British Popular Customs Present And Past - online book

A calendar of the traditional customs, practices & rituals of the British Isles.

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274                               ST. Helen's day.                        [May 2.
From the following passage in Atkinson's Cleveland Glos­sary (p. 417), it would appear that this is known in that district as St. Helen's Day; although the feast, properly so called, is held on August 18th (which see). The transfer seems to have originated in the fact that the Invention (or Discovery) of the Cross was due to St. Helen, who was thus connected with the feast kept on May 3rd under that title.
At Cleveland, Yorkshire, the 2nd of May, St. Helen's Day, is Rowan-tree day, or Rowan-tree Witch-day, and on that day even yet with some the method of proceeding is for some member of the household or family to go the first thing in the morning, with no thought of any particular rowan-tree—rather, I believe, it might be said, till some rowan-tree is fallen in with of which no previous knowledge had been possessed by the seeker. From this tree a supply of branches is taken, and (a different path homewards having been taken, by the strict observers, from that by which they went) on reaching home twigs are stuck over every door of every house in the homestead, and scrupulously left there until they fall out of themselves. A piece is also always borne about by many in their pockets or purses, as a pro­phylactic against witching. Not so very long since either the farmers used to have whipstocks of rowan-tree wood —rowan-tree-gads they were called,—and it was held that, thus supplied, they were safe against having their draught fixed, or their horses made restive by a witch. If ever a draught came to a standstill—there being in such cases no rowan-tree-gad in the driver's hands, of course—then the nearest witchwood-tree was resorted to, and a stick cut to flog the horses on with, to the discomfiture of the malevolent witch who had caused the stoppage.
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