Sacred Trees and Pagan Plants Survive in Medieval English Gardens

 

Introduction

A few years ago, after lecturing for a round- the- world private jet tour and having an archaeoastronomical research trip of my own to Callanish, I had extra time in the U.K. before flying home, and was able to spend a bit of time exploring some particularly lovely ancient gardens. This was a healing experience for me, which I was much in need of since I had been seriously ill during much of the journey, and these garden visits were wonderfully restorative. I thought some readers might enjoy revisiting them with me through the photos here.

It is sometimes rather difficult to say exactly when a garden dates to, since often, different features come from different eras, and others are inspired by earlier eras, but I have selected gardens here that have surviving elements of Medieval, Renaissance and ancient Pagan style, namely those at Broughton Castle, Rousham House, and Magdalen Deer Park. These particular gardens are both glamorous and practical, and they have much to tell us about Nature and about our Pagan past.

Callanish, Outer Hebrides, Isle of Lewis, Scotland by Seana Fenner

Callanish, Outer Hebrides, Isle of Lewis, Scotland Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

In European literature and art, gardens have always been retreats from the more material everyday sphere, a secret world where the reign of nature still holds sway. One of the most well- known books about this is The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The story is about three children secretly bringing an overgrown and neglected, but marvelous, hidden garden back to life, and how the garden healed one of them.

In our native Nordic Pagan ethos, gardens are places of mystery, adventure and romance… trysting places for lovers, or the hiding places of treasure, or of mystical divine knowledge. Interestingly, the Semitic tradition is the exact opposite, for in the biblical myth of the Jews, eating of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil is a sin, and seeking knowledge is also a sin in the Christian New Testament. The biblical injunction is given that “leaning on one’s own understanding”[1] is not just wrong, but worthy of terrible punishment. The impression is consistently given that what is natural is evil, and what is unnatural is good, and this is antithetical to native Nordic philosophy. In our ancient Pagan tradition, knowledge is a divine gift to be sought after by both Gods and men, and this quest is thought heroic, and even holy, not sinful.

For our people, mystical gardens and groves have always been sacred places where one can seek spiritual rejuvenation, healing, and heavenly inspiration… places to pray or meditate… places where we can find our own true souls. They were so long before Christianity made efforts to dull our senses and lessen the importance of the spirit and life force of nature, and despite all the efforts of the proponents of Christianity to replace and dampen their splendor, miraculously… they have remained so.  In the face of every attempt to separate us from nature, the primal magic of the garden has survived undimmed in our imaginations and instincts.

This survival is a testament to how the sheer glory of real nature itself has a habit of overcoming the false programming against it that we have been assaulted with. When one actually is in nature, its power and mystery cannot easily be denied. We hear the wind’s music and feel the presence of our Gods and see evidence that our Divine Ones and Creation could never, ever, be made so small and ridiculous as to fit into the false Semitic Judeo- Christian view. We may ignore this with our conscious minds for a time, but the truth seeps into our souls, and someday, like the intrepid girl in Burnett’s story, those of us who are lucky and brave enough, find the key to open the hidden gate to real paradise.

"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett

“The Secret Garden” by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Thanks to the bizarre Semitic religion, whose aim is to annihilate us, both in body and soul, being forced upon our people, some of us have been cut off from the joy of nature, or allowed ourselves to be. In fact, in some cases, animals have better and more healthy priorities than we do. Certainly, we can learn from this horse in the video just below, who protests against the killing of our sacred trees, and who knows what is truly important.

Since very ancient times, our people have revered the instincts of horses and observed them for purposes of divination. Tacitus in “On Germania”[2] states…

 In common with other nations, the Germans are acquainted with the practice of auguring from the notes and flight of birds; but it is peculiar to them to derive admonitions and presages from horses also. Certain of these animals, milk-white, and untouched by earthly labor, are pastured at the public expense in the sacred woods and groves. These, yoked to a consecrated chariot, are accompanied by the priest, and king, or chief person of the community, who attentively observe their manner of neighing and snorting; and no kind of augury is more credited, not only among the populace, but among the nobles and priests.

The CHOPPING DOWN OF OUR SPIRITUAL HERITAGE, THE OAK OF THOR!

by Wolfbloed Nederland

What does this horse see? Does he perceive a time ahead when the culture of English people and the people themselves will be lost and destroyed and replaced by hordes of invaders which non European immigration  [3]  has brought to their shores?  Left unchanged, that time will be soon, a time when all of Europe, America and Australia, and other Nordic countries become indistinguishable from India, Bahrain, or Brazil.

Does the first strike in cutting this great tree, this living symbol of our own true spirit, people and culture, showing hatred cowardice and disloyalty to all that we are, herald the downfall of all civilization? Is it the first tolling of our death knell? Let us hope that, like a garden that has fallen asleep and been overgrown, we too can awaken and do something to end this insanity and restore our Nordic tribes and true soul before we are no more.

The White Horse, near Wayland's Smithy

Satellite view of the Uffington White Horse, Oxfordshire Image: USGS “Before the gods that made the gods Had seen their sunrise pass, The White Horse of the White Horse Vale Was cut out of the grass. “Ballad of the White Horse, Book I “The Vision of the King” – G.K. Chesterton

It is easy to go with the flow and cooperate with the destruction of nature and of our people in the somewhat plastic environment we are being encouraged to embrace, but our health and life force flows from nature. For Pagans, who appreciate the living soul of nature in our hearts, the wilderness, rivers, meadows, waterfalls, high cliff- tops, and especially mountains, are often places of meditation, spiritual renewal, and ritual for us. They are holy temples where we can connect with our Gods. Even Christians sometimes recognize the sacred nature of gardens, for instance as in Dorothy Frances Gurney’s poem, “The kiss of the sun for pardon, the song of the birds for mirth, one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.”

Many English poems about nature, which at first glance appear to be Christian, show a deeper Pagan meaning upon further examination. In this and countless other ways, the unchanging instinctive part of the Nordic soul, that longing for the living essence of the natural world, has remained. If our people themselves decide to resist the attempts to make us extinct, it can yet be restored, because the secrets of nature lie within us.

 

Wanderer above the Sea of Fog

Painting is “Wanderer above the Sea of Fog” by Caspar David Friedrich

Poetry excerpt from “Lines Written a Few Miles above Tintern Abbey“

by William Wordsworth

 

For I have learned to look on nature, not as in the hour,

Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes

The still, sad music of humanity,

Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power

To chasten and subdue. And I have felt

A presence that disturbs me with the joy

Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime

Of something far more deeply interfused,

Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,

And the round ocean and the living air,

And the blue sky, and in the mind of man;

A motion and a spirit, that impels

All thinking things, all objects of all thought,

And rolls through all things. Therefore am I still

A lover of the meadows and the woods,

And mountains; and of all that we behold

From this green earth; of all the mighty world

Of eye, and ear, — both what they half create,

And what perceive; well pleased to recognize

In nature and the language of the sense,

The anchor of my purest thoughts, the nurse,

The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul

Of all my mortal being.

Throughout history there have been many famous ancient gardens, such as The Hanging Gardens of Babylon, and Xanadu, the pleasure palace of Kubla Khan, which was a hunting sanctuary, and many others. Some historic gardens, which may resemble even more ancient gardens in some respects, still survive, a bit of our living history. Here are a handful of truly marvelous manor house, university, and castle gardens in Britain…

Broughton Castle

Wall around Broughton Castle

Broughton Castle Wall Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

This is a castle I was unfamiliar with despite having lived in Oxfordshire for several years, but happily, on my recent trip, I was the guest of some people who knew the owners and brought it to my attention. It is just as a castle should be, with a moat, towers, and a highly attractive formal garden, which, if not entirely Medieval is, at the very least, partly based upon Medieval models. It is made of local Hornton ironstone which is richly colored. The castle itself was first built by Sir John de Broughton in 1306, but substantially finished in the 1550’s.

Broughton is now owned by the 21st Lord and Lady Saye and  Sele, whose family name is Fiennes, and has been in their family since 1447. One of the ancestors of this line founded New College, Oxford. In 1642, the fortifications were not enough, and the castle was stormed and occupied by the supporters of Charles I. It has seen other periods of struggle since, such as a period of financial difficulty in which the castle goods, including even the swans in the moat, had to be sold at auction, but it has since been restored, in part due to funding by English Heritage.

The site of the castle, in Banbury, is at the junction of three streams, which I would imagine was considered of spiritual significance, and indeed, there is a chapel, and once there may have been a sacred grove nearby. There are lovely paths and walled gardens with inset windows and doors through which one can see the moat. The centerpiece, is The Ladies’ Garden, made in the 1890’s by Lady Algernon Gordon-Lennox. Here you can see a battlement view of this lovely garden with its fleur-de-lis boxwood plantings filled with “Gruss an Aachen” and “Heritage” roses, and Medieval style walled enclosure.

Photo Credit: David Stowell Broughton Castle Garden

View from ramparts of Broughton Castle down to garden… Photo Credit: David Stowell

For those keen gardeners here who might wish to incorporate some of these varieties into their own gardens, I shall name some other plants found at Broughton in a footnote. Other roses featured throughout the gardens include…[4] .

Although all the flowers are beautiful, my personal favorite, which is now growing in my garden, is Lychnis coronaria oculata, or Silene coronaria, the common name of which is Rose campion, a gorgeous silver- leaved plant with a bright magenta purple- red flower. I fell in love with it at first sight and have only recently learnt more about it. It has some interesting Heathen connotations.

Silene coronaria

Lychnis coronaria Photo Credit: Institut für Pflanzenbiologie Technische Universität, Braunschweig

The name of this lovely bloom is from the Greek λυχνίς meaning “light giver”, referring specifically to a light or torch, which it somewhat resembles due to its coloration, which can range from scarlet, to magenta, to white,  but there is also a more direct reason for this name. The Lychnis coronaria’s fuzzy felt-like silver leaves were used as wicks for oil lamps in ancient times   [5] , and no doubt it was cultivated in part for this purpose. It  has a deep symbolic connection to fire as well. There is a historical ditty associated with it that goes “the scarlet lychnis, the garden’s pride, flames at St. John the Baptist’s tide”[6] .

Rose campion blooms from spring, throughout summer, in Northern climes while “St. John the Baptist’s Day” generally is observed on the 24th of June, near the summer solstice, and is a holiday which originally had nothing to do with John the Baptist. It is, in fact, a Pagan festival, celebrated throughout Europe since time immemorial. The interesting thing is, that in addition to changing the name of our holiday, in order to still further obscure the original meaning of our Pagan  celebration, at least in Ireland, it is believed that the festival was shifted from the time when it had fit the seasons and herding practices, at Beltane in Spring on May 1st, to midsummer. [7] . If this is the case, originally, the connotations of this flower, and some other customs, might have been associated with the beginning of spring rather than midsummer.

Regardless of timing, the celebrations associated with the holiday are purely Pagan and have not been possible even for the Church to eradicate. This day traditionally involved visits to sacred wells, and the early rising of wise men and women to gather special holy medicinal herbs, as in Denmark and Bulgaria. In Russia, and elsewhere in Eastern Europe, there are still night time searches for a mystical fern flower from which celebrants come back engaged, bonfires and dancing, ritual baths, the wearing of flower circlets, and the floating of them on the water. In Finland, according to an ancient custom, an unmarried woman who collected seven different flowers and placed them under her pillows would dream of her future fiancé. As far back as Medieval times at least, Lychnis was used to treat snake and insect bites,  and it may have been used to make ritual wreaths in Germany, because there is a tradition of burning wreaths towards the end of the celebrations there, a purpose to which it would be well suited.

Roses and Boxwood at Broughton Castle Gardens Photot; Seana Fenner

Interior of Ladies Garden at Broughton Castle showing Roses and Boxwoods… Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

Lynchnis does bloom from spring, throughout the summer in northern climes and it seems likely that this beautiful flower is associated with our Nordic Spring Goddess Ostara and her Greek counterpart,  Persephone, who may have once been one and the same. I believe that in Celtic traditions, the Lynchnis would have been a flowery symbol of the sacred flame of Bridget. A more fitting and otherworldly testament to the kindling, or rekindling, of the life force, I cannot imagine. Its flame of purplish royal red above the silvery snow-like foliage doubtless represents the coming of the brightness of warmth and fertility out of the snow, and the return of our spring Goddess to the Earth.

In connection with the vibrant color of the bloom, it has been suggested [8] that the connotation of Silene and Silenus may refer to ancient revels at which wine was drunk and the flowers themselves likened to drops of wine. Although this may be a bit of a stretch, it is possible that the flower was likened to wine or blood. Clearly there was a time in a more recent period when the flowers had the connotation of blood or blood drops since, in England, lychnis was called “Bloody Mary”, referring to the red drops of Protestant blood spilt by the infamous Catholic Queen. For more about the symbolism of silvery white and red,  see our most recent podcast rede [9]

Ancient Greeks uses the word λυχνάρι to denote the type of lamp that would have been lit with the Lychnis Coronaria wick.   Even now, they still are used in rural regions, often for religious shrines, or during power outages. These oil lamps are filled with olive oil, and the stem, with a skirt of leaves to help it float, is used to kindle it. It creates a small, but long lasting flame, or what can even be considered a perpetual flame… a light that will last as long as wicks and oil are added.

The idea of a real undying flame was  quite important throughout the ancient world, and there are numerous references to lamps with undying flames being found in tombs… To name just a few examples, in 1401, during the reign of Henry III, King of Castile, such a lamp was said to have been uncovered near Rome, on the Tiber in the stone tomb of Pallas, the Arcadian, son of Evander, who was slain by “Turnus Rex Rotulorum” in the wars at the time of the foundation of Rome.  It was reported that nothing could extinguish its light, until it was broken [10] . Likewise, on the Isle of Nesis, near Naples, a marble tomb was found in 600 CE., and it is reported that it had a vase inside it with a flaming lamp inside. Again, it was only when it was broken that the flame became dim and died. [11] . St. Augustine [12] , and others, write of a temple of Aprhodite in Egypt where there hung a lamp that neither wind nor rain could extinguish. He considered its undying nature a sign of evil magic, witchcraft and the Devil, as indeed, did all those Christians who wrote of the lamps. In 1540 CE,  during the Papacy of Paul III, a still burning lamp was mentioned as being discovered in an ancient tomb on the Appian Way, that belonging to Cicero’s daughter.  Tulliola, the daughter of Cicero, died in BCE 44, making this lamp’s  proposed span of life 1550 years. In this case, it was said to be  found floating in a perfectly preserved vessel of oil and extinguished only after it was  exposed to the air.  [13] .

In Eastern Europe as well are records of perpetual flames, but the most long lasting Pagan flame of all would have to be that of the Goddess Brigit.  In the 12th century, Gerald of Wales, also known as Giraldus Cambrensis, visited Kildare, Ireland, and wrote that the Pagan flame of the Goddess Brigit was still burning, tended by the nuns of the Christianized St. Brigid instead of the original Pagan priestesses. Other historians noted that all attempts in demanding that they extinguish the fire had failed and it is generally thought that the undying flame lasted at least up until the 16th century CE.

Sea Shell Lamps

Scallop Sea Shell Oil Lamps

In the tale of Persephone, different flowers are said to be picked by her before her abduction by Hades, such as lilies, violets,  roses, crocuses, irises, hyacinths, and the narcissus, but also mentioned in some versions, is the idea that among them was a divinely beautiful flower, a special flower that was irresistible and stood apart from all others “to be a snare for the bloom-like girl, a marvellous, radiant flower. It was a thing of awe whether for deathless gods or mortal men to see” [14] . I suggest that in some traditions, Lychnis coronaria, could have been considered to be the divine flower.

Others have conjectured that the Lychnis coronaria arose from the earth to console Demeter for the loss of her daughter in her absence [15] and by this I gather the flower may have been considered a symbol of Persephone and Spring, an embodiment of the Spring Goddess herself, as well as a sign of her impending return. For more about Nerthus, Ostara and Persephone, please see our Odinist Podcast Rede on the subject, Cosmic Ostara  [16] .

It seems very likely to me that the tale of Persephone can be considered analogous in some respects to that of Nerthus and Ostara in the more Northerly tradition, and it may be that both traditions were based on an original that was common to both peoples in which the Spring and Earth goddess retires to the Underworld, or, as I have suggested, to the depths of the sea [17] , joining her husband to gather strength for her return to the earth in  spring .

In ancient times, amongst Greeks and Romans, and possibly our own more Northerly people too, the lychnis was used to make a crown or chaplet to honor the dead which would be especially appropriate if this plant were associated with the Queen of the Underworld. We can imagine that there might once have been processions or ceremonies with this living symbol of life, a priestess representing the spring or Earth Goddess, and that it would have symbolized the rebirth of the soul and its light.

Don’t “Seem”, “Be”

The typically ruthless transfer of this holy flower to John the Baptist clearly demonstrates not just an act of aggression and theft, and the falseness of Christian cultists and their doctrines, but a hatred of Nature herself. Happily, the sacred nature of this flower is apparent despite all attempts to obscure its real meaning, and the many customs it was incorporated in helped preserved it.

Personally, I do not ascribe to the so often promoted conception of our religion as being “Neo-Pagan”, rather than Pagan, although it is true that some people do practice our religion in this fashion, as though it were an entirely new  and different universalist religion. Others, who try to actually preserve and re-kindle our customs, and gain new and direct inspiration from our Divine Ones,  are referred to as “reconstructionalists“, and in a sense this is correct.  However, I would take it a step further and say that in essence, we “reconstructionalists” who seek to honor the old ways and our ancestors, and who seek communion with our Gods for inspiration, are  real Pagans.

By the same token, I see those others  who seek to change our religion so fundamentally from what it is to suit their own agendas as simply putting on the cloak of Pagan appearance because they feel they can use it to promote their lifestyle, or believe it to be fashionable. They are practicing an offshoot of Christianity, which is where the idea of religious universalism and cultural Marxism stem from. We may not have a great amount of information, but we have enough to work with, and to breathe new life into our religion.

butterfly bush at castle

Buddleia Butterfly Bush at Broughton Castle with Butterflies Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

Luckily for us, those who have cared for Broughton are also of a reconstructionist bent and there has been a real attempt to restore the essential elements and atmosphere. Besides the swans which had to be sold, which have been replaced,  perhaps the most outstanding wildlife feature of this garden is the inordinate number of butterflies, especially near the buddleia plants, which so attract them. The large and luxuriant English butterfly bush has stunning blooms in purple, white, mauve and other colors and can be seen at the walled Medieval style gardens, not just at Broughton, but also at our next Medieval garden, the lovely Rousham House.

 Rousham House

One of the Follies at Rousham Garden

One of the Follies at Rousham Garden Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

 

I have visited this particular garden several times and it has never lost its charm for me. It is a gem of a garden, and continuously maintained in much the same style as when it was updated by the famous landscape architect William Kent in the 1700s. Like Broughton, it has been owned by the same family, in this case the Cottrell-Dormers, since its creation. More than almost any other garden, Rousham might truly be considered a window to the past, since it has remained almost completely unaltered since Kent’s time, and this really is a rare occurrence. During the English Civil War, Rousham was attacked  by Parliamentary soldiers and the lead stripped from the newly completed roofs because the family were royalists, but it is otherwise very little changed, and in particular the gardens.

Rousham Garden's Venus Vale, Photo by Seana Fenner

Venus Vale at Rousham Gardens Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

The seven arched Praeneste Forum, the water feature, Venus’s Vale, the Cold Bath, Townsend’s Building, the Temple of the Mill, and a folly known as  ‘Eyecatcher’ still survive. Kent tried to give the garden a Classical Pagan aspect.. In a letter from Horace Walpole to George Monatague on the 19th July 1760,  Walpole writes…”The garden is Daphne in little, the sweetest little groves, streams, glades, porticoes, cascades, and river, imaginable; all the scenes are perfectly classic”, and it is still much as he described it. Along the meandering forest paths are classic statues, carefully constructed sham ruins, beautiful open vistas of fields, and long horned cattle grazing, with views of the river Cherwell at intervals. There is a rill along the path, a small cut out stone water feature, made green with time, whose sparkling water accompanies the visitor from one water feature to the next.

Rill at Rousham Gardens

Sinuous Rill on Forest Path at Rousham House Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

Other areas of the garden are more purely Medieval or Renaissance in character. There is a boxwood labyrinth and rose garden with a dovecote that evokes Tudor and Stuart styles. In the walled garden next to the house itself, herbs and flowers are planted against the wall in profusion, and espaliered apple trees are placed in rows in the middle of the garden. In addition to the rose gardens, the dovecote, which still has its doves in it, has a marvelous espaliered fig tree growing on it, and an exquisite dahlia bed by its side. Perhaps the most abundant of the flowers in the garden is lavender, which grows everywhere, scenting the air.

Most magnificent of all is the giant ancient Yew tree hedge which borders one side of the walled garden, and it harbors a hidden entrance. This yew is so large it is as though there were a room within it when one enters the passage. Here you can see it being trimmed in preparation for a party.

Yew hedge being trimmed at Rousham

Yew Hedge Wall at Rousham House Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

The Yew or Taxus Baccata, is, in our Pagan European traditions, a very sacred and holy tree for numerous reasons. It is still commonly found in churchyards either at the entrance or the west side, this last symbolizing the journey to the Underworld. It is hard to date them with exactness because of their habit of having hollow trunks, but it is often thought  that the Yew trees associated with various churches are much older than the churches themselves,  a living remnant of our Pagan past. Originally, during the invasion of Semitic religion to Europe, placing foreign religious buildings on our sacred sites where the Yew or Oak groves were present was an act of hatred and aggression meant to destroy and replace our sacred spaces with the indoctrination centers of a false religion. The placement of their centers on our holy sites by the Church was also a part of an effort to manipulate those being forced to take on Christianity by giving them a little of their own religion to hang onto, so that it was not so ridiculous that they could not stomach it. Many Pagan holidays and customs were taken and absorbed by the worshipers of the foreign god, and so strange was this amalgamation that in some cases the meaning was lost, and in others perverted to such an extent that it is barely recognizable at first.

Nature takes back what was stolen by the Judeo Christians and makes it her own again... Photo by Romain Veillon

Nature takes back what was stolen by the Judeo Christians and makes it her own again… Photo credit: Romain Veillon.

I have been told by Christians that their fabricated Semitic god is stronger than our Gods and that this is why they “won” but this shows a limited understanding of the larger scheme of time. Indeed, it is true that our people were honorable and free and that they were unprepared for such base tactics as were used by those who supported the false Semitic god. However, a fake religion, which owes any legitimacy it has to being a copy of ours, one which cannot stand without bribery, thought control laws, torture, book burning, brainwashing, murder, and lies, eventually dies out on its own. These constrictive elements and spiritual thought policing are all part of the Judeo- Christian framework, not our religion, which is real. Happily, such elements are not necessary for our religion to survive as it is reborn because it is a real religion. The bizarre interruption of Christianity will be but a moment in the grander scheme of time. Some day soon, the Yew trees may stand tall and free again with our people joined together in one spirit around them, while the cultural Marxist indoctrination centers and other Semitic symbols of oppression nearby lie in ruins and ashes.

Mercury next to a Yew tree at Rousham House

Mercury, or Hermes, the messenger between the world of the living and the dead, next to a Yew tree at Rousham. Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

On a symbolic level, I would imagine that the continuous association of the Yew with Churches and graveyards, which has also survived the Christian religion, is due to connotations of spiritual immortality, the renewal of life, and reincarnation. It may be that many churches that have a Yew tree present were originally our sacred spiritual temples or groves. The idea of Yew as a symbol of life after death is no doubt a very ancient one and there are good reasons for this association.

At some point near the end of its thousand year lifespan, the Yew becomes hollow, and several hundred years afterwards, a new tree shoots up inside the hollow one, and the tree is reborn. If ever there were a living symbol of immortality in nature, the sacred Yew tree is it.  The Yew also is said to provide a means of communication between the living and the dead, and its leaves traditionally are used in ceremonies in which the spirits are contacted. It also is considered protective, and could be buried with a loved one to help give safe passage to the other world. In essence, the Yew is thought of as a spiritual gateway, a bridge between the world of the living and the dead.

Yew trees were also used to make the longbow, used for war and hunting. It is said that Yew from France or Spain was especially prized because the habit of growth was supposedly straighter there and more suited to this purpose. As with any ancient weapon used in war, the longbow, its material and method of making, could lend it mystical qualities.

Rousham House with Espaliered Apple Tree

Espaliered Apple tree Hedge in Garden with Rousham House in the Background Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

Among other  features of the time Rousham was created that still survive, showing renewed interest in plant life of the era, is the fern grotto, which has stones and water dripping from it to lend moisture to maidenhair ferns, and other exotic plants not native to England. There is even a  Palm tree standing outside to complete the illusion. Near this exotic feature, one of the owners buried one of his beloved hunting hounds with the inscription “In Front of this Stone lie the Remains of Ringwood an otter-hound of extraordinary Sagacity”.

In the world of the past, a love of the chase was a manly and necessary pursuit and hunting skill and access to forests with good game was key. For this reason, throughout history, rulers have made themselves private game parks or reserves that stacked the odds more in their favor, and for the sheer joy of having their own private hunting ground. Like a floral garden, such a private forest provides a treat of a different kind. In this way one could provide food for feasting and events of state in far less time since the game was nearby and could be kept safe from predators, and reproduce, providing even more game and guaranteeing food even in harsh conditions. The Xanadu poem of Samuel Taylor Coleridge is in this vein… the stately pleasure palace of Kubla Khan he refers to is a royal hunting park.

Dovecote at Rousham with Espaliered Fig Tree growing up it. Photo by Seana Fenner

Dovecote at Rousham, espaliered Fig Tree growing up it, lavender in foreground Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

Coleridge’s famous poem’s beginning lines are based upon “Purchas, his Pilgrimage, or Relations of the World and Religions Observed in All Ages and Places Discovered, from the Creation to the Present”, written in 1613, by the English Samuel Purchas. The book contains the following description of Xanadu (itself taken from Marco Polo): Coleridge was reading a description of Xanadu in this book which, in turn, had been derived from Marco Polo’s writing. After having read this poem, Coleridge had an opium dream which he made into a poem when he awoke.

In Xandu did Cublai Can build a stately Pallace, encompassing sixteen miles of plaine ground with a wall, wherein are fertile Meddowes, pleasant Springs, delightfull streames, and all sorts of beasts of chase and game, and in the middest thereof a sumptuous house of pleasure, which may be moved from place to place.

Close-up of the sparkling moss covered rill which transports water from one water feature to the next at Rousham House..

Close-up of the sparkling moss covered rill which transports water from one water feature to the next at Rousham House.. Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

Here is Coleridge’s version:

 

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan

A stately pleasure-dome decree:

Where Alph, the sacred river, ran

Through caverns measureless to man

Down to a sunless sea.

So twice 5 miles of fertile ground

With walls and towers were girdled round:

And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills

Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;

And here were forests ancient as the hills

Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

The Interior of the Yew Hedge, photo by Seana Fenner

Inside the Yew Hedge at Rousham… Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

 

It may be that William Kent, or the man who commissioned him, was inspired by Samuel Purchas or Marco Polo in creating  Rousham, whose design shows a love of wilderness and hunting, and of the natural and ancient world, even down to such features as sinuous rills, which Coleridge touches upon. Or perhaps, Coleridge was inspired by visiting Rousham! There was a custom of allowing visits to some stately homes by the public even before such visits were required by the costs of maintaining them and the reduced means of the nobility

Roses in Boxwood Hedges at Rousham Gardens Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

Magdalen Deer Park

Eastern potentates were not the only rulers who had royal game preserves. At Magdalen College, Oxford, is an ancient King’s deer park that has been preserved to this day. Even when there were food shortages during the wars, no one touched the King’s deer out of respect for this ancient custom. If you have read Robin Hood, you may remember that the original offense for which Robin of Locksley was made outlaw was killing the King’s deer.

Here is a picture of the descendants of ancient deer still frolicking in the park. Unfortunately, I no longer have a working telephoto lens and so there is no picture of it here, but above their heads, at the far end of the park, is a marvelous mistletoe high in the trees. I think that once, long ago, this park might have been a sacred site, as indeed probably were these others mentioned here. The presence of the mistletoe is highly significant in a ritual sense .

Magdalen College Deer Park, University of Oxford Photo: Seana Fenner

Magdalen College Deer Park, University of Oxford Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

Everyone knows that one is supposed to kiss under the mistletoe, and sometimes even extract a kiss for each berry plucked! The survival of this custom demonstrates the strength of its symbolic meaning and its sheer spiritual power for our folk.  In the Swedish tradition, mistletoe gathered on Midsummer Eve, when attached to the ceiling of one’s home, or even of a barn, has the power to protect both man and beast from trolls who seek to injure one.  Certainly, I intend to gather some mistletoe myself this Midsummer’s Eve, since I could use an amulet against trolls.

Pliny’s famous description of Druids gathering the mistletoe from a sacred oak hails from the 1st century CE and gives insight into the ritual importance of the mistletoe[18] .

…We must not omit to mention the admiration that was lavished upon this plant by the Gauls. The Druids – for that is the name they give to their magicians- held nothing more sacred than the mistletoe and the tree that bears it, supposing always that tree to be the robur. Of itself the robur is selected by them to form whole groves, and they perform none of their religious rites without employing branches of it; so much so, that it is very probable that the priests themselves may have received their name from the Greek name for that tree. In fact, it is the notion with them that everything that grows on it has been sent immediately from heaven, and that the mistletoe upon it is a proof that the tree has been selected by God himself as an object of his especial favour.

The mistletoe, however, is but rarely found upon the robur; and when found, is gathered with rites replete with religious awe. This is done more particularly on the fifth day of the moon, the day which is the beginning of their months and years, as also of their ages, which, with them, are but thirty years. This day they select because the moon, though not yet in the middle of her course, has already considerable power and influence; and they call her by a name which signifies, in their language, the all-healing. Having made all due preparation for the sacrifice and a banquet beneath the trees, they bring thither two white bulls, the horns of which are bound then for the first time. Clad in a white robe the priest ascends the tree, and cuts the mistletoe with a golden sickle, which is received by others in a white cloak.They then immolate the victims, offering up their prayers that God will render this gift of his propitious to those to whom he has so granted it. It is the belief with them that the mistletoe, taken in drink, will impart fecundity to all animals that are barren, and that it is an antidote for all poisons.

In this wonderful park, at one end, when looking back towards the city centre, it is as if time has stood still in more ways than one, because from this vantage point, one cannot see a single modern building, only what are called the dreaming spires of Oxford. It is as though it is an oasis in time, a  gateway to another world, and indeed this is what sacred trees have always been believed to do, to provide a means of communication, and a link between us and our ancestors.. There is good reason to believe that this tree, with its sacred mistletoe, or others like them, were historically thought to be linked to the fortune of the family, who in Pagan times, flourished here and this may be why they have survived. This feeling was that the fate of the royal family, and by extension, the entire people of the place, may have been thought of as being coupled with the life of the mistletoe.

View from the far end of the Deer Park looking back towards Magdalen College

View from the far end of the Deer Park looking back towards Magdalen College Photo Credit: Seana Fenner

There is a Scottish belief that the lifeforce of the family and estate, the Hays of Errol, in Perthshire, is connected to a great mistletoe growing in a sacred oak. A member of the family once wrote about it as follows:

 Among the low country families the badges are now almost generally forgotten; but it appears by an ancient MS., and the tradition of a few old people in Perthshire, that the badge of the Hays was the mistletoe. There was formerly in the neighbourhood of Errol, and not far from the Falcon stone, a vast oak of an unknown age, and upon which grew a profusion of the plant: many charms and legends were considered to be connected with the tree, and the duration of the family of Hay was said to be united with its existence. It was believed that a sprig of the mistletoe cut by a Hay on Allhallowmas eve, with a new dirk, and after surrounding the tree three times sunwise, and pronouncing a certain spell, was a sure charm against all glamour or witchery, and an infallible guard in the day of battle. A spray gathered in the same manner was placed in the cradle of infants, and thought to defend them from being changed for elfbairns by the fairies. Finally, it was affirmed, that when the root of the oak had perished, ‘the grass should grow in the hearth of Errol, and a raven should sit in the falcon’s nest.’ The two most unlucky deeds which could be done by one of the name of Hay was, to kill a white falcon, and to cut down a limb from the oak of Errol. When the old tree was destroyed I could never learn. The estate has been sold out of the family of Hay, and of course it is said that the fatal oak was cut down a short time before.

As part of this tradition, Thomas the Rhymer is said to have made the following verses:

 

While the mistletoe bats on Errol’s aik,

And that aik stands fast,

The Hays shall flourish, and their good grey hawk

Shall nocht flinch before the blast.

But when the root of the aik decays,

And the mistletoe dwines on its withered breast,

The grass shall grow on Errol’s hearthstane,

And the corbie roup in the falcon’s nest.

The idea that the luck of a family or a tribe were joined with the roots of sacred trees must once have been widespread indeed in the ancient North. The inroads of the Christians into our sanctuaries have been violent, but have not eradicated our true spirituality. The Sacred Oak of Wotan in Germany is one such example of Pagan immortality and a capacity for rebirth… Although ruthlessly cut down by St. Boniface, a baby tree is said to have miraculously sprouted up from its roots overnight. In Finland, although the great sacred trees of Finnish communities were cut down, some family trees survived, for each individual family had its own sacred tree next to its house or farm, a tree believed to be tied to the root of their family and linked to their spiritual and physical well-being.

Thor and Jupiter, Zeus, and the Slavic Perun, are the same God, shared by the most ancient of our European ancestors throughout all our Nordic tribes. He is the great one, the God of thunder, lightning, wind and of rain, and of fertility, and his essence, and fertility is tied to that of the oak and the mistletoe. Indeed, it is a scientific fact that oaks are more often struck by lightning than any other tree.. [19] From the sacred Greek oak groves of Dudona, and Olympia to the great oak of Thor, known as Donar’s Oak, and as Robur jovus, which means Jupter’s oak in Latin, this God was known by both Teutonic and Italic peoples, and other Nordic tribes, back into a veritable infinity of time. Even the day names, Dies Jovus and Thors day, are the same.

James Frazer  makes an interesting observation[20]

A Roman writer tells us that in former days, noble matrons used to go with bare feet, streaming hair, and pure minds, up the long Capitoline slope, praying to Jupter for rain, and straightway, it rained bucketsful, then or never, and everybody returned dripping like drowned rats, but nowadays we are no longer religious, so the fields lie baking.

Is there something to the idea that the combined wishes and spiritual energy of a people who believe in themselves can affect reality? I certainly believe so myself.

The worship of the Lithuanian version of Thor, Perkunas, has similar ritual associated with it, still remembered in agricultural communities. When drought threatened, the people came together in the depth of the forest, made an animal sacrifice, and feasted and drank, calling upon the Gods’ help in prayer. They carried beer around the fire, three times, in a manner reminiscent of the Scot’s tradition alluded to above, then poured it in the fire as a libation.

In keeping with the Semitocentric [21] notion of civilization arising in the Middle East, some assume that all the influences between Greco- Roman and Norse, Germanic, Celtic and Anglo Saxon religion go one way, from east to west, but the reality is far more complex than that, and just as the tribes moved backwards and forwards so did customs. One tiny example is Strabo’s mention of Druids meeting at a holy oak sanctuary. The Celtic Senate when their people migrated to Asia Minor, met at a sacred grove with the purely Celtic name Drynemetum, and the name for the Druids themselves is thought to mean “the Men of the Oak”.

Such sacred trees were often enclosed to protect them from harm. It would seem likely that this particular place, Magdalen Deer Park, enclosed and unmolested, even by the inroads of Christianity, was preserved out of reverence due to its sacred nature and to the spiritual link between the trees and the people . Both Rousham and Broughton have chapels on their sites which may indicate that there once was a Pagan spiritual site in the vicinity as well. The wooden or stone temples may be converted, burned or buried, but the ancient Yews of Rousham or their descendants still stand, and the mistletoe yet thrives hidden in the trees at Magdalen, a living testament to the immortality of our real religion, and  of our souls, and their capacity for rebirth.

By
Seana Fenner

©2010 Odinia All Rights Reserved

Endnotes

  1. Proverbs 3:5-6 ^
  2.  Cornelius Tacitus,  The Germany and the Agricola of Tacitus: The Oxford Translation Revised, trans. Edward Brooks Jr, et al, (Chicago: C. M. Barnes Company, 1897, Chapter 10, 28.  ^
  3.  Odinia “Israel vs. Odinia: Blacks expelled from Israel, but we Europeans are expected to destroy our folk,” The Viking Althing  http://odinist.org/cultural-destruction-assault-death-extinction-us-preservation-people-national-character/  (12 January 2014). ( ^
  4. “Paul’s Himalayan Musk”, “Mme Hardy’flowers”, “May Queen”, “Felicia”, “Alberic Barbier”
    “Sanders White”, “Bonica”, and “Maigold”. There are a wealth of other types of
    flowers and herbs, such as Geranium himalayense “Gravetye”, Allium christophii,
    Verbascum chaixii, Delphinium Pacific hybrids, Phlomis russeliana, ‘Goldfinch’
    Penstemon “Garnet”, Allium christophii, Sisyrinchium striatum, and Salvia turkestanica. At the 14th century original entrance to the castle, where the bridge once spanned the moat, are plantings of Rosa rubrifolia, Crambe cordifolia, Campanula persicifolia, Phlomis fruiticosa and Geranium “Nimbus”. ^
  5. Ena Schobert, ” Summer Cobwebs” The Argosy 74 (April-June 1901): 338. ^
  6. IBID., 337. ^
  7. Pat Flannery, “Irish History,” Palo Alto Lectures (Palo Alto, California) May 5 2008.  ^
  8. Seán O’Hara, “Silene coronaria” Gardening in Mediterranean Climates Worldwide http://gimcw.org/plants/Silene.coronaria.cfm  (1 September 2013).  ^
  9. Odinia, “The Wild Hunt Yule Series Part I” Odinia International Podcast Channel https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=divGCREcMcU^
  10. Martianus, Liber Chronicorum,” lib. xii., cap. 67 ^
  11. Licetus,” cap. x. See “Baptista Porta, Magia Naturalis,” lib. xii. cap. ult ^
  12. De Civitate Dei,” lib. xxi., cap. 6 ^
  13. “Pancirollus, Rerum Memorabilium Deperditarum,” vol. I., p. 115, ^
  14. Hesiod and Homer, Homeric Hymn to Demeter ” The Homeric Hymns and Homerica Loeb Classical Library Vol 57, trans. Hugh D. Evelyn-White (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1914)  II. 8-9.  ^
  15. Ena Schobert, ” Summer Cobwebs” The Argosy 74 (April-June 1901): 337. ^
  16. Odinia, “Cosmic Ostara Series Part I” Odinia International Podcast http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eR4_bH5KXNA&feature=c4-overview&list=UU3eYX0vcHaL-ox4F06deLJw .   ^
  17. Odinia, “Cosmic Ostara Series Part III” Odinia International Podcast http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cAbzf-eObGY  ^
  18. Pliny the Elder, The Natural History. trans. John Bostock (London: Taylor and Francis, 1855),  31  ^
  19. Donald B. De Young, “Do certain trees tend to attract lightning?”  http://christiananswers.net/kids/lightningtrees.html (10 December 2013). ^
  20. James Frazier, The Golden Bough, (New York: Macmillan, 1922) 160. ^
  21. This is a term which I invented to refer to the somewhat bizarre and Jewish supremacist world view in which Semitic religion and history are presented as more important, earlier, and more central than the much greater and more advanced European civilizations, while European history and religion are denigrated and marginalized.   ^

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