I am a sucker for the eerie and the mystical. I’m not a spiritual or religious person, but I’m often intrigued by the beliefs of others. I suppose a part of me wants to believe in something and seeks answers somewhere. So anything unusual typically perks my ears and catches my eye.
So imagine my curiosity when out of nowhere, on one of my walks in the forest of Ambleside, I come across the below – a tree trunk full of coins apparently hammered to it.
Now I have seen coins thrown into fountains, or wishing wells. But this was new. And it seemed old. It seemed like a lot of effort as well – doesn’t seem easy to get these coins stuck in such solid tree trunks.
My internet connection was not the greatest at the time, but you can imagine one of the first things I had to do… well Google it. It seemed I had been upon two wishing trees.
The concept of a wishing tree isn’t new and far from being limited to England or Scotland. As I wrote a few months back, in Bulgaria there is a ritual of putting your Martenitsi (a red and white wool bracelet) around the first blooming tree you see in Spring. In multiple cultures, people have hanged other trinkets, pieces of fabric and paper in ancient trees, hoping to see wishes granted, for good fortune or to keep illness away – these can be found as well in Ireland and remote parts of Scotland, but also in Turkey, Japan, South Korea… these are just some I’ve come across with by researching locations and their superstitions.
Where I’m from, Portugal, it is very common to throw coins into fountains and to make a wish. Children specifically love this tradition, but it often becomes a donation to help take care of certain churches or other heritage places. I know this is the most widely spread tradition – at least in Western culture – as even earlier this year when I was visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, I came across something that really made me laugh. Apparently, the fountain doesn’t even need to be located in a religious/sacred place, or even functioning – it seems visitors of the museum were throwing coins at the beautiful fountain below, to the point the museum had to request visitors to stop it.
I’ve set out to understand what had made travellers/hikers/walkers in the United Kingdom think about hammering coins into tree trunks. It seems like such practice dates back to the beginning of the 18th century when it was believed that one could get rid of an illness by sticking a coin into a wishing tree. This tree would assume the illness, and if anyone was to take the coin out, they would fall ill. While getting rid of some sort of sickness seems to have been what originated such practice, others thought that they would be granted a wish once the coin was driven past the bark and into the tree’s wood.
Now, imitation is something that humans have been a victim of. It sounds like in the past ten years there has been a resurgence of such practices and many organisations, including the National Trust, have pleaded to hikers to not continue such practices. While these coins are often stuck into “dead” tree trunks, they still represent much damage to Nature, including to a lot of creatures that see their habitats invaded by the toxic remnants of nickel, copper or whatever the coin may be made of.
Personally, I am a true believer that Nature heals. That is likely my own belief at the moment, and not even sure if it can be categorised as faith. I just know I’ve been made by Nature, I’m of the same matter. Whenever I die, one way or the other, I’ll return to Nature. And that is the cycle of life. Coins, money… it’s a human invention. If we want any wishes to be granted, if we want to believe in the magical powers of certain places… I do not believe you can buy it with something as dirty as money. Treat Nature well, treat your fellow humans, and your fellow animals well. Respect it. Don’t tarnish it with coins. and hopefully, Nature will give back.
Have you come across such strange practices? Is there anything you’ve found in your travels or even in your hometown that falls into the category of a wishing tree? I’d love to hear more about it.