Ritual and Rag Trees in Contemporary Ireland

Author(s): Jennifer Shaffer Foster

Year: 2017


In Celtic countries, early Christianity was syncretized with pre-existing religious beliefs and rituals, some of which were maintained and modified through the centuries, while others were subsequently adopted but understood as ancient or essential. One ritual practice inhabiting the border of Christian and non-Christian tradition is seen in the Irish rag tree, a hawthorn with strips of cloth hanging from the branches, often located at holy wells or other Early Medieval ecclesiastical sites. People burdened with ailments, or worried about those of their loved ones, tied a bit of cloth to the tree, said a prayer, and believed that when the rag disintegrated so too would the affliction. This practice may be no older than the nineteenth century, but the association of supernatural powers with trees in Ireland dates to the pre-Christian era. Although the practice had been waning, rag trees are currently experiencing a resurgence as manifestations of diverse and fluid belief systems. Rag trees are prominent at numerous archaeological, historical, and natural sites and are understood in different ways by Christians, neo-pagans, Irish Travellers, and foreign tourists, necessitating a complicated and nuanced academic understanding of this practice and the motivations of those who engage in it.

Cite this Record

Ritual and Rag Trees in Contemporary Ireland. Jennifer Shaffer Foster. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 431721)


Ireland Religion

Geographic Keywords

Spatial Coverage

min long: -11.074; min lat: 37.44 ; max long: 50.098; max lat: 70.845 ;

Record Identifiers

Abstract Id(s): 15393