Friday, March 2, 2007

Ardam Dossaibh... Highest of Bushes... That is the Oak:

The Druids and traditional Gaelic clans are closely associated with trees, in his book 'The Druids' Peter Berresford Ellis’s defines this relationship, and suggests a possible meaning of their title;

“The Druids were an indigenous Celtic intelligentsia, evolving from the original wise men and women during the age of the ‘hunter-gatherer’ among the ancient ancestors of the Celts, losing their original functions but retaining the Celtic name of those with ‘oak knowledge.”

Ellis’s main theory is developed through an analysis of the possible meaning of the term Druid, being connected to the Irish dair or oak, dru-wid or ‘oak-knowledge’ and hence interpreted as meaning ‘those whose knowledge is great.’ Other root meanings that Ellis discovered are dru meaning ‘immersion’ and drucht or dew. Ellis concludes that the Druid is one who was immersed in (oak) knowledge.

Within Gaelic (and Irish) culture both the oak and trees in general are venerated, traditionally used a metaphors and models for society and as a means of describing the attributes of individuals and clans. Trees also take a primary place in spirituality and cosmology; modern Moville in Ireland which is 28 Km north of Derry (near the Inishowen Peninsula) takes its name from the old Gaelic Magh Bhile or Plain of the Sacred tree. Lough Gur in County Limerick reputedly has a sacred tree (the crann bethadh or Tree of Life) growing from its bottom, and according to myth the Lough disappears every seven years to reveal the growing tree. Nearby is a pasture in which a stone monument stands as a representative of the tree; the Cloch a Bhile, a seven foot reminder of the mythic ‘supporter of the world.’

Stuart Piggot has identified a ‘sacred oak cult’ in comparison with certain cultural elements within ancient Greek beliefs, finding similarities between the Dryads or Oak-Nymphs and the Druides, Druidai, Drysidae, and the Gaulish Druvis. Dryads were also the priestesses of Artemis, whose souls dwelt in the sacred oak trees.

The pagan veneration and respect for the oak was maintained even after Christianization; Irish churches were known by the old Druidic term dairtech (oak-house): Kildare (Church of the Oak), Durrow (Plain of the Oak), and Derry (The Oak Grove of Calgaich). There are numerous examples of tribal associations with trees, perhaps the most famous was the Craobh Ruadh or Red Branch of Ulster, the warrior band of Finn Mac Cumhail. A 17th century poem dedicated to the O’ Niall clan likens them to a Yew tree;

You are like a certain yew - there was one time - whose straight tops it was difficult to bend - on account of the union of its branches - One night this same yew under the stress of the thundering storm - which blew from the clouds - had its powerful roots torn.

According to the Ogham tract from the Auricept na N’Eces (The Scholars Primer) the oak is classified as a chieftain tree, described as Ardam dossaibh or Highest of bushes and Gres sair or carpenters (crafts-mans) work. More than anything the tree was symbolic of life itself and represented the genealogical traditions that infused much of Gaelic society, the origin of the meaning of the ‘family tree.’ Very often a family genealogist would be described as a Craobhe Seanchias or one with ‘tree-knowledge’ meaning of course that they had an extended knowledge of lineage and descent (and probably all the attached history, folk-lore and stories.)

Continuing and maintaining my interest in Druidry, geneology and the oak tree I pursued research into the folk tradition of the oak in British culture, and discovered the ‘Gospel – or Charter Oak’;

The Gospel Oak is a 1000 year old tree in Addlestone, in the county of Surrey, Britian which marked the boundary of Windsor forest. It is one of a number of trees scattered throughout the country collectively called 'Gospel Oaks' or 'Crouch Oaks.' They are so named because they were employed as center-points from which religious instruction or preaching were performed by ministers to congregations (particularly unpopular topics disdained by the mainstream religious establishment.) John Wycliffe (1320-1384) used the Addlestone Oak to preach the bible in the common language, as opposed to Latin. Others who used the Gospel Oak were the Scottish preacher, John Knox (1505-1572), George Whitfield (1714-1770), and Charles Haddon Spurgeon (1834-1892).

Gospel Oak is also a suburb of North-London, and named after a particular tree under which parishioners gathered to hear an annual reading of the gospels.

I believe that this practice was the continuation of a tradition which extended back to Celtic times, perhaps within the period that the Romans occupied Britain. Druidic ‘hedge’ schools may have been established in remote locations, instruction and elucidation performed beneath the aforementioned oak trees (out of sight of the Roman authorities.) From this perspective we have inherited a love and respect for this particularly majestic tree - within whose shade the evolution of our ancestor’s education grew, their inspiration blossomed, traditions preserved, language and custom kept a living thing, in peace, meditation and tranquil reflection.

Inspired by the notion of the oak tree as a form of natural learning-book I composed a nine-fold system of life learning, which for me represents a primal Druid rule of order by which I could assess and direct my life in compassion with the Earth, the elements and human society;

1) The Earth. From the roots, trunk and lofty branches of the tree I understood the 'three realms' or great triskele, earth, water and air. I began to understand the various phases of my life, birth, life and death, and the intertwined unity of the inner psychology of my unconscious, subconscious, and conscious. The life cycle of the tree is always continuous; growth and order yields fruit and seeds, which themselves develop into separate lives with their own personality and dynamics. The ‘mother’ tree dies, is consumed by the earth to give fresh pasture – the life continues.

2) The Spirit. The solidified manifestation and expression of spirituality. The tree is nurtured from a seed or spirit, watered and fed, the tap root (or the core of the tree's existence grow first - through the winter). My soul must be fed - with right actions, truth and direction, connected to the earth, following justice and respect for all that which is around me.

3) The Circle. Understanding and realizing place, time, motion, position, seasons. The eternal and infinite revolution of being.

4) The Mind. As the tree stretches out in growth, and I must strive in the pursuit and practise of wisdom, knowledge and learning. This must be as natural as a branch and blossom stretching out toward the sun. The continuation of the effort expended by my ancestors, who passed life onto me through their own struggles, work and pursuits.

5) The Heart. To grow with maturity, to possess responsibility for myself and my family and community. To be a home and haven for those around me, the tree provides these conditions for a host of wildlife, even wood for humans to use as an essential component of construction. To love and heal, support, guide, enlighten.

6) The Seed. To plant and germinate, cultivate, grow in accordance with the seasons and provide fruits for harvest. To give and receive.

7) The Labor. To be, or to have singular purpose, to possess skill, provision for my family through the intelligent use of all my senses; sight, taste, smell, touch, feeling. Understanding the whole character of my nature and using that nature for success in life.

8) The Dream. Realizing my spiritual and physical differences, the seen and unseen (roots and branches), the inner and outer, and bringing the spiritual (within me) to a successful realization. The tree is a place for me to sleep, to dream, to recall history, understand the present, imagine the future.

9) The Preservation. Understanding the importance of existence, avoiding or fighting against extinction, preserving memory and tradition, never to forget the lessons in life.

I found inspiration in a quote from John Wright, a member of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids;

"Let the trees be consulted before you take any action, every time you breathe in thank a tree, let treeroots crack the parking lots at the World Bank Headquarters, let loggers be druids specially trained and rewarded to sacrifice trees at auspicious times, let carpenters be master artisans, let lumber be like gold, let chainsaws be played like saxaphones, let soldiers on maneuvers plant trees, give policemen and criminals a shovel and a thousand seedlings, let businessmen carry pocketfuls of acorns, let newlyweds honeymoon in the woods, walk don’t drive, stop reading newspapers, stop writing
poetry, squat under a tree and tell stories..."

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