Oak, the hardwood tree that is considered sacred across so many pagan traditions is prized for its hardness, longevity and steadfastness. It has been called the Tree of Life and The King of Trees and is often depicted with its roots going down to the underworld, the Tree in the middleworld and its leaves reaching for the higher world. The acorns are a symbol of fertility while the leaves can be used in purifying, much the same way as sage.
Oak can grow 25-30 meters tall, are deciduous and live a very long time – hundreds of years if left alone (The Ivenack Oaks in Germany are over 800 years old – picture at bottom). Their canopy is usually widely spread, allowing sunlight to reach the ground beneath. They can often be found scarred by lightening, their immense size meaning they can be the tallest tree around. As they age, the bark becomes gnarly and marked by deep fissures.
Magical objects such as wands are often made of oak because of its characteristics of endurance, protection, stability and steadfastness. It was not just the Druids that revered Oak, but witches, Romans (the Oak was belong to Zeus, father of the gods and lightening) and Norse (Oak was attributed to Thor) held it in high esteem. The word ‘Druid’ is in part derived from the Celtic word ‘dru’ for oak (modern irish, ‘Dair’) which can also be attributed to sanskrit ‘duir’ for door. The oak symbolised as a door into the otherworlds is a common attribute of celtic tarot.
As Christianity spread across the west, many oak groves or places of worship were taken by the Chuch so that places like St. Brigit’s monastery was at Cill Dara (Church of the Oak, modern day Kildare) and St Colum Cille was at Doire Calgaich (Calgach’s oak gove, modern day Derry) – indeed he founded a monastery at Kells where he is reputed to have lived under an oak tree.
The Druidic season of oak runs from June 10 – July 7, the seventh month of the Druidic calender. It is the seventh letter of the Ogham alphabet, Duir. Druids, priests and priestesses is various traditions have listened to the tree’s leaves as a means of divination and that may transfer into the characteristics attributed to those born under the Tree of the Oak. They will often defend and speak up for those who cannot do so themselves. They nurture the earth and are careful of the environment. Their roots will spread wide into the community and being part of a community or movement is important to them. They will often bring structure and logic to those organisations, being able to instinctively transfer a framework of support, much like the great branches of the oak.
In Celtic mythology, there is also the battle between the Oak King and the Holly King. At midsummer, the Holly King is victorious and so the world moves towards the winter and darkness. At midwinter, the battle is fought again and the Oak King is victories, so the world moves towards summer. It is a reminder of the constant cycle of life and death and the balance that permeates everything. The Oak King is often used in images of the Tree of Life.
Mistletoe in an Oak was seen as a sign from the Gods and was probably cut during a ritual. Modern Druids usually cut mistletoe during the winter solstice for luck, prosperity and fertility. Faeries are also associated with oaks, believed to live under their shelter and can become quiet attached to their homes.
Carrying pieces of oak or acorns is believed to enhance youth, ward off old age and increase fertility. The bark is astringent and can be used externally to reduce inflammation. Sitting under an oak tree can bring peace and clarity to the mind.