Editors' Note: This article is compiled from information in Ellen's forthcoming book,
A Druid's Herbal of Sacred Tree Medicine, to be published by
Inner Traditions in May, 2008. It is published here with their permission, not to be used elsewhere.
The word Oak is capitalized throughout this article because of its sacredness to the Druids, but does not
refer to Oak essence.
A look at the long history of Oak's impact on peoples of the world can help us understand what it still
offers us today. The post-glacial Indo-European cultures came to fruition during the era when great Oak forests
covered most of their territory. Over half of all shelters and constructions in Europe were made from Oak wood.
Oak was an important source of heat, being a dense firewood, and was used to fashion bows, spears, oars, boats,
and houses. The bark and leaf of the Oak were boiled to make an astringent brew that could tan hides and nets
as well as pull the edges of a wound together. Oak was considered a "noble of the wood" due to its acorns,
its usefulness in tanning hides, and its value in woodwork.
The ancient Indo-Europeans could have been called "The People of the Oak". Because of their
reverence for this tree and their dependence on it, many religious associations developed.
Parjanyah, a Vedic Oak God, was associated with rain clouds and storms. The Lithuanian God
Perkunas was worshiped in sacred Oak groves or in the guise of a single Oak tree, usually growing
in a high place. The Teutons burned Oak fires in honor of the Thunder God. For them harming an
Oak tree in any way was punishable by torture.
The Greeks had groves of oracular Oaks such as in Dordona where the will of Zeus could
be heard in the rustling of the leaves. The ancient Greeks prayed to Dryads, Oak Spirits,
for rain. In Rome the Vestal Virgins tended perpetual Oak fires and Jupiter was honored
in the form of an old Oak tree. The recurrent theme was the association of Oaks with thunder,
Deity, lightning, high places, rain clouds, storm Gods, Paradise trees, and Thunder Gods,
because the Oak tree was known to attract lightning.
Practices of the Forest Druids
Trees were sacred to the Druids, and they had a system of divination based on their beliefs about
the properties of certain trees. For Druids, Oaks symbolize the ideal way of life. The Oak tree
is a symbol of balance; its mighty branches reach to the Heavens and attract lightning while its
roots dig deep into the soil. Oaks are providers; they give of their excellent wood, and feed
the people and the animals with their nuts. (For more information, visit
The Order of the White Oak --
World Druid Council.) The following are some traditional Druid ways you can connect with
and attune to the sacred energies of not only Oak, but any other tree you have a special feeling for.
DIVINATION: In divination, Oak reminds us to stay centered and balanced with our roots in the ground and our head in the Spiritual skies. If stout Oak has come to your awareness today, you are being reminded to seek balance in your life. Perhaps a Spiritual path or some other obsession has kept your head in the clouds too long. Or is it time to pay attention to your earthbound concerns? Has your mundane existence taken over, leaving you feeling tired, trapped, and frustrated? It may be time to poke your head in the clouds to gain a fresh perspective.
BONDING WITH TREES: Have at least one tree (or a whole grove of trees) that you form a close bond with. It can be a tree that you have nurtured from seed, or one in the neighborhood that seems to call out to you. It can be a tree in the local park or in your own back yard. Give the tree gifts such as fertilizer, dried herbs, shells, coins, and cakes. Hang a bird house in or near the tree so it will always have company. Plant its seeds and help its babies to thrive. Bring it your prayers and songs. Hug it and let it know that it is special to you. In ancient times, altars would be set up and ribbons or wool hung from trees, to mark them out as special.
MAKE A MAGICAL AUMULET: Identify which trees have the qualities you need and fill a
small pouch or other object with their roots, barks, leaves, flowers, nuts or berries. Wear the amulet or carry it on your person. Whenever you take anything from a tree you must leave a gift in exchange. In the old days Apple Cider, Honey or the herb Vervain were the usual gifts. If you live in the Americas; Sage, Corn Meal, and Tobacco are appropriate as well (because the Land Spirits understand those gifts). Individual tree parts have different energies, so pick the part of the tree that most fits your magical intention. Flowers and leaves have a lightening effect and are great for uplifting your spirits and improving your mood. Twigs, cones, barks, berries, nuts, and woods will help you to focus your intent and initiate new projects. Roots will help to ground your energy and your magical intention.
TREE ELIXIRS: Gather parts from a tree whose qualities you need, and soak the
parts in alcohol (80° or higher) for a few days. Drink a few drops of the Tree Elixir with water
or anoint yourself or an object with it. For extra magic expose the Elixir to the Full Moon or leave
it in the hollow of a tree for three days and nights.
Tree Elixirs can be added to water for baptisms and naming ceremonies, to anoint the dead,
to bless a new house, to consecrate magical tools, and so forth.
To make the Elixir, begin
the process a few days before the Full Moon. If you are
soaking leaves or flowers in alcohol, it might take just a few hours or a
day or two for the plant matter to start to break down. As soon as you see
that happening, it is time to strain the liquid and put it into a permanent
brown or blue glass container. The best Elixirs will have the color and flavor of
the tree still in them, and smell fresh and alive.
DO A TREE RITUAL: Find an old tree with low hanging branches that is easy to climb.
On a Full Moon night, climb the tree and bring flutes, bells, rattles and harps. Sing songs
to the tree as the Moon rises. Add edible parts of trees to breads and cakes for ritual use.
Serve them with honey and mead during or after a ceremony. Strew tree leaves and other tree parts
in public places; before the house, in the ritual area, before a Hand Fasting, etc.