The Twelve Sacred Trees of North America — Part Six: The Oaks

Image courtesy of Andrew Shelley on Unsplash

In the earliest days we celebrated and kept our councils under the shade of oak trees. And why not? They were some of the tallest in the forest, and certainly amongst the oldest. Encounter an oak with a thirty foot circumference and you are standing in the shadow of a being who lived before the founding of the United States, a being who might easily be between 300 or 600 years old. It was believe that the wisdom of the ages resided in these trees, and great leaders everywhere (nations, too, including the aforementioned U.S.A.) took the oak as their symbol. Swear your most binding of promises beneath the oak, for it will not forget, and one way or another will hold you to your word.

The oak was planted to mark property boundaries, and some of the oldest ones that escaped the desperate quest of the British to build their warships exist now in Louisiana, where they have formed their own Live Oak Society (with only a single human permitted within its ranks to act as a record keeper…even the president of that illustrious organization is an oak, the famed Seven Sisters Oak, in fact). If you would bind yourself to the land and have it remember you and yours, plant a grove of oak trees. They will seal you to the land and its spirits, and be the first and the last to speak your memory. Never strike one of these trees except to cut a sickness from it, for they will remember your trespasses, too, and it will be a long and hard road before your friendship blooms again.

The great height and low electrical resistance of the oak makes it prone to lightning strikes, and it was these frequent interactions between the tree and the heavens that gave people the knowledge that the trees were sacred to Zeus, to Perun, and to Thor, mighty gods of lightning and rulership. If you would speak to these gods and receive their council, gather the leaves of an oak and write your oracles upon them, then leave them on your front doorstep to let the wind whisk and scatter them. The leaves left behind will be the voice of the thunder god whispering to you.

While the oak tree has been long used as a symbol of humanity due to its uses in building our homes, our ships, and giving us steadfast dyes, it is also a symbol of the enduring power of nature. The oldest of oaks are an ecosystem, providing life and shelter for harmless fungi and forage for birds, deer, and bear alike. If you would walk the tenuous path between civilization and the wild, wear an acorn (real or otherwise) on a cord about your neck, that you may be recognized and held to your values.

Every acorn given by an oak tree is edible, although its nuts must be processed before they can safely be eaten (or the tannins may cause your stomach to cramp and ruin your teeth). Be mindful of the oak weevil the burrows from the inside out from acorns, and discard any nuts that have holes in them (though look inside and be mindful for the “maggots” of the weevil within). There are numerous sources ( that advise you on how to safely process acorns to remove the tannins, and those you do not eat can be used in the same manner as oak galls to make ink.

Without the oak, many of our most important documents (such as the Declaration of Independence) might have been illegible today. Oak gall ink has been used since the time of the ancient Romans to produce the best and surest of inks, and a good recipe (poor ones could actually erode the parchments they were used on) were invaluable. If you would make your own oak gall ink (, you would be best served by searching out galls after a long draught, which makes the trees more susceptible to the parasitic wasps that make the galls (these do not seem to do too much damage to the trees). Gather as many as you can find and dry them out for storage, as it takes at least twelve good sized galls to make a sufficient quantity of ink (and therefore, you might be better served by simply using acorns, which also have a high amount of the tannin needed to make the ink). Use oak ink to write binding spells, spells of great magnitude, and promises that you intend to last long past your time on this earth.

[Written by Ashley Nicole Hunter.]

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