The Thirteen Trees
Ogham Moon Calendar
The Five Trees
The Half Year
The Sacred One
Original artwork © Ruby Clark 2010
Associated Festival - Summer Solstice June 21st
"Sing for the oak tree
The Monarch of the wood;
Sing for the oak tree
That groweth broad and good;
That groweth green and branching
Within the forest shade;
That groweth now, and yet shall grow
When we are lowly laid."
Extract from 'The Oak Tree' by Mary Howitt
Widespread throughout the British Isles and part of the ‘Sacred Triad’ of Oak, Ash and Thorn, and the Irish ‘Seven Noble Trees’, the oak has long been thought of as the King of the Woods. The tree of endurance, strength and triumph. The adjective 'durable' comes from the ancient celtic name for the oak - Duir.
Our two native oaks, Quercus Robur (Common Oak) and Quercus Petracea (Sessile Oak) are common sights in our woodlands, and giant, centuries old trees still stand in our great woods and parklands. Many of these have legends of their own. All have stories that they can tell to those who will listen.
English oak in July summer prime - Charing, Kent
. The English oak, so beloved in our landscape, has dark green leaves of around 8cm with rounded lobes, changing to a patchwork of browns, greens and yellows before falling in the autumn. In May the tree drips with fairly inconspicuous flower tassels. The greeny-brown 'acorn' fruits ripen in summer and drop along with the tiny cups that hold them. These cups are treasured by the faeries, most of whom collect them for use as utensils, whilst some use them as night-bonnets.
Tasselled oak flowers - May
|Ripe acorns - September|
The oak tree yields the strongest of woods, sought after through history to be fashioned into fine ships and the stoutest of ancient doors and weight-bearing beams. Despite its immense strength, oak is a wonderful wood to carve.
As fuel, it gives off a great heat and burns slowly. The magical 'need-fire' is always kindled from oak, sparked into life in times past by rubbing two oak sticks together.
The fuel of the mid-summer solstice fire is traditionally oak as were the Vesta fires in the legends of Rome.
The great Yule log is an oak log, and part of it should be kept until the next winter to rekindle the yule-tide fire.
The picture at right shows sections of 17th century oak panelling
and comes from www.ancientpoint.com
Winter oak - top of the North Downs above Charing, Kent - January 2013
from Robert Graves version of 'Cad Goddeu' -'The Battle of the Trees'
Oak apples are the small, marble shaped 'fruits' which appear to made of wood and are found quite frequently. They are not fruits of course, but swellings caused by gall wasps. The female lays an egg in a leaf bud, and juices cause the bud to swell, as the grub grows it feeds inside the hardening gall.
From the middle ages, oak galls were used primarily in the making of ink. You can find a wonderful recipe in a book written in 1596 by a dutch author - enchantingly titled ... 'A Booke of Secrets Shewing Diuers Waies to Make and Prepare All Sorts of Inke, and Colours: As Blacke, White, Blew, Greene, Red, Yellow, and Other ... '
In 1660, May 29th was given the name 'Oak Apple Day' and declared a public holiday. The day celebrated both the birthday of King Charles 11 and his restoration to the throne of England after the short rule of Oliver Cromwell's Parliament.
Everyone supporting the Royalist movement wore sprigs of oak and oak apples, and house doorways were also festooned with oak branches to show loyalty. Oak was chosen since Charles successfully hid in a sheltering oak tree during one of his battles with the Roundheads.
The tradition is still established in a few places in England, notably St. Neot, Cornwall and Castleton in Derbyshire although the public holiday was abolished in 1859.
The little round galls also have their share of magic, being used to foretell weather and fortunes, and for wearing as a protective talisman (see below)...
Is the Oak
Here is an exquisite Oak Leaf Pendant, hand-crafted in solid silver from the
Click link for more details
Oak Healing and Medicine.
Oak bark was used by the ancients, and is still used in modern medicine as a powerful tonic, being both very astringent and antiseptic.When powdered bark is mixed with water (as part of a herbal tea) it has a strong, bitter taste, but smells faintly aromatic.
This can be given instead of Quinine for relief of fever or high temperatures. This quality is thought to have been discovered by drinking rain water which had collected in the hollows of oak boughs.
Powdered bark may be mixed with a little natural peppermint oil and used as a toothpaste.
Bruised leaves, laid onto stings or cuts and bites, relieve inflammation.
Bach Oak Remedy,
the higher self.
There are hundreds of old remedies that rely on transferance of pain - usually into a tree - the trees were strong and could bear the temporary discomfort. Trees could then transfer the pain through their roots into the earth, or through their branches into the sky. As 'King of the Woods', the mighty oak had to take its share.
T.F. Thistleton Dyer, in 'Folk-lore of Plants' 1889, writes of a Germanic cure for gout as follows:
"To take hold of an oak, or of a young shoot already felled, and to repeat these words:—
"Oak-shoot, I to thee complain,
All the torturing gout plagues me;
I cannot go for it,
Thou canst stand it.
The first bird that flies above thee,
To him give it in his flight,"
Element: Fire Ruling Planets: Sun Gender: Masculine
The ancient Druidic religion was based on the oak-cult and the white-robed priests only met for rituals where a fine oak tree - ' The King of the Woods' was present.
Throughout Europe, oak is the tree of the thunder gods - most likely because it is quite commonly struck by lightning. It is the sacred tree of the very highest of the god eschelons, Zeus, Thor, Jupiter and Hercules -The Celts, Norsemen, Greeks and Romans all revered the tree and also strongly linked it to Pan and Hecate.
The Oak Oracle of Zeus at Dodona, Greece
Picture from 'Journeys & Stargazing' - used here with Stavros' kind permission
One of the best known legends is that of the Oracular Oak in Dodona, Greece where Zeus himself set up sanctuary. Here, in the rustlings of the leaves, the cooing of doves living in its branches, the sound of thunder crackling above and the whisperings of the roots reaching far down into the underworld, all sorts of predictions for the future could be obtained.
The Oracle at Dodona can still be visited in its remote valley about 22km south-west of Ioannina – you may hear the oak leaves rustling in this ancient site for yourself as you stand barefooted like the priestesses of old.
by Christopher Bell
In England, the oak is a potent symbol of masculine power. The Horned God or Herne the Hunter (Lord of the Greenwood) wears a crown made up of oak leaves and acorns, as may the oaken faced 'Green Man' and folklore's 'Oak King.' These characters have become merged and confused over the centuries, (particularly the 21st!). Although the spirit of a fine oak tree can be found in so many British myths and stories, the more you try, the more difficult they are to untangle.
by Marc Potts
used here with Marc's kind permission
The roots of the great oak trees, it is said, extend as far under the ground as its branches above, so the Oak King can look above to the heavens and down into the below, as well as back and forwards into the two halves of the year.
A legend from Wales tells of 'Merlin's Oak' - a tree said to have been planted from an acorn by the Magician himself on the outskits of Carmarthen, which is said to have been his birth-place. He layed on his tree a powerful spell of protection, which would bring disaster to the town if the tree were ever felled.
The tree lived to a great age before it was struck by lightning and burned, but even then its blackened trunk was preserved behind railings for over a century. When it was eventually removed to make way for a roundabout, Carmarthan was badly flooded!
You might like to listen to a song written in honour of Merlin's Oak
by folksinger and writer Frank Hennessy
click image above to listen
Standing beside a footpath off Stone Down Lane, Glastonbury, are what remains of the great oaks, named after giants and steeped in legend – Gog and Magog.
These ancient watchers were said to guard the gates of Avalon. Once, they formed the head of an avenue of oaks leading towards the Glastonbury Tor, believed to have been a ceremonial path used by the Druids. They are now alone in glory and barely surviving - but, good news, The Glastonbury Conservation Society has replanted young oaks along the way.
'Gog and Magog' Jacob George Strutt from his book of etchings
'Sylva Britannica, or Portraits of Forest Trees' 1826
At the Summer Solstice on June 21st, or St Johns day June 23rd, depending on which is celebrated, a representation of the oak-king was sacrificially burned alive. (See more of the Legend of the Oak and Holly Kings on my Ogham Holly page.)
This is mid-way though the oak’s lunar month on the Ogham Tree Calendar, just at the time when the tree will have its show of green, tasseled flowers. There can be a second budding of leaves around the time of the Lammas festival on August 1st.
King John's Oak
The Giant Oak on the left was nothing but a huge, living shell when this picture was taken in the churchyard of the village of Headcorn in Kent. It had a girth of 33ft and was believed to be over 1000 years old.
The children are standing inside the still living tree. It was said to have sheltered King John under its branches around the year 1200.
Sadly the tree burnt beyond saving in 1989, but its blackened stump can still be seen - as can a young one, now well grown, taken as a sapling from the original giant. (Click sign to enlarge)
|'Acorn Cap' by contemporary British artist Suzanne Gyseman|
Oak Magic, Charms and Beliefs
Artist - Cecily Mary Barker
* Two twigs of oak, bound into an equal armed cross with red thread should be hung in the house, as a charm against all evil.
* Carry an acorn as a charm for youthfulness and fertility.
* Acorns placed on the window sills guard against lightning.
* Add oak logs to your fire and they will help to carry away sickness.
* Plant an acorn by the light of the full moon to invoke the money power of the oak for prosperity.
* Camp beside an oak tree and your time there will be blessed with good luck, happiness and prosperity.
'Oak' by Jean-Baptiste Monge
* If (faeries forfend) you should fell a grown oak tree, and add the wood to a fire, a great dog will rise from the ashes and insist that you return them to the place where the tree lately stood. Obey - or the consequences may be fatal !
* Burn a handful of oak leaves to purify the atmosphere in a dwelling place.
* Drill a small hole in a woody, marble shaped 'oak-apple', thread it with red thread and wear it as a necklace or carry it as a charm for prosperity and protection.
* At the Summer Solstice - the shortest night - June 21st, make a herbal incense with oak as a base - use powdered bark, acorn or oak-apple, dried oak leaves. Burn it to invoke the powers of the great trees - long life, inner strength, courage, endurance, protection and prosperity.
'Oak Fairies' a postcard from a painting by Sybil Barham, c.1920