The Glory of the Oak, the Magic of the Acorn

Juleigh Howard-Hobson

Known for both its strength and its longevity, the oak tree, named in 2004 as the national tree of the United States of America, has long been regarded as king of the forest in both spiritual ways (the Druids worshipped in oak groves, the goddess Diana wore acorns around her neck, the oak was sacred to many European gods, among them Zeus, Jupiter, Thor, Perun and Dagda) and in mundane ways (in ancient Rome, victorious military leaders would be honored with oak leaf crowns on their return from campaigns. Today the same oak leaf is still seeing service in the military symbolism used by Commonwealth nations and the USA. As well, oak trees produce wood of high quality for fine furnishings, building materials and shelter for folk like Robin Hood and his merry men).

By far the most interesting portion of the oak tree, as far as numinosity is concerned, is its fruit—the acorn.

Fairies dwell in oak trees, where they use the caps of the acorns as hats, and the kernel of the acorns for everything from cups and bowls to food itself. By the time an oak tree is old enough to produce acorns, anytime between 20 and 50 years after sprouting, its fairies are quite fond it and will go to great lengths to protect it. Which may account for the tree’s great ability to withstand time—oak trees usually live for 200 years, and the oldest on record was thought to be at least 460. This faerie magic may be the reason behind the general folk beliefs that carrying acorns brings good luck to the bearer, and if carried long enough, will keep old age at bay. Merging the spiritual with the mundane, during the battles of the Norman Conquest, English soldiers carried acorns with them, as wards against the tribulations of war.

The Norse, in particular, considered the acorn a symbol of the protective might of the tree itself, due to the tree’s association with Thor, the god of Thunder and Lightning. That Oak trees withstood these stormy ‘acts of god’ was proof of divine dispensations towards them. An acorn brought all the power of this dispensation with it, and so protected the whole house it was in; this acorn was usually placed on a windowsill for best results, but it didn’t have to be there to work at all. This custom survived, and unbeknownst to most, survives today, in various acorn motifs on furniture, window pulls, wallpaper etc. Even the autumnal acorn-laden décor of a Thanksgiving table setting is a small grateful nod to the protective graces of the Divine.

Folklore associated with acorns is pleasant lore, full of protection and promises of plenty (plenty of life, plenty of strength, plenty of youth), which echoes the promise of the acorn to the oak—to grow strong and live long enough to ensure the world of more acorns and more oaks. The mundane merged with the arcane—the oak’s glorious magic: the acorn.

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