From AD 900 onwards the largest parcels of land were all owned by the various monastic orders. Among them the Cistercians, who could best be described as the “shock and awe” equivalent of medieval times, since they are largely responsible for mindless deforestation fuelled by greed. Once forests had been cleared, the newly created fields were rented out, making monastic orders rich in the process and those who worked the fields considerably poorer.
Oak trees were also used widely in the construction of churches, chapels and monastic settlements. Just like the pagan Norse shrines had been surrounded by oak, so were the ones dedicated to Christ, with the difference that pagan ceremonies took place in the living forest, while Christians killed off the trees to use only dead wood in their worship.
When the sixteenth century arrived, European axes never stopped falling and the once plentiful oak forests were decimated even further. Oak was mainly used to build ships that could cross the oceans. Although Britain had once been covered in oak forests, by the seventeenth century there was a severe oak shortage and timber like pine had to be important from the Baltic and from as far away as America.
The other types of trees that play a major part in Willow the Vampire and the Sacred Grove as well as in the sequel Willow the Vampire and the Würzburg Ghosts are ash trees, since the World Tree Yggdrasil is an ash tree and, naturally, the willow tree, which has had all sorts of magical and healing powers.
Ash trees belong to the genus fraxinus, which in turn belongs to the family Oleaceae, meaning olive-tree like. There are some 45 to 65 species in the family and most are deciduous, although some are evergreen. In Norse mythology the first man (Askr) was fashioned from ash, while the first woman was fashioned from alder tree. Ash lends itself to be made into a number of useful human tools like shafts for bows and arrows or handles as well as being excellent for fire wood. Odin’s staff or spear Gungir is made from ash and is said to be indestructible.
Willow Band was named after the willows that stand along river banks and lakes. The genus of Salix contains some 400 different species, some are dwarf varieties that creep, others are purely ornamental in our gardens such as the weeping willow. In spring their pretty catkins often appear before the leaves have even opened. Willows are among the favourite food of our nocturnal friends, the Lepidoptera, which leave their larvae in the tree so that the little moths can feed the moment they emerge, among them the Giant Leopard Moth and the Minor Shoulder-knot moth.
Both leaves and bark of willow trees were used in ancient times by Egyptians, Assyrians and Sumerian doctors as a remedy for fever and various aches. Willow bark contains salicin, a substance not unlike our aspirin. Bees love willow trees because these trees flower very early in the year and give off pollen that bees need to produce honey.
In witchcraft willow trees belong the nine sacred trees with a variety of magical properties. What those magical properties are and how Willow and her friends will use her namesake in their battle against Earth’s destruction will gradually be revealed in the next novel.