• Leslie Hudson

This is a tree to remember me by

Two weeks of folklore magic complete! Trees that grow strong and prosper when their humans do, decline and die when their humans do poorly. Sympathetic magic infuses this legend from Northeast Scotland.

Sympathetic magic.


This is a legend of Mary Gray, a daughter born to Andrew Gray in Aberdeenshire, who lived in the tower-house of Schivas built around 450 years ago. Strictly speaking it's not a folktale because this is reportedly the telling of true events, but the element of sympathetic magic is common to both categories of stories.

It's an ancient Irish and Scottish tradition (not to mention many more cultures who keep it alive) that a tree will flourish while the ruler over its land rules well, stays healthy, wins battles, etc. Tolkien made good use of the flowering tree in Lord of the Rings. In this legend, Mary herself plants the tree and tells her people that it will show them her own state of being even when she is removed from them. She links it to her life's essence and in a sense they become one. Whatever she feels will show in the tree's health as well.

The Lady of the Tower

Mary spends most of her childhood playing alone or with her brother whom she adores. She falls in love and asks to marry a man named John Leslie, but her father refuses, having promised her instead to an aged man of wealth and the Church. Mary's pleas go unheard and she is forced to marry against her will.

"Before Mary left home she planted a tree to commemorate her happy youth at Schivas, saying as she did so that with her happiness the tree would flourish. Many of the tenantry who were present shed tears as they heard these words, for Mary was a great favourite with them." (p 56)

Arriving at her new home she finds her husband away at war and immediately becomes aware that she is a prisoner in her own home, for there are guards in the house to prevent her from trying to escape.

"At Schivas, Mary Gray's tree wilted. The tenantry did what they could to make it grow but to no avail, and it looked as though it was about to die. There was great sorrow throughout the Barony." (p 57)

During the year she's gone, Mary keeps in touch with her lover who finally helps to free her before her would-be-husband returns from battle. Mary and John run away together and are married in secret at a tiny chapel. By the time they return to Mary's home they discover her father has died and her dear brother has inherited the Barony.

"But what of the tree? Needless to say it flourished from the moment of Mary's escape, and today is one of the grandest trees in all the lands of Schivas. You will see it if you ever go there." (p 57)

Lesson learned: unreasonable fathers are meant to be defied. Be patient, faithful, and choose your allies well.

"The Lady of the Tower" from Legends of Northeast Scotland by Fenton Wyness (NY: Gramercy Publishing Company, 1970), pp. 55-59.

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