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The Hazel Tree

An engraving of divination by nuts taken from the Chambers Bros. Book of Days, Edinburgh, 1869.

Nut Day

Oct 22

Other Scottish Country Dances for this Day

Today's Musings, History & Folklore

"A hazelnut I throw in the flame
to this nut I give my sweetheart's name,
If the nut blazes, so too our passion grow,
For 'tis my nut that so brightly glows."

~ Traditional

Divination and fortune-telling games during Hallowe'en season using nuts were so popular that Hallowe'en was often referred to as "Nutcrack Night." The most popular game was played with hazelnuts. Two nuts are selected, representing yourself and a potential partner. The nuts are tossed into the fire with the chant "If you you love me crack and fly; If you hate me burn and die." Some of the Hazel Tree's reputation for fortune-telling may be associated with Celtic belief that hazelnuts gave one wisdom and inspiration. There are numerous variations on an ancient tale about nine hazel trees which grew around a sacred pool, dropping into the water nuts that were eaten by salmon, which absorbed the wisdom. A teacher, in his bid to become omniscient, caught one of these special salmon and asked a student to cook the fish, but not to eat it. While the student was cooking it, a blister formed and the pupil burst it with his thumb and sucked it, thereby absorbing the fish's wisdom. This boy was Fionn Mac Cumhail (Finn McCool) and went on to heroic deeds in Gaelic mythology. In European folklore, "The Hazel Branch" from Grimms' Fairy Tales offers the greatest protection from snakes and other things that creep on the earth. 🌰

The Hazel Tree

October is nut season!

The Celts equated hazelnuts with concentrated wisdom and poetic inspiration, seen in the related similarity between the Gaelic word for these nuts, cno, and the word for wisdom, cnocach. There are several variations on an ancient tale that nine hazel trees grew around a sacred pool, dropping nuts into the water to be eaten by some salmon (a fish revered by Druids) which thereby absorbed the wisdom. The number of bright spots on the salmon were said to indicate how many nuts they had eaten.

The Gaelic word for hazel is Coll. It appears frequently in placenames in the west of Scotland, such as the Isle of Coll and Bar Calltuin in Appin, both in Argyll-shire where the tree and its eponymous placenames are the most common. It also appears in the name of Clan Colquhoun whose clan badge is the hazel. 

In days gone by hazelnuts would have provided a plentiful and easily stored source of protein, and they were often ground up and mixed with flour to be made into nourishing breads, such as nut loafs.  Cultivated hazelnuts called filberts take their name from St Philibert's Day on 20 August, the date by which hazelnuts were supposed to start ripening. 

By Nutcrack Night, an old Scots and Northern English name for Hallowe'en (also called The Oracle of the Nuts), nuts were enjoyed around the fire along with fortune-telling and other rituals.   Several customs involved throwing nuts into the fire to determine the fate of yourself and your sweetheart.

Two nuts would be put into the fire: if they burn quietly together, the courtship will be smooth; if they jump apart, the wooing will be rocky.  Another tradition has young women testing their sweetheart's fidelity by placing named nuts on the bars of the fire grate.  If a nut cracks or jumps, the lover will prove unfaithful; if it burns or blazes, he has a true regard for the girl making the trial.   


This is evoked in John Gay’s 1742 poem, The Spell:

"Two hazel-nuts I threw into the flame,
And to each nut I gave a sweetheart’s name:
This with the loudest bounce me sore amazed,
That in a flame of brightest colour blazed;
As blazed the nut, so may thy passion grow,
For ’twas thy nut that did so brightly glow!"

To see "The Hazel Tree" dance performed by RSCDS Stirling, see below.

And for a delicious Nut Loaf recipe, a Flourless Orange & Hazelnut Cake with Caramelised Walnuts, click the slice!

The Hazel Tree
The Hazel Tree

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