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Friday, January 16, 2009

Around Ye Ole Oak Tree

Do you know why the oak tree is associated with supernatural powers? The fact that the oak tends to be struck by lightning as much as, if not more often than, other trees has promoted its association with supernatural powers and made it sacred to the thunder-wielding Norse god Thor. A southern English rhyme sensibly warns: Beware the oak, it draws smoke.

Elsewhere, somewhat perversely, the tree is actually recommended as a suitable shelter in the event of a thunderstorm. Keeping boughs of oak (particularly if taken from a tree that has been struck by a lightening bolt), or a few acorns, in the house is reputed to protect the house from lightening. Standing beneath an oak, or wearing oak leaves, is further said to furnish protection from evil spirits and from witchcraft.

In Cornwall, superstition advises that hammering a nail into an oak tree will relieve the pain of a toothache, while in Wales rubbing sores with a piece of oak bark on Midsummer Day will help them to heal. Embracing an oak tree, meanwhile, is enough to cure hernias and to promote fertility of couples unable to have children. Oak trees planted at crossroads are considered to have the most effective healing powers.

The oak acquired a reputation as a royal tree in the seventeenth century after the future Charles II hid in one to escape his Parliamentarian pursuers after the battle of Worcester. In honor of this event, loyal subjects took to wearing oak leaves to proclaim their Royalist sympathies on what became Royal Oak Day after restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Anyone failing to comply was beaten with stinging nettles.

Back in the more brutal times, in pagan Germany, any man who harmed an oak was punished by having his navel hacked out and nailed to the tree; he was then forced to walk around the trunk, with the result that his intestines were slowly pulled from his body.

Even today, in our modern world, the oak tree is still honored. The choice of clusters of oak leaves as a military decoration hails back to ancient Rome, when soldiers who had performed some act of bravery or selflessness were honored with the presentation of an oak leaf crown. An oak leaf cluster or oak leaves is a common device which is placed on U.S. military awards and decorations for "Exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding service, heroic deeds, or valorous actions."


Anonymous said...

Interesting. I'd never heard this. Enjoyed the read.
C.J. Parker

Terry Spear said...

Hmm, I had a blackjack oak struck by lightning, but all it did was blow down in straight line winds, block the driveway, and take down part of our wooden split rail fence! Still, oaks of all varieties are beautiful for shade, color, and hardiness, so I planted a bunch this fall....maybe they'll bring a little luck too. :) Great post, Loretta!

Mary Ricksen said...

Wow, makes you want to cover your stomach.
Interesting post, I love to learn stuff.

Loretta C. Rogers said...

Thanks for dropping by C.J. & Terry. Good luck with the new oaks, Terry.

Emma Lai said...

I love interesting bits of trivia like this. Living in Houston, TX, I'm surrounded by big, old oaks. It's amazing how majestic they look, their trunks so large that two people with joined hands couldn't span them. I always think it's sad when one dies.

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