Grandmother Elder, that’s what they call me.

They can’t seem to agree if I am a tree or a shrub, which is fitting really—I’ve always dwelled on the edges, the boundaries between the wild places and where you humans live. A weed, that’s what they say—dig me up, rip me out, but once … once I was a fairy queen. I’ve always been silver-haired, gnarled, but beautiful nonetheless.

Hyldemoer, they named me. Radiant queen of Midsummer, ancient queen of Samhain. I’ve been a shelter for witches and a healer of the folk—they named me the Medicine Chest of the People, did you know that? I’m the Mother of Life, Death, and Rebirth—the Great Wheel, though you’d never think it to look at me. I can help you see into Faerie, but remember: If you look into Faerie, Faerie looks into you, and you may never be the same again. My blooms bring visions. When you become trapped in a maze of thoughts with no way out, you may call on me. If you need healing, I can help. I can bring fire and channel water, just another example of my duality. Just like you, I’m not all good or all bad, but a harmonious blend of both. Speak to me gently and I’ll guide and guard you.

They say I dwindled after Judas was hanged from my branches. Don’t believe everything you hear though—I’ve always been this size. Closer to the underworld, and why not? That’s where my power comes from, after all. There are so many tales about me, and some of them even hold a grain of truth. They say I’ll pull out any babies laid in a crib made from my wood, and while that’s not absolutely true— I bear them no ill will after all, poor wee bairns—it’s not entirely false either. I’ve always dealt with death and rebirth and wisdom, and babies are too close to the source.

I’ll give you my wisdom, if you ask me—but be polite, child, always be polite. I’ll tolerate no disrespect. I’ll give you my berries and my flowers, if you ask me nicely—I’ll take some of your berries and flowers and wood when you become a tree, and consider it a fair bargain. I’ll watch over a family from the shadows and protect them without them ever knowing about it. I’ll protect your beasts from being hagridden too, if you ask me. I’ll reach into the underworld and speak to the Norns and bring back fairy wisdom, but I’ll only share it sparingly with you mortals—you live such fleeting lives, after all, and some of their lessons are too deep and wide and wild for most mortals to bear. Speak to me at the full moon and the dark, at dawn and dusk, when the sun is not fully up and the moon has yet to retreat.

Rachel Oakes-Illustration_The Dark Mother

Illustration by Rachel Oakes

Rachel Oakes is a fairy and folklore artist living in Cambridgeshire, U.K.—a county of ghost stories, witches, and wild-eyed hares. To see more of her work, visit @enchantedoaks on Facebook or Instagram as well as


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Ali English
Ali English has been fascinated by herbs, folklore, and fairy tales from a very young age, and since qualifying as a medical herbalist in 2009, she has spent her time painting, designing botanical fabrics, writing, teaching, and working with plants in the hills of North Lincolnshire, U.K. Her blog can be found at and a portfolio site can be found at