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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature

Oak-Worship

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The oak has in all ages been looked upon as the most important of all the trees of the forest. Groves of oak-trees were even in the earliest times reckoned peculiarly appropriate places for religious resort; and, as we learn from Ezekiel 6:13, they were likewise the scene of idolatrous practices. Altars were set up under them (Joshua 24:26), and, probably in the East as well as in the West, appointments to meet at Conspicuous oaks were made, and many affairs were transacted or treated of under their shade, as we read in Homer, Theocritus, and other poets. It was common among the Hebrews to sit under oaks (Judges 6:11; 1 Kings 13:14). Jacob buried idolatrous images under an oak (Genesis 35:4); and Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, was buried under one of these trees (Genesis 35:8; see 1 Chronicles 10:12). Abimelech was made king under an oak (Judges 9:6). Idolatry was practiced under oaks (Isaiah 1:29; Isaiah 57:5; Hosea 4:13). Idols were made of oaks (Isaiah 44:14). (See BAAL); (See GROVE) Among the ancient Greeks the oak, as the noblest of trees, was sacred to Zeus, and among the Romans to Jupiter. Oak-worship, however, was one of the most remarkable peculiarities of the religion of the northern nations. The inhabitants of the holy city of Kiev, in Russia, offered their sacrifices under a sacred oak in their annual voyages to the Black Sea in June. The oak was considered by the Hessians as the symbol and the abode of the gods. Winifred, an apostle of the Germans, cut down an enormous oak which was sacred to Thor; and such was the horror which the sacrilegious deed excited that judgments were expected to fall upon the head of the impious missionary. "The gods of the ancient Prussians," says Mr. Gross, "showed a decided predilection both for the oak and for the linden. The ground upon which they stood was holy ground, and was called Romowe.

Under their ample shade the principal gods of the Prussians were worshipped. The most celebrated oak was at Romowe, in the country of the Natanges. Its trunk was of extraordinary size, and its branches so dense and diffusive that neither rain nor cold could penetrate through them. It is affirmed that its foliage enjoyed. an amaranthine green, and that it afforded amulets to both man and beast under the firm belief of the former at least that thus employed it would prove a sure preventive against every species of evil. The Romans, too, were great admirers of this way of worship, and therefore had their Luci in most parts of the city." "As Jupiter," to quote from the same intelligent writer, "gave oracles by means of the oak, so the oaken crown was deemed a fit ornament to deck the majestic brow of the god, contemplated as Polieus, the king of the city. The origin of the oaken crown as a symbol of Jupiter is attributed by Plutarch to the admirable qualities of the oak. It is the oak,' says he, which among wild trees bears the finest fruit, and which among those that are cultivated is the strongest.' Its fruit has been used as food, and the honey-dew of its leaves drank as mead. This sweet secretion of the oak was personified under the name of a nymph denominated Melissa. Wheat, too, is indirectly furnished in supplying nourishment to ruminant and other quadrupeds suitable for diet, and in yielding birdlime, with which the feathered tribes are secured. The esculent properties of the fruit of some trees, as the Quercus esculus, and the many useful qualities of their timber, may well entitle them to the rank of trees of life, and to the distinction and veneration of suppliers of the first food for the simple wants of man. Hence, on account of its valuable frugiferous productions recognized as the mast, the beech is generally known as the fagus, a term which is derived from φαγεῖν , to eat. There was a period in the history of mankind when the fruit of the oak, the "neatly encased" acorn, formed the chief means of subsistence; and the Chaonian oaks of the Pelasgic age have justly been immortalized on account of their alimentary virtues. It was then, according to Greek authors, that the noble oak was cherished and celebrated as the mother and nurse of man. For these reasons Jupiter, the munificent source of so great a blessing, was adored as the benignant foster-father of the Pelasgic race, and denominated Phegonaiis. In the blissful and hallowed oak-tree, according to the puerile notions of those illiterate people, dwelt the food-dispensing god. The ominous rustling of its leaves, the mysterious notes of the feathered songsters among its branches, announced the presence of the divinity to astonished and admiring votaries, and gave hints and encouragement. to those whose interest or curiosity prompted them to consult the oracle. For this reason odoriferous fumes of incense were offered to the oracling god under the Dodonaean oak."

The religious veneration paid to the oak-tree by the original natives of Britain- in the time of the Druids is well known to every reader of British history. The Druids esteemed the oak the most sacred object in nature, and they believed the mistletoe also which grew upon it to partake of its sacred character. Hence originated the famous ceremony of cutting the mistletoe, which took place at the beginning of the year. (See MISTLETOE). We have reason to think that this veneration was brought from the East, and that the Druids did no more than transfer the sentiments their progenitors had received in Oriental countries. In fact, since in hot countries nothing is more desirable than shade nothing more refreshing than the shade of a tree, we may easily suppose the inhabitants would resort for such enjoyment to

"Where'er the oak's thick branches spread

A deeper, darker shade."

The Supreme Being, whom the Druids termed Haesus or Mighty, was worshipped under the form of an oak. (See DRUIDS).


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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Oak-Worship'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tce/o/oak-worship.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.

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