Eller Tree: ‘at least a curious relationship to tree worship’

January 31, 2014

Eller Tree

A number of young men and women stand in a line, a tall girl at one end of the line representing the tree. They then begin to wrap round her, saying, “The old eller tree grows thicker and thicker.” When they have all got round her (the tree), they jump all together, calling out, “A bunch of rags, a bunch of rags,” and try to tread on each other’s toes.—Sheffield, Yorks (S. O. Addy).


(b) The tree is the alder. It abounds in the North of England more than in any other part of the kingdom, and seems always to have been there held in great respect and veneration. Many superstitions also attach to the tree. It is possible from these circumstances that the game descends from an old custom of encircling the tree as an act of worship, and the allusion to the “rags” bears at least a curious relationship to tree worship. If this conclusion is correct, the particular form of the game preserved by Mr. Addy may be the parent form of all games in which the act of winding is indicated. There is more reason for this when we consider how easy the notion of clock-winding would creep in after the old veneration for the sacred alder tree had ceased to exist.

Alice Bertha Gomme 1894 The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland  London: David Nutt (Volume 1, p.120).

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