I adore trees and would go around hugging them if people didn't look at me so strangely. But who knew this about willows (I'll never look at them again in the same light).
Catherine Cavendish is my guest today and she's writing about her latest novel - "The Devil's Serenade". I've read this and, I tell you, it's a beautifully written and scary story. I'll post my review tomorrow. In the meantime, sit back and let Cat tell you all about it and talk about the mysterious qualities of willows. But come back tomorrow for my review!!!
The Mystical – and Sinister – Willow
Willows play a multiple role in folklore – sometimes inspirational, sometimes a force to be reckoned with, appeased, fed and/or revered. The graceful weeping willow, with its gently swaying fronds of leaves graces many a riverbank.
In my latest novel – The Devil’s Serenade – a willow plays a prominent role. In this case, one with elements of both good and evil. The tree has, at some point in its history, been struck by lightning and now grows at bizarre and seemingly impossible angles. It defies nature. When, by rights, it should be dead, it thrives and its impossibly spreading roots and branches contain a supernatural force to be reckoned with.
In ancient Greek mythology, the willow was sacred to poets as a result of the powerful inspirational effect created by the sound of the wind through its branches. Orpheus was said to have carried branches of it to the Underworld where the inspiration he seems to have derived from their effect caused Apollo to present him with a lyre. Orpheus duly produced such sweet music, he was able to enchant not just people and animals but even the trees and rocks of Mount Olympus. In the temple of Delphi, Orpheus is depicted leaning against a willow tree, touching its branches.
One manifestation of the dark side of the willow’s ‘nature’ is its association with grief and death. The ancient Greek sorceress, Circe, planted a riverside cemetery with willows and dedicated it to Hecate and her moon magic. Male corpses were wrapped in untanned ox hides and exposed to the elements in the tops of the trees. This led to the practice of placing willow branches in the coffins of the recently deceased, and planting young saplings on their graves. In ancient Celtic tradition, there was the belief that the soul of the departed would grow into the roots of the young trees enabling its spirit to rise up and live within the growing tree. Even today, in Britain, many cemeteries are lined with willows to protect the spirits that reside there.
Willows are also associated with fertility and an ancient Romany tradition of the festival of Green George is just one example of this. It takes place every year, on 23rd April in parts of Transylvania. A man is chosen to be Green George. He wears a wicker frame made from willow and the local people then cover this with greenery and vegetation to represent the association of the willow with water that is so vital in ensuring a bountiful harvest. A young willow is then cut down and erected at the place where festivities will abound. This is then festooned with garlands. That night, all the pregnant women of the area gather around the tree and each places an item of clothing beneath it. If a single leaf falls onto that garment overnight, the woman will be granted a trouble-free delivery by the willow goddess.
At dawn the next day, Green George hammers three nails into the young tree and then promptly removes them, takes them to the nearest stretch of water and throws them in. This is to attract the attention and goodwill of the water spirits. He then returns to the tree, picks it up and returns with it to the water where he dips the branches until they are dripping with water. This will arouse the fertile qualities of the tree. The people then bring their animals to Green George who raises the tree and shakes water on them to bless the fertility of their farm animals for the coming year. Once complete, the tree is then re-erected and forms the centrepiece for festivities, feasting, drinking and merrymaking.
In The Devil’s Serenade, the willow is known as the ‘tentacle tree’ and any merrymaking performed around it has far more sinister connotations…
Now, to give you a taste of The Devil’s Serenade, here’s the blurb:
Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember…
“Madeleine Chambers of Hargest House” has a certain grandeur to it. But as Maddie enters the Gothic mansion she inherited from her aunt, she wonders if its walls remember what she’s blocked out of the summer she turned sixteen.
She’s barely settled in before a series of bizarre events drive her to question her sanity. Aunt Charlotte’s favorite song shouldn’t echo down the halls. The roots of a faraway willow shouldn’t reach into the cellar. And there definitely shouldn’t be a child skipping from room to room.
As the barriers in her mind begin to crumble, Maddie recalls the long-ago summer she looked into the face of evil. Now, she faces something worse. The mansion’s long-dead builder, who has unfinished business—and a demon that hungers for her very soul.
Here’s an extract:
A large flashlight rested on the bottom stair and I switched it on, shining it into the dark corners. There wasn’t a lot to see. A few broken bits of furniture, old fashioned kitchen chairs, some of which looked vaguely familiar, jam jars, crates that may once have held bottles of beer.
The beam caught the clump of gnarled and twisted roots that intertwined with each other, like Medusa’s snakes. I edged closer to it, my heart thumping more than it should. It was only a tree, for heaven’s sake! The nearest one was probably the willow. Surely, that was too far away? I knew little about trees, but I was pretty certain their roots couldn’t extend that far.
I examined the growth from every angle in that silent cellar. The roots were definitely spreading along the floor and, judging by the thickness and appearance of them, had been there for many years. Gray, like thick woody tendrils, they reached around six feet along and possibly four feet across at their widest point. I bent down. Close up, the smell that arose from them was cloyingly sweet. Sickeningly so. I put one hand over my nose, rested the flashlight on the steps and reached out with the fingers of my free hand to touch the nearest root. It wriggled against my palm.
I cried out, staggered backward and fell against the stairs. The flashlight clattered to the floor and went out. Only the overhead bulb provided any light, and it didn’t reach this darkest corner. Something rustled. I struggled to my feet, grabbed the torch and ran up the stairs. I slammed the door shut and locked it, leaned against it and tried to slow down my breathing. A marathon runner couldn’t have panted more.
I tapped the flashlight and it flickered into life, seemingly none the worse for its accident. I switched it off and set it on the floor by the cellar door. Whoever came to fix those roots was going to need it.
You can find The Devil’s Serenade here:
And other online retailersAbout the author:
Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She was the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits in the Shadows. Other titles include: The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine, Dark Avenging Angel, The Second Wife, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, The Devil Inside Her, Cold Revenge and In My Lady’s Chamber.
You can connect with Cat here: