The Oak Tree
King of the Greenwood
By Glennie Kindred
(Originally published at Beltane 1998)
THE OAK (QUERCUS ROBOR) is deeply connected in our hearts as representing the very essence of England, and especially the power of the High King and his ancient and spiritual link to the land. It would be hard not to think of this tree as a masculine energy - mighty, strong, enduring and steadfast. The images we have of the Oak are buried deep in in our national psyche. Indeed, it is one of our longest-living trees, spanning generations upon generations. For this reason, old oaks were veneraged and used by the Druids, Ovates and Bards, and later by the Kings and the Church, for important meetings and ceremonies. They were planted to mark boundaries because of their longevity and strength to endure for hundreds of years.
The Oak will take 70 - 80 years before it begins to produce acorns. By then the trunk will be about 20 inches in diameter, but this will still be a young tree in the life of an Oak. After it has reached 100 years, it will only increase its girth by about one inch (2.5cms) a year, but this extremely hard dense wood is highly prized as a building material and firewood. Until men devised iron cutting tools, the Oak resisted all attempts to fell it. After this, ironically, Oak became the main wood for making the charcoal needed for the furnaces which separated iron from its ore. It later became the main construction material for houses, churches and ships as it was strong and durable and its twisted branches provided the right shapes needed. In Elizabethan times, a law had to be passed, protecting the Oak, to give the tree a chance to re-establish itself as so much of the great oak forests had been felled for building materials and fuel. After that, many oaks were coppiced to give a re-newable resource. The Oak woods we have now are a legacy from these times.
There are many famous old Oak trees. The most notable perhaps is the major Oak in Sherwood Forest, although it is a big disappointment to see it these days, held up with chains and a fence round it to stop all human contact. Other ancient Oaks can be found on village greens or in fields and would previously have been used a boundary marker. Many old Oaks were called Gospel Oaks, relating to the time when the gospels were preached from beneath their mighty shade. Of course, this follows on from the custom and practice of the Druids who met in mighty Oak groves and beneath old Oak trees, for all their meetings and teachings were outside in the open and closely connected to the tree dryads.
One etymology of the word Druid derives it from "dru-wid", meaning "knower of oak trees", but "deru" also means truth or troth and so could also give the meaning "knower of the truth".
In the Ogham, the Oak is given the word Duir. Duir comes from the Gaelic and Sanskrit word meaning "door" and there are many associations to be found linking the oak, not only to the doors of our houses but also as representing a doorway to inner strength and inner spirituality. The Oak will lead the way to the truth, especially where this is connected to part actions and this revelation will bring strength and vision, and a doorway to new understanding.
Sometimes the road for Oak in the Beith-Luis-Nion is given as Dair instead of Duir. The word dair describes a rutting deer and kingship, connected the Oak and the Oak king to the Beltane rites. It is also closely connected to the Daghdha who is linked to the Earth and the physical attributes of food, sex and crude raw physical energy, also uppermost at Beltane.
In the Beith-Luis-Nion system as described by Robert Graves the Oak, being the 7th tree, is central to the 13 moons and is linked to the Summer Solstice. "The lunar month which takes its name from Jupiter, the Oak-god, begins on 10th June and ends on 7th July. Midway comes St John's Day, 24th June, the day on which the Oak King was sacrificially burned alive. The Celtic year was divided into 2 halves, with the second half beginning in July, apparently after a 7-day wake, or funeral feast, in the Oak King's honour."
Traditionally, the need fire (a sacred fire which was kindled after all the other fires had been put out) was always kindled in an Oak log, and the fuel for the Midsummer fires was customarily of Oak. The Oak therefore virtually stands at the doorway of the great turning point of the year, the Summer Solstice. The sun reaches the height of its power and strength, and turns to begin a new cycle of its decline. The Oak is central to the understanding that this change will effect us, and is part of our growth which links us to the etheric web of the Earth. The Summer Solstice is the peak of expressive and expansive personal energy, but it cannot last forever, or we would burn ourselves out. Strength and endurance can be gained if we learn from our experiences now, and begin to prepare for the new cycle which is about to begin.
Sitting with an Oak tree will soothe the nervous system and help you solve some knotty problems. It will bring deep calm and the will to survive. The Bach flower remedy Oak can be taken by those who are struggling and fighting strongly and constantly in their daily lives, or desperately trying to overcome an illness. It will bring renewed strength and courage to any situation and restore faith, so that you can go ahead and aim for what you want in life. People needing Oak are usually strong and determined people, hard workers who will not complain and who will work relentlessly without a holiday. Sometimes this can be seen in mothers, who look after the family without a break and never admit to being overworked or under stress. Their enormouse contribution is not always recognised or recompensed. This is partly the oak-type fault, as they feel an inner reluctance to appear weak in the eyes of others, and are worried about becoming dependent, and so do anything rather than ask others for help. Taking the Bach flower remedy will soften this attitude and bring new vitality, easing tension and bringing a more easy-going element to life.
The Norse God Thor and all thunder Gods are connected to the Oak, which is often struck by lightning. The force of the blast bursts the trunk apart, often leaving a hollow bole and gnarled and withered trunks. Here lies a warning about stubborn rigid strength which resists and breaks in the storm. Flexibility can be a strength in itself, which can balance the forcefullness of rigid thinking and actions. During the 7th lunar month the Druids carved a circle, divided into 4 equal parts, on the Oak for protection against lightning. This paractice is said to be found even today amongst some old foresters in Britain, who continue to carve this symbol onto the Oak to avert disaster for the tree. Similarly acorns were carved on bannisters and blind-pull bobbins to ward off lightning striking the house.
Wands were made from oakwood from trees which had been struck by lightning in the belief that lightning would not strike twice in the same place, and were used as talismans of protection. Very often, an acorn was carved at the end of a Druid's wand and oak leaves were worn or carried for protection, especially from disaster. A spray of oak leaves was carved on the old shilling and 6d coins, and many family crests and emblems carried the symbol of oak leaves, showing allegiance to the Oak tree and its magickal properties.
Zeus/Jupiter, the Oak God, was also armed with thunderbolts. The oracular Oak grove at Dodona in Greece was dedicated to Zeus and messages from the Gods were interpreted from the sound of the wind in the Oak leaves. A Graeoc-roman custom was to award a crown of Oak leaves for saving life and for victory in the Pythian games.
An Oak wand would be ideal to make if you need to get in touch with your inner strength and power. Make it out of any piece of Oak wood which suggests this use. You might easily find a branch which has been blasted off the tree in a storm and be able to remove a piece from this. Decorate your wand with anything which has power or a meaning of power to you, such as a stone with a hole in it, a feather from a bird whose qualities you wish to draw strength from. Bind on crystals, jewellery, symbols, wools of a colour which make you feel powerful and strong. Whilst you are making it, feel the power and the inner strength which is yours and will be forever a part of you. Carry a small touchwood talisman of Oak with you in your pocket, sanded smooth and good to feel. Hold it to gain inner strength whenever you need it. Place a small piece of oakwood in a pouch to wear round your neck at all times, until you feel you no longer need to draw on the Oak for strength.
The leaves and bark of the Oak are the main parts to be used medicinally. The juice from crushed Oak leaves can be applied directly onto wounds and the leaves can be soaked in boiling water, allowed to coola nd the liquid used to relieve fired and inflamed eyes. Use the same lotion for any cuts and burns and as a mouthwash for bleeding gums and for bathing piles (haemorrhoids), varicous veins and as a gargle for sore throats. A decoction of the bark can be used for reducing fevers, diarrhoea, dysentry, tonsillitis, pharyngitis and laryngitis. A decoction is made by adding 1 teaspoonful of crushed bark per cup of cold water. Bring to the boil and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes. This can be drunk 3 times a day in a wineglass measurement.
The bark should be collected from the Oak in small patches in April or May. Make sure that what you collect is smooth and free from blemishes. Carefully pare it from smooth branches or from trunks less than 4" thick, but be sure not to ring the tree or it will die. The bark yields a tannin which was used extensively for preparing leather and twine.
Oak galls (formed by the gall wasp larvae) yield a black ink. Steep 8 ounces of galls in 4 pints of boiling water. Steep for 24 hours, strain and add a sweet-smelling essential oil (a few drops). Add one and a half ounces (45g) of gum arabic and then stir in 3 ounces (80g) or sulphate of iron (ferrous sulphate).
A coffee substitute can be made from acorn kernels. Chop them up and roast them to a light brown colour, then grind them up and roast them again.
The Druids made a distilled water from the flower buds to cleanse the internal body. They also collected the water found in the hollows of the trunk and used this ritually to cleanse the external body in time for the midsummer festival. It is a very magick think to find a pool of water hidden within the boughs of the tree, and to know that this pure rainwater has been soaking up all the herbal and spiritual properties of the Oak. It is worth returning to the tree with a jar to collect the water in.
For generations upon generations, people have gone to sit beneath the mighty Oak to gain strength and spiritual renewal. The outside world can be forgotten and the inner world can slip back into perspective. The Oak can help you to find new understanding and vision, gained from your experiences. This in turn will bring strength and courage to fact whatever life has to offer you. The Oak tree's mighty presence will help restore faith in ourselves and withi this lies the ability to go ahead and aim for what we most want in life. It is well worth finding the time to go and sit with an Oak tree and to receive the qualities it has to offer us. Remember to thank the tree after each communications, not because the tree needs your thanks but to keep open your channels of love and respect for the tree kingdom and all of nature. This will enhance your ability to receive their qualities on the deepest level.