“Robin Hood oak in frackers’ sights as chemical firm plans extraction under Sherwood Forest”. So ran the headline in a recent article in The Telegraph.
This outlined Ineos’s plans to carry out seismic testing in an area that extends beneath Sherwood Forest and comes close to the Major Oak, the tree where, legend has it, Robin Hood and his outlaws had their larder or their headquarters – depending which tale you read..
The response from those opposed to fracking has been swift, and has quickly extended beyond the usual immediate reach of such publicity. A meeting is planned in Mansfield for 7th January . The French TV Channel France 2 is planning to send a film crew and there is other media attention.
I believe this is due to two strands of folklore fundamental to the consciousness of Albion coming together. One is the oak tree, and the other is the legends of Robin Hood.
In this blog I shall explore the wisdom of the oak tree and how it may inform our struggle (and indeed has already played a part). In another blog here we will look at the mythology of Robin Hood, outlaw and friend of the oppressed. And finally in a third part, look at Sherwood forest in particular and the impact of fracking on forests and related eco systems in general.
The Oak is considered the king of trees. John Evelyn described it as ‘the pride and glory of the forest’. Oak trees are capable of living for centuries and there are many well known and loved specimens around the country: Gog and Magog in Glastonbury and the Meavy Oak in Devon which reputedly dates back to the 12th Century. There are many great Oaks in the Savernake Forest in Wiltshire, one of which, the Spider, is shown above. The Major Oak of Sherwood is between 800 and 1,000 years old.
For Druids, the tree has great significance. It is associated with the Romano-Celtic god Taranis, the thunder god. Some scholars consider that the very name Druid derives from the Welsh ‘dar’ for oak (Irish ‘daur’) and the Indo-European root ‘wid’ meaning to know. Pliny tells us famously, that Druids in Gaul celebrated rites in oak groves and harvested mistletoe growing on oaks with golden sickles. It seems likely that if this is true of Gaul it would be true of the British archipelago also.
The OBOD website (Order of Bards Ovates and Druids) tells us that
The avenging power of the oak was famous, particularly in Somerset where until recently the oak was regarded with much respect as a tree of formidable power. It was well-known that oaks resented being cut down, so people studiously avoided going near a coppice which sprang from the stumps of the felled trees. Ruth Tongue writes that in 1945 her chauffeur refused to drive past a grove that had been felled in the Second World War. A local story also told of Carming family that came to grief because of disregarding the power of Oak: Carmer and his oldest son were greedy and cut down oaks in a nearby coppice, although they had plenty of wood of their own. The story continues:
‘Trees didn’t say nothing – which was bad. If they do talk a bit you do get a warning, but if they’m dead still there’s summat bad a-brewing. And zo t’was. Be danged if gurt oak didn ‘t drop a limb on can and timber and farmer and eldest son. Killed they two stark dead outright, but when the youngest came to rescue the dead the tree rustled fit to deafen he. ‘
The youngest son was spared because he was always respectful to trees, being sure to ask the ‘great oak by the gate’ if he might go past when he entered the forest, and after he inherited the farm, ‘trees never followed ‘n nor closed about ‘n, nor let drop branches.’
At Upton Community Protection Camp, oaks ringed the field and were invoked by Pagans who attended public rituals there. An oak tree that was close to the main living area of the camp shed a large branch without warning one day but did so when people had just gone for a tea break and were out of harm’s way. It was hard not to feel, when I heard this story, that the Oaks there were in tune with the protective impulses of the people camping there and would do them no harm.
They will surely not feel so beneficent to employees of Ineos.
You don’t have to be pagan to value the Oak since it has provided fuel, firewood and building material for centuries. The ships of the British Navy in the days of sail were built of oak. This put severe pressure on the forests. A poem by Keats written for his friend John Hamilton Reynolds in 1818 reflects this:
And if Robin should be cast
Sudden from his turfed grave,
And if Marian should have
Once again her forest days,
She would weep, and he would craze:
He would swear, for all his oaks,
Fall’n beneath the dockyard strokes,
Have rotted on the briny seas;
How Robin might react if his great Major Oak and the other trees of Sherwood Forest should be irreparably damaged by seismic testing and resulting fracking, I will explore in another piece.
But it is clear that the people of Albion, Pagan and non-Pagan alike, view the prospect with horror.