. However, it was not an undertaking to be entered into lightly and t was necessary to observe the following:
The branches of the tree could only be cut using a household knife.
The tree had to be ‘unknown’. This meant the tree could not be a local one, ie on your own farm or land and thereby known to the witch.
If finding the tree meant travelling some distance you had to ensure you came home along a different route to the one you set out upon.
And finally the wood could only be cut and gathered on St Helen’s Day, 2nd May.
Once gathered a piece of wood was often placed at the bed-head, carried in the trouser or apron pocket, placed in the dairy or about the farm. No right minded person would consider driving horses and wagons along the road without using a rowan tree gad, a long straight sapling used in place of a whip.
Still the witches worked their spells and sometimes did their worst. And then there were the bogles…but that’s another story altogether!