Continuing on with the theme of Oaks that seems to have been running around my mind as we approach this Solstice, I thought you might like this old rhyme, originating from the New Forest in southern England:
“Turn your cloaks, for fairy folks are in old oaks!”
The Old Belief was that by turning your cloak or coat inside out you would ward off the chances of being whisked off by the sidhe, or fairy folk.
The Oak was the tree of the druids, containing much magic. Perhaps this is because it is one of the most mighty and magnificent of trees, but there is more to it than that. It lives longer than most trees and in its acorns it carries hundreds of symbols of fertility. In one oak you’ll see more birds, caterpillars and other creepy crawlies than you will in a dozen Ash trees. So, it makes sense that the tree has long been regarded as a symbol of generation and life.
One old custom was to carry an acorn in the pocket for luck. Today you can still see acorns carved on the pillars of gateposts as well as in the ends of window blinds. Both of these practices are echoes of the old view that the Oak held deep magic and great power in warding off evil spirits (gateposts and windows being entry-points).
Derw is one old British word for Oak, Duir is another (this one taken from the Tree Ogham, an alphabet made up of tree names). The word druid is almost certainly a derivation of derwydd, which meant Oak-Seer.
I’ve always felt the Oak’s energy is very male (as compared to, say, Beech or Birch) and once had a very strange experience when I climbed inside one. The tree had been struck by lightning, severing it almost in half and leaving a hollow some five-foot deep inside it. Climbing in, I was surrounded by the growing remains. It was dark and dank in there, but not silent.
I had not been inside the tree for long when an overpowering sense of a strong, not altogether welcoming, energy fizzed through my body. So I jumped out quick! Since then I have had a great respect for the big old Oaks that grow in the heart of our woods. Their magic is strong indeed.
Many people enjoy trees in the spring and summer when they are covered with leaves, but the winter is a wonderful time to experience them too, because you can see more of them: a bit like seeing an x-ray of a body. Their branches sweep up into the sky and down to the ground, like vast lungs bearing hundreds of bronchial tubes and alveoli, all of them breathing out the oxygen on which we depend.
I hope that our wonderful Oaks survive the current attacks on them by various diseases. Our landscape would be so much poorer were they to go the same way as the Elms that graced us with their stately presence when I was a boy: and a slice of real magic would be lost.
With best wishes,