Post by Joanna on Oct 12, 2016 13:17:33 GMT -5
Britain's Coin Trees: Ritual or Imitation?
In 2011, a number of mysterious trees into which hundreds of coins had been pressed were spotted around the Welsh seaside town of Portmeirion. Staff at Sir Clough Williams-Ellis’s beautiful Italianate village found the money, mostly 2 pence pieces, impossible to remove. Meurig Jones, the estate manager at the attraction, said, “The first three trees have probably got a thousand coins in them. It’s not any particular type of tree either. It’s beech, holly and some of the stumps are quite hard so it takes some time for people to knock the coins in. We haven’t publicized it at all,” he added, none of the trees have been cut down deliberately, it’s just happened, it’s quite amazing really.”
Although the pictures of the felled trees made national news, the strange phenomenon is not confined to the Welsh town. In fact, these coin-studded trees can be found across the UK, particularly in the Lake District and Yorkshire. But their story dates much farther back than this recent attention may suggest. “I did some detective work,” Jones told the BBC, “and discovered that trees were sometimes used as ‘wishing trees.’ In Britain, it dates back to the 1700s – there is one tree in Scotland somewhere which apparently has a florin [an old gold coin] stuck into it.”
The tradition, which probably has pagan roots, was believed to bring good health. People thought that if a sick person pushed a coin into a tree, their illness would go away – and that if a healthy person removed it, he or she would become ill.
Trees are, of course, seen variously as symbols of peace, hope and health throughout the world. In the Netherlands, for example, the wish tree is a wedding custom in which guests write their wishes to the bride and groom on a piece of paper and hang it on a tree. And wish trees have also been featured, particularly in Yoko Ono’s work; she has been experimenting with them since 1981.
Then there are clootie wells – wells or springs, usually with a tree beside them – where strips of cloth or rags have been left as part of a “healing ritual.” These, like coin trees, appear to be unique to the UK and Ireland.
Given the durability of metal, there are some coin-laden trees still standing after more than a hundred years. On Isle Maree in Loch Maree, Gairloch, in the Scottish Highlands, for example, there is an oak tree stuffed with old coins that was made famous after a visit by Queen Victoria in 1877. One of the most renowned coin trees is at the High Force, a waterfall on the River Tees, near Middleton-in-Teesdale, County Durham. And some pubs, such as the Punch Bowl in Askham, Cumbria, have old beams with splits in them stuffed with coins.
However, many of the coin trees spotted on the nature trail are more recent additions to the wild – as the tradition has re-emerged over the last few decades.
But do people really believe placing a coin in a tree will improve their health? Ceri Houlbrook, a folklore archaeologist who has written extensively about coin trees. says the modern obsession is more about imitation than anything else. “In the 18th and 19th centuries, the custom of coin insertion was observed for folk-remedial purposes,” she explains. “Depositors were hoping for cures to certain ailments through the process of ‘contagious transfer.’ However, the custom has experienced a recent resurgence, with many coin-trees dating to the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s.
The modern-day depositors of coins do not cite folk-remedies as the purpose behind their participation,” Houlbrook adds, “instead, the majority refer to imitation as the primary motivating factor. Simply put, people insert coins into trees because they have witnessed other people doing so.” In that sense, they are no different than love locks in Paris, throwing coins in a fountain or fads such as rock piling.
So is it ritual litter or a beautiful tradition? This depends entirely on your outlook.
Source: Anthony Pearce's Blog, October 4, 2016.