Coin Tree, Middleforth

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.

Oddity House and Coin Tree, Middleforth 004 - CopyIn 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.

Coin Tree, MiddleforthAt first I thought it wanted me to come closer to examine the exquisite cloaked and hooded fungi that seemed to be melting from gaps in its exterior.

Fungi, Coin TreeFungi, Coin TreeThen I realised the reason for the gaps, the congregations of fungi. Legions of two pence coins had been hammered into it, mainly on top, also down the sides.

Coin Tree, MiddleforthCoin Tree, MiddleforthCoin Tree, MiddleforthI felt nauseous, disorientated, disbelieving as I struggled to perceive the reason, whilst seeing why moulds and fungi exuded from crevices the battered coinage had split.

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.



16 thoughts on “Coin Tree, Middleforth

  1. Jill

    Totally agree with you. It seems no less than complete abuse treating trees in this way. Have seen this in lots of places and I can almost feel the pain the tree must be suffering with so many coins nailed into it. So disrespectful forcing out stupid superstitions onto a beautiful and enduring display of nature. We should be ashamed.

  2. prestonian

    Why do people add locks to bridges or throw pennies in fountains for a bit of fun… Maybe hope, but whatever the case I feel this is an over analysis of why people are getting involved…. The tree isn’t hurting and its not like people have put them into a living growing tree…this tree has been cut down a load of nonsense for a bit of fun. I shall leave it at that.

    1. To me it felt very unnatural. Coins are poisonous to trees. Trees die much more slowly than us and this one didn’t feel dead yet. In contrast to some logs I’ve seen coins hammered into, which have felt dead.

  3. venividivici

    We aren’t in the shire, this is NOT the lord of the rings and this is NOT AN ENT! The tree is willow and was cut down a couple of years ago after its branches was ripped off in a storm. The fungus grew on it last year (before the pennies were placed in there) and no green growth since it was cut down by the council. Making a special trip down the river in the morning to add a pounds worth of 1ps

  4. We aren’t in the shire, this is NOT the lord of the rings and this is NOT AN ENT! The tree is willow and was cut down a couple of years ago after its branches was ripped off in a storm. The fungus grew on it last year (before the pennies were placed in there) and no green growth since it was cut down by the council. Making a special trip down the river in the morning to add a pounds worth of 1ps

    1. To me it felt very unnatural. Coins of are poisonous to trees. Trees die much more slowly than us and this one didn’t feel dead yet. In contrast to some logs I’ve seen coins hammered into, which have felt dead. No respectful person would hammer coins into a dying tree.

  5. You work with your intuition and what you sense, Lorna. You feel what you felt about this lingering part of a tree. I would not do such a thing and would not consider it a bit of fun. Even if it were dead I wouldn’t insert coins. It does show, however, that money and what it represents is what we value. Thinking you can make an ‘offering’ of money feels more like a bribe to me in our modern context, long ago that may have been different. I do think tossing a coin in a fountain is not the same as hammering one into a tree stump, to do the latter requires force and aggression. To do the latter does not have the same energy and intention behind it. Braver post than you thought when you published it, I’m sure.

  6. You really have to wonder what goes on in some people’s heads, and how disconnected we are collectively if this action feels like reverence. And I see you’ve been hit by the classic ‘just a bit of fun’ defence – which was/is used to defend bear dancing, cock fighting, badger baiting, rape, child porn – it’s all just a bit of fun for the person doing it. The collective inability to consider that something else may have feelings is one of the tragedies of our times. And folk like Rachel with her ‘I shall do more of it for the pleasure of making you unhappy’ mentality – it shocks me to think that any person’s life could be so empty of worth and joy to them they would get their kicks in this way. Rachel ‘Giselle’ Whittle, I hope things get better for you and that you find something that enriches you, because that’s an awful, barren, empty way to engage with the world and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy. And, learn about willows, Rachel, they are hard to kill, they tend to endure, it probably is still alive.

    Lorna, hugs.

    1. Just take a step back a think about what is actually being spoke about! Like (prestonguild) said, everyone has their own views/opinions. The fact that you think you can say you hope things get better for me, etc. I have an amazing life, family, house, partner. I am simply stating that this tree STUMP is not going to grow back into a lovely big tree full of branches and LIFE! would you rather it be dug up maybe, as i said each to their own but there are more important things going on in the world to worry about a TREE STUMP… That is all!

  7. I really don’t think that young children putting some pennies into an old tree stump is on the same level as bear dancing, cock fighting, badger baiting, rape, and child porn. There are many all over the country and people just add their coins for yes a bit of fun. Rachel is of of the kindest, gentlest caring people I have ever met. And just because she holds a different view does not make her wrong. She would not have been seen ripping up plants like Himalayan balsam, just because people think they should not be there.

  8. I have to admit that I don’t grok why coin-in-tree=health. In my own practice, cloth ribbons, water, and compost tea are for tree offerings. Coins are for ancestors or chthonic beings. I agree, that this being a stump is what is disturbing. If it were a cut log, I doubt I’d have the same visceral reaction.

  9. That a dead tree is not harmed by hammering coins into it is not really the point if we are asking whether this is an appropriate ‘offering’ to a tree spirit. Clearly it isn’t and is an extremely odd thing to do in this context. If it is ‘a bit of fun’ , e.g. a frivolous exercise then some of the comments above are just indicative of the lack of feeling for the natural environment that is all too prevalent. I’ve seen a similar tree, I think it was an oak which had fallen, which had coins hammered into it in this way on Exmoor a few years ago. Whether these were ‘offerings’ or not I couldn’t say. People just seem to have done it because others had done it before them. I also remember seeing coins and notes stuck into crevices in an underground cave on the border between Greece and Bulgaria (ancient Thrace) where Orpheus was said to have entered the Underworld to find Eurydice. People do seem to need to use money in this way. But is seems to me better to reverence a tree with something more personal than cash.

  10. Even if the stump is a stump, its roots are still interwoven underground with other living plants and trees. We are so much more interconnected with the surrounding web of life than it appears. Am sure with every coin that is hammered into this remaining bit of tree, there is an accompanying (metallic?) tremor sent out into the landscape. There are so many other, gentler ways to show respect to Nature and its spirits. My two cents (no pun intended!) 🙂

  11. Thank you everybody for your replies. I wasn’t expecting this post to cause quite such heated debate… I think it raises some pertinent questions, some of which I have clearer answers to than others.

    1) Is it possible to distinguish at at what point a tree dies? At what point does it lose consciousness? At what point does its spirit leave? Are we correct in using these human terms and concepts in relations to trees who have very different ways of living and dying?

    I can’t answer any of this!

    2) Is hammering coins into a tree a reverential way of making a votive offering?


    3) Is ‘a bit of fun’ a suitable excuse for hammering coins into a tree?

    No. As Nimue has already touched on, whether acts such as bullying, vandalism or attacks on persons are done for fun or out of malicious intent the damage is still just as distressing to the direct victims and to those who witness these acts. Fun is no excuse for mutilating humans, animals or trees.

    4) Are there any ways of preventing further harm to trees?

    Sadly from what I’ve read here I’ve got the feeling that to try and do or say anything directly would only incite people to cause more harm… although speaking up more about tree consciousness and posing questions about our anthropomorphic worldview in the right circumstances may be a better more indirect way forward.

  12. prestonian

    Over analysis…. Its a stump… with coins and fungus on. You would think people are arguing over the rainforest being cut down…. This tree was broken by nature and the storm and people have decided to put coins in it…. it’s no longer living.

  13. I am sure I have seen account of something similar going way back in time. All I can find are instances where felled trees have had coins – in cases 1000′ of them – pressed in. it seems it has been customary since at least the 1700s to do so and seems also to be something that has happened an still happens all over the UK. I have a vague memory that nails were used in a similar way in Scandinavia I think it was.

    Felled trees are fine by me – a little bit of sympathetic magic; push in a coin to a felled tree and as the wood rots it takes away your ills.

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