Being around trees gives us a sense of belonging to the world. They are a living, breathing part of our planet, with a deep connection to our earth providing ‘life’ for us… and each type of tree has a unique smell, wood, and leaves. They are revered for their wisdom and many ancient myths and legends have grown up around them.
Trees have a magical quality, an air of mystery. Do they belong to an enchanted world?
I’ve always believed that they are the home of fairies and elves. This belief stems from my childhood; as a small child, my mum would tell me stories about the magical creatures that lived in ancient trees. I was smitten and would talk to the fairies that lived in their gnarled holes and see if I could spot any.
This blog post is about a few of the ancient trees I visited near Glastonbury in Somerset on my Glastonbury Experience pilgrimage in July 2017.
On my last visit to Glastonbury, I’d bought some guidebooks to help me to learn about and explore the ancient and sacred places around Glastonbury and further afield. ‘The Traveller’s Guide to Sacred England’ by John Mitchell, led me to go and see the ancient Yew tree at Dundon, 5 miles South of Glastonbury.
According to my guidebook:
“The site is naturally adapted for worship and contemplation and its qualities were no doubt recognised in Celtic times. Testifying to its early religious significance is the huge and venerable yew tree in front of the church porch. The yew is thought to have stood for over a thousand years and is, therefore, older than the present church”.
Yew trees are poisonous evergreen trees, with red berries, their sap can be blood red and they are able to regenerate, sprouting new roots. They are known as a sacred tree, the Tree of life, regeneration, and rebirth. There are many myths and legends about yew trees and why they are planted next to churches. Is it possible they were planted at ancient sacred sites and churches were then built there at a later date?
This info is from www.plant-lore.com
“For those of the Christian faith, a yew tree is symbolic of Christian Resurrection as it has the ability to regenerate by sending down a shoot from high up which then takes root in a crevice near the base of the old tree, thus giving birth to new life.”
This info is from www.whitedragon.org.uk
“In the past, they were used as landmarks, because of their size and longevity, and their dark branches would make them stand out in the landscape. Yew groves planted by the Druids were common in ancient ways, on sacred sites, hilltops, ridge-ways, and burial grounds. Tribal leaders were buried beneath Yew trees, in the sure belief that their knowledge and wisdom would be joined with the Dryad of the Yew and therefore still be accessible to the tribe for generations to come.”
In this quiet spot next to the simple but beautiful 13th Century Church of St Andrew in the small hamlet of Dundon, this yew tree is cared for and feels at peace in its surroundings. A stark difference to my visit to the ancient oak trees Gog and Magog near Glastonbury.
It was only by accident that I ended up visiting them at all…
I was giving Michiel (a healer I’d bumped into a few times over the years) a lift to Glastonbury on my way to visit Wells, he was carrying a heavy backpack and as it was such a hot muggy day, I said I’d drop him off nearer to the campsite he was going to. But we got lost down a small one-way track past Glastonbury Tor. He remembered that the campsite was just across the field and he could take the footpath there. He said the ancient oak trees Gog and Magog were just a few minutes away along the path. What a great opportunity to go and see them, I’d read about them and planned to visit them on one of my trips to Glastonbury.
When we came across them, I was shocked and saddened. I had expected to find them in a shady grove with an aura of enchantment surrounding them. But, not like this… they were forlorn and dying, completely boxed into a small space with high fencing around them.
Michiel said when he last visited them, you could easily access them and they weren’t in this sorry state. We looked around and I thought we’d manage to get to them (over the fence on one side, across a small dry brook, through the barbed wire fencing and avoiding the thorns and nettles). I felt so sad to see them like this, boxed in between high fencing and a high hedge that separated the trees from a caravan park in the field next to them, in fact, there was a caravan just a few metres from Magog.
“Just to be there for a short while and give them some healing energy, as they felt so forlorn, unloved and hidden from sight.”
It’s appalling that these once great oaks should be left like this to wither and die without our love and respect… and my visit prompted me to write this blog post.
My initial reaction was that perhaps the landowner had done this to deter pilgrims and people from visiting this sacred site, especially seeing how closely situated the caravan park was to Gog and Magog. But, I’ve done further research since getting home and it looks like the council has had them boarded up, to protect them from further harm (!!!) as someone putting a tea light candle inside Gog’s hollow interior had set the tree on fire. More about the fire in April this year in Morgana West’s blog post.
There are many myths and legends surrounding oak trees – especially Gog and Magog – and their link to the Druids and pagan Celts.
According to www.druidry.org – “We first learn about the oak as sacred to the Druids in the well-known passage from the writings of Pliny, who lived in Gaul during the 1st century CE. He writes that the Druids performed all their religious rites in oak-groves, where they gathered mistletoe from the trees with a golden sickle… Many early Christian churches were situated in oak-groves, probably because they were once pagan places of worship.”
This info is from www.unitythroughdiversity.org
“These two ancient oak trees – with the traditional and biblical names of giant beings – stand in one of the further reaches of the sacred Avalon landscape, where they are in a relationship of alignment with other aspects of the sacred landscape such as the nearby Tor, Chalice Hill, the Abbey, and Wearyall Hill.
Known as the ‘Oaks of Avalon’, the two trees are said to be a traditional point of entry onto the island, and were also part of a ceremonial Druidic avenue of oak trees running towards the Tor and beyond. ‘This avenue was cut down around 1906 to clear the ground of a farm.’ Extract from Maker of Myths – Published by Gothic Image.”
Here are a few more websites with the myths and folklore of oak and yew trees:
I’d only intended to write a short blog post about my visit to the Dundon yew tree and Gog and Magog oak trees, but delving into the myths and legends of our ancient trees I uncovered so much info I wanted to share with you. It’s been an interesting journey of discovery for me, I hope you will enjoy it too and that it will inspire you to visit these or other sacred trees. More of my Glastonbury Summer 2017 experiences are to follow in my next two blog posts.
Thanks for joining me on my creative journey,
Sam Rowena, jewellery artist x