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

>Watching trees

What about these words of Dee Hock?

True power is never used. If you use power you never really have it.

The words stand relatively unconnected in a box on page 140 of Birth of the Chaordic Age as a mini maxim.
Half an hour later I am confronted with Jotham’s Parable of the Trees from Judges 9 who uses his tree watching to reflect on the political power struggle which saw Abimelech wanting to snatch power. The trees refused to be made king. The olive tree, the fig tree and the vine didn’t want to give up the goodness of what they were producing. It was the bramble who accepted the invitation with the words “If in good faith you are anointing me king over you, then come and take refuge in my shade; but if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.”
I speak from bitter experience that brambles take over gardens. The invitation to seek shelter is an invitation to be throttled – and the threat of fire just clears the ground for the bramble to spread. (One test of the character of a man is to see how he treats those who disagree with him. If his only desire is to destroy those who disagree, then he is much like the bramble – plenty of good points, but no real substance for good.[from David Guzik])
So “Bramble King” is how Jotham thought of his brother. He was violent as was the rule of many of Israel’s kings. The experience of monarchy was not good. People looked back with nostalgia to a time when “there was no king in Israel, when all the people did what was right in their own eyes.” and I look forward to Dee Hock’s mini-maxim:

True power is never used. If you use power you never really have it.
and then I think of Robert Mugabe and the dictators who cause so much suffering because of their clinging to power. Is that what defines a dictator – “someone who clings to power”?