Day 22: A Rant and Some Tree Lore


Before we get to talking about tree lore I’d like to have myself a little rant. I’ve gotten quite a few negative responses in the past week or so to my folklore posts. These responses seem to want to tell me that this folklore is useless, that the world works in such-and-such way and we should believe such-and-such. I don’t mind people sharing their opinions, even if they are obviously misinformed, that’s your freedom, but don’t think I won’t call you out on your bullshit. This is a blog that’s focused on Ozark folklore and folkways, Ozark people share a certain culture, and within that culture there are beliefs and practices that interest me. So when I talk about cursed trees, or plants associated with the dead, or how to get rid of a ghost, I don’t give two shits if you don’t believe that trees can be cursed, I do. Save your responses for your own blog. That’s the beauty of the world today, if you have something to say, if for instance you don’t think the folk remedies I talk about actually work, go chip away at your very own piece of the internet and rant and rave about it there, because frankly I don’t really care to hear about it. Alright y’all, rant over, sorry about that, it just had to be said.


Back to some tree lore, which I’m sure will get some people all fired up. I’ve posted some folklore surrounding pawpaw trees (pictured above) before, but I thought it would be a good subject to revisit. Here are some quotes from Vance Randolph’s “Ozark Magic and Folklore” about the pawpaw trees:

“The pawpaw tree is well known to be connected with witchcraft and devil worship, and even a gray-and-black butterfly (Papilio ajax) is looked upon as ‘strange’ because it is so often seen fluttering about pawpaw trees. People near Goodman, Missouri, tell me that there is some direct connection between pawpaw trees and malaria, but just what this relation is I don’t know. Pawpaws are becoming rare in many sections where they were formerly abundant; this is regarded by the old-timers as a bad omen, perhaps a sign that the end of the world is at hand.”

“There are many ways of detecting a witch, such as hiding a Bible in her mattress, placing a broomstick in her path, scratching a little cross under the seat of her chair, or adding a bit of pawpaw bark to her tobacco. Any of these measures will make a witch deathly sick, while an innocent woman is not affected. Another method is to take a new awl and fix it in the seat of a chair, so that only a very little of the point sticks through. Then get the suspected woman to sit down in the chair. If she jumps and cries out, it means that she is not a witch, since a witch doesn’t feel the sharp point at all.”

“Some of the old-timers drive three nails into the outside of a door, in the form of a triangle, to keep witches away from the cabin; one man told me that the three nails represent the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost and were particularly efficacious in protecting an expectant mother from the powers of evil. Painting the outside of a door blue is said to be a sensible precaution also, and some people make doubly sure by driving several tiny pegs of pawpaw wood into the doorsill.”

“If it is possible to obtain any part of the witch’s body such as fingernail parings, a lock of hair, a tooth, or even a cloth with some of her blood upon it the witch doctor has recourse to another method. Out in the woods at midnight he bores a hole in the fork of a pawpaw tree, and drives a wooden peg into the hole. Once, despite the protests of a superstitious hillman who was with me, I pulled out one of these pegs and examined it. The end was covered with beeswax, in which several long hairs were imbedded. There was a circle of what appeared to be dried blood higher up on the peg, and the auger hole contained a quantity of fine sand. A similar ‘pawpaw conjure’ is sometimes employed by cuckold husbands, but it is primarily intended to deal with women who ‘talk the Devil’s language.’”

“The relatives of a murdered man sometimes throw pawpaw seeds into the grave, on top of the coffin. It is said that this insures that the murderer will be punished. Other old-timers, in similar case, prefer to pull down the top of a little cedar tree and fasten it with a big stone. This somehow helps to catch the murderer. As soon as the man is punished, somebody must hurry out and move the stone; if the cedar is not released there’ll be another killing in the neighborhood.”

“Many farmers say that it is a good idea to bury a bit of a cow’s afterbirth under a pawpaw tree, as this will cause her to bring forth female calves thereafter.”

“In rural Arkansas the backwoods girls tie little pieces of cloth to the branches of certain trees usually pawpaw or hawthorn, sometimes redbud or ironwood. I have seen five of these little bundles in a single pawpaw tree. I have untied several and examined them carefully; there was nothing in them that I could see, just little pieces of cloth, doubtless torn from old dresses or petticoats. The natives say they are love charms, but just how they work I do not know. No woodsman that I have ever known would think of touching one of these objects, and I have often been warned that it is very bad luck to ‘monkey with such as that.’”


There are also other trees associated with the supernatural. One of the most common being the sassafras tree (pictured above) around which there is a great deal of lore. Here’s some other folklore from Vance Randolph about certain Ozark trees:

“And there are woodsmen in Missouri who say that sassafras trees do not grow from seeds, but somehow sprout from grub worms.”

“To burn sassafras wood is supposed to cause the death of one’s mother, and although sassafras makes very fine charcoal, no decent native will burn it, or even haul it to the kiln, unless his mother is already dead. There is an old saying that the Devil sits a-straddle of the roof when sassafras pops in the fireplace; Otto Ernest Rayburn refers to this expression.”

“Many old people believe that there is something supernatural about the propagation of the ironwood tree, which is supposed to be planted by the Devil’s agents.”

“The wild hawthorn or redhaw (Crataegus) is another accursed tree, though just how this came about is unknown to me. In March, 1923, the legislature named the hawthorn bloom as the state flower of Missouri, but there are many people in the southern end of the state who avoid touching it and regard even an accidental contact with the blooming tree as a very bad omen. Both redhaw and blackhaw bushes are common in the Ozarks, and both are connected in the hillman’s mind with sexual misadventures rapes and unfortunate pregnancies and disastrous abortions and the like. Other plants which may be mentioned in this connection are the lady’s-slipper (Cypripedium) and the stinkhorn fungus (Phallus impudicus).”

“It is very bad luck to burn peach trees, and dreadful results are almost certain to follow. I know a man and woman who cut down and burned some old peach trees, despite the warnings of their neighbors. Sure enough, their baby became sick a few days later. The neighbors helped them as best they could, but one and all refused to come into the house or have anything further to do with the family if any more peach trees were burned.”

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