Oak Woodlands: Fairylands of Magic, Wisdom and Power (Why the woods sacred to the Celts should matter to us.)

Oak Among Basalt – Photo by D. Fritz

Pliny the Elder (who lived in Gaul, 1st century CE) was the first to write about the Druids use of oak trees in their religious ceremonies. Later, Christian churches were built in oak groves (most likely because some of those locations were pagan sites of worship).

Oak trees are especially susceptible to lightning (high water content making them more conductive). Weakened bark allows mistletoe to grow, which was seen by some ancient cultures as a divine gift from the gods. European mistletoe was (and is) used as a medicinal for a broad range of ailments.

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 (1700-1888)

Oak trees have long been a symbol of wisdom and power. In her book To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest, Diana Beresford-Kroeger speaks of the oak as The Mother Tree:

The seeds fall to earth on the skirt of the oak and a certain number, like the acorn years and years ago, sprout. The fallen leaves of the tree, over time have created a humus soil, rich in humid acid, which helps roots of the new seedlings absorb water and nutrients. When it is strong and able, the oak even passes carbon and hydrogen in the form of food through its roots to the plants around it, particularly its own offspring, in an exchange akin to breastfeeding. Its offerings benefit only select species, but the list is long. In addition to other trees, ferns, lichens and mosses also benefit from the oak’s generosity. Many trees thrive in the shade, waiting generations to grow. Each responsible for sustaining forty different species of insect. The oak is a metropolis and in the three hundred years it has taken to reach maturity it has also given rise to fresh, virgin forest.

Walking through oak woodlands (or any forest for that matter) transports me from the rush and noise of our modern world back to the time of respect and worship of the natural world, a time for reflection and re-generation of my spirit. I’m with John Muir:

And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.

I adore oak woodlands; mottled twisty trunks, rustling leaves, crunching footsteps on the trail and the verdant smells of oak, bay laurel and madrone leaf mulch rotting on the forest floor, each tree a unique wonder waving majestic arms towards the gods.

Oak woodlands support more biodiversity of plant and animal life than almost any other habitat on earth. It’s no wonder they’ve been revered as places of sacred power.

The Greeks, Romans, Slavs & Celts (and others) worshipped them. Each group respectively associating the tree with their supreme god, the same one who had dominion over rain, thunder and lightning. Thor, the Thunder God, claimed it as his own.

Knightswood Oak – Courtesy of Wikipedia

Considered one of the oldest Oak trees in the world, The Knightwood Oak lives in southern England, and she is grand. This 500 year-old Queen of the Forest, has been visited (maybe even worshipped) by humans for centuries.

I want to remind you that the forest is far more than a source of timber. It is our collective medicine chest. It is our lungs. It is the regulatory system for our climate & our oceans. It is the mantle of our planet. It is the health and well being of our children & grandchildren. It is our sacred home.

Diana Beresford-Koreger

Other Resources

Oak Mythology and Folklore


Wales – Land of My Fathers

What I’m Reading

To Speak for the Trees: My Life’s Journey from Ancient Celtic Wisdom to a Healing Vision of the Forest, Diana Beresford-Kroger (Random House Canada, 2019)

Diana is a botanist, medical bio-chemist & author who combines western scientific knowledge with plant wisdom from the ancient world.This is a remarkable story of a young woman, a cross-breed born of both British royalty and powerful Irish stock, neither side of the family ever accepting the other. Orphaned at an early age, she was taken in by her mother’s relatives, where the Irish elders took her under their tutelage and taught her the Celtic triad of mind, body and soul, a teaching that imparted the fundamental importance of nature.

What emerges is a philosophy about why forests matter and a new way of studying and protecting them for future generations. She shows us that every living thing on the planet is connected to the health and well-being of the global forest.

Diane takes the reader on a personal and powerful journey with the mind of a brilliant scientist and reverence of a mystic.

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