On Druids, Trees and Truth

Eiche und Basaltsäule, Joseph Beuys, Düsseldorf (1)
One of the 7000 Oaks inspired by artist Joseph Beuys with basalt stone
Friend Lewis asked me about “druids”. They are much maligned (is it, I wonder, mainly by the English?). They don’t understand their honourable history in ancient Celtic cultures where they were members of the professional class including religious leaders, legal authorities, lorekeepers, medical professionals and political advisors.

The modern word druid comes from the Latin druides, but behind that Latin word is Old Irish, Old Cornish and Middle Welsh words which hypothetically might be based on a proto-Celtic word reconstructed as druwids (plural is druwides). Druid is thought to come from the Celtic word for the oak tree, duir. A drewid is a “knower of oak trees”.

What led me to this clearance of understanding was a look at one of Joseph Beuys’s works (1982) which consisted of the planting of 7000 oak trees in Kassel in Germany. in conversation with Richard Demarco, Beuys said:

I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heart wood. It has always been a form of sculpture, a symbol for this planet ever since the Druids, who are called after the oak. Druid means oak. They used their oaks to define their holy places. I can see such a use for the future … The tree planting enterprise provides a very simple but radical possibility for this when we start with the seven thousand oaks.

Other words derived from this root (excuse pun) include the Old English treow from which we have tree, truce, truth, troth, tryst – what a vast array of fruit those words represent! And that leads me to the moment Jesus was hung from the remains of a felled tree and, with true love, excruciatingly transformed the Tree of Death to the Tree of Life.


PS You may be interested in a series of poems written by Jim Bridgman called The Tree Cycle, for example, this Nightmare of the Rood

Friends Meeting


Witton Church Council had their first “awayday” yesterday and used marbling to learn about  flow, influence and interaction. We decided that it doesn’t take much to make something beautiful – just a lot of flow and some interaction. We used straws to blow the ink, and we realised that in our lives there is a time to blow, and a time to refrain from blowing. For everything there is a season. Though marbling may seem a bit random, it actually isn’t. It’s just that the outcome is unpredictable, and is, thereby, a good reflection of life which refuses attempts to control and regiment it.


It was a great pleasure to be involved with facilitating the day. Together we explored “the ground on which they stand” – a question that had more significance than I was anticipating. Northwich is a place undermined by salt works in which subsidence has been a problem. St Helen’s Church, apparently, is the only house built on rock. The day was full of encouragement as they explored how they would step out from the ground on which they stand – and they built up a good head of steam.

This was a cheerful group of “friends” who met at the Friends’ Meeting House in nearby Frandley. The house dates back to the early days of George Fox, founder of the Religious Society of Friends. George was born in 1624 (at Fenny Drayton, near Leicester) and travelled the country preaching as a dissenter. Along with other dissenters Fox had several periods of imprisonment as he challenged religious authority and the attempts to crush the movement that he had started.


Fox appears to have preached at Frandley at 1657, when he was 33. He resisted the idea that religious experience was limited to ecclesiastical buildings. He refused to call them “churches” and referred to them as “steeplehouses” instead. He knew that God meets people in their heart of hearts, and preferred Friends’ meetings to be in the open air. There is a plaque at Frandley of the oak tree at which Fox preached to the gathering of Friends.

William Gandy is reputed to be the founder of the first local “society”. He farmed at Sevenoaks in Frandley. Interestingly there is a plaque on the meeting house commemorating the planting of seven oaks to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 (sounds like the local Friends had become friendlier to the monarchy with the passage of time).

The PCC decided it was their spring. The “Witton Spring” may not have the same ring to it as the Arab Spring, but we did have some thoughts from Friend and Quaker, Parker Palmer.

In my own life, as winters turn into spring, I find it not only hard to cope with mud but also hard to credit the small harbingers of larger life to come, hard to hope until the outcome is secure. Spring teaches me to look more carefully for the green stems of possibility; for the intuitive hunch that may turn into a larger insight, for the glance or touch that may thaw a frozen relationship, for the stranger’s act of kindness that makes the world seem hospitable again.

Some quotes from George Fox – maybe from under the oak:

The Lord showed me so that I did see clearly, that he did not dwell in these temples which men had commanded and set up, but in people’s hearts … his people were his temple and he dwelt in them.

Why should any man have power over any other man’s faith, seeing as Christ himself is the author of it?