I was walking on the Middleforth bank of the Ribble. It was a grey November day; grey sky, grey river, grey wind blowing lime green, yellow and bronze leaves from adjacent trees.
In the distance I saw a pale trunk, devoid of bark, that I’d walked by many hundreds of times. Today it stood out with a strange fervour against the grey. Growing closer I saw a shape that may have been an expression of the tree’s spirit.
Later I read from the internet about ‘coin trees.’ Apparently hammering a coin into a tree was percieved as a ‘votive offering’ to a tree spirit in order to grant a wish, particularly in relation to curing illnesses. If the coin was removed the illness would return (1).
Oak trees take 300 years to mature, spend 300 years in their prime and take another 300 to die. I don’t know what type of tree this is, but it is evidently still living its death, and people are hammering coins into it. To me this is not a reverential way to treat a dying tree and is certainly not a mode of making offerings that would gain the favour of its spirt.
Whether these are ‘votive offerings’ is a dubious matter. A more trustworthy article on Northern Earth suggests the pennies are inserted by passing individuals copying the behaviours of others and that at certain tourist sites staff members hammer the coins in to create attractions (2).
In this case, the latter can be ruled out. My suspicion is that the copycat explanation is more likely. What could bring people to hammer coins into a tree remains undecipherable to me. Why people might perceive this as a votive offering to the tree spirit is even less explicable. More uncanny is the call of this tree to bear witness to its fate.