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History and legends
The Oak is in all cultures of Europe a holy tree, a real 'cult' tree. It was believed that the Oak was the first tree created by God and its fruit, the acorn, the first food of mankind. He is the king of the trees just as the lion is the king of the animals. The Oak is the symbol of the strength of life, continuous power, immortality, courage, fertility and sensuality. It was common to plant a young Oak under another tree (a 'nursing' tree) until it was big enough. When the Oak was old enough the protecting tree was cut. Old stories tell that Oaks never forget that they became big with the help of others.
The Greek, the Romans and the Scandinavians had legends that the first man was made out of an Oak. It was associated with the highest Gods (Zeus, Jupiter, Thor). In the Roman and Greek culture important people and statues of Gods were crowned with leaves of Oaks.
The Greek historian Herodotus reported that the sacred Oak grove at Dodona had the greatest reputation for the gifts of prophecy. Situated at the foot of Mt. Tomarus, Dodona was the oldest and most hallowed sanctuary in Greece. An ancient legend tells of two black doves that flew from the Egyptian city of Thebes, one flew to the Libyan Ammon and the other flew to Dodona. Each alighted on an Oak tree and so began the oracular Oak cults dedicated to the Gods and Goddesses. The cult at Dodona was dedicated to the goddess Dione (Diana) but was later seized by Zeus who claimed it for his own, though he retained the services of her priestesses to read his oracles. This they did listening to the cooing of black doves, the rustle of the Oaks leaves in the wind, or the clanging of vessels hung in the trees branches to produce sound. They claimed that within the sounds could be heard the voice of Zeus. The most famous of Zeus' interpreters was an old priestess called Pelias, who prophesied Zeus' messages from a sacred spring at the foot of a giant Oak in the grove at Dodona. The voice of Zeus was also heard in the sounds of thunder, and it was believed that more thunderstorms raged over Dodona than anywhere else in the classical world. The Oak tree due to its enormous size and low electrical resistance, attracts and is struck by lightening more so than any other tree species, and so the Oak became associated with the gods of thunder. Zeus' Roman counter part Jupiter, was also worshipped as a god of thunder and had control over rain, storms and lightening. It was said he revealed the future to mankind by the flight of birds. Birds were known as the "messengers of the gods" and the Oak with it massive frame and huge limbs is the natural resting place and home to many types of birds, as such the Oak became associated with Protection, Strength, Stability and Comfort.
The Germanic, Norse people were not allowed to cut an Oak because it was the tree of peace. Their God Thor (Donar) was worshipped under an Oak. As with Zeus described above, he was the God of thunder and lightening, and even scientists nowadays state that the Oak is the tree the most frequently hit by lightening. Thor is often depicted as a tall, muscular and vigorous man with a red beard. He had an enormous appetite and his ability to eat and drink great quantities is featured in several of his legends. Thor was the principal champion of the gods and the chief protector of humans against giants, trolls, demons and other evil beings. His booming voice and flashing eyes could incite terror in his enemies. He was thought to be good-natured, courageous, benevolent, valiant and always ready to fight to help mankind, but he was also easily irritated and when roused to anger was apt to smash his adversaries to death with a single blow from "Mjolnir" his magical hammer. It was reputedly made by dwarves from the wood of a sacred Oak tree, and not only represented the destructive power of the storms Thor created (the fires from heaven), but its image was used as a fertility symbol in marriages (in its connection with rain and crops) and in funerals (as a symbol of death and rebirth), and for accepting newborn children into the community (as a symbol of strength and protection). Such was he revered that the fifth day of the week 'Thursday' (Thor's day) was named after him. His greatest adversary was the World Serpent called "Jormungand" whose many coils encircled the world. After many battles between them which neither won, they were destined to meet and fight for a final time at "Ragnarok" (the mythical end of the world). At that fatal meeting Thor, the best fighter amongst the gods, succeeded in killing the serpent. However being busy with his own fight, he was too late to aid his father Odin who died fighting the fierce wolf Fenrir. After killing the serpent Thor stepped back and died himself from the poison the serpent had spat at him.
Of course also the Celts and other old folks had a God of Oaks. In the Celtic culture the druids were celebrating under the Oak, the mistletoe had to be cut from an Oak, justice was spoken under an Oak - and when there were humans sacrificed they were crowned with Oak leaves and the baskets in which they were burnt was made out of Oaks (whickerman). In the old Celtic calendar the Oak is the beginning of spring, 21 march, and is the symbol of people who are strong but not egoistic. It stands for the strength that is present in human beings to be themselves.
In early Celtic times certain Oaks were marked with a protective symbol, a circle divided into four equal parts (symbolic of the four elements - Earth, Air, Fire and Water), this was probably a forerunner of the magic pentacle (an up-right five pointed star in-side a circle, symbolic of the four elements plus "spirit"). Most likely this was an old Druidic custom for the druids revered the Oak above all other trees, believing it hosted the energy, power and strength of their gods. Due to its size and longevity the Oak was known as the "Garden in the Forest", for it attracts the growth of various forms of plant life. Normally the trunk of the Oak is covered in fungus, particularly stinkhorn and lichen, which grow alongside tendrils of ivy, but just occasionally mistletoe will also grow on it. When this happened the Oak became especially sacred for the white berries of the mistletoe were thought to represent the sperm of the gods, and so the Oak became associated with the males procreative qualities and fertility.
A good crop of acorns was used to predict a good harvest, and a heavy fall of acorns was thought to signal an impending harsh winter.
In Ireland, "St Bridget" is one of the three patron saints. According to Celtic lore she founded Ireland's first nunnery for holy women at Kildare, called the "Cell of Oak". It is thought that St Bridget evolved from the goddess Briget (also known as Brigid, Bridhe, Brigantia, Bridgadu), a solar goddess who prophesied and healed by virtue of the waters of inspiration. The nuns of Kildare were said to have burned acorns on perpetual fires for food and heat.
Tales from history tell us that King Arthur's Round Table was made from a single slice of Oak, cut from an enormous bole.
Robin Hood the outlaw, another legend, together with his followers reportedly roamed the green depths of Sherwood Forest near Nottingham. There they lived a carefree life passing away the time playing games of archery and hunting the king's deer. Any rich person passing through the forest was robed of their riches, the spoils of which they shared with the poor. The "Major Oak" a massive tree still standing today is said to have been the meeting place of his merry band of men.
There is a famous legend about Apostle Bonifatius who cut down a famous holy Oak to show the Pagans that their God was worth nothing because he could not even protect his tree. The Oak became the tree of the devil. Many Oaks were cut. Witches were burned with the wood of Oaks.
However, the belief in the Oak seemed to be that strong that the Christians changed their tactics: The Oak was associated with Maria, and many altars for Maria are found in the vicinity of an Oak.
Oak Apple Day occurs on the 29th of May, and commemorates the return of Charles II to London after exile. During exile, he was hidden inside an Oak tree, and he declared that the 29th of May should be set aside as a holiday for 'the dressing of trees'. It is not certain why the day is named after Oak apples, the spongy galls caused by parasitic wasps. The people celebrated, Oak sprigs and leaves were gathered and used to decorated hats and clothing, boughs were tied to the doors of houses symbolically bring back luck, prosperity and fertility, and an Oak Man was dressed up Oak leaves and danced around the streets before claiming his May Queen. Today many of these traditions have been absorbed into the Mayday celebrations, and are still enacted each May around the country.
A tale tells us about a farmer's boy who made a pact with the devil. He said to the devil that he could come and take his soul when that Oak over there does not carry any leaves anymore. The devil thought it was okay and waited until winter. However, he waited in vain because many Oaks keep some of their leaves during the winter until the new ones appear in spring.
In magic practices the Oak stands for the male part, the sun, the fire and is associated with the following Gods: Athene, Bridgid, Bridhe, St Briget, Blodeuwedd, Cerridwen,Circe, Cybele, Dagda, Demeter, Diana, Dianus,Dione, Erato, Esus, Hecate, Hercules, Herne, Janus, Jupiter, Odin, Pan, Rhea, Thor, Zeus.
Its powers are: Protection, Health and Healing, Fertility, Luck, Money, Joviality and Potency.
Astrologically Oak people (i.e. those who are born during the month of May) are robust, courageous, strong, unrelenting, independent and sensible. They do not like change, keep their feet on the ground, and are people of action. Even when faced with over riding stress, hurt or pain, Oak people come out on top better and stronger and more grounded than before. Instead of bending under stress, hurt and pain, they adapt and grow until they overcome it.
The protective qualities of the Oak were well known and used in magick, and many of the old customs are still practiced in country villages.
Oak: Carrying a small piece of Oak on your person will bring about a sense of security and well-being as well as protection from harm.
Two twigs of Oak tied together with red thread to form an equal armed cross is an age old talisman that can be worn or hung up in the home for protection, strength and security against evil.
If someone is sick or poorly in the home, place an Oak log on the fire to warm the house; it will help to "draw-off" the illness.
As the Oak tree is so firmly planted and deep-rooted it symbolizes permanency, and as our feet are constantly in touch with the ground this symbolism can be used magically to aid our feet. Before going on a long journey, be it in your own country or abroad, soak your feet in a footbath infusion of Oak bark and leaves. This will not only relieve weary feet, but also guide you on your journey and ensure you're save return.
To catch a falling Oak leaf in the autumn will bring you luck and prosperity, and you shall suffer no colds throughout the winter.
Acorns: Acorns placed on window-ledges will guard against lightening strikes.When you wear an acorn on you it protects you against all kinds of bad stuff, also illness and pain, and it gives you a long life, youth, fertility and sexual strength. When you plant an acorn during the new moon it will bring you a lot of money very soon (gosh, that is the trick I always forgot to do!...). In the past, European and American women wanting to get pregnant would carry an acorn as a talisman. The acorn with its symbolic representation of the glans penis was much used in love magick and fertility rites, for which use phallic shaped wands were made and tipped with an acorn. In olden days young women would place two acorns in a bowl of water to find out if she had found true love, if they moved together "yes" if they moved apart "no".
The ancients and druids of old used the oak tree for divination purposes when planning the next seasons farming work. By carefully studying the leafing sequences of different trees, they could determine when to plant the next seasons crops. An old proverb relating to this has been passed down through the centuries and is still used to predict the weather in many country districts:
"If the Oak's before the Ash,
Then you'll only get a splash;
If the Ash before the Oak,
Then you might expect a soak."
Due to the Oaks many associations and characteristics, it is used symbolically on many ritual occasions, for instance in February during the festival of Imbolc, the spirits of the Oak tree can be invoked to aid and lend strength to the Goddess as she sleeps having given birth to the new God. It can also be asked to aid and acknowledge the new God as he grows in strength to become the new light of the year.
In March at the festival of Ostara (the Spring Equinox) when the Goddess returns from the Underworld, the Oak tree can be invoked to aid her as she blankets the earth with fertility bringing new life to the lands and pastures, also to lend strength to the new god as he stretches and grows to maturity inducing all living creatures out of hibernation to mate and reproduce.
The Beltane festival in May marks the courtship of the Goddess and God and the renewal of the ancient marriage of polarity. The Oak tree is invoked for its associations with weddings and fertility.
In June, Litha the Summer Solstice festival embraces the beginning of summer when earth is awash with the fertility of the Goddess and God. The Oak is again invoked for its associations with the gods of thunder and rain to aid the growth of crops.
At the Lammas festival in August it's the time of the first harvest and the time when the plants of spring begin to shrivel and die. At this time the Oak is called for its regenerative powers, for as the other plants begin to wither and die the Oak produces its Lammas shoots in conformation that the cycle of life will continue.
September (Mabon) is the Autumn Equinox and completes the harvest begun at Lammas. Nature declines and draws back its bounty in readiness for the winter and it's time of rest. At this time the Oak is revered for now it drops it own harvest of acorns, these then feed and nourish the forest animals as they stock their larders ready for hibernation and the bleak cold months of the coming winter. The God now dies as a willing sacrifice and descends into the earth to the Underworld, there to await his renewal and rebirth by the Goddess. The Oak trees spirits can be invoked and all the trees attributes called upon to ease the gods decent with strength, courage and comfort while aiding the Goddess with its male procreative qualities and powers of fertility.