THE OAK TREE - King of the Greenwood

First Published White Dragon Magazine Beltaine 1998. Revised 2007

By Glennie Kindred -

The Oak (quercus robur) is deeply connected in our hearts as 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 our national psyche. Indeed, it is one of our longest living trees, spanning generations upon generations. For this reason old Oaks were venerated and used by the Druids, Kings and later by the Church, for important meetings and ceremonies. They were planted to mark boundaries because of their longevity and strength.

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 like 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 shaped needed. In Elizabethan times, a law had to be passes, protecting the Oak, to give the tree a chance to re-establish itself as so much of the great oak forests has been felled for building materials and fuel. After that, many oaks were coppiced to give a renewable resource. The Oak woods we have now are a legacy from these.

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 as a boundary marker.

Many of the Oaks were called Gospel Oaks, related to the time when gospels were preached from beneath their might shade. Of course, this follows on from the custom and practice of the Druids who met in might Oak groves and beneath old Oak trees, for all their meeting and teaching were outside in the open and closely connected to the tree dryads.

One etymology of the word Druids derives if from 'dru-wid', meaning 'knower of the 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 sanskrt 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 were this is connected to past actions and this revelation will bring strength and vision, and a doorway to new understanding.

Sometimes the word for Oal 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 Saghda who is linked to the Earth and the physical attributes of food, sex and crude raw physical energy, also uppermost as 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 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 mires 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 declining. 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 experienced 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 enormous contribution is now always recognised or recompensed. This is partly the oak-type fault, as they feel inner reluctance to appear week in the eyes of others, and are worried about becoming dependant, and so do anything rather than ask other for help. Taking the Bach flower remedy will soften this attitude and bring new vitality, easing tension and brining 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 lightening/ the force of this blast bursts the trunk apart, often leaving a hollow bole and gnarled and withered trunks. There lies a warning about stubborn rigid strength which resists and breaks ion the storm. Flexibility can be a strength in itself, which can balance the forcefulness 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 practicing Is said to be found even today amongst some old foresters in Britain, who continue to carve on banisters and blind-pill bobbins to ward of lightning striking the house.

Wands were made form oak wood from trees which had been struck by lightening in the belief that lightning would not string twice in the same place, and were used as talismans of protection. Very often, as acorn was carved at the end of a Druid's wand and oak leaved 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 allegiances to the Oak tree and its magical 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 Graeco-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 tough with you 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 meaning of power to you, such as a stone which 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 yo feel the power and the inner strength which is yours and will be forever 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 oak wood 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 barj 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 elaves can be soaked in boiling water, allow to cool and the liquid used to relieve tired 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 diarrhoea, dysentery, tonsillitis, pharyngitis, laryngitis and fevers. A decoction is made by adding 1 teaspoon 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 form the Oak in small patches in April and 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 of it will die. The bark yields a tanning 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 then a half ounces (45g) of gum Arabic and then stir in 3 ounces (80g) of sulphate or iron (ferrous sulphate).

A coffee substitute can be made form 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 magic thing 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 find a new understanding and vision, gained from your experiences. This in turn will bring strength and courage to face whatever life has to offer you. The Oak tree's mighty presence will help restore faith in ourselves and with 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 communication, not because the tree needs your thanks but to keep open you 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.

Glennie Kindred 2007